- The Omicron variant of coronavirus is now circulating within the community in the UK, according to the health secretary, Sajid Javid. He told MPs “multiple regions of England” were seeing cases not linked to international travel. But he added that none of the 336 people with a confirmed case of Omicron had been admitted to hospital.
- New Covid restrictions are to be introduced in Norway after a recent increase in infections, the country’s health minister has said. “These measures will be felt in our daily lives,” Ingvild Kjerkol said, adding that the new measures had become necessary because of a rise in infections and the uncertainty of the potential impact of Omicron.
- All private employers in New York City will have to mandate Covid-19 vaccinations for their workers, the city’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, has announced. The vaccine mandate for private businesses will take effect on 27 December. De Blasio also announced an extension to the city’s Covid passports to all people aged over five years old.
- A sweeping vaccine mandate is to be imposed in the Czech Republic, with care workers, nurses, doctors, police and soldiers, and anyone else aged over 60, to be ordered to take a coronavirus vaccine. “Other countries are taking this path,” The health minister, Adam Vojtech, said. “It is a trend that will prevail across Europe.”
- A vaccine mandate for public sector workers in Slovenia was struck down as unconstitutional by the country’s highest court. “Such a condition is comparable with obligatory vaccination, which is something that first requires a change in the law on infectious diseases,” the constitutional court said of the mandate, which the government had aimed to impose on 1 October.
- A new package of pandemic restrictions will be imposed in Poland this week, the prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, has said. “Tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow at the latest, we will present a second (package) related to the Christmas situation, and as reaction to the virus’ Omicron mutation,” Morawiecki said. Vaccine mandates would be included, he said.
- An epidemiologist who has been a prominent voice of caution in handling the Covid pandemic has been appointed minister for health in Germany. Olaf Scholz, who is to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor, picked Karl Lauterbach for the closely watched appointment, according to the US-based news agency the Associated Press.
- Croatia, Nepal, Russia and Argentina were among the countries reporting their first cases of Omicron. In Thailand a health official said on Monday that the country’s first suspected case of the new variant had been detected but authorities would withhold confirmation ahead of further test results. The variant has also been found in at least 16 US states.
- Nigerian high commissioner to the UK, Sarafa Tunji Isola, described a ban on travel between the two countries as “travel apartheid”. “We’re not dealing with an endemic situation, we are dealing with a pandemic situation, and what is expected is a global approach, not selective,” Isola said. “Omicron is classified as a mild variant – no hospitalisation, no death.”
- South Africa is preparing its hospitals for further admissions, as the Omicron variant pushes the country into a fourth wave of Covid-19 infections, the president, Cyril Ramaphosa, said in a statement on Monday. Ramaphosa said Omicron appeared to be dominating new infections in most provinces and urged more people to get vaccinated against Covid-19.
That’s it from me, Damien Gayle, for today.
Twenty five cases of the Omicron variant have so far been identified in France, the health minister has said.
Olivier Veran said 21 cases were imported from people returning from countries in southern Africa, and four were the result of local infection. The Omicron variant seems much more contagious than the Delta variant, he added.
Veran also said that France is aiming to start offering Covid-19 vaccination to all children aged five to 11 from 20 December, provided health authorities give the go-ahead.
No one with Omicron in the UK has needed hospital – Javid
None of the 336 people with a confirmed case of Omicron in the UK have been admitted to hospital, according to the health secretary.
Conservative MP Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) asked Sajid Javid in the Commons: “How many of those who have tested positive in the UK are ill?”
Sajid Javid said: “The number of confirmed cases in the UK is 336 – they are all by definition infected.
He added: “Some may be asymptomatic, others will be feeling ill. None of them, so far, as far as I am aware, have been hospitalised.”
Looks like it’s going to be a grim festive season for nightclubbers in France this year. I’ll bring you more on this as it comes in.
Omicron circulating in UK, says health secretary
The Omicron variant of coronavirus is now circulating within the community in the UK, according to the health secretary.
Sajid Javid told MPs on Monday that “multiple regions of England” were seeing cases of the variant that were not linked to international travel. He could not guarantee the variant would not “knock us off our road to recovery”, as the “the window between infection and infectiousness may be shorter for the Omicron”.
Javid told the Commons there were now 261 confirmed Omicron cases in England, 71 in Scotland, and four in Wales. He said:
We are learning more about this new variant all the time.
Recent analysis from the UK Health Security Agency suggests that the window between infection and infectiousness may be shorter for the Omicron variant than for the Delta variant, but we don’t yet have a complete picture of whether Omicron causes more severe disease or indeed how it interacts with the vaccines.
We can’t say for certain at this point whether Omicron has the potential to knock us off our road to recovery.
The UK government said that as of 9am on Monday, there had been a further 51,459 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases across the country, and a further 41 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for the virus.
Separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics show there have now been 170,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.
A sweeping vaccine mandate is to be imposed in the Czech Republic, with care workers, nurses, doctors, police and soldiers, and anyone else aged over 60, to be ordered to take a coronavirus vaccine.
The health minister Adam Vojtech, who spoke to reporters via videolink from his own Covid self-isolation, said his ministry would issue a decree adding the Covid-19 shot to other compulsory vaccinations this week.
“Other countries are taking this path,” Vojtech said. “It is a trend that will prevail across Europe.”
Those who refuse would be barred from working in the selected professions, Reuters quoted him as saying.
Vojtech said he would go ahead of the decree in spite of the likelihood that it will be curtailed by a new centre-right government which may take power as soon as next week.
A senior member of the incoming coalition said on the weekend that the future cabinet would scrap the mandate for citizens over 60, but may uphold the obligation for selected professions.
Only 59.6% of Czechs are vaccinated, compared to an EU average of 66.4%, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
Early findings from studies carried out in the UK suggest that one in eight people hospitalised with Covid may have suffered heart damage, according to a report in the Telegraph.
One study led by the University of Glasgow analysed a random sample of 161 recovering patients, 90% of whom had needed hospital treatment, scanning their hearts, lungs and kidneys a month or two after they had been discharged.
“About one patient in eight had evidence of heart inflammation,” Colin Berry, a professor of cardiology, told the Telegraph. “That is a high incidence.” Berry stressed that the research had not yet been peer reviewed.
A second study, at Oxford university, also found inflammation of organs in people who had needed hospital treatment for Covid. Dr Betty Raman, a British Heart Foundation clinical research fellow, used magnetic resonance imaging to study the brains, hearts, livers and kidneys of volunteers for post-hospitalisation studies.
Raman’s study was ongoing, but she told the Telegraph a preliminary assessment of 58 patients had found “inflammation of multiple organs, the heart and vascular system in particular”.
This is Damien Gayle back at the helm.
In Australia, an alliance of legal services have urged the New South Wales government to to stop chasing people to pay Covid fines, saying have been issued incorrectly and have disproportionately hurt Indigenous Australians, homeless groups and people living with a disability, reports Christopher Knaus.
Thailand reports first suspected case of omicron
A Thai health official said Monday that the country’s first suspected case of the new omicron variant had been detected but authorities would withhold confirmation ahead of further test results.
Head of the department of medical sciences, Supakit Sirilak, said at a daily press briefing reported by Reuters that the “likely” case of the omicron variant had been identified in an American businessman who tested positive on 1 December after entering Thailand from Spain.
“The analysis result confirms a 99.92% chance of it being the omicron variant. The ministry and private laboratories are now running parallel tests and we will know the result today. Initially, it is likely to be the first omicron case of Thailand,” Supakit said at the briefing.
Nearly 70 nurses and doctors working in the intensive care unit at a Spanish hospital have tested positive for Covid-19 after attending a Christmas party, health authorities said on Monday.
Sixty-eight medics at the University Regional Hospital in Malaga had been diagnosed with the coronavirus, the Andalusian regional government said.
Health authorities said they were investigating the source of the infection but added all 68 attended a Christmas party on 1 December at which 173 people were present. Another possible source of the infection could have been a large meal for hospital staff, authorities said.
In the UK, 51,459 people tested positive for coronavirus on 5 December, according to official figures.
This represents a 9% rise on last week. There were 41 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, a fall of 0.2%.