Covid live: England’s travel ‘red list’ cut to seven countries; Italy relaxes coronavirus restrictions

By Nadeem Badshah (now); Tom Ambrose, Martin Belam and Samantha Lock (earlier)
England has updated its Covid travel guidance.
England has updated its Covid travel guidance. Photograph: Hollie Adams/Getty Images

We have closed the blog for today but you can catch up with the latest coronavirus coverage here.

Thanks for following along, here is a recap of some of the main developments so far today.

  • A Covid vaccine for children aged five to 11 is another step closer to authorisation, with Pfizer-BioNTech announcing on Twitter that the full application has been submitted to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
  • Coronavirus report warned of impact on UK four years before pandemic. Senior health officials who war-gamed the impact of a coronavirus hitting the UK, warned four years before the onset of Covid-19 of the need for stockpiles of PPE, a computerised contact tracing system and screening for foreign travellers, the Guardian can reveal.
  • Italy loosens Covid restrictions. Italy increased the maximum attendance capacity allowed at cultural and sporting venues on Thursday, continuing its progressive easing of Covid-19 curbs for those who can show documents of immunity from the disease.
  • England’s travel ‘red list’ cut to seven countries. England will scrap coronavirus quarantine travel rules for 47 destinations including South Africa on Monday.
  • Spain case rate ‘low risk’ for first time in over a year. Spain’s coronavirus rate dropped below 50 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday, reaching the threshold considered “low risk” by the country’s health ministry for the first time in over a year.
  • England’s Covid travel ‘red list’ to be cut from 54 countries to seven. Strict hotel quarantine requirements will be dropped for travellers from dozens of countries after ministers approved plans to cut England’s travel “red list” from 54 to just seven. Brazil, South Africa and Thailand will be among those removed from the list from 4am next Monday.
  • UK registers 122 Covid deaths and 40,701 new cases.
  • Pfizer seeks US approval for emergency use of vaccine for children aged five to 11.
  • Finland has announced that it will pause the use of Moderna’s vaccine for men under-30 due to reports of a rare cardiovascular side effect. It follows similar moves by Swedish and Danish health officials after a pan-Nordic study.


Brazil registered 15,591 new cases of coronavirus and 451 further deaths on Thursday, according to data released by the country’s health ministry.

In total, registered Covid-19 deaths in Brazil have reached 599,810.

Updated

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said it has approved US drugmaker Merck & Co Inc’s manufacturing site in West Point, Pennsylvania to make Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine, Reuters reports.

Earlier this year, Merck agreed to make its rival’s shot after scrapping two of its own experimental vaccines.

The US government at that time invoked the Defense Production Act to help equip two Merck plants to make the J&J vaccine.

The EMA said Merck’s site, to become operational immediately, was expected to support the continued supply of J&J’s Covid-19 vaccine in the European Union.

Updated

Wales is to remain on Covid-19 alert level 0 for the next three weeks despite the first minister warning of a “challenging” winter ahead.

Mark Drakeford will announce his plans on how to control the spread of the virus over the next few months in a press conference on Friday.

Updated

A Covid vaccine for kids aged five to 11 just got another step closer to authorisation, with Pfizer-BioNTech announcing on Twitter that the full application has been submitted to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Experts say authorization of the vaccine for children will be key to controlling the pandemic. Nearly 850,000 cases were confirmed among US children in the past four weeks, and kids still account for a disproportionate share of weekly cases.

More than 500 children in the US have died from confirmed cases of Covid-19, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. And they have suffered particularly from the Delta variant, with 35% of all deaths coming in the past three months.

Senior health officials who war-gamed the impact of a coronavirus hitting the UK warned four years before the onset of Covid-19 of the need for stockpiles of PPE, a computerised contact tracing system and screening for foreign travellers, the Guardian can reveal.

The calls to step up preparations in areas already identified as shortcomings in the government’s response to Covid emerged from a previously unpublished report of a health planning exercise in February 2016 that imagined a coronavirus outbreak.

It was commissioned by Dame Sally Davies, then chief medical officer, who attended alongside officials from NHS England, the Department of Health, Public Health England, and observers from the devolved administrations.

Updated

Following the UK government’s decision to replace the day 2 test for incoming travellers with an unverified lateral flow test, a spokesperson for the Laboratory and Testing Industry Organisation, the trade association for Covid testing companies and laboratories, said: “We are deeply concerned by the government’s announcement to end the PCR testing requirement for international travel, and replace it with an unsupervised lateral flow regime.

Unless these tests are monitored, the government is significantly reducing the country’s ability to detect new variants.

“The LTIO understands the need to reduce the barriers to travel, but the risk of further lockdowns as we enter the critical Winter period is simply too great allow passengers to mark their own homework.”

The US administered 399,552,444 doses of Covid-19 vaccines in the country as of Thursday morning and distributed 482,326,275 doses, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Those figures are up from the 398,675,414 vaccine doses the CDC said had gone into arms by Wednesday, out of 480,427,985 doses delivered.

The agency said 216,268,034 people had received at least one dose, while 186,618,184 people were fully vaccinated as of 6:00 a.m. ET on Thursday, Reuters reports.

President Joe Biden crosses his fingers as he responds to a question about the short term debt deal as he arrives Air Force One at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. While in the Chicago area, Biden will highlight his order to require large employers to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for its workers during a visit to a construction site.
President Joe Biden crosses his fingers as he responds to a question about the short term debt deal as he arrives Air Force One at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. While in the Chicago area, Biden will highlight his order to require large employers to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for its workers during a visit to a construction site. Photograph: Susan Walsh/AP

Italy loosens Covid restrictions

Italy increased the maximum attendance capacity allowed at cultural and sporting venues on Thursday, continuing its progressive easing of Covid-19 curbs for those who can show documents of immunity from the disease.

As of October 11th, cinemas, theatres and concert venues will be able to fill all their seats, scrapping the current limit of 50%, the government said, following advice from its panel of public health advisors, Reuters reports.

The maximum capacity of sports stadiums will be raised to 60% from 35% for indoor venues and to 75% from 50% outdoors.

Limits will be slightly stricter on discos and nightclubs, at 50% indoors and 75% outdoors.

There will be no restrictions on museums, where only social distancing rules will remain in place.

However, only those carrying the so-called Green Pass - a certificate that shows if someone has received at least one jab, has tested negative or has recently recovered from coronavirus- will be allowed entry, and masks will remain obligatory.

Updated

More than 100 military personnel will be supporting the Welsh Ambulance Service as it faces unprecedented demand.

The Ministry of Defence said 110 staff would be working as non-emergency drivers from October 14 until the end of November, PA reports.

It is the third time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic that military personnel have supported the Welsh Ambulance Service.

They will not operate under blue light conditions and will attend lower priority calls to allow ambulance staff to deal with life-threatening emergencies.

On the subject of booster jabs, Dr Bruce Aylward, senior adviser to the director-general at the WHO, said: “Every single dose makes a difference, we need to make sure every dose right now is going into people who haven’t received any doses, not additional doses going into those who already have.”

The WHO previously called for a moratorium on booster doses until the end of 2021 so vaccines could be shipped to parts of the world where many at-risk people remain unvaccinated.

It said that while third doses may be necessary for immunocompromised people, widespread booster jabs could be put to better use elsewhere, PA reports.

Summary

Here is a round-up of all today’s main Covid news stories:

  • England will scrap coronavirus quarantine travel rules for 47 destinations including South Africa on Monday. The government also said it would recognise the vaccine status of arrivals from more countries in the latest easing of restrictions.
  • Pfizer’s new vaccine for children aged five to 11 could be ready as early as November pending approval from federal regulatory health agencies, White House Covid response coordinator Jeffrey Zients said on Thursday.
  • US president Joe Biden will visit Chicago today to meet with the United Airlines chief executive and local Democratic leaders, as he touts his decision to impose Covid vaccine mandates on employees of large firms, the White House said.
  • Germany has vaccinated millions more people against coronavirus than previously thought, the country’s health minister announced. Almost 80% of adults in Germany are fully vaccinated and about 84% have received at least one shot, according to the country’s disease control centre, the Robert Koch Institute.
  • In the UK, a further 40,701 Covid infections were reported in the past 24 hours – the highest daily figure since 6 September. This is a slight increase on yesterday’s figure of 39,851 cases, according to official government statistics.
  • Coronavirus aid supplies that have arrived in North Korea are being held in quarantine in its seaport of Nampho, the WHO confirmed. North Korea sealed its borders when the coronavirus pandemic began last year, though officials in neighbouring South Korea and the United States have cast doubts on its claim to have never had a case, despite a lack of signs of major outbreaks.
  • UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres has appealed for $8 billion to help vaccinate 40% of people in all countries by the end of the year.
  • Italy reported 41 coronavirus-related deaths on Thursday compared to 39 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections fell to 2,938 from 3,235.
  • In Northern Ireland, Stormont ministers have agreed to remove a legal requirement for social distancing in bars and restaurants, the PA news agency has reported.
  • The Italian government could approve the reopening of nightclubs, closed since August 2020 due to Covid-19 outbreaks linked to nightlife venues, later on Thursday.
  • Children could be forced to wear masks in schools across England again as part of the government’s back-up plan if the country’s Covid situation deteriorates significantly, the education secretary has admitted.
  • Finland has announced that it will pause the use of Moderna’s vaccine for men under-30 due to reports of a rare cardiovascular side effect. It follows similar moves by Swedish and Danish health officials after a pan-Nordic study.

That’s it from me, Tom Ambrose, for today. I’ll be back tomorrow but am now handing over to my colleague Nadeem Badshah, who will see you through the rest of the evening. Goodnight.

Travel industry insiders predicted a surge in bookings for October half-term as ministers cut England’s travel red list to just seven countries, all in Latin America: Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Venezuela.

Travellers from other destinations will no longer have to quarantine in a hotel on their return to the country.

For more details on this evening’s announcement that England’s travel red list has been cut to just seven countries, here is the full story from my colleagues, Nazia Parveen and Rachel Dixon.

  • This post was amended on 8 October 2021 as an earlier version omitted Ecuador from the list of seven countries remaining on England’s travel red list.

Updated

England’s travel ‘red list’ cut to seven countries

England will scrap coronavirus quarantine travel rules for 47 destinations including South Africa on Monday.

Its government also said it would recognise the vaccine status of arrivals from more countries in the latest easing of restrictions.

Transport minister Grant Shapps announced that travellers arriving in England from 37 countries and territories would also face fewer entry requirements as their vaccine status will be recognised, including arrivals from India, Turkey and Ghana.

“The measures announced today mark the next step as we continue to open up travel and provide stability for passengers and industry while remaining on track to keep travel open for good,” he said on Twitter.

Travel rules changed earlier this week to scrap the traffic-light system that graded countries red, amber or green. Now there are just two lists: “red” and “rest of the world”.

England’s travel red list has been reduced to just seven countries, all in Latin America: Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Venezuela.

  • This post was amended on 8 October 2021 as an earlier version omitted Ecuador from the list of countries on the travel red list.

Updated

US president Joe Biden will visit Chicago today to meet with the United Airlines chief executive and local Democratic leaders, as he touts his decision to impose Covid vaccine mandates on employees of large firms, the White House said.

Biden last month ordered all federal workers and contractors to be vaccinated, with few exceptions, and for private employers with 100 or more workers to require employees to be vaccinated or get tested for the coronavirus weekly.

The order spurred pushback from high profile Republican governors including Florida’s Ron DeSantis and South Carolina’s Henry McMaster, who vowed to fight the administration’s move “to the gates of hell”, Reuters reported.

President Joe Biden is travelling to the Chicago area to highlight his order to require large employers to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for its workers.
President Joe Biden is travelling to the Chicago area to highlight his order to require large employers to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for its workers. Photograph: Susan Walsh/AP

“The President’s message will be clear: Vaccination requirements work,” the White House said in an emailed statement, previewing the visit. Such mandates “get more people vaccinated, helping to end the pandemic and strengthen the economy,” the statement added.

It came as IBM said on Thursday it required all US employees to be fully vaccinated against Covid by 8 December or face unpaid suspension.

Spain case rate 'low risk' for first time in over a year

Spain’s coronavirus rate dropped below 50 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday, reaching the threshold considered “low risk” by the country’s health ministry for the first time in over a year.

Spain recorded 1,807 new cases on Thursday, bringing the total up to 4.97 million since the pandemic began. The death toll rose by 23 to 86,701.

The infection rate, as measured over the past 14 days, fell to 49 cases per 100,000 people, the data showed, slipping below 50 for the first time since 27 July, 2020.

Two clients visit one of the stalls at the famous El Rastro transient flea market in downtown Madrid, Spain.
Two clients visit one of the stalls at the famous El Rastro transient flea market in downtown Madrid, Spain. Photograph: Víctor Lerena/EPA

At that time Spain had just emerged from one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns, which reduced new cases to a trickle.

Updated

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres has appealed for $8 billion to help vaccinate 40% of people in all countries by the end of the year.

It comes as the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a plan that aims to inoculate 70% of the world by mid-2022, reports Reuters.

Guterres urged the Group of 20 rich countries to deliver on their “desire to get the world vaccinated” at a summit in Rome later this month.

“Not to have equitable distribution of vaccines is not only a question of being immoral, it is also a question of being stupid,” he said at a joint news conference with WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Photograph: Reuters

So far, more than 6.3 billion doses of coronavirus vaccines have been administered globally. But more than half of the world has yet to receive at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, according to Our World in Data, and less than 5% of Africans have been fully vaccinated, according to the continent’s top public health official.

Private hospitals treated a total of just eight Covid patients a day during the pandemic despite a multi-billion pound deal with the government to help stop the NHS being overwhelmed, a new report reveals.

And they also performed far fewer operations on NHS-funded patients than usual, even though hospitals has suspended much non-Covid care, according to research by a thinktank.

The Treasury agreed in March 2020 to pay for a deal to block-book the entire capacity of all 7,956 beds in England’s 187 private hospitals along with their almost 20,000 staff to help supplement the NHS’s efforts to cope with the unfolding pandemic. It is believed to have cost £400m a month.

Doctor and nurse preparing a hospital bed on a ward in the UK.
Doctor and nurse preparing a hospital bed on a ward in the UK. Photograph: Curtseyes/Alamy

However, the Centre for Health and the Public Interest’s report (Pdf) says that on 39% of days between March 2020 and March this year, private hospitals treated no Covid patients at all and on 59% of days they cared for only one person. Overall, they provided only 3,000 of the 3.6m Covid bed days in those 13 months – just 0.08% of the total.

Venezuela’s vice-president Delcy Rodriguez has said that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has not yet delivered funds under a program to help countries battle the Covid pandemic, amid a dispute over the government’s legitimacy.

In August, the IMF authorised Venezuela to receive around $5 billion in Special Drawing Rights (SDR) as part of a $650 billion global effort to boost liquidity for the world’s most vulnerable countries, but said it could not use them because of questions about whether President Nicolas Maduro or opposition leader Juan Guaido was the rightful leader.

Guaido, recognized by the United States as Venezuela’s legitimate president, said the two sides would discuss access to the SDRs at an internationally-mediated negotiation process in Mexico City to resolve the South American country’s protracted political crisis, Reuters reported.

Rodriguez said at the UN Conference on Trade and Development that the country had not yet received the funds, blaming a US “veto.”

The United States, the IMF’s largest shareholder, has sanctioned Venezuelan state institutions in a push to oust Maduro, a socialist who it accuses of election-rigging and rights violations. Maduro denies the accusations.

“Venezuela reiterates its denunciation that the IMF refuses to deliver our people the $5 billion our country is owed to fight the pandemic,” Rodriguez said.

England’s Covid travel ‘red list’ to be cut from 54 countries to seven

Strict hotel quarantine requirements will be dropped for travellers from dozens of countries, after ministers approved plans to slash England’s travel “red list” to just seven – down from 54.

The Guardian understands the decision was taken at a meeting on Thursday morning, following discussions about the safety of opening up the country’s borders, with an announcement due later on Thursday.

Brazil is expected to be removed from the red list, but those to remain on it will predominantly be in south America, including Peru, Colombia and Venezuela.

Passengers prepare to board an easyjet flight at Rome Fiumicino Airport bound for London Gatwick Airport.
Passengers prepare to board an easyjet flight at Rome Fiumicino Airport bound for London Gatwick Airport. Photograph: Amer Ghazzal/REX/Shutterstock

The step means thousands of people hoping to visit England who would have had to undergo an 11-night hotel quarantine at a cost of more than £2,000 may be able to avoid isolation altogether – depending on their vaccine status.

UK registers 122 Covid deaths and 40,701 new cases today

In the UK, a further 40,701 Covid infections were reported in the past 24 hours – the highest daily figure since 6 September.

This is a slight increase on yesterday’s figure of 39,851 cases, according to official government statistics.

Meanwhile, official data also confirmed a further 122 deaths on Thursday – down from 143 deaths reported the day before.

The full data can be accessed here.

Workers are seen at a mobile covid testing site on in Grantown-On-Spey, Scotland.
Workers are seen at a mobile covid testing site on in Grantown-On-Spey, Scotland. Photograph: Peter Summers/Getty Images

Updated

In Singapore, a further 3,483 new Covid cases have been reported today.

This is compared with 3,577 infections registered on Wedenssday, while three more deaths from the virus were confirmed today.

General view of shops with very little human traffic in Chinatown, Singapore.
General view of shops with very little human traffic in Chinatown, Singapore. Photograph: Lionel Ng/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

Italy records 41 more Covid deaths today

Italy reported 41 coronavirus-related deaths on Thursday compared to 39 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections fell to 2,938 from 3,235.

Italy has registered 131,198 deaths linked to Covid since its outbreak emerged in February last year, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the ninth-highest in the world. The country has reported 4.69 million cases to date, Reuters reported.

Patients in hospital with coronavirus - not including those in intensive care - stood at 2,824 on Thursday, down from 2,872 a day earlier.

There were 24 new admissions to intensive care units, same as on Wednesday. The total number of intensive care patients fell to 403 from a previous 415.

In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has been challenged to do more to help sufferers of long Covid as it was revealed that almost 80,000 Scots may be living with the condition.

New figures from the Office for National Statistics showed 79,000 patients had reported suffering from the condition after contracting Covid, the Press Association reported.

Of those, 61,000 are said to have been suffering from symptoms – which can include extreme tiredness, chest pains and shortness of breath as well as depression, diarrhoea and feeling sick – for more than 12 weeks, while 31,000 have been living with such problems for a year or more.

While the Scottish government recently published a long Covid plan, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, Alex Cole-Hamilton, said sufferers with the condition would receive better treatment in England.

He challenged Sturgeon on the issue at First Minister’s Questions, as he accused the health secretary, Humza Yousaf, of refusing to meet campaigners from Long Covid Scotland. Cole-Hamilton said:

The much-delayed long Covid plan published last week should have been transformative, but I have spoken today with a constituent who suffers from long Covid. He was, in his words, devastated to discover nothing has changed.

I have warned before that people with the condition are better off moving to England where there are well established clinics and a care pathway, and nothing in this document will match that.

Long Covid Scotland have been trying to meet the health secretary but he has refused them at every turn. If he hasn’t met them how can he possibly know what they need?

The first minister responded:

I believe the health secretary has met with long Covid patients and I am sure he would be more than willing to meet with others. This is a serious issue and one that we are going to be living with the impact of for some time.

While she said she was “not an expert” on arrangements for long Covid care in England, she added that she suspected “they don’t always live up to how they are talked about here in some of the detail”.

Nicola Sturgeon during First Minster’s Questions in the debating chamber of the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh.
Nicola Sturgeon during First Minster’s Questions in the debating chamber of the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh. Photograph: Fraser Bremner/Daily Mail/PA

Updated

In the UK, just over half of workers do not want to return to their office, preferring to continue with the flexible arrangements brought in as a result of the pandemic, a new study suggests.

The finding comes despite the prime minister saying in his Conservative party conference speech on Wednesday that he wanted people back in offices.

A survey of 2,000 adults by the IT service provider Totality Services found that one in five wanted to stay away from offices so they did not have to work alongside colleagues, the Press Association reported.

Reasons for preferring flexible working included being able to spend more time with the family, keeping fit, and having better mental health. About 55% of those surveyed said they did not want to go back to their office.

Luis Navarro, a Totality Services co-founder, said:

After a tough 18 months and the majority of the nation having their first real experience of flexible working it’s interesting to see that the majority want this to continue rather than having time back in the office.

We’ve seen a sharp rise in existing and new clients looking to transition back into the office and move closer towards some form of normality at work. That said, we appreciate many may continue with the hybrid working model.

Office workers and commuters walk through Canary Wharf in London during the morning rush hour.
Office workers and commuters walk through Canary Wharf in London during the morning rush hour. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

Updated

Germany’s vaccine advisory committee has endorsed Covid booster shots for those 70 years and older, as well as medical staff interacting with patients, even as the nation’s health system is already giving boosters to those over 60.

The expert panel, known as STIKO, said a repeat shot of mRNA vaccines by Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna should be given six months at the earliest after the initial standard course, Reuters reported. STIKO said:

Vaccine protection is decreasing over time in particular with regard to preventing asymptomatic infections and mild disease forms.

With older age the immune response after vaccination takes an overall weaker form and breakthrough infections can more frequently lead to severe disease.

Anyone who received Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine should get an mRNA booster four weeks after the initial dose because the rate of breakthrough infections for J&J’s vaccine had been the highest among the approved shots, it added.

In Northern Ireland, Stormont ministers have agreed to remove a legal requirement for social distancing in bars and restaurants, the PA news agency has reported.

The one-metre rule will be removed on October 31. From October 31, nightclubs can also reopen. On that date, customers will also now be able to move around all hospitality premises freely again and dancing is permitted again.

The Executive will ask event organisers and venues to require patrons to either prove full vaccination or a negative lateral flow test or evidence of a Covid infection within the previous six months.

A bartender pours beer at The Kitchen Bar in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
A bartender pours beer at The Kitchen Bar in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

More than 140,000 US children lost a parent or caregiver to Covid, study finds

While the US has been engulfed in a heated battle to prevent people from contracting and dying from Covid-19, another pandemic has been raging behind closed doors among children who have lost one or both parents, or their caregivers, to Covid.

A new study, published on Thursday in the journal Pediatrics, estimated that from April 2020 through June 30 this year, more than 140,000 children under the age of 18 lost their mother, father, or grandparent who provided their housing, basic needs and daily care to the disease.

The study reveals that Covid is not only disproportionately killing adults from communities of color, but the children in these communities are bearing the brunt of the aftershock of this “hidden pandemic” said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (Nida), which co-funded the study.

Although people of racial and ethnic minority groups make up 39% of the US population, the study shows approximately 65% of minority Hispanic, Black, Asian and American Indian/Alaska Native children have lost a primary caregiver as a result of Covid. Thirty-five percent of white children have also lost a primary caregiver.

“The death of a parental figure is an enormous loss that can reshape a child’s life,” Volkow said. But researchers say the needs of these children have been largely overlooked.

“Compared to white children, American Indian/Alaska Native children were 4.5 times more likely to lose a parent or grandparent caregiver, Black children were 2.4 times more likely, and Hispanic children were 1.8 times more likely,” Nida said.

German vaccination coverage better than previously thought

Germany has vaccinated millions more people against coronavirus than previously thought, the country’s health minister announced.

Almost 80% of adults in Germany are fully vaccinated and about 84% have received at least one shot, according to the country’s disease control centre, the Robert Koch Institute. That’s some 3.5 million people higher than previously stated.

Health Minister Jens Spahn told reporters in Berlin:

The discrepancy between the numbers that had been reported so far and those that the Robert Koch Institute now found out about in surveys is due to the fact that some vaccinations may not have been reported.

He added that vaccinations of employees at big companies and those given shots by mobile vaccination teams in nursing centres and elsewhere, in particular, may not have been fully reported.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn holds a press conference.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn holds a press conference. Photograph: Emmanuele Contini/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock

The new figures by the Robert Koch Institute are based on surveys and did not include people under the age of 18, which is why the agency did not yet give a new overall number of vaccinated people in Germany, but has so far only adjusted the number of vaccinated adults.

Anybody aged 12 and older is eligible for a coronavirus vaccination in Germany.

Updated

Hungary has offered its help to neighbouring Romania in treating Covid patients as the country grapples with record high new infections and a shortage of intensive care beds, the Hungarian foreign ministry said on Thursday.

“Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto offered Hungary’s help in treating coronavirus patients in a letter over the weekend,” the ministry said in a reply to Reuters questions, adding that talks were underway with Romania about the actual steps to be taken.

Scotland recorded 39 coronavirus-linked deaths and 2,691 new cases in the past 24 hours, according to the latest data.

It means the death toll under this daily measure - of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days - stands at 8,760.

The Scottish Government’s daily figures on Thursday show there were 42,191 new tests, of which 6.8% were positive, down from 6.9% the previous day, the Press Association reported.

A total of 990 people are in hospital with recently confirmed Covid, down eight in 24 hours, of whom 69 are in intensive care, up one.

The daily figures also show 4,235,075 people have received their first dose of a Covid vaccination and 3,854,847 have received their second dose.

Pfizer’s new vaccine for children aged five to 11 could be ready as early as November pending approval from federal regulatory health agencies, White House Covid response coordinator Jeffrey Zients said on Thursday.

The Food and Drug Administration has scheduled time to review the Pfizer/BionNTech application for emergency use with its advisory panel at the end of October, to be followed by recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Zients told CNN.

Once the authorisation is complete, Zients said:

We are ready. We have the supply. We’re working with states to set up convenient locations for parents and kids to get vaccinated including pediatricians’ offices and community sites.

White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator Jeffery Zients.
White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator Jeffery Zients. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Asked if he thought vaccines could begin before the US Thanksgiving Day holiday at the end of November, Zients said, “Up to the FDA and CDC scientific processes, but yes it could.”

Pfizer seeks US approval for emergency use of vaccine for children aged five to 11

Pfizer and BioNTech said on Thursday they had asked US regulators to approve emergency use of their Covid vaccine for children aged from five to 11, Pfizer said in a post on Twitter.

“We and @BioNTech_Group officially submitted our request to @US_FDA for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) of our #COVID19 vaccine in children 5 to <12,” the company said.

Updated

Germany does not expect to have to impose any further coronavirus-related restrictions this autumn and over the coming winter, since the vaccination rate is higher than previously thought, its health minister Jens Spahn said on Thursday.

He said that a study by the Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases had shown that the number of people vaccinated against Covid was 5% higher than believed, Reuters reported.

It means existing rules requiring people to show evidence of showing a negative test or having been vaccinated or recovered on entering an indoor space or event should be enough, he said.

“As things stand, this vaccination rate means no further restrictions are needed,” he said.

In Wales, the leader of the opposition in the Senedd is taking time off work to recover from coronavirus and the impact it has had on his mental health.

Andrew RT Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd, said he was taking a “complete break” on doctor’s orders to focus on his recovery, having caught flu and Covid, reports the Press Association.

Mr Davies last spoke in the Senedd on September 21 and Paul Davies has stood in for him during the last two First Minister’s Questions in Plenary. In a statement, he said:

As some of you are aware, over the past fortnight I’ve been fighting a dose of the flu and subsequently coronavirus. I’m starting to recover but I will admit it’s knocked me for six and has had an impact on my mental well-being.

Like many men, I’ve always believed I had a shield of invincibility, and like many who have struggled, I’ve contemplated whether I should make this public. However, as a leader, I believe you should set an example and I want to be open and honest - in the good times and the bad - as I know many people have struggled and will do with their mental health.

As such, and on doctor’s orders, I will be taking a complete break from work to ensure I can fully recover and bounce back from the difficulties I’ve experienced over the past fortnight. In the meantime, I would like to thank Paul Davies for continuing with my duties during my absence and I ask that my privacy and that of my family is respected.

Andrew RT Davies MS of the Welsh Conservatives.
Andrew RT Davies MS of the Welsh Conservatives. Photograph: Ben Evans/Huw Evans/REX/Shutterstock

Scotland’s NHS faces an “incredibly, incredibly difficult winter” despite the recent £300 million funding boost, the country’s health secretary has said.

Humza Yousaf said that as well as the coronavirus pandemic, low immunity levels to flu could lead to a severe impact, the Press Association reported.

On Tuesday, he set out a £300 million package for health and social care which was described as the largest in the history of devolution.

Mr Yousaf answered questions from Holyrood’s Covid Recovery Committee on Thursday.

Scottish Labour MSP Alex Rowley raised concerns from trade unions that the money still did not go far enough and staff were under “immense pressure”. He said:

There are times when they say, in their wards, the hospitals are not safe.

That the nurse-patient ratio is way beyond what is acceptable.

Humza Yousaf MSP Health Secretary gives a ministerial statement.
Humza Yousaf MSP Health Secretary gives a ministerial statement. Photograph: Getty Images

Mr Yousaf said he was in regular contact with trade unions. He said:

We have the highest record level of staffing and the NHS ever under any government.

We’ll continue to recruit, of course my statement made significant ambitions and recruitment, not just for nurses but also band twos to fours as well.

But I have to be upfront with the member, and with the public. These measures will help to mitigate some of the challenges, but we’re still in for an incredibly, incredibly difficult winter.

Clinicians tell me that their real concern is not just the Covid pressures - but we hope to make a significant dent into those as we’re controlling transmission - but the flu and other respiratory viruses because our immunity we suspect is quite low.

Because last year of course the flu wasn’t circulating as much due to the lockdown and restrictive measures we were under.

Recall attempts across the US in recent months have hit a fever pitch in response to Covid-19 and racial justice disputes, and a socialist city council member in Seattle has become the latest prominent seat to be targeted.

Opponents of Kshama Sawant have spent months collecting thousands of signatures in an attempt to unseat the council member, who became the first socialist on the Seattle council in nearly a century after she beat a Democrat in 2013. Last week, the recall effort officially qualified for an election in December.

The attempt to oust Sawant during her third term was based on claims that she opened city hall to demonstrators during a protest, disregarding Covid-19 restrictions, used city resources for a “Tax Amazon” effort and led a march to Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan’s home despite the address being protected under state confidentiality laws.

Seattle City Council Member Kshama Sawant speaks during a rally.
Seattle City Council Member Kshama Sawant speaks during a rally. Photograph: Jason Redmond/AFP/Getty Images

Across the US, there have been at least 500 recall attempts this year, with the majority in the west, according to Joshua Spivak, a senior fellow at the Hugh L Carey Institute at Wagner College, and the author of Recall Elections: From Alexander Hamilton to Gavin Newsom. Although many have not qualified for the ballot, he said the number of attempts is already one of the highest in more than a decade.

More on that story about the World Health Organization (WHO) shipping Covid aid supplies into North Korea today.

The coronavirus supplies have arrived in North Korea but are being held in quarantine in its seaport of Nampho, the WHO confirmed.

North Korea sealed its borders when the coronavirus pandemic began last year, though officials in neighbouring South Korea and the United States have cast doubts on its claim to have never had a case, despite a lack of signs of major outbreaks.

In its latest weekly report for South and East Asia, covering the period to the end of September, the WHO said it had begun shipments through China’s port city of Dalian, near the border with North Korea.

“To support DPR Korea with essential Covid medical supplies, WHO started the shipment through Dalian port, China for strategic stockpiling and further dispatch,” the agency said.

The aid in quarantine in the North includes emergency health kits, medicines and medical supplies for essential health services, said Edwin Salvador, the WHO representative to North Korea.

“We are informed that these items, along with others from other U.N. agencies, remain under quarantine at the seaport,” he said in a statement to Reuters.

Italy could approve the reopening of nightclubs today

The Italian government could approve the reopening of nightclubs, closed since August 2020 due to Covid-19 outbreaks linked to nightlife venues, later on Thursday.

The government’s technical scientific committee (CTS) has advised that nightclubs reopen with a maximum capacity of 35% indoors and 50%
for outdoor venues.

Guests would have to present a ‘green pass’, which shows proof of double vaccination, a negative test or of having recovered from coronavirus, before entering. Face masks would also be obligatory and can only be taken off when dancing.

The suggested limit on capacity has provoked criticism from nightclub owners and Matteo Salvini, the leader of the far-right League and partner in prime minister Mario Draghi’s broad coalition. “It’s crazy, with the green pass it [the capacity] should be at least double,” he said.

A bar owner shows a valid Green Pass on the VerifyC19 mobile phone application in central Rome.
A bar owner shows a valid Green Pass on the VerifyC19 mobile phone application in central Rome. Photograph: Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images

Despite giving the go-ahead for reopening, the CTS warned that nightclubs are among the places that present the “highest risk” for spreading the virus.

Italy registered 3,235 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday and 39 deaths.

Children could be forced to wear masks in schools across England again as part of the government’s back-up plan if the country’s Covid situation deteriorates significantly, the education secretary has admitted.

Nadhim Zahawi confirmed it was one of the contingencies the government had planned for, but signalled his opposition to reinstating “bubbles” that separated students into groups and enforced isolation if one person tested positive for coronavirus.

The number one priority was keeping schools open, Zahawi said, speaking to Sky News after just two weeks in his job. He was promoted into the cabinet from vaccines minister in last month’s reshuffle, replacing Gavin Williamson. He said:

The good news is that – and thanks to the brilliant teachers and support staff and parents and children – 99% of schools are open.

Attendance has gone up, the last set of figures I looked at was about 90%, that obviously will fluctuate depending on infection rates. But my priority is to protect education, keep those schools open.

Britain’s Secretary of State Education Nadhim Zahawi.
Britain’s Secretary of State Education Nadhim Zahawi. Photograph: Neil Hall/EPA

Good morning, I’m Tom Ambrose and I will be bringing you the latest Covid news from the UK and around the world throughout the day.

We start with some breaking news that the World Health Organization (WHO) has started shipping coronavirus medical supplies into North Korea.

It is a possible sign that the North is easing one of the world’s strictest pandemic border closures to receive outside help, reports the Associated Press.

WHO said in a weekly monitoring report that it has started the shipment of essential Covid medical supplies through the Chinese port of Dalian for “strategic stockpiling and further dispatch” to North Korea.

Edwin Salvador, WHO’s representative to North Korea, said in an email to the Associated Press today that some items, including emergency health kits and medicine, have reached the North Korean port of Nampo after North Korean authorities allowed the WHO and other UN agencies to send supplies that had been stuck in Dalian. He added:

Consequently, we have been able to transport some of our items by ship to Nampo ... [including] emergency health kits, medicines and medical supplies that would support essential health services at primary health care centers.

We are informed that WHO items along with supplies sent by other UN agencies are currently still under quarantine at the seaport.

A cashier sprays disinfectant onto a window as part of preventative measures against Covid-19, in the Daesong Department Store in Pyongyang on September 27, 2021.
A cashier sprays disinfectant onto a window as part of preventative measures against Covid-19, in the Daesong Department Store in Pyongyang on September 27, 2021. Photograph: Kim Won Jin/AFP/Getty Images

Describing its anti-virus campaign was a matter of “national existence,” North Korea had severely restricted cross-border traffic and trade for the past two years despite the strain on its already crippled economy.

UN human rights investigators had previously asked the North’s government to clarify allegations that it ordered troops to shoot on sight any trespassers who cross its borders in violation of its pandemic closing.

Today so far …

  • The ONS says that an estimated 1.1 million people living in private households in the UK were experiencing self-reported “long Covid”. 37% say that it is affecting them more than a year after their initial Covid infection.
  • Finland has announced that it will pause the use of Moderna’s vaccine for men under-30 due to reports of a rare cardiovascular side effect. It follows similar moves by Swedish and Danish health officials after a pan-Nordic study.
  • Prevent Senior, a major healthcare chain serving tens of thousands of patients in the Sao Paulo area of Brazil, has been accused of testing unproven drugs on elderly Covid-19 patients without their knowledge. Brazil recorded 530 more coronavirus deaths on Wednesday.
  • Russia reported 27,550 new Covid-19 cases today. That is the biggest one-day tally it has recorded this year, amid a wave of infections that has pushed officials to urge people to get vaccinated. Yesterday the country recorded a new record daily death toll.
  • Turkey reported a record number of daily coronavirus cases, surpassing 30,000 on Wednesday, the highest number of infections since 30 April.
  • UK government Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has said that carbon dioxide monitors will be provided to schools in England “by the end of this month” following supply issues after a promise made in August. In a separate media appearance he later suggested the roll-out would continue during November.
  • Ministers in Northern Ireland will meet later today where they may ratify the relaxation of some restrictions to rules around hospitality.
  • The World Health Organization says it is sending Covid-19 aid for North Korea through China’s border port of Dalian. Officially, North Korea still claims to have zero Covid cases, a figure treated with much scepticism.
  • Hospitals in Alaska are making wrenching decisions as the US state rations healthcare at 20 medical centres due to high numbers of coronavirus cases.
  • The number of US children impacted by losing a parent or grandparent who was a primary caregiver during the Covid-19 pandemic may be larger than previously thought at 120,000 children, and the toll has been far greater among Black and Hispanic Americans, a new study suggests.
  • Uzbekistan has started producing the Russian-developed Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine domestically.
  • Moderna has said it plans to invest about $500m (£370m) to build a factory in Africa to make up to 500 million doses of mRNA vaccines each year.
  • Malaysia has struck a deal with US pharmaceutical Merck to buy 150,000 courses of its experimental antiviral pill. Clinical data has suggested it could halve the chances of dying or being hospitalised for those most at risk of contracting severe Covid-19.

That’s it from me, Martin Belam for today. My colleague Tom Ambrose will be along shortly to take you through the next few hours of global Covid news. We’re carrying UK-based Covid news on this blog today as well, as Andrew Sparrow is pre-occupied with post-conference season politics. You can find his live blog here:

You might also want to listen to our Science Weekly podcast today. Madeleine Finlay talks to our science correspondent Hannah Devlin about whether Merck’s antiviral pill could be a gamechanger. You can listen to that here:

Christina Pagel is director of UCL’s Clinical Operational Research Unit, which applies advanced analytical methods to problems in healthcare. Martin McKee is professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. They write for us this morning that England needs to ditch its ‘vaccine just’ strategy for ‘vaccine plus’ instead:

England is not unique in struggling with the Delta variant, which now accounts for almost all cases across Europe. So why are our closest neighbours achieving much better health outcomes given that they, too, have their children back at school, their students back at university, and their business and leisure facilities open? The reason comes down to strategy. While Germany, France, Spain and others have pursued a “vaccine plus” strategy, England has opted for a “vaccine just” strategy.

Both strategies require vaccinating as many people as possible. Now to the “plus” bit. Face coverings and vaccine passports remain widespread across western Europe. Masks are required in indoor public spaces and public transport in France, Germany, Portugal, Italy, Spain and elsewhere. Yet in England these measures will only be implemented if the government moves to its “Plan B”. Many countries have also made major investments in ventilation and filtration, while some have made CO2 monitors compulsory in certain settings, such as hospitality venues. While England recently decided to fit schools with CO2 monitors, until recently it relied on simply advising people to open windows where possible.

Read more here: Christina Pagel and Martin McKee – England needs to ditch its ‘vaccine just’ strategy for ‘vaccine plus’ instead

Russia reports biggest one-day tally of new Covid cases so far this year

A quick snap from Reuters here that Russia reported 27,550 new Covid-19 cases today. That is the biggest one-day tally it has recorded this year, amid a wave of infections that has pushed officials to urge people to get vaccinated.

The government coronavirus task force also said that 924 people had died of coronavirus-linked causes in the last 24 hours, close to a record one-day toll.

ONS estimates 1.1 million people in the UK currently experiencing 'long Covid'

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) in the UK has published its latest bulletin today on self-reported “long Covid”. It finds that an estimated 1.1 million people living in private households in the UK – that’s 1.7% of the population – were experiencing self-reported “long Covid”.

They define “long Covid” as “symptoms persisting for more than four weeks after the first suspected coronavirus infection that were not explained by something else.”

The ONS reports that of people with self-reported long Covid 831,000 (77%) first had or suspected that had Covid at least 12 weeks previously. 405,000 or 37% say that self-reported “long Covid” is affecting them more than a year since they were infected.

The ONS stresses in the report that the numbers come from symptoms “experienced by study participants who responded to a representative survey, rather than clinically diagnosed ongoing symptomatic Covid-19 or post-Covid-19 syndrome in the full population.”

Alaska rationing healthcare at 20 medical centers across state

Rural areas across the United States are in crisis as Covid-19 overwhelms some hospitals, but the situation is especially dire in Alaska, which has the highest US rate of Covid cases and recently turned to emergency measures to allow the rationing of healthcare at 20 medical centers across the state.

Alaska’s health system, stretched by enormous distances and limited resources, was precarious before the pandemic hit, and now remote communities are worried they will have nowhere to send their sickest patients.

One in 84 people in Alaska was diagnosed with Covid-19 in the last week of September alone. On Monday, the state reported 2,290 cases and one death over the course of three days. Less than two-thirds of eligible Alaskans are fully vaccinated, and the entire state is on high alert for significant spread of the coronavirus.

The surge comes as Alaskan leaders and communities are sharply divided on issues like masks and vaccinations, and health workers are burned out and bullied.

On Kodiak Island in southern Alaska, doctors are spending entire shifts searching for beds in other states so patients can receive the care they need. Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center is implementing crisis of care standards, and the nearest major hospitals in Anchorage have been filled to overflowing for weeks.

“We have medevaced people all the way to Seattle, and some of our providers have reported that it has taken them literally 12, 18, 24 hours of phone calls to find a place that will accept one of our patients,” said Carol Austerman, chief executive officer of Kodiak Community Health Center.

Read more of Melody Schreiber’s report here: Alaska hospitals make wrenching decisions as they begin to ration care

I mentioned earlier that when he was on Sky News, the UK government Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi promised that all state-funded schools in England would get carbon dioxide monitors “by the end of the month”.

I notice that on a later appearance, on BBC News, he seemed to allow himself a little bit more wriggle room on that timeline. PA note that speaking on BBC Breakfast, he said: “So we’ve had several thousand delivered, by the end of this month we’ll be touching sort of 80-90,000, and then through November, we scale up to all 300,000 will be delivered.”

Asked why the delivery had taken so long, Zahawi said: “I think it’s a combination of supply and making sure we’ve got supply, and then working with schools to see how many they need in each school. But we are ramping up through this month and next month.”

Finland to pause Moderna vaccine for men under-30 over myocarditis risk

Finland has announced this morning that it will pause the use of Moderna’s vaccine for men born in 1991 and later due to reports of a rare cardiovascular side effect. The announcement came from the institute for health and welfare.

Swedish and Danish health officials had already announced yesterday they would pause the use of the Moderna vaccine for all young adults and children.

“A Nordic study involving Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark found that men under the age of 30 who received Moderna Spikevax had a slightly higher risk than others of developing myocarditis,” director Mika Salminen from the health institute said.

Salminen said myocarditis, which means heart muscle inflammation, usually heals on its own in a few days. He said as a precaution Finland would only give Pfizer’s vaccine to boys and young men.

Essi Lehto reports for Reuters that a Moderna spokesperson had said late on Wednesday that company was aware of the decisions by the Swedish and Danish regulators, saying “These are typically mild cases and individuals tend to recover within a short time following standard treatment and rest. The risk of myocarditis is substantially increased for those who contract Covid, and vaccination is the best way to protect against this.”

Trygve Ulriksen Skogseth has a fascinating entry in our This Is Europe series this morning, looking at how Covid strained bonds between Nordic neighbours Norway and Sweden:

Thorild Tollefsbøl was born in Norway but has lived in Sweden, with the border in her back yard, for more than 70 years. She could hardly believe her ears when, while out for her daily walk in the woods near the small farm town of Lersjön one day last spring, she encountered a uniformed soldier from the Norwegian Home Guard who told her to turn around and walk back to the Swedish side. “We never really gave much thought to the fact that some houses were on the other side,” Tollefsbøl said of pre-Covid times.

Europe’s longest land border is the one that divides Norway and Sweden. For the most part, it is marked by little more than a 10-metre clearing in the woods and the occasional roadside welcome sign, accompanied by mostly unmanned customs stations – reminders that when you drive into Norway you are leaving the EU.

But during the pandemic, friendly road signs were swapped for checkpoints. Sweden’s hands-off approach to the pandemic left it with Covid-19 infection and death rates per capita higher than the figures for Norway, Denmark and Finland combined. As a result, these countries closed their borders to Swedes.

Read more of Trygve Ulriksen Skogseth’s report here: ‘We were like family’ – how Covid strained bonds between Nordic neighbours

A quick snap from Reuters reports that Uzbekistan has started producing the Russian-developed Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine domestically in a joint project with Russia. The nation already manufactures the Chinese-developed ZF-UZ-VAC2001 vaccine on its territory.

Just a little more from the UK’s education secretary and former vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi here. As part of his media round this morning he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain “My pledge to your viewers and the country, as the prime minister pledged, is children will catch up by the end of this Parliament. By next month, I’ll have the first cut of the evaluation of the tutoring programme, but it already looks good.”

PA report he said that for primary school children it is “looking really positive”, but added: “My concern is the children who have the least time to recover, so the 16 to 19-year-olds and secondary school children, and we will do more.”

A new study has estimated that the number of US children impacted by losing a parent or grandparent who was a primary caregiver during the Covid-19 pandemic may be larger than previously thought, and the toll has been far greater among Black and Hispanic Americans.

More than half the children who lost a primary caregiver during the pandemic belonged to those two racial groups, which make up about 40% of the US population, according to the study published today by the medical journal Pediatrics.

“These findings really highlight those children who have been left most vulnerable by the pandemic, and where additional resources should be directed,” one of the study’s authors, Dr Alexandra Blenkinsop of Imperial College London, said in a statement.

Associated Press report that the study found that during 15 months of the nearly 19-month pandemic, more than 120,000 US children lost a parent or grandparent who was a primary provider of financial support and care. Another 22,000 children experienced the death of a secondary caregiver — for example, a grandparent who provided housing but not a child’s other basic needs.

In many instances, surviving parents or other relatives remained to provide for these children. Federal statistics are not yet available on how many US children went into foster care last year. Researchers estimate Covid drove a 15% increase in orphaned children.

The new study’s numbers are based on statistical modeling that used fertility rates, death statistics and household composition data to make estimates.
An earlier study by different researchers estimated that roughly 40,000 US children lost a parent to Covid as of February 2021.

The two studies’ findings are not inconsistent, said Ashton Verdery, an author of the earlier study. Verdery and his colleagues focused on a shorter time period than the new study. Verdery’s group also focused only on deaths of parents, while the new paper also captured what happened to caregiving grandparents.

“It is very important to understand grandparental losses,” said Verdery, a researcher at Penn State, told Associated Press in an email. “Many children live with grandparents.”

UK education secretary: carbon dioxide monitors to be provided to schools in England by 'end of this month'

UK government Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has said that carbon dioxide monitors will be provided to schools in England “by the end of this month”.

Appearing on Sky News this morning, he was challenged about an announcement in August that 300,000 monitors to help staff tackle poor ventilation and reduce the spread of Covid would be rolled out across all state-funded education settings in England from September.

“They’re going out by the end of this month,” he said. “We will have the real uplift in those numbers into schools, really important. We’re also looking at ventilation, and how we make sure that schools have access to ventilation.”

PA report he added there was “lots of technology” surrounding ventilation and that central government was looking to invest in this but also “create a market that schools can access if they need”.

Zahawi was bullish about 99% of schools being open, saying “Attendance has gone up, the last set of figures I looked at was about 90%, that obviously will fluctuate depending on infection rates. But my priority is to protect education, keep those schools open.”

He told Sky News that he had contingency plans, including the wearing of masks, but added: “I don’t want to return to bubbles because actually, you saw the fall off in attendance which really does harm mental wellbeing, mental health of children.”

Updated

WHO sending Covid aid to North Korea via Chinese port of Dalian

The World Health Organization (WHO) says it is sending Covid-19 aid for North Korea through China’s border port of Dalian.

Josh Smith reports for Reuters that in its latest weekly report for South and East Asia, which covers the period to the end of September, the WHO said it had begun shipments through Dalian port in China, which is near the border with North Korea.

“To support DPR Korea with essential Covid-19 medical supplies, WHO started the shipment through Dalian port, China for strategic stockpiling and further dispatch to DPR Korea,” the agency said.

WHO did not elaborate on whether the aid had actually reached North Korea, and a spokesperson for the agency did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

Officially the country still has no cases, a figure which has been treated with some scepticism. Earlier this year leader Kim Jong-un appeared to issue a coded request for outside help

Talking of that Merck pill, that is one of the subjects tackled in our Science Weekly podcast which is out today. Last week the pharmaceutical company Merck released promising early data, suggesting it halves hospitalisations and deaths. So what do we know about this experimental treatment? Madeleine Finlay talks to our science correspondent Hannah Devlin about whether this antiviral could be a gamechanger. And as some UK experts warn ‘there isn’t much A&E capacity left’, we also hear from Prof Peter Horby on the importance of drugs in the fight against Covid-19.

You can listen to it here: Science Weekly – will there soon be a pill that stops us getting sick from Covid-19?

There’s a couple of bits of vaccine and Covid business news kicking about this morning from Reuters. Moderna has said today that it plans to invest about $500m (£370m) to build a factory in Africa to make up to 500 million doses of mRNA vaccines each year.

Malaysia, meanwhile has struck a deal with US pharmaceutical Merck & Co to buy 150,000 courses of its experimental antiviral pill. It joins other Asian countries in a rush to secure supplies.

Clinical data has shown that Molnupiravir, which would be the first oral antiviral medication for Covid-19 if it gets regulatory approval, could halve the chances of dying or being hospitalised for those most at risk of contracting severe Covid-19.

Malaysia’s health minister Khairy Jamaluddin said the government signed a letter of undertaking for the purchase on Thursday.

“This decision was made as we prepare to transition into an endemic phase, where we can co-exist with the virus by adding new innovative treatments as ‘weapons’ to fight Covid, apart from vaccinations and other public health measures,” Khairy said in a statement.

Northern Ireland ministers to consider further rule relaxation for hospitality sector

Hello, it is Martin Belam here in London taking over for the next few hours. Overnight PA have been carrying a preview story of what we are expecting to see happen in Northern Ireland today, where ministers will convene to consider further relaxations to Covid rules, with the restrictions on the hospitality sector set to be a key focus.

Last month First Minister Paul Givan signalled that 14 October could see significant changes to coronavirus measures that continue to apply, but that any moves would be subject to Executive approval today.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill has struck a cautious note on the prospect of major relaxations, stressing the need for a precautionary approach to ensure the under-pressure health service is not overwhelmed by a fresh surge in cases.

Last week, ministers agreed to end social distancing restrictions for shops, theatres and a number of other indoor settings, but they did not take a decision on the hospitality sector, and capacity remains limited in bars and restaurants due to the ongoing one metre social distancing requirement.

The decision to end social distancing in the retail sector, indoor attractions and seated indoor venues proved controversial last week as ministers clashed over whether mandatory vaccine passports should be introduced as an entry requirement.

As a reminder, here are some of the restrictions that still apply in Northern Ireland:

  • a ban on large house parties and indoor raves
  • a “work from home where possible” message
  • people have to be seated to consume food and drink in hospitality settings
  • people need to be seated at indoor music events and dancing is banned
  • face coverings are required in indoor areas such as retail and public transport
  • risk assessments must be carried out before staging events
  • contact details must be taken in certain settings

Major hospital chain in Brazil faces probe over use of hydroxychloroquine

Prevent Senior, a major healthcare chain serving tens of thousands of patients in the Sao Paulo area of Brazil, has been accused of testing unproven drugs on elderly Covid-19 patients without their knowledge.

The Brazilian agency that regulates health insurance plans opened an investigation into the allegations, according to statements made to a Senate inquiry on Wednesday, Reuters reports.

Paulo Rebello Filho, head of the National Regulatory Agency for Private Health Insurance Plans (ANS), said his staff has detected “assistance abnormalities” at Prevent Senior and the health chain will be put under special technical supervision.

At least nine people died of Covid-19 during the trials at Prevent Senior from March to April 2020, but their charts were altered to hide the cause of death, the inquiry was told last week by a lawyer for 10 whistleblowing doctors.

The Senators were told the hospital chain sought to validate far-right President Jair Bolsonaro’s policy of advocating the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid patients.

Prevent Senior has said the accusations, including the altering of patient charts and the firing of doctors who opposed the practice, are unfounded.

Hello and welcome to our live coverage of the coronavirus outbreak.

I’m Samantha Lock and I’ll be giving you a rundown of the latest coronavirus updates as they happen.

Here are the key developments from the last few hours.

An investigation is underway in Brazil after allegations emerged claiming a hospital chain tested unproven drugs on elderly Covid-19 patients without their knowledge.

The Brazilian agency that regulates health insurance plans made the allegations against Prevent Senior, a major healthcare chain serving tens of thousands of patients in the Sao Paulo area, during a Senate inquiry on Wednesday.


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