Covid: Iran reports first deaths from Omicron; UK records 81,713 cases and 287 deaths – as it happened
Here’s a round up of this evening’s events.
- Iran has reported its first three deaths from the Omicron variant. The country, which has been the hardest hit by Covid-19 in the Middle East, with more than 132,000 dying.
- Peru’s health minister has asked vaccine companies to extend expiration dates beyond the current three month period to reduce the risk of losing doses.
- Covax, the global scheme to share vaccines, has now delivered 1bn Covid doses. Gavi, one of the organisations which manages it alongside the World Health Organization (WHO) said in the last quarter shipments have exponentially increased.
- Brazil has reported another 48,520 Covid-19 cases, according to its health ministry. The figure means it has had a total of 22,975,723 infections during the pandemic with more than 659,000 deaths.
- France has reported another 324,580 new Covid infections, on a day of protest in the country against more restrictions for unjabbed people (see 18:11). The level is a slight drop compared to Friday’s 329,371. Another 148 people have died from the virus, bringing the death toll to 126,869.
- Staff working for Apple in the US will have to get a Covid-19 booster jab, according to an internal email reported by The Verge. Store and corporate employees will have four weeks to comply once they are eligible for the jab from 15 February.
- The fallout from parties in Downing Street continues as the Observer has been told Conservative party MPs will be ready to force UK prime minister Boris Johnson out if he tries to avoid taking responsibility.
- Johnson’s wife, Carrie, has been photographed breaking social distancing rules in September 2020 at a London private members club, according to the Sunday Telegraph.
- A new daily record number of Covid cases has been confirmed in Mexico, after it reported 47,113 new infections on Saturday. The total number of cases during the pandemic now stands at 4,349,182.
Mexico breaks daily cases record
A new daily record number of Covid cases has been confirmed in Mexico, after it recorded 47,113 new infections on Saturday.
The country’s previous record was set on Friday, with more than 44,000 new infections. The total now stands at 4,349,182. Another 227 deaths were confirmed, bringing the official death toll during the pandemic to 301,334.
Tennis star Novak Djokovic is currently fighting in court for the right to stay in Australia and defend his Australian Open title – over coronavirus rules.
Australia’s immigration minister, Alex Hawke, personally cancelled the unvaccinated world No 1’s visa, arguing his presence in Australia could incite “civil unrest” and encourage others to eschew vaccination against Covid-19.
My colleagues in Australia are covering the hearing, which you can follow here:
Carrie Johnson, the wife of the UK prime minister Boris Johnson, has been accused of breaking social distancing rules at an exclusive London club in September 2020.
The Sunday Telegraph has printed a photo of Carrie with her arms around a friend while they were out celebrating a friend’s engagement at a private members’ club in the West End.
The photograph is purported to have been taken days after the prime minister, her husband, had warned people it was “critical” to follow guidance in order to stop the spread of Covid-19.
Guidance at the time included remaining two metres apart from people in other households, or one metre with extra precautions including meeting outdoors.
A spokesman for Carrie told the Sunday Telegraph. “Mrs Johnson was one of a group of six seated outside celebrating a friends’ engagement.
“Mrs Johnson regrets the momentary lapse in judgement in briefly hugging her friend for a photograph.”
Brazil has reported another 48,520 Covid-19 cases, according to its health ministry.
The figure means it has had a total of 22,975,723 infections during the pandemic.
The South American country recorded another 175 deaths from the virus, bringing its death toll to within 66 of 660,000.
The fallout from parties in Downing Street continues as the Observer has been told Conservative party MPs will be ready to force UK prime minister Boris Johnson out if he tries to avoid taking responsibility.
While most Conservative MPs say they are waiting for a report into so-called “partygate” by the senior civil servant Sue Gray before deciding the prime minister’s fate, large numbers admit privately that their minds are effectively made up and that they are merely observing “due process”.
In latest polling, the Labour party has taken a 10-point lead over the Tories, with Johnson’s personals ratings also taking a hit.
Vaccine sharing programme passes 1 billion jab milestone
Covax, the global scheme to share vaccines has now delivered 1 billion Covid doses.
Gavi, one of the organisations which manages it alongside the World Health Organization (WHO) said in the last quarter shipments have exponentially increased, meaning 1 billion doses had been delivered to 144 countries.
The programme was launched in 2020 with the aim of delivering 2 billion shots by the end of 2021, but was stymied by wealthier states initially hoarding jabs, export restrictions and changes within its own organisation.
It meant that wealthier nations initially had a larger share of doses from December 2020 when they became available.
Covax began delivering jabs in February 2021. One in three have been donated by rich nations, according to Reuters.
In Australia, people have been sharing their experience of self isolating amid supply shortages and shared housing.
Tory Shepherd has more.
Dancing to the Wiggles was one of the things that helped Clare Fletcher get through isolation with a baby to look after.
Water play on the balcony, reading books and horsing around all helped too, although the Sydney mother of Dorothy (Dot, 20 months) said a week in a two-bedroom apartment was harder than she expected.
Fletcher and her husband, David Dewey, (both 37, both double vaccinated) went to the US for Christmas so Dewey’s family could meet Dot. After having a “bit of a shock” at testing delays here, eventually they got hold of rapid antigen tests and found they were positive. Dot was coughing, too.
Peru’s health minister has asked vaccine companies to extend expiration dates beyond the current three month period to reduce the risk of losing doses.
In a telephone interview reported by Reuters on Saturday, Hernando Cevallos said it had asked one of the laboratories that supplies vaccines to deliver them with expirations of up to six months, but the lab refused.
Peru has one of the highest per-capita Covid mortality rates in the world. It has signed contracts with China’s Sinopharm, US firm Moderna and Pfizer, as well as UK-based AstraZeneca.
“The situation that the affected countries are facing must be understood, particularly in Latin America, due to the economic difficulties we’re going through,” Cevallos added.
Iran reports first deaths from Omicron
Three people are reported to have died from the Omicron variant of Covid-19 in Iran, according to its health ministry.
Speaking to state broadcaster IRIB, spokesman Mohammad Hashemi said: “The number of patients with Omicron in the country has reached 1,162 and ... one death has been reported due to Omicron in each of the cities of Tabriz, Yazd and Shahrekord, and one critically ill patient is hospitalised in Ahvaz.”
More than 132,000 people have died from the virus in the country hardest hit by the pandemic in the Middle East. 18 people died on Saturday, a 22-month low, according to Reuters.
This week Iran lifted restrictions on land travel to and from neighbouring countries and some European countries, but kept a ban on arrivals from France, Britain and eight countries in southern Africa.
France has reported another 324,580 new Covid infections, on a day of protest in the country against more restrictions for unjabbed people in the country (see 18:11).
The level is a slight drop compared to Friday’s 329,371, but higher than the average of 297,021 in the last week.
Another 148 people have died from the virus, bringing the death toll to 126,869.
Staff working for Apple in the US will have to get a Covid-19 booster jab, according to an internal email.
The Verge, a technology website in the US, has seen an internal email to store and corporate employees saying that once they are eligble to get the follow-up injection they will have four weeks to comply, otherwise they will need to take regular tests to enter a store or office from 15 February.
The tech giant will require unvaccinated employees to provide negative tests before entering their workplace from 24 January.
Another member of the UK government has criticised double standards in Downing Street as the furore around parties during lockdowns continues.
A government minister has said Boris Johnson needs to “change his ways” as he recalled how, in the same month when some in No 10 were “not behaving appropriately”, he was not able to support his children before they died.
Guy Opperman, the pensions minister, said Johnson should stay in his post, but was critical of the rule-breaking.
Johnson has continued to face criticism, including from those on his frontbench, after admitting to attending a “bring your own booze” garden party in No 10 on 20 May 2020, which he says he understood to be a “work event”.
Thousands of people demonstrated in cities across France on Saturday against tighter restrictions for the unvaccinated, as parliamentary wrangling continued over the draft law.
In Paris, the largest single gathering set off from near the Eiffel Tower, called by fringe anti-EU presidential candidate Florian Philippot, AFP reports, while there were further gatherings in major cities like Bordeaux, Toulouse and Lille.
People in the crowd chanted “no to the vaccine” or “freedom for Djokovic”, in reference to the case of world tennis number one Novak Djokovic, who travelled to compete in the Australian Open despite having chosen to remain unvaccinated and is now fighting the Australian government over the cancellation of his visa.
A measure came into force on Saturday that will deactivate the government-issued “health pass” for tens of thousands of people who have not received a booster jab within seven months of their first course of shots.
The pass - which grants access to public spaces like bars and restaurants - will be transformed into a “vaccine pass” under a law currently being debated in parliament, meaning proof of having the jab will be required.
So far people have been able to keep their pass valid with negative coronavirus tests.
Two demonstrators, Laurence and Claire, told AFP they were vaccinated “but we’re against the pass for teenagers, we don’t see why they’re being vaccinated because they aren’t in danger”.
While officials had not published an estimate of nationwide turnout by late afternoon, police or local authorities counted around 1,000 each in Lyon, Nantes, Bordeaux and Marseille.
Demonstrators were hoping to outstrip the 105,000 who hit the streets last weekend - some possibly mobilised by Macron’s declaration in a newspaper interview that he wanted to “piss off” the unvaccinated with new restrictions until they got inoculated.
On Friday, 330,000 new Covid-19 cases were confirmed in France, with an average of almost 300,000 over the preceding week.
On Saturday, France reported that the number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care units had fallen for the third day in a row, with 3,852 Covid patients in intensive care units on Saturday, 43 fewer than Friday.
Infections are also increasing in Chile, with 5,241 new cases reported on average every day. That’s 51% of the peak - the highest daily average reported on 17 June - according to the Reuters Covid-19 Tracker.
On Saturday, Chile posted 9,284 new daily cases, the second highest daily figure recorded since the start of the pandemic, and possibly the actual record, since a record of 13,990 cases logged on 6 June 2020 looks like a statistical anomaly due to a backlog.
The average number of new infections reported each day in Chile rose by more than 4,000 over the last 3 weeks, 38% of its previous peak.
Earlier this week, Chile became the first Latin American country to start administering fourth doses of Covid-19 vaccines. 88.33% of the Chilean population are fully vaccinated, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Centre.
Chile has recorded 1,857,764 infections and 39,355 coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic began.
Daily average infections peak in Argentina, Mexico and Peru
Argentina on Saturday reported 139,853 new cases, its largest daily increase since the start of the pandemic.
Infections in the country have now reached the highest daily average reported, with now 113,876 new infections reported on average each day.
There have been 6,932,972 infections and 117,901 coronavirus-related deaths reported in the country since the pandemic began.
Daily average infections in Mexico and Peru have now also peaked, with 31,278 new infections reported each day in Mexico, and 24,319 new infections reported each day in Peru, according to the Reuters Covid-19 Tracker.
Philippines logs record infections for third day in a row
The Philippines has reported a new record number of daily infections for the third straight day, with 39,004 new cases reported on Saturday and number of active cases at 280,813.
Metro Manila’s Covid-19 case growth rate is steadily declining however, Octa research fellow Guido David reported on Saturday.
The rate dropped to 3% from 5% on Friday based on its seven-day moving average.
But on Saturday the Department of Health confirmed that there is already community transmission of the Omicron variant in Metro Manila.
The nationwide death toll climbed to 52,858 with 43 new fatalities, CNN Philippines reported.
Israeli finance minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Saturday that he had tested positive for Covid-19 and would self-isolate but continue working from home.
“I feel good and will isolate in the next few days,” Lieberman, 63, said on Twitter.
Foreign minister Yair Lapid tested positive on Monday.
On 10 January, Lieberman posted a photo of himself receiving a fourth Covid-19 vaccination dose.
The health ministry says that a first booster increases protection seven days after the shot, but has not yet released data on the effectiveness of a fourth dose, Reuters reports.
Israel began administering fourth jabs to people with compromised immune systems in late December, expanding that booster campaign to over-60s and medical staff in January.
Israel hit a three-month high in severe Covid cases on Friday amid a stubborn fifth wave of infections, with 306 patients in a serious condition, Haaretz reported.
According to health ministry data, 125 of the patients in a serious condition are not vaccinated at all and 32 did not receive a booster shot or are otherwise not considered fully vaccinated.
Israel, with a population of 9.4 million, has confirmed about 1.7 million coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic and more than 8,000 deaths.
Italy reported 180,426 Covid-related cases on Saturday, after 186,253 the day before, the health ministry said, while the number of deaths fell to 308, from 360.
A week ago, the country reported 197,535 new cases and 223 deaths.
Italy has registered 140,856 deaths linked to Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, the second highest toll in Europe after the UK’s and the ninth highest in the world.
The UK reported 81,713 new cases of Covid-19 on Saturday, a near 33% decline on the previous week.
The British government reported 287 deaths of people who had tested positive for the disease within the previous 28 days.
The seven-day total for deaths was up 45% on the week before, following a record spike in infections in recent weeks.
Here is a quick recap of some of the main developments from today so far:
The Chinese capital, Beijing, reported its first locally transmitted infection of the Omicron variant, according to state media, just weeks ahead of its staging of the Olympic Winter Games. Lab testing found “mutations specific to the Omicron variant”, Pang Xinghuo, the deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, told a news briefing. Officials have sealed up the infected person’s residential compound and workplace, and collected 2,430 samples for testing from people linked to the two locations, a Haidian district official said. The detection of the Omicron variant in Beijing comes as cities across the country ratchet up viral vigilance in the run-up to the Winter Olympics, due to start on 4 February. [see 2.21pm.].
Indonesia reported its highest daily Covid caseload in three months, as the government braces for a new wave driven by the Omicron variant. [see 1.31pm.].
Coronavirus cases appear to be “plateauing” in parts of the UK, a government health adviser said. Dr Susan Hopkins, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) chief medical adviser, said the number of infections were flattening in London and the south-east and east of England. Dr Hopkins told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme cases were still relatively high, with one in 15 people in England infected and one in 20 elsewhere in the UK, but that there was a “slowdown” in hospital admissions.
- Keir Starmer ramped up the pressure on Boris Johnson as the prime minister fights to save his job, arguing that the stream of explosive allegations of Downing Street parties has left him “unable to lead”. The Labour leader said Johnson must resign in the national interest. Story here. It comes as senior Tory MP Tobias Ellwood, the chair of the defence select committee, said that “we need leadership” and Johnson must “lead or step aside”. Andrew Bridgen, the MP for North West Leicestershire and a former Johnson ally, repeated his calls for the PM to resign. He told Sky News his position as prime minister was “untenable” and there was a “pattern of behaviour that the inner circle can do what they want and the rest of us have to do what we are told”.
Tennis star Novak Djokovic is spending the night in immigration detention before seeking a court ruling to stop his deportation and keep alive his bid for a record 21st major title at the Australian Open. [see 8.47am.].
Thousands of people took to the streets of Austria’s capital on Saturday to protest against government plans to introduce mandatory Covid vaccinations for all next month, Reuters reports.
“The government must go!” crowds chanted at one rally in central Vienna in what has become a routine Saturday event.
Parliament is scheduled to vote next week on the issue, which has polarised the country as coronavirus cases surge.
In November, the government announced a fourth national lockdown and said it would make vaccinations compulsory for all Austrians, the first European Union country to do so.
A poll for Profil magazine found 51% of those surveyed oppose making jabs mandatory from February, of whom 34% were against compulsory vaccination in general and 17% wanted to wait. The survey found 45% of Austrians favoured compulsory vaccination starting in February.
The poll showed chancellor Karl Nehammer’s conservatives and the opposition Social Democrats in a dead heat for first place at 25%, followed by the right-wing Freedom party, a strident critic of government policy, at 20%.
The Greens, junior partner in the coalition, were even with the liberal Neos on 11%, while the vaccine-sceptical MFG party scored 6%.
Health authorities have reported more than 1.4 million infections and nearly 14,000 deaths from Covid since the pandemic began.
A mother whose baby was stillborn while she was seriously ill in hospital with Covid-19 has urged people to get their vaccine to save themselves the “agony” of becoming severely unwell, PA reports.
Rachel, 38, whose surname was not given, was so ill she did not realise she had given birth to her son Jaxon, at 24 weeks, in August.
She had gone to get her vaccine while pregnant last year, but said there had still been uncertainty from experts at that early stage in the rollout over whether expectant women should have it.
She said she and her family were “devastated” by their loss, and urged people to take up the offer of jabs.
I did initially go to get the vaccine, but at the time the advice was not to have it. I thought I’d have the vaccine when I’d had the baby, but it wasn’t meant to be.
As more data has emerged showing the vaccine to be safe, there have been repeated calls for pregnant women to get jabbed.
Earlier this week, the Department of Health and Social Care cited statistics from the UK Obstetric Surveillance System which it said showed 96.3% of pregnant women admitted to hospital with Covid symptoms between May and October were unvaccinated, a third of whom required respiratory support.
Rachel, from Bilston in Wolverhampton, was in a coma and in hospital for three and a half months after contracting the virus.
She said she would encourage everyone eligible to get vaccinated.
I would say take it - it’s a two-minute thing that can save months of agony if you end up like I was.
Speaking about her loss, she said:
I didn’t actually know I had given birth. I was on drugs so they wanted to tell me when I wasn’t sedated, and the obstetrician informed me a few days later.
My emotions were disbelief - one minute you’re having a scan and a gender reveal, naming the baby and getting excited, and then there was this sudden loss.
I was only able to see him once. Normally I’d have been able to spend a lot more time with him and to hold him. But I didn’t get to do that because of the circumstances.
She said things have been difficult for her partner and her 18-year-old son.
“We’re all devastated at our loss,” she said. “We were all very excited at this new life then we were left with nothing.”
Rachel thanked staff at both New Cross hospital’s integrated critical care unit (ICCU) and Glenfield hospital in Leicester, for their care.
City of Beijing reports first local Omicron case, weeks ahead of Winter Olympics
The Chinese capital, Beijing, has reported its first locally transmitted infection of the Omicron variant, according to state media, just weeks ahead of its staging of the Olympic Winter Games.
Lab testing found “mutations specific to the Omicron variant”, Pang Xinghuo, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, told a news briefing.
Officials have sealed up the infected person’s residential compound and workplace, and collected 2,430 samples for testing from people linked to the two locations, a Haidian district official said.
The detection of the Omicron variant in Beijing comes as cities across the country ratchet up viral vigilance in the run-up to the Winter Olympics, due to start on 4 February.
Authorities have also warned that Omicron adds to the increased risk of Covid transmission as more people travel across the country and return to China from overseas for the lunar new year holiday starting at the end of the month.
Many local governments have advised residents not to leave town unnecessarily during the holiday, while dozens of international and domestic flights have been suspended.
Aside from Beijing, China has reported locally transmitted infections of the Omicron variant in at least four other provinces and municipalities – in the northern city of Tianjin, the central province of Henan, the southern province of Guangdong and the northeastern province of Liaoning. However, the total number Omicron cases remains unclear.
He Qinghua, an official at the National Health Commission (NHC), said in a briefing earlier on Saturday that the Omicron variant was also detected in Shanghai, without specifying the case count. He did not say whether the variant had been found locally or among travellers from overseas.
He said 14 provincial areas in China had found the Omicron variant in infected individuals arriving from overseas, without naming the regions.
In a statement on Saturday, the NHC reported 165 new confirmed coronavirus cases for 14 January, down from 201 a day earlier.
Of the new infections, 104 were locally transmitted, according to a statement by the NHC, compared with 143 a day earlier.
The new locally transmitted cases were in Henan, Tianjin, Guangdong, Shaanxi and Zhejiang.
China also reported 25 new asymptomatic cases for 14 January, down from 42 infections a day earlier. China classifies asymptomatic cases separately from confirmed cases.
There were no new deaths, leaving the death toll at 4,636.
As of 14 January, mainland China had 104,745 confirmed cases.
The actor Jamie Dornan has revealed he was stuck in hotel quarantine in Australia when he received the news that his father, Jim, had died from Covid after being admitted to hospital for a routine knee operation.
Dornan, 39, most famous for the film Fifty Shades of Grey and the crime drama television series The Fall, found himself on the other side of the world with four days of his quarantine remaining when his father died last March, and was unable to travel back to his native Northern Ireland.
Dornan was required to isolate in Australia before filming BBC drama The Tourist, in which he plays a man who has no idea who he is and why he has been left stranded in Australia’s outback.
Losing his father made 2021 “the worst year … and the hardest” of his life, Dornan told the Sun.
“It’s been a brutal time for lots of reasons and for lots of people. We’re all just trying to ride it out and come out the other side – and hope we’ve got our heads intact,” he said.
A renowned obstetrician and gynaecologist at the Royal Victoria hospital in Belfast, Jim supported his son’s pursuit of an acting career and helped him navigate the loss of his mother, Lorna, from pancreatic cancer when he was 16, telling him: “Don’t let this be the thing that defines you.”
“I’ve been subjected, early on in my life and now, to a lot of pain and loss,” Dornan said.
The full piece is here: Jamie Dornan was stuck in Australian quarantine when dad died of Covid
My colleague Clea Skopeliti has this round-up of the Conservative MPs who have so far called for Boris Johnson to resign, including the senior Tory MP Tobias Ellwood, who said this morning the prime minister must “lead or step aside”.
A quick snap from Reuters reporting that Turkey will no longer require unvaccinated individuals to take a PCR test before using planes, buses or other transportation, or before attending events such as concerts, plays or movies.
Citing the interior ministry, the state-owned Anadolu Agency said on Saturday that unvaccinated civil servants, private-sector employees and school personnel will also not be required to take a PCR test.
Turkish Airlines CEO, Bilal Ekşi, said separately on Twitter that the carrier will not require PCR tests on domestic flights.
Indonesia logs highest daily infection tally in three months
Indonesia reported 1,054 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday, the highest daily increase in three months, as the government braces for a new wave driven by the Omicron variant.
The world’s fourth most populous country, which started its vaccine booster programme for the general public this week, had a devastating second wave of infections in July, when the Delta variant was spreading rapidly.
Daily case numbers dropped to around 200 by December, before rising this month amid reports of local transmission of the Omicron variant, Reuters reports.
“Local transmission has been found and Jakarta has become an infection cluster,” health minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said in a statement on Saturday.
“We need to coordinate with regional government to tighten mobility and strengthen health protocols, (give) booster vaccine shots and strengthen health facilities.”
He did not elaborate on what restrictions local authorities might impose. Officials usually review pandemic-related measures each Monday.
Indonesia detected its first case of the more contagious Omicron variant on 16 December, with officials saying infection rates could peak in February.
Although Covid infections in Denmark are at their peak currently, the number of patients in intensive care in the country fell to the lowest level in over a month on Friday.
As of Friday morning, 60 Covid patients in Denmark were admitted to intensive care wards, according to official data from the State Serum Institute (SSI). The number is the lowest since 11 December.
Daily totals for new infections have ranged between 22,000 and 25,000 this week after a dip in numbers last weekend, The Local reported.
At the end of December, Denmark’s daily infection tallies exceeded 15,000 for the first time.
According to the Reuters Covid-19 Tracker, the daily average of infections in the country is higher than ever and still rising, with currently 18,955 new infections reported on average each day.
Denmark has recorded 3,468 coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic began.
According to the Danish Health Authority, as of Friday morning 80% of the population have had at least two Covid-19 vaccines, and 55.8% a third jab.
Coronavirus cases appear to be “plateauing” in parts of the UK, a government health advisor has said.
Dr Susan Hopkins, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) chief medical adviser, said the number of infections were flattening in London, the south-east and east of England.
Dr Hopkins told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme cases were still relatively high, with one in 15 people in England infected and one in 20 elsewhere in the UK, but that there was a “slowdown” in hospital admissions.
We see that infections are plateauing in the community, which is good, in London and the south-east and the east of England.
There are still risings, but much slower in the northern parts of the country.
All of that means we are seeing a slowdown in the number of admissions to hospital but they are slowing down rather than reversing at the moment, so there are still more than 2,000 admissions to hospital across the UK, and nearly 2,500 yesterday.
Hopkins said hospitals had been able to discharge patients “faster” due to Omicron being milder than previous variants but that, with around 15,500 people in hospital last week, the NHS remains under “a lot of pressure”, with some trusts “unable to do much of their elective care”, a situation exacerbated by staff absences.
Prof Linda Bauld, a professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh and chief social policy adviser to the Scottish government, has said Omicron cases appear to be “stabilising”, PA reports.
She told BBC Breakfast on Saturday:
The cases, if we look at them, are going down by over 20%. In fact, yesterday I think was the last day, the first day for a while we’ve had less than 100,000 cases so things seem to moving in the right direction.
However, she added that the number of patients in hospitals was still “very high” and will need to wait for an accurate picture.
Prof Bauld explained that while there had been a rise in Covid deaths in the last week, the figure was a “lagging indicator” and hoped they would continue to decline.
I think we’ve got more data this week that suggests more optimism, and let’s hope, as we continue, that trajectory will be consistent and we can feel we’ve got through what’s been a really, really tough period.
Dr Chris Smith, a consultant virologist and lecturer based at Cambridge University, said current coronavirus data gives him “great cause for optimism”, PA Media reports.
Smith told BBC Breakfast:
The number of people who are going into intensive care or are on mechanical ventilation beds is actually dropping. It has remained flat.
Now that could be because Omicron hasn’t had a chance to bite yet and there will be an uptick later.
On the other hand, it may be that we are following the trajectory of South Africa, which we seem to be so far, which is they saw a much fewer translation of hospital cases into intensive care beds cases. So let’s hope that carries on.
This gives me great cause for optimism because I think we are getting to a point now where thanks to vaccination, where 96% of the country we’re told now have antibodies against the coronavirus, thanks to vaccinations thanks to infection rate reinforcing our immunity we are getting to a point where the population have sufficient immunity that we can fend off the infection when we get it much better than we could previously.
So we don’t see that strong connection of cases turning into consequences.
If it is a political truism that a cabinet is all smiles when the ruling party is well ahead in the polls, it is equally the case that nothing highlights ministerial ambitions more than a vulnerable prime minister, write Peter Walker and Heather Stewart.
With Boris Johnson on the ropes over lockdown party allegations, all eyes are now on his cabinet colleagues and other senior Tories.
Most have offered him lukewarm support – so far. But will any break cover over the weekend, particularly if there are any new revelations?
From Rishi Sunak to Michael Gove, the Guardian looks at the senior Tories to watch: Which of Johnson’s colleagues will be first to publicly withdraw support?
The southern Chinese city of Zhuhai suspended public bus routes on Saturday after announcing it had detected at least seven cases of the Omicron variant and warning residents not to leave the city, AFP reports.
The coastal city of Zhuhai, which borders the gambling hub Macau, said late on Friday that Omicron had been detected in one mildly ill and six asymptomatic patients, after launching mass testing due to a case in a neighbouring city.
China is battling a spate of coronavirus outbreaks, including several from the highly transmissible Omicron variant, as the country steps up vigilance against the virus ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics next month.
Millions of people across the country have been ordered to stay at home in recent weeks, with scores of domestic flights cancelled and factories shut down.
Zhuhai officials have asked residents to avoid leaving the city “unless necessary”, with those who are required to show negative Covid test results within the past 24 hours.
The city had launched mass testing for its population of 2.4 million people on Friday after a Covid case was detected in neighbouring Zhongshan earlier in the week.
Businesses including beauty salons, card rooms, gyms and cinemas were ordered to close on Thursday, with officials announcing the suspension of public bus routes in parts of the city.
China has kept Covid cases relatively low throughout the pandemic with its zero-tolerance strategy of immediately ordering mass testing and strict lockdowns when infections are detected.
But the fast-spreading Omicron has tested that strategy in recent weeks, appearing in the port city of Tianjin close to Beijing before spreading to the central city of Anyang.
National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng told reporters on Saturday that the country faced a “twofold challenge” from both the Delta and Omicron variants.
He warned that regions that had not yet seen outbreaks “must not relax” their prevention measures and “strengthen risk auditing”.
The country reported 104 domestically transmitted Covid cases on Saturday.
Boris Johnson must resign in national interest, says Starmer
Keir Starmer has ramped up the pressure on Boris Johnson as the prime minister fights to save his job, arguing that the stream of explosive allegations of Downing Street parties has left him “unable to lead”.
In a speech to the Fabian Society conference, the Labour leader accused the Conservatives of running the NHS into the ground because they are “too preoccupied defending his rule breaking”. Stressing that “waiting times were the shortest on record” when Labour left government 12 years ago, he said:
Rather than concentrating on getting through the pandemic and bringing down waiting lists, this self-indulgent Tory party is instead having a fight about a leader who they should have known from the start is not fit for office.
We are witnessing the broken spectacle of a prime minister mired in deceit and deception, unable to lead.
The opposition is not alone in calling for Johnson to step down over rule-breaking following his public apology to the Queen on Friday for the parties that took place on the eve of her husband’s funeral.
On Saturday Tobias Ellwood, the chair of the defence select committee, said that “we need leadership” and Johnson must “lead or step aside”.
And Andrew Bridgen, the MP for North West Leicestershire and a former Johnson ally, repeated his calls for the PM to resign. He told Sky News his position as prime minister was “untenable” and there was a “pattern of behaviour that the inner circle can do what they want and the rest of us have to what we are told”.
The prime minister needs to do the honourable thing and call it a day for the good of the country.
The full story is here: Boris Johnson ‘mired in deceit’ and unable to lead, says Keir Starmer
The Conservative backbencher Andrew Bridgen has said Boris Johnson has “lost the moral authority to lead” after presiding over a culture in No 10 of “one rule for them and the rest of us do as we’re told”, PA Media reports.
The North West Leicestershire MP, who became the fifth Tory MP to publicly call for Johnson’s resignation this week, told BBC Breakfast:
[This is] not about one isolated incident, what we are seeing with these continued revelations coming out about what’s been going on at No 10 is a pattern of behaviour, and ultimately the buck stops with Boris Johnson.
What I’ve seen, to me it looks like Boris Johnson and those in his inner circle can do what they want and the rest of us have to do as we are told - that’s not acceptable to me, it is not acceptable to my constituents or, I believe, most people in the country. And what that certainly isn’t is ‘levelling up’ in my book.
Bridgen said he did “not need to see what Sue Gray says to know that for me Boris Johnson has lost the moral authority to lead the country”.
Asked about reports of “wine-time Friday” sessions in Downing Street during the lockdown months [see 8.37am.], the Tory said the claims were a “surprise” to him, adding:
It doesn’t matter, quite honestly, if the prime minister was present or not present - ultimately, he is responsible for what goes on in government, he is responsible for the culture in No 10 and what we’re seeing is a culture where it is one rule for them and the rest of us do as we’re told, and that’s just not acceptable.
I’m not sure that any apology is going to put that right.
A new Covid-19 vaccine is being developed by Texas scientists using a decades-old conventional method that will make the production and distribution cheaper and more accessible for countries most affected by the pandemic and where new variants are likely to originate due to low inoculation rates.
The team, led by Drs Peter Hotez and Maria Bottazzi from the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development at Baylor College of Medicine, has been developing vaccine prototypes for Sars and Mers since 2011, which they reconstructed to create the new Covid vaccine, dubbed Corbevax, or “the world’s Covid-19 vaccine”.
Although more than 60 other vaccines are in development using the same technology, Bottazzi said their vaccine is unique because they do not intend to patent it, allowing anyone with the capacity to reproduce it.
“Pretty much anybody that can make hepatitis B vaccines or has the capacity to produce microbial-based protein like bacteria or yeast, can replicate what we do,” Bottazzi said.
Patent wars over mRNA vaccines have recently heated up. Moderna and the National Institutes of Health are in a dispute over who should get credit for specific discoveries that led to a Covid-19 vaccine which has been delivered to more than 73 million Americans. If Moderna is found to have infringed on the federal government’s patent, it could be forced to pay more than $1bn.
At the same time, activists have called for Pfizer and Moderna to share the technology and knowhow for producing their vaccines, including taking the fight to the World Trade Organization. Low-income countries, which have few vaccine research and production facilities, have vaccinated just one in nine people, according to the World Health Organization. The US has fully vaccinated 67% of the population and provided a third vaccine dose to more than one-third.
Corbevax’s clinical trial data has yet to be released due to resource constraints, but Texas Children’s hospital said the vaccine was over 90% effective against the original Covid-19 strain and over 80% effective against the Delta variant. The vaccine’s efficacy against the Omicron variant is currently being tested.
The process to create the vaccine involves the use of yeast – the same method by which hepatitis B vaccines are produced.
Read the full story here: Texas scientists’ new Covid-19 vaccine is cheaper, easier to make and patent-free
Boris Johnson has been warned by cabinet ministers that he is in the “last chance saloon” after Downing Street had to apologise to the Queen over parties held at No 10 on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral, the Times (paywall) reports.
The paper also reports that Sue Gray, the senior civil servant overseeing an investigation into the Whitehall partygate allegations, felt “completely blind-sided” by the revelations and felt Downing Street staff were hiding information about parties held there.
Cabinet ministers who publicly backed Johnson after his apology on Wednesday told the paper that it was increasingly difficult to justify their support for him or to defend him.
“This is the last chance saloon. More revelations of parties, and a pummelling at the local elections, and the party will rise up,” said one.
“If Boris is going to survive, like an alcoholic he has to admit that he has a problem and go into serious therapy. It’s beyond my comprehension how stupid they can be.”
Another told the Times the prime minister must take the “opportunity” to clear out his team and reset his government. “He needs a complete clear-out,” they said. “He’s being served very poorly.”
Three cabinet ministers said that Dan Rosenfield, his chief of staff, needed to go, the paper also reported.
As the United States’s Covid peak seems to near, with hospitalisations and cases seemingly subsiding in states with high vaccination rates, experts have cautioned against letting our guard down and celebrating too soon.
Eric Berger has this report: As Covid-19 peak seems to near, experts warn against letting guard down
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday revised its guidance on wearing masks to protect against Covid, recommending people use “the most protective mask you can” while stopping short of advocating nationwide usage of N95 respirators, Reuters reports.
The CDC, an agency critics have accused of offering shifting and confusing guidance amid the pandemic, clarified on its website “that people can choose respirators such as N95s and KN95s, including removing concerns related to supply shortages for N95s”.
Americans should “wear the most protective mask you can that fits well and that you will wear consistently”, the CDC added.
The United States leads the world in Covid deaths - roughly 850,000 - even as it battles a surge of cases involving the fast-spreading Omicron variant. Complicating matters is the refusal of some Americans to get vaccinated.
The president, Joe Biden, said on Thursday that the federal government planned to make “high-quality masks” available to Americans for free. In another step, the White House on Friday said the government will begin shipping 500 million Covid tests to Americans later this month without charge.
The CDC said it wants to encourage Americans to wear masks rather than push them to wear the highest-grade face protection, but also explicitly said that respirators provide the best level of protection. It said that “loosely woven cloth products provide the least protection”.
“Masking is a critical public health tool to prevent the spread of Covid-19, and it is important to remember that any mask is better than no mask,” the CDC added.
The CDC said the revised recommendations “reflect the science on masking, including what we have learned in the past two years”, since the start of the pandemic.
More Americans have been recently opting for higher-grade protection amid the surge in cases.
The US is tallying about 1,800 Covid deaths and 780,000 new infections daily - the most in the world - as well as record levels of hospitalised patients.
The CDC last May announced that fully vaccinated people could shed their face coverings, as Covid cases were then on the decline. But in July, the CDC said fully vaccinated people should wear masks in indoor public places in regions where Covid was spreading rapidly. The CDC said this week 99.5% of US counties currently are covered by the mask recommendation.
Los Angeles County, the nation’s most populous, on Monday will require some employers to provide “medical-grade” masks - surgical masks, KF94, KN95s or N95s - to workers at high risk of Covid infection on the job.
Masks remain polarising. Biden, a Democrat, this week again urged people to wear masks and noted that about a third of Americans report they do not wear a mask at all. Many Republican-leaning states have no mask requirements. Some Democratic-governed states such as California have reimposed indoor mask mandates.
Novak Djokovic back in detention ahead of latest visa appeal
Tennis star Novak Djokovic will spend Saturday night in immigration detention before seeking a court ruling to stop his deportation and keep alive his bid for a record 21st major title at the Australian Open, Reuters reports.
The world number one arrived at Melbourne’s Park Hotel, the same immigration detention hotel where he was held last week, just before 3.30pm, according to a Reuters witness.
About a dozen refugee activists chanted “stop the torture... let them out” as Djokovic and Border Force guards drove into the underground garage of the hotel, which is also being used to hold 33 asylum seekers and travellers in Covid quarantine. A man cycling past the hotel shouted: “Go home, Novak!”
It will be a second stint in detention for Djokovic, who spent his first four nights in Australia in hotel detention before a judge freed him on Monday after finding a decision to cancel his visa on arrival had been unreasonable.
The immigration minister, Alex Hawke, decided to cancel the Serbian star’s visa because his presence could foster opposition to Covid vaccination in Australia, court documents released after an initial hearing in the Federal Court on Saturday showed.
Hawke said in a letter to Djokovic and his legal team:
Although I ... accept that Mr Djokovic poses a negligible individual risk of transmitting Covid-19 to other persons, I nonetheless consider that his presence may be a risk to the health of the Australian community.
This explanation in Djokovic’s affidavit is more detailed than the brief statement Hawke released on Friday, which said his decision was based on “health and good order grounds”.
Justice David O’Callaghan set a hearing on Djokovic’s appeal for 9.30am on Sunday, with the question of whether it would be held before a single judge or a full court still to be determined.
Djokovic’s lawyers said on Friday they would argue deportation would only further fan anti-vaccine sentiment and would be as much a threat to disorder and public health as letting him stay and exempting him from Australia’s requirement that all visitors be vaccinated.
A court order on Friday night had required the 34-year-old to surrender to immigration officials for an interview on Saturday morning, before he would be taken to his lawyers’ officers for the preliminary hearing. After leaving his lawyers, he was to be taken into immigration detention.
Border Force and the immigration minister’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on whether Djokovic had attended the interview.
The government has said it would not deport Djokovic until his appeal has been heard. Djokovic wants to be able defend his title at the Australian Open, which begins on Monday.
Related: Novak Djokovic visa: Australian minister Alex Hawke says risk of ‘civil unrest’ behind cancellation
Australia has most likely neared the peak of its Omicron wave, authorities said on Saturday, but warned daily infections would linger near record levels for “the next few weeks” after more than 100,000 cases were reported for a fourth straight day.
Reuters reports that having limited the spread of Covid through tough restrictions earlier in the pandemic, Australia is now suffering record caseloads from the Omicron variant.
Most parts of the country have shifted to a strategy of living with the virus as they reached higher vaccination rates.
More than 1.2 million infections have been recorded this year, compared with 200,000 for 2020 and 2021 combined.
“We are not through it yet and I think there are still going to be large number of cases diagnosed in Australia over the next few weeks,” the chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, told a news briefing, referring to the Omicron outbreak.
But modelling from some states “leads me to believe that we are close to the peak of this wave in terms of cases,” he said.
Infections have dipped over the last three days while the rise in hospitalisations in worst-hit New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, has slowed slightly, official data showed.
Most states are battling record hospitalisations during the Omicron wave, with authorities saying unvaccinated younger people forming a “significant number” of admissions in Australia.
“We are seeing an epidemic of the unvaccinated in young people, we are seeing that in intensive care admissions,” Kelly said.
Australia is among the most heavily vaccinated countries against Covid, with more than 92% of people above 16 double-dosed, and with a booster drive picking up pace.
No 10 rocked by fresh partygate reports of 'wine-time Fridays'
Boris Johnson is under mounting pressure amid fresh allegations in the “partygate” scandal that has engulfed No 10 after it was claimed that staff in Downing Street have held regular drinking sessions throughout the pandemic known as “wine-time Fridays”.
The Daily Mirror reported that the prime minister often witnessed the events and encouraged aides to “let off steam”, even when indoor mixing was prohibited under lockdown rules.
“Wine-time Fridays”, a tradition that predated the pandemic but continued throughout it, were scheduled into the electronic calendars of around 50 No 10 staff between 4pm and 7pm every week, the paper reported.
Number 10 did not deny the claims but pointed to Sue Gray’s ongoing Whitehall investigation into multiple allegations of Covid breaches in Downing Street and other government buildings during the pandemic.
The paper published a photo of what it reported was a £142 drinks fridge being delivered through Downing Street’s back entrance on 11 December 2020.
At this time, London was under tier 2 restrictions, which banned indoor mixing, as well as outdoor socialising with more than six people from different households.
The Mirror reported that the Friday gatherings occasionally went on as late as midnight, with up to two dozen aides drinking wine and beer and playing games such as Pictionary.
It also claimed Johnson was present at an event on 13 November 2020, when England was in its second national lockdown.
One source told the paper: “Boris used to stop by for a chat while they had a drink. It was on the way up to his flat and the door was usually open. He knew about it and encouraged it.”
It follows the toughest week of Johnson’s premiership, bookended by No 10 issuing an apology to the Queen on Friday over two parties held in Downing Street on the eve of Prince Philip’s socially distanced funeral.
Gray is expected to publish the findings of her investigation into lockdown-busting parties in Westminster next week at the earliest.
Good morning from London. I’m Lucy Campbell, I’ll be bringing you all the latest global developments on the coronavirus pandemic for the next eight hours. Please feel free to get in touch with me as I work if you have a story or tips to share! Your thoughts are always welcome.