Covid live: UK reports 43,992 cases and 54 deaths; protests in Brussels turn violent

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Covid live: UK reports 43,992 cases and 54 deaths; protests in Brussels turn violent
© Photograph: Hollie Adams/Getty Images A pop-up Christmas market at Trafalgar Square in London.

Hospitals already struggling to cope as they enter winter, says president of Royal College of Emergency Medicine; people march in Brussels against latest restrictions.

Brussels protest against Covid restrictions turns violent

17:30

Protests in Brussels, Belgium against government restrictions to suppress Covid turned violent on Sunday, with police firing teargas and water cannon at demonstrators who threw cobblestones and fireworks.

The “Liberty Walk Act 2” protest opposed restrictions imposed in October requiring a Covid pass for people to enter public venues like bars and restaraunts – as the government tries to put a lid on the country’s surging Covid cases.

Violence also erupted two weeks ago in a similar protest that drew 35,000 people. Sunday’s numbers were closer to a few thousand, Reuters reported.

Belgium’s seven-day average of new Covid cases was 17,976 a day on Saturday, with a seven-day average of 47 deaths a day.

Covid live: UK reports 43,992 cases and 54 deaths; protests in Brussels turn violent
© Provided by The Guardian Protestors clashed violently with police in Brussels, Belgium on Sunday. Photograph: Olivier Hoslet/EPA

British public urged to get booster jabs before Christmas

17:24

The UK’s health secretary Sajid Javid has called on the public to get the booster vaccine before spending time with their loved ones at Christmas. Javid said it was “absolutely crucial” the public “top-up” their immunity before the holidays.

A total of 19.8 million people had received their third jab by 4 December, while more than 51 million have had their first dose and almost 46.5 million their second.

The Department of Health and Social Care estimates that 20 million will have had the booster by 5 December. Javid has said:

Christmas is around the corner and it’s absolutely crucial that everybody who is eligible gets their booster jab to top-up their immunity before spending time with loved ones.

While our brilliant scientists learn more about the new Omicron variant, we need to do everything we can to strengthen our defences and vaccines are the best way to do that.

This is a national mission and we all have a role to play – so roll up your sleeves and get protected as soon as you can.

At the same time, India has reported a heavy single-day death toll; based in part on revisions to earlier figures.

The eastern state of Bihar added 2,426 unrecorded deaths, while the southern state of Kerala added 263 deaths to their tallies on Sunday, a federal health ministry spokesperson has told the Reuters news agency. The revised figures took single-day deaths to 2,796, the highest since 21 July, according to a Reuters tally.

A devastating second wave in March and April this year saw thousands of deaths and millions affected. Indian states have continued to add unreported deaths in recent months; lending weight to some medical experts’ opinions that such deaths are much higher than the reported number of 473,326. The practise also means the latest figures may not necessarily be a reflection of the actual daily death toll.

 

17:23

The UK’s prime minister Boris Johnson is being challenged to “do the right thing” and help ensure the world’s poorest nations can produce vaccines.

The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford demanded the UK prime minister “stop blocking” the vaccine intellectual property waiver – even if only on a temporary basis – so that developing nations can manufacture vaccines themselves.

He raised the issue in a letter to the Conservative leader, stressing that there needs to be a “truly effective global vaccine strategy” if coronavirus is to be defeated.

While the UK is rolling out booster vaccines to the population, the proportion of those in the developing world who have been jabbed is much lower.

At the end of November, it was reported some 54.2% of the global population had had at least one dose of a vaccine. But, in low-income countries, this falls to just 5.8%. Blackford said:

We will not defeat this virus if developing nations are left to rely on vaccine donations alone – especially considering the UK has only donated six million out of a pledged 100 million to the Covax initiative.

All countries must have the tools to allow them to produce Covid vaccines on home soil and ramp up production if we are to have a truly effective global vaccine strategy. That means ensuring they have access to the vaccine patents.

So I am urging Boris Johnson to do the right thing and stop blocking the vaccine intellectual property waiver – at least temporarily – to allow developing nations to manufacture the vaccines themselves.

This is a matter of global leadership. And, with over 100 states – including the USA –supporting the proposal, it is clear the UK is becoming increasingly isolated in blocking the waiver to support access to vaccines around the world.

Indeed, it is the least the UK government can do after it brutally slashed aid and hindered humanitarian projects around the world.

The emergence of the new Omicron variant has shown us that, until we achieve vaccine equality, new variants could continue to appear.

Therefore, it is in everybody’s interests that we share vaccine patents – it will be an essential step in beating Covid-19.

 

17:23

Oxfam Scotland welcomed Blackford’s letter. Its boss Jamie Livingstone said:

It’s hugely significant that the SNP’s Westminster leader has answered our call by adding his voice to the growing chorus of those who are demanding urgent action to stop pharmaceutical companies from artificially rationing global vaccine supply by holding lifesaving vaccine recipes and technologies hostage.

Vaccine inequality is both morally wrong and places people across Scotland at additional risk from the emergence of dangerous new variants, like Omicron, with epidemiologists warning all along that no one is safe until we all are.

The UK government is looking more and more isolated as it continues to stubbornly stand on the wrong side of history by choosing to put protecting patents and big-pharma’s profits above saving people’s lives.

The prime minister must now act. A failure to do so would be short-sighted, self-defeating and shameful.

A No 10 spokesperson has said:

The prime minister has been clear that no one is safe until we are all safe. The UK has been a world leader in ensuring developing countries can access vaccines, through our early support to the Covax scheme and commitment to donate surplus vaccines.

We are on track to meet our goal of donating 30m doses by the end of this year, and more next year. We have donated 23m doses already, of which 18.5m have gone to Covax to distribute to developing countries.

The UK is engaging constructively in the Trips waiver debate at the World Trade Organisation and we continue to be open to all ideas that have a positive impact on vaccine production and distribution.

 

17:23

The UK’s travel industry has reacted with fury after it was announced all passengers arriving in the UK will have to take a pre-departure test amid fears about the spread of the Omicron variant.

Ministers said it was intended to be a temporary measure following new data showing an increase in the number of cases of the new strain linked to foreign travel.

The move, which will be introduced on Tuesday, was welcomed by Labour which has been pressing for the return of pre-departure tests since the variant was first identified in South Africa. But the party criticised the government for not acting sooner.

It came as the latest figures from the UK Health Security Agency (HSA) showed that, as of Saturday, a further 26 cases of the Omicron variant had been reported across the UK – taking the total so far to 160.

The travel sector said the return of pre-departure tests was another “hammer blow” for an industry which was just beginning to pick up again after the devastation wrought by the pandemic.

Clive Wratten, the chief executive of the Business Travel Association, said it directly contradicted assurances given by the transport secretary Grant Shapps and he called on the government to step in and support the sector.

The introduction of pre-departure testing with little warning is a hammer blow to the business travel industry. Public safety is a priority but businesses will fail, travellers will be stranded and livelihoods devastated by the lack of coherent plans from government.

 

17:23

Tim Alderslade, the chief executive of the industry body Airlines UK, said the rapidly changing measures meant planning was becoming impossible.

It is premature to hit millions of passengers and industry before we see the full data. We don’t have the clinical evidence. These measures must be removed as quickly as possible in line with the speed of the booster programme.

The Airport Operators Association chief executive Karen Dee said pre-departure tests were a major deterrent to travel.

Most of the limited remaining demand following the reintroduction of self-isolation will now fall away, just as airports were hoping for a small uplift over the Christmas holiday.

 

17:22

The new measures for England, which come into force at 4am GMT on Tuesday, were announced late on Saturday by the UK’s health secretary Sajid Javid and were immediately followed by the Scottish and Welsh governments.

It means passengers travelling to the UK will have to take either a PCR or a lateral flow test up to a maximum of 48 hours before they depart regardless of their vaccination status. Javid said:

We have always said we would act swiftly if we need to if the changing data requires it. These are temporary measures we want to remove them as soon as we possibly can. But, before we learn more about Omicron, it is right that we have these measures in place.

The shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper welcomed the U-turn after ministers previously resisted calls to reintroduce pre-departure tests, but said they should have moved sooner.

We badly need them to learn the lessons on the importance of acting quickly on Covid border measures rather than each time having to be put under huge pressure to finally act.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said it had acted in part because said new analysis by the UK Health and Security Agency (HSA) suggested the window between infection and infectiousness may be shorter for the Omicron variant.

It said this increased the efficacy of pre-departure testing, making it more likely it would to identify positive cases before travel.

The government also said Nigeria was being added to the travel red list after 21 cases of the Omicron variant in England were linked to travel from the west African nation.

From 4am GMT on Monday, only British and Irish nationals and residents travelling from Nigeria will be allowed into the country and must isolate in a government-managed quarantine hotel.

 

17:22

Australia’s medicine regulator has provisionally approved the Pfizer vaccine for children between the ages of five and 11 years, with the health minister saying the rollout could begin from 10 January.

The Therapeutics Goods Administration “have made a careful, thorough assessment, determined that it is safe and effective and that it is in the interests of children and Australians for children 5 to 11 to be vaccinated,” said Greg Hunt.

After initial delays with its general inoculation programme, Australia has swiftly become one of the world’s most-vaccinated countries, with nearly 88% of Australians over the age of 16 having received two doses.

The high vaccination rate has helped slow the spread of the virus and promote a speedy economic recovery, with the government planning to raise its 2022 growth forecast within weeks, Reuters reports.

 

17:22

The efficacy of vaccines against the new Omicron variant, which is spreading in Australia, remains unknown.

The most populous state, New South Wales, reported two more cases on Sunday, bringing the total to 15, and the Australian Capital Territory confirmed its second.

Parliament House was closed over the weekend to the public until further notice after a staffer to a member of parliament tested positive following the legislature’s final sitting week of the year on Friday.

The variant of that infection case has not been disclosed, but health authorities said the staff was fully vaccinated.

While nationwide vaccinations are voluntary, states and territories have mandated shots for many occupations, and some require full vaccination to access most hospitality services and non-essential retail.

Australia’s overall childhood immunisation coverage is also one of the highest in the world, with 95% of five-year-olds inoculated with vaccines recommended for their age, health data show.

The Pfizer vaccine for those children still needs the approval of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation. Once approved, it will be available to about 2.3 million children aged from five to 11 years.

Despite battling many outbreaks this year, leading to months of lockdown in Sydney and Melbourne – Australia’s largest cities – the country has had only about 834 confirmed cases and 7.9 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the World Health Organisation; a fraction of the toll in many other developed nations. Australia has had just under 217,000 cases in total and 2,042 deaths.

 

17:22

The opposition Labour party have also demanded a cap on the cost of PCR tests in the UK, saying it is “leaving many travellers forced to pay eye-watering sums to private providers”.

The party said some providers listed on the official government website were charging as much as £399 ($528, €466), while a review by the Competition and Markets Authority found the industry was setting “extremely high mark-ups” that “could not be explained by costs”.

And Labour pointed out France and Belgium already have such price caps. The shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said:

Many flying home for their first Christmas since the pandemic began will be hit with scandalous testing costs. Unscrupulous private providers are pocketing millions, and leaving many families forced to shell out huge sums.

Ministers are sitting on their hands while people who want to do the right thing are paying the price for this broken market.

The government must act ahead of the Christmas travel period, implement the recommendation of the regulator, and urgently consider bringing in a price cap to tackle the extortionate prices.

 

17:21

The UK’s deputy prime minister Dominic Raab has defended the government’s decision to reintroduce pre-departure tests. He has told Sky News:

I know that is a burden for the travel industry but we have made huge, huge strides in this country. We have got to take the measures targeted forensically to stop the new variant seeding in this country to create a bigger problem.

We have taken a balanced approach but we are always alert to extra risk that takes us back not forward.

The shadow environment secretary Jim McMahon accused ministers of being “very late in making the calls that are required to keep our borders safe”. He told Sky News:

Well of course it was the Labour party who were calling for pre-testing to take place because we’re very concerned that the government consistently throughout the pandemic have been very late in making the calls that are required to keep our borders safe, very late in terms of trying to … control the spread of that virus. And what we want to do is to make sure that we don’t jeopardise the vaccination rollout.

The worst thing in the world after all the sacrifices that we’ve made is that a new variant comes in and completely takes the rug from under that programme. And so it’s very important the government get a grip, it’s very important the government takes swift action and frankly it shouldn’t be for the opposition to keep continually one step ahead of the government. The government needs to take control themselves.

 

17:21

The Omicron variant is highly transmissible, but has a less than 1% chance of re-infection and typically results in “milder” disease, a South African researcher as said.

Speaking to the BBC, the director of the Africa Health Research Institute Prof Willem Hanekom said:

We know three things that we didn’t know last week: the first thing is that the virus is spreading extraordinarily fast in South Africa, the increase in cases is much steeper than it’s been in the past three waves so it seems that Omicron is able to spread very easily and virtually all the cases that we see in South Africa right now are Omicron.

The second thing we have data on is re-infections … after you’ve had Covid, you have about a 1% chance, or perhaps even less than a 1% chance, of getting re-infected and even getting disease again by this virus.

The third little bit of data we have already relates to clinical cases and how severe the disease is. The only data suggests the disease may occur more in younger people and mostly younger people who are unvaccinated and, overall so far, the disease has appeared to be milder. But, again, I want to say we have to be cautious – these are very early days.

 

17:21

Raab has said he will not be holding a Christmas party at the UK’s Ministry of Justice, where he also serves as a minister, even though it would be permitted under the coronavirus rules in place in England.

He said he would be having “appropriate drinks at a smaller scale” as he urged employers to show “common sense” when organising Christmas celebrations. He told Sky News:

The rules are very clear. People can go in and have Christmas parties – of course employers will want to think common sense about how they do that.

We won’t be having a Ministry of Justice-wide Christmas party this year. We will be having appropriate drinks at a smaller scale.

The government wants people to be able to enjoy Christmas this year. People should feel free to go and enjoy those celebrations and every employer will think about the right way to do it and I’m the same as everybody else.

In fact, government ministers have been scrambling to clarify the rules around socialising in the run-up to Christmas, with mixed messages emanating from Whitehall in recent days.

 

17:20

McMahon warned that people in the UK will be left confused by that muddled official messaging, telling Sky News:

After all that sacrifice that we’ve made, we want to look forward to this Christmas and the only way to do that is for the government to have a very clear plan for them to get on with the booster vaccination rollout and to make sure that, throughout the course of that, the messaging is really clear. Because the worst thing in the world is that the government say one thing but then do another. And people look at the actions of the government and they get a confused message.

Minister admits Downing Street Christmas party would have breached rules

17:20

Raab has admitted it would have been a breach of Covid restrictions if a Christmas party was held in the UK’S No 10 Downing Street in the run up to last Christmas; a party the prime minister does not deny took place.

That follows reports Boris Johnson’s staff held the gathering on 18 December last year, when London was under Tier 3 restrictions.

Despite the prime minister’s deliberate and public refusal to deny those reports, Raab has described them as “unsubstantiated claims all on the basis of anonymous sources”. Nevertheless, the justice secretary admitted, if true, they would describe a breach of the rules the rest of the country was being expected to follow. He told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show:

Until there is something substantiated, until it is more than anonymous sources, I think we are chasing shadows. If there is a breach of the rules there is a breach of the rules. But I don’t know the full facts because I wasn’t there.

Of course, if there was a formal party held, of course that it something that is clearly contrary to the guidance. If anyone held a party that it is contrary to the rules, of course that is the wrong thing to do.

If something unsubstantiated from anonymous sources actually materialised then of course it would be wrong.

So far, a Downing Street spokesperson has refused to go further than a generic insistence that “all Covid rules have been followed”. They have repeatedly declined to describe how any Christmas party could have conformed to the rules prohibiting them that were in place at the time.

 

17:20

Senegal has recorded its first case of the Omicron variant in a tourist who attended a demonstration in the capital Dakar last month with about 300 people of varying nationalities, the testing lab IRESSEF has said.

Reuters reports that the 58-year-old man was visiting from another West African country and tested positive when leaving Senegal on Friday. He is under quarantine and has no symptoms, the lab said.

UK ministers have left it too late to stop Omicron, government adviser says

17:20

In the UK, government ministers have already left it too late to make a material difference to a potential wave of new cases linked to the Omicron variant, a scientific adviser has said, adding that it is now spreading spreading pretty rapidly in the country.

Professor Mark Woolhouse, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M), described measures being introduced by the government as “shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted”. He told the BBC:

If Omicron is here in the UK, and it certainly is, if there’s community transmission in the UK, and it certainly looks that way, then it’s that community transmission that will drive a next wave.

The cases that are being imported are important, we want to detect those and isolate any positive cases we find, as we would for any case anywhere. But I think it’s too late to make a material difference to the course of the Omicron wave if we’re going to have one.

He added that, while the number of cases remains relatively small, “the important point is that they’re growing and they’re growing quite fast”.

The Omicron variant is highly transmissible, it appears to be spreading very rapidly in South Africa and the early signs are that it’s spreading pretty rapidly in the UK too. If those trends continue then over the course of the coming weeks and months, Omicron could even come to replace Delta entirely right around the world.

The Health Security Agency reported as of Friday over 100 confirmed cases of Omicron in the UK, right across the country but with concentrations likely in London and in Scotland.

 

17:19

Nevertheless, Woolhouse said vaccinations will still be “very, very good” against the variant. He told the BBC:

Vaccinologists and immunologists think that this variant won’t evade the vaccines entirely.

It’s important to remember that against the Delta variant, which is a different variant, the booster vaccinations have turned out to be very effective, well into the 90% protection against infection but also against disease and putting people in hospital.

So, even if the vaccines were slightly less effective against Omicron, they would still be very very good.

 

17:19

The lack of clear evidence led the statistician Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter to conclude that is “better to be safe than sorry” for the time-being. He told Sky News:

It’s a very difficult situation because we haven’t got a lot of data yet at all – almost nothing from this country – about what the risks are.

In South Africa, there’s data coming out showing pretty strong evidence that the increased risk of transmission and some evidence about people going to hospital. But it may actually be milder. But we haven’t got enough data yet to be able to say.

It doesn’t look as if it’s really severe if you get it, I think that’s about all we can say at the moment.

Asked if UK measures to combat the spread of Omicron have gone far enough, Spiegelhalter added:

It’s best to be precautionary, when there’s so much we don’t know … and, when we don’t know, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

 

17:18

Saudi Arabia has granted approval for people vaccinated with Russia’s Sputnik jab to enter the country in a move that will enable Muslims to take part in religious pilgrimages, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports, citing the vaccine’s developers.

It quotes a representative of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which financed the development of Sputnik V, as saying: “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has granted approval for entry of individuals vaccinated with the Russian Sputnik V vaccine starting from January 1, 2022.” AFP reports:

The decision, said the fund, ‘will enable Muslims from all over the world vaccinated with Sputnik V to participate in the Hajj and the Umrah pilgrimages to Islam’s holiest sites in the cities of Mecca and Medina’.

Foreign tourists vaccinated with Sputnik will still be required to quarantine for 48 hours and take a PCR test.

Saudi Arabia has joined more than 100 countries accepting visitors vaccinated with Sputnik, the RDIF said, adding that only 15 countries including the United States currently require travellers to be jabbed with vaccines other than Sputnik.

The hajj – a must for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lives – typically packs millions of pilgrims into congested religious sites and could be a major source of contagion during the pandemic.

The outbreak has, for a second year, forced Saudi authorities to dramatically downsize the hajj, and just 60,000 fully vaccinated citizens and residents of the kingdom have taken part this year.

The virus has killed more than five million people since emerging in China in December 2019.

Russia registered Sputnik V in August 2020 ahead of large-scale clinical trials, prompting concern among experts over the fast-tracked process.

But it was since declared safe and more than 90% effective in a report published by leading medical journal the Lancet.

But the Russian vaccine has not so far been approved by the World Health Organization or by the medical authorities of the European Union and the United States.

 

17:18

Covid live: UK reports 43,992 cases and 54 deaths; protests in Brussels turn violent
© Provided by The Guardian Rachel de Souza Photograph: Si Barber/The Guardian

The Children’s Commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza, has urged the Prime Minister “not to close schools” following the emergence of the Omicron variant.

Speaking about how lockdown had weakened the system of support for children, she said: “It’s also why I think we must not close schools again, we must not… I would urge him (Prime Minister) not to close schools.”

She said: “They (children) want things back to normal, they took a huge hit for us.

“We must not close schools again and my headteacher colleagues across the country are incredibly good at managing this situation, I watched them rush in to support the most vulnerable and I would definitely advise not to do this, if there is any other option.”

 

17:18

Hundreds of people have marched through central Brussels to protest tightened restrictions imposed by the Belgian government to counter the latest spike in cases.

The Associated Press (AP) reports that marchers came to protest the measures that were announced on Friday – the third week in a row the government has tightened its rules as the latest surge in cases strains the country’s health services, depriving people with other life-threatening diseases like cancer of treatment.

Shouting “freedom” and carrying banners that said: “United for our freedom, rights and our children,” people marched to the European Union headquarters. Some also carried signs critical of vaccines and against making the coronavirus shots mandatary, the AP said.

On Friday, the Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo announced that kindergartens and primary schools will close for the holiday season a week early, and that children must now wear masks from the age of six. Indoor events will only be allowed with a maximum of 200 people.

The AP reports that, previously, the government closed nightclubs and ordered bars and restaurants to shut at 11pm for three weeks. Speculation had been rife that closing times would be brought forward to 8pm but the cabinet decided against it, for now.

According to the latest coronavirus figures, the nation of 11 million people appears to have reached a plateau. On a weekly average, 17,862 new daily cases were reported, a rise of 6% over the previous week. Hospital admissions rose 4%. More than 3,700 people are in hospital with the virus, 821 of them in intensive care. More than 27,000 people have died since the outbreak began last year.

 

17:17

The UK’s NHS will be in a “very, very difficult position” if the Omicron variant were to lead to a surge in hospital admissions in the UK, the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine has warned.

Dr Katherine Henderson said hospitals were already struggling to cope as they enter winter.

It is pretty spectacularly bad now, it will get worse – and if the new variant becomes a thing in terms of numbers and translates into hospitals admissions we are going to be in a very, very difficult position.

We will always still be there. We still want patients to come but we do have to help people to understand that really at the moment the service is so stretched that an extra push could be very very difficult.

 

17:17

Staying in the UK, the former prime minister Tony Blair has blamed the continuation of the pandemic on a failure to coordinate vaccination campaigns on a global scale, rather than on a national one. He told BBC Radio 4:

It’s always been very obvious that, if you don’t vaccinate the world, this is a virus that can mutate. If you’ve got large populations that are unvaccinated, it’s likely to mutate faster and further.

The failure to organise mass vaccination globally has been a huge problem right throughout this crisis. There really have been three things obvious from the beginning: one we’re going to live with this virus, we’re not going to get rid of it; two vaccinations are the only way out of it and three that virus anywhere is virus everywhere.

So I think, even at this stage, it’s possible to change course. But we need to have it organised and so now it’s not just going to be about the supply of vaccines.

I think over the coming weeks and months, we’ll have a large supply of vaccine flowing even to Africa. But we will have to organise the distribution, the logistics and [it’s] absolutely vitally we’ve got to organise global genomic sequencing so that we know what’s happening in countries.

 

17:16

There has been a “concerning” jump to 183 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in Denmark the local health authorities have said.

Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports that the number represents a tripling of confirmed cases in 48 hours, from 18 confirmed and 42 suspected cases on Friday, according to data from the SSI public health institute.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) had previously tallied just 182 cases across all of the European Union, plus Norway and Iceland, AFP reports.

Denmark is one of Europe’s most advanced countries in sequencing of coronavirus variants. It often detects more cases more quickly than its neighbours, which does not necessarily indicate higher rates of infection.

SSI chief said the increase in Omicron cases was nevertheless ‘concerning’, adding that ‘there are now chains of infection where the variant is found in people who have not travelled abroad or been in contact with travellers’.

Also on Sunday, the ECDC said Omicron had been reported in 17 countries in its region.

‘The majority of confirmed cases have a history of travel to countries in Africa, with some having taken connecting flights at other locations between Africa and Europe,’ the ECDC said on its website before the Danish announcement.

Nevertheless, ‘several EU/EEA countries (Belgium, Germany, Spain) detected cases without an epidemiological link to areas where community transmission of the Omicron variant is documented or presumed,’ it added.

‘This indicates that undetected community transmission could be ongoing in these countries.’

 

17:12

The number of Omicron strain cases in India rose to 12 on Sunday, after seven new cases of the mutated Covid variant were recorded in the state of Maharashtra and one more case in New Delhi.

But scientists expect India’s potential Omicron wave to be less severe than that from Delta – which saw a devastating wave in March and April – after a wall of immunity was built as 70% of the population are believed to have been infected with previous variants.

About 50% of India’s adult population are fully vaccinated, the federal health ministry said.

Covid live: UK reports 43,992 cases and 54 deaths; protests in Brussels turn violent
© Provided by The Guardian A schoolgirl walks past a masked figure in street graffiti in Mumbai, India this week. Photograph: Hemanshi Kamani/Reuters

 

16:38

Italy reported 15,021 new Covid cases on Sunday, 16% up from 12,927 on the same day last week.

The health ministry said a further 43 Covid-related deaths were recorded, down from 103 on Wednesday. (Reported figures are often lower at weekends.)

Italy announced new restrictions for unvaccinated people last week. People require a Green Pass – vaccination, proof of a negative test or recent recovery from the virus – to eat in restaraunts, visit gyms, museums, theatres and other public venues.

Covid live: UK reports 43,992 cases and 54 deaths; protests in Brussels turn violent
© Provided by The Guardian Shoppers wear masks in Rome, Italy on Saturday. Photograph: Remo Casilli/Reuters

 

16:18

The UK detected 43,992 positive Covid infections in the past 24 hours, up 21% from 36,507 cases on Sunday last week.

A further 54 deaths were reported on Sunday, down from 171 recorded on Wednesday. (Reported figures are often lower at weekends.)

The figures came after Northern Ireland announced on Sunday that, similar to travel advice announced for England on Saturday, anyone arriving into the country will need to take a pre-departure Covid test from 4am on Tuesday – including the double-vaccinated.

This is Jem Bartholomew taking charge of the blog from here.

Summary

16:05 Kevin Rawlinson

Here’s a summary of the day’s events so far:

  • The UK’s political leaders have already left it too late to make a substantial difference to a potential wave of Omicron cases, a government scientific adviser said. Professor Mark Woolhouse, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M), said the variant is now spreading spreading pretty rapidly in the country and described measures being introduced by the government as “shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted”.
  • The country’s deputy prime minister piled more pressure on Boris Johnson over claims No 10 hosted Christmas parties while forcing the rest of the country into lockdown a year ago. Dominic Raab admitted such parties would have been a breach of Covid restrictions if they occurred. The prime minister does not deny that they did.
  • The UK’s health secretary Sajid Javid called on the public to get the booster vaccine before spending time with their loved ones at Christmas. Javid said it was “absolutely crucial” the public “top-up” their immunity before the holidays.

I’m now handing over to my colleague Jem Bartholomew.

 

15:49

 

15:08

Here’s a little more on those comments from Walensky, who has told ABC News:

We know we have several dozen cases and we’re following them closely. And we are every day hearing about more and more probable cases so that number is likely to rise.

The minimum of 15 states with reported Omicron cases include: California, Colorado and Connecticut, as well as Hawaii, Maryland and Massachusetts. Also among their number are Minnesota, Missouri and Nebraska, as well as New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Te remainder, according to a Reuters tally, are Utah, Washington and Wisconsin.

The news agency says Louisiana has also reported a probable case, while the person reported in New Jersey had also previously traveled to Georgia, which also reported the positive test.

 

14:40

Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease official, has said he hopes the ban on travellers from southern African countries can be lifted in a “reasonable period of time” as more information is gathered on the Omicron variant, Reuters reports.

Fauci said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program that US authorities are mindful of the hardship the travel ban is causing in those countries and are constantly re-evaluating the policy.

The variant had been found in about 15 US states as of Saturday night but the Delta variant remains the majority cases nationwide, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s director Rochelle Walensky told ABC News.

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