Covid news: Turkish president tests positive; Tory MP says may be beginning of end for Johnson – live

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Covid news: Turkish president tests positive; Tory MP says may be beginning of end for Johnson – live” was written by Jane Clinton (now), and Jedidajah Otte and Jane Clinton (earlier), for theguardian.com on Saturday 5th February 2022 14.03 UTC

Canadian cities, including Toronto, are bracing for further disruptions this weekend as protests against vaccine mandates spread from the capital of Ottawa, Reuters reports.

The so-called “Freedom Convoy” began as a movement against a vaccine requirement for cross-border truckers, but has turned into a rallying point against public health measures.

Protestors have shut down downtown Ottawa for the past eight days, with some participants waving Confederate or Nazi flags and others saying they wanted to dissolve Canada’s government.

Toronto Police said they would have a ramped-up presence in the city over the weekend due to anticipated protests.

This comes as GoFundMe said it had cancelled the Freedom Convoy 2022 fundraiser citing police reports of violence.

In a statement, it said it will “automatically refund all contributions directly”.

Trucks parked in downtown Ottawa on Friday protesting against the Covid-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions.
Trucks parked in downtown Ottawa on Friday protesting against the Covid-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions. Photograph: Dave Chan/AFP/Getty Images

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has said he discussed with the Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, the need for stronger collaboration to investigate the origins of Covid-19.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has previously pressed China to be more forthcoming with data and information related to the origin of the virus, reports Reuters.

“Pleased to meet with Premier Li Keqiang,” Tedros tweeted on Saturday. “We discussed Covid-19 and the need for an aggressive effort on vaccine equity this year to vaccinate 70% of all populations,” he said.

“We also discussed the need for stronger collaboration on Covid-19 virus origins, rooted in science and evidence,” he added.

Last year, the WHO established the Scientific Advisory Group on the Origins of Novel Pathogens and called on China to supply raw data to help any new investigation. But China declined, citing patient privacy rules.

China has consistently denied allegations the virus was leaked from a specialist laboratory in the city of Wuhan, where Covid-19 was first identified at the end of 2019.

A joint study by China and the WHO published last year concluded the most likely hypothesis was that the virus jumped from bats to humans via an intermediate animal.

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Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has tested positive for Covid-19, he said on Saturday.

“Today my wife and I tested positive for Covid-19 with mild symptoms. Thankfully, we’re experiencing slight symptoms that we have learned is the omicron variant,” he tweeted.

“We are on duty. We will continue to work at home. We look forward to your prayers.”

This file photo taken on 18 January, 2022 shows Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan crossing the courtyard to welcome the Serbian president at the presidential residence in Ankara.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan crossing the courtyard to welcome the Serbian president at the presidential residence in Ankara. Photograph: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images

Erdoğan, 67, made the announcement after appearing via videolink at a tunnel-opening ceremony from Istanbul, having cancelled his appearance in person, citing bad weather, AP reports.

The president showed no signs of illness in his televised appearance.

Turkey has seen record levels of Covid-19 cases in recent days, with 111,157 cases reported on Friday.

Deaths are also rising in the country, with 248 virus-related fatalities reported on Friday, a level not seen since October.

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South Korea logs record daily number of new Covid cases

South Korea on Saturday reported more than 30,000 daily Covid-19 infections for the first time, as the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency logged a record 36,362 new Covid-19 infections.

The latest figure is a dramatic increase from the previous daily record of 27,443 reported on Friday.

The government extended social distancing rules on Friday for two weeks until 20 February, including a 9pm curfew for restaurants, bars and gyms, as infections with Omicron continue to soar.

The prime minister, Kim Boo-kyum, said extending the restrictions, which were due to end on Sunday, was necessary to slow the spread of the variant amid fears the lunar new year holiday may have fuelled infections.

Health authorities have warned that daily infections could possibly reach 100,000 in coming weeks, the Korea Herald reported.

People form a long queue at a Covid-19 testing station in Seoul, South Korea, on 4 February 2022.
People form a long queue at a Covid-19 testing station in Seoul, South Korea, on 4 February 2022. Photograph: YONHAP/EPA

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About 50 of Iran’s 290 parliamentarians have contracted Covid-19, a senior MP has said.

Alireza Salimi, speaking to YJC, a news agency linked to Iran’s state TV, said this week’s parliamentary session would be held in accordance with health regulations.

Parliament was suspended for two weeks last April due to an outbreak among MPs, Reuters reports. In the early days of the pandemic, several lawmakers died from the virus.

Iran has experienced a sharp rise in cases and in recent days reported an average of more than 30,000 new infections daily. On Saturday however, the health ministry reported 23,130 fresh cases.

More than 50 million people of the country’s 85 million strong population have received two doses of the vaccine, and more than 19 million have received three doses.

Iran has logged more than 6.5 million infections and more than 132,500 coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic began.

A handout picture provided by the Iranian presidency shows Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi attending a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran on 2 February, 2022.
Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi attending a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran. Photograph: Iranian Presidency/Zuma Press Wire/Rex/Shutterstock

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Hello, I’m Jedidajah Otte and I’ll be taking over for the next hour.

You can get in touch on Twitter @JedySays if there’s anything you think is worth flagging.

Tory MP for Wimbledon Stephen Hammond has said he is “considering very carefully this weekend” whether he still has confidence in the Prime Minister and it “certainly looks like” the beginning of the end, PA reports.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Week In Westminster he would be “reflecting on the events of the week, reflecting on the fact that my constituents and I and almost all of the country obeyed rules, and there seems to be a group of people who haven’t.”

He said he had not yet put a letter into Sir Graham Brady, but added:

I think I’m making it very clear to you that I am considering very carefully over the weekend, what are the next steps.

I think all Conservative colleagues, all of whom I know, are in it for trying to do the best for their constituents, and the country will be wrestling with their consciences this weekend.

Asked whether it was “the beginning of the end” for the PM, he said: “It certainly looks like that at the moment.

He added: “It looks very difficult for the Prime Minister from here.”

Hammond also disagreed with culture secretary Nadine Dorries’ characterisation that those who wanted the PM to go were Remainers or had always opposed Boris Johnson.

“This is predictable rubbish from a predictable source,” he said. “If you look at where the letters are coming from, I don’t understand how anyone could stand up that claim, and so I think probably the Secretary of State needs to think again.”

He said that the no-confidence letters declared so far were from “all wings of the party and none” and that the suggestion there was a Remainer plot was “complete nonsense”.

I know of no coordinated plot and if I were the whips’ office that would worry me even more because I think quite rightly individuals are wrestling with their conscience, deciding what to do, and the fact that it’s individuals doing it means it’s much less easy for the whips or Boris’s friends to put in a counter operation.

Japan’s daily Covid-19 cases have exceeded 100,000, marking a new high, public broadcaster NHK reported.

Most regions in Japan are now under infection control measures to try to slow the spread of the Omicron variant which has been driving the rise in cases.

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Malaysia reported 9,117 new Covid-19 infections on Saturday, the highest daily figure in four months, reports Reuters.

The new cases bring the total number of infections since the start of the pandemic to 2,904,131. Malaysia has also reported over 32,000 deaths.

In a Facebook post on Friday, Noor Hisham Abdullah the director-general of health said:

Although the number of cases is expected to rise in the next couple of days and weeks, due to the high transmissibility of Omicron variant, it causes a less severe form of the disease in those who have had full vaccination and taken their booster shot.

About 97.9% of Malaysia’s adult population has received two doses of the vaccine, while 52.3% have also received the booster shot. About 88.7% of 12- to 17-year-olds have also received two doses.

This week Malaysia began vaccinations for 5- to 11-year-olds.

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More from Nadine Dorries.

She has insisted the prime minister tells the truth “to the best of his knowledge” based on advice given to him by aides.

When asked about claims made by Boris Johnson about the number of people in work, she told the BBC: “He will have been given by advisers and researchers the fact that there were more people in work than there were at the beginning of the pandemic, not on the payroll.”

She said:

So did he tell the truth when he quoted that? Yes, he told the truth as it was given to him.”

Dorries added: “The prime minister does tell the truth.”

I can personally tell you that the prime minister, when he stands at the despatch box and makes quotes like the one you just quoted, is because the researchers and his advisers will have given him that quote, and that’s … and he was truthful, to the best of his knowledge, when he made that quote,” she said.

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Compulsory vaccination rules come into force in Austria

From today, Austrians over the age of 18 must be vaccinated against Covid-19, unless they are exempt, or face the possibility of a heavy fine, an unprecedented move in the European Union, reports Agence-France Presse.

The new measure, adopted on 20 January by Austria’s parliament, was signed into law by the president, Alexander Van der Bellen, on Friday.

The government’s tougher approach has been met with criticism within the country.

Meanwhile, in neighbouring Germany, a similar law championed by the chancellor, Olaf Scholz, was debated last month in the Bundestag, but has not made progress because of divisions on the issue.

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Hong Kong reports record 351 daily cases of coronavirus

Hong Kong reported 351 cases of coronavirus on Saturday, a record daily high since the outbreak of the pandemic, reports Reuters.

This adds further pressure on the government’s “dynamic zero-Covid” strategy as other major cities opt to live with the virus.

Health secretary, Sophia Chan, said she expects cases to rise “exponentially” following the lunar new year holiday because of an increase in family and social gatherings.

She appealed for people to “stay at home” and urged people, especially the elderly, to get vaccinated.

About 160 of the latest cases had no clear source and were still being investigated, authorities said.

On Friday, Hong Kong reported 131 positive cases, compared with 142 on Thursday. The previous daily record was 164 cases in late January.

In total, Hong Kong has recorded 213 Covid-19 deaths and around 15,000 cases since early 2020, according to the government.

It added that on Friday two pet cats had tested positive for coronavirus and urged pet owners to avoid kissing animals.

Worshippers visiting the Sha Tin Che Kung temple on the third day of Lunar New Year in Hong Kong
Worshippers visiting the Sha Tin Che Kung temple on the third day of lunar new year in Hong Kong. Photograph: Miguel Candela/Sopa Images/Rex/Shutterstock

Updated

More comments from culture secretary Nadine Dorries, this time on whether the health secretary, Sajid Javid, was still behind Boris Johnson.

She said Javid was “quite shocked” at how his comments about Johnson’s allegation about Sr Keir Starmer and Jimmy Savile had been reported.

She told Sky News: “I spoke to Sajid Javid last night and he reassured me that he is 100% behind the prime minister. In fact, I think he’s quite shocked at how his comments have been interpreted.”

She said: “What you’re reporting about Sajid Javid turning his back on the prime minister is not true.”

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New Labour MP Christian Wakeford has said Boris Johnson’s reaction to the investigation into parties held across Whitehall during coronavirus restrictions had only strengthened his view that he was right to leave the Conservatives, PA reports.

The Bury South MP, who defected from the Tories last month, also called on Conservative MPs to submit letters of no confidence in the prime minister, saying they “owe it to the country”.

He told
The House magazine that in the run-up to his decision, there “had obviously been quite a few moments where [the Tories] had been incredibly annoying”.

He said: “They were reeling out minister after minister to defend the indefensible. It was unedifying. I was slowly coming to the realisation that the party I had been in for 18 years had changed and I had changed.”

“Boris Johnson isn’t suitable to be a leader, let alone a prime minister,” he said.

“It all just reinforces that the decision I made … was actually the right one.”

He continued: “For those who’ve written letters but have not submitted them, I say: if not now, when?”

“They owe it to the country and to themselves to actually bring it forward, to make sure that he’s replaced. The longer it goes on, the more damage is caused.”

Bury South MP Christian Wakeford defected to Labour amid a growing row over the series of rule-breaking social gatherings held at No 10.
Bury South MP Christian Wakeford defected to Labour amid a growing row over the series of rule-breaking social gatherings held at No 10. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

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Former minister Dr Liam Fox has said he has not submitted a letter of no confidence in Boris Johnson, PA reports.

Speaking to BBC R4’s Today programme, the Conservative MP for North Somerset said: “It’s very clear in the system we have in the Conservative party that not even the 15% threshold has been reached where members of the parliamentary party are unhappy with the prime minister.

“We have a mechanism to deal with that. If I had been unhappy with the prime minister, I would have put a letter in to Sir Graham Brady, which I have not done today.”

He added that he is “waiting to see what comes out of” the full Sue Gray report into the “partygate” saga in Downing Street.

“I think that all the whole issue round whether rules were broken in Downing Street in 2020 now needs to be resolved by what the police are investigating.

“We didn’t get the full coverage of what Sue Gray had said and I think we need to get all this information.”
He added: “I’m waiting to see what comes out of the report.”

It comes as Nick Gibb, the MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, became the latest MP calling on the PM to resign.

He said his constituents were “furious about the double standards” and said the prime minister had been “inaccurate” in his statements to the Commons.

Gibb said he has submitted a letter of no confidence to the chairman of the 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he said: “My constituents are furious about the double standards – imposing harsh and, to my mind, necessary restrictions as we and the world sought to defend ourselves against this new and deadly virus, while at the same time flagrantly disregarding those rules within the fortress of Downing Street.”

Nine letters of no confidence in Johnson have been publicly submitted, but the actual number is expected to be higher.

You can read more on the Nick Gibb story here

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The culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, said Boris Johnson was “very positive” when she had communicated with him in the last 24 hours, PA reports.

She said those speaking out against the prime minister were “the same names that we continually keep (hearing) cropping up” and were in “safe seats”.

She told BBC Breakfast: “What I would say is that the prime minister, when he appeared for the [19]22 Committee last week, promised to change and I think anybody who picks up a newspaper or reads a newspaper, sees a television news bulletin, can see that a huge amount of change is underway at present, particularly in No 10.”

She also told Times Radio of those critical of Johnson: “There are a small number of voices, whether they are people who were ardent supporters of remain, who see this as their last opportunity to reverse Brexit.”

Asked whether the moves against Johnson were a “remainer plot”, Dorries said: “There are a number of reasons actually, it’s not just one, but that certainly is at play with a group.”

She said it was “important that people don’t get hung up” on a “small number” of MPs.

Dorries suggested those in marginal seats were “working damn hard and they want Boris Johnson in place”.

Nadine Dorries has defended Boris Johnson.
Nadine Dorries has defended Boris Johnson. Photograph: Rob Pinney/Getty Images

Updated

People in the UK who broke Covid rules and were fined react to the government’s partygate, in piece by Gaby Hinsliff.

She speaks to among others, Chloé Gardiner.

There were three carloads of police in the end,” says Gardiner, a 23-year-old care assistant from the small town of Portstewart in Northern Ireland. “And there were only four of us.”

It was hardly a wild party, she says – they were just hanging out, listening to music and posting the odd picture to social media – and she doesn’t know who reported them; they weren’t being loud, and they have no close neighbours. They were fined £200 each for breaching Covid regulations, deducted automatically in her case from her wages. Gardiner, who works two jobs, says money went from both pay packets, and she is still trying to recoup £100 she thinks was wrongly deducted in the confusion.

….

By last December, police in England and Wales had issued 118,963 fines for breaking Covid regulations – anything from meeting one friend when socialising was banned, through to staging illegal raves, with fines ranging from £100 for minor infractions to £10,000 for the most egregious, and sometimes more in cases of late payment. In Northern Ireland, police issued more than 8,000 fines over the year to March 2021, and Scottish police handed out more than 12,843 in the year to August 2021.

Updated

New Zealand reported a record 243 new Covid-19 daily cases on Saturday, as officials warned more cases of the highly transmissible Omicron variant were expected, reports Reuters.

Covid response minister Chris Hipkins said: “I urge people not to panic but to plan for that.

“The best thing you can do to prevent illness is to get vaccinated and get your booster.”

Updated

Russia reports record daily Covid-19 cases

Russia reported a record daily number of Covid-19 cases on Saturday as the Omicron coronavirus variant continued to spread, authorities said.

New daily cases jumped to 177,282, from 168,201 a day earlier. The government coronavirus task force also reported 714 deaths.

Updated

Three woodlands are to be created in Wales in memory of those who have died from coronavirus during the pandemic, PA reports.

The first two woodlands will be planted on part of the National Trust Cymru’s Erddig estate in Wrexham, and at a site at Brownhill in the Tywi Valley in Carmarthenshire.

A memorial woodland is also expected to be grown in south-east Wales, although a location has not yet been chosen.

Updated

US Covid-19 death toll hits 900,000

The US death toll from Covid-19 hit 900,000 on Friday, less than two months after eclipsing 800,000, reports the Associated Press.

The two-year total, as compiled by Johns Hopkins University, is greater than the population of Indianapolis, San Francisco, or Charlotte, North Carolina.

Dr Ashish K Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health said: “It is an astronomically high number. If you had told most Americans two years ago as this pandemic was getting going that 900,000 Americans would die over the next few years, I think most people would not have believed it.”

He added that most of the deaths happened after the vaccine gained authorisation.

“We got the medical science right. We failed on the social science. We failed on how to help people get vaccinated, to combat disinformation, to not politicise this,” Jha said. “Those are the places where we have failed as America.”

In a statement on Friday night, the president, Joe Biden, lamented the grim milestone and acknowledged the “emotional, physical, and psychological weight of this pandemic” urging people to get vaccinated.

Updated

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