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Testing for fully vaccinated travellers to UK to be scrapped; new vaccine pass rules in France – as it happened

The Guardian
The Guardian
 2022-01-24

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11.54pm GMT

That’s it from me, Samantha Lock, for today’s Covid blog. Please join us a little later for a new live feed where we will continue to cover the coronavirus crisis.

You can also keep up with the top headlines here .

11.51pm GMT

Summary of key developments

Here is a comprehensive rundown of all the latest Covid developments:

Europe:

  • Italy said that the Omicron wave had peaked in the country as case numbers begin to fall.
  • The UK announced plans to end testing rules for all doubly vaccinated travellers from 11 February.
  • Rules requiring a vaccine passport to enter hospitality businesses and take public transport came into force in France .
  • The European Union’ s drug regulator is set to decide whether to approve Pfizer’s Covid-19 pill at the end of this month, before doing a final review of Merck’s similar but less effective drug in February, a source with knowledge of the matter said.
  • Fully vaccinated travellers arriving in Britain will no longer have to take a Covid-19 test, while Germany extended its current pandemic measures.
  • Norway will end its system of mandatory quarantines for non-vaccinated travellers and close contacts of infected persons, replacing it instead with a daily test regime.

Asia:

  • Covid-related deaths surged in Australia and authorities warned numbers could rise further when schools return from holidays next week.
  • Japan announced plans to extend coronavirus restrictions beyond the current 9pm curfew in a bid to tackle the spread of Omicron. The country is poised to double the number of regions subject to restrictions such as shortened restaurant opening hours in order to rein in a record surge in cases.
  • Organisers of next month’s Beijing Winter Olympics slightly eased the strict Covid-19 requirements for participants.
  • One of China’s longest lockdowns in the northern city of X’ian comes to an end after its 13 million residents were confined to their homes on December 22.

Middle East:

  • Israel’s health minister said he did not think Israel will offer a fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to most people after the government made it available to over 60s and other high-risk groups.

United States:

  • The US advised against travel to 15 countries and territories.

Medical developments:

  • A third booster dose of a Covid-19 vaccine made by AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech or Johnson & Johnson increases antibody levels significantly in those who have previously received two doses of Sinovac’s CoronaVac shot, a study has found.
  • Omicron can survive longer than earlier versions of the coronavirus on plastic surfaces and human skin, Japanese researchers found in laboratory tests.
  • British scientists will begin testing Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics’ antiviral pill molnupiravir as a possible treatment for patients hospitalised with Covid-19.
  • The US Food and Drug Administration is likely to restrict the use of Covid-19 antibody treatments from Regeneron and Eli Lilly as they are ineffective against Omicron, the Washington Post reported.


  • World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus gave a press conference in which he warned that conditions remain ideal for more coronavirus variants to emerge and said it was dangerous to assume Omicron was the last one, but added that the acute phase of the pandemic could end this year if some key targets were met.

11.47pm GMT

Germany extends Covid curbs

Germany has extended its current pandemic measures as the experts panel appointed by the government warned the Omicron variant could bring critical infrastructure in Europe’s biggest economy to a breaking point.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he had agreed with the heads of the federal states to extend restrictions such as limiting private gatherings to 10 ten people and requiring proof of booster vaccination or a negative test at restaurants.

“Now it’s time to stay on course,” said Scholz after a meeting on Monday, Reuters reports.

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Pedestrians cross the Heinrich-Heine-Allee in the city center of Duesseldorf, Germany, on 20 January. Photograph: Sascha Steinbach/EPA

The government will reconsider relaxing or tightening the measures in case of a very steep rise or decline in infection numbers, Scholz added.

Germany on Monday reported 63,393 new Covid-19 cases, an 86% jump from a week ago, according to data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said earlier this month he expected the infection wave to peak in mid-February.

11.32pm GMT

Israeli health minister says fourth Covid vaccine unlikely for most people

Israel’s health minister said on Monday he did not think Israel will offer a fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to most people after the government made it available to over 60s and other high-risk groups.

Israel has been administering the fourth dose to most vulnerable groups - such as the elderly, those with weakened immune systems and health workers - as Omicron surged. Other countries have made the second booster available as well.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz told Israel Radio:

We took this step, we weighed it seriously, it wasn’t a simple decision, but it’s good that we did,” said of offering a fourth shot to those groups.

But regarding the entire population, I don’t think we will go there.”

A government advisory panel has been discussing vaccine policy and there has not been a final decision about whether to expand the campaign.

The Health Ministry said on Sunday that a fourth dose of Covid-19 vaccine given to people over 60 in Israel made them three times more resistant to serious illness than thrice-vaccinated people in the same age group.

It also said the fourth dose made people over 60 twice as resistant to infection than those in the age group who received three shots of the vaccine.

A preliminary study published by Israel’s Sheba medical centre last Monday found that the fourth shot increases antibodies to even higher levels than the third but “probably” not to the point that it could completely fend off the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

11.01pm GMT

Hello it’s Samantha Lock back with you on the blog.

As I’m reporting to you from Sydney here’s a snapshot of how Covid is unfolding across Australia .

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Victoria has recorded 29 Covid deaths and 14,836 new cases while NSW recorded 29 deaths and 18,512 cases, with current restrictions to continue for another month.

Meanwhile, some experts are saying the worst of the pandemic may be over in the country as Omicron peaks.

6.44pm GMT

Summary

Here are all the main coronavirus-related developments from around the world today:

  • Italy said that the Omicron wave had peaked in the country as case numbers begin to fall.
  • Japan announced plans to extend coronavirus restrictions beyond the current 9pm curfew in a bid to tackle the spread of Omicron.
  • The UK announced plans to end testing rules for all doubly vaccinated travellers from 11 February.
  • Rules requiring a vaccine passport to enter hospitality businesses and take public transport came into force in France .
  • World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus gave a press conference in which he warned that conditions remain ideal for more coronavirus variants to emerge and said it was dangerous to assume Omicron was the last one, but added that the acute phase of the pandemic could end this year if some key targets were met.

We’re pausing the blog for a while. You can follow the latest happenings in UK politics, including some coronavirus-related news, over on our live blog.

Related: UK Covid live: Boris Johnson had birthday party at No 10 during 2020 lockdown, report claims

Updated at 6.45pm GMT

6.02pm GMT

The Department for Transport in the UK has confirmed that the changes to travel rules apply to the UK, not just England.

5.37pm GMT

The Guardian’s full report on the changes to the UK coronavirus travel testing rules is here:

Related: England to end Covid testing for double-vaccinated travellers

4.38pm GMT

The UK transport secretary, Grant Shapps, has posted on Twitter about the removal of all testing measures, specifying that these apply for eligible fully vaccinated arrivals in England from 4am on 11 February.

His tweet said the measures applied to England. However, in the Commons he said they applied to the UK. He later clarified that the move is UK-wide, so this entry has now been changed

Updated at 6.07pm GMT

4.35pm GMT

Italy reported 77,696 Covid-19 related cases on Monday, against 138,860 the day before, while the number of deaths rose to 352 from 227, according to official health data.

Patients in hospital with Covid-19 – not including those in intensive care – stood at 19,862 on Monday, increasing from 19,627 a day earlier.

There were 101 new admissions to intensive care units, down from 132 on Sunday. The total number of intensive care patients increased to 1,685, unchanged from the day before.

Updated at 4.43pm GMT

4.08pm GMT

UK to remove all testing for vaccinated travellers

The UK ’s transport secretary, Grant Shapps, has confirmed that post-arrival testing requirements will be lifted for travel to the UK from 4am on 11 February, ahead of the half-term break for schools in the country.

All fully vaccinated people will have to do is verify their status via a passenger locator form.

He told the House of Commons:

Our international travel regime will also now be liberalised as part of our efforts to ensure that 2022 is the year that restrictions on travel, lockdowns and limits on people’s lives are fully placed in the past.

We promised we wouldn’t keep these measures in place a day longer than was necessary. It’s obvious to me now that border testing for vaccinated travellers has now outlived its usefulness. We’re therefore scrapping all travel tests for vaccinated people, not only making travel much easier but also saving about £100 per family on visits abroad, providing certainty to passengers, carriers and the tourist sector for the spring and summer seasons.

Shapps added that from 11 February, passengers who don’t qualify as fully vaccinated won’t have to self-isolate or do a day eight test, but instead must show proof of a certified test prior to departure and take a PCR test on arrival.

He added that under-18s will continue to be treated as eligible, fully vaccinated passengers, meaning they won’t face any tests at the UK border. From 3 February, 12-15 year olds in England will also be able to prove vaccination status on the NHS pass for international outbound travel.

Vaccine certificates will also be recognised from 16 further nations, including China and Mexico, he added.

He noted that a third booster vaccine may be required for entry into many countries by the summer.

Updated at 6.08pm GMT

4.01pm GMT

An influential consumer advocacy group is pressing Pfizer Inc to supply more of its new Covid-19 pill Paxlovid to developing countries this year, concerned that access to the treatment will mirror inequalities in vaccines.

Reuters reports:

Public Citizen sent a letter to Pfizer Chief Executive Albert Bourla on Monday, asking the drugmaker to set aside at least two-thirds of its supply this year for developing countries at a reasonable price.

Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines program, said the letter was the opening salvo of what he expects will be a year-long campaign by the group.

“This is going to be one of the top access to medicines issues of the coming year. It’s going to be a tremendously discouraging repeat of vaccine inequity, at least initially, and many of us will be working to mitigate that,” Maybarduk said.

Pfizer’s Paxlovid is expected to be a key tool in treating Covid-19 after a clinical trial showed that it reduced hospitalisations in high-risk patients by around 90%. The results were significantly better than those from a clinical trial of Merck Inc’s rival oral antiviral Molnupiravir.

But supply of Paxlovid is extremely limited in the short term. Pfizer has said it can produce 120 million courses of treatment this year, but that falls well short of the company’s estimate of the 2022 market for antiviral pills of 250 million people globally.

Updated at 4.02pm GMT

3.27pm GMT

The WHO director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has said the Covid pandemic has proven that health is “an international issue” and called for a paradigm shift in the way it is funded, Peter Beaumont reports.

The head of the World Health Organization has warned member countries that the UN’s global health body is being “set up to fail” without a “paradigm shift” in the way that it is funded and supported.

In stark language delivered to the WHO’s executive board, the organisation’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus , said that the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed more than 5.5 million lives, had underlined the need to strengthen health systems as well as pandemic preparedness plans.

Addressing the specific issue of Covid-19, Tedros also cautioned that conditions remained ideal for more variants to emerge. He said it was dangerous for countries to assume Omicron is the last variant or that “we are in the endgame”.

There are different scenarios for how the pandemic could play out and how the acute phase could end,” he said.

“But it’s dangerous to assume that Omicron will be the last variant or that we are in the endgame,” he added. “On the contrary, globally, the conditions are ideal for more variants to emerge.”

He insisted, however, that “we can end Covid-19 as a global health emergency, and we can do it this year,” by reaching goals such as the WHO’s target to vaccinate 70% of the population of each country by the middle of this year, with a focus on people who are at the highest risk of Covid-19.

“It’s true that we will be living with Covid for the foreseeable future and that we will need to learn to manage it through a sustained and integrated system for acute respiratory diseases” to help prepare for future pandemics, he said.

“But learning to live with Covid cannot mean that we give this virus a free ride. It cannot mean that we accept almost 50,000 deaths a week from a preventable and treatable disease.”

The full story is here: ‘Paradigm shift’ needed in way WHO is funded, says director general

Related: ‘Paradigm shift’ needed in way WHO is funded, says director general

Updated at 3.59pm GMT

2.49pm GMT

A very quick snap from Reuters here : Sarah Palin , the 2008 Republican US vice-presidential candidate and former Alaska governor, has tested positive for Covid , just as she was due to go to trial against The New York Times , which she accused of defamation.

Palin’s positive test was announced by US district judge Jed Rakoff in Manhattan, who is presiding over the case. Rakoff added: “She is, of course, unvaccinated.”

Rakoff said Palin’s positive test came from an at-home test whose reliability was lower than tests administered at the courthouse and required for the trial.

He said she would be retested on Monday morning, with the results determining whether the trial could proceed the same day or would be delayed.

Palin, 57, has accused the Times and its former editorial page editor James Bennet of damaging her reputation in a 14 June 2017 editorial linking her to a 2011 mass shooting in Arizona that killed six people and wounded the US Representative Gabby Giffords.

Updated at 3.24pm GMT

2.39pm GMT

The Omicron wave pushed UK business growth to an 11-year-low in January, dealing a particularly heavy blow to consumer-facing businesses in hospitality, travel and leisure, our economics editor Larry Elliot reports.

The UK economy grew at its slowest pace in almost a year in January as hospitality, leisure and travel businesses felt the impact of the Omicron variant.

The monthly flash PMI (purchasing managers’ index) estimate of activity from IHS Markit and the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply reported a two-speed recovery with an easing of supply-chain bottlenecks for manufacturing offset by weakness in consumer-facing service companies.

Service sector growth eased for a third month, according to the survey, amid reports from businesses of a loss of momentum caused by pandemic disruptions and very subdued demand.

Amid widespread reports of severe cost pressures, the IHS Markit/Cips measure of output fell from 53.6 to 53.4 in January – its lowest level in 11 months. Any finding above 50 denotes that the economy is expanding rather than contracting.

Chris Williamson, IHS Markit’s chief business economist, said:

A resilient rate of economic growth in the UK during January masks wide variations across different sectors. Consumer-facing businesses have been hit hard by Omicron, and manufacturers have reported a further worrying weakening of order book growth but other business sectors have remained encouragingly robust.

Looking ahead, while the Omicron wave meant the hospitality sector has sunk into a third steep downturn, these restrictions are now easing, meaning this downturn should be brief. Many business and financial services companies have, meanwhile, been far less affected by Omicron and saw business growth accelerate at the start of the year.

Read more here: Omicron pushes UK business growth to 11-year low

Related: Omicron pushes UK business growth to 11-year low

2.31pm GMT

Good afternoon from London. I’m Lucy Campbell , taking over for the next hour while Rachel grabs some lunch. 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.

Email: lucy.campbell@theguardian.com
Twitter: @lucy_campbell_

2.17pm GMT

Kenya and Mauritania have received nearly 2m new doses of Covid-19 vaccines from the US through the Covax programme, which distributes vaccines to lower-income countries.

AFP reports:

Kenya, which has a population of nearly 54 million, got 1,368,900 Pfizer doses, while Mauritania, with 4.65 million people, was sent 100,620 Pfizer doses and 504,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The shipments left last week and were scheduled to arrive on Monday, a White House official said.

Updated at 2.19pm GMT

1.45pm GMT

The UK government should drop the requirement for frontline social care and health staff to be vaccinated against coronavirus to curb “paralysing” staff shortages, a social care boss has warned.

PA reports:

The Homecare Association said “further serious harm” is likely to come to older and disabled people and their families if between 15 and 20% of home care staff cannot work because they are unvaccinated.

It said the government has “seriously misjudged” the balance between the mitigated risk of infection and the risk of people going without vital care. It is concerned that the safety and wellbeing of older and disabled people will be “dangerously compromised”.

The association is calling for the government to withdraw the regulations now – before employers start serving notice on unvaccinated employees.

Two vaccine doses for care home staff in England have been mandatory as a condition of deployment since November. The deadline for these workers to have their first vaccine doses is 3 February, and they must be double jabbed before the policy kicks in on 1 April.

Updated at 1.47pm GMT

1.33pm GMT

Italy says Omicron has peaked

Italy has reached a peak in the number of Omicron infections with cases of the variant now declining, according to a health official.

Covid emergency commissioner Francesco Paolo Figliuolo told journalists in Milan:

There is good news: it seems that we have reached the plateau of the curve for what concerns Omicron and it is going downhill.

In the past two days, even in Lombardy [where death rates are highest] the number of admissions to the hospital is lower than the number of discharged. This bodes well.

1.25pm GMT

Japan to extend Covid restrictions

Japan ’s government plans to put the majority of the country under pre-emergency status and extend Covid-19 restrictions as Omicron cases have surged and threatened to disrupt basic services such as hospitals and schools.

Associated Press reports:

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Monday that he will tighten anti-virus measures in 18 more prefectures, including Hokkaido in the north to Osaka and Kyoto in western Japan, until 20 February. This will be in addition to areas where similar restrictions are already in place or to be further extended – including Tokyo, Okinawa, Yamaguchi and Hiroshima.

Kishida said he will officially announce the measures Tuesday after consulting with a government panel that includes health experts.

Under the latest measures, most eateries are asked to close by latest 9pm in exchange for government subsidies, with some restrictions on large public events.

Updated at 1.48pm GMT

12.56pm GMT

The European Union ’s drug regulator will decide whether to approve Pfizer’s Covid-19 pill at the end of this month, before doing a final review of Merck’s similar but less effective drug in February.

Reuters reports:

Late last year, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) gave guidance to member states on how to use both antiviral pills as emergency treatments, while it carried out rolling reviews to help member states decide on quick adoption ahead of any formal EU-wide approval.

Italy, Germany and Belgium are among a handful of EU countries that have bought the drugs.

The EMA’s review of Merck’s pill, developed with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, is taking longer than Pfizer’s because Merck released trial data in November showing its drug was significantly less effective than previously thought.

While vaccines are central to fighting the pandemic, regulators are looking at antivirals, which can be taken at home, as a new weapon against the fast-spreading Omicron variant. US and UK regulators have given the go ahead for both drugs to treat certain high-risk adult patients.

The EMA said on 10 January it could issue “within weeks” a decision on whether to approve the use of Pfizer’s two-drug regimen Paxlovid. In a clinical trial, it was nearly 90% effective in preventing hospitalisations and deaths when given at an early stage to patients at high risk of severe illness.

The source also said the EMA planned to issue its decision on Valneva’s VLA2001 Covid-19 vaccine candidate in March, in line with the timeline given by the French company on 6 January.

Updated at 1.17pm GMT

12.34pm GMT

Associated Press has a summary of World Health Organization director general’s comments today, in which he warned that conditions remain ideal for more coronavirus variants to emerge and said it was dangerous to assume Omicron was the last one, but added that the acute phase of the pandemic could end this year if some key targets were met.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said:

Ending the acute phase of the pandemic must remain our collective priority.

There are different scenarios for how the pandemic could play out and how the acute phase could end. But it’s dangerous to assume that Omicron will be the last variant or that we are in the endgame

On the contrary, globally, the conditions are ideal for more variants to emerge.

He said: “We can end Covid-19 as a global health emergency, and we can do it this year,” by reaching goals such as WHO’s target to vaccinate 70% of the population of each country by the middle of this year, with a focus on people who are at the highest risk of Covid-19, and improving testing and sequencing rates to track the virus and its emerging variants more closely.

He said:

It’s true that we will be living with Covid for the foreseeable future and that we will need to learn to manage it through a sustained and integrated system for acute respiratory diseases.

But learning to live with Covid cannot mean that we give this virus a free ride. It cannot mean that we accept almost 50,000 deaths a week from a preventable and treatable disease.

Let me put it plainly: If the current funding model continues, WHO is being set up to fail. The paradigm shift in world health that is needed now must be matched by a paradigm shift in funding the World’s Health Organization.

Updated at 1.06pm GMT

12.25pm GMT

Covid testing for fully vaccinated travellers to England to be scrapped

The UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, says he plans to make changes to testing rules for international travellers who are fully vaccinated, given that Britain is “moving through the Omicron wave”.

He told broadcasters during a visit to the Academic Centre in Milton Keynes hospital:

Although we have to be cautious, we are now moving through the Omicron wave, and you can see the figures are starting to get better.

So what we’re doing on travel, to show that this country is open for business, open for travellers, you will see changes so that people arriving no longer have to take tests if they have been vaccinated, if they have been double vaccinated.”

Updated at 12.52pm GMT

12.09pm GMT

The Guardian’s video team has put together a piece on Sunday’s violent clashes in Brussels between police and people protesting against Covid-19 restrictions.

Updated at 12.19pm GMT

11.55am GMT

France requires vaccine passports for hospitality and transport

New rules in France have come into force requiring people to be vaccinated against Covid-19 to enter bars, restaurants, trains and planes, after a fierce fight over details of the law in parliament.

Agence France-Presse news agency reports:

From Monday, a negative coronavirus test will no longer be enough to access leisure activities, some work events and long-distance travel.

The pass aims to “protect all those who host the public, because it prevents infections and allows them to stay open. Individual responsibility is the best protection against the virus,” the economy minister, Bruno Le Maire, told Franceinfo radio.

France has been recording the highest daily infection rates of any large European country, with an average of 360,000 over the past week.

But outrage at President Emmanuel Macron’s declaration early this month that he wanted to “piss off” the unvaccinated with restrictions until they accepted a shot slowed the vaccine pass law’s passage through parliament.

The government had originally wanted to apply it from 15 January.

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A protest in Paris against mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations and health passes on Saturday. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

About 40,000 people attended anti-pass demonstrations last weekend, according to interior ministry figures, down roughly 25% from the previous week.

Updated at 12.19pm GMT

11.37am GMT

The UK is to evaluate Merck & Co’s antiviral pill in a large trial as a possible treatment for patients in hospital with Covid-19.

Reuters reports:

The pill, molnupiravir, has been approved by Britain for use in people with mild to moderate Covid-19, but it is not known whether it would work in patients hospitalised with severe illness, and the trial, dubbed “recovery”, will look into that, scientists said.

Updated at 11.51am GMT

11.25am GMT

China has lifted one of its longest lockdowns, in the northern city of Xi’an , as coronavirus spreads across the country.

AFP reports:

The city’s 13 million residents had been confined to their homes since 22 December after the discovery of a Covid-19 cluster that grew to more than 2,100 cases – China’s largest outbreak in months.

With the Winter Olympics beginning next week, Chinese authorities have been scrambling to eradicate flare-ups in several major cities, most recently Beijing, where more than 40 cases have been recorded since mid-January.

While China’s coronavirus caseload pales in comparison to global numbers, the country’s strict “zero-Covid” strategy means even the slightest hint of the virus is met with contact tracing, targeted lockdowns and long quarantines.

Officials began removing restrictions in Xi’an last week after daily cases slowed to single digits.

Residents with a clean bill of health are now permitted to leave the city, while public transport and economic activity have fully resumed now that Xi’an has been deemed a “low-risk” area, virus control authorities said in a statement on Monday.

Only one district remains under lockdown, the notice said, with restrictions to be lifted at a later date.

But travellers to Xi’an, home of the famed Terracotta Warriors, still need to provide a negative test result, while those from virus-affected areas of China are barred entry.

Rachel Hall here taking over the global coronavirus blog for the rest of the day. I’ll be keeping you updated on key happenings across the world, including the UK. If we’ve missed anything do drop me a line at rachel.hall@theguardian.com .

Updated at 11.29am GMT

11.01am GMT

Summary

  • In China , Beijing reported new local Covid cases for the seventh consecutive day as flare-ups persisted ahead of the Winter Olympics Games in February, while four provinces found infections linked to clusters in Beijing.
  • The Fengtai district in Beijing, which on Sunday launched blanket testing, said it would start a second district-wide testing programme tomorrow. Outside of Beijing, the provinces of Shandong , Shanxi , Liaoning and Hebei have already found a total of eight infections linked to the capital.
  • “The Covid-19 pandemic is now entering its third year and we are at a critical juncture,” the World Health Organization (WHO) director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus , has said. “Conditions are ideal for more variants to emerge,” he warned.
  • Dr David Nabarro , the WHO special envoy for Covid-19, has said: “What people are seeing from around the world is this is still a very, very dangerous virus, especially for people who have not been vaccinated and who’ve not been exposed to it before. So quite honestly, we are not saying that this should be considered to be like flu or indeed like anything else. It’s a new virus, and we must go on treating it as though it is full of surprises, very nasty and rather cunning.”
  • The Omicron variant has moved the Covid-19 pandemic into a new phase and could bring it to an end in Europe , the WHO Europe director has said . “It’s plausible that the region is moving towards a kind of pandemic endgame,” Hans Kluge told AFP, adding that Omicron could infect 60% of Europeans by March.
  • The easing of measures put in place in Scotland in response to Omicron marks a “very significant moment of progress” in tackling the virus, John Swinney has said.
  • Only the “findings” of Sue Gray ’s report into alleged lockdown-breaking parties at Downing Street will be published, the UK education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, has said , in another apparent step by the government away from promising full transparency with what she uncovers.
  • Russia reported a new record number of Covid-19 cases confirmed in the past 24 hours – cases jumped to 65,109, from 63,205 a day earlier.
  • Covid cases are rising rapidly among US nursing home residents and staff, causing shortages in admissions, exacerbating bed shortages at hospitals in turn, and in some cases requiring the national guard to be called in.
  • Experts in India are warning that the peak of the country’s Omicron wave is probably yet to come. “The number of cases in cities like Mumbai and Pune are the tip of the iceberg,” said the national Covid taskforce’s Dr Subhash Salunke . He expects to see multiple peaks in the next eight to 10 weeks with the variant spreading to semi-urban and rural areas.
  • Indonesia opened up two islands close to Singapore to visitors from the city-state today. Singaporeans can visit Batam and Bintan islands providing they are vaccinated against Covid-19, they undergo tests and have insurance coverage, authorities said.
  • Hong Kong will take steps from Tuesday to cut the number of civil servants working in their offices , as it battles a spate of Covid-19 infections in the run-up to the busy Lunar New Year holiday.
  • In Australia , national disability insurance scheme participants will be able to dip into their core funding to purchase rapid antigen tests for themselves and their support workers, but critics have warned the change is still inadequate .
  • New measures are being introduced in New Zealand as coronavirus cases could rise to more than 1,000 a day driven by the more transmissible Omicron variant. Prime minister Jacinda Ardern has postponed her planned wedding in response.
  • Nearly half of those who became ill with Covid in the first wave of infections may have long-term and even permanent changes to their sense of smell , according to preliminary research from Sweden .

Rachel Hall will be with you shortly, to bring you the latest Covid developments from the UK and around the world. Andrew Sparrow has our UK politics live blog . I will be back with you tomorrow.

Updated at 12.40pm GMT

10.47am GMT

WHO confirm that 80m global cases of Omicron have been reported to them since it emerged

Here is a little bit of the messaging coming out from the World Health Organization (WHO) this morning. There’s an event in Geneva where the director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus , has been talking.

He said it would be dangerous to assume that the highly transmissible Omicron was the last variant to emerge, and that the world was in the “end game” of the pandemic.

However, he said it was possible this year to exit the acute phase of the pandemic where Covid constituted a global health emergency if strategies and tools such as testing and vaccines were used in a comprehensive way.

Speaking at the opening of executive board meeting, Tedros said that since Omicron was first identified a little over nine weeks ago, more than 80m cases had been reported to the UN agency, more than were reported in the whole of 2020.

“Conditions are ideal for more variants to emerge,” he added.

Updated at 10.53am GMT

10.44am GMT

Violent clashes broke out between police and people protesting against Covid-19 restrictions in Brussels on Sunday. Police used teargas and fired water cannon in an effort to disperse protesters. Authorities said about 50,000 people took part in the demonstration in the Belgium capital, which coincided with similar protests in other European cities.

Protesters hurled projectiles outside the European Union’s diplomatic service and metal barriers were thrown at officers in a metro station. Our video team have a package of clips here.

10.35am GMT

The banknote printer De La Rue has issued a profit warning after suffering from higher Covid-19 costs including staff absences and computer chip shortages.

Shares in the company, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange, plummeted by 28% in the first hour of trading to hit their lowest since May 2020, during the early months of pandemic-induced market turmoil.

De La Rue said profits were hit by “substantially increased employee absences in our manufacturing facilities globally” caused by the Delta and then Omicron coronavirus variants.

You can read more of Jasper Jolly’s report here: Banknote printer De La Rue warns on profits after Covid costs

Related: Banknote printer De La Rue warns on profits after Covid costs

10.18am GMT

Swinney: dropping Omicron measures in Scotland 'a very significant moment of progress'

The easing on Monday of the restrictions put in place in response to the Omicron variant marks a “very significant moment of progress” in tackling the virus, John Swinney has said. PA Media quote him telling BBC Good Morning Scotland:

I think it’s too early to say it’s the beginning of the end, because I think anybody listening to the international commentary on the progress of Covid around the world would indicate that there are significant challenges that remain in the handling of Covid, particularly about the possibility of new variants.

But I think today marks a very significant moment of progress in Scotland in tackling Covid and enabling people to live lives a bit more closely to what we would normally expect to be the case.

Requirements for face coverings and self-isolation will remain for the foreseeable future. Swinney said: “I think the baseline measures that we have asked people to continue to follow around the wearing of face coverings, about trying to limit their social contact where it’s possible and to work from home where they can are sensible measures to try to ensure that we maintain protection against any possible resurgence of the virus.”

Swinney, who is also the Covid Recovery Secretary, said the Scottish Government has tried to take a “proportionate approach” to enable people to be able to get on with as much of their lives as close to normal as possible while applying “necessary caution” to protect them from the spread of the virus.

10.07am GMT

There’s a very slight update from Reuters here on the situation in China . They report that Fengtai district in Beijing, which on Sunday launched blanket testing, has said it would start a second district-wide testing programme tomorrow. The Winter Olympics start in Beijing on 4 February.

9.52am GMT

Russia sets another official record for daily Covid cases

Russia on Monday reported a new record number of Covid-19 cases confirmed in the past 24 hours as the Omicron variant of the virus spread across the country, the government coronavirus task force said.

Daily new cases jumped to 65,109, from 63,205 a day earlier. The task force also reported 655 deaths. The previous peak of the pandemic in Russia, according to the official figures, was just over 40,000 cases one day in November 2021.

9.51am GMT

Only the “findings” of Sue Gray’s report into alleged lockdown-breaking parties at Downing Street will be published, Nadhim Zahawi has said, in another apparent step by the government away from promising full transparency with what she uncovers.

The education secretary’s comments come after Dominic Raab, the justice secretary and deputy prime minister, said on Sunday that it would be up to Boris Johnson to decide how much information was released.

The keenly awaited report by Gray, a senior civil servant tasked with looking into claims about a series of parties in No 10 and around government during Covid restrictions, is expected to be completed later this week.

Read more of Peter Walker’s report here: Transparency fears as minister says Sue Gray ‘findings’ will be published

Related: Transparency fears as minister says Sue Gray ‘findings’ will be published

9.34am GMT

Andrew Sparrow has launched our UK politics live blog for today, and in his opening post he has identified six separate crises enveloping Boris Johnson’s government – and none of them were directly the pandemic. You can follow that here .

Related: UK politics live: Labour says PM’s response to Nusrat Ghani’s Islamophobia claims too limited

I’ll be continuing here with coronavirus news from around the world, and any major UK Covid developments.

9.22am GMT

Beijing reports new cases for seventh consecutive day ahead of Winter Olympics

Beijing reported new local Covid cases for the seventh consecutive day as flare-ups persisted ahead of the Winter Olympics Games in February, while four provinces found infections linked to clusters in Beijing.

The Beijing municipality reported six new domestically transmitted infections with confirmed symptoms for Sunday, after reporting nine a day earlier, data from the National Health Commission (NHC) showed. Since 15 January, the city has reported a total of 36 local symptomatic cases, according to NHC statements.

Outside of Beijing, the provinces of Shandong , Shanxi , Liaoning and Hebei have already found a total of eight infections linked to the capital. There were no new deaths, leaving the overall death toll at 4,636 report Reuters.

Fengtai district in Beijing on Sunday launched blanket testing of around two million residents, while some communities in other districts have started targeted testing in key groups.

People who bought over-the-counter treatments for fever, cough, infections or dry and sore throat should do a Covid test within three days upon the purchase, and should avoid going out before the test result is known, a statement published by the Beijing Municipal Health Commission said on Sunday.

Any lack of testing will be reflected in the individuals’ digital health code, which “may affect travel and daily life,” the statement said.

In the northern city of Tianjin , where an outbreak of the Omicron variant has been brought under control, Toyota’s joint venture complex with China’s FAW Group resumed operation on Saturday. It had been shut from 10 January for 11 days, a Toyota spokesperson said on Monday.

8.45am GMT

WHO chief: pandemic now 'at a critical juncture'

The head of the World Health Organization has urged countries to work together to bring the acute phase of the pandemic to an end, saying that they now have all the tools available to do so.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is now entering its third year and we are at a critical juncture,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a press conference, Reuters report.

“We must work together to bring the acute phase of this pandemic to an end,” he added. “We cannot let it continue to drag on, lurching between panic and neglect.”

8.28am GMT

Dr David Nabarro , the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) special envoy for Covid-19, will be a familiar name to regular readers of this blog. PA Media have these quotes from his appearance this morning on Sky News in the UK. He said the end is in sight, but there is still a long way to go:

The end is in sight, but how long is it going to take to get there? What sort of difficulties will we face on the way? Those are the questions that none of us can answer because this virus continues to give us challenges and surprises.

It’s as though we’re just passing the halfway mark in a marathon and we can see that yes, there is an end and fast runners are getting through ahead of us. But we’ve still got a long, long way to trudge and it’s going to be tough.

He also had strong words for those who say Covid-19 should be treated like a flu, saying:

I keep wondering what the people who make these amazing predictions know that I and my colleagues in the World Health Organisation don’t know.

You see, what people are seeing from around the world and reporting to the WHO is this is still a very, very dangerous virus, especially for people who have not been vaccinated and who’ve not been exposed to it before.

It can also mutate and form variants and we’ve seen several but we know there are more not far away.

So quite honestly, we are not saying that this should be considered to be like flu or indeed like anything else. It’s a new virus, and we must go on treating it as though it is full of surprises, very nasty and rather cunning.”

8.15am GMT

Covid cases are rising rapidly among US nursing home residents and staff, causing shortages in admissions, exacerbating bed shortages at hospitals in turn, and in some cases requiring the national guard to be called in.

The Omicron wave has sent many staff home sick at care facilities and rehabilitation centers that offer round-the-clock medical care. As a result, hospitals that would normally release patients into such stepped-down care are now holding off, creating a backlog of patients stuck in hospital.

“Things are condition critical today. Individuals can’t find an empty or staffed bed out there,” said David Grabowski, professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School.

“It really puts hospitals in a difficult position,” he said, noting that they can’t admit new patients until they find a spot at a care facility for those patients well enough to be transferred. “That’s a huge problem, because they’re occupying a bed that would otherwise go to a new patient.”

There were more than 31,500 cases among nursing home residents in the week ending 9 January, nearly as many as last winter’s peak, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Cases among staff are even higher – more than double last year’s highest record, with more than 57,000 confirmed cases in the week of 9 January, a tenfold increase in just three weeks.

Read more of Melody Schreiber’s report here: Rising Covid cases in US nursing homes prompts hospital warnings

Related: Rising Covid cases in US nursing homes prompts hospital warnings

8.00am GMT

In Australia, national disability insurance scheme participants will be able to dip into their core funding to purchase rapid antigen tests for themselves and their support workers, but critics have warned the change is still inadequate.

The policy shift, confirmed by the Morrison government on Monday, is aimed at addressing an inequity in the system that meant some NDIS participants who lived in their own home, rather than in a group home, were being forced to spend hundreds of dollars on rapid antigen tests for their support workers, as revealed by Guardian Australia last week .

In one particularly shocking case, Carolyn Campbell-McLean, who has muscular dystrophy, and as a result limited lung capacity, had spent $1,300 on tests for her carers , just so they could continue to enter her home and help her with tasks like getting out of bed, showering and dressing herself.

However, the new policy still falls short of demands from disability advocacy groups , who say the tests should be free, and was criticised by the federal Labor opposition on Monday. The new scheme means NDIS participants will use their existing “core” budget funding funds to buy the tests. This pool of money is allocated for use on core services, such as support workers, transport and other everyday items related to a person’s disability.

Read more of Luke Henriques-Gomes’ report here: Coalition shift on rapid antigen tests for disability carers in Australia still falls short, advocates say

Related: Coalition shift on rapid antigen tests for disability carers still falls short, advocates say

7.55am GMT

Experts in India are still warning that the peak of the country’s Omicron wave is likely yet to come. Dr Subhash Salunke , a member of the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research and the national taskforce on COVID, told Reuters that the variant is spreading to semi-urban and rural areas. The state expects to see multiple peaks in the next eight to 10 weeks, he said.

“The number of cases in cities like Mumbai and Pune are the tip of the iceberg,” Salunke he added, pointing out that the deadly Delta variant from the previous wave was also circulating.

“Omicron is now in community transmission in India and has become dominant in multiple metros,” a report by the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) said on 10 January in a study only released yesterday.

Most cases of the Omicron variant have been mild, the advisory group said, although hospitalisations and cases in intensive care were increasing.

India reported 306,064 new infections over the last 24 hours, the health ministry said, about an 8% decline from the average daily cases reported in the last four days. Deaths were 439, the lowest in five days.

  • I have amended this block. Reuters, and I, originally credited Dr Subhash Salunke as a “Maharashtra government adviser”. That is a former role.

Updated at 8.30am GMT

7.40am GMT

UK government education secretary Nadhim Zahawi has been on Sky News this morning, and he was pushing a line that by delaying and measuring air quality in classrooms in England, the government had saved significant money on what people had been asking for in terms of air purifiers. He told viewers:

We delivered 250,000 CO2 monitors to schools last year to monitor the air in the classrooms. And the data we got back is that actually the bulk or 94-95% of classrooms were able to ventilate and keep the air fresh.

Then we modelled as to which classrooms we thought were not able to do that easily. We thought then we’re going to buy 8,000 air purifiers. We think we need about 9,000 now, and so actually, in terms of being stewards of public money, rather than following what the Labour Party wanted us to do, which is buy 350,000 air purifiers at a massive cost to the exchequer, we bought 8,000

Actually last week we got all the schools to make their allocation, and we’ve got to just over 8,000. So we’ve gone to 9,000. Now we’re delivering air purifiers to help those schools.

It’s part of making sure that education remains open. I’m passionate about making sure children remain in school, remain in education. We see all the evidence from the children’s commissioner that it’s really important. And that’s what we’re doing, including, of course, making sure that teachers get themselves tested twice a week. And of course the vaccination programme.

7.33am GMT

The UK government’s education secretary Nadhim Zahawi has been on Sky News. One of the things he was asked about – amid a slew of questions about allegations of Islamophobia in the Conservative party and allegations of blackmail by party whips and as we wait for the outcome of the Sue Gray report into Downing Street’s lockdown parties – was face masks in the classroom for secondary school pupils in England. He said:

So we trust school heads and school leaders to do the right thing. I think they would agree that masks can be a challenge for learning and for communication in the classroom, which is why I wanted them not to last a day longer than necessary.

When we saw the data from the scientists that Omicron was plateauing, and actually numbers were beginning to drop, and they told us that it had reached a peak, I moved very quickly to say the guidance to wear masks in the classroom could come away last week.

The guidance for wearing masks will fall away as part of plan B this week. That’s, I think, the right thing to do.

And of course, I speak to the Director of Public Health, who has done a tremendous job working with the school heads to make sure that we get this right.

If there is a an outbreak in a locality, they can reintroduce temporarily masks in communal areas if they want to, but they work very closely with us. It’s a strong relationship I have with the frontline. I’m very proud of that.

7.24am GMT

Indonesia opened up two island close to Singapore to visitors from the city-state today, Reuters report, as part of calibrated moves to reboot its tourism sector while controlling the spread of Covid.

Singaporeans can visit Batam and Bintan islands approximately 15 km (9.32 miles) and 30 km away respectively, providing they are vaccinated against Covid-19, they undergo tests and have insurance coverage, authorities said.

The two islands were hugely popular vacation spots among Singaporeans prior to the pandemic.

7.17am GMT

As a reminder, the restrictions imposed over the Omicron variant before Christmas in Scotland are being dropped today. Craig Paton writes for PA Media that nightclubs will be able to reopen, while the caps on indoor events, table service requirements for venues selling alcohol and social distancing will also be removed. Requirements for face coverings and self-isolation will remain for the foreseeable future.

The Omicron wave appears to have peaked in Scotland with an infection rate of more than 20,000 in the first days of 2022, and the Scottish government has faced some criticism from the opposition Conservative party that it was “too gung-ho” in bringing in restrictions.

Yesterday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon defended the measures, telling BBC’s Sunday Morning show:

The short answer, I think, is yes they were [worth it], although they have a big impact on businesses, and individuals.

If you look at what we were predicting through our modelling would be the case in January before Christmas … it was around 50,000 infections a day and we didn’t see that materialise or anything like that materialise.

I think that was a combination of the acceleration of the booster campaign … these sensible, balanced, protective measures we introduced before Christmas and lastly - perhaps most importantly - the magnificent, responsible response of the public who changed their behaviour in the face of Omicron in order to try to stem transmission.

We’re hopefully now seeing Scotland … very firmly on the downward slope of that Omicron wave.

7.06am GMT

Here’s a catch-up on the latest Covid numbers in the UK. There were 74,799 new Covid cases recorded yesterday. Over the last seven days there have been 641,687 new coronavirus cases recorded in the UK. Cases have decreased by 15.4% week-on-week.

There have been 1,872 deaths within 28 days of a positive test recorded in the last week, including 75 deaths recorded yesterday. Deaths have increased by 1.9% week-on-week.

The latest data on hospital admissions – from 17 January – shows a decrease by 9.9% week-on-week. At the latest count on the UK government’s own dashboard, there were 17,976 people in hospital in total, of whom 664 are in ventilation beds . According to the government’s figures, the peak of hospitalisations during the pandemic was in January 2021, with 39,254 patients in hospital.

Testing has decreased by 13.3% in the last week . There were 1,370,093 tests carried out and officially recorded on 20 January, the latest complete set of data. The most recent peak was 2m tests on 4 January.

7.01am GMT

Hello from London, it is Martin Belam here. The education secretary Nadhim Zahawi is doing the morning UK media round for the government. I’ll have any Covid lines that emerge from that – he is also the former vaccines minister – but I suspect questioning will mainly focus on a number of scandals swirling around the government.

6.59am GMT

Summary

That’s it from me, Helen Livingstone, for today. I’m handing you over to my colleague Martin Belam.

Before I go, here’s a roundup of what’s been happening over the past 24 hours:

  • The Omicron variant has moved the Covid-19 pandemic into a new phase and could bring it to an end in Europe , the WHO Europe director has said . “It’s plausible that the region is moving towards a kind of pandemic endgame,” Hans Kluge told AFP, adding that Omicron could infect 60% of Europeans by March.
  • A fourth dose of Covid-19 vaccine given to people over 60 in Israel made them three times more resistant to serious illness than thrice-vaccinated people in the same age group, Israel’s health ministry has said .
  • About 50,000 people protesting against Covid-19 restrictions in Belgium have been dispersed by police. The country is facing a fifth wave of Covid-19 infections, with the peak not expected for at least a couple of weeks.
  • US authorities are confident most states will soon reach and pass a peak in coronavirus Omicron variant cases, even as hospitals struggle to cope with the current surge, Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser has said.
  • Nearly half of those who became ill with Covid in the first wave of infections may have long-term and even permanent changes to their sense of smell , according to preliminary research from Sweden .
  • The Omicron-fuelled wave of Covid-19 infections has led wealthy countries to intensify their recruitment of nurses from poorer parts of the world, worsening dire staffing shortages in overstretched workforces there, the International Council of Nurses has said.
  • The indirect effects of the pandemic on children and adolescents are as substantial – if not more so – than the impact of being infected with Covid-19, paediatricians in Australia say.
  • Hong Kong will take steps from Tuesday to cut the number of civil servants working in their offices , as it battles a spate of Covid-19 infections in the run-up to the busy Lunar New Year holiday.
  • A convoy of truckers have started their march from Vancouver to the Canadian capital city of Ottawa protesting the government’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate for truckers, which the industry says would create driver shortages and fuel inflation.
  • New measures are being introduced in New Zealand as coronavirus cases could rise to more than 1,000 a day driven by the more transmissible Omicron variant. Prime minister Jacinda Ardern has postponed her planned wedding in response.
  • Britain reported 74,799 new Covid-19 cases and 75 deaths within 28 days of a positive test on Sunday, government data showed. The number of positive tests has fallen by 15.4% to 641,687 in the last seven days, according to the data.
  • Beijing Olympics organisers say they have confirmed 72 cases of Covid-19 among 2,586 Games-related personnel entering China from 4 January to 22 January, with no cases among 171 athletes and team officials arriving in that period.

6.34am GMT

The indirect effects of the pandemic on children and adolescents are as substantial – if not more so – than the impact of being infected with Covid-19, paediatricians in Australia say.

A research review from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute led by paediatrician Prof Sharon Goldfeld said interventions needed to be developed now to address growing disparities in child health and wellbeing due to the pandemic.

Goldfeld said children were facing a “generation-defining disruption” with public health restrictions and interventions such as online learning, social distancing, increased screen time, reduced access to healthcare, less community sport and less outside play all having repercussions.

“The public health measures have resulted in positive benefits for some, while others have been adversely and inequitably impacted,” Goldfeld said.

“Children and adolescents experiencing adversity before the pandemic have been disproportionately affected, potentially leading to a widening of disparities in child health, wellbeing, and developmental outcomes.”

Related: Australian children facing ‘generation-defining disruption’ due to pandemic, experts say

6.09am GMT

Hong Kong will take steps from Tuesday to cut the number of civil servants working in their offices, Reuters, reports, as it battles a spate of Covid-19 infections in the run-up to the busy Lunar New Year holiday.

Daily cases hit an 18-month high of 140 on Sunday, as a weekend surge in infections linked to a congested public housing estate sent authorities in the Asian financial hub scrambling to rein in the virus.

Some employees would “work from home as much as possible,” the government said in a statement on Monday, adding that individual departments might temporarily cut back on some public services as a result.

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=3vcQZ3_0dtpJ4Ac00
Police officers in protective gear guard Hong Kong’s Kwai Chung Estate, which has been placed into lockdown due to a Covid outbreak. Photograph: Dominic Chiu/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

Ahead of next week’s Lunar New Year holiday, Hong Kong has locked down thousands of people in the Kwai Chung estate for five days. About 35,000 face some curbs and must have daily tests, leader Carrie Lam said over the weekend after a visit.

The situation is testing Hong Kong’s “zero-Covid” strategy to eliminate the disease, with schools and gyms already shut, restaurants closing at 6 pm and many major air links severed or disrupted.

There was only a “slim chance” that city-wide restrictions could be lifted on 4 February as had been planned, Lam has said.

Last week authorities stirred outrage with an order to cull more than 2,000 hamsters in dozens of pet shops, after tracing an outbreak to a worker in a shop where 11 hamsters tested positive.

5.49am GMT

If you’re commuting to or from work, washing up or making dinner and you need something to listen to, why not check out our Long Read podcast, which today is focusing on the pandemic and its effect on our psyche:

Related: Life after death: how the pandemic has transformed our psychic landscape – podcast

5.34am GMT

Mainland China has reported 57 new Covid-19 cases on 23 January, up from 56 cases a day earlier, the country’s national health authority has said according to Reuters.

The National Health Commission said in a statement that 18 of the new cases were locally transmitted, down from 19 a day earlier, and the rest imported.

The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, fell to 27 from 34 a day earlier.

There were no new deaths, leaving the death toll at 4,636. As of 23 January, mainland China had reported 105,660 cases.

5.15am GMT

A convoy of truckers have started their march from Vancouver to the Canadian capital city of Ottawa protesting the government’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate for truckers, which the industry says would create driver shortages and fuel inflation, Reuters reports.

Truckers under the banner Freedom Convoy 2022 had raised C$2.7 million ($2.2 million) by Sunday through a gofundme campaign to fight the mandate. The funds raised would be used to help with the costs of fuel, food and lodgings, the gofundme page said. The convoy is expected to reach Ottawa on 29 January.

The trucking industry is vital to ensure smooth flow of goods since more than two-thirds of the C$650 billion ($521 billion) in goods traded annually between Canada and the US travels on roads.

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=1gFmf4_0dtpJ4Ac00
Canadian truck drivers protesting against Covid vaccine mandates drive in a convoy in Fort Lawrence, Nova Scotia. Photograph: John Morris/Reuters

But as many as 32,000, or 20%, of the 160,000 Canadian and American cross-border truck drivers may be taken off the roads due to the mandate, the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) estimates.

The CTA, however, said in a statement on Saturday it does not support any protests on public road ways and the only way to cross the border on a commercial truck is by getting vaccinated.

Canada imposed the vaccine mandate for the trucking industry from 15 January, under which unvaccinated Canadian truckers re-entering Canada from the US must get tested for Covid-19 and quarantine themselves.

Driver shortages are further expected to fuel red-hot inflation, industry lobby groups have said.

Prime minister Justin Trudeau has resisted industry pressure to delay the mandate since it was first announced in November.

5.00am GMT

As New Zealand enters a new stage of the pandemic after Omicron breached its borders , and faces the prospect of widespread Covid transmission for the first time, we’re asking readers there to share their thoughts and experiences.

Related: How do you feel about the expected surge of Omicron in New Zealand?

4.44am GMT

Fourth vaccine dose has significant benefits for over-60s, Israel says

A fourth dose of Covid-19 vaccine given to people over 60 in Israel made them three times more resistant to serious illness than thrice-vaccinated people in the same age group, Israel’s Health Ministry has said.

The ministry also said the fourth dose, or second booster, made people over 60 twice as resistant to infection than those in the age group who received three shots of the vaccine, Reuters reported.

A preliminary study published by Israel’s Sheba medical centre last Monday found that the fourth shot increases antibodies to even higher levels than the third but “probably” not to the point that it could completely fend off the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

Israel began offering a fourth dose of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine to people over 60 earlier this month as Omicron swept the country.

The ministry said on Sunday the study it conducted with several major Israeli universities and the Sheba centre compared 400,000 people over 60 who received the second booster with 600,000 people in the age group who were given a third shot more than four months ago.

As elsewhere, Israel has seen Covid-19 cases spiral due to Omicron. But it has logged no deaths from the variant.

Updated at 5.52am GMT

4.27am GMT

Omicron could mean an end to the pandemic in Europe, WHO Europe director says

The Omicron variant has moved the Covid-19 pandemic into a new phase and could bring it to an end in Europe , the WHO Europe director has said.

“It’s plausible that the region is moving towards a kind of pandemic endgame,” Hans Kluge told AFP, adding that Omicron could infect 60% of Europeans by March.

Once the current surge of Omicron sweeping across Europe subsides, “there will be for quite some weeks and months a global immunity, either thanks to the vaccine or because people have immunity due to the infection, and also lowering seasonality”.

“We anticipate that there will be a period of quiet before Covid-19 may come back towards the end of the year, but not necessarily the pandemic coming back,” Kluge said.

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WHO Europe regional head Hans Kluge says Omicron could mean ‘a kind of pandemic endgame’ for Europe. Photograph: Johanna Geron/Reuters

Top US scientist Anthony Fauci expressed similar optimism on Sunday , telling ABC News talk show “This Week” that with Covid-19 cases coming down “rather sharply” in parts of the United States, “things are looking good”.

While cautioning against over confidence, he said that if the recent fall in case numbers in areas like the US’s northeast continued, “I believe that you will start to see a turnaround throughout the entire country”.

The WHO regional office for Africa also said last week that cases of Covid had plummeted in that region and deaths were declining for the first time since the Omicron-dominated fourth wave of the virus reached its peak.

The Omicron variant, which studies have shown is more contagious than Delta but generally leads to less severe infection among vaccinated people, has raised long-awaited hopes that Covid-19 is starting to shift from a pandemic to a more manageable endemic illness like seasonal flu.

But Kluge cautioned that it was still too early to consider Covid-19 endemic.

“There is a lot of talk about endemic but endemic means ... that it is possible to predict what’s going to happen. This virus has surprised (us) more than once so we have to be very careful,” Kluge said.

With Omicron spreading so widely, other variants could still emerge, he warned.

Updated at 5.51am GMT

4.25am GMT

Welcome and summary

Hello and welcome to the Guardian’s live coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic with me, Helen Livingstone.

The Omicron variant has moved the Covid-19 pandemic into a new phase and could bring it to an end in Europe , the WHO Europe director has said. “It’s plausible that the region is moving towards a kind of pandemic endgame,” Hans Kluge told AFP, adding that Omicron could infect 60% of Europeans by March.

A fourth dose of Covid-19 vaccine given to people over 60 in Israel made them three times more resistant to serious illness than thrice-vaccinated people in the same age group, Israel’s health ministry has said.

  • About 50,000 people protesting against Covid-19 restrictions in Belgium have been dispersed by police. The country is facing a fifth wave of Covid-19 infections, with the peak not expected for at least a couple of weeks.
  • US authorities are confident most states will soon reach and pass a peak in coronavirus Omicron variant cases, even as hospitals struggle to cope with the current surge, Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser has said.
  • Nearly half of those who became ill with Covid in the first wave of infections may have long-term and even permanent changes to their sense of smell , according to preliminary research from Sweden .
  • The Omicron-fuelled wave of Covid-19 infections has led wealthy countries to intensify their recruitment of nurses from poorer parts of the world, worsening dire staffing shortages in overstretched workforces there, the International Council of Nurses has said.
  • New measures are being introduced in New Zealand as coronavirus cases could rise to more than 1,000 a day driven by the more transmissible Omicron variant. Prime minister Jacinda Ardern has postponed her planned wedding in response.
  • Britain reported 74,799 new Covid-19 cases and 75 deaths within 28 days of a positive test on Sunday, government data showed. The number of positive tests has fallen by 15.4% to 641,687 in the last seven days, according to the data.
  • Beijing Olympics organisers say they have confirmed 72 cases of Covid-19 among 2,586 Games-related personnel entering China from 4 January to 22 January, with no cases among 171 athletes and team officials arriving in that period.
  • The United States , the World Health Organization’s top donor, is resisting proposals to make the agency more independent, four officials involved in the talks said, raising doubts about the Biden administration’s long-term support for the UN agency.
  • Hong Kong authorities said on Sunday one hamster surrendered to authorities by pet owners had tested positive for Covid-19 and that more than 2,200 hamsters had been culled as the city struggled to contain an outbreak.

Comments / 56

Curtis Meeks
01-24

Im fully vaccinated and I have Covid right now. So far it just feels like a cold. So if the vaccinated can still get Covid and spread the Covid what does it matter if you vaccinated or not

Reply(11)
81
crash0005
01-24

here itis for the people in the back..." THE VACCINE DOESNT STOP THE SPREAD OF THIS NOR DOES IT KEEP YOU FROM GETTING IT."

Reply(2)
49
AP_001670.51a4d903dedc4c59ba9d85590c844369.2022
01-24

Well fully vaccinated are getting sick. So they will continue to spread virus unless they take precautions and quarantine if positive. They should get tested if having symptoms

Reply(1)
18

Comments / 0