Covid news - live: UK nearing ‘light at end of tunnel' in pandemic, WHO says as PM ‘prepares to lift rules'

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LIVE – Updated at 19:42

The UK is drawing nearer the “light at the end of tunnel” of the pandemic, the WHO special envoy for Covid-19 has said, but cautioned that elsewhere in the world “things are not as promising.”

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David Nabarro told Sky News: “Even though it’s possible to start imagining that the end of the pandemic is not far away, just everybody be ready for the possibility that there will be more variations and mutations coming along, or that there will be further challenges, other surges of even Omicron coming.

Nabarro added that people must remain “respectful of this virus” as “elsewhere in the world, things are nothing like as promising.”

Global Tech News Daily

It comes as the government announced new guidelines for people self-isolating with Covid-19 in England set to come into force, starting Monday.

Under the revised guidelines, people will have the option to reduce their isolation period after 5 full days if they test negative on both day 5 and day 6 and do not have a temperature.

Key Points

  • ‘Keep travel tests or risk hard lockdowns,’ warn critics
  • New Covid self-isolation rules come into force in England
  • US surgeon general warns Omicron still to peak
  • Chinese cities on high alert ahead of Lunar New Year
  • New Zealand begins vaccinating children aged 5-11
  • India’s Gennova working on Omicron-specific vaccine

‘Light at end of tunnel’ for pandemic in UK, says WHO chief

Global Tech News Daily

19:35 , Emily Atkinson

The UK is drawing nearer the “light at the end of tunnel” of the pandemic, the WHO special envoy for Covid-19 has said, but added that elsewhere in the world “things are not as promising.”

David Nabarro told Sky News: “Looking at it from a UK point of view, there does appear to be light at the end of the tunnel.”

But he emphasised that Brits must not assume “that it’s all going to be fine” in the face of potential variants in the future.

He said: “Even though it’s possible to start imagining that the end of the pandemic is not far away, just everybody be ready for the possibility that there will be more variations and mutations coming along, or that there will be further challenges, other surges of even Omicron coming.

Nabarro added that people must remain “respectful of this virus” as “elsewhere in the world, things are nothing like as promising.

“Do what you can to stop transmitting it. Do what you can to protect others from being affected by it. It’s not the common cold.”

Data for Omicron-specific jab expected in March, says Moderna CEO

19:09 , Emily Atkinson

Moderna’s potential vaccine created to fight the Omicron variant is set to enter clinical trial over the next few weeks, its CEO said on Monday, adding that the company expects to make data available to regulators around March.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum’s virtual Davos Agenda conference, Stephane Bancel said: “The vaccine is being finished … it should be in the clinic in coming weeks. We are hoping in the March timeframe to be able to have data to share with regulators to figure out next steps.”

With additional reporting from Reuters

Ireland records 6,329 new Covid cases

18:45 , Emily Atkinson

A further 6,329 cases of coronavirus have been reported in Ireland today, figures show.

At 8am on Monday, there were 1,006 Covid-positive patients in hospital, with 97 in intensive care.

Watch: Keir Starmer refuses to apologise over drinking beer image from April

18:25 , Emily Atkinson

Petition against Covid certification presented to Stormont Assembly

18:05 , Emily Atkinson

A petition against the Covid Certification Scheme has been presented to the Stormont Assembly.

DUP MLA Paul Frew said it had been backed by 10,000 signatures, adding he could “not think of a more honourable cause for a petition than to record our disgust and abhorrence that an Executive and indeed this Assembly can pass such a discriminatory measure as vaccine certification”.

The petition was organised by the group Liberty NI.

Rebecca Black reports:

Covid news - live: UK nearing ‘light at end of tunnel’ in pandemic, WHO says as PM ‘prepares to lift rules’
© Provided by The Independent

Petition against Covid certification presented to Stormont Assembly

Dominic Cummings claims PM ‘lied’ to Parliament over parties

17:55 , Emily Atkinson

Updated blog: PM was told about the invite, he knew it was a drinks party, he lied to Parliament

— Dominic Cummings (@Dominic2306) January 17, 2022

Easing of restrictions to go ahead in Denmark despite record-breaking Covid case numbers

17:40 , Emily Atkinson

Denmark will continue to shed a number of its strict coronavirus measures despite reporting record-breaking daily case figures on Monday.

It comes after cinemas, museums and other cultural institutions reopened after a month-long lockdown in the country

According to Reuters, 28,780 new cases were recorded in the space of 24 hours, while Covid-related

Last week, Danish authorities agreed to ease restrictions, including reopening entertainment parks and botanic gardens, and allow limited spectators at indoor and outdoor sports events.

Thailand may reinstate quarantine waiver for vaccinated visitors

17:20 , Emily Atkinson

Thailand may reintroduce a quarantine waiver for vaccinated travellers, its health minister said on Monday, alongside a set of Covid-19 measures which could be eased later this week.

The country opened its borders to jabbed overseas visitors in November in the hopes of boosting the tourism industry that suffered a severe financial blow as a result of nearly 18 months under strict restrictions.

It reported about 200,000 arrivals last year. In 2019, there were closer to 40 million.

“We will propose measures that can be done safely and are medically sound,” Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul told Reuters.

He added that the quarantine waiver, if approved, will be introduced by 1 February.

Canada approves Pfizer antiviral treatment for over-18s

17:02 , Emily Atkinson

Canada is the latest country to approve Pfizer’s antiviral pill to treat mild to moderate Covid-19 cases in adults, according to Health Canada’s website.

In clinical trials, the treatment – Paxlovid – was found to be nearly 90 per cent effective in preventing hospitalisation and death in high-risk patients.

Last month, Ottawa said it had signed a deal with Pfizer for a million doses of the drug, pending approval by the Canada’s health regulators.

It comes after the US authorised the use of Paxlovid on people ages 12 and older last month.

With additional reporting from Reuters

52,117,863 first doses of Covid vaccine delivered in UK

16:51 , Emily Atkinson

A total of 52,117,863 first doses of the coronavirus jab had been administered in the UK by 16 January, latest government figures show.

This is a rise of 17,700 on the previous day.

Some 47,963,133 second doses have been delivered, an increase of 37,116.

A combined total of 36,473,316 booster and third doses have been given, a day-on-day rise of 61,096.

Separate totals for booster and third doses are not available.

With additional reporting from PA

European Commission president cancels in-person meetings after driver tests positive for Covid-19

16:37 , Emily Atkinson

Ursula von der Leyen has been forced to cancel her in-person appointments at the European Parliament this week after her driver tested positive for coronavirus, she announced today.

The EU chief tweeted this morning she is returning to Brussels from Strasbourg, where she was billed to attend a number of high-profile meetings.

The Associated Press reported that she faced a busy schedule while in France, including attending a remembrance event for David Sassoli, the European Parliament president, who died last week. She was also expected to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron.

My driver has tested positive for #COVID19.

Regretfully, I must therefore cancel my participation to the @Europarl_EN plenary.

I am returning to Brussels.

— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) January 17, 2022

With additional reporting from AP

UK records 84,429 new Covid cases and 85 deaths

16:21 , Emily Atkinson

A further 84,429 new coronavirus cases have been recorded in the UK today, latest government data shows.

Monday’s figures represent a minor nationwide increase in cases on the last two days – 75,031 on Sunday and 81,713 on Saturday – but stay in line with the downward trend in positive tests.

Another 85 within 28 days of positive test have also been reported, bringing the seven day total to 1,845.

Meanwhile, 640 deaths with Covid-19 on the death certificate were recorded over the past week.

Israel cuts covid-19 isolation to five days

16:10 , Charlene Rodrigues

Israel’s Health Ministry on Monday said that it would shorten the mandatory isolation period for those who tested positive for coronavirus to five days from seven days, following an initial cut last week, provided they are asymptomatic. Until last week, the isolation period was 10 days.

The latest decision, which takes effect on Wednesday, brings Israel in line with recommendations in the United States.

A negative home antigen test is also required before ending isolation, the ministry said.

The country’s pandemic-response coordinator, Salman Zarka, said the health ministry has found that people are at their most contagious during the first three days after infection

Includes reporting by Reuters

Shadow home secretary accuses Patel of double standards amid ‘partygate’

16:06 , Charlene Rodrigues

Home Secretary Priti Patel stood by her support for police enforcing Covid rules, despite backing Boris Johnson amid the Downing Street party row.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper told the Commons: “On January 25 2021 the Home Secretary commented on a Met Police video of officers breaking up an illegal party in London.

She said, ‘This illegal gathering was an insult to those hospitalised with Covid, our NHS staff and everyone staying at home to protect them. Police are enforcing the rules to save lives.’

“Why has she now changed her mind?”

Ms Patel replied: “I stand by my comments, primarily because the entire country during the time of the virus itself, the pandemic, were absolutely doing incredible work to ensure that this virus was not being spread. My views have not changed on that, they are absolutely consistent.”

She said the police are operationally independent of her and were following guidance issued by the Government, adding: “They did very, very good work to protect the public.”

Includes reporting by PA

Scotland: Sturgeon ‘cautiously optimistic’ amid calls to end covid-19 restrictions

15:50 , Charlene Rodrigues

Nicola Sturgeon said she is “cautiously optimistic” about Scotland’s coronavirus situation ahead of a statement announcing any changes to restrictions.

The First Minister said the country was “in a better position than I feared we would be before Christmas”, but would not comment on whether she plans to follow Wales with a mass easing of Covid rules.

Her comments come as the Scottish Tories called for the scrapping of most coronavirus restrictions, with the exception of face coverings.

Ms Sturgeon will chair a cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning before updating Holyrood about the Government’s plans later in the afternoon.

Asked about any possible changes to the coronavirus measures, Ms Sturgeon told the PA news agency: “I think everybody wants to see Covid end so it follows that everybody – me included – wants to see all restrictions end.

Wales: Changes in government guidelines and coronavirus updates

15:42 , Charlene Rodrigues

From January 21, the Welsh government has announced that there will be no legal limits on the number of people meeting outdoors. However, a covid pass will be required for large outdoor events.

Other changes starting January 28 will include re-opening of nightclubs, covid pass for large indoor events, nightclubs, cinemas, theatres and concert halls. Working from home will shift from law to guidance.

Where hospitality is involved, there will be no restrictions on meeting people and no requirement for table service or 2-metre physical distancing

Wales Daily Coronavirus (COVID-19) Report · Monday 17th January.

3,975 new cases (people positive) reported, giving a total of 744,717.

18 new deaths reported, giving a total of 6,707.

— UK COVID-19 (@UKCovid19Stats) January 17, 2022

Netherlands registers record 42,000 coronavirus cases in 24 hours

15:30 , Charlene Rodrigues

The Netherlands registered a record 42,000 coronavirus cases in the space of 24 hours, according to data released by health officials on Monday.

The government only ordered the reopening of most stores on Friday, after a month-long lockdown intended to slow the spread of the Omicron variant of the virus.

Scotland: Tories call for an end to all restrictions, except face masks

15:20 , Charlene Rodrigues

The Scottish Tories have called on Nicola Sturgeon to remove most coronavirus restrictions, with the exception of face coverings.

Ahead of the First Minister’s Covid-19 update on Tuesday, where a decision is expected on current restrictions on hospitality and leisure venues, Tory leader Douglas Ross has asked her to go further.

The Tories are expecting the First Minister to announce the scrapping of the vaccine passport scheme along with guidance on household mixing and social distancing.

They are also asking to put an end to restrictions currently on businesses, that put a cap of 100 on indoor standing events and 200 on seated events, enforce table service for alcohol-selling businesses and mandate social distancing between groups.

The Tory plea, which would see changes come into effect from January 31, also calls for mask-wearing in schools to be dropped and work from home guidance to be dropped, while self-isolation would be “gradually phased out” over a period of months.

“The Scottish Government’s own data shows that we are past the peak of Omicron.

The latest evidence means we can now be far more optimistic,” Mr Ross said.

Includes reporting by PA

Former No 10 official discusses long-standing drinking culture in Downing Street

15:13 , Charlene Rodrigues

A long-standing drinking culture in Downing Street saw staff start boozing at lunch and waking up there in the same clothes the next day, a former No 10 official has said.

Sonia Khan discussed the historic drinking culture at the heart of Government as Boris Johnson considers demanding an alcohol curb as he battles allegations of lockdown-breaching parties.

The Prime Minister will reportedly order a booze ban in No 10 under the so-called ‘Operation Red Meat’ policies designed to save his leadership from demands for his resignation.

Ms Khan, who worked in No 10 and the Treasury during the leaderships of former prime ministers David Cameron and Theresa May, said drinks had long been “normalised” in Downing Street.

But she said historic use was “totally different” to the allegations of partying while the public was ordered to abide by restrictions to tackle coronavirus.

“Usually these drinking sessions are sandwiched between pieces of work, so it feels like a very, very routine thing,” Ms Khan told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme.

“Drinks could start at lunch time, they could start a little bit later in the day – different teams do things very differently – but the idea of mini fridges or having drinks underneath your table wasn’t uncommon.”

Ms Khan said “senior people at No 10” going back two decades had used drinks as a way of thanking staff for working “very, very long hours”.

Asked if people had been so hungover they had slept on sofas in Downing Street, she said: “I did see a few instances of that – people waking up in the same clothes the next day.”

Pfizer to open major facility in France to boost antiviral pill production

14:40 , Emily Atkinson

Pfizer is to open a new manufacturing facility in France to supercharge the production of Covid-19 antiviral pills, the company announced on Monday, as part of its €520 million investment plan in the countryover the next five years.

According to Reuters, the move is part of Pfizer’s recent push to boost global production of the pill, paxlovid.

In clinical trials, the antiviral pill was found to be nearly 90 per cent effective in preventing hospitalisation and death in high risk patients.

The investment will initially involve the production of active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) for pill at a plant run by French pharmaceutical group, Novasep, Pfizer said.

“Novasep will produce API for use in our manufacturing network, expected to contribute to the overall (global) effort to produce 120 million courses of treatment in 2022,” it added.

Boris Johnson ‘bit by bit undermining and damaging’ British institutions, says Sturgeon

14:30 , Emily Atkinson

Scotland’s first minister has accused Boris Johnson of wielding “cheap, populist policies” to divert attention from the mounting lockdown party allegations and “save his own skin”.

Speaking to the media at a visit to Irvine, Nicola Sturgeon said the scandal surrounding the alleged “serial, repeated breaches of the Covid regulations” showed the Tories were “not fit for office”.

She said: “Instead of Boris Johnson taking responsibility, he appears to be preparing to pass the blame to those who work for him and around him, which I don’t think is the kind of thing you would expect from somebody who is leader of his party and Prime Minister.

“But also, looking for cheap, populist policies to try to distract attention, to use refugees and those seeking asylum to save his own skin.

“While everybody will have different degrees of criticism of the BBC, to try to jettison the BBC to save his own skin, it’s unedifying, it’s beneath the office of Prime Minister and all it does really is underline this feeling that Boris Johnson is not just himself damaged irreparably, in my view, but he is bit by bit undermining and damaging the institutions of the country and the institutions that support our democracy and that’s why it’s got to stop.

“A line has to be drawn under this and it’s now up to the Tory Party to decide what’s more important – protecting Boris Johnson or acting in the wider interests of the country.”

Booster jab booking opens for 16 and 17-year-olds

14:20 , Emily Atkinson

16 and 17-year-olds can now book their COVID-19 booster jab appointment online.

Visit to #GetBoostedNow. 💉

— NHS England and NHS Improvement (@NHSEngland) January 17, 2022

Spike in daily coronavirus cases in Russia as Omicron spreads

14:10 , Charlene Rodrigues

Russian authorities have reported a sharp spike in new coronavirus cases, apparently driven by the rapid spread of the Omicron variant health officials warned about last week.

The country’s state coronavirus task force registered 30,726 new infections over the last 24 hours, which is twice as many as 15,830 just a week ago and the highest daily tally since early December.

The task force has also reported 670 deaths.

The Omicron variant spreads much more easily than other coronavirus strains, and has already become dominant in many countries.

It also more easily infects those who have been vaccinated or had previously been infected by prior versions of the virus.

However, early studies show Omicron is less likely to cause severe illness than the previous Delta variant.

Infections in Russia steadily climbed all of last week, and officials sounded the alarm about a looming surge of cases driven by Omicron’s rapid spread.

Anna Popova, head of Russia’s public health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, has warned that daily new cases might reach six-figure levels, and President Vladimir Putin has said that Russia has “a couple of weeks” to prepare for the unprecedented surge.

Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin said on Friday that Omicron is responsible for nearly half of all new infections in the capital.

On Monday, new virus cases in the city surpassed 7,000.

Russia’s state coronavirus task force has registered more than 10.8 million confirmed infections and 321,990 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Russia’s state statistics agency, which uses broader counting criteria, puts the death toll much higher, saying the overall number of virus-linked deaths between April 2020 and October 2021 was over 625,000.

Additional reporting by AP

Timeline of parties across government reportedly held during covid-19 restrictions (Contd…2/2)

13:50 , Charlene Rodrigues

December 10, 2020: Department for Education party

The DfE confirmed a social event had happened after The Mirror reported that former education secretary Gavin Williamson threw a party and delivered a short speech at an event organised at his department’s Whitehall headquarters.

A spokesman acknowledged that “it would have been better not to have gathered in this way at that particular time”.

December 11, 2020: Wine fridge delivered to Downing Street for staff’s ‘wine-time Fridays’

A fridge with the capacity for 34 wine bottles was delivered through the back door of No 10.

According to sources cited by The Mirror, the fridge became necessary for staff’s “wine-time Fridays” which were held throughout lockdown, with the Prime Minister allegedly encouraging the parties to help aides “let off steam”.

The regular social gatherings were reported to be particularly popular among staff between autumn 2020 and spring 2020 when staff were “fatigued” with tough Covid restrictions that banned socialising.

Mr Johnson was said to have attended a “handful” of these gatherings.

December 14 2020: Party featuring Tory London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey and staff

Shaun Bailey apologised “unreservedly” for attending the gathering at Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) organised by staff on his campaign team.

“It was a serious error of judgment at a time when Londoners were making immense sacrifices to keep us all safe and I regret it wholeheartedly,” he tweeted.

He quit his role chairing the London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee after The Mirror published a picture showing him at the gathering.

December 15, 2020: Downing Street quiz

The Prime Minister appeared on contestants’ screens at the quiz but insisted he broke no rules.

An image published by the Sunday Mirror showed Mr Johnson flanked by colleagues, one draped in tinsel and another wearing a Santa hat, in No 10.

Downing Street admitted Mr Johnson “briefly” attended the quiz after the photographic evidence emerged but insisted it was a virtual event.

December 16, 2020: Department for Transport party

The Mirror reported that senior civil servants were “boozing and dancing” at the event, allegedly planned by staff from Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ office.

A DfT spokesman said: “Fewer than a dozen staff who were working in the office had a low-key, socially distanced gathering in the large open-plan office after work on December 16, where food and drink was consumed.

“We recognise this was inappropriate and apologise for the error of judgment.”

December 17, 2020: Cabinet Office “Christmas party”

A number of outlets reported that a gathering was held in the Cabinet Office on December 17.

The Times reported that Cabinet Secretary Simon Case attended the party in room 103 of the Cabinet Office, that it had been organised by a private secretary in Mr Case’s team, and that it was included in digital calendars as “Christmas party!”.

The Cabinet Office confirmed a quiz took place, but a spokesman said: “The Cabinet Secretary played no part in the event, but walked through the team’s office on the way to his own office.”

December 17 2020: Leaving drinks for former Covid Taskforce head

The former director-general of the Government’s Covid Taskforce said she was “truly sorry” over an evening gathering in the Cabinet Office for her leaving drinks during coronavirus restrictions days before Christmas in 2020.

Kate Josephs, who is now chief executive of Sheffield City Council, said she gathered with colleagues who were in the office that day and added that she is cooperating with the probe by senior civil servant Sue Gray.

December 18 2020: Christmas party at Downing Street

The claim which kicked off the rule-breaking allegations is that a party was held for Downing Street staff on December 18.

Officials and advisers reportedly made speeches, enjoyed a cheese board, drank together and exchanged Secret Santa gifts, although the Prime Minister is not thought to have attended.

Mr Johnson’s spokeswoman, Allegra Stratton, quit after being filmed joking about it with fellow aides at a mock press conference.

Run up to Christmas 2020

The Daily Mirror reported that Mr Johnson attended a leaving do for defence adviser Captain Steve Higham before Christmas 2020.

The newspaper alleged the Prime Minister made a speech but No 10 did not respond to a request for comment and the Ministry of Defence declined.

April 16 2021: Drinks and dancing the night before the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral

The Telegraph reported that advisers and civil servants gathered after work for two separate events on the Friday night.

They were to mark the departure of James Slack, Mr Johnson’s former director of communications, and one of the Prime Minister’s personal photographers.

Mr Slack, who left his No 10 role to become deputy editor-in-chief of The Sun newspaper, said he was sorry for the “anger and hurt” caused by his leaving do, while Downing Street apologised to the Queen.

“Encouraging signs” in the data, says Downing Street

13:33 , Charlene Rodrigues

Downing Street said there were “encouraging signs” in the data as Boris Johnson considers whether England’s Plan B restrictions can be lifted on January 26, when they are due to expire.

“In terms of the data, there are some encouraging signs that infections are falling across the country,” the spokesman said.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the “maximum amount of time possible” would be given to prepare for any changes in the rules.

“Obviously we want to see that mirrored in the latest ONS data as well.

“There are also some signs of falls – or at least plateauing – in admissions and occupancy in hospital, which is good to see.

“But it still remains the case that our NHS is under significant pressure, there are over 16,000 Covid patients in hospital in England alone.

Additional reporting by PA

Changes to self isolation rules effective from Monday

13:00 , Charlene Rodrigues

Self-isolation guidance for people who test positive for COVID-19 in England has changed.

From today, people can leave self-isolation after five full days if they test negative on days 5 and 6.

Swipe for details 👇

— Department of Health and Social Care (@DHSCgovuk) January 17, 2022

Rail passengers suffer one of the worst periods on record for cancellations

12:46 , Charlene Rodrigues

Train passengers have suffered one of the worst periods for cancellations on record due to coronavirus pandemic-related staff shortages, new figures show.

It was estimated earlier this month that around 10 per cent of rail staff were absent from work as the Omicron coronavirus variant spread across the UK, leading to swathes of short-notice cancellations.

Around 4.4 per cent of services across Britain were cancelled between December 12 and January 8, according to Network Rail.

Most operators responded by introducing emergency timetables with fewer trains to increase reliability.

Avanti West Coast, c2c, East Midlands Railway and South Western Railway became the latest firms to adopt the measure on Monday, cutting hundreds more daily services.

Customers are being advised to check for updates before setting out on their journey or sign up for automatic alerts from National Rail Alert Me.

Additional reporting by PA

Tickets for Beijing’s Winter Olympics will not be sold to the public to limit the spread of covid-19

11:48 , Charlene Rodrigues

Tickets for the Winter Olympics set to begin on Feb 4 will be distributed to “targeted” groups of people and will not be sold to the general public due to coronavirus, the organising committee said on Monday.

Organisers had already said there would not be any international spectators at the Games, as part of China’s efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Additional reporting by Reuters

Covid-19: Data shows Omicron wave is ‘turning around’

11:40 , Charlene Rodrigues

The continued drop in UK Covid cases indicates the Omicron wave may well be “turning around”, a leading expert advising the Government has said.

Prof Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M), said that the latest case figures were “cautiously good news” and he hoped the country may have a “flu-type” relationship with the virus by the end of the year.

The latest data shows a 38 per cent drop over the last seven days across the UK in the numbers testing positive for Covid-19, with 70,924 new cases reported on Sunday.

Prof Tildesley told BBC Breakfast “it does look like across the whole of the country cases do seem to be falling”, adding: “We have had very, very high case numbers throughout late December and early January – we peaked about 200,000 at one point.

“We do now seem to be a little bit beyond that. Hospital admissions are still relatively high albeit there is some evidence that maybe they’re plateauing or possibly going down in London, which is cautiously good news.

“I would say we probably need about an extra week of data to really see the effect of children going back to school – we’re still only two weeks since children went back to school – but if we still see that over the next week or so, I’d be pretty confident that we are seeing this wave turning around.”

Asked whether changes in testing rules, which means people do not always need a PCR test, may have contributed to the drop in cases, he added: “Yesterday was a Sunday and we were in the region of 70,000 (cases) which is a lot lower than previous Sundays, so I think even taking into account any changes in testing, I think it is pretty clear that the Omicron wave is slowing down.”

Additional reporting by PA

‘Keep travel tests or risk hard lockdowns,’ critics warn

11:17 , Charlene Rodrigues

After leaks suggested Covid tests for fully vaccinated arrivals to the UK could be scrapped by the end of January, the testing industry has warned the move could trigger “hard lockdowns”.

Our Travel correspondent, Simon Calder, reports.

Covid news - live: UK nearing ‘light at end of tunnel’ in pandemic, WHO says as PM ‘prepares to lift rules’
© Provided by The Independent

‘Keep travel tests or risk hard lockdowns,’ warn critics

Scotland: Students to be drafted into health service to tackle pandemic

11:10 , Charlene Rodrigues

The Scottish Government has said about 12,000 students will be deployed across Scotland’s health service to help fight coronavirus.

With 3,000 nursing and midwifery students being sent on placement this month, a further 7,000 students will be placed throughout next month.

A further 1,500 allied health professional students and 500 paramedic students will also be deployed next month.

Placements in active healthcare settings form part of a number of university courses.

Health Secretary, Humza Yousaf, “wholeheartedly” thanked the students who would be supporting healthcare.

“As part of their professional programme of education, and throughout the pandemic, these students have worked tirelessly to support our NHS, making an invaluable contribution to the delivery of care as part of their supervised practice in health and social care environments,” he said.

Additional reporting by PA

Sir Keir Starmer has refused to apologise over images of him drinking beer in an office last summer

10:50 , Charlene Rodrigues

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has refused to apologise over images of him drinking beer in an office in April 2021 in the run-up to the May 2021 elections.

Sir Keir said he usually travelled with a team of around six people and the incident took place in City of Durham MP Mary Foy’s office.At the time coronavirus rules meant indoor socialising was banned in England.

Sir Keir told LBC Radio: “The restrictions allowed people to work when they needed to, we were running an election campaign, we were in a constituency office.”

He said no restaurants or pubs were open and the hotel he and colleagues were staying in did not serve food so “if you didn’t get a takeaway then our team wasn’t eating that evening”.

Asked if he was prepared to apologise, Sir Keir said: “We didn’t break any rules, we were working in the office and we stopped for a takeaway.”

He added: “We did nothing wrong.”

Covid review for England could come this week, early next, says top government source

10:30 , Charlene Rodrigues

A review of “Plan B” measures to tackle the spread of COVID-19 in England could take place this week or early next, a senior government source said on Monday, part of efforts to move attention away from lockdown-breaking events at Downing Street.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson hopes to reset his agenda after coming under fire for attending a gathering in the garden of his Downing Street office and residence in May 2020, when strict COVID-19 rules forbade almost all socialising.

He has apologised for attending, but the growing reports of alcohol-fuelled gatherings at the heart of government have prompted calls for his resignation, including from some in his Tory party.

The removal of “Plan B” measures – an order for people to work from home when they can, to wear masks in public places and use COVID-19 passes to enter some venues – would please many in his party who want to return to something more akin to normal life.

The senior government source said the review could come this week, but possibly early next week.

Additional reporting by Reuters

Scotland: Coronavirus restrictions on outdoor events and matches lifted

10:10 , Charlene Rodrigues

Attendees at this week’s football matches are being urged to be careful as restrictions on large events are lifted by the Scottish Government.

Games were rescheduled by sports authorities after restrictions were introduced in December, limiting large outdoor events to 500 people, after the Omicron variant began to spread rapidly across the UK.

Chief medical officer Dr Sir Gregor Smith urged fans returning to stadiums to exercise care, with the first fixture due to be played on Monday at Celtic Park – a stadium which has a capacity of upwards of 60,000 people.

Speaking to the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme, he said: “If I was in the stadium, I think I’d just be careful.”

“Look for the choke points where people congregate, make sure you’re avoiding those crowds, try and make sure that you’re wearing a face covering at all times when you’re in that crowd.”

Sir Gregor also stressed the importance of minimising the spread of Covid-19 while on the way to games, taking a lateral flow test before leaving and limiting the number of places where fans stop in between home and the stadium.

Additional reporting by PA

‘Covid was no joke’: New York congresswoman AOC shares photos of her virus battle

09:45 , Charlene Rodrigues

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced that she had contracted Covid-19 in an Instagram post on Saturday, explaining that she has experienced debilitating symptoms even given the added protection provided by her vaccine.

John Bowden has this report.

Covid news - live: UK nearing ‘light at end of tunnel’ in pandemic, WHO says as PM ‘prepares to lift rules’
© Provided by The Independent

‘Covid was no joke’: AOC shares photos of her virus battle

Scientists detect novel coronavirus in wild leopard cub in India

09:23 , Charlene Rodrigues

Veterinary scientists in India have detected the novel coronavirus in the carcass of a wild Indian leopard cub, marking the first reported instance of the viral infection in a free-roaming wild feline.

The yet-to-be peer-reviewed research, posted in the preprint server bioRxiv, revealed that the one-year-old cub, which was found dead in mid-October, just months after the second wave of the pandemic in India had receded, was infected with the Delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

My colleague, Vishwam Sankaran, has this report.

Covid news - live: UK nearing ‘light at end of tunnel’ in pandemic, WHO says as PM ‘prepares to lift rules’
© Provided by The Independent

Scientists detect novel coronavirus in wild leopard cub in India

Nadhim Zahawi said Boris Johnson is safe in his job despite ‘partygate’ allegations

09:03 , Charlene Rodrigues

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the Education Secretary said – after being asked three times – that the Prime Minister will stay in his position.

He said: “Yes, he is, because he’s human and we make mistakes.

“And, actually, he came to the despatch box and apologised and said he will absolutely submit himself to Parliament, because that’s our parliamentary democracy.”

UKHSA: Latest data on coronavirus cases across the UK

08:42 , Charlene Rodrigues

The #COVID19 Dashboard has been updated:

On 16 January 70,924 new cases and 88 deaths within 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

— UK Health Security Agency (@UKHSA) January 16, 2022

India’s main cities record sharp fall in covid-19 infections

08:30 , Charlene Rodrigues

India’s capital Delhi and financial hub Mumbai have reported a big fall in coronavirus infections in the past two days and most of those who contracted the virus have recovered at home, authorities said on Monday.

Mumbai’s daily new infections fell below 10,000 on Sunday for the first time since early this month, after touching an all-time high of 20,971 on Jan. 7.

It reported 7,895 infections late on Sunday, Mumbai’s municipal corporation said.

Delhi’s cases have fallen consistently since hitting a peak of 28,867 on Jan. 13 and is expected to be fewer than 15,000 on Monday, for the first time since early January, the city government’s health minister told reporters.

Both cities have said more than 80 per cent of their coronavirus hospital beds have remained unoccupied since the fast-transmitting Omicron variant led to a massive surge in cases from the start of the year.

“With very large numbers of sub-clinical, asymptomatic and undetected cases, it is difficult to pinpoint a peak by new cases,” Rajib Dasgupta, head of the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, said in an email.

“In this situation, monitoring hospitalisation is more prudent; today’s case can be next week’s hospitalisation.”

Other epidemiologists say a national peak in cases could come by early- or mid-February.

Experts have attributed the low hospitalisations to high levels of previous infections and vaccination.

Additional reporting by Reuters

Changes to isolation rules come with “increased risk”, warns member of Spi-M

08:08 , Charlene Rodrigues

Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick, said in an interview with BBC Breakfast changes to isolation rules come with “increased risk”.

The member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M) told BBC Breakfast: “It is a big change, we do need to remember that from an epidemiological perspective any relaxation in testing like that is going to have an increased risk attached to it but of course, I totally understand it’s a practical thing.”

“We’re seeing an awful lot of absences, and it’s particularly concerning in healthcare at the moment actually, so if we can reduce the isolation period then that will allow more people to get back to work

“Of course, important to remember that is done with two negative tests – so you can’t come out of isolation until the sixth day with a second negative test. And if you don’t get a negative test, you have to stay in isolation potentially even until day 10 so hopefully that mitigates some of the risk.”

Additional reporting by PA

At-risk 12 to 15-years-olds eligible for booster doses

07:35 , Stuti Mishra

Clinically vulnerable 12 to 15-years-olds in England who are most at risk from coronavirus will be able to get their Covid booster jab from Monday.

Around 500 children will be eligible, including those receiving chemotherapy or radiotherapy, those with leukaemia, diabetes, chronic diseases or severe mental illness, and those who live with someone who is immunosuppressed.

They are entitled to their booster three months after their two primary vaccine doses, while severely immunosuppressed children can get their booster after a third primary dose.

Sophie Wingate reports:

Covid news - live: UK nearing ‘light at end of tunnel’ in pandemic, WHO says as PM ‘prepares to lift rules’
© Provided by The Independent

At-risk 12 to 15-years-olds eligible for booster doses from Monday

Professor suspended after calling students ‘vectors of disease’

07:13 , Stuti Mishra

A professor at a university in Michigan is on paid suspension after he referred to his students as “vectors of disease” and wore an astronaut helmet, in a strange video posted to YouTube requesting his students not come to class.

The professor, Barry Mehler, teaches at Ferris State University in Big Rapids. The school of just under 15,000 students is one of a number of holdout campuses that have refused to institute vaccination mandates for students returning to campus for spring 2022 amid the surge of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 around the country.

In a video posted to his YouTube channel, Mr Mehler wore an astronaut-style helmet and declared that the universe was worried about the collapse of society on Earth resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.

John Bowden has more:

Covid news - live: UK nearing ‘light at end of tunnel’ in pandemic, WHO says as PM ‘prepares to lift rules’
© Provided by The Independent

College professor suspended after calling students ‘vectors of disease’

India’s Gennova working on Omicron-specific vaccine

06:51 , Stuti Mishra

India’s Gennova Biopharmaceuticals is working on an Omicron-specific Covid-19 vaccine that could be ready in a month or two, a person with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

The source, who did not want to be named as the information was private, said the product might need a small trial in India before it could be rolled out as a booster or standalone vaccine.

The source said Gennova on Friday separately submitted to India’s drug regulator phase 2 trial data for its original mRNA vaccine candidate. The government said last year that the product was found to be “safe, tolerable, and immunogenic” in the participants of an initial study.

If given emergency-use approval, this would be India’s first mRNA Covid-19 vaccine like the ones developed by Pfizer and Moderna.

The company has not made any official announcement yet. However, it isn’t the first time a company is making effort to create a jab just for Omicron. Last week, Pfizer Inc said they are working on a redesigned vaccine that specifically targets the Omicron coronavirus variant and could be ready to launch by March.

New Zealand begins vaccinating children aged 5-11

06:20 , Stuti Mishra

New Zealand has rolled out its pediatric vaccination drive from Monday allowing parents and caregivers to book an appointment for children aged between 5 to 11 or take them to a walk-in centre to get jabbed.

The country has received 120,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine which will be used in 500 centres to start the drive, as the government expects numbers to grow soon.

The vaccine used for children has a lower dose and smaller volume than the adult vaccine and is administered using a smaller needle, the government said in a statement.

“We’re looking forward to welcoming families along to our vaccination centres, and will have activities available to help make children feel more comfortable and keep them busy, like word finders, colouring in, stickers and certificates,” Auckland’s Covid-19 vaccination programme clinical director Dr Anthony Jordan said.

“All our staff have been specially trained in childhood immunisations and are ready to answer any questions from parents or kids.”

Scotland: Covid restrictions on outdoor events and matches lifted

05:53 , Stuti Mishra

Coronavirus restrictions on the number of spectators allowed at outdoor events in Scotland have been lifted from Monday, meaning football and rugby matches can go ahead with fans in the stands.

In response to the Omicron wave, rules were put in place from Boxing Day to limit the number of people who can attend outdoor events to a maximum of 500.

This comes after Nicola Sturgeon last week announced these rules would be eased amid early signs the country had “turned a corner”.

Covid news - live: UK nearing ‘light at end of tunnel’ in pandemic, WHO says as PM ‘prepares to lift rules’
© Provided by The Independent

Covid restrictions on outdoor events and matches lifted

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