Official cases in Africa pass 10m; London hospital chief says 10% of staff unvaccinated – as it happened

By Samantha Lock (now) Helen Livingstone, Léonie Chao-Fongand Charlie Moloney (earlier)
A security officer stands guard at the Olembe stadium in Yaounde, Cameroon, which is to host the opening ceremony of the Africa Cup of Nations.
A security officer stands guard at the Olembe stadium in Yaounde, Cameroon, which is to host the opening ceremony of the Africa Cup of Nations. Photograph: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

Thanks for following along – this blog is now closed. You can catch up with the latest coronavirus coverage here.

We have also launched a new live news feed here with all the current developments.

Updated

Summary

Here is a comprehensive recap of some of the main developments so far today.

Europe:

  • Greece sets 1 February deadline for booster jabs. Those who have not received their coronavirus booster jabs will be barred from most indoor venues.
  • France should not impose mandatory vaccination and would not be the most efficient way to encourage people to get vaccinated, a government spokesperson said. More than 105,000 people took to the streets on Saturday in protest.
  • Downing Street is facing calls to ensure that Boris Johnson will be personally interviewed by the Sue Gray inquiry about alleged No 10 gatherings during the first lockdown, after it emerged he may have been present at a “bring your own booze” party that month.
  • Boris Johnson has been warned by a Conservative rebel ringleader he faces a massive revolt from his own MPs if he does not end all coronavirus restrictions this month.
  • Germany will study how reliable rapid antigen tests are in detecting the fast-spreading Omicron variant, the health minister, Karl Lauterbach, said on Sunday.
  • More than 150,000 people have died in the UK from coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.
  • Covid should be treated as an endemic virus similar to flu, and ministers should end mass vaccination after the booster campaign, the former chairman of the UK’s vaccine taskforce has said.
  • Lateral flow tests in the UK will remain free, education secretary Nadhim Zahawi insisted amid reports they could be scaled back despite soaring Covid cases.
  • London’s public health chief said the Omicron variant “may have passed its peak” in the UK capital.
  • The boss of one of London’s busiest hospitals has said he is worried about losing staff when new rules come in requiring them to be vaccinated, BBC News reports.

Asia:

  • The US and Japan have reached an agreement to keep American troops within their bases amid concerns over a surge in Covid cases that has been linked to US military bases.
  • Three people were arrested for breaking India’s Covid measures after police raided a dog’s lavish birthday party in Gujarat’s Ahmedabad city.
  • The Philippines reported a record number of daily infections with 28,707 new cases, up from 26,458 cases the previous day.
  • Tianjin, a major Chinese port city near the capital Beijing, has begun mass-testing its 14 million residents after a cluster of 20 children and adults tested positive for Covid-19, including at least two with the Omicron variant.

Africa:

  • Africa has registered a total of more than 10m cases since the start of the pandemic, according to figures from the Africa Centres for Disease Control.
  • South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Ethiopia and Libya are among the countries with the highest number of cases on the continent.

Middle East:

  • The dissident Iranian poet and filmmaker Baktash Abtin, 48, died after contracting Covid-19 in a hospital in Tehran after being released on a furlough from prison. Abtin was serving a six-year sentence for “anti-government propaganda” and “actions against national security”.
  • Kuwait and Qatar reported record daily Covid cases over the weekend. Kuwait reported 2,999 new cases on Sunday and Qatar on Saturday reported 3,487 new cases.

Americas:

  • Brazil’s health regulator Anvisa asked president Jair Bolsonaro to retract statements he made criticising the Covid vaccination for children.

Australia Covid infections hit 1m as Omicron drives record surge

Australia on Monday surpassed 1 million Covid cases, with more than half of them recorded in the past week, as the Omicron variant ripped through most of the country driving up hospitalisation numbers and putting a strain on supply chains.

Having successfully kept a lid on its virus caseload through aggressive lockdowns and tough border controls earlier in the pandemic, Australia is now suffering record infections as the country begins to live with the virus after higher vaccinations.

New South Wales and Victoria reported about 55,000 new cases between them, as total Covid-19 infections in Australia touched 1.03 million since the first case was recorded nearly two years ago. Other states and territories will report their numbers later in the day.

People wait for Covid-19 tests at a testing site in Sydney, Australia as infections hit 1m.
People wait for Covid-19 tests at a testing site in Sydney, Australia as infections hit 1m. Photograph: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

A total of 2,387 deaths have been registered so far, though the death rate during the Omicron wave has been lower than during previous virus outbreaks, with 92% of people over 16 double dosed and the booster programme picking pace.

The rising hospitalisation numbers forced officials to reinstate some restrictions in states, meanwhile staff shortages due to isolation rules or people out sick have hit businesses.

Authorities have cut mandatory isolation times for close contacts and narrowed the definition of close contacts but were still reviewing the rules for furloughing workers that have widened supply chain gaps.

From Monday, Pfizer’s Covid vaccines will be offered to 2.3 million children aged five to 11 years old, amid reports of stock shortage of shots, which authorities ruled out.

Samantha Lock back with you on the blog taking over from my colleague Helen Livingstone.

Here’s a quick snapshot of how Covid is unfolding across Australia.

The state of NSW has recorded 20,293 new Covid cases and 18 deaths including a child aged under five while Victoria reported 34,808 cases and two deaths.

The Covid vaccine for children aged five to 11 is also being rolled out across the nation.

Updated

Good morning, this is Helen Livingstone taking over the blog in Sydney.

Though we’ll also be following the essentials from the Novak Djokovic court hearing here, please check out our dedicated blog run by Josh Taylor.

Of course don’t get too wrapped up and forget to follow our Covid updates!

Summary

If you’ve just joined us, here is a quick snapshot of all the most recent coronavirus news stories from around the world:

  • Downing Street is facing calls to ensure that Boris Johnson will be personally interviewed by the Sue Gray inquiry about alleged No 10 gatherings during the first lockdown, after it emerged he may have been present at a “bring your own booze” party that month.
  • Boris Johnson has been warned by a Conservative rebel ringleader he faces a massive revolt from his own MPs if he does not end all coronavirus restrictions this month.
  • Germany will study how reliable rapid antigen tests are in detecting the fast-spreading Omicron variant, the health minister, Karl Lauterbach, said on Sunday.
  • Italy reported 157 coronavirus-related deaths on Sunday, down from 184 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections fell to 155,659 from 197,552.
  • The UK reported 141,472 new coronavirus cases and 97 deaths in the latest 24 hours, according to the government’s Covid dashboard.

Updated

Downing Street is facing calls to ensure that Boris Johnson will be personally interviewed by the Sue Gray inquiry about alleged No 10 gatherings during the first lockdown, after it emerged he may have been present at a “bring your own booze” party that month.

The inquiry, into allegations of social mixing bans being broken in No 10, was widened this weekend to include reported gatherings from May 2020, amid reports that an official emailed Downing Street staff inviting them to socially distanced drinks.

No 10 did not deny on Sunday that the prime minister and his wife attended the event on 20 May, which is said to have been organised by a senior civil servant in Johnson’s private office, Martin Reynolds, with food and wine set out on tables.

It comes after the Guardian reported a “wine and pizza” party in Downing Street in the garden and inside No 10 on 15 May, with staff drinking late into the evening after a press conference that day. After No 10 insisted staff were working, the Guardian obtained a photograph of the prime minister and his wife sitting with officials at a table with wine and cheese, with 15 other staff in the background and bottles of wine visible.

Reports on Sunday that free lateral flow tests could be axed under a strategy of living with Covid within weeks were met with a swift backlash. The government promptly denied the suggestion that free tests could soon be scrapped.

The story highlights a gulf in opinions on what “living with Covid” might look like, with some saying we will achieve this only through continued caution and others equating the phrase to ditching all Covid measures and partying like it’s 2019.

Wherever your instincts lie, it is not surprising – or even undesirable – that the mass testing of asymptomatic people is being reviewed.

The policy was rapidly brought in at a time when, faced with a new, highly infectious variant of unknown virulence, it made sense to throw everything we had at Omicron to slow down transmission and to minimise disruption caused by essential workers having to self-isolate. With case numbers wildly outstripping the UK’s laboratory testing capacity, lateral flow tests continue to be vital for tracking case numbers.

Prime Minister facing revolt over coronavirus restrictions

Boris Johnson has been warned by a Conservative rebel ringleader he faces a massive revolt from his own MPs if he does not end all coronavirus restrictions this month.

Mark Harper, chair of the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group, also said the Prime Minister could even face a leadership challenge if the Tories do badly in May’s local elections.

The former chief whip’s intervention came after a poll of Conservative members suggested nearly half believe Chancellor Rishi Sunak would make a better leader.

Mr Johnson suffered the biggest revolt of his premiership last month when 100 backbenchers defied him over Plan B restrictions in a Commons vote.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits a vaccination centre in Northampton.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits a vaccination centre in Northampton. Photograph: Peter Cziborra/AFP/Getty Images

Mass Covid testing and vaccination should be ended for all but the most vulnerable after the booster campaign has been completed, the former chairman of Britain’s vaccine taskforce has said.

Dr Clive Dix has called for an overhaul of the current Government strategy in the coming months, claiming the impact of cellular immunity on fighting the virus may have been downplayed.

Covid should instead be treated like flu or a heavy cold among younger people who have been fully jabbed, the former vaccines tsar said.

Speaking to C4 News, Dr Dix claimed that mass vaccination has outlasted its main purpose, which he said was to curb the spread of infection.

Germany will study how reliable rapid antigen tests are in detecting the fast-spreading Omicron variant, the health minister, Karl Lauterbach, said on Sunday.

“We do not know exactly how well these tests work for Omicron,” Lauterbach said on public broadcasting channel ARD, adding the results of the assessment would become available within the next few weeks.

It was clear, however, that “the alternative not to test at all ... would be far too dangerous,” said Lauterbach, a scientist and physician.

Earlier, he had told a Sunday newspaper that Germany must revamp its Covid vaccination strategy to tackle the Omicron variant and to ensure it could develop a new vaccine rapidly if it faced a more deadly coronavirus variant in the future. New measures for dining out and bar visits were brought in only last Friday, Reuters reports.

Updated

Italy reported 157 coronavirus-related deaths on Sunday, down from 184 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections fell to 155,659 from 197,552.

Italy has registered 139,038 deaths linked to Covid-19 since the initial outbreak in February 2020, the second highest toll in Europe after Britain and the ninth highest in the world. The country has reported 7.4m cases to date.

Patients in hospital with Covid-19 – not including those in intensive care – stood at 15,647 on Sunday, up from 14,930 a day earlier.

There were 142 new admissions to intensive care units, down from 154 on Saturday. The total number of intensive care patients increased to 1,595 from 1,557.

Ambulances outside A&E
Ambulances stop in front of the emergency room waiting to get the patients off. Covid-19 Emergency In Palermo, Italy Photograph: Francesco Militello Mirto/NurPhoto/Rex/Shutterstock

Updated

A total of 51,950,528 first doses of Covid-19 vaccine had been delivered in the UK by 8 January, government figures show.

This is a rise of 30,713 on the previous day.

A total of 47,677,951 second doses have been delivered, an increase of 45,468.

A combined total of 35,499,486 booster and third doses have also been given, a day-on-day rise of 225,541.

Updated

Summary

If you’ve just joined us, here is a quick snapshot of all the most recent coronavirus news stories from around the world.

  • Africa has registered a total of more than 10m cases since the start of the pandemic, according to figures from the African Union’s health watchdog and seen by Agence-France-Presse. South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Ethiopia and Libya are among the countries with the highest number of cases on the continent.
  • For the second day in a row, the Philippines has reported a record number of new Covid-19 cases. Health officials today confirmed 28,707 new infections, up from 26,458 cases the previous day. A senior government official confirmed an increase in hospital beds and medical resources in and around the capital Manila have been ordered.
  • A senior UK cabinet minister has suggested it would be helpful to cut the isolation period to five days to ease workforce shortages. The education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, played down suggestions that the government was imminently about to start charging for free rapid Covid tests which would lead to fewer infections in the community being caught.
  • Daily coronavirus infection rates reported by Kuwait and Qatar soared past previous peaks recorded in the summers of 2021 and 2020. Kuwait reported 2,999 new cases today, setting a record for the fourth straight day and far exceeding a previous high of 1,993 recorded last July.
  • Greece has announced that people who have not received their coronavirus booster jabs by 1 February will be barred from most indoor venues. In an interview, health minister Thanos Plevris said anyone who does not have a booster shot will “not be able to have the privileges and advantages as to access indoor and other activities that are for the fully vaccinated”.
  • A London hospital leader has said he may lose 1,000 staff to the Covid vaccination mandate. About 10% of the 14,000 staff at King’s College hospital are yet to be fully vaccinated ahead of a mandate for all NHS staff who work directly with patients that comes into force on 1 April, Prof Clive Kay said.
  • Tianjin, a major Chinese port city near the capital Beijing, has begun mass-testing its 14 million residents after a cluster of 20 children and adults tested positive for Covid-19, including at least two with the Omicron variant. The citywide testing, which began on Sunday, is to be completed over two days.
  • A mandatory vaccination order would not be the most efficient way to encourage people to get vaccinated, a spokesperson for the French government has said. People in France must currently show either proof of vaccination or a negative test to enter restaurants, bars or use inter-regional trains. But with Omicron cases surging, parliament is debating legislation that will drop the test options.
  • The US and Japan have reached an agreement to keep American troops within their bases amid concerns over a surge in Covid cases that have been linked to US military bases. Starting Monday, US military personnel are confirmed to base facilities except for “essential activities”, a statement from the US Forces in Japan and the Japanese foreign ministry said.
  • Ireland’s health service is “under stress”, the head of the Irish Health Service Executive Paul Reid has said. Between 14,000 and 15,000 healthcare staff are on Covid-related leave, which is the equivalent of approximately 12% of all healthcare staff in Ireland.

That’s it from me, Léonie Chao-Fong, for today as I hand over the blog to my colleague Charlie Moloney. Thank you for reading and keep safe.

The UK reported 141,472 new coronavirus cases and 97 deaths in the latest 24 hours, according to the government’s Covid dashboard.

In Italy, it is now obligatory for people aged 50 or over to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Greece is pondering a similar move. In France, which has seen record numbers of positive cases, President Emmanuel Macron has also announced that he wants to “piss off” the unvaccinated, while Austria is contemplating a law to make the vaccine mandatory for all its citizens.

By contrast, in the UK, Boris Johnson has confined himself to accusing anti-vaxxers of talking “mumbo-jumbo”. But is that enough? Should the UK take a harder line on those who refuse to be vaccinated? After all, this is a virus that threatens to overwhelm the NHS. As doctors continue to point out, hospital beds are now filling up with more and more seriously ill Covid patients, many of whom are unvaccinated.

So, should vaccines against Covid be made mandatory, not just in certain workplace settings but for all individuals?

Rain Newton-Smith, chief economist at the Confederation of British Industry, said reports suggesting free lateral flow tests in the UK could be axed would “make no economic sense”, adding:

Free lateral flow tests are a vital weapon in the UK’s Covid defences – they are central to keeping the economy open and allowing the UK to live confidently with the virus.

Updated

Hong Kong has detected a second untraceable Covid infection over the weekend. Health officials reported 33 confirmed cases today, 27 of which were imported. Among the six remaining cases, five were linked to imported infections, while one was classified as possibly import-related.

As Bloomberg reports, the cases are a worrying trend for officials who have upheld a “Covid zero” strategy, sacrificing the city’s status as an international hub to bring in some of the world’s harshest measures and isolating itself from the rest of the world.

“Now it’s living with the worst of both worlds,” it writes, after a couple of imported infections triggered renewed measures. The government has banned indoor dining after 6pm and closed swimming pools, sports centres, bars and clubs, museums and other venues.

Expatriates who travelled home for Christmas have also been unable to return to Hong Kong, after authorities fearing the highly contagious Omicron variant suspended flights from eight countries, including the UK and the US.

Updated

Here’s more on those earlier comments by Prof Clive Kay, chief executive of King’s College hospital in London, that he may lose 1,000 staff to the Covid vaccination mandate.

Speaking on the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme, he said his organisation was working urgently to encourage staff to come forward for vaccination to avoid redeploying or losing them.

About 10% of the 14,000 staff at King’s College hospital are yet to be fully vaccinated ahead of a mandate for all NHS staff who work directly with patients that comes into force on 1 April.

Losing more than 1,000 staff would be the most extreme outcome and there had been an increase in the number of people who still required vaccination coming forward, Kay said.

“I don’t want, at this stage, to predict or give any numbers. We’re having conversations with staff, line managers are having conversations with staff, we have a helpline,” he said. “Ultimately if individuals choose not to, it’s their choice, their personal choice.

Read the full story by my colleague Hannah Devlin below:

Updated

Kuwait, Qatar report record daily Covid cases

Daily coronavirus infection rates reported by Kuwait and Qatar have soared past previous peaks recorded in the summers of 2021 and 2020, Reuters reports.

Kuwait reported 2,999 new cases today, its fourth day of case numbers surpassing a high of 1,993 recorded last July.

Qatar on Saturday reported 3,487 new cases - almost 10% of those tested - exceeding a previous high of 2,355 seen in May 2020.

Qatar has reintroduced measures limiting home gatherings to 10 vaccinated people, as well as barring unvaccinated people from entering shopping malls and restaurants and reducing capacity limits for some commercial establishments. Schools have reintroduced distance learning until at least 27 January.

Saudi Arabia has also seen a rapid increase in cases since the start of the year, although still below the numbers seen in June 2020.

Ireland’s health service is “under stress”, the head of the Irish Health Service Executive Paul Reid has said.

His warnings come as a further 21,384 cases of Covid were reported by the Department of Health, a day after Ireland reported a record 26,122 new cases.

As of 8am on Sunday, 984 people were in hospital with the virus, up 67 in the last 24 hours. That is the highest number of people in hospital since the surge last January.

Reid said yesterday that between 14,000 and 15,000 healthcare staff were on Covid-related leave, which is approximately 12% of all healthcare staff in Ireland.

The rapid spread of Omicron has smashed into Thailand’s economy in the middle of the peak new year holiday season and ruined any hopes that it might help save stricken tourist areas, South China Morning Post reports.

On the Thai resort island of Pattaya, one businesswoman said she has been forced to let go more workers with each new coronavirus wave. “I’ve lost over 100 employees now,” she told the paper.

Thailand has been forced to suspend its “Test & Go” quarantine-free entry scheme indefinitely. Now, travellers must undergo a 14-day quarantine, or enter under a “Sandbox” scheme via Phuket, which allows fully vaccinated tourists to stay for seven days before being cleared to move around the country.

Hotel operators have complained the scheme’s suspension has effectively wiped out new bookings for February and March, setting their recovery back by months.

About 20-25% of Thailand’s economy depends on tourism; the country was ranked eighth globally in international tourist arrivals in 2019. But passengers on international flights dropped 95% in September 2021, compared to the previous year and hotel occupancy rates were at just 9%.

Updated

A leading statistician has ruled out a “big rise” in UK Covid hospital admissions and deaths. Speaking on Times Radio, Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter said case rates may be stabilising across the country. He said:

The cases are not going up as fast as they were and may have stabilised over the whole country, but at very high levels and they’re not going to come down rapidly.

Despite this, he said daily infection rates could still be hitting around 500,000. Asked whether the prime minister had taken a “gamble” in resisting lockdown measures in England over the festive period, he replied:

I mean, it was a gamble, and you know, all I think the best we can say is he may have got away with it, but we’re going to have to see the next few weeks.

Updated

Greece sets February deadline for booster jabs

Greece has announced that people who have not received their coronavirus booster jabs by 1 February will be barred from most indoor venues, Agence-France-Presse reports.

In an interview with Ant1, health minister Thanos Plevris said:

From February 1, anyone who has not taken the booster dose after a seven month period (from the second dose) will be considered unvaccinated.

The certificate will be valid, because it is a European certificate valid for nine months, but they will not be able to have the privileges and advantages as to access indoor and other activities that are for the fully vaccinated.

Since mid-November, unvaccinated people have been largely barred from indoor spaces, including restaurants, cinemas, museums and gyms, even if they test negative for Covid-19.

The boss of one of London’s busiest hospitals has said he is worried about losing staff when new rules come in requiring them to be vaccinated, BBC News reports.

King’s College hospital’s chief executive, Clive Kay, said 10% of his staff of 14,000 were still unvaccinated. He said staff were “not being forced” to have the jab, but instead “being encouraged”. He added:

There’s a possibility if they choose not to be vaccinated they could be redeployed. And if we can’t find that opportunity to redeploy them then the consequence is that they will [not have a job].

Asked how many frontline staff he could lose under the law change, he replied:

I am confident that we are already seeing a number of staff choosing to be vaccinated. I don’t want at this stage to predict or give any numbers.

Updated

A leaked briefing from the UK’s Health and Security Agency (UKHSA) shows a backlog of 250,000 PCR tests this week.

The Sunday Times’ Shaun Lintern said the backlog affected 4,600 care homes and 70 prisons. In some cases, testing was so delayed in labs that they became void, he said.

Updated

The US and Japan have reached an agreement to keep American troops within their bases amid concerns over a surge in Covid cases that has been linked to US military bases.

Starting Monday, US military personnel are confirmed to base facilities except for “essential activities”, a statement from the US Forces in Japan and the Japanese foreign ministry said.

The allies will share information and cooperate on coronavirus measures, “given the extraordinary virulence of the Omicron variant spreading throughout Japan,” the statement said.

Japan’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, has come under increasing pressure to address outbreaks that began at US military facilities last month and have since spread to the local civilian population.

The Netherlands’ new finance minister Sigrid Kaag has said she will miss the ceremonial inauguration of the new Dutch government on Monday after testing positive for Covid.

She tweeted today: “I have tested positive for Corona. It will be a slightly different start than I had hoped for.

“My installation will take place digitally. Luckily I feel fine.”

France should not impose mandatory vaccination, government spokesperson says

A mandatory vaccination order would not be the most efficient way to encourage people to get vaccinated, French government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said.

People in France must currently show either proof of vaccination or a negative test to enter restaurants, bars or use inter-regional trains. But with Omicron cases surging, parliament is debating legislation that will drop the test options.

President Emmanuel Macron this week said he wanted to irritate the unvaccinated by making their lives so difficult they would get the jab, Reuters reports.

Here’s a useful thread on case rates in England and in particular, London, by Oliver Johnson, professor of information theory at Bristol University.

He points out that the seven-day average across England is down but data from London suggests the Omicron wave has not dropped as scientists had hoped.

Although the situation “could all be very much worse”, he warns that recorded deaths – which have been a mess because of holiday reporting – will likely get worse for a while.

Overall, he estimates that England could reach 25,000 Covid deaths in the six months since the so-called “Freedom Day”. He concludes:

Everything could be worse, it isn’t as bad as it has been in the past, but it’s not nothing either, and it may not be reasonable to expect that everything sorts itself out in the next couple of weeks.

Three people have been arrested for breaking India’s coronavirus measures after police raided a dog’s lavish birthday party.

The gathering in Gujarat’s Ahmedabad city was held to celebrate the second birthday of Abby, an Indian Spitz, and was attended by its owners as well as their family and friends. According to police, the birthday event cost 700,000 rupees (nearly £7,000) and featured an elaborate birthday cake, a performance by a popular folk singer and giant photo cutouts of the canine guest of honour.

Social media footage from the event showed a crowd of people dancing in front of an ornate stage in defiance of local social distancing rules and without masks. The video went viral and was seen by Gujarat police.

“We got information about a big party going on, so we raided the venue,” police inspector V.D. Zala told Agence-France-Presse. “As per Covid protocol, it is necessary to take permission before organising a party. The organisers are responsible for ensuring social distancing among guests.”

The three men arrested for their role in staging the event were later released on bail.

Covid should be treated as an endemic virus similar to flu, and ministers should end mass vaccination after the booster campaign, the former chairman of the UK’s vaccine taskforce has said.

With health chiefs and senior Tories also lobbying for a post-pandemic plan for a straining NHS, Dr Clive Dix called for a major rethink of the UK’s Covid strategy, in effect reversing the approach of the past two years and returning to a “new normality”.

“We need to analyse whether we use the current booster campaign to ensure the vulnerable are protected, if this is seen to be necessary,” he said. “Mass population-based vaccination in the UK should now end.”

He said ministers should urgently back research into Covid immunity beyond antibodies to include B-cells and T-cells (white blood cells). This could help create vaccines for vulnerable people specific to Covid variants, he said, adding: “We now need to manage disease, not virus spread. So stopping progression to severe disease in vulnerable groups is the future objective.”

Read the full article here:

More on the Philippines, after the country set a record for new 28,707 Covid infections for a second consecutive day.

A senior government official confirmed an increase in hospital beds and medical resources in and around the capital Manila have been ordered, Reuters reports.

Nearly 60% of the cases recorded today came from the capital region, which has seen a steady increase in admissions in recent days, although government data showed hospital capacity still below critical levels.

Health authorities have also been instructed to push vaccination rates outside the region, acting presidential spokesperson Karlo Nograles said in a statement.

Total Covid cases in Africa top 10 million

According to figures from the African Union’s health watchdog and seen by Agence-France-Presse, Africa has registered a total of more than 10m cases since the start of the pandemic.

As of Saturday 10,028,508 cases have been reported by the African Union’s 55 member states, data by the Africa Centres for Disease Control shows.

South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Ethiopia and Libya are among the countries with the highest number of cases on the continent.

The total recorded Covid-19 death count in Africa stands at 231,157, the CDC said.

Wales may reach its peak of infections in around two weeks, the Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford has said.

Modelling shows there will be a “relatively rapid decline” after this point and the government should then be able to step down its coronavirus measures, he said.

Drakeford defended a recent comment that the UK government was the “outlier” in not introducing further restrictions, adding:

Wales is following the same path of putting protections in place that is being followed by Scotland, Northern Ireland, and not just devolved governments in the UK, but governments across Europe and across the world.

The questions as to why the UK government has decided not to follow that course of action are for them to answer, not for me.

In the spring of 2020, Hart Island, a mile from City Island in the Bronx, was a focal point of grief in New York. It was here, at the city’s public cemetery or potter’s field, the final resting place of more than a million people, that officials ordered trenches dug to accommodate those the coronavirus was expected to kill.

The trenches were never filled. Many bodies were returned to funeral parlours or stored in mobile freezers on Randall’s Island, better known for music festivals and the Frieze art fair than cold storage of corpses.

Last week, as New York was once again in the grip of a pandemic spike, the ferry jetty was devoid of morbid feelings, even with infections running at a 35% positivity rate, close to five times the peak of last winter.

“We haven’t seen anyone here – or any of the trucks coming like they used to,” said one Hart Island worker.

The winter Covid wave has hit the Bronx hard. The borough has the city’s highest positivity rate, in some neighbourhoods near 50%. But for many this wave feels different, not least in the way leaders and health officials are treating it.

Read the full story here:

Updated

Russia reported 16,246 new Covid cases in the latest 24 hour period, health officials said, bringing the country’s total number of cases to 10,650,849.

A further 763 deaths of patients with coronavirus were also confirmed, bringing the total death toll to 316,163.

Lateral flow tests to remain free in the UK, minister says

Lateral flow tests will remain free, the UK’s education secretary Nadhim Zahawi has insisted amid reports they could be scaled back despite soaring Covid cases.

The Sunday Times had reported that prime minister Boris Johnson would announce that free tests would be axed and limited to high-risk settings and for people with symptoms.

But speaking to Sky News’ Trevor Phillips this morning, Zahawi said he was “slightly puzzled” by the report and that tests would continue to be available for free. He said:

I saw that story this morning, which I was slightly puzzled by because I don’t recognise it at all. This is absolutely not where we are at.

For January alone 425 million lateral flow tests (are) coming in and they will continue to be available for free.

I don’t really recognise where that story is coming from.

Asked whether there are plans to stop lateral flow tests being free, Zahawi replied: “Absolutely not.”

London’s public health chief has said the Omicron variant “may have passed its peak” in the UK capital. Speaking to Sky News’ Trevor Phillips this morning, Prof Kevin Fenton said:

Data from the ONS (Office for National Statistics) suggests that the peak may have occurred at or just about the New Year period.

We’re seeing reductions in overall case rates across the city and the prevalence of infection within the community.

But he warned infection levels are still “very, very high” and that more than one in 10 Londoners are still infected with the disease.

It means we’re not yet out of this critical phase of the pandemic, although we may well be past its peak.

Philippines reports record daily infections

For the second day in a row, the Philippines has reported a record number of new Covid-19 cases. Health officials today confirmed 28,707 new infections, up from 26,458 cases the previous day.

The total number of active cases reached 128,114, the highest in more than three months. This comprises 4.3% of all confirmed cases.

Earlier this week, the country’s president Rodrigo Duterte ordered the arrest of unvaccinated people who violate stay-at-home orders aimed at curbing “galloping” cases driven by the Omicron variant.

Tianjin, a major Chinese port city near the capital Beijing, has begun mass-testing its 14 million residents after a cluster of 20 children and adults tested positive for Covid-19, including at least two with the Omicron variant.

The citywide testing, which began on Sunday, is to be completed over two days. Residents have been advised to stay at or near home to be available for the community-level nucleic-acid screening. They have been told that until they obtain a negative test result, they will not receive a “green” code on smartphone Covid-tracing apps that nearly all people in China are now required to present when using public transport and in other situations.

China has stepped up its zero-tolerance Covid-19 strategy in the run-up to the Winter Olympics, which open on 4 February in Beijing. The Chinese capital is 150km (90 miles) north-west of Tianjin and connected by a high-speed rail link that takes less than one hour.

Elsewhere in China, millions of people are being confined to their homes in Xi’an and Yuzhou, two other cities that are farther away but have larger outbreaks. The city of Zhengzhou, a provincial capital 70km (40 miles) north of Yuzhou, is also conducting mass testing and closing schools starting Monday.

China reported 165 confirmed coronavirus cases for 8 January, up from 159 a day earlier, its health authority said on Sunday.

Opening summary

Hello and welcome to The Guardian’s rolling coverage of the coronavirus pandemic with me, Léonie Chao-Fong. Here’s a rundown of all the most recent news from around the world:

  • Tianjin, a major Chinese port city near Beijing, has begun mass-testing its 14m residents after a cluster of 20 children and adults tested positive for Covid-19, including at least two with the Omicron variant. Residents have been told that they must obtain a negative test result in order to receive a “green” code on smartphone Covid-tracing apps in order to use public transport and in other situations.
  • The Philippines broke its own record for the highest single-day tally of new Covid-19 cases on Sunday, with 28,707 new infections reported by the health department. Acting presidential spokesperson Karlo Nograles has reportedly denied rumours that a “total lockdown” will be imposed in the country.
  • Cutting the self-isolation period to five days would be “helpful”, the UK’s former vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has said. Zahawi became the first government minister to publicly support the reduction of the Covid isolation period from seven to five days, amid staffing pressures across many private and public sectors.
  • The dissident Iranian poet and filmmaker Baktash Abtin, 48, has died after contracting Covid-19 in a hospital in Tehran after being released on a furlough from prison where he was infected twice, Iranian news agencies said on Saturday. Abtin was serving a six-year sentence for “anti-government propaganda” and “actions against national security”.
  • Moderna donated 2.7m doses of coronavirus vaccines to Mexico, after the country exceeded 300,000 test-confirmed coronavirus deaths this week. The Mexican government said the doses will go to teachers as the country tries to return to fully in-person learning.
  • More than 150,000 people have died in the UK from coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to government figures. Britain on Saturday became the seventh country to pass the milestone after the US, Brazil, India, Russia, Mexico and Peru.
  • Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has warned Boris Johnson that axing universal free lateral flow tests would be an “utterly wrongheaded” approach to dealing with coronavirus. Her warnings came after reports that tests could be limited to high-risk settings – such as care homes, hospitals and schools – and to people with symptoms.
  • More than 105,000 people took to the streets across France on Saturday in protest against the introduction of a new coronavirus pass that would in effect ban unvaccinated people from public life. Interior Ministry officials said 34 people were arrested and 10 police officers were injured after the protests turned violent in some places.
  • The US has administered more than 518m doses of coronavirus vaccines as of Saturday morning and distributed 639.7m doses, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Please do get in touch with me on Twitter or by email if you have anything to flag you think we should be covering.

Updated


What is inkl?

Important stories

See news based on value, not advertising potential. Get the latest news from around the world.

Trusted newsrooms

We bring you reliable news from the world’s most experienced journalists in the most trusted newsrooms.

Ad-free reading

Read without interruptions, distractions or intrusions of privacy.