UK must be ready to impose Covid restrictions this winter, expert warns
The UK cannot afford to be complacent and must be prepared to introduce tougher measures to control the spread of Covid this winter if necessary, a government adviser and leading epidemiologist has warned.
As mainland Europe is gripped by a new Covid wave, some countries have imposed strict measures to control the spread of Covid.
With Austria planning to introduce mandatory vaccinations from February as well as a new lockdown starting on Monday, and German ministers having declared a national emergency, Prof Andrew Hayward, co-director of the UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, was asked whether the UK could be forced to take similar action in the coming weeks or months.
Hayward said the UK was “on a knife edge” and that much depended on the booster jab campaign and the speed of uptake.
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Slovakia has joined other European countries in reporting new records for daily infections.
Covid-19 infections in Slovakia are at their peak now, with a daily average of 6,598 new infections being reported each day now, the highest so far.
The ministry of health on Saturday logged 9,171 new infections in a 24-hour period, the highest daily tally of confirmed cases since the pandemic began.
The country of 5.5 million introduced what the prime minister, Eduard Heger, called a “lockdown for the unvaccinated” earlier this week.
Covid-19 testing at workplaces is also among the new measures.
According to the Reuters Covid-19 tracker, Slovakia has administered at least 4,895,694 doses of Covid vaccines so far, which, assuming every person needs two doses, is enough to have vaccinated about 44.9% of the country’s population.
Slovakia has reported 13 818 coronavirus-related deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
Several thousand demonstrators have already gathered in central Vienna to protest against the new tough pandemic measures in Austria, with up to 15,000 people expected to demonstrate in the capital on Saturday.
On Saturday, 15,297 new infections were registered in the country. Austria faces its fourth general lockdown from Monday, which will also be in place for those who have been vaccinated.
The nationwide lockdown will last for a maxium of 20 days, the government has said, and will be followed by a lockdown for unvaccinated people.
Symbols such as a yellow star with the word “not vaccinated” are just as ubiquitous as the terms “fascism” and “dictatorship” in the crowd in Vienna, while protesters shout slogans such as “We are the people” and “resistance”, Austrian daily Der Standard reports.
At just under 66 percent, the vaccination rate in Austria is one of the lowest in Western Europe.
Hello, I’m taking over for the next hour while my colleague Lucy Campbell has a break. As always, feel free to get in touch with tips and updates, I’m on Twitter @JedySays or you can drop me an email.
A demonstration planned for Saturday in Amsterdam against coronavirus curbs was cancelled after riots in Rotterdam injured seven people, and police fired warning shots last night, AFP reports.
More than 20 people were arrested in the protests against government moves to restrict access to certain sites for unvaccinated people and impose other restrictions. A police car and several electric scooters were torched and fires set off.
“Last night, all hell broke loose in Rotterdam,” United We Stand Europe, which had called Saturday’s protest, said on Facebook.
Chaos broke out in the centre of the port city on Friday night. Rotterdam’s mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb, denounced an “orgy of violence”, adding: “The police have felt the need to draw a police weapon in the end to defend themselves.” [see 8.50am.].
Keeping the demonstration in Amsterdam “didn’t feel right”, United We Stand Europe said, lamenting the injuries to two protesters, which had also been reported in Dutch media.
“The riots and extreme violence against police, riot police and firefighters last night in Rotterdam are horrifying,” the Dutch security and justice minister, Ferd Grapperhaus, said on Saturday, deploring the “considerable” destruction.
“The men and women who take to the streets every day for our safety have been pelted with stones and fireworks,” he said, referring to the police. “The police and the public prosecutor’s office are doing their utmost to track down, prosecute and punish these rioters.”
“After major disruptions yesterday… order is now being restored. There is a lot of damage, people have been injured and people have been detained,” the local police said on Twitter on Saturday.
“At the moment the full picture is being drawn up. The investigation into the rioters is starting,” it added.
A planned protest in the southern city of Breda on Saturday is still on, according to local media.
Rotterdam police quashed rumours on social media that someone died during the violence. “Both from our side and from the National Criminal Investigation Department, this has not been reported,” police stressed.
The number of deaths of people being treated under the Mental Health Act in England rose during the coronavirus pandemic, estimates suggest.
The Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) findings come amid concerns over staff shortages in psychiatric units.
Some 490 people died while detained under the act between the start of March 2020 to the end of March 2021. The regulator said 166 of those deaths were due to Covid-19, while 324 of them for “non-Covid” reasons.
BBC analysis found that between 2012 and 2019, an average of 273 people died per year either while detained in hospital or being supervised in the community in England while subject to the act.
The Tory former health secretary Jeremy Hunt warned that staff shortages were now compromising patient safety in “every part of the NHS”.
He called the figures on deaths in psychiatric detention “very concerning”, adding: “It’s not just mental health, but every specialty now has shortages of doctors and nurses.”
Hunt argued a “radical overhaul” of the training system was needed to ensure there were enough doctors and nurses in the coming decades.
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The Coronavirus infections rate in the Czech Republic hit a new record for the second time this week, the health ministry said on Saturday.
It announced that the daily tally rose to 22,936 on Friday, almost 500 more than the previous record set on Tuesday.
The country’s infection rate has risen to 929 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days.
A further 110 people died on Thursday, the ministry said, with the daily death toll surpassing 100 for the first time since April.
The government has approved new restrictions to tackle the surge in infections, targeting the unvaccinated in an effort to increase a vaccination rate that is below the European Union average.
Starting on Monday, most unvaccinated people will no longer be allowed to show negative coronavirus tests in order to attend public events, go to bars and restaurants, visit hairdressers, museums and similar facilities or use hotels.
Only people who are vaccinated or have recovered from Covid in the last six months will remain eligible. Testing at workplaces will also be required.
On Thursday, the Czech president, Andrej Babiš, warned that the country was facing a “serious” situation as cases surge.
“I am glad that after many negotiations in the last two days, there has been an agreement between experts and the government,” Babiš wrote on Twitter, adding that they were inspired to announce the restrictions based on the measures planned for the state of Bavaria in Germany.
He added: “And please: Limit contacts and get vaccinated. It’s the only way you can protect your health.”
Overall, the country of 10.7 million has registered over 1.94 million cases and 31,769 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Thousands of people have marched in “freedom” rallies in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide, with the largest crowds in the Victorian capital as protests against the state government’s pandemic legislation ramped up again.
Protesters marched from Victoria’s state parliament, down Bourke Street and up to Flagstaff Gardens, carrying Australian flags and placards bearing anti-vaccination, anti-lockdown and anti-government slogans, while chanting “kill the bill”, “sack Dan Andrews” and “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi”.
The rally drew a significant increase in numbers following weeks of protests against the Victorian premier’s public health and wellbeing (pandemic management) bill 2021, which previously came to a head last weekend, when thousands of people marched through central Melbourne in a demonstration that included a prop gallows, protesters posing with nooses, and chants of “hang Dan Andrews”.
The bill as introduced by the Victorian government would allow the premier to make an indefinite declaration of a pandemic and state of emergency, give the health minister power to make broad public health orders, and grant authorised officers the power to detain people under quarantine.
The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, has been racing to pass the pandemic legislation before the state of emergency is due to lapse on 15 December.
If the bill fails to pass, the Victorian government may not have the legal framework to enforce and create Covid-19 orders to manage the pandemic. The bill has been criticised by the Law Institute of Victoria, the Victorian Bar Association, and the Human Rights Law Centre, who say it lacks oversight and transparency.
In Sydney on Saturday, several thousand protesters also marched through the CBD.
The sound of bagpipes echoed through York Street as a man dressed in white screamed “destroy the new world order” and others chanted “walk with us”.
A Sydney demonstrator carried a “kill the bill” sign, despite there being no such bill in NSW, while others waved Australian flags.
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Some 200 vaccinated foreign tourists arrived in Vietnam’s beach-fringed island of Phu Quoc on Saturday, the first wave of visitors to the country in nearly two years as it seeks to resurrect its pandemic-ravaged tourism economy, Reuters reports.
Vietnam imposed tight border controls at the start of the pandemic in an effort to keep Covid out, with some initial success, but that harmed its burgeoning tourism sector, which typically accounts for about 10% of gross domestic product.
Vaccinated tourists now do not have to undergo mandatory two-week quarantine, according to the authorities, but are required to enjoy their holiday only inside the mega complex resort Vinpearl and will be tested twice during their trip.
“This is the first and vital step to revive our tourism sector and to prepare for the full resumption next year,” Nguyen Trung Khanh, chairman of the country’s tourism administration said in statement.
“We want to offer tourists a new experience amid new normalcy which they can live fully in Phu Quoc and then live fully in Vietnam,” Khanh added.
The island’s authorities expect to welcome 400,000 domestic and international tourists to the end of this year.
Other Vietnamese destinations such as the Unesco world heritage site Hoi An and Danang beach are also welcoming international tourists back.
The move follows similar steps taken by neighbouring Thailand, which hosted vaccinated foreign tourists for quarantine-free holiday earlier this month.
Foreign arrivals to Vietnam slumped from 18 million in 2019, when tourism revenue was $31bn, or nearly 12% of its gross domestic product, to 3.8 million last year.
Vietnam, which has inoculated more than half of its 98 million people, is seeking to resume international commercial flights from January next year and eyeing a full tourism reopening from June.
World No 1 Novak Djokovic and all other players will have to be vaccinated against Covid to compete in the Australia Open next January, the tournament’s chief, Craig Tiley, said on Saturday.
Djokovic has declined to disclose whether he is vaccinated and said that he would wait until Tennis Australia revealed the health protocols before he made a decision about playing at Melbourne Park.
“There’s a lot of speculation about vaccination and just to be really clear, when the [state] premier announced that everyone on site … will need to be vaccinated … we made that clear to the playing group,” Tiley told reporters.
“[Novak] has said that he views this as a private matter for him. We would love to see Novak here, he knows that he’ll have to be vaccinated to play here.”
The announcement brings to a definitive conclusion months of negotiations between Tennis Australia and the Victoria state government, which had insisted throughout that everybody at Melbourne Park would need to be vaccinated.
Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, had opened a window for unvaccinated players when he said that they would be allowed into the country if they served 14 days quarantine and Victoria applied for an exemption.
Victoria’s premier, Daniel Andrews, quickly made it clear that no exemptions would be sought for unvaccinated players.
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Iraq said it has received 1.2 million doses of Pfizer/BioNTech’s Covid vaccine through the Covax sharing scheme, amid fears of a fourth wave in the country, AFP reports.
Nearly 7 million Iraqis have received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine, amounting to just 17.5% of the country’s 40 million population, based on government figures.
Plagued by years of conflict, corruption and neglect, the country’s health system has struggled to cope with the pandemic.
The health ministry announced on Saturday the arrival of a shipment of more than 1.2 million doses of “Pfizer’s anti-Covid vaccine through the Covax programme and Unicef”, the UN Children’s Fund.
“Iraq is still facing danger from the coronavirus pandemic,” ministry spokesman Saif al-Badr said on Thursday.
“We expect to enter a fourth wave, [and] it could be a new variant,” he told state television.
More than 2 million Iraqis have contracted coronavirus and 23,628 have died in Iraq since the outbreak of the pandemic, according to official figures.
Despite an increase in the number of people getting jabbed, the government has been unable to overcome general scepticism about vaccines and measures aimed at preventing the spread of the virus.
There is a high level of public mistrust of institutions in Iraq amid the circulation of misleading information about the pandemic.
Covax was set up to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines, particularly to low-income countries, and has already delivered more than 80 million doses to 129 territories.
Visitors will need to show proof of their Covid status to gain entry to Belfast Christmas market, which opens on Saturday.
All visitors will need to show proof of either their Covid vaccination, a negative test or lateral flow test taken in the last 48 hours, or evidence of a positive PCR test taken in the previous 30 to 180 days, in order to attend the market, which takes place in the grounds of Belfast city hall.
Organisers had previously said the rule would only apply on busier days and weekends. But they announced on Friday that it would apply at all times.
The decision was taken ahead of Northern Ireland’s Covid passport scheme, which is likely to come in on 29 November.
Organisers said safety of staff and customers was of “paramount importance”, and are also recommending that visitors wear face masks and pay by card where possible.
Rotterdam mayor condemns ‘orgy of violence’ at Covid protests
The mayor of Rotterdam has condemned “an orgy of violence” at protests against Covid measures in the Dutch port city, in which seven people were wounded and more than 20 arrested.
Reuters reports that crowds of several hundred rioters torched cars, set off fireworks and threw rocks at police during the protests on Friday evening. Police responded with warning shots and water cannon.
Read more: Rotterdam police open fire as Covid protest turns violent
“Police were forced to draw their weapons and even fire direct shots,” the mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb, told a press conference early on Saturday.
Asked to characterise the event, Aboutaleb said it was “an orgy of violence, I can’t think of another way to describe it.”
Authorities said they had arrested more than 20 people and expected to detain others, as the city centre where the riots took place is extensively monitored by security cameras.
Protesters had gathered to oppose government plans to restrict access to indoor venues to people who have a “corona pass”, showing they have been vaccinated or have recently recovered from an infection.
The pass is also available to people who have not been vaccinated, but have proof of a negative test.
The Netherlands re-imposed some lockdown measures last weekend for an initial three weeks in an effort to slow a resurgence of coronavirus, but daily infections have remained at their highest levels since the start of the pandemic.
Authorities reported a record of more than 23,000 new cases on Thursday, well above the previous daily high of 13,000 reached in December 2020.
Related: Netherlands imposes lockdown measures as Covid cases hit new high
Hong Kong authorises Sinovac vaccine for children aged 3-17
Hong Kong has approved lowering the age limit for the Covid vaccine from China’s Sinovac Biotech to three years old, down from 18, as it pursues a broader campaign to incentivise its 7.5 million residents to get vaccinated, Reuters reports.
“Adolescents aged 12 to 17 will be accorded priority to receive the CoronaVac vaccine, with a view to extending to children of a younger age group at a later stage,” Hong Kong’s secretary for food and health (SFH) Sophia Chan said in a statement published on Saturday.
According to the statement, the SFH considered that the benefits of approving the extension of the age eligibility to cover those aged three to 17 “outweigh the risks”.
A Hong Kong government advisory panel on Covid vaccines had earlier recommended the SFH to approve the new age limit, the statement added.
The extension of the age eligibility comes as the vaccination campaign in the Asian financial hub which started in February has lagged many other developed economies, with about 67% of the population vaccinated with two shots from either Sinovac or Germany’s BioNTech.
In a separate statement on Friday, the city’s government said it purchased 1 million extra doses of BioNTech vaccine for the implementation of third dose Covid vaccination.
Hong Kong has followed Beijing’s lead in retaining strict travel restrictions to curb new outbreaks, in contrast to a global trend of opening up and living with the coronavirus.
International business lobby groups have warned Hong Kong could lose talent and investment, as well as competitive ground to rival finance hubs such as Singapore, unless it relaxes its restrictions on travel.
Despite barely any recent local cases and an environment virtually free of Covid, Hong Kong has imposed mandatory hotel quarantine of up to 21 days for arrivals from most countries at the travellers’ cost.
Good morning from London. I’m Lucy Campbell, I’ll be bringing you all the latest global developments on the coronavirus pandemic for the next eight hours. Please feel free to get in touch with me as I work if you have a story or tips to share! Your thoughts are always welcome.
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