Covid live: UK reports 89,176 new cases and 277 deaths; Hong Kong offers hamster reparations after ordering cull

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LIVE – Updated at 17:05

UK cases and deaths fall day-on-day; Honk Kong government to compensate pet shops affected by culling of hamsters for Covid reasons.

 

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17:05

Italy has reported 143,898 Covid-related deaths today, compared with 155,697 the day before, the health ministry said.

Global Tech News Daily

Meanwhile, the number of deaths fell to 378 from 389.

Italy has registered 145,537 Covid-deaths since its outbreak emerged in February 2020, the second-highest toll in Europe after the UK and the ninth highest in the world.

Global Tech News Daily

The country has reported 10.68m cases to date. Patients in hospital with coronavirus – not including those in intensive care – stood at 19,796 today, down from 19,853 a day earlier.

Hong Kong government offers hamster reparations after ordering cull

16:51

Earlier this month, Hong Kong authorities sparked an animal rights’ row by ordering thousands of hamsters be surrendered for “disposal”, after traces of Covid were found on 11 animals in a pet shop. They also banned imports.

The government said on Friday it would compensate the pet shops affected by the culling of all hamsters on sale and tracing of people who had recently purchased them, Reuters reports.

The city’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said it would offer them a one-off payment of up to HK$30,000 (£2870).

“All these measures have affected the business of local pet shops selling hamsters,” the department said in an announcement, adding that payments would be made from the government’s anti-epidemic relief fund.

Covid live: UK reports 89,176 new cases and 277 deaths; Hong Kong offers hamster reparations after ordering cull
© Provided by The Guardian A volunteer carries a caged hamster after stopping an owner from surrendering it to the government outside the New Territories South Animal Management Centre on 20 January, 2022 in Hong Kong, China. Hong Kong’s pet shop owners have criticised but complied with a government decision to cull hamsters and temporarily ban imports of small animals over possible Covid-19 transmission links to humans. Photograph: Louise Delmotte/Getty Images

Last week, Hong Kong authorities enraged pet lovers with an order to cull about 2,200 hamsters after tracing an outbreak to a worker in a shop where 11 animals tested positive.

People who had in recent weeks bought hamsters – popular apartment pets in the congested city – were ordered to surrender them for testing and what the government described as “humane dispatch”.

In recent days thousands of people have offered to adopt unwanted hamsters amid a public outcry against the government and its pandemic advisers, which the office of Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam called irrational.

The link between hamsters and human transmission remains inconclusive, but government officials have said the crackdown was still needed as a precautionary measure.

UK reports 89,176 new cases and 277 Covid-linked deaths

16:37

On Friday, 89,176 new cases of coronavirus and 277 deaths within 28 days of a positive test were reported in the UK, official statistics show. That compares with 96,871 cases and 338 deaths recorded a day earlier.

Since early January, the number of confirmed Covid cases had been falling in the UK. But in recent days, the caseload has plateaued, with daily tallies hovering at about 90,000 cases.

Should we be concerned? In some ways, this levelling-off is unsurprising. Booster jabs have been rapidly rolled out, and that partly explains why the Omicron wave peaked earlier this month. A recent booster reduces the chance of infection by close to three-quarters.

Secondly, at the start of the year, people weren’t mixing as much. Data from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine suggested that adults made just 2.7 contacts a day at the start of December, down from 3.5 in September.

As people have returned to work and school, social mixing has gone up, making infections more likely. Particularly high levels are now being seen in children.

The #COVID19 Dashboard has been updated: https://t.co/XhspoyTG79

On 28 January 89,176 new cases and 277 deaths in 28 days of a positive test were reported in the UK.

Our data includes the number of people receiving a first, second and booster dose of the #vaccine pic.twitter.com/wdsIFKYxrK

— UK Health Security Agency (@UKHSA) January 28, 2022

Related: What lies on the other side of the UK’s Omicron wave?

 

16:10

Sweden has decided against recommending Covid vaccines for children aged five to 11, the country’s health agency said, arguing that the benefits did not outweigh the risks.

“With the knowledge we have today, with a low risk for serious disease for kids, we don’t see any clear benefit with vaccinating them,” Health Agency official Britta Bjorkholm told a news conference.

She added that the decision could be revisited if the research changed or if a new variant changed the pandemic. Children in high-risk groups can already get the vaccine.

Sweden recorded more than 40,000 new cases on 26 January, one of the highest daily numbers during the pandemic, despite limited testing.

While the fourth wave has seen daily infection records shattered, healthcare is not under the same strain as during previous waves.

 

15:59

More striking takings from the Office for National Statistics today. More than 350,000 new Covid cases each day were likely in early January, new ONS analysis has found.

This average estimate is more than double the official number reported on the government’s virus dashboard over the same period.

The figure is down from nearly 500,000 new cases a day estimated for the end of December – though this was nearly three times the dashboard total.

The analysis shows potentially how many new cases of coronavirus are still being missed in the official figures.

An average of 163,600 new cases per day were recorded from 2 to 8 January, according to the dashboard.

But the true number was likely to be nearer 358,500 a day, according to the ONS modelling, which was based on analysis of nose and throat swabs taken from a representative sample of more than 150,000 people in private households.

The sharp difference in totals reflects the limitations of the dashboard, which only counts people who have reported themselves as testing positive for the virus.

The figures from 2 to 8 January have only been published now due to the time needed to collect and process the data. The number of new cases reported by the government has always been lower than the level estimated by the ONS, but the gap has become wider since the arrival of the Omicron variant.

 

15:59

In pictures: Cases plateauing in parts of India but Omicron still on the rise

AP reports:

Indian health officials said there were signs of Covid infections plateauing in some parts of the country but warned cases were still surging in other states, linked to a new, stealthier version of the Omicron variant.

The country detected over 250,000 new infections on Friday, but Dr Vineeta Bal, who studies immune systems at the Indian Institute of Science Education Research in Pune city, warned this number is an underestimate.

She said that India’s pandemic efforts were still being marred by chronic issues like under-reporting of infections and patchy data, but minimising the number of people being treated in hospital was key.

“And fortunately, so far, even in the good, the bad and the ugly … it hasn’t gone out of hand,” said Bal.

Most of the cases were concentrated in 10 states, where over 90% of patients had mild symptoms and were being treated at home, Lav Agarwal, a federal health official, said at a media briefing. “Early indication of a plateau in cases are being reported in certain geographies,” Agarwal said on Thursday.

The rate of infection in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi in the north, Maharashtra on the western coast, and West Bengal, Odisha in the east has begun dipping, he said.

However, cases are still rising in the southern states of Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu along with Gujarat and Rajasthan in the northwest.

The dip in cases has prompted some local authorities to relax restrictions. In New Delhi, restaurants, bars, and cinemas can now run at half capacity.

Covid live: UK reports 89,176 new cases and 277 deaths; Hong Kong offers hamster reparations after ordering cull
© Provided by The Guardian A health worker in personal protective equipment takes a swab test for Covid 19 testing at a health center, in New Delhi, India, 28 January 2022. Photograph: Manish Swarup/AP
Covid live: UK reports 89,176 new cases and 277 deaths; Hong Kong offers hamster reparations after ordering cull
© Provided by The Guardian An Indian Muslim girl wears a mask in Bangalore, India ,28 January 2022. The Karnataka state government announced fresh guidelines for Covid testing for symptomatic and asymptomatic people. Photograph: Jagadeesh Nv/EPA
Covid live: UK reports 89,176 new cases and 277 deaths; Hong Kong offers hamster reparations after ordering cull
© Provided by The Guardian Indian paramilitary soldiers stand guard near a closed market during Covid lockdown in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Kashmir, India, 28 January 2022. The Jammu and Kashmir government continued a weekend lockdown in the region as Covid cases surged. The extended weekend curfew will remain in force until 6am on Monday. Photograph: Farooq Khan/EPA

BA.2, the newly detected version of Omicron, is not a cause for alarm, scientists say

15:58

My colleague Melissa Davey reported earlier Australia has recorded its deadliest day ever of the Covid pandemic, as the first cases of the BA.2 descendant of the Omicron variant were recorded in New South Wales.

What is BA.2? Is it something to be worried about?

Denmark, India, UK and northern Europe have recorded the most cases of BA.2, a descendant of Omicron. While it looks to be outcompeting the original Omicron strain, particularly in Denmark, there is no evidence of increased severity.

A report released on Thursday by the UK’s Health Security Agency offers some reassurance, suggesting that current vaccines protect against BA.2 just as well as they do against the original Omicron variant, with better protection against symptoms — an average of about 70% – two weeks after a booster.

CNN reports:

Experts say there’s no reason to panic over BA.2, which was first detected mid-November and has since spread to 49 countries including the United States.

“Among all the lineages of Omicron, this is the one showing a higher increase of cases. But we have to be careful in interpreting that, because higher increases from a very low number are easier to observe,” said Ramon Lorenzo-Redondo, assistant professor of medicine for infectious diseases at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

Like the more familiar version of Omicron, BA.2 has a large number of changes – about 20 – concentrated in the spike protein, the part of the virus that’s targeted by vaccines.

Unlike Omicron, however, it doesn’t cause a certain signature on lab tests called an s-gene target failure, meaning it can look like other SARS-CoV-2 variants on a first screen. That has some calling it ‘the stealth variant’.

But Lorenzo-Redondo says that nickname has caused people to think that it can’t be detected in lab tests, which isn’t the case.

“There has been confusing messaging about this subject. Both FDA-approved lab-based and at-home tests should detect this lineage, as well as the other Omicron (sublineage), BA.1,” he said.

In Denmark, BA.2 now accounts for about half of all new Covid-19 cases, according to a recent statement from Denmark’s Statens Serum Institute.On Thursday, Dr Sujeet Kumar Singh, director of India’s National Centre for Disease Control, said that BA.2 had become the dominant strain there.

Related: Australia records deadliest day of Covid pandemic as 35 cases of BA.2 Omicron variant detected

England’s R number dips to between 0.7 and 0.9

15:11

England’s R rate has fallen from last week and is now between 0.7 to 0.9, official statistics show. Last week, the figure was estimated to be between 0.8 and 1.1, while it was 1.1-1.5 in the week before that.

An R value between 0.7 and 0.9 means that, on average, every 10 people infected will infect between seven and nine other people.

It comes after England moved back to its Plan A Covid restrictions on Thursday 27 January, meaning face masks are no longer required by law.

Venues and events are also no longer legally obliged to ask people for a Covid pass, while work-from-home rules were scrapped last week.

Latest weekly figures for the reproduction number (R) and growth rate of #coronavirus (#COVID19)

Statistics for England as of 28 January:

▶️R value range: 0.7 to 0.9

▶️Growth rate range: -6 to -2%

More info: https://t.co/tQUj8yTEVu pic.twitter.com/KKnNKr3rHc

— UK Health Security Agency (@UKHSA) January 28, 2022

Reckless to leave 3bn unvaccinated while easing England rules, experts say

15:10 Andrew Gregory

Our health editor Andrew Gregory reports on another challenge to Boris Johnson’s credibility:

More than 300 leading scientists, health experts and academics have said Boris Johnson’s failure to sufficiently boost vaccination levels worldwide means new variants will put thousands of lives at risk in the UK.

“We write to you as scientists, academics, and public health experts concerned about the emergence of the Omicron variant and the threat that future variants may pose to public health, the NHS, and the UK’s vaccination programme,” they said in a two-page letter delivered to 10 Downing Street.

“Vaccinating the vast majority of the world’s population is the best way to prevent Sars-CoV-2 from mutating. However, as the UK has provided booster doses to up to 1 million people every day, more than 3 billion people across the world have yet to receive their first dose. More boosters have been delivered in rich countries than the total number of all doses administered so far in poorer nations.

“Allowing huge numbers of people in low- and middle-income countries to remain unvaccinated is a reckless approach to public health that creates conditions where new Sars-CoV-2 variants of concern are more likely to develop.”

Covid live: UK reports 89,176 new cases and 277 deaths; Hong Kong offers hamster reparations after ordering cull
© Provided by The Guardian Boris Johnson holds a news conference in the Downing Street briefing room in London in December. Photograph: Reuters

The prime minister has robustly defended his record on the pandemic this week while awaiting the findings of the Sue Gray report on the “partygate” scandal, insisting he “got the big calls right” on the biggest global health crisis in a century.

Laura Merson, a signatory of the letter and associate director of the Infectious Diseases Data Observatory at the University of Oxford, said protection provided by boosters would be “critically limited” while most of the world remained unvaccinated.

“The easing of plan B restrictions may give the impression that the pandemic is coming to an end,” she said. “But this won’t be over until we address the risk of new variants at the root – in populations that have not had access to vaccines.”

Related: Reckless to leave 3bn unvaccinated while easing England rules, experts say

 

15:08

Here’s Nicola Sturgeon’s take on the latest Sue Gray report developments. The Met says it has asked for the report to make minimal reference to Downing Street events it is investigating. This means the public will face a longer wait.

Scotland’s first minister tweeted:

1/ This gets murkier by the minute. Sue Gray and the Met are in difficult positions but the sequence of events and the situation arrived at now creates the suspicion – however unfairly – that the process of inquiry is aiding Johnson at the expense of public accountability https://t.co/wZd4FlvgbY

— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) January 28, 2022

2/ I doubt Johnson cares about damage to the reputations of others – individuals or institutions – as long as he saves his own skin. But these things matter. Rapid conclusion and full publication of the findings of inquiries surely now essential for public trust.

— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) January 28, 2022

ONS debunks ‘spurious’ Covid deaths claim shared by David Davis

13:52

Claims shared on social media, including by the former Brexit secretary David Davis, that the true number of deaths in England and Wales caused by Covid could be 17,000 have been debunked as “spurious” and factually incorrect by the Office for National Statistics.

The ONS responded after tweets by Davis suggesting that the figure 17,371 represented the death toll in people with no other underlying causes. Davis tweeted: “Up to the end of September 2021, the official count of the deaths of people with Covid was 137,133.” He added a freedom of information (FoI) request indicated only 17,371 of those deaths occurred in people with no underlying causes.

The FoI request to the ONS asked for all deaths in which Covid had been given as the sole cause on the death certificate, which is about a tenth of the generally stated toll.

GB News’ Dan Wootton falsely claimed that up to the end of Sep 2021, just 17,371 people died ‘of Covid’.

This is the number who died of Covid and had no pre-existing conditions.

There are many more who died ‘of Covid’ and had pre-existing conditions. https://t.co/fYUk5q8XMB

— Full Fact (@FullFact) January 26, 2022

James Tucker, an analyst at the ONS, said that to suggest the lower figure “represents the real extent of deaths from the virus is both factually incorrect and highly misleading”. It was common for Covid victims to have had a pre-existing health condition, but that did not mean they were at “imminent risk of dying from that condition, or even considered to have reduced life expectancy”, he wrote in a blog.

Tucker wrote:

More than 140,000 deaths have been due to Covid-19, meaning that it has been determined as the underlying cause. To exclude individuals with any pre-existing conditions from this figure greatly understates the number of people who died from Covid-19 and who might well still be alive had the pandemic not occurred.

Related: ONS debunks ‘spurious’ Covid deaths claim shared by David Davis

 

13:34

Roofers, beauticians and bar staff are among occupations in England with the lowest vaccination rates against Covid-19, official figures suggest.

About one in five (20.8%) roofers and tilers in England aged 18 to 64 have not had a vaccine, along with roughly the same proportion of complementary medicine professionals (20.9%) and beauticians (19.5%).

The Office for National Statistics figures are the first to estimate levels of non-vaccination among all working adults in England under the age of 65, as well as breaking down the figures according to how close employees are to each other – defined as being within an arm’s length or touching.

Other jobs that fall into this category and have comparatively high levels of non-vaccination include telesales workers (17.2%), bar staff (16.5%) and road construction operatives (16.1%).

For all jobs, regardless of the proximity of other employees, the highest level of non-vaccination was estimated to be among people working in “elementary construction occupations” – such as carrying building materials and digging trenches – with nearly one in four (23.2%) likely to have received no doses.

Some of the non-close-proximity jobs with high estimates of non-vaccination were scaffolders and riggers (22.3%), delivery operatives (19.6%) and packers, bottlers and canners (18.8%).

All figures are for vaccinations delivered up to 31 December, based on people recorded in the 2011 and 2021 censuses and registered with a GP.

 

13:22 Helen Davidson

The Winter Olympics are just around the corner … what is life like in Beijing’s ‘closed loop’ bubble?

Our Taiwan correspondent, Helen Davidson, speaks to those affected by Beijing’s tough zero Covid strategy:

Before Zhang Hua goes down for breakfast, he puts on a mask and rubber gloves. He leaves his hotel room and walks through halls while keeping a safe distance from others. Then he boards a specially commissioned bus driven along dedicated lanes to his job assisting foreign broadcasters preparing for the Winter Olympics.

In the media centre he takes his daily Covid test, and might eat a meal delivered by a robot. Depending on where he’s staying, Zhang may be allowed to visit his hotel gym later, or go to another hotel’s restaurant, but otherwise this is the only journey he can take.

Covid live: UK reports 89,176 new cases and 277 deaths; Hong Kong offers hamster reparations after ordering cull
© Provided by The Guardian In this photo released by China’s Xinhua news agency, members of the Chinese Winter Olympics team arrive at the team processing centre in Zhangjiakou, Hebei province. Photograph: Xiong Qi/AP

This is life inside one of the “closed loop” bubbles set up by China in an attempt to keep the Winter Olympics, which are due to begin on 4 February, Covid free. Zhang, who used a pseudonym, has been inside a bubble since 21 January.

“With the buses, going out is easy,” he told the Guardian. “It [the loop] doesn’t affect how we work much but it affects our lives, especially meals, and life is not as free as outside the loop.”

Throughout the pandemic, China’s government has maintained with large success a “zero Covid” strategy, assisted by strict border controls. The closed loop system is now tasked not only with keeping the Games as Covid-free as possible but also ensuring that the influx of 11,000 foreign athletes, officials, employees and guests, doesn’t spark a wider outbreak.

What is the loop?

The “closed loop” system designed for the Games consists of three interconnected competition zone bubbles, where participants and employees will work or compete, eat and sleep, without ever coming into contact with the general population.

The first covers Beijing’s city centre and the venues for ice competitions and the opening and closing ceremonies. The second is the suburban Yanqing site for Alpine skiing, snowmobile, and sledding events, and the third is way out in Zhangjiakou, 200km to the north-west in Hebei province, for the Nordic biathlon, freestyle skiing and snowboarding events.

Related: Keeping the Olympics Covid-free: life inside Beijing’s ‘closed loop’ bubble

NHS to prescribe antiviral pill for high-risk Covid patients from next month

12:46

An antiviral pill for those most at risk of serious Covid-19 will be rolled out on the NHS from next month, the UK government has announced.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the UK’s second antiviral, Paxlovid, also known as PF-07321332+ritonavir, will be made available to thousands of people with weakened immune systems from 10 February, with the aim of saving lives.

Clinical studies have found the drug, which is made by Pfizer, can cut the risk of hospital admission or death by 88% if given in the first five days of symptoms.

This is a valuable breakthrough for people with weakened immune systems, who may not get maximum protection from vaccines. High-risk patients include those who are immunocompromised, cancer patients and those with Down’s syndrome.

One other antiviral, molnupiravir, and the monoclonal antibody sotrovimab are already being given to high-risk patients, with nearly 10,000 people treated to date.

According to the DHSC, the UK has procured more antivirals per head than any other country in Europe, with more than 4.98m courses ordered so far.

Health secretary Sajid Javid said:

Our pharmaceutical defences are crucial as we learn to live with Covid-19 and the UK is leading the way, especially when it comes to the use of cutting-edge antivirals.

This is an important milestone – especially as Paxlovid has been shown in clinical trials to reduce the risk of hospitalisation or death for vulnerable patients by 88%, meaning potentially thousands of lives could be saved.

People in the highest risk groups have already been informed by the NHS if they have a condition that will make them eligible to receive the treatments.

 

12:39

In pictures: China gears up for Chinese New Year celebrations as the government warns families against travel

Millions of Chinese are traveling to their hometowns for the Lunar New Year, the country’s biggest family holiday, despite a government plea to stay where they are as Beijing tries to contain coronavirus outbreaks, AP reports.

Some 260 million people traveled in the 10 days since the holiday rush started on 17 January, official figures show. The government forecasts a total of 1.2bn trips this during the holiday season, up 36% from a year ago.

“I know we are encouraged to spend the New Year in Beijing, but I haven’t been back home for three years,” said Wang Yilei, whose hometown is Tangshan, east of the capital. “My parents are getting old and they are looking forward to seeing me.”

The Chinese capital, Beijing, is tightening controls to contain coronavirus outbreaks ahead of next week’s opening of the Winter Olympics.

Authorities in Beijing have ordered mass testing for more than 2 million people in the Fengtai district following outbreaks there. Some families were ordered not to leave their homes.

“We should go back home for the New Year as long as we can, if the local prevention policies allow us to,” said Wu Jinpeng, a university student who was en route from the southern island of Hainan to his hometown near Beijing.

“I called the government hotline of my hometown and they said I can go back, as long as my health code is green,” said Sun Jinle, a bank employee from Qinhuangdao, east of Beijing.

Covid live: UK reports 89,176 new cases and 277 deaths; Hong Kong offers hamster reparations after ordering cull
© Provided by The Guardian People browse for flowers at a Lunar New Year market in Hong Kong on 28 January 2022. The Lunar New Year falls on 1 February 2022 and will welcome the year of the Tiger. Photograph: Jérôme Favre/EPA
Covid live: UK reports 89,176 new cases and 277 deaths; Hong Kong offers hamster reparations after ordering cull
© Provided by The Guardian A woman with her children walk in snowfall at the Hankou railway station in Wuhan. A total of 2.8bn passenger trips are expected during the 40-day ‘Chunyun,’ or Spring festival travel rush, which started from 17 January this year. Photograph: Ren Yong/Sopa Images/Rex/Shutterstock
Covid live: UK reports 89,176 new cases and 277 deaths; Hong Kong offers hamster reparations after ordering cull
© Provided by The Guardian People take pictures with lanterns and decorations for the Lunar New Year in the old centre of Beijing on 27 January 2022. Photograph: Andrea Verdelli/Getty Images

 

12:37

Reuters has a short report on promising signs the Covid pill molnupiravir works against the Omicron variant.

Merck and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics said on Friday six lab studies showed that their experimental oral Covid-19 drug, molnupiravir, was active against the Omicron variant. The UK became the first country to approve the antiviral molnupiravir in November last year.

Paxlovid from Pfizer and molnupiravir from Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics were authorised by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in December. The pills could be a game-changer for the most vulnerable, because they can be taken at home twice a day for five days to prevent hospitalisation and death.

Molnupiravir works by interfering with the virus’ replication. This prevents it from multiplying, keeping virus levels low in the body and therefore reducing the severity of the disease.

Related: Covid pills are ‘very promising’ – but what are the challenges in using them?

‘Nobody is above the law’: Theresa May breaks silence on ‘partygate’

12:34

Theresa May, the UK’s former prime minister, has spoken out about No 10’s alleged rule-busting parties for the first time.

May told constituents that “nobody is above the law” in a letter seen by her local newspaper.

The Maidenhead Advertiser reported that May wrote:

I have said previously that it is vital that those who set the rules, follow the rules. Nobody is above the law.

This is important for ensuring the necessary degree of trust between the public and government.

Like so many, I was angry to hear stories of those in No 10, who are responsible for setting the coronavirus rules, not properly following the rules.

The letter – sent before the Metropolitan police launched an inquiry into the alleged parties – referred to senior official Sue Gray’s investigation, which has now been delayed due to the criminal probe.

May said that “if there is evidence of deliberate or premeditated wrongdoing, I expect full accountability to follow”.

She added:

All those working at the heart of government should conduct themselves with the highest of standards which befits the work they do, and this applies as much to those working in No 10 as to other parts of government.

May has been a critic of Boris Johnson’s policies in the Commons.

For further updates and analysis of the saga, head over to our politics blog, anchored today by Nicola Slawson.

Related: Downing Street parties: Theresa May says ‘nobody is above the law’ in first intervention over scandal – live

Germany says Omicron surge ‘under control’ despite record infections

12:12

Germany’s surge in daily Covid cases remains “under control” despite a string of new infection records, the country’s health minister said on Friday.

AP reports:

Authorities “have the Omicron wave under control at the moment,” said the health minister, Karl Lauterbach.

Yet infections continue to rise steeply. On Thursday, new daily cases topped 200,000 for the first time. On Friday, the infection rate reached another record of 1,073 new cases per 100,000 residents in a week.

Lauterbach told reporters in Berlin that the infection rate among the elderly – many of whom remain unvaccinated – is much lower than the average. He said so far the Omicron variant surge is slightly below projections.

Daily infections are expected to reach up to 400,000 before falling, likely in mid-February. The drop could come later the same month because of a mutation of Omicron known as BA.2, he added.

The government may ease restrictions “when the wave is broken”, and Lauterbach said that was “a very realistic perspective”.

Covid live: UK reports 89,176 new cases and 277 deaths; Hong Kong offers hamster reparations after ordering cull
© Provided by The Guardian Health minister Karl Lauterbach gives an update on Germany’s coronavirus situation in Berlin on 28 January 2022. Photograph: Action Press/Rex/Shutterstock

The minister defended a recent change to its coronavirus regulations to reduce the amount of time someone is considered immune following a Covid infection.

As of 15 January, the recovered status of someone who contracted Covid expires after three months. After that, the person is recommended to get a booster shot to be considered fully-vaccinated. Previously, the recovered status was valid for six months.

Lauterbach said Germany is pushing for all other EU countries to do the same.

 

12:01

Pope Francis has denounced Covid misinformation and the “distortion of reality based on fear”, calling for the media to ensure even those hardest to reach can access scientific information.

AP reports:

Francis met with Catholic journalists who have formed a fact-checking network to try to combat misinformation about the pandemic. Francis has frequently called for responsible journalism that searches for the truth and respects individuals, and his meeting with the “Catholic fact-checking” media consortium furthered that message. Francis said:

We can hardly fail to see that these days, in addition to the pandemic, an ‘infodemic’ is spreading: a distortion of reality based on fear, which in our global society leads to an explosion of commentary on falsified if not invented news.

He said access to accurate information, based on scientific data, is a human right that must be guaranteed for those who are less equipped to determine the differences between fact and opinion online.

Covid live: UK reports 89,176 new cases and 277 deaths; Hong Kong offers hamster reparations after ordering cull
© Provided by The Guardian Pope Francis visits the atrium of the Paul-VI hall in the Vatican during a Covid vaccination campaign in April 2021 organised for homeless and vulnerable people. Photograph: Vatican Media/AFP/Getty Images

Some Catholics, including some conservative US bishops and cardinals, have claimed that vaccines based on research that used cells derived from aborted foetuses were immoral, and have refused to get the jabs.

The Vatican’s doctrine office, however, has said it is “morally acceptable” for Catholics to receive Covid-19 vaccines, including those based on research that used cells derived from aborted foetuses. Francis and Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI have both had Pfizer jabs.

 

11:50

A quick Reuters’ update here: Israel has signed a deal to buy 5m Covid vaccinations from Novavax, the country’s health ministry says.

The vaccines are due to arrive in the country of about 9 million people in the coming months, pending regulatory approval.

Today so far …

11:30

  • Russia’s daily Covid-19 cases surged to 98,040 on Friday, a new record high for the eighth consecutive day as the Omicron variant continued to spread, the government’s coronavirus task force said.
  • The Philippines will grant quarantine-free entry to visitors from more than 150 countries provided they are vaccinated against Covid from 10 February, its government has said, in an effort to boost the tourism sector.
  • Australia has recorded its deadliest day ever of the Covid pandemic, with 98 deaths recorded, as the first cases of the BA.2 descendant of the Omicron variant have been recorded in NSW.
  • Australia’s medical regulator has sounded the alarm on companies allegedly trying to bring unapproved rapid antigen tests (RATs) into the country, with federal police investigating claims one firm forged the authorisation of health minister Greg Hunt on forms.
  • In the UK, Scotland Yard has said it has asked for references to matters it is now investigating to be removed from Sue Gray’s report into parties held in breach of lockdown restrictions at Downing Street.
  • A group of scientists have warned the UK government that allowing poorer countries to remain unvaccinated is a “reckless approach to public health”, meaning Covid variants are more likely to develop.
  • Nightclubs will be allowed to reopen in Wales from today as Covid restrictions are eased further. “Alert level zero” came into effect from 6am this morning.
  • The head of the Paris hospitals system has questioned whether people who refuse to be vaccinated against Covid should continue to have their treatment covered by public health insurance.
  • The Omicron variant now accounts for nearly all new infections in Italy, the National Health Institute said, accounting for almost 96% of cases in a flash survey.
  • The European Union ombudsman has criticised the European Commission for not disclosing text messages that the head of the EU executive, Ursula von der Leyen, exchanged with Pfizer chief, Albert Bourla, before sealing a Covid-19 vaccine deal.
  • India detected over 250,000 new infections today, but health officials said there were signs of Covid infections plateauing in some parts of the country.
  • Japan’s deputy chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihiko Isozaki, has tested positive for Covid.
  • Health authorities in Thailand have approved new guidelines outlining the parameters for declaring the coronavirus pandemic an endemic disease.

Nicola Slawson is in charge of our UK politics live blog today. Georgina Quach will be here shortly to take you through the day’s UK and world coronavirus news.

I’m Martin Belam, and this is actually my last stint on the Covid blog for a while, as I will be covering the Winter Olympics and Paralympics over the next few weeks. You can sign up for my daily Beijing email briefing here. Thanks very much for reading, take care, and I will see you soon.

 

11:26

First, on schools in England: The government exams chief has quelled worries about changes to GCSE and A-level exams giving certain pupils an advantage.

Because of the pandemic’s disruption to pupils’ learning, English school students will be assessed differently in 2022.

The planned changes include:

  • Pupils will be offered a choice of topics in some GCSE exams, including English literature, history, ancient history and geography.
  • Pupils will get advance information on the focus of exams to support students’ revision in subjects where there is not a choice of topics.
  • Changing requirements for practical science work and practical art and design assessments.

Jo Saxton, head of Ofqual, the exams regulator, said these changes will not make exams easier for more able pupils.

In a speech to the Sixth Form Colleges Association conference earlier in January, Saxton said that the release of advance information on the kinds of topics pupils will see in their exams would not advantage higher-ability pupils.

Pupils will be given information on 7 February to help focus their revision to answer questions carrying more marks – higher-tariff questions – whereas advance information will not be provided for one- or two-mark questions.

She said:

It would be silly to publish a document that says something like; you will be asked to identify the year in which the Versailles Treaty was signed, or the year in which Magna Carta was signed. Clearly, at that point, the exam would stop being an exam.

But she added that questions carrying more marks did not necessarily mean “harder content”, as pupils of any ability gained marks across an exam paper.

“We hope that the benefit of advance information will mean that students who suffered the most disruption, or those who are less able, may gain confidence to tackle elements of a paper that they might previously not have felt confident to try,” she announced.

In 2020, the government initially planned to use an algorithm to determine pupils’ exam grades but was forced to U-turn over the issue and award grades assessed by pupils’ teachers instead, after thousands of pupils received grades well below what they had expected on A-level results’ day.

 

11:23

Hello from London. I’m Georgina Quach, hopping on to the blog for the next eight hours – I’ll be bringing you Covid news from around the world. Please feel free to get in touch with me as I work: email georgina.quach@theguardian.com or message @georginaquach on Twitter.

 

10:50

Associated Press have a little more on the Philippines opening up to tourists again. The country will reopen its doors to travellers from more than 150 countries with visa-free privileges starting 10 February. Foreign travellers will no longer be required to quarantine in government-designated centres upon arrival if they have been fully vaccinated and tested negative prior to arrival, officials said.

“We’re done with border control,” health under-secretary Rosario Vergeire told a news conference, adding that government focus has shifted to preventing community transmission of the Omicron variant, which has caused five deaths in the country so far.

Tourism secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat said: “We are also aware that there is no room for complacency given the unpredictability of the virus. We will closely monitor the situation and ensure that health and safety protocols are strictly implemented in all tourism establishments.”

President Rodrigo Duterte warned that unvaccinated Filipinos who defy orders to stay at home could face arrest. Commuters who have not been vaccinated were also prohibited from public transport in the capital region of more than 13 million people unless on urgent errands, for at least up to the end of the month.

 

10:49

The Omicron coronavirus now accounts for nearly all new infections in Italy, the National Health Institute (ISS) said, accounting for almost 96% of cases in a flash survey. The previous survey from 3 January showed Omicron responsible for 81% of cases.

“In Italy on 17 January, the Omicron variant was predominant, with an estimated prevalence of 95.8%, while Delta was at 4.2% of the sample tested”, the institute said in a statement.

Reuters report from Milan that the analysis is based on 2,486 swabs tested in 124 laboratories and collected in all 21 Italian regions and autonomous provinces.

 

10:48

A quick snap from Reuters that a senior Japanese government official, deputy chief cabinet secretary Yoshihiko Isozaki, has tested positive for Covid after showing symptoms, including fever.

The news was broken by the NTV television network. In the course of his job, Isozaki meets with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida relatively frequently, but the broadcaster gave no further details, including when the two of them last met.

 

10:20

Health authorities in Thailand have approved new guidelines outlining the parameters for declaring the coronavirus pandemic an endemic disease.

Official figures show that the country already meets the three criteria, but ministry of public health spokesman Rungrueng Kitphati said it would still be between six months and a year before the government would be able to make the decision to start treating Covid-19 as an illness that is here to stay, like the flu or measles.

Associated Press report that among other things, he said data from all of Thailand’s provinces need to be checked, and authorities need to be sure that the figures remain at the current levels or improve before it can be declared endemic.

The guidelines drawn up by the ministry’s National Communicable Disease Committee are made up of three criteria:

  • that there are fewer than 10,000 new cases per day
  • that the fatality rate is no higher than 0.1% of those who are admitted to the hospital with an infection
  • and that more than 80% of at-risk people have had at least two vaccinations

 

09:50

It was Andrew Sparrow’s 2,500th UK politics live blog yesterday, so he has been allowed one day off. Nicola Slawson is at the helm today, and she is live now. You can follow that here.

Related: Downing Street parties: Met asks for references to its investigation to be removed from Gray report – live

I will continue here with global coronavirus news, and the top Covid lines that emerge in the UK.

 

09:29

The SNP’s Ian Blackford has been typically forthright in his views on the news this morning that the Met police have asked for details to be withdrawn from Sue Gray’s report.

Here we go again, kicking this into the long grass. Who does this benefit, certainly not Parliament in seeking to hold @BorisJohnson to account. He needs to answer for his misdemeanours. The details must be published in full rather than what this is, taking us all for fools. https://t.co/zVik85Deah

— Ian Blackford (@Ianblackford_MP) January 28, 2022

 

09:24

Reuters report from Brussels that the European Union ombudsman has criticised the European Commission for not disclosing text messages that the head of the EU executive Ursula von der Leyen exchanged with Pfizer chief Albert Bourla before sealing a Covid-19 vaccine deal.

In response to a public access request by a journalist, the Commission had said no record had been kept of such messages.

“The narrow way in which this public access request was treated meant that no attempt was made to identify if any text messages existed. This falls short of reasonable expectations of transparency and administrative standards in the Commission,” said ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, who also asked the Commission to check again for the relevant messages.

 

09:06

India detected over 250,000 new infections today, but health officials said there were signs of Covid infections plateauing in some parts of the country.

Most of the cases were concentrated in 10 states, where over 90% of patients had mild symptoms and were being treated at home, Lav Agarwal, a federal health official, said at a media briefing.

The rate of infection in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi in the north, Maharashtra on the western coast, and West Bengal, Odisha in the east has begun dipping, he said. However, cases are still rising in the southern states of Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu along with Gujarat and Rajasthan in the northwest.

“Early indication of a plateau in cases are being reported in certain geographies,” said Agarwal.

Associated Press report he said that the number of people who needed oxygen support or had to be hospitalised during the current surge was lower than in the one fuelled by the delta variant last year.

The dip in cases has prompted some local authorities to relax restrictions. In New Delhi, restaurants, bars, and movie theatres can now run at half capacity. Health experts cautioned that with restrictions loosening, infections were likely to increase.

“This is a balance that we always have to play with,” said Dr Jacob John, who studies viruses at the Christian Medical College in southern Vellore city.

Over half of India’s population is fully vaccinated. And around 20% are waiting for a second shot. India started giving a booster shot to some vulnerable groups earlier in January, but health officials said that there has been no discussion about whether booster shots were necessary for the wider population.

 

09:03

What details are contained in Sue Gray’s report is for the senior civil servant and the police to “work out between them”, a Government minister has said.

It came after Scotland Yard asked for the Whitehall inquiry into allegations of lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street to make only “minimal reference” to the events being investigated by police.

Technology minister Chris Philp, asked on ITV’s Good Morning Britain programme about the development, said: “I saw that report just a few minutes ago. PA Media quote him saying:

The way that the Sue Gray report gets put together is something that is a matter entirely for Sue Gray. It is up to her and the police how to handle that. Clearly, between Sue Gray and the police, this will get fully investigated – as it should.

But the important thing to say is that the Government have no influence and no involvement in how Sue Gray and the police conduct their respective reports and investigations, which is right – it is right they are fully independent.

So, between the two of them, they will cover all of the incidents that need investigating so the public and Parliament have a full and proper account. But that is up to Sue Gray and the police to work that out between them – it is not something the Government should or would interfere with.

Met asked for ‘minimal reference’ to No 10 investigation in Sue Gray report

08:51 Ben Quinn

Scotland Yard has said it has asked for references to matters it is now investigating to be removed from Sue Gray’s report into parties held in breach of lockdown restrictions at Downing Street.

“For the events the Met is investigating, we asked for minimal reference to be made in the Cabinet Office report,” the Metropolitan police said in a statement on Friday morning.

“The Met did not ask for any limitations on other events in the report, or for the report to be delayed, but we have had ongoing contact with the Cabinet Office, including on the content of the report, to avoid any prejudice to our investigation.”

The force issued the statement in response to questions from journalists about any role it had played in seeking to delay the report.

Officials in the Cabinet Office are still wrangling over the final version of Sue Gray’s findings on a string of alleged Covid rule-breaking parties in Downing Street and other parts of government.

Despite anticipation reaching fever pitch earlier this week that the report on which the prime minister’s premiership could hang was close to completion, its publication was delayed when Scotland Yard opened its own investigation.

Read more here: Met asked for ‘minimal reference’ to No 10 investigation in Sue Gray report

Related: Met asked for ‘minimal reference’ to No 10 investigation in Sue Gray report

 

08:47

Russia’s daily Covid-19 cases surged to 98,040 on Friday, a new record high for the eighth consecutive day as the Omicron variant continued to spread, the government’s coronavirus task force said.

Reuters report that the number of new infections was a significant jump from the 88,816 reported on Thursday. Officials also said that 673 people had died in the last 24 hours.

 

08:27

Both Robert Peston and Tom Newton-Dunn are making the same point in the UK, that if the long-awaited Sue Gray report is only able to make “minimal reference” to anything that is potentially criminal and being investigated by the Met police, it casts a doubt on whether it can be published at all in a satisfactory manner until the police have completed their investigation.

On the basis of the statement from the Met Police this morning, it’s hard to see how Sue Gray can publish anything meaningful till the police inquiries are concluded. When she initially decided her report had to be put on hold till the Met had finished their work, she was…

— Robert Peston (@Peston) January 28, 2022

If only “minimal reference” can be made to the most serious breaches in the Gray report, on The Met’s insistence, surely its publication should now be delayed in its entirety. MPs, and voters, must be able to judge everything that happened in the round.

— Tom Newton Dunn (@tnewtondunn) January 28, 2022

 

08:24

In the UK, the opposition shadow secretary for Scotland, Labour’s Ian Murray, has been asked about the consequences of that Met statement about the Sue Gray report. They have said they did not ask for the publication to be delayed, but have said “For the events the Met is investigating, we asked for minimal reference to be made in the Cabinet Office report.” [see 7.54am]

Murray told Sky News “What it does tell us is that there are items in the Sue Gray report that are now part of a criminal investigation, and therefore it’s pretty clear that the report contains very serious information about law breaking in Downing Street by the Prime Minister and his team. And that in itself is an incredibly serious allegation.

“We know that there have been parties in Downing Street, we’ve seen the photographs, we’ve seen the emails to invite people to it. We’ve seen all the excuses the Prime Minister has given – I think he’s up to his sixth excuse now. All the way from not knowing that was a party, to not knowing parties were taking place, to not be invited to parties he was pictured at, to being ambushed by a cake. It’s getting more and more ridiculous by the day.

“We do need to see the Sue Gray report, but the very serious thing from that Metropolitan police statement earlier is there’s quite clearly allegations of criminality in the Sue Gray report, and that’s why they’re being asked to have minimal reference to them.

“I think it waters down the Sue Gray report. We want it published in full. We want all the evidence published in full as well, so that there can be complete transparency.

“And it’s quite clear throughout this whole saga, that whilst the government is paralysed by this ‘Partygate’ agenda that the big issues of the day, in terms of the country, are not being addressed. The only way to resolve that is for the prime minister to do the decent thing.

 

08:16

Associated Press today have a follow up on their story from yesterday about the allegations of abuse and racism levelled at Dr Takeshi Kasai, who heads up the Western Pacific section of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Today AP report that Japan’s government has said it will watch the WHO’s investigation into the Japanese official, but denied it inappropriately received sensitive vaccine information from him.

Koichiro Matsumoto, deputy cabinet secretary for public affairs at the prime minister’s office in Japan, told the AP on Friday the government understands the WHO is taking appropriate steps.

“There is no truth (to the allegation) that the Japanese government inappropriately accepted sensitive information related to our vaccine contributions,” he said.

He said Japan takes seriously the importance of maintaining equal and fair access to safe, effective and high-quality vaccines for all countries and regions, and that the Japanese government has been providing support through cooperation with Covax, an international cooperative program formed to make sure low- and middle-income countries have fair access to Covid-19 vaccines, as well as with WHO and related governments.

WHO staffers have alleged that Kasai engaged in unethical, racist and abusive behaviour, undermining their efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic, according to an internal complaint filed last October.

The complaints were also emailed to senior WHO leaders last week and describe a “toxic atmosphere” with “a culture of systemic bullying” at WHO’s regional headquarters in the Philippines. Recordings obtained by the AP also showed that Kasai made derogatory remarks to his staff during meetings based on nationality. Kasai denied the allegations.

 

08:04

Sky News’ political correspondent Rob Powell offers this instant analysis of the consequences of that statement by London’s Met Police [see 7.54am]

This is significant as it suggests if the Gray report is published before the Met investigation is finalised then the most serious allegations may be scaled back. Which would clearly be good news for the PM.

— Rob Powell (@robpowellnews) January 28, 2022

‘Alert level zero’ comes into effect in Wales, dropping many Covid restrictions

08:00

Nightclubs will be allowed to reopen in Wales from today as Covid restrictions are eased further and “alert level zero” came into effect from 6am this morning.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said in a statement overnight:

We have passed the peak of this omicron wave and there are encouraging signs that cases of coronavirus may be starting to stabilise. But we all need to continue taking steps to stay safe – unfortunately the pandemic is not over yet.

We are moving to alert level zero and we will retain some important protections, such as face coverings in most indoor public places and risk assessments.

We can do this thanks to the hard work and efforts of everyone in Wales and the remarkable success of our vaccine and booster programmes. Thank you all.

Covid passes will remain for nightclubs, as well as for large indoor events, concert halls, cinema and theatre visits in Wales.

Other changes today include the dropping of the “rule of six” and 2m social distancing in workplaces, and bars and pubs will no longer have to be table service only.

Met police: we did not ask for Sue Gray report to be delayed

07:54

London’s Metropolitan Police have issued a statement regarding the publication of Sue Gray’s report, in an attempt to clarify from their side what they have asked. They say:

For the events the Met is investigating, we asked for minimal reference to be made in the Cabinet Office report.

The Met did not ask for any limitations on other events in the report, or for the report to be delayed, but we have had ongoing contact with the Cabinet Office, including on the content of the report, to avoid any prejudice to our investigation.

 

07:39 Josh Butler

Australia’s medical regulator has sounded the alarm on companies allegedly trying to bring unapproved rapid antigen tests (RATs) into Australia, with federal police investigating claims one firm forged the authorisation of health minister Greg Hunt on forms.

Many millions of rapid tests are due to arrive in Australia in coming weeks to fulfil large orders placed by state and federal governments. But local supply in Australia is patchy at best, with chemists saying supply is not keeping up with the huge demand for rapid tests among citizens, businesses and community groups.

“The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) in collaboration with the Australian Federal Police are investigating false documentation allegedly used to support the illegal importation and supply of unapproved rapid antigen tests for Covid-19,” the TGA said in a statement on Friday.

“The letter, claimed to have been issued by minister Hunt, appears to provide a NSW based company with an exemption from the requirement to include their product in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods prior to importation and supply in Australia.

“No special exemptions to import or supply unapproved rapid antigen tests have been granted by the TGA.”

It is unclear if any of the unapproved rapid tests have made it into Australia, or have been offered for sale. The TGA did not name the company it says is under investigation.

Read more of Josh Butler’s report here: Companies allegedly forged documents to bring unapproved rapid antigen tests into Australia, TGA says

Related: Companies allegedly forged documents to bring unapproved RATs into Australia, TGA says

 

07:31

I must confess that when I went into journalism I under-estimated the number of times I would end up typing out the words “ambushed by cake”, but Politico’s London Playbook this morning has a twist in that tale. They write:

In a bizarre Partygate spin-off, [Boris] Johnson ally Conor Burns said the prime minister told him there was no cake at his birthday party in 2020 despite reports to the contrary. Speaking on Chopper’s podcast Burns said: “I’m told under some authority, indeed from him, that there actually wasn’t a cake.” It was of course Burns who originally defended the gathering by saying the PM had been “ambushed with a cake.” That line did not form part of any approved comms strategy, Burns was at pains to clarify yesterday, saying: “That was definitely a lone operation, for which I have paid a price. A colleague said to me this morning: ‘You do realize, Conor, that’s going to be in your obituary.’” And asked what a party without a cake was called he said: “A meeting.”

The trouble is: No. 10 has never before denied the existence of the cake — which was said to have been presented to Johnson by his wife Carrie and interior designer Lulu Lytle in the Cabinet room on 19 June, 2020. ITV’s Paul Brand, who broke the story, hit back on Twitter last night saying: “There was a cake. When we approached No 10 for an official response on Monday they did not at any moment deny that there was a cake. Ministers have repeatedly discussed the cake in the interviews ensuing, including Conor Burns.” No. 10 wouldn’t be drawn on this last night but no doubt it’ll come up at the Lobby briefing today.

Earlier this week in parliament, Conservative leader of the house Jacob Rees-Mogg tried to deflect from the whole story by dismissing it as a Labour and media obsession with cake

It is important to remember that the story isn’t really whether there was cake or not, it is about the prime minister being at the despatch box on 8 December and saying “I have been repeatedly assured that the rules were not broken. I repeat that I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken.”

Boris Johnson then told Sky News on 13 December “I can tell you once again that I certainly broke no rules … all that is being looked into.”

All the evidence that has emerged since, including a photograph of Johnson in the Downing Street garden and the story of the cake ambush, suggest that those statements may have been knowingly untrue.

 

07:17

Technology minister Chris Philp is the person on the airwaves in the UK for the government today. He said on Sky News just now that he spoke to someone at Downing Street about half an hour ago, and at that point he was given no indication that they had yet received Sue Gray’s long-awaited reported into the allegations of lockdown parties at Downing Street.

 

07:11

The Philippines will grant entry to visitors vaccinated against Covid from 10 February, its government has said, in an effort to boost the tourism sector.

The archipelago nation of more than 7,000 islands had planned to reopen in December, but that was aborted over concerns about the Omicron variant. Citizens of 150 countries that have visa-free entry to the Philippines will be allowed to enter.

Tourism secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat said in a statement that the move “will contribute significantly to job restoration, primarily in tourism-dependent communities, and in the reopening of businesses that have earlier shut down.”

Reuters report Puyat also said the government will remove quarantine requirements for returning Filipinos from 1 February, and for foreign tourists from 10 February, but they must be vaccinated and test negative for Covid.

 

07:00

Hello, it is Martin Belam here in London. I’m taking over from Samantha Lock for the next few hours, with all the Covid news from around the world and the UK. I’ll bring you the latest quotes from whoever has been sent out by the government to say “I can’t comment on that until the Sue Gray report is published” in due course.

Australia records deadliest day of pandemic

06:52 Melissa Davey

Australia has recorded its deadliest day ever of the Covid pandemic, with 98 deaths recorded, as the first cases of the BA.2 descendant of the Omicron variant have been recorded in NSW.

There are now 35 cases of BA.2 in Australia overall including in Tasmania, ACT, Queensland, WA and Victoria.

Of the new deaths, 39 were recorded in Victoria, 35 in NSW, 18 in Queensland, and one in the ACT. The previous one-day high was on 21 January, when 88 deaths were recorded.

While overall cases are plateauing, the country’s chief nursing and midwifery officer, Prof Alison McMillan, said death rates were set to remain high for some time:

As we have seen during the two years of the pandemic, the number of deaths associated with those cases stay higher for a longer period. There is a delay in the number of deaths. Sadly, we have seen quite a number of deaths.

Read the full story here.

Related: Australia records deadliest day of Covid pandemic as 35 cases of BA.2 Omicron variant detected

Debate over cost of care for unvaccinated ignited in France

06:42

The head of the Paris hospitals system has questioned whether people who refuse to be vaccinated against Covid should continue to have their treatment covered by public health insurance.

The remarks have set off a fierce debate in the country.

Under France’s universal healthcare system, all Covid patients who end up in intensive care are fully covered for their treatment, which costs about 3,000 euros per day and typically lasts a week to 10 days.

Paris AP-HP hospitals system chief Martin Hirsch said:

When free and efficient drugs are available, should people be able to renounce it without consequences … while we struggle to take care of other patients?”

Hirsch said he raised the issue because health costs are exploding and that the irresponsible behaviour of some should not jeopardise the availability of the system for everyone else.

Summary

06:38

Hello it’s Samantha Lock back with you on the blog as we unpack all the latest international Covid developments.

Let’s begin with some news hitting the headlines in France where the head of the Paris hospitals system questioned whether people who refuse to be vaccinated against Covid should continue to have their treatment covered by public health insurance.

“When free and efficient drugs are available, should people be able to renounce it without consequences … while we struggle to take care of other patients?” Paris AP-HP hospitals system chief Martin Hirsch said on French television on Wednesday.

The remarks have set off a fierce debate in the country. Hirsch said he raised the issue because health costs are exploding and that the irresponsible behaviour of some should not jeopardise the availability of the system for everyone else.

A group of scientists have warned the UK government that by allowing poorer countries to remain unvaccinated is a “reckless approach to public health”, meaning Covid variants are more likely to develop.

A letter signed by more than 300 experts, including 13 members of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) in a personal capacity, says vaccinating most of the world’s population is “the best way” to prevent coronavirus mutations. It says vaccines will “not be effective” at stopping new variants unless the UK ensures more people in poorer countries are jabbed.

Here’s a quick recap of all the international Covid developments:

Europe:

  • England is going back to its “Plan A” Covid strategy by lifting virus restrictions, with commuters back to the office, masks no longer required in enclosed places and vaccine passports shelved.
  • The EU’s drug regulator gave the green light to Pfizer Inc’s antiviral Covid-19 pill for treating adults at risk of severe illness.
  • Booster shots could reduce future hospitalisations in Europe by at least half a million, the EU’s public health agency said.
  • Finland will begin gradually easing restrictions from 1 February instead of mid-February as initially planned.
  • The head of the Paris hospitals system has set off a fierce debate by questioning whether people who refuse to be vaccinated should continue to have their treatment covered by public health insurance.
  • Spain’s north-eastern Catalonia region drops the need for a Covid passport to enter restaurants, bars and gyms.
  • Sweden’s health authority says it will not recommend Covid-19 jabs for all five to 11 year olds, the country again choosing a different Covid policy to much of Europe.
  • Many more Covid restrictions are being lifted on Friday in Wales, allowing nightclubs to reopen and some rules on social distancing to be scrapped.

Asia:

  • Hong Kong will shorten its 21-day quarantine requirement to 14 days for incoming travellers starting from 5 February.
  • New Delhi ends a weekend curfew, reopens restaurants and allows markets to operate at full capacity, as the Omicron variant outbreak slows.

Americas:

  • Canadian truck drivers are meeting in Ottawa to protest a federal government vaccine mandate.
  • Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau says he has been exposed to Covid-19 and will isolate for five days, in accordance with health rules for vaccinated people.
  • The US government’s main health agency is failing to meet its responsibilities for leading the national response to public health emergencies, including the coronavirus pandemic, a federal watchdog said Thursday.

Middle East:

  • A United Arab Emirates medical convoy of one million Covid-19 vaccines reached the Gaza Strip via the Rafah border crossing, state news agency WAM said.
  • Morocco will reopen its airspace for international flights starting Feb. 7, the state news agency (MAP) reported on Thursday.
  • Covid-19 boosters increase protection against death from the Omicron variant to 95% in people aged 50 or over, the UK Health Security Agency said.
  • China’s Walvax Biotechnology has recruited most of the 28,000 participants needed for a large clinical trial of its mRNA Covid-19 vaccine candidate, a senior company official said.
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Resigning North Dakota senator led lawmakers in travel costs

The Associated PressFILE – North Dakota Sen. Ray Holmberg listens during a joint House and Senate Appropriations Committee meeting at the Capitol in Bismarck, N.D., on Jan. 7, 2009. Holmberg, ... Read more »

Residents in picturesque California county hit with gas prices topping $7 a gallon

A California county known for its spectacular mountains and proximity to Yosemite National Park has been paying the nation’s highest gas prices. Read more »

Boudreau to return as coach of Canucks next season

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Bruce Boudreau will return as coach of the Vancouver Canucks next season after helping to turn the struggling NHL club around as a midyear replacement. ... Read more »

New Zealand leader Jacinda Ardern tests positive for COVID

On Location: May 13, 2022 Catch up on the developing stories making headlines.The Associated Press WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has tested positive for COVID-19 ... Read more »

Today in History for May 14th

Highlights of this day in history: Colonists go ashore in Virginia to set up Jamestown; Lewis and Clark begin to explore Louisiana Territory; Israel founded; Skylab launched; Movie producer George ... Read more »

Twitter CEO expects Elon Musk acquisition to close, addresses spending cuts

Musk is awaiting details supporting calculations that spam, fake accounts represent less than 5% of Twitter's users Read more »

Padres: No cancer found during Bob Melvin's prostate surgery

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The San Diego Padres say no cancer was found when manager Bob Melvin had prostate surgery on Wednesday. Melvin, 60, was recovering at home Friday after ... Read more »

Renovated NYC museum shows indigenous perspectives

The American Museum of Natural History in New York City recently finished a major renovation of its exhibition on the native peoples of the northwest coast of North America. Curators ... Read more »

Police release 911 calls in Gilgo Beach case

A woman who disappeared in a beach community on New York’s Long Island more than a decade ago, sparking an investigation into a possible serial killer, said “there’s somebody after ... Read more »

Academy Awards set 2023 Oscars for March 12

The Associated PressFILE – Oscar statue on the red carpet at the Oscars on Sunday, March 27, 2022, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Next year’s Academy Awards will ... Read more »

Actor Fred Ward, of 'Tremors,' 'The Right Stuff' fame, dies

The Associated PressFILE – Fred Ward, a cast member in “30 Minutes or Less,” poses at the premiere of the film in Los Angeles on Aug. 8, 2011. Ward, a ... Read more »

Judge refuses to drop elections suit against Trump, media

NEW YORK — A Colorado judge on Friday denied motions to dismiss a defamation lawsuit filed by an election systems worker against former President Donald Trump’s campaign, two of its ... Read more »

Q&A: Becky G unveils every side of herself in latest album

The Associated PressFILE – Becky G appears at the Oscars in Los Angeles on March 27, 2022. Beck G’s latest album is “Esquemas.” (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File) NEW YORK ... Read more »

North Korea reports 21 new deaths as it battles COVID-19 outbreak

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea reports 21 new deaths as it battles COVID-19 outbreak. Read more »

North Korea confirms 21 new deaths as it battles COVID-19

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea says 21 people died and 174,440 people were newly found with fever symptoms on Friday alone as the country scrambles to slow the spread ... Read more »

White Sox place Giolito on COVID list, activate Vaughn

The Chicago White Sox placed ace Lucas Giolito on the COVID-19 injured list and activated outfielder Andrew Vaughn following a rehab assignment with Triple-A Charlotte on Friday. Giolito began experiencing ... Read more »

Traded back and forth, Ford learns to live out of suitcase

NEW YORK (AP) — Mike Ford has learned to travel light — and quickly. Since the start of the season, the 29-year-old first baseman has played for Tacoma, San Francisco ... Read more »

Falcon 9 rocket launches Starlink satellites

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched 53 Starlink satellites to low-Earth orbit from California on Friday. (May 13) Read more »

Celtics' Robert Williams remains out for Game 6 vs. Bucks

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Boston forward/center Robert Williams missed his third straight game with an injured left knee as the Celtics tried to keep their season alive Friday night in Game ... Read more »

Padres sign Robinson Canó, plan to use him off the bench

ATLANTA (AP) — The San Diego Padres have signed veteran second baseman Robinson Canó to a major league contract and plan to use him as a left-handed bat off the ... Read more »

WNBA star's Russia detention extended by 1 month

The lawyer for WNBA star Brittney Griner says her pre-trial detention in Russia has been extended by one month. Alexander Boykov told The Associated Press the relatively short extension indicated ... Read more »

Louisiana justices toss COVID-related charges against pastor

Hundreds of thousands of Americans fighting long-haul symptoms from COVID-19 Dr. David Putrino from Mount Sinai Health System and COVID long-hauler Joel Fram discuss the long-term effects of the disease.The ... Read more »

Sandy Hook lawsuits against Alex Jones on track to resume

The Associated PressFILE – This Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, photo shows radio show host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones at Capitol Hill in Washington. The Sandy Hook families’ lawsuits against ... Read more »

Rockies' Bryant closer to return after cortisone shot

DENVER (AP) — Colorado Rockies outfielder Kris Bryant took swings in the cage Friday for the first time since he was sidelined with a sore back nearly three weeks ago ... Read more »

Mariners demote Jarred Kelenic to minors after poor start

NEW YORK (AP) — Rather than make his Citi Field debut against the team that traded him, Jarred Kelenic was demoted to Triple-A Tacoma by the Seattle Mariners on Friday ... Read more »

Biden: ASEAN partnership 'critical' in this moment

Looking to strengthen ties, President Joe Biden welcomes leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to Washington for the first time. “We’re launching a new era in U.S.-ASEAN relations,” ... Read more »

Phil Mickelson will not defend his title at next week's PGA Championship

Phil Mickelson caught lightning in a bottle last year at Kiawah Island, winning a major championship at 50 years of age. The fairways flooded, and the golf world stood and ... Read more »

Tennessee Titans' Malik Willis on Ryan Tannehill's mentorship comments: 'Everything is cool'

The Tennessee Titans didn’t take issue with Ryan Tannehill’s comments about mentoring third-round rookie Malik Willis. Willis and coach Mike Vrabel were asked about Tannehill’s scrutinized remarks following the first ... Read more »

Lawyers plan suit against Lufthansa over Jewish passengers

Lawyers for 26 passengers said Friday they told Lufthansa that they will sue the German airline for refusing to let members of a large group of Orthodox Jewish passengers board ... Read more »

Wild face offseason after yet another early ouster

While the Minnesota Wild were stacking up franchise records and securing the extra home game for the first round, general manager Bill Guerin carefully acknowledged a “great year” for the ... Read more »