Professor Sir Andrew Pollard added it is not yet certain that future strains of Covid-19 “will be causing mild disease”, and that more time is needed to evaluate whether the virus will become milder.
If indeed we do have ongoing problems with more severe disease, updated vaccines for the new variants may be one of the ways that we manage living with the virus in the future.
Pollard said the UK is not yet completely over Omicron but “generally the news is relatively good from an overall perspective in that it does seem to be causing milder disease”, but that this does not mean the NHS can cope with a continuing increase in cases.
Oxford University professor and director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, Sir Andrew Pollard, told Sky News there are “very large numbers of cases in the community but still very good control of severe disease as a result of vaccination”, but that the idea of giving people globally a fourth vaccine dose was “not affordable, sustainable or deliverable”.
Asked if he is worried about complacency in the UK, he said:
No, I don’t think we are being complacent at all, actually.
Today we’re in a situation where there’s very good monitoring – much better than it was before globally – trying to understand how best to make sure that everyone in the world is protected as well as is possible, and now we’re in this new period of transition to work out, now that there’s very high levels of immunity in countries like ours, how do we transition to the situation where society is open, and we maintain protection of the vulnerable in the population?
He said that has been managed so far with third doses of vaccines, adding that learning how to live with the virus is “going to be the critical next step”.
Asked whether people will be vaccinated every six months, he said:
Well, it’s just not – from a global perspective – affordable, sustainable or deliverable to give fourth doses to everyone on the planet every six months.
Remember that, today, less than 10% of people in low-income countries have even had their first dose, so the whole idea of regular fourth doses globally is just not sensible.
Now, it may be that, as the science evolves, that we can work out who the most vulnerable are in populations and target future boosters to those individuals to maintain their protection, but for the vast majority of people who are vaccinated, the risk now is extremely low of severe Covid, for those who have had three doses, and it’s likely that we’ll reach a point where we’re focusing those booster doses on those who most need them.
And of course, at this moment, we don’t know what that looks like. Does that mean that we need updated vaccines each year like we do with flu? We need more data to make those decisions.
Delhi imposes weekend curfew as Omicron cases rise “rapidly”
India’s capital Delhi will impose a weekend curfew to try and curb the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus as cases have risen rapidly in the past few days, its Deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia told a news conference on Tuesday.
He also said most offices would have to make half their employees work from home, including all government officials except for those engaged in essential services.
Delhi has reported around 11,000 positive cases in the past 8 to 10 days, of which around 350 patients are in hospital, with 124 patients need ing oxygen and seven being on a ventilator, the Times of India reports.
A top UK infectious disease expert said he was “cautiously optimistic” that Covid cases are beginning to plateau in London, and that he was expecting cases to come down in regions outside of the capital within one to three weeks.
Prof Neil Ferguson, who specialises in the patterns of spread of infectious disease, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:
I think I’m cautiously optimistic that infection rates in London in that key 18-50 age group, which has been driving the Omicron epidemic, may possibly have plateaued. It’s too early to say whether they’re going down yet.
I would say that with an epidemic which has been spreading so quickly and reaching such high numbers, it can’t sustain those numbers forever, so we would expect to see case numbers start to come down in the next week, maybe already coming down in London, but in other regions a week to three weeks.
Whether they then drop precipitously or we see a pattern a bit like we saw with Delta back in July – of an initial drop and then quite a high plateau – remains to be seen, it’s just too difficult to interpret current mixing trends and what the effect of open schools again will be.
Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said hospital admissions seem to have “perhaps plateaued in London or there may be a second peak after the new year now, but it’s rising across the rest of Britain”.
He told Times Radio that, often, for many hospitals “the most pressing element of all” was the number of staff who are absent due to Covid.
He said that even without Covid, the NHS is 100,000 staff short, “so we have a long-term failure in terms of workforce planning and resourcing”.
The problem with staff absence is that it is unpredictable and lumpy in the sense that you don’t know where somebody is going to get sick and, when somebody does get sick, it’s then more likely that other people in that team will get sick and hospitals and healthcare systems are complex, they’re inter-dependent, so […] if you lose paramedics then the ambulance can’t go out, and if ambulances can’t go out then that means there’s more pressure on other services.
So, those interdependencies and the unpredictability of staff absence means NHS leaders having to work around the clock just thinking about how they can deploy their resources best to deal with the most urgent and pressing needs.
Even using all their imagination and creativity, it is becoming almost impossible, which is why we see hospitals declaring critical incidents.
Minister for vaccines and public health Maggie Throup said she was “not sure” how many Britons were in self-isolation.
She told Sky News:
I’m not sure of that [actual] figure, but I think what’s shown over Christmas is that a lot of people have caught the disease, the Omicron variant is very transmissible, but what is good news, it doesn’t seem to be resulting in severe diseases as some of the other variants did.
Not everybody declares that they’re self-isolating, I think that’s one important thing, that it’s something that they do because they’ve tested positive or they’ve been in contact with somebody whose tested positive, they don’t have to report that in.
The vaccine is working and that’s the best way to stop the transmission, and to stop hospitalisations and for our life to get back to normal.
Hello, I’m Jedidajah Otte and I’ll be taking over for the next few hours. If you have anything to flag you think is relevant to our coverage, you can reach me on Twitter @JedySays or via email.
France’s lower house of parliament suspended debates over a bill that would require people to show proof of vaccination to go to a restaurant or cinema or take the train with discussions set to continue on Tuesday.
Tense discussions of the new law, which would remove the option of showing a negative test result instead of having the inoculations, were halted after midnight on Monday after a majority of deputies voted to suspend the session.
The heads of the various parliamentary groups must now set a new date for debates to resume, the vice-president of the national assembly, Annie Genevard, said.
Once voted in the national assembly, the new law needs to be voted in by the senate before it comes into force on 15 January.
Here’s a brief rundown of the latest Covid developments from across the world:
- The UK reported 157,758 new Covid cases today and 42 additional deaths.Cases rose by 50% between 28 December and 3 January compared with the week before. Deaths rose 17% during the same period compared with the previous seven days.
- Multiple NHS trusts have declared “critical incidents” amid soaring staff absences caused by Covid. Parts of the health service are in “crisis”, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation said.
- The Omicron variant is better at circumventing vaccinated people’s immunity than the Delta variant, but is very likely to be milder, according to a Danish study.
- France reported 67,641 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Monday, a figure much lower than a couple of days ago, when daily additional infections were over 200,000.
- Spain reported a new record in the national 14-day Covid infection rate on Monday, as the figure climbed to 2,295.8 per 100,000 people from 1,775.27 registered last Thursday.
- The city of Yuzhou in China’s Henan province entered lockdown Monday night after three asymptomatic Covid cases were detected on Sunday, local media reports.
- Delhi’s chief minister tested positive for Covid as India’s daily new cases hit their highest levels in months.
- The Philippines will expand Covid restrictions in Manila from Wednesday to include more than 11 million people living near the capital as cases surge.
- Hong Kong will require at least one vaccine dose against Covid-19 to enter restaurants, gyms, schools, cinemas, public leisure facilities and recreational venues before the lunar new year from 24 February.
- In Thailand, the government is urging people to work from home for two weeks, and the health ministry is proposing to continue suspending quarantine-free travel through the end of January,
- More than 1 million people in the US were diagnosed with Covid-19 on Monday, setting a new global daily record.
- Thousands of schools delayed a scheduled return to classrooms following the holiday break or switched to remote learning.
- President Joe Biden has urged Americans to get vaccinated, describing the process as “your patriotic duty” in a series of tweets on Monday.
- The US food and drug administration (FDA) has authorised the use of a third dose of Pfizer and BioNTech’s Covid vaccine for children aged 12 to 15.
- Australia’s Covid cases reached a new high on Tuesday amid an Omicron surge in its two most populous states, as hospitalisations in New South Wales, home to Sydney, surpassed the record numbers hit during the Delta outbreak.
- New Zealand will reduce the interval between second Covid-19 vaccine doses and boosters from six months to four months from Wednesday.
- Israel is also set to allow foreigners with presumed Covid-19 immunity to enter from medium-risk countries from 9 January, the health ministry said.
Here is a quick visual recap of where the world stands in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
Data is obtained from Johns Hopkins University and Our World in Data.
The toll of reporting on Covid in China
A report by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released last month detailed a worsening “nightmare” for journalists under the rule of Xi Jinping, with 128 known to be behind bars or disappeared. More than 70 are Uyghur journalists, and at least 10 people were arrested for reporting on the Covid outbreak and lockdown in Wuhan.
Cedric Alviari, RSF’s east Asia bureau director, said the 128 detained journalists and press freedom defenders is the biggest count in five years. It includes 71 Uyghur journalists, and at least 10 who face impending death if not immediately released, according to RSF.
Alviari said the crackdown is driven by Xi, who has “declared a war on independent journalism” after tightening controls on traditional media.
Everything he and the CCP have been doing over the past eight years … has been to suppress independent voices.
The Chinese people, like every person on earth, crave information on what’s happening around them.”
Read the full story from our reporter Helen Davidson here.
US sets global record of 1m daily Covid cases
More than 1 million people in the US were diagnosed with Covid-19 on Monday, setting a new global daily record.
A total of 1.06 million people across the US tested positive with the virus, a figure driven largely by the Omicron variant, data from Johns Hopkins University reveals.
Monday’s number is almost double the previous record of about 590,000 set just four days ago in the US, which itself was a doubling from the prior week.
Many Americans are relying on tests they take at home, with results that aren’t reported to official government authorities leading some to suggest the new record is a significant under-estimate.
However delays in reporting over the holidays may have also played a role in the rising rates.
Two of New Zealand’s most prominent Covid experts are taking legal action against their employer, the University of Auckland, over what they say is its failure to respond adequately to “harassment from a small but venomous sector of the public” that is becoming “more extreme”.
Siouxsie Wiles, an associate professor of medical science, and Shaun Hendy, a professor of physics, have filed separate complaints to the Employment Relations Authority, which last week ruled that they should proceed directly to the Employment Court due to the “high public interest” in their Covid commentary.
According to the ruling, the scientists say that as a result of their work they have “suffered vitriolic, unpleasant, and deeply personalised threats and harassment” via email, social media and video sharing platforms which has had a “detrimental impact” on their physical safety as well as their mental health.
Read the full story here.
Fiji has reopened schools for in-person learning for students in years 8 to 11 from today with younger years set to resume on 10 January.
A government statement released on Tuesday read:
UNICEF and WHO have advised the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health and Medical Services that it is safe to reopen schools because the latest evidence shows that schools do not drive the spread of Covid-19 in the community.
As per UNICEF Pacific Representative Jonathan Veitch, Covid-19 does not pose as high a risk to children as it does to adults, and as long as Covid-safe measures are followed in schools, children are actually more at risk of getting Covid in the community than they are in schools.”
New Zealand will reduce the interval between second Covid-19 vaccine doses and boosters from six months to four months from Wednesday.
People aged 18 or older who have had second shots of the vaccine at least four months ago will be eligible for a booster shot, the Ministry of Health said in a statement.
A total of 4,494 booster shots were administered on Tuesday, a jump of more than 1,500 on the day before, the ministry said.
Delhi’s chief minister has tested positive for Covid as India’s daily new cases hit their highest levels in months.
Arvind Kejriwal, who spoke at an election rally on Monday without wearing a mask, announced the news in a Twitter post saying he is isolating at home.
He also urged those who had come in contact with him in recent days to do similar and get tested for the virus.
The Philippines to expand Covid restrictions in Manila
The Philippines will expand Covid restrictions in Manila from Wednesday to include more than 11 million people living near the capital as cases surge, the government has said.
Daily infections have spiked to a two-month high in January as the health department warns of higher caseloads in the coming days following the detection of local cases of the Omicron variant.
The provinces of Bulacan, Cavite and Rizal surrounding Manila have been placed under the third highest alert “due to a sharp increase of Covid-19 cases”, presidential spokesman Karlo Nograles said in a statement Tuesday, Agence France-Press reports.
Under the tighter restrictions, which will be in place until mid-January, unvaccinated residents will need to stay at home unless buying essentials or exercising.
Restaurants, parks, churches and beauty salons will operate at lower capacity while in-person classes and contact sports are suspended.
The health department has deemed the entire country of 109 million at “high risk” following a spike in cases in recent days, even as hospitalisations remain under control, health undersecretary Rosario Vergeire told CNN Philippines.
The Philippines has recorded over 2.8 million infections and more than 51,000 deaths.
Veering all the way over to South America now as Brazil registers another 11,850 additional Covid cases and 76 deaths on Monday, according to data released by the nation’s health ministry.
The South American country has now registered a total of 619,209 coronavirus deaths and 22,305,078 total confirmed cases.
Back to Asia again as India reports another 37,379 new Covid-19 cases over the past 24 hours.
The health ministry says it is the highest number since early September as the Omicron coronavirus variant overtakes Delta in places such as the capital New Delhi.
Deaths rose by 124 to reach a total of 482,017 and total infections stand at 34.96 million.