Covid live: UK reports 45,066 new cases, highest since mid-July; Russia daily cases pass 30,000 for first time

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Covid live: UK reports 45,066 new cases, highest since mid-July; Russia daily cases pass 30,000 for first time” was written by Tom Ambrose (now); Martin Belam and Samantha Lock (earlier), for theguardian.com on Thursday 14th October 2021 15.48 UTC

Italy is bracing itself for further unrest and labour market mayhem as the strictest vaccine mandate in Europe takes effect on Friday.

All workers will be obliged to present a coronavirus health pass before entering their workplaces, a move that is expected to leave some industries struggling with staff shortages.

The measure, an expansion of the “green pass” introduced in August, will require public and private sector workers to have been double vaccinated, to show proof of a negative test taken within the previous 48 hours or of having recently recovered from Covid-19.

Those who flout the rules face being suspended without pay or fined up to €1,500 (£1,270). Employers face fines for failing to check if staff are complying.

More than 80% of the population over the age of 12 has been double-vaccinated and the majority of Italians have taken the green pass – also required for dining inside restaurants, entering museums, theatres and cinemas, and for use on planes and long-distance trains – in their stride.

However, protests over the workplace rule have gathered pace in recent weeks, with a demonstration in Rome last weekend turning violent as neofascist groups exploited the discontent. The motive behind Italy’s green pass is to boost inoculations and contain infections in the hope of avoiding another lockdown.

UK confirms 45,066 new Covid cases, 157 deaths today

In the UK, the government confirmed today that there had been a further 45,066 lab-confirmed Covid cases.

It is the highest daily figure since mid-July.

The official data also confirmed a further 157 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid as of Thursday, bringing the UK total to 138,237.

Separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics show there have been 163,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid was mentioned on the death certificate.

In the US, health advisers are debating if millions of Americans who received Moderna vaccinations should get a booster shot – this time using half the original dose.

Already millions who got their initial Pfizer shots at least six months ago are getting a booster of that brand.

On Thursday, advisers to the Food and Drug Administration evaluated the evidence that Moderna boosters should be offered too.

US officials stressed that the priority is to get shots to the 66 million unvaccinated Americans who are eligible for immunisation – those most at risk as the extra-contagious delta variant of the coronavirus has burned across the country.

US health advisers are debating if millions of Americans who received Moderna vaccinations should get a booster shot.
US health advisers are debating if millions of Americans who received Moderna vaccinations should get a booster shot.
Photograph: David Zalubowski/AP

“It’s important to remember that the vaccines still provide strong protection against serious outcomes” such as hospitalization and death from Covid, said FDA vaccine chief Dr Peter Marks.

Updated

Only one in seven Covid cases in Africa are being detected, meaning the continent’s estimated infection level may be 59 million people, according to a new study by the World Health Organization (WHO)

“With limited testing, we’re still flying blind in far too many communities in Africa,” said Matshidiso Moeti, regional director for the WHO in Africa in a press briefing Thursday.

To get more accurate numbers of infections and to better curb transmission, the UN plans to increase rapid diagnostic testing in eight African countries with the goal of testing 7 million people in the next year. The Associated Press reported:

The initiative is a “radically” new approach that shifts from passive to active surveillance by working with communities, said Moeti. The rapid tests are affordable, reliable and easy to use and will provide results within 15 minutes, she said. An additional 360,000 cases are expected to be detected by using the tests, with approximately 75% of them being asymptomatic or mild, she said.

The initiative will be based on what is called a ring strategy that has been used to eradicate smallpox and was implemented during Ebola outbreaks. It is called a ring method because it will target people living within a 100-meter (110-yard) radius around new confirmed cases.

Health professionals welcomed the approach and said it will help the continent to get ahead of the pandemic rather than playing catch up. Since the start of the outbreak, Africa has recorded more than eight million Covid-19 cases and 214,000 deaths, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The rapid testing will also provide officials with data to help avoid overwhelming health systems and implementing restrictions that can be “disastrous as far as economic consequences,” said Ngozi Erondu, senior scholar at Georgetown University’s O’Neill Institute.

Poland has confirmed it is set to donate a million AstraZeneca Covid shots to Iran.

Poland had fully vaccinated 19.6 million people as of Wednesday, but a slowing rate of uptake has left it with spare doses which it has sent to Egypt, Vietnam, Taiwan, Kenya, Ukraine, Australia and Norway among other countries.

Iran’s economy has been hit hard by sanctions reimposed by former US President Donald Trump as well as the Covid pandemic, making it difficult for the country to pay for food and medicine.

While the vaccines sent to Iran were donated free of charge, in some other cases Poland has sold shots on a non-profit basis, deputy foreign minister Paweł Jabłoński said, adding that more than 30 countries had approached Poland concerning vaccine supplies.

“We are doing this to support the Iranian people. It is not a sign of any change in our international policy vis-a-vis Iran,” he said.

Updated

Czech prime minister Andrej Babiš has received a third dose of a coronavirus vaccine and used the opportunity to appeal to his country’s people to get vaccinated.

The 67-year-old Babiš is among more than 30,000 Czechs who have had booster shots.

The Czech Republic has offered vaccine boosters since 20 September to individuals over age 60, health care workers and other vulnerable groups.

Yet more than 340,000 people over the age of 65 have not received a single shot, a reason for concern, Babiš said. He added:

I’m calling on everyone to get vaccinated. The vaccination is the only solution to save lives.

Czech PM Andrej Babis in Prague.
Czech PM Andrej Babiš in Prague.
Photograph: Bernadett Szabó/Reuters

The Czech Republic has reported about 1,500 new coronavirus cases for three straight days, numbers unseen since early May.

Updated

Indonesia’s holiday island of Bali reopened to foreign tourists after 18 months of pandemic hiatus today.

The government recently announced Bali’s reopening after a sharp fall in coronavirus cases since July, when Indonesia was Asia’s Covid epicentre. But new visitors from overseas were nowhere to be seen on Thursday due to a lack of international flights arriving on the island.

Though the island’s Ngurah Rai international airport has carried out exercises to prepare for tourists to return, it is not expecting much to happen soon, according to Reuters.

Bali governor I Wayan Koster told reporters:

The regulation has just been issued. These things take time. These countries and the visitors need time

We hope that by end of October at the latest there will be incoming flights, whether it’s a charter or commercial flight as signs of the start of tourism recovery in Bali.

He added that he had received reports that hotels in Bali have started to receive bookings by foreign visitors, mainly from Europe, for November visits.

Surfers carry their boards as they watch a sunset at Kuta beach, Bali, Indonesia.
Surfers carry their boards as they watch a sunset at Kuta beach, Bali, Indonesia.
Photograph: Firdia Lisnawati/AP

Experts fear women in Africa may be the least vaccinated population globally, partly because of widespread misinformation and vaccine scepticism across the continent.

But vaccine access issues and gender inequality reach far beyond Africa, with women in impoverished communities worldwide facing obstacles including cultural prejudices, lack of technology, and vaccine prioritisation lists that didn’t include them, Reuters reported.

While global data by gender in vaccine distribution is lacking in many places, officials agree that women are clearly being left behind men in some places, and that the issue must be addressed for the world to move past the pandemic.

Sarah Hawkes, who runs a global tracker of coronavirus information by sex at University College London, noted that Pakistan and other countries gave initial vaccine priority to groups such as military personnel and migrant workers, likely contributing to continued gender gaps.

Updated

China’s foreign ministry has warned against what it calls possible “political manipulation” of a renewed probe by the World Health Organization (WHO) into the origins of the coronavirus.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said China would “continue to support and participate in global scientific tracing and firmly oppose any forms of political manipulation”.

The WHO released a proposed list of 25 experts yesterday to advise it on next steps in the search for the virus’ origins after its earlier efforts were attacked for going easy on China, Reuters reported.

The first human cases of coronavirus infections were detected in central China in late 2019. Beijing was accused of withholding raw data on early cases during a visit by a WHO team in February.

A worker in protective coverings directs members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team on their arrival at the airport in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province.
A worker in protective coverings directs members of a WHO team on their arrival in Wuhan earlier this year.
Photograph: Ng Han Guan/AP

The findings of the original WHO team were inconclusive, and the experts released a report saying it was “extremely unlikely” the coronavirus leaked from a Wuhan lab. That prompted criticism from outside scientists that the theory had not been properly vetted.

Updated

This winter is going to be “exceptionally difficult” for the NHS, England’s chief medical officer has warned.

Prof Chris Whitty told delegates at the annual conference of the Royal College of GPs in Liverpool that while some things had gone wrong, it was a mistake to think lessons from one pandemic would automatically apply to the next one.

It came as he admitted “there are certainly some quite significant things we got wrong at the beginning of Covid”.

He warned of tough months ahead for the health service as it battles Covid-19, flu, other viruses and the usual winter problems such as trips and falls, PA Media reported.

But he praised GPs – who are currently under fire over face-to-face appointments – for all their “outstanding” hard work and professionalism over the last two years. He said:

In terms of where Covid will go over the winter, well I think the winter as a whole, I regret to say, is going to be exceptionally difficult for the NHS. That is, irrespective of whether we have a relatively low but non trivial amount of Covid, or whether we actually have a further surge in the winter.

I think if you asked 100 modellers you’re going to get over 100 answers, exactly as to how this is going to go out. I think what we’re confident of is the very top end, [what] we would have faced potentially had things gone wrong last winter is not going to happen, barring an extraordinary escape mutant variant, but let’s assume we don’t get something which actually can basically evade our defences completely, I think the top end risks are much lower.

But we could certainly go up, we’re only two to three doubling times away from a really quite serious pressure on the NHS and it’s already serious, but one that actually will be very difficult to deal with. So the margin of error is quite small.

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty.
England’s chief medical officer, Prof Chris Whitty.
Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

Updated

EMA to review AstraZeneca’s antibody-based Covid therapy

The European Union’s medicines regulator has announced that it has started a “real-time review” of AstraZeneca’s antibody-based Covid therapy.

It comes after the combination medicine showed success in treating and preventing severe illness.

In August, the British drugmaker said its new antibody therapy reduced the risk of people developing any coronavirus symptoms by 77% in a late-stage trial. The Reuters news agency reported at the time:

While vaccines rely on an intact immune system to develop an arsenal of targeted antibodies and infection-fighting cells, AstraZeneca’s AZD7442 therapy consists of lab-made antibodies that are designed to linger in the body for months to stifle the coronavirus in case of an infection.

The company said that 75% of the participants in the trial for the therapy – which comprises two types of antibodies discovered by Vanderbilt University Medical Center in the United States – had chronic conditions including some with a lower immune response to vaccinations.

Similar therapies made with a drug class called monoclonal antibodies are being developed by Regeneron (REGN.O), Eli Lilly (LLY.N) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L) with partner Vir (VIR.O), competing for a role in COVID treatment and prevention. But AstraZeneca is first to publish positive prevention trial data in the field and is now targeting conditional approval in major markets well before the end of the year, aiming to produce roughly 1 to 2 million doses by then.

The logo for AstraZeneca is seen outside its North America headquarters.
The logo for AstraZeneca is seen outside its North America headquarters.
Photograph: Rachel Wisniewski/Reuters

Penny Ward, visiting professor in pharmaceutical medicine at Kings College in London, said:

It could potentially be game changing for these individuals, who are currently being advised to continue to shield despite being fully vaccinated.

Covid infections in children in England rose in September after schools returned from summer holidays, helping to keep cases high even as there was a fall among adults, a large prevalence study showed on Thursday.

Infection numbers in Britain are currently much higher than in other western European countries, but have not risen above summer levels following the return of schools in September in England despite higher infection rates in children.

The React-1 study, led by Imperial College London, found that prevalence in 13- to 17-year-olds was 2.55% between 9 and 27 September, with prevalence in those aged five to 12 at 2.32%.

Prevalence for every adult age group was estimated below 1%, PA Media reported.

“Prevalence was high and increasing in school aged children during September,” Paul Elliott, director of the study, told reporters, adding that increased vaccination uptake in school-aged children and adults would help limit transmission.

A pupil wears a face mask in a classroom.
A pupil wears a face mask in a classroom.
Photograph: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

The study, which analysed 100,527 valid swabs, found that the epidemic was growing among those 17 and under, with an estimated reproduction number of 1.18.

Updated

Just returning to Russia for some news, a government taskforce has said it will lift its Covid ban on flights to countries including Tunisia, Thailand, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Iran, Slovenia, and Oman.

The ban will end on 9 November, the Russian government coronavirus task force said on Thursday.

The government stopped normal commercial flights abroad when the pandemic struck last year, but it has since been gradually relaxing the restrictions.

The flight bans dealt a heavy blow to Russia’s airlines, according to Reuters.

Aeroflot Russian Airlines and Rossiya Airlines jet aircrafts at Moscow-Sheremetyevo International Airport.
The flight ban will end on 9 November.
Photograph: Leonid Faerberg/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

Updated

Areas of Syria outside Bashar al-Assad’s control are facing their most deadly wave of Covid yet, pushing already depleted healthcare systems to the limit.

In the Islamist-controlled northwest – home to around 4 million people, the majority of whom have been displaced by fighting in other parts of the country – the number of cases doubled in September compared to August, reaching 73,000, according to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

Cases are also increasing at a worrying pace in the northeast, where western-backed Kurdish forces are in charge. In the last week of September, an average of 342 people in northeast Syria tested positive each day – the highest daily number since the pandemic began.

The area only has one testing laboratory, leading healthcare workers to fear the true caseload is much higher.

Both the northeast and northwest are running out of oxygen supplies, hospital beds and testing kits, the charity warned on Thursday, in a call for urgent assistance from international donors.

Medical staff assist patients suffering from the coronavirus disease inside the COVID-19 ward of a hospital in the opposition-held Idlib, Syria.
Medical staff assist patients suffering from the coronavirus disease inside the COVID-19 ward of a hospital in the opposition-held Idlib, Syria.
Photograph: Mahmoud Hassano/Reuters

“We are directly witnessing the extent of this outbreak in the facilities we manage and support,” said Francisco Otero y Villar, MSF’s head of mission for Syria. “People in desperate need of oxygen or intensive care are stuck in queues because no beds or ventilators are available. [This] is leading to a higher mortality rate compared with previous waves.”

According to World Health Organisation data, only 355,000 doses of vaccine had been administered in the whole country by the end of August, or less than 1% of the total population, making Syria one of the countries with the lowest vaccine coverage globally.

Good morning, I’m Tom Ambrose and I will be bringing you the latest Covid news from around the world today.

We start with the news that the Republic of Ireland has raised doubts over its plans to drop almost all Covid restrictions next week due to a rise in cases.

Finance minister Paschal Donohoe has admitted a full return of office workers was now unlikely, according to the Reuters news agency.

With hospitalisations ticking up, though still far below peaks this year and last, ministers will discuss at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday whether this will push up critical care needs ahead of the busy winter period.

After one of Europe’s toughest lockdowns, the government had planned to let nightclubs open for the first time in 20 months from 22 October, with other venues back at full capacity, and a requirement for vaccine certificates in bars and restaurants dropped.

Foreign minister Simon Coveney told the Newstalk radio station:

It is possible that some of the restrictions that are due to be lifted may not be, of course that’s possible.

We expected the figures would increase, the question is whether they are increasing to a level that means we have to reevaluate.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney arriving at Government Buildings, Dublin, for a Cabinet meeting.
Simon Coveney arriving at Government Buildings, Dublin, for a Cabinet meeting.
Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

Asked if there would be a major return of workers next week following last month’s gradual reopening of offices, Donohoe said that was “a little less likely”.

Updated

Today so far

  • Russia’s latest daily Covid case and death numbers have both set new records for the country, with more than 30,000 cases being officially reported in a single day for the first time. There were 986 deaths.
  • Hungary reported 1,141 new infections, with the number rising above 1,000 for the first time during the fourth wave of the pandemic. Foreign minister Peter Szijjarto says Hungary will receive technology this year to produce Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine at a Hungarian plant currently under construction.
  • The high case numbers in Hungary and Russia coincide with similar peaks in Ukraine and Romania, as health systems in the continent’s east continue to struggle. Romanian doctors have issued an open letter begging the population to get vaccinated.
default

 

  • In the UK health secretary Sajid Javid has apologised for the losses and suffering of families over Covid, while stressing that many of the government’s pandemic decisions were made when he was a “humble backbencher”, and revealing that he is yet to read the devastating report into the handling of the pandemic released earlier this week.
  • Of the UK’s current Covid situation, Javid said: “Overall things feel quite stable at this point. The numbers are a bit up, a bit down over the last few weeks, but our primary defences against this virus are working.”
  • In stark contrast to those comments, First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford has said the ambulance service in Wales is operating under “enormous pressure” as a result of the growing number of people needing the service, as well as the necessity for paramedics to work under Covid-compliant restrictions.
  • A study by University College London researchers claims that Lateral flow tests are very good at detecting people most likely to spread Covid-19 and positive results should be trusted. It comes after a flurry of reports of positive lateral flow tests being followed by negative PCR tests.
  • Scientists have urged eligible people to have Covid booster shots after a major survey in England found evidence of so-called “breakthrough infections” more than three months after full vaccination.
  • A group of 26 experts will be tasked with examining new pathogens and how to prevent future pandemics after the World Health Organization unveiled a team to revive the inquiry into Covid-19’s origins.
  • Religious festivals in India have been taken place against a backdrop of far fewer Covid cases than earlier in the year. Nevertheless the government is still urging caution, launching a campaign asking states to be extra vigilant during the next 100 days, and ensuring that “Covid-appropriate behaviour” is observed.
  • Fiji says it is already experiencing a boom in demand after announcing this week that it would open up quarantine-free travel to visitors from select countries, almost two years after closing its borders due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Covid vaccines for children aged five to 11 are inching closer to authorization in the US, with possible availability as soon as early November, and experts are already looking to the next hurdle: actually getting the shots in those young arms.
  • The US government says it will ship 2.4m doses of Covid-19 vaccine to Pakistan today, bringing the total number of doses sent to the country to about 18.3m.

That is it from me, Martin Belam, today. I will be back tomorrow. Andrew Sparrow is covering Covid in the UK in his live blog today, as it is somewhat bound up with Sajid Javid’s comments and push for access to GPs. You can find that here. It is currently leading with a warning from chief medical officer Chris Whitty that the NHS faces ‘exceptionally difficult’ winter even without Covid spikes.

Tom Ambrose will be here shortly to take you through the rest of the day’s global Covid news. I am off to host the comments in this week’s edition of the Thursday quiz.

Russia again sets new daily records for Covid cases and deaths

Russia’s latest daily Covid case and death numbers have both set new records for the country, with more than 30,000 cases being officially reported in a single day for the first time.

31,299 new cases is the country’s highest one-day infection tally since the pandemic began, and a jump of around 2,500 higher than the day before. Reuters report the country also recorded 986 deaths, a slight increment on the record set yesterday.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has called for the nation to accelerate its vaccination programme. Currently around a third of Russians are vaccinated, and the health minister revealed this week that over one million people are currently being treated in Russia for Covid symptoms.

Updated

Covid vaccines for children aged five to 11 are inching closer to authorization in the US, with possible availability as soon as early November, and experts are already looking to the next hurdle: actually getting the shots in those young arms.

Only one-third of parents plan to vaccinate their children as soon as the vaccines are ready, the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation has found. Another third of those surveyed want to wait and see how the rollout goes.

“What’s going to be actually more challenging, beyond having the infrastructure to be able to administer the Covid-19 vaccines, is ensuring that parents feel comfortable vaccinating their children,” Syra Madad, an infectious disease physician and senior director of the System-wide Special Pathogens Program at NYC Health + Hospitals, told the Guardian.

About half of children 12 and older have been vaccinated in the months since the vaccines were given the green light for those ages.

Vaccinating people of all ages is a crucial part of ending the pandemic, said Dr Saad Omer, an infectious disease epidemiologist and director of the Yale Institute for Global Health.

“We will not be able to get out of this pandemic without vaccinating children – both for their own sake and for the sake of having overall protection,” he added.

Read more of Melody Schreiber’s report here: Covid vaccines for children are coming but challenge will be persuading parents

Andrew Sparrow has launched our UK politics live blog today, and given the government’s push around access to GPs he will be carrying the main UK covid lines for now. You can find that here.

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

Agence France-Presse have a report today in from India, where religious festivals are this year able to go ahead with a background of far fewer Covid cases than last year.

The coronavirus is still claiming over 200 lives daily in the nation of 1.3 billion people, but that is down sharply from the 4,000 fatalities in April and May. Most activities are back to normal and India has administered almost a billion vaccine doses, with around 75 percent of people receiving at least one shot.

India’s peak holiday season includes Durga Puja, Dussehra and Diwali – major Hindu festivals celebrated with noise, colour and exuberance across the country.

In Kolkata on Thursday, crowds flocked to colourful “pandals”, temporary structures where idols of the Hindu goddess Durga are installed during the festivities.

A Durga idol as seen during Durga puja festival in Kolkata, India.
A Durga idol as seen during Durga puja festival in Kolkata, India.
Photograph: Debarchan Chatterjee/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock

Traffic police in the West Bengal state’s capital used loudspeakers to remind people about physical distancing, but in vain, although many people wore masks.

“It’s festival time so people will come and people will enjoy. Now there are no restrictions, the government has allowed us (to celebrate) so we are enjoying out here,” Aradhana Gupta told AFP.

Hindu devotees light Diyas (clay lamps) in front of the idol of Lord Durga during the Sandhi Puja Ritual of Durga Ashtami.
Hindu devotees light Diyas (clay lamps) in front of the idol of Lord Durga during the Sandhi Puja Ritual of Durga Ashtami.
Photograph: Avishek Das/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

Another reveller Riya Tai rued how she could not celebrate the festival last year when strict virus restrictions were in place.

“I am feeling happy (this time) although the crowd is excessive. I am sweating like hell but still I am enjoying it,” she said.

Women wearing pink dresses perform Garba dance on Juhu beach in Mumbai.
Women wearing pink dresses perform Garba dance on Juhu beach in Mumbai.
Photograph: Ashish Vaishnav/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

On Monday, prime minister Narendra Modi’s government kicked off a campaign dubbed “Mission 100 Days”, with fears that the long festive season could see a resurgence of Covid-19.

“We are asking states to be extra vigilant during the next 100 days, and ensure that Covid-appropriate behaviour is observed,” a government official was quoted as saying by the Hindustan Times newspaper. “Only then we will be able to save the country from an expected surge in cases.”

UK health minister Sajid Javid appears to have deployed the Homer Simpson “It’s my first day!” defence on the Today this morning.

PA Media report he told the BBC radio show, when asked about mistakes the government might have made in handling Covid: “I have been in this job for 100 days and was out of government when a lot of those crucial decisions were made. I was a humble backbencher.”

He did offer an apology of sorts, saying: “What I am saying sorry for is the loss that people have suffered and how they have been affected. I don’t think I am in a position yet to go back and look at every decision that was made and how we can learn from that.”

The health secretary then revealed that he has not read the report on the coronavirus pandemic, which he is in charge of dealing with. He told listeners “It is one report and I welcome the report. I haven’t had the opportunity to study every word of the report. I will study it properly this weekend,” he said.

New cases in Hungary rise above 1,000 for first time during fourth wave to hit nation

A quick one from Reuters here – foreign minister Peter Szijjarto says Hungary will receive technology this year to produce Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine at a Hungarian plant currently under construction.

Besides Russia’s Sputnik, Hungary plans to produce China’s Sinopharm’s vaccine in the planned $193m (£140m) vaccine plant.

Earlier Hungary reported 1,141 new infections, with the number rising above 1,000 for the first time during the fourth wave of the pandemic.

There’s been a concerted drive by some in the Conservative party to stop people working from home. At the weekend MP Iain Duncan Smith even unfavourably compared those still working flexibly using the internet in 2021 with people he, not entirely accurately, claimed had kept going into the office during the London Blitz in the Second World War.

It is the subject of our Today in Focus podcast today. While the daily commute has returned for many, it is not everyone and not every day. Instead a new form of hybrid working has emerged as a popular alternative: half a week in the office and half at home. But it is not working for everyone. Last week the prime minister suggested in his party conference speech that Britain needs a further push to get back to the office full-time.

In Today in Focus, Guardian business reporter Joanna Partridge tells Rachel Humphreys that there could be other unintended consequences of retaining remote working permanently. In many cases, it will be those who have childcare or other caring responsibilities who decide to work more from home and in many cases this still means women. And as the gender pay gap continues to grow, this could set women back further. On the other hand, a workforce less concentrated in big cities could help the government’s highest-profile policy initiative of “levelling up” living standards and wages across the country.

You can listen to it here: Today in Focus – Has England gone back to the office?

The UK health minister Sajid Javid has become the latest government figure to say “sorry” about the coronavirus pandemic. Appearing on the BBC this morning, Javid, who became health secretary just short of four months ago following the resignation of Matt Hancock, said:

Yes, of course I’m sorry. Obviously I am new in the role but on behalf of the government I am sorry for, during the pandemic, anyone that suffered, especially anyone that lost a loved one, a mother, a dad, a brother, a sister, a friend. Of course I am sorry for that.

Also all those people that may not have lost someone but they are still suffering – there are many people sadly suffering from long Covid, we still don’t know the impact of that. Of course I am.

There will be lessons to learn from this pandemic for this Government, for governments across the world, there will be lessons. It is important that is done. There is going to be a public inquiry and I think that is the best place to learn these lessons.

But if you are asking me if I am sorry, then of course I am.

The media ritual of getting ministers to explicitly say sorry for issues identified in this week’s damning report into the Conservatives’ handling of the early days of the pandemic was sparked after Minister for the Cabinet Office Stephen Barclay refused eleven times to apologise on Sky News on Tuesday morning.

Geraldine Panapasa in Suva reports for us on Fiji’s reopening:

Fiji says it is already experiencing a boom in demand after announcing this week that it would open up quarantine-free travel to visitors from select countries, almost two years after closing its borders due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Our website data is well up – we are seeing a real lift in interest. It is exciting, and we want to encourage people to come and spend Christmas and new year in Fiji,” Tourism Fiji chief executive Brent Hill said.

“Our tourism industry has been waiting a long time for this. While not everyone will be able to open on 1 December, the overwhelming majority of our industry and those employing significant numbers are very much behind the announcement, and ready to safely open our borders once again to the world.

“We have seven more weeks to really fine tune our preparations, but we have all been working overtime since the start of the year, to reopen our industry again to the world. We’re ready.”

Fiji will reopen its borders to fully vaccinated travellers from countries including the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and most Pacific Islands countries from 11 November, though the official reopening will be on 1 December, when the country’s first scheduled tourism flight on national carrier, Fiji Airways, will arrive.

Read more of Geraldine Panapasa’s report from Suva: ‘We’re ready’: Fiji prepares to welcome tourists almost two years after closing borders

Ambulance service in Wales operating under ‘enormous pressure’ – First Minister

First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford has said the ambulance service in Wales is operating under “enormous pressure” as a result of the growing number of people needing the service, as well as the necessity for paramedics to work under Covid-compliant restrictions.

In an appearance on Sky News he said : “We’ve been able to secure some assistance from the armed forces and we’re really grateful for that.”

PA Media quote him saying: “We’ve had it throughout the pandemic. They (service personnel) won’t be responding to emergency calls but they will be helping with some of the more routine work that the ambulance service does, freeing up trained ambulance personnel to deal with the most urgent work that the service has to provide.”

The message somewhat contrasts with that earlier quote today from UK health minister Sajid Javid that “overall things feel quite stable at this point.”

UCL study backs accuracy of lateral flow tests

A study by University College London researchers claims that Lateral flow tests (LFTs) are very good at detecting people most likely to spread Covid-19 and positive results should be trusted.

LFTs have long been criticised for being less accurate that PCR tests, where the results come after the material is analysed in a lab, rather than being generated at home.

Prof Irene Petersen, lead study author, said people who get a positive LFT result should continue to “trust them and stay at home”. Government guidelines say that following a positive LFT test, people should confirm the result with a PCR test.

In recent weeks there have been a growing number of cases where a positive LFT result has been followed by a negative PCR test result, which has undermined some confidence in the tests.

Yesterday, Dr Louise Smith, director of public health in Norfolk, told local media that she was aware of “sporadic cases” of this nationally, and heard about it anecdotally locally. She told the Eastern Daily Press:

While we are aware of sporadic cases nationally in which some batches of lateral flow test kits may deliver false positives, these are very rare and when used properly lateral flow tests remain reliable. A PCR test can be arranged to confirm any positive from a lateral flow test.

The UCL study found that LFTs were more than 80% effective at detecting any level of Covid infection, and that they are more than 90% effective at detecting who is most infectious. These figures are higher than previous studies.

Another member of the study team, Prof Michael Mina, from Harvard School of Public Health, said that LFTs will catch nearly everyone who is posing a risk to public health.

“It is most likely that if someone’s LFT is negative but their PCR is positive, then this is because they are not at peak transmissible stage,” he said.

UK health secretary: ‘things feel quite stable at this point’

Doctors have also dominated the discussions that UK health secretary Sajid Javid has been having across the media this morning. He is pushing the government’s plan to increase face-to-face consultations with GPs. Before the pandemic about 80% of appointments were face-to-face. Since Covid hit, that number has dropped and now stands at around 58%.

The package he is announcing, he says, will give patients the choice to see GPs in they way they choose to see them.

It is tangentially Covid-related clearly, as a lot of changes to the way GP practices in the UK worked were driven by Covid measures. What he did specifically say about coronavirus in his appearance on Times Radio was that he seemed to be happy with the way the virus was progressing. He told listeners:

Overall things feel quite stable at this point. The numbers are a bit up, a bit down over the last few weeks, but our primary defences against this virus are working.

The latest data by the way is that there were 42,776 new cases recorded yesterday. The height of the last peak in the UK was 60,764 daily cases on 15 July. The highest ever recorded number was 81,483 on 29 December 2020.

Romanian doctors in ‘cry of despair’ asking people to get vaccinated

Romanian doctors sent an open letter yesterday titled “a cry of despair” as the country’s overwhelmed and deteriorated health care system struggles to cope with a record-setting surge of coronavirus infections and deaths.

The College of Physicians of Bucharest, a nongovernmental organization representing doctors in Romania’s capital, said in a letter addressed to Romanians that the medical system has “reached the limit” and that low vaccination rates reveal a “failure of trust” between doctors and the population.

“We are desperate because every day we lose hundreds of patients who die in Romanian hospitals,” the letter reads. “We are desperate, because, unfortunately, we have heard too many times: I can’t breathe. I’m not vaccinated.”

On Tuesday, Romania reported daily pandemic records of nearly 17,000 new confirmed cases and 442 deaths. Data from health authorities indicate that more than 90% of coronavirus patients who died last week were unvaccinated.

“Every day we witness tragedies: dying patients, suffering families, doctors who have reached the end of their powers,” the letter from Bucharest’s doctors reads.

Associated Press report that the pressure on hospitals prompted Romanian officials last week to suspend nonemergency medical procedures for 30 days.

Covid booster shots important to stop infection, finds English study

Scientists have urged eligible people to have Covid booster shots after a major survey in England found evidence of “breakthrough infections” more than three months after full vaccination.

Researchers at Imperial College London analysed more than 100,000 swabs from a random sample of the population and found that Covid infection rates were three to four times higher among unvaccinated people than those who had received two shots.

But while full vaccination drove infection rates down substantially, from 1.76% in the unvaccinated to 0.35% in the three months after the second dose, infection rates rose again to 0.55% three to six months after the second shot.

The finding suggests that protection against infection, with or without symptoms, starts to wane several months after full vaccination, though other studies show that vaccine protection against hospitalisation and death is far more robust.

“The possible increase of breakthrough infections over time reinforces the need for a booster programme,” said Paul Elliott, head of the React study and professor in epidemiology and public health medicine at Imperial. “It’s an incentive for people to get their booster dose when it becomes available to them,” added Prof Christl Donnelly, a statistical epidemiologist on the study. The results came as new Covid cases in the UK rose to 42,776, the highest recorded since late July.

Read more of science editor Ian Sample’s report here: Covid booster shots important to stop infection, finds English study

US says it will ship 2.4m vaccine doses

The US government says it will ship 2.4m doses of Covid-19 vaccine to Pakistan today, bringing the total number of doses sent to the country to about 18.3m, more than any other country.

The latest shipments of the vaccine made by Pfizer/BioNTech are due to arrive on Saturday via the Covax distribution program, an official told Reuters.

Their data suggests that Pakistan has administered at least 93.6m doses of vaccine so far, out of a population of 220m.

Good morning from London, it is Martin Belam here taking over from my colleague Samantha Lock. The UK government minister facing the media this morning is health secretary Sajid Javid – I’ll have any key Covid lines from his first appearances shortly, he’s pushing government plans for an “access package” to GPs.

Hi, I’m Samantha Lock and I’ll be giving you a rundown of the latest coronavirus updates as they happen.

Here’s a rundown of any highlights you might have missed.

In good news for those seeking a sea-side break, Fiji says it is already experiencing a boom in demand after announcing this week that it would open up quarantine-free travel to visitors from select countries, almost two years after closing its borders due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, a group of 26 experts will be tasked with examining new pathogens and how to prevent future pandemics after the World Health Organization unveiled a team to revive the inquiry into Covid-19’s origins.

Michael Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies director, said it may be the “last chance to understand the origins of this virus” in a collegiate manner.

  • Malfunctioning NHS app for Covid vaccine status causes travel delays. Travellers have been blocked from boarding flights and ferries for trips abroad after a four-hour outage of England’s NHS app left people unable to access a Covid pass to prove their vaccine status.
  • Scientists abused and threatened for discussing Covid, global survey finds. Scientists around the world have received threats of death and sexual assault after speaking to the media about Covid-19, a survey by Nature magazine revealed.
  • The UK records 136 deaths and 42,776 new Covid-19 cases.
  • Oliver Dowden, the chair of the Conservative party, said he was “very sorry” and admitted “we didn’t get everything right” regarding the handling of the Coronavirus pandemic.
  • Russia has set a record for the number of Covid deaths in a 24-hour period for the second day running. Wednesday’s official toll of 984 is slightly higher than yesterday’s then-record 973 deaths.
  • A landmark report found the UK government’s management of the outbreak was one of the worst public health failures in British history.
  • After a 19-month travel ban, the US announced it will reopen its land borders with Canada and Mexico for non-essential travel. It’s a huge relief for families who have been separated since the beginning of the pandemic and comes after multiple countries pressed the US for months to ease restrictions.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

Hits: 284