Covid news live: Omicron likely to become dominant variant, UK and US experts say

Covid news live: Omicron likely to become dominant variant, UK and US experts say
© Photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters A crowd of people walk through Covent Garden in London as British experts believe the Omicron Covid-19 variant is likely to be more widespread in the UK.

LIVE – Updated at 06:07

The Omicron Covid variant is likely to ‘outcompete Delta’ in many, if not all, regions, a Harvard researcher says; patchy monitoring and a time lag in the data is thought to be underreporting cases in the UK.

Summary

06:07

The Omicron variant of coronavirus is likely to be more widespread in the UK than official numbers suggest owing to patchy monitoring and a time lag in the data, scientists and officials have said.

Ministers said 336 cases had been identified by whole-genome sequencing, but experts said numbers were expected to be much higher given the variant’s potential for exponential growth and the fact it takes five to seven days for a case to be confirmed.

  • All international arrivals to the UK are now required to take a pre-departure Covid-19 test to tackle the new Omicron variant.
  • Thailand is hoping to forge a more sustainable model of tourism as the country reopens to visitors.
  • New York City has expanded its array of Covid-19 mandates on Monday, setting vaccine requirements for children as young as 5 years old. This is on top of the mandates required for all private employees.
  • In France, a combination of vaccination booster shots and more rigorous social distancing is hoped to avoid renewed lockdowns or curfews. Nightclubs will be shut for four weeks and requirements for mask-wearing in schools will be tightened.
  • The Netherlands is drafting in soldiers to support hospitals as Covid cases surge.
  • India has reported another 6,822 new coronavirus cases, the lowest figures in 558 days.
  • A leading infectious diseases specialist who monitors variants for a research collaboration led by Harvard Medical School believes the world is seeing “what appears to be a signal of exponential increase of Omicron over Delta” where Omicron is “likely to become the dominant strain in the coming weeks and months”.

Covid news live: Omicron likely to become dominant variant, UK and US experts say
© Provided by The Guardian People walk through Oxford Circus, amid the Covid-19 outbreak in London as experts say they believe the Omicron variant is likely to be more widespread in the UK. Photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

 

05:46

How fast is the Omicron variant spreading?

Over 40 countries have now confirmed the presence of Omicron. And, in the UK, scientists have been increasingly expressing their concern about the new variant. Some have speculated there could be more than 1,000 cases here already, and that it could become the dominant variant within weeks.

To get an update on what we know about the Omicron variant, and how quickly it might be spreading, Madeleine Finlay speaks to Nicola Davis, the Guardian’s science correspondent.

Listen to the Guardian’s latest Science Weekly podcast here.

Related: Covid-19: How fast is the Omicron variant spreading? podcast

Mexico’s capital rolls out first Covid booster shots

05:30

Mexico City officials will begin offering a third Covid-19 vaccine dose to residents over the age of 60 on Tuesday, officials said, part of a government plan to roll out booster shots, Reuters reports.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said last week the third doses would be made available as soon as possible, beginning with elderly people who are more vulnerable to the coronavirus.

The first booster shots in the massive capital of nearly 10 million people will be AstraZeneca doses given to residents of the southern Tlalpan neighbourhood, officials told a news conference on Monday. To be eligible, people must have had an initial two doses six months ago.

The health ministry on Monday reported 110 more deaths from Covid-19 and 752 new cases, bringing the death toll since the pandemic began to 295,312 and total infections to 3,902,015.

 

05:11

All international arrivals to the UK are now required to take a pre-departure Covid-19 test to tackle the new Omicron variant.

The tightened requirements have just come into force from 4am (GMT) on Tuesday 7 December.

Travellers will now need to submit evidence of a negative lateral flow or PCR test to enter, which must have been taken a maximum of 48 hours before the departure time. People currently only need to self-isolate until they test negative within two days of arrival.

 

04:39

Los Angeles county is reporting a third case of the Omicron variant.

The individual is believed to have recently travelled from West Africa and is fully vaccinated, according to a statement from Los Angeles County Health.

The individual had mild symptoms and is self-isolating. Known close contacts are fully vaccinated and have tested negative.

“This latest case of the Omicron variant in Los Angeles County underscores how critical safety measures are while traveling,” said Dr Barbara Ferrer, Director of Public Health. “These requirements include a negative test before boarding your flight, wearing a mask, and not traveling while you are sick. Residents should also consider delaying travel until their and all of their traveling companions are fully vaccinated.”

Covid news live: Omicron likely to become dominant variant, UK and US experts say
© Provided by The Guardian A man walks past a drive-through Covid-19 testing centre on 6 December in Los Angeles, California. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

 

04:21

India has just released a Covid update with the latest numbers from the past 24 hours.

Another 6,822 new coronavirus cases have been recorded, the lowest figures in 558 days.

India’s active caseload currently stands at 95,014 and is the lowest in 554 days, according to a statement from the ministry of health.

Thailand hopes for sustainable post-Covid comeback

04:03

Thailand is hoping to make its idyllic Phi Phi islands a more sustainable model of tourism as the country reopens to visitors, Agence France-Presse reports.

Before the pandemic, Phi Phi National Marine Park attracted more than two million visitors a year and Maya Bay drew up to 6,000 people a day.

Tourists and noisy, polluting motorboats have had a huge impact on the area’s delicate ecology.

“The coral cover has decreased by more than 60% in just over 10 years,” says Thon Thamrongnawasawat of Kasetsart University in Bangkok.

Since the pandemic hit and visitor numbers dwindled to virtually nil, the entire archipelago was forced into convalescence and dozens of blacktip sharks, green turtles and hawksbill turtles have returned.

The government now says it wants to move on from Thailand’s history of hedonistic mass tourism, with Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn saying the focus would be on “high-end travellers, rather than a large number of visitors”.

Phi Phi national park chief Pramote Kaewnam says boats will no longer be allowed to moor near the beach and will instead drop tourists off at a jetty away from the cove. Tours will be limited to one hour, with a maximum of 300 people per tour.

“Maya Bay used to bring in up to $60,000 a day, but this huge income cannot be compared to the natural resources we have lost,” Pramote said.

Covid news live: Omicron likely to become dominant variant, UK and US experts say
© Provided by The Guardian Longtail boats wait at the pier on East Railay Beach in Krabi as the country prepares to welcome back visitors. Photograph: Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images

New York City mandates Covid vaccine for children

02:52

New York City has expanded its array of Covid-19 mandates on Monday, setting vaccine requirements for children as young as 5 years old. This is on top of the mandates required for all private employees we previously reported.

The most-populous US city set a 27 December as the deadline for all 184,000 businesses within its limits to make their employees show proof they have been vaccinated, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

In addition, children 5 to 11 years old must get at least one dose by 14 December and those 12 and older need to be fully vaccinated by 27 December to enter restaurants and participate in extracurricular school activities, such as sports, band and dances, Reuters reports.

“Vaccination is the way out of this pandemic, and these are bold, first-in-the-nation measures to encourage New Yorkers to keep themselves and their communities safe,” de Blasio, who leaves office next month, said in a statement.

Covid news live: Omicron likely to become dominant variant, UK and US experts say
© Provided by The Guardian New York City has expanded its array of Covid-19 mandates on Monday, setting vaccine requirements for children as young as 5 years old. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

 

02:20

China has reported 94 new confirmed coronavirus cases for 6 December, up from 61 a day earlier, its health authority confirmed on Tuesday.

Of the new infections, 60 were locally transmitted, according to a statement by the National Health Commission as seen by Reuters, compared with 38 a day earlier.

The new local cases were reported by local authorities in Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang, Yunnan and Zhejiang.

China reported 14 new asymptomatic cases, which it classifies separately from confirmed cases, compared with 44 a day earlier.

There were no new deaths, leaving the death toll at 4,636. Mainland China has had 99,297 confirmed cases.

 

02:02

We have some more information on the new Covid restrictions taking effect in France.

A combination of vaccination booster shots and more rigorous social distancing is hoped to avoid renewed lockdowns or curfews, prime minister Jean Castex said on Monday.

From Friday, nightclubs will be shut for four weeks and citizens will be asked to voluntarily limit private and professional gatherings.

Requirements for mask-wearing in schools will also be tightened.

From 15 December, children aged five to 11 who are overweight or who have a serious health condition will be offered access to vaccination. Children over the age of 12 can already be inoculated.

“Vaccination will be open to 5-11 year olds overweight or suffering from a risk pathology from December 15,” a statement from the ministry of health reads.

Health minister Olivier Veran reiterated vaccination for “the most fragile children” will begin next week and vaccination to all children on 20 December 20.

Dutch hospitals welcome military support

01:53

The Netherlands is drafting in soldiers to support hospitals as Covid cases surge, Agence France-Presse reports.

The UMC Utrecht hospital has opened a second care unit which can take patients with Covid-19 from across the region and is being helped by 50 members of the military with medical backgrounds.

“What we are try to do here is to increase the amount of nursing beds that we have for Covid patients,” Martin van Dijk, a Dutch military aid coordinator, told AFP.

“By that, the military tries to support the Dutch hospitals to make sure that no hospital has to say no to a patient, basically.”

This is the second time that the military has been sent in to help at the hospital in the city in the central Netherlands, with the first time being from October 2020 to June this year.

Covid cases in the nation have soared to record levels of more than 20,000 a day in the country of 17 million people.

The Dutch government has warned that hospitals are overstretched, with 2,143 Covid patients in hospital, including 611 in intensive care, accounting for 59% of all ICU beds, according to the latest figures.

Covid news live: Omicron likely to become dominant variant, UK and US experts say
© Provided by The Guardian Nurses treat a Covid patient at the Van Weel-Bethesda Hospital in the Netherlands as the country welcomes soldiers from the Dutch military. Photograph: Robin Utrecht/REX/Shutterstock

France to shut nightclubs over Covid surge

01:34

Nightclubs in France will be ordered to close for four weeks from Friday to counter a Covid surge that has put hospitals under strain, the prime minister said on Monday.

“We will close the nightclubs for the next four weeks. This measure will apply from next Friday until the beginning of January,” Jean Castex, who emerged from quarantine last week after contracting the virus, said.

“We have all had a tendency to lower our guard” in recent weeks, he added.

“The situation demands an individual as well as a collective effort,” Castex said in a televised address.

A raft of new measures will be coming into force according to a statement from the ministry of health.

France has confirmed only 25 cases of the new Omicron variant but officials say the number could jump significantly in the coming weeks.

On Sunday, the health ministry reported more than 42,000 cases in the previous 24 hours, and more than 11,000 patients in hospital – the highest number since August – with 2,000 in intensive care.

À nous : pic.twitter.com/XljOcl5bF1

— Jean Castex (@JeanCASTEX) December 6, 2021

Covid news live: Omicron likely to become dominant variant, UK and US experts say
© Provided by The Guardian Nightclubs in France will be ordered to close for four weeks from Friday to counter a Covid surge. Photograph: Kiran Ridley/Getty Images

 

01:16

Hello and welcome back to our coronavirus live blog.

I’m Samantha Lock and I’ll be taking you through all the latest Covid developments as they happen.

A leading infectious diseases specialist who monitors variants for a research collaboration led by Harvard Medical School believes the world is seeing “what appears to be a signal of exponential increase of Omicron over Delta.”

“It’s still early days, but increasingly, data is starting to trickle in, suggesting that Omicron is likely to outcompete Delta in many, if not all, places,” Dr Jacob Lemieux said in an interview with the Associated Press.

Others say it’s too soon to know how likely it is that Omicron will spread more efficiently than Delta, or, if it does, how fast it might take over.

“There’s still a lot of uncertainty … but when you put the early data together, you start to see a consistent picture emerge: that Omicron is already here, and based on what we’ve observed in South Africa, it’s likely to become the dominant strain in the coming weeks and months and will likely cause a surge in case numbers,” Lemieux added.

Meanwhile, nightclubs in France will be ordered to close for four weeks from Friday to counter a Covid surge that has put hospitals under strain.

Here’s everything you might have missed over the past few hours:

  • New Covid restrictions are to be introduced in Norway after a recent increase in infections.
  • Britain’s health minister said there is now community transmission of the Omicron variant across regions of England.
  • The Czech government will order Covid-19 vaccinations for people working in hospitals and nursing homes as well as police officers, soldiers and some other professions and all citizens aged 60 and older.
  • A new range of pandemic restrictions will be imposed in Poland this week.
  • Italy tightened restrictions on people still not vaccinated, limiting their access to an array of places and services.
  • Children in the Philippines’ capital Manila returned to school after a near two-year suspension.
  • India’s cases of the Omicron variant rose to 21 over the weekend, officials said, while Nepal and Thailand detected their first cases.
  • South Africa is preparing hospitals for more admissions, as the Omicron variant pushes the country into a fourth wave of infections.
  • Austria’s general lockdown will end on 11 December for those who have been vaccinated.
  • All private employers in New York City will have to mandate Covid-19 vaccinations for their workers.
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