Here is a round-up of the top Covid stories from the UK and around the world today:
- In the United States, federal regulators are expected to authorise the mixing and matching of Covid booster doses this week. The upcoming announcement by the Food and Drug Administration is likely to come along with authorisation for boosters of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots.
- Ministers must urgently implement sweeping “plan B” winter measures or derail efforts to tackle the backlog of five million patients, the head of the NHS Confederation has warned as the UK recorded its highest daily Covid death toll since March.
- The Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, should face murder charges for his role in the country’s “stratospheric” coronavirus death toll, a draft report from a senate inquiry into Brazil’s Covid crisis has recommended.
- The US homeland security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, who is vaccinated, tested positive for Covid on Tuesday morning, the Department of Homeland Security said.
- As Covid-19 infections surge in England, people are increasingly reporting catching Sars-CoV-2 for a second or even third time. New analysis has suggested that unvaccinated individuals should expect to be reinfected with Covid-19 every 16 months, on average.
- The number of people hospitalised with Covid in France went up for the third day in a row on Tuesday, according to French health authorities.
- Downing Street has confirmed that Covid vaccine appointments for children will be bookable from next week in England, as Boris Johnson said the UK still faced a “difficult winter” as a result of coronavirus and flu putting pressure on the NHS.
- The South African drug regulator has rejected the Russian-made coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V, citing some safety concerns the manufacturer wasn’t able to answer.
- The Pfizer/BioNTech Covid vaccine is 93% effective in preventing hospitalisation among 12-18-year-olds, according to new research by the US government. The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention study was conducted between June and September when Delta was the most dominant variant.
- Bath and North East Somerset has the highest Covid case rate in the UK and 86% of local authority areas have seen a week-on-week rise, according to a new analysis.
- The UK government has claimed it was “not complacent” about rising coronavirus cases but that it had no plans to bring in any contingency measures yet. A spokesman for the prime minister said the plans, set out in the autumn/winter strategy, would only be brought in if there was a “significant risk of the NHS being overwhelmed”.
- Bulgaria is to make Covid passes mandatory for entry to indoor restaurants, cinemas, gyms and shopping malls amid rising coronavirus infections.
That’s it from me, Tom Ambrose, for tonight but make sure you keep following for all your up-to-the-minute coronavirus news as it happens.
US expected to green light mix-and-match booster jabs
In the United States, federal regulators are expected to authorise the mixing and matching of Covid booster doses this week.
The upcoming announcement by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is likely to come along with authorisation for boosters of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots.
It also follows the green light for a third dose for the Pfizer vaccine for many Americans last month. The Associated Press reported:
The FDA was expected to say that using the same brand for a booster was still preferable, especially for the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna that have proved most effective against the coronavirus. The agency was still finalising guidance for the single-shot J&J vaccine.
Preliminary results from a government study of different booster combinations found an extra dose of any type revs up levels of virus-fighting antibodies regardless of the brand people first received. But recipients of the single-dose J&J vaccination had the most dramatic response – a 76-fold and 35-fold jump in antibody levels, respectively, shortly after either a Moderna or Pfizer booster, compared with a four-fold rise after a second J&J shot.
One confusing decision is what Moderna dose to recommend in combination with other brands. Moderna has applied for its booster to be half the original dose, saying that is plenty for people who already received two full-strength shots. But the mix-and-match study used full-strength extra doses, and there is no way to know if a half-dose Moderna booster would trigger as strong a reaction in J&J recipients.
Allowing mixing and matching could make the task of getting a booster simpler for Americans and allow people who may have had adverse reactions to the initial dose to try a different shot.
In Australia, a week of cafe catch-ups, eating out and some horse race at the weekend has been merely a warm-up act for Sydney’s reopening.
As hundreds of jubilant theatregoers flashed their vaccine certificates and took their seats on Tuesday night for the return of Hamilton – the first major Sydney theatre production to return to the stage – lockdown was officially behind them.
The reopening at the Lyric theatre wasn’t invite-only, but for the public – many of whom had tickets to one of the 133 performances cancelled during the past three months.
Jennifer O’Neill, wearing a sequined mask to match a glittering bag, had been waiting almost a year since she bought her original tickets for 26 June – the first Sydney show scratched due to the latest Covid outbreak.
Her patience was rewarded with $10 tickets in the lottery for reopening night.
“Putting makeup on, getting dressed up, getting your nails done – it’s so exciting to have that bit of freedom, it’s like the world is nearly like it was before.”
To read more about the return of theatre to Sydney, click the article below.
Thousands of unvaccinated workers across the United States are facing potential job losses as a growing number of states, cities and private companies start to enforce mandates for inoculation against Covid.
In the latest high-profile example, Washington State University (WSU) fired its head football coach and four of his assistants on Monday for failing to comply with the state’s vaccine requirement.
The coach, Nick Rolovich, had applied for a religious exemption from the mandate earlier this month, Reuters reported.
Thousands of police officers and firefighters in cities like Chicago and Baltimore are also at risk of losing their jobs in the coming days under mandates that require them to report their vaccination status or submit to regular coronavirus testing.
While controversial, the mandates have been effective at convincing many hesitant workers to get vaccinated against the virus, which has killed more than 700,000 people in the United States.
Some 77% of eligible Americans have received at least one shot of a vaccine, White House Covid response coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters last week.
The US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who is vaccinated, tested positive for Covid on Tuesday morning, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said.
“Secretary Mayorkas tested positive this morning for COVID-19 after taking a test as part of routine pre-travel protocols,” the DHS said on Twitter.
“He is experiencing only mild congestion; he is fully vaccinated and will isolate and work at home per CDC protocols and medical advice. Contact tracing is underway”, the tweet added.
The secretary was scheduled to travel to Colombia along with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, but he is now working from home, Reuters reported.
The highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus has led to breakthrough infections in some fully vaccinated people, although their cases tend to be milder, typically without requiring hospitalisation.
The Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, should face murder charges for his role in the country’s “stratospheric” coronavirus death toll, a draft report from a senate inquiry into Brazil’s Covid crisis has recommended.
The 1,078-page document, published by Brazilian media on Tuesday afternoon, is not due to be voted on by the commission until next week and could yet be modified by senators.
But the draft text paints a devastating portrait of the neglect, incompetence and anti-scientific denialism many believe has defined the Bolsonaro administration’s response to a public health emergency that has killed more than 600,000 Brazilians.
Bolsonaro’s “deliberate and conscious” decision to delay buying Covid vaccines needlessly condemned thousands of citizens to early graves, the report claims.
“The mathematics of the situation was clear: the more infections, the more death. Without vaccines mortality would have been stratospheric, as it turned out to be,” the document says, before concluding: “We will never forget.”
As Covid-19 infections surge in England, people are increasingly reporting catching Sars-CoV-2 for a second or even third time.
New analysis has suggested that unvaccinated individuals should expect to be reinfected with Covid-19 every 16 months, on average.
With winter approaching, scientists are warning that such reinfections could add to the burden on the NHS, with some calling for the vaccination programme to be extended to all schoolchildren, including two doses for teenagers.
“If you’ve got high-level prevalence, and frequent exposure to the virus, as you have in schools, you are going to see more and more people getting reinfected despite having been double vaccinated,” said Stephen Griffin, associate professor of virology at the University of Leeds.
This time last year, the assumption was that although reinfections could occur, this was relatively uncommon, with only two dozen or so cases recorded worldwide.
Implement ‘plan B’ winter measures now or risk NHS crisis, Johnson warned
Ministers must urgently implement sweeping “plan B” winter measures or derail efforts to tackle the backlog of 5 million patients, the head of the NHS Confederation has warned as the UK recorded its highest daily Covid death toll since March.
Infections have been rising sharply since the start of October but the government is resisting introducing the extra restrictions set out in its winter plan including masks, vaccine passports and advice to work from home.
On Tuesday the UK reported 223 Covid deaths recorded within 28 days of a positive test – the highest for seven months – while the seven-day average for Covid cases stands at 44,145 a day. The UK now has one of the highest weekly rates of new reported cases in the world.
No 10 said it was keeping a “very close eye” on the situation. But Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation which represents the healthcare system in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, said immediate action was required to prevent the NHS “stumbling into a crisis” where the elective care recovery would be jeopardised.
“We are right on the edge – and it is the middle of October,” said Taylor. “It would require an incredible amount of luck for us not to find ourselves in the midst of a profound crisis over the next three months.
“The government ought to not just announce that we’re moving to plan B, but it should be plan B plus. We should do what’s in plan B in terms of masks … working from home, but also we should try to achieve the kind of national mobilisation that we achieved in the first and second waves, where the public went out of their way to support and help the health service.”
The number of people hospitalised with Covid in France went up for the third day in a row on Tuesday, according to French health authorities.
The number of hospitalisations rose by 15 people over 24 hours to 6,483. That is five times lower than the pandemic peak of 33,497 reported in November 2020, reported Reuters.
But with the reproduction rate creeping above 1.0 again, and the virus still raging in some parts of Europe including Britain, some fear a fifth wave of the pandemic in France.
A reproduction rate above 1.0 indicates the number of cases is rising. As of Oct 16, the latest data available, the rate had reached 1.05 in France versus 0.71 at mid-September.
France registered 5,934 new confirmed cases over 24 hours, which marks a slight increase compared to a week earlier. With close to 7.1 million infections reported since the outbreak of the pandemic in February 2020, France has the seventh-highest total globally.
Downing Street has confirmed that Covid vaccine appointments for children will be bookable from next week in England, as Boris Johnson said the UK still faced a “difficult winter” as a result of coronavirus and flu putting pressure on the NHS.
After the latest daily number of deaths climbed to 223 – the highest level since early March – the prime minister’s spokesperson echoed concerns from the NHS England chief executive, Amanda Pritchard, that people needed to be reminded the virus was still circulating in order to drive up vaccination rates even further.
“I think we absolutely want to get that message out,” the spokesperson said on Tuesday, adding that there was no reason yet for the government to dust off its “plan B” of winter measures for England because hospitalisations and deaths remained “broadly flat”.
Good evening, Tom Ambrose here and I will be bringing you all the latest Covid news from the UK and around the world for the rest of this evening.
Let’s begin with the news that the South African drug regulator has rejected the Russian-made coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V, citing some safety concerns the manufacturer wasn’t able to answer.
The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority, or SAHPRA, said in a statement that the request for Sputnik V to be authorised could “not be approved at this time,” referring to past failed HIV vaccines that used a similar technology.
A late-stage study published in the journal Lancet last year in more than 20,000 participants found that Sputnik V was safe and about 91% effective in preventing people from becoming severely ill with Covid, the Associated Press reported.
Sputnik V uses two types of harmless viruses known as adenoviruses to carry the spike protein into the body, which then primes the immune system to produce antibodies against Covid.
SAHPRA said concerns have been raised about the safety of Adenovirus Type 5, which is used in one of the Sputnik V doses. The other dose contains Adenovirus Type 26, which is also used by Johnson & Johnson.
South African officials pointed to two failed research studies testing an HIV vaccine also using Adenovirus Type 5, which found men who were vaccinated had a higher risk of being infected with HIV.
The regulators said they had asked the Russian makers of Sputnik V to provide data proving the vaccine’s safety in a country with high rates of HIV but that “the applicant was not able to adequately address [their] request.”
Dr. Julian Tang, a virologist at Britain’s University of Leicester, was perplexed by the decision. “It’s a strange connection to make,” he said, explaining that while past concerns have been raised about using the particular virus vector in Sputnik V, much remains uncertain. “It’s not the vector that caused HIV so you can’t just blame it on that,” Tang said.