Covid news - live: Hundreds of cases of new Omicron sub-variant found in England as hotspots revealed

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LIVE – Updated at 19:47

A sub-variant of the Omicron strain of Covid-19 has been formally designated as a “variant under investigation” by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

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Some 426 cases of the BA.2 lineage have now been identified in England – with 146 in London and 97 in the South East, the UKHSA said. This compares with the previous total of 53 cases detected up until 10 January.

Unlike the original Omicron variant, which accounts for the majority of infections in the UK, BA.2 does not carry a unique mutation that was used as a proxy to first track and compare its early spread against Delta last month.

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Meanwhile, pubs and restaurants in Wales will once again be able to operate outdoors without the rule of six or social distancing and all restrictions on sports events have been discarded as Covid case numbers continue to drop off.

“We have passed the peak and the situation has improved significantly,” said Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford, adding: “Sadly the pandemic is not over and coronavirus is still with us but we can look forward to the future with renewed hope and with better and brighter days ahead of us.”

Key Points

  • Hundreds of cases of Omicron sub-variant found in England – with 146 in London
  • Austria approves bill to make Covid jabs compulsory for all adults
  • France to ease Covid restrictions from next month
  • Covid disrupts aid flight to tsunami-hit Tonga
  • Government ‘long since abandoned’ Covid figures in devising measures, says Drakeford

Covid not over in Ireland, Taoiseach warns

Global Tech News Daily

19:47 , Laurie Churchman

Taoiseach Micheal Martin says the vaccination programme in Ireland has been transformative. But he warned the pandemic is not over.

“It will still require all of us to be vigilant,” he cautioned.

He said there is likely to be a temporary rise in infections following the easing of restrictions, but the impact would be limited by the scale of vaccination in the population.

He added: “I can’t promise you there won’t be further twists in this pandemic requiring different decisions in the future but I do know this, solidarity with each other and trust in science has got us to where we are today and will get us through whatever else this virus may throw at us.”

Nearly all Covid restrictions to be lifted in Ireland from tomorrow

19:25 , Laurie Churchman

Almost all Covid restrictions will be lifted in Ireland from 6am on Saturday, the country’s premier Micheal Martin has confirmed.

The only rules to remain in place will the wearing of masks, self-isolating after testing positive for the virus, and Covid passes for international travel.

A phased return to the workplace will begin from Monday, while normal hours will resume in the hospitality industry this weekend.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin told the nation it was “time to be ourselves again”.

But he warned the pandemic is not over yet.

You can read the full story below.

Covid news - live: Hundreds of cases of new Omicron sub-variant found in England as hotspots revealed
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Nearly all Covid restrictions to be lifted in Ireland from tomorrow

Latest UK Covid hotspots revealed as almost all areas record drop in cases

19:14 , Laurie Churchman

The latest Covid hotspots have been revealed as cases continue to drop across nearly all parts of the UK.

Newry, Mourne & Down in Northern Ireland has the highest rate in the UK, with 2,997 new cases in the seven days to 17 January – the equivalent of 1,649.7 per 100,000 people.

This is down from a rate of 1,942.5 for the seven days to 10 January.

Newport has the highest rate in Wales (682.7, down from 1,167.2); and East Lothian has the highest rate in Scotland (679.3, down from 1,147.4).

Just two areas have recorded a week-on-week rise in rates: Broadland in Norfolk (up from 1,011.9 to 1,061.2) and Winchester in Hampshire (1,018.9 to 1030.8).

Ian Jones has the full story below.

Covid news - live: Hundreds of cases of new Omicron sub-variant found in England as hotspots revealed
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Latest Covid hotspots revealed as nearly all areas in UK record fall in cases

Omicron sub-variant takes hold in Denmark

18:33 , Laurie Churchman

In Denmark, the new Omicron BA.2 sub-variant has risen rapidly. It accounted for 20% of all Covid cases in the last week of 2021, increasing to 45% in the second week of 2022.

Initial analysis made by Denmark’s Statens Serum Institut (SSI) showed no difference in hospitalisations for Omicron BA.2 compared to BA.1.

SSI researcher Anders Fomsgaard said he did not yet have a good explanation for BA.2’s rapid growth, adding he was puzzled rather than worried.

“It may be that it is more resistant to the immunity in the population, which allows it to infect more. We do not know yet,” he told local media.

He added there was a possibility people infected with BA.1 might not be immune from catching BA.2 soon after.

UKHSA probing virulence of Omicron sub-variant

18:12 , Andy Gregory

The UKHSA is investigating the potential virulence of the new Omicron sub-lineage, BA.2.

“It is the nature of viruses to evolve and mutate, so it’s to be expected that we will continue to see new variants emerge as the pandemic goes on,” said the agency’s Covid-19 incident director, Dr Meera Chand.

“Our continued genomic surveillance allows us to detect them and assess whether they are significant.

“So far, there is insufficient evidence to determine whether BA.2 causes more severe illness than Omicron BA.1, but data is limited and UKHSA continues to investigate.

“Case rates remain high throughout the UK and we must remain vigilant and take up vaccinations. We should all continue to test regularly with LFDs and take a PCR test if symptoms develop.”

Early analyses of new sub-variant ‘suggest increased growth rate’ from original Omicron type

17:56 , Andy Gregory

According to the UK Health Security Agency, early analyses of the new BA.2 sub-variant “suggest an increased growth rate compared to BA.1” – the original Omicron iteration.

However, growth rates have a low level of certainty early in the emergence of a variant and further analysis is needed, the government agency said.

Hundreds of cases of Omicron sub-variant detected in England

17:39 , Andy Gregory

Some 426 cases of the new Omicron sub-variant have been discovered in England, according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

The sub-lineage known as BA.2 has been designated a variant under investigation, the health agency said.

The areas with the largest number of confirmed cases are London – with 146 – and the South East, with 97. Data for the devolved administrations will soon follow, the UKHSA said.

At least 40 countries have detected the sub-variant, the UKHSA said, with the first sequences submitted to an international database coming from the Philippines. Most samples have been uploaded from Denmark, (6,411), while India, Sweden and Singapore have also uploaded more than 100 samples.

My colleague Laurie Churchman has more details on this breaking development here:

Covid news - live: Hundreds of cases of new Omicron sub-variant found in England as hotspots revealed
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More than 400 cases of new Omicron sub-variant found in England

Watch: Kiribati island is no longer Covid-free after first flight lands

16:05 , Emily Atkinson

Council workers support medical staff on wards at under-pressure health board

15:53 , Emily Atkinson

Council workers are helping medical staff on the wards as a health board’s hospitals face “exceptional” demand, officials said.

NHS Lanarkshire said staff from North and South Lanarkshire councils will help staff across its three acute hospitals which are under strain due to Omicron cases, workforce shortages caused by staff absences and general winter pressures.

Council staff have been given training and will be helping on the wards with tasks such as supporting the movement of patients and general housekeeping duties.

Lucinda Cameron has the details here:

Covid news - live: Hundreds of cases of new Omicron sub-variant found in England as hotspots revealed
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Council workers support medical staff on wards at under-pressure health board

Russian authorities report record number of infections amid Omicron surge

15:35 , Emily Atkinson

Russia reported record-breaking coronavirus infection figures on Friday amid a surge in cases authorities have blamed on the emergence of the Omicron variant.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova on Friday said “intensive spread of the omicron variant” and said the authorities “expect it to become the dominating” variant driving the outbreak.

The country reported 49,513 new infections on Friday — the highest number of cases since the start of the pandemic.

UK daily Covid cases closer to half-a-million per day in week after Christmas, ONS suggests

15:20 , Emily Atkinson

Daily coronavirus case numbers in the UK were around three times what the official government figures had shown in the week after Christmas, averaging around 500,000 a day, estimates suggest.

From 26 December to 1 January, the average number of new Covid cases as per the government’s dashboard was 173,400.

But an analysis from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows the true total was closer to 476,100 every 24-hours.

It is assumed that the discrepancy is due to the government site only accounting for people who have reported themselves as having tested positive for the virus.

ONS figures are instead accumulated on analysis of nose and throat swabs taken from a representative sample of more than 150,000 people in private households.

With additional reporting from PA

Scotland’s clinical director hails likely end to full national lockdowns

15:05 , Emily Atkinson

Scotland’s clinical director has said he thinks the country has seen the back of full Covid lockdowns, but warned there may be some “tricky moments on the road out” of the pandemic.

Speaking on the BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme, Professor Jason Leitch said: “I don’t think we’ll go back to full lockdowns.

“I can’t tell you for sure – nobody knows for sure – but my reading of the science, the history of pandemics, the global research that’s going on would suggest that the very original days – now some two years ago unbelievably – where we were locked in our houses… I don’t think we’re heading back there.

“But I think we might have tricky moments on the road out, but I’m hopeful today because Omicron is diminishing.”

Travel tests have virtually no impact on spread of Covid variants, study shows

14:50 , Emily Atkinson

Covid-19 tests taken by travellers have little to no impact on the spread of new coronavirus variants, recent analysis shows.

To contain the spread of a new variant like Omicron, new restrictions would have be imposed within one day of the strain first being imported to a country, according to research from Edge Health and Oxera, two specialist research consultancies that work with the NHS.

If introduced on day one, the modelling shows, travel restrictions could delay the peak of a new variant’s spread by between two and eight days.

However, the impact of travel restrictions reduced for each day they were delayed, up to day six – after which introducing new tests only delayed the peak by a day.

Lucy Thackray reports:

Covid news - live: Hundreds of cases of new Omicron sub-variant found in England as hotspots revealed
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Travel tests have virtually no impact on spread of Covid variants, study shows

Scotland records 7,000 new coronavirus cases

14:35 , Emily Atkinson

Scotland has recorded a further 16 Covid-related deaths and 7,162 new cases, new figures published by the Scottish government on Friday show.

Meanwhile, there were 1,511 people in hospital on Thursday with recently confirmed coronavirus, down three on the day before, with 43 in intensive care, no change on the previous day.

At present, 4,404,268 people have received their first dose of the vaccination, 4,099,222 have received their second dose, and 3,238,127 have received a third dose or booster.

Major incident in London stood down but mayor urges caution over Omicron

14:25 , Emily Atkinson

The major incident declared in London last month as Omicron spread across the capital has been stood down.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan took the decision on December 18 to declare a major incident due to the spread of the variant, a rise in patients in London hospitals and the impact of staff absences in frontline services.

Mr Khan said he is standing down the major incident status but warned the city will remain on high alert.

Catherine Wylie has more here:

Covid news - live: Hundreds of cases of new Omicron sub-variant found in England as hotspots revealed
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Major incident in London stood down but mayor urges caution over Omicron

EU health ministers warned to prepare to administer fourth vaccine dose

14:08 , Emily Atkinson

European Union nations have been told to make preparations to deliver a fourth dose of the Covid vaccine the moment data shows if is needed amid a surge in cases driven by the highly-infectious Omicron variant.

The EU drugs regulator said earlier week it would be reasonable to give a fourth dose to people with at risk of developing severe symotoms, but more evidence was needed.

“If we see data which is conclusive on whether a fourth dose is needed, we need to be ready to act,” EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides told health ministers in a video conference.

Omicron sub variant BA.2 ‘under investigation’ by UK health officials

13:40 , Emily Atkinson

A sub-lineage of the Omicron strain has been formally designated as a “variant under investigation” by the UK Health Security Agency.

Just 53 cases of BA.2 have been detected in the UK up to 10 January, the UKHSA said.

Unlike the original Omicron variant, which accounts for the majority of infections in the UK, BA.2 does not carry a unique mutation that was used as a proxy to first track and compare its early spread against Delta last month.

Our science correspondent Samuel Lovett has the story:

Covid news - live: Hundreds of cases of new Omicron sub-variant found in England as hotspots revealed
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Omicron sub variant BA.2 ‘under investigation’ by UK health officials

Sadiq Khan standing down major incident in London

13:25 , Emily Atkinson

The Mayor of London has taken the decision to stand down the major incident declared in London last month amid Omicron fears.

Sadiq Khan declared a major incident in the capital on 18 December due to the fast spread of the variant, a sudden surge in patients being admitted with Covid-19 into London hospitals and health service staff absences.

Mr Khan said: “Our NHS and emergency services have gone above and beyond during an extremely testing period for our city.

“Everyone who wore a mask, took a lateral flow test or followed the advice to work from home where possible, has played their part in reducing the pressure they faced and enabled us to stand down the ‘major incident’ in London today.

“But the virus and the Omicron variant is still with us and daily infection rates are still too high.

He added that Londoners must “all remain vigilant” and to continue to take personal measures to allow the city to “reopen safely”.

“Wearing a face covering remains one of the single most important and easiest things we can all do to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and that’s why I’m renewing my calls for the Government to rethink their plans and keep legislation in place to make them mandatory on public transport.

“They still have a huge role to play in keeping our city open and our friends, family and communities protected.

“Covid-19 continues to pose a significant threat and our hospitals remain under pressure.

“That’s why it’s crucial that Londoners test regularly and report their results, come forward for vaccinations, and continue to wear a face covering when travelling on TfL services, where it remains a condition of carriage.”

Boris Johnson: Teachers must abandon masks as face-to-face education ‘vital’

13:19 , Emily Atkinson

Boris Johnson has urged teachers who insist masks should still worn in lessons to follow the rules which state that they are no long required for use in classrooms.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said “children have been one of the hardest hit as a result of the disruption throughout the pandemic”, adding that Mr Johnson “believes it is vital that children are receiving face-to-face education and can enjoy a normal experience in the classroom”.

Covid news - live: Hundreds of cases of new Omicron sub-variant found in England as hotspots revealed
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Boris Johnson: Teachers must abandon masks as face-to-face education ‘vital’

Watch: Welsh First Minister says UK Government has ‘abandoned science’ in new Covid rules

13:00 , Emily Atkinson

One in five adults had difficulty getting lateral flow tests in January – ONS

12:35 , Emily Atkinson

More than a fifth of adults in Britain had difficulties getting lateral flow tests earlier in January, figures suggest.

Some 22% told the Office for National Statistics (ONS) they had struggled to order or pick up a rapid-result test in the past seven days.

The most common places difficulties were experienced were when ordering on the Government website for home delivery (68%) and collecting from pharmacies (60%).

Jemma Crew has the details:

Covid news - live: Hundreds of cases of new Omicron sub-variant found in England as hotspots revealed
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One in five adults had difficulty getting lateral flow tests in January – ONS

Education secretary’s letter on mask-wearing in classrooms ‘unnecessary’ and ‘bizarre’, says teaching union

12:10 , Emily Atkinson

A teaching union has called a letter sent from Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi to MPs saying he will personally review plans to bring back face masks to classrooms “utterly unnecessary, if not bizarre”.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, told the PA news agency: “Schools and colleges who take the decision to keep face coverings as a requirement in classrooms will have… done so following a risk assessment, and with the head using his or her professional judgment and knowledge about what’s best for the school to protect face-to-face education.

“This is a sensible precaution, particularly given we are now in the run-up to national examinations and the issues to education caused by staff and pupil absences.

“That Whitehall would seek to micromanage such decisions seems utterly unnecessary, if not bizarre.”

UK Health Security Agency designates new sub-strain of Omicron as variant ‘under investigation’

12:01 , Emily Atkinson

The #OmicronVariant sub-lineage known as BA.2 has been designated as a variant under investigation. The number of BA.2 cases is currently low, with the original Omicron lineage, BA.1, still dominant in the UK and further analyses will now be undertaken. https://t.co/254m2rwJN5

— UK Health Security Agency (@UKHSA) January 21, 2022

Newcastle’s European fixture against Toulon cancelled due to Covid-19 issues

11:46 , Emily Atkinson

Newcastle’s European Challenge Cup game against Toulon on Saturday has been cancelled due to coronavirus cases at the Gallagher Premiership club.

Tournament organisers European Professional Club Rugby said Newcastle had informed them they were not in a position to fulfil the fixture at Stade Felix-Mayol.

The Falcons said nine positive Covid-19 tests had been recorded following Newcastle’s European Challenge Cup trip to Biarritz seven days ago.

Andrew Baldock reports:

Covid news - live: Hundreds of cases of new Omicron sub-variant found in England as hotspots revealed
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Newcastle’s European fixture against Toulon cancelled due to Covid-19 issues

More people working from home than before Plan B restrictions introduced in England – ONS

11:30 , Emily Atkinson

Around a quarter of working adults worked exclusively from home from 6 to 16 January, latest figures show.

According to the latest survey from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 26 per cent of people stayed away from offices over the 10 day period – representing an increase of 14 per cent during the 1 to 12 December 2021 period, before the introduction of Plan B measures.

First flight lands on Covid-free island – now the island is no longer Covid-free

11:15 , Emily Atkinson

The island of Kiribati had managed to stay Covid-free for the entirety of the pandemic – but when the first flight touched down last Friday, two-thirds of the passengers onboard tested positive for the virus.

The independent island nation in the Pacific Ocean, population 119,000, reopened its borders on 10 January for the first time in 10 months.

A Fiji Airways flight from Fiji to the Kiribati capital of South Tarawa on 14 January was the first aircraft to land after the reopening.

But on-arrival testing showed that 46 of the 54 people onboard were infected with Covid-19. Authorities say the travellers are well and in quarantine.

Lucy Thackray has the details:

Covid news - live: Hundreds of cases of new Omicron sub-variant found in England as hotspots revealed
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First flight lands on Covid-free island – what happened next won’t surprise you

Germany could see daily Covid figures surpass 400,000 by mid-February, sources claim

10:55 , Emily Atkinson

Sources close to Germany’s health minister have told Reuters that the country could see at least 400,000 daily Covid cases by mid-February.

It comes as Germany reported a record 140,160 new coronavirus cases on Friday.

The sources also claim Karl Lauterbach said in a discussion with government officials that the number could surpass 600,000 new cases per day if the booster shots were less protective.

Northern Ireland: Another 36 Covid-linked deaths recorded in weekly update

10:45 , Emily Atkinson

Thirty-six deaths linked to Covid-19 in Northern Ireland have been recorded in the latest weekly update.

The figure represents an increase of 10 fatalities on the 26 deaths that occurred in the previous week, according to data compiled by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra).

The latest deaths, registered in the week ending January 14, take the total number of coronavirus-linked fatalities recorded by Nisra to 4,100.

David Young has more here:

Covid news - live: Hundreds of cases of new Omicron sub-variant found in England as hotspots revealed
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Another 36 Covid-linked deaths recorded in weekly update

Poland reports record-breaking daily Covid figures

10:36 , Emily Atkinson

Poland is set to report a record-breaking 36,665 daily coronavirus cases on Friday, a deputy health minister has said, as a fifth wave of the virus driven by Omicron takes hold.

According to Reuters, authorities have wanred the EU is set to face case numbers to heights yet unseen in Poland.

“In the coming days we will also have very high results, it worries us,” Waldemar Kraska told private broadcaster Radio Plus, adding that daily cases would top 50,000 next week.

Only a week ago, daily cases were just topped 16,000.

Retail sales suffer worst Christmas on record amid Omicron fears

10:25 , Emily Atkinson

Retailers endured their worst December drop-off on record last month as the Omicron variant tore its way through the UK.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) recorded a 3.7 per cent month-on-month slump, marking December as worst hit month since last January, when Britain faced a new lockdown.

Heather Bovill, ONS deputy director for surveys and economic indicators, said: “After strong pre-Christmas trading in November, retail sales fell across the board in December, with feedback from retailers suggesting Omicron impacted on footfall.”

She added: “With encouraging signs that the Omicron outbreak may have turned a corner and the government’s Plan B restrictions due to be lifted next week, retail sales may recoup a bit of this fall in January and probably all of it in February and March.

“That said, with the UK’s cost of living crisis looming, we expect a weakening in the consumer recovery to dampen retail sales further ahead.”

Lateral flow test take-up increased by 42% on period prior to Plan B measures

10:10 , Emily Atkinson

Latest results from our Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (6 to 16 Jan 2022) show 61% of adults reported taking a rapid lateral flow test in the past seven days.

This is up from 42% in the period prior to England’s Plan B measures (1 to 12 Dec 2021) https://t.co/KXQdnhyi1F pic.twitter.com/dD3CjaAWgs

— Office for National Statistics (ONS) (@ONS) January 21, 2022

In pictures: Mask burning event held in Oregon to protest Covid mandates

10:00 , Emily Atkinson

Protesters gathered in Portland, Oregan, to burn face coverings during a demonstration against mask mandates.

The ‘Mask BBQ’, so named by organisers the Free Oregon group, attracted crowds both in favour of the protest, and swathes of people against it.

Covid news - live: Hundreds of cases of new Omicron sub-variant found in England as hotspots revealed
Covid news - live: Hundreds of cases of new Omicron sub-variant found in England as hotspots revealed
Covid news - live: Hundreds of cases of new Omicron sub-variant found in England as hotspots revealed
Covid news - live: Hundreds of cases of new Omicron sub-variant found in England as hotspots revealed
Covid news - live: Hundreds of cases of new Omicron sub-variant found in England as hotspots revealed
(Getty Images) (Getty Images) (Getty Images) (Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Dehli to lift curfew after drop in Covid cases

09:45 , Emily Atkinson

Dehli is preparing to remove the weekend curfew and start a gradual reintroduction to office work after a recent drop-off Covid cases, a city official today announced.

The number of new cases in India’s capital has more than halved from a peak of 28,867 on 13 January.

New figures show that 80 per cent of coronavirus beds across the city’s hospitals were unoccupied.

“In view of the declining cases of corona, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal approved the proposal,” the official told Reuters when asked if the weekend curfew would be lifted.

Covid passes to stay in place in Wales until at least 10 February

09:34 , Emily Atkinson

The first minister of Wales said the use of the passes would be reviewed in mid February.

Speaking on Sky News this morning, Mr Drakeford said: “(Covid passes) will stay in place for a bit longer than some of the other protections we put in place in order to make sure that Wales goes on having a smooth path out of the Omicron wave that hit us so very badly over Christmas and early in the new year, but which in line with the modelling seems to be receding very quickly as well,” he said.

Asked if February 10 could be the end of the Covid pass, he said: “I think it’s conceivable, but by no means guaranteed.

“We’ve just seen in the last week or so how fast things can change with this virus and February 10 is still three weeks away.

“So if things continue to improve on that current rate, and we were in a position to lift some of the further protections, of course that’s what we want to do. But in Wales, we will only do it when we’re sure we have a clinical advice or scientific advice that would tell us that it will be safe to do that.”

Mark Drakeford says he does not wish to see the use of Covid passes continuing “in perpetuity”.

Toyota production in Japan hit by parts crunch from COVID-19

09:00 , Emily Atkinson

The shortage of parts caused by the coronavirus pandemic is further denting production at Toyota Japan’s top automaker.

Production at 11 plants in Japan will be halted Friday, Saturday and next Monday, Toyota Motor Corp. said.

That comes on top of reductions planned for February that were announced earlier. Those reduction will be on various days at eight of its 14 plants in Japan, including assembly lines making the Prius hybrid and Lexus luxury models.

Covid news - live: Hundreds of cases of new Omicron sub-variant found in England as hotspots revealed
© Provided by The Independent

Toyota production in Japan hit by parts crunch from COVID-19

Government ‘long since abandoned’ Covid figures in devising measures, says Drakeford

08:45 , Emily Atkinson

The UK government has “long since abandoned” the science on coronavirus figures when setting regulations, first minister of Wales has said.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Mark Drakeford said: I don’t think there’s any doubt at all the UK Government has long abandoned any sense that it is following the science.

“It is a government desperately mired in difficulties of its own making, and is forever on the lookout for a headline that will distract people’s attention from the awful mess that it finds itself in.”

When asked if he believed the differences between restrictions in the two countries would cause problems for the people of Wales, he replied: “People have had to manage those differences, right through the pandemic.”

Mr Drakeford continued: “My job and the job of my cabinet is to take the medical and scientific advice, we have to make the decisions that we think go on keeping Wales safe.”

With additional reporting from PA

Pakistan reports record-breaking Covid case numbers

08:35 , Emily Atkinson

Pakistan has reported over 7,000 Covid-19 cases in a single day – the highest daily number of infections since the pandemic began.

23 deaths were also reported in the last 24 hours, according to data from the National Command Operation Centre (NCOC), which is overseeing the pandemic response.

“Amid rising trend of disease across the country a ban on indoor dinning in cities/districts with positivity above 10% has been imposed with effect from 21 January,” said a notification issued by the NCOC.

Watch: Relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions agreed by NI executive

08:25 , Emily Atkinson

Face coverings to remain mandatory on public transport in London, says Mayor

08:15 , Emily Atkinson

One really important note that must not be missed as Plan B is lifted:

Face coverings will remain mandatory on TfL services unless you’re exempt.

We cannot risk undoing all the hard work we’ve done to stop this virus in its tracks. Please keep wearing your mask.

— Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan (@MayorofLondon) January 21, 2022

Hong Kong police to deal with people who attempt to block Covid hamster cull

08:05 , Emily Atkinson

Hong Kong police will handle owners who refuse to hand over their hamsters to authorities amid a drive to cull nearly 2,000 hamsters after 11 tested positive for coronavirus at a pet shop.

Officials on Tuesday asked pet owners to hand over hamsters they purchased in the last four weeks to be euthanised.

The order has been met with public uproar, with thousands offering to adopt the unwanted rodents. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam called the retaliation irrational.

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) said any effort to try to save hamsters would be dealt with, even if that meant calling in the law.

“If the people concerned continue with such action, or fail to return the hamsters taken away, the AFCD will stringently follow up and hand it over to the police for handling,” the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) said.

Kwasi Kwarteng: Schools should follow ‘clear’ government guidance on face coverings

07:55 , Emily Atkinson

Schools should follow the official guidance on mask-wearing, the business secretary has said.

Kwasi Kwarteng told Sky News: “The guidance from the Prime Minister is very clear: that we won’t need to be wearing masks.”

It comes after education secretary Nadhim Zahaw said he will personally vet any plans to bring back masks in schools in areas hit by Covid spikes.

With additional reporting from PA

Irish Cabinet to consider recommendations to ease Covid-19 restrictions

07:45 , Emily Atkinson

The Irish Cabinet will meet later to consider recommendations from health chiefs to end most of the state’s Covid restrictions.

It is understood that the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has recommended restrictions around hospitality can be lifted, including the 8pm curfew and ending the requirement for a Covid pass to enter premises.

Nphet met on Thursday evening and issued a series of recommendations in a letter to ministers.

They include that live venues and sport venues can return to full capacity, an end to restrictions on household guests and a phased return to work.

Rebecca Black reports:

Covid news - live: Hundreds of cases of new Omicron sub-variant found in England as hotspots revealed
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Irish Cabinet to consider recommendations to ease Covid-19 restrictions

Japan to introduce curfews on hospitality in Tokyo from Friday

07:29 , Emily Atkinson

Japan will introduce a curfew on bars and restaurants in Tokyo and a number of other areas from today in a bid to stem the spread of the Omicron variant.

According to the Associated Press, the new variant of Covid-19 has been causing major case surges in metropolitan areas across the country.

The Okinawa, Hiroshima and Yamaguchi prefectures have been subject to similar restrictions since early January. Today’s announcement will see 16 areas under the same measures – equal to one third of Japan.

UK’s move to scrap Covid restrictions leave clinically vulnerable as ‘collateral damage’, charities warn

07:20 , Stuti Mishra

Leading charities have spoken out against the government’s scrapping of Covid-19 measures warning that clinically vulnerable people have been made “collateral damage for political considerations.”

Those representing thousands of clinically vulnerable people have warned the government’s decisions to scrap Covid-19 restrictions leaves people “marginalised” and warned there was a risk to five and 11-year-old vulnerable children who are yet to be vaccinated.

The removal of Covid-19 restrictions next week will mean masks are no longer mandatory, the government will no longer ask people to work from home, while Blood Cancer UK has called for the government to do more to support immunocompromised people such as giving them priority testing.

Our health correspondent Rebecca Thomas has more:

Covid news - live: Hundreds of cases of new Omicron sub-variant found in England as hotspots revealed
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Clinically vulnerable are ‘collateral damage’ in lifting of Covid rules say charities

Adele postpones Las Vegas residency due to ‘delivery delays and Covid’

07:05 , Stuti Mishra

Adele says “she’s embarrassed” as she announced in a teary-eyed Instagram video she has been forced to reschedule all of her Las Vegas shows.

The British-born Easy on Me singer postponed her exclusive new residency at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace Hotel just 24 hours before its opening night.

“I’m so sorry, but my show ain’t ready,” she said in the video posted to Instagram on Thursday.

The entertainer said that all of the shows would be rescheduled, and blamed it on “delivery delays and Covid”.

Covid news - live: Hundreds of cases of new Omicron sub-variant found in England as hotspots revealed
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Adele tearfully announces postponement of Las Vegas residency one day before kickoff

Son kills himself over guilt of exposing father to Covid

06:46 , Stuti Mishra

A California woman said that her teenage son took his own life after he felt guilty for the death of his father who died of Covid-19.

Stephanie Reyes, 37, said that she and her whole family had contracted Covid in August last year. Her husband Anthony, 46, died in September due to complications arising from the disease.

“At the end of August, my family and I contracted Covid and within a matter of days, I lost my husband,” Ms Reyes said to Fox LA.

However, after a few months, Ms Reyes found that her son had ended his life when she found his bedroom light on at 4am.

Full story:

Covid news - live: Hundreds of cases of new Omicron sub-variant found in England as hotspots revealed
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Mom says son killed himself over guilt he may have exposed father who died of Covid

India plans Covid vaccine trial on lions, leopards

06:30 , Stuti Mishra

Zoos in India are planning to roll out a Covid vaccine trial on resident lions and leopards, the Times of India newspaper reports.

The trial will be conducted on 15 animals in six zoos across the country using a vaccine developed by ICAR-National Research Centre on Equines (NRCE)

.The vaccines will be administered in two doses with a gap of 28 days after which the animals will be monitored for antibodies.

The trial will begin once it has received final approval from the central government, the report said.

The experimental study on big cats comes after two lions died of Covid-19 at the Chennai zoo last year.

India records over 300,000 Covid cases for second consecutive day

06:18 , Stuti Mishra

India has reported nearly 350,000 cases of Covid-19, another eight-month high after it reported over 300,000 cases on Thursday, as an Omicron-fuelled third wave blazes through the country.

As many as 703 people have died of Covid during the past 24-hour period, according to the latest health ministry data. The daily positivity rate for testing nationally is up from 16.41 per cent to 17.94 per cent, while the weekly positivity rate was recorded at 16.56 per cent.

The total Covid cases in the country have reached 38.57 million. The overall count of the highly infectious Omicron variant reached 9,692 today with 29 states reporting cases – though only a tiny fraction of cases are being genomically sequenced.

China’s locally confirmed Covid cases fall to two-month low

05:59 , Stuti Mishra

China’s daily locally confirmed cases have fallen to a nearly two month low.

According to data released on Friday, the country recorded only 23 domestically transmitted infections with confirmed symptoms in the last 24 hours, down from 43 a day earlier.

This marks the fourth consecutive day of decline in local symptomatic cases, with the lowest daily caseload since 29 November.

The central province of Henan and the northern city of Tianjin, two areas that have detected most of China’s local cases in the past 10 days, each reported fewer than 10 local confirmed infections for Thursday.

The capital, Beijing, reported five, a slightly up from three a day earlier. The southern city of Zhuhai and Xian in the northwestern also reported a handful of new local cases.

The drop comes after a national strategy to quickly curb flare-ups forced worst-hit cities to lockdown affected communities and cut business activity.

Covid disrupts aid flight to tsunami-hit Tonga

05:09 , Stuti Mishra

An Australian aid flight to tsunami-hit Tonga was forced to return to base due to a positive Covid-19 case onboard, a defence official said on Friday.

The Australian aid flight had left Brisbane on Thursday afternoon but it was forced to turn around mid-flight after it was notified of a positive case of Covid, an Australian defence spokeswoman said.

All crew had returned negative rapid antigen tests before departure, but PCR tests later showed a positive result.

The supplies were moved to another flight that took off on Friday.

Tonga has only reported one positive case during the pandemic and has been Covid-free for a long time. It has a strict border control policy and is requiring contactless delivery of aid that began arriving by plane on Thursday.

Saturday’s volcano eruption and the tsunami that followed has left Tongans struggling to find clean drinking water with their island homes shrouded in volcanic ash.

France to ease Covid restrictions from next month

04:45 , Stuti Mishra

French prime minister Jean Castex announced on Thursday that the government will lift most of its Covid-19 restrictions in February, although the need for a vaccine pass and indoor mask-wearing will remain.

The vaccine pass will come into effect on Monday, Mr Castex said at a press conference. People will no longer be allowed to show a negative test to enter restaurants, bars, theatres, museums and stadiums or travel on trains — only proof of vaccination will be accepted.

“(The pass) … is necessary if we want to preserve and increase our vaccination coverage in the event of new variants,” Castex said on Thursday. The so-called vaccine pass “clearly puts constraints on the unvaccinated,” he said.

Starting on 2 February, stadiums, arenas and other large-capacity venues will be allowed to operate at full capacity again. Home-working obligations will be lifted, though it will still be encouraged, and masks will no longer be required outdoors, as is currently the case in many cities.

“We are unquestionably in a new phase of the epidemic,” said the prime minister.

Covid news - live: Hundreds of cases of new Omicron sub-variant found in England as hotspots revealed
© Provided by The Independent French Prime Minister Jean Castex gives a press conference on the ongoing Covid-19 situation, in Paris, on Thursday (Getty Images)

Austria approves bill to make Covid jabs compulsory for all adults

04:12 , Stuti Mishra

Austria’s parliament on Thursday approved a Covid-19 vaccination mandate for all eligible adults, the first of its kind in Europe.

The parliament voted 137 to 33 in the favour of the mandate after a seven-hour discussion.

It goes into effect from 1 February. Those who do not adhere to the mandate will be slapped with a fine of €600 (£500). Fines could reach 3,600 euros if people contest their punishment and full proceedings are opened.

Exempted from the mandate are pregnant women, individuals who for medical reasons cannot be vaccinated, and people who have recovered from a coronavirus infection in the past six months.

Officials say the mandate is necessary because vaccination rates remain too low.

Health minister Wolfgang Mueckstein, speaking in parliament on Thursday, called the measure a “big and, for the first time, also lasting step” in Austria‘s fight against the pandemic.

“This is how we can manage to escape the cycle of opening and closing, of lockdowns,” he said, saying it is about fighting not just omicron, but any future variants that might emerge.

“That is why this law is so urgently needed right now.”

As of Wednesday, 71.8 per cent of the population of 8.9 million was considered fully vaccinated.

Covid news - live: Hundreds of cases of new Omicron sub-variant found in England as hotspots revealed
© Provided by The Independent Lawmakers voted 137 to 33 in favor of the measure, which will apply to all residents of Austria aged 18 and over with some exemptions (AP)

Good Morning!

03:55 , Stuti Mishra

Welcome to The Independent’s live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. Stay tuned for rolling updates and statistics.

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