UK reports 39,567 new Covid cases and 51 deaths
The UK reported 39,567 new Covid infections in the past 24 hours, sightly down from the 49,344 new positive tests on Friday. The seven-day average is now 43,228 new cases a day.
A further 51 Covid-related deaths were reported on Sunday, down from 131 on Saturday and 160 on Friday. (Reported figures tend to be lower at weekends.)
In efforts to suppress the virus and stamp out new Omicron cases, the UK will re-introduce temporary measures for mask-wearing on public transport and in shops from Tuesday.
UK records third positive Omicron infection
The UK has recorded its third case of the new Omicron variant.
The UK Health Security Agency said the individual, who has since left the UK, had travelled to southern Africa.
“Our advanced sequencing capabilities enable us to find variants and take rapid action to limit onward spread,” Jenny Harries, chief executive of UKHSA, said in a statement.
“It is very likely that we will find more cases over the coming days as we are seeing in other countries globally and as we increase case detection through focused contact tracing.”
The Sun’s political editor, Harry Cole, tweets that a big contact tracing operation is under way in Westminster, where the individual visited.
I will be handing over blogging duties very soon. These are the main developments in the pandemic in the past few hours:
- Authorities in the Netherlands confirmed that 13 people who arrived on flights from South Africa on Friday have so far tested positive for the new omicron coronavirus variant, AP reports. The 61 people who tested positive for the virus on Friday were immediately put into isolation while sequencing was carried out to establish if they had the new variant.
- Under-40s in the UK “should expect” to get the booster earlier than previously thought. The deputy chair of the The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI ), said there was a “strong argument” for raising immunity in the whole community.
- The UK health secretary has said there is a reason to think that the Omicron variant may make the current vaccines “less effective”. Sajid Javid said that mandatory mask wearing on public transport and in shops would come into force on Tuesday in a “temporary” measure in response to the new strain.
Morocco is suspending all incoming air travel from around the world, starting on Monday, for two weeks because of the rapid spread of the new Omicron variant of coronavirus, the Foreign Ministry has announced.
The ministry tweeted that the decision was taken to “preserve the achievements realised by Morocco in the fight against the pandemic, and to protect the health of citizens”. It noted the spread of Omicron in Africa and Europe, AP reports.
Morocco kept its borders closed for months in 2020 because of the pandemic, fearing that its health system would not be able to manage the surges of patients seen in Europe.
The kingdom in north Africa has had one of Africa’s highest rates of confirmed infections, but is also at the forefront of the continent’s vaccination effort, with 66% of its population having received at least one dose.
Several thousand people protested in Prague against anti-coronavirus restrictions on Sunday as many Czech hospitals halted non-urgent procedures in the face of one of the world’s fastest rates of new infections.
Gathered in a park overlooking the Czech capital’s centre, protesters waved national flags and carried signs with slogans such as: “Get vaccinated? Over your dead bodies”.
The outgoing government toughened measures on Thursday, including a ban on Christmas markets, which was one of the main themes at Sunday’s rally.
“I am here to fight for freedom. I am here because I don’t agree with what is happening today,” Jiri Hulec told Reuters.
Czech hospitals, including the largest one, Prague’s Motol, have ceased planned operations and limited other care in the past days as the number of patients with Covid-19 has doubled to around 6,000 over the past three weeks.
The top US infectious disease official said Americans should be prepared to fight the spread of the new Covid-19 variant Omicron, but it is too soon to say what actions are needed, including possible mandates or lockdowns.
Dr Anthony Fauci told ABC News on Sunday that the United States must do “anything and everything” amid likely cases of the variant, but it was “too early to say” whether new lockdowns or mandates were needed, Reuters reports.
He said it was possible that the new variant was already in the United States, although no official case has been confirmed.
Germany said on Sunday it had detected a total of three cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant after a suspected infection in the western state of Hesse was confirmed.
“The sequencing has confirmed the result – the suspected case which was made public yesterday morning is the Omicron variant,” Kai Klose, social affairs minister in the state of Hesse tweeted.
On Saturday, he said a suspected Omicron case had been found in a passenger arriving from South Africa in Hesse, home to Frankfurt airport, one of Europe’s busiest air hubs.
On Saturday, health officials in the southern state of Bavaria detected two cases of the Omicron variant, Reuters reports.
Restrictions on air travel from South Africa took effect on Sunday after it was classified as a virus-variant area. This means airlines can fly only Germans to Germany from South Africa and even those who are vaccinated must spend 14 days in quarantine.
The expert whose modelling helped instigate the first UK lockdown welcomed the new measures to slow the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus but said all options should be kept on the table in case it spreads very rapidly.
Prof Neil Ferguson, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said he expects to see “substantially larger numbers” of the Omicron variant in the coming days in the UK.
He told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend programme: “We together with the Netherlands … we’re the two European countries with the largest number of passenger flights to and from South Africa, so it’s likely we’ll detect quite a lot more cases in the coming days.”
He said he backs the new measures announced by the government as “proportionate” to slow the spread of the new variant during the “waiting game” over the next two weeks as scientists analyse its properties.
Craig Revel Horwood said he “hated it” when he could not appear on Strictly Come Dancing last weekend because of a positive Covid test.
The judge was absent from the panel for musical week on 20 and 21 November, when he was replaced by Cynthia Erivo.
Erivo was back on the panel again the following weekend, when she filled in for Motsi Mabuse, who was unable to travel back to the UK after close contact with someone with a positive test.
Revel Horwood told Hello! magazine: “My work ethic is, unless you’re dead you go on stage and Dr Footlights takes care of the rest.
“Even when I had my hip replaced, I was back at work on the Saturday. So I just hated it when they said I couldn’t go in.”
Dutch authorities confirm 13 Omicron cases and say there may be more
The Dutch public health authority confirmed on Sunday that 13 people who arrived in the Netherlands on flights from South Africa on Friday have so far tested positive for the new omicron coronavirus variant, AP reports.
The 61 people who tested positive for the virus on Friday after arriving on the last two flights to Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport before a flight ban was put in place were immediately put into isolation while sequencing was carried out to establish if they had the new variant.
The public health institute said in a statement that testing was continuing on the samples.
Most of the 61 people who tested positive were put into isolation at a hotel near the airport, while a small number were allowed to sit out their quarantine at home under strict conditions.
“The Omicron variant has so far been identified in 13 of the positive tests. The investigation has not yet been completed. The new variant may be found in more test samples,” the National Institute for Public Health (RIVM) said in a statement.