Home » Covid Live: Scotland To Lift All Restrictions Brought In Over Omicron Variant; Poland Expects 60,000 Daily Cases By Mid-February

Covid Live: Scotland To Lift All Restrictions Brought In Over Omicron Variant; Poland Expects 60,000 Daily Cases By Mid-February

14:45

Scotland to lift all remaining restrictions brought in over Omicron variant

Restrictions brought in to combat the Omicron variant before Christmas will be lifted across Scotland from next Monday, with nightclubs re-opening, social distancing rules in bars and restaurants shelved and large indoor events resuming.

But the public are being urged to remain “cautious” about socialising in larger groups, to continue to work from home and use face coverings, while vaccine passports remain in use for large-scale events.

First minister Nicola Sturgeon said that the latest data “gives us confidence that we have turned the corner on the Omicron wave”.

Confirming a significant fall in the number of new positive cases, Sturgeon said that on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday of last week, 36,526 new positive cases were recorded through PCR and lateral flow tests, compared with 20,268 cases reported this Sunday, Monday and today.

With hospital admissions and admissions to intensive care falling, Sturgeon said that the data suggests Omicron peaked in the first week of January and that “we are now on the downward slope of this wave of cases”.

On Monday, the limit on numbers at outdoor public events was lifted.

The remaining statutory measures introduced in response to Omicron – limits on indoor public events; the requirement for one metre physical distancing between different groups in indoor public places; the requirement for table service in hospitality premises serving alcohol on the premises; and the closure of nightclubs – will be lifted from next Monday, 24 January.

From Monday, the guidance asking people to stick to a three household limit on indoor gatherings will also be lifted.

Before the statement, opposition parties and business groups called on sturgeon to ease restrictions more quickly. The Scottish Hospitality Group pointed to Scottish government research which suggested that the number of people visiting bars and restaurants has fallen while the number mixing in each other’s homes has risen.

15:12

Boris Johnson: nobody warned me No 10 party broke rules

In the UK, Boris Johnson has claimed “nobody warned me it was against the rules” for a drinks party to be hosted in Downing Street during the first lockdown, but also refused to deny the possibility he could resign should he be censured by the inquiry into rule-breaking.

The prime minister, speaking publicly for the first time in almost a week, said he “hoped people would understand the circumstances we were operating in” at No 10 during the first lockdown.

In the interview, Johnson confirmed he had been interviewed by the senior civil servant Sue Gray for her inquiry into lockdown parties. She is expected to report next week.

Updated

14:45

Scotland to lift all remaining restrictions brought in over Omicron variant

Restrictions brought in to combat the Omicron variant before Christmas will be lifted across Scotland from next Monday, with nightclubs re-opening, social distancing rules in bars and restaurants shelved and large indoor events resuming.

But the public are being urged to remain “cautious” about socialising in larger groups, to continue to work from home and use face coverings, while vaccine passports remain in use for large-scale events.

First minister Nicola Sturgeon said that the latest data “gives us confidence that we have turned the corner on the Omicron wave”.

Confirming a significant fall in the number of new positive cases, Sturgeon said that on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday of last week, 36,526 new positive cases were recorded through PCR and lateral flow tests, compared with 20,268 cases reported this Sunday, Monday and today.

With hospital admissions and admissions to intensive care falling, Sturgeon said that the data suggests Omicron peaked in the first week of January and that “we are now on the downward slope of this wave of cases”.

On Monday, the limit on numbers at outdoor public events was lifted.

The remaining statutory measures introduced in response to Omicron – limits on indoor public events; the requirement for one metre physical distancing between different groups in indoor public places; the requirement for table service in hospitality premises serving alcohol on the premises; and the closure of nightclubs – will be lifted from next Monday, 24 January.

From Monday, the guidance asking people to stick to a three household limit on indoor gatherings will also be lifted.

Before the statement, opposition parties and business groups called on sturgeon to ease restrictions more quickly. The Scottish Hospitality Group pointed to Scottish government research which suggested that the number of people visiting bars and restaurants has fallen while the number mixing in each other’s homes has risen.

14:34

Global tourism inched back in 2021, with Europe and the Americas showing the strongest recovery, but is still a fraction of pre-pandemic levels, said the World Tourism Organisation on Tuesday (UNWTO).

After 2020, the worst year on record for tourism, there were faint hopes the industry would regain footing in 2021. But all indicators show it has barely improved.

Global tourism arrivals have tumbled to less than a quarter of what they were in 2019, and industry professionals are not expecting a full recovery before 2024, according to a report by the UN agency.

Rising vaccination rates and the easing of travel rules did allow a small rebound in the second half of 2021, though the spread of the Omicron variant close to Christmas triggered another dip in both travel bookings and industry optimism.

Tourists take photos in front of blossoms on Himalayan Cherry Trees in Chiangmai, Thailand, 14 January 2022. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

“The pace of recovery remains slow and uneven across world regions due to varying degrees of mobility restrictions, vaccination rates and traveller confidence,” the report said.

Southern Mediterranean Europe, Central America and the Caribbean saw the biggest increases in tourist arrivals compared with 2020, but were still respectively 54%, 56% and 37% below the 2019 numbers. Tourism in the Asia Pacific has suffered the most, with visitor numbers down by 94% compared with pre-pandemic levels.

Global tourism’s direct gross product rose 19% in 2021 from 2020 to $1.9tn, the report said, as each tourist spent more and stayed longer than in 2020. But the tourism industry’s revenue still barely surpassed half its 2019 levels.

About 64% of tourism professionals polled by the UNWTO in December do not expect a full recovery before 2024 or later – up from the 45% polled in September, when perspectives for travel revival had not yet been marred by Omicron.

“The recent rise in Covid-19 cases and the Omicron variant are set to disrupt the recovery and affect confidence through early 2022 as some countries reintroduce travel bans and restrictions for certain markets,” the report said.

Will tourism survive the pandemic? And what kind of world will there be without it? A terrific long-read by Christopher de Bellaigue digs into the consequences for our planet and societies.

13:59

Vatican secretary of state and his deputy test positive for Covid-19

Two close aides of Pope Francis have both tested positive for coronavirus, Vatican officials said on Tuesday.

AP reports:

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who serves as the Vatican’s secretary of state and the pope’s No 2, has “very light” symptoms, while archbishop Edgar Peña Parra is asymptomatic, officials said.

There was no immediate comment on their last contact with Pope Francis. It wasn’t clear if Francis has received a booster shot, which has been administered to his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

These are the first confirmed Covid cases so high up in the Vatican hierarchy since the pandemic began.

Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Pietro Parolin smiles during a meeting at the Bellevue palace in Berlin, Germany on 29 June 2021. Photograph: Michael Sohn/AP

13:48

Russia will halve the isolation period for infected people to seven days, AP reports.

Here’s another update from Russia, where daily cases have more than doubled in the past week – from about 15,000 on 10 January to 31,252 on Tuesday. Officials have sounded the alarm about the rising spread of cases, but so far haven’t announced any nationwide curbs to stem it.

Deputy prime minister Tatyana Golikova, who runs the country’s coronavirus task force, said health officials were “optimizing our approaches to quarantine and testing of our citizens, including shortening the quarantine period to seven days.” Currently, people who test positive need to isolate for two weeks, with a mandatory follow-up test on day 11.

Golikova added that other policy changes will be adopted in the coming days, without going into details about what these changes might be. She didn’t say why the government is cutting the isolation period.

13:37

Moscow’s mayor has extended Coronavirus curbs and says there will be tough weeks ahead with Omicron, reports Reuters.

Sergey Sobyanin announced on Tuesday he will extend Covid-19 home-working rules and guidance to protect elderly people until 1 April as the city prepares for a sharp rise in infections with the Omicron variant.

“Given the rapid and wide spread of omicron, it is clear that the workload of outpatient clinics will increase sharply,” he said.

“For clinics to cope with their increased work load, more doctors have been put on duty… We have a few difficult weeks ahead of us.”

Moscow imposed rules from late October to the end of February requiring people over 60 to stay at home unless they were vaccinated or had recovered from Covid, and obliging businesses to move at least 30% of staff to remote work.

Russia’s Covid death toll stands at more than 670,000, the second highest in the world behind the United States, according to official data.

13:26

Let’s quickly dip into some of the top stories from our UK Covid and politics blog, hosted today by Andrew Sparrow:

  • Boris Johnson insists he did think the gathering in No 10 garden was a “work event”, PA Media reports. Chancellor Rishi Sunak said he stands by Johnson’s account of the parties.
  • The PM says no one told him the No 10 party was against the rules, in an interview with Beth Rigby.
  • No 10 says PM did not lie to MPs – but that he accepts lying to parliament would be a resignation matter.
  • The government has won its legal bid to overturn a ruling that a contract given to a company whose founders were friends of former adviser Dominic Cummings was unlawful, PA Media reports.
  • Johnson won’t rule out having to resign following the publication of Sue Gray’s report.

Our lobby reporters have been watching the Downing Street scandals closely. Catch up on all the government party revelations – and the fallout here:

Updated

12:56

Calls for French minister to quit after announcing Covid protocol from Ibiza

Our Paris correspondent Angelique Chrisafis reports on the PR blow to the French government:

France’s education minister is facing calls to resign after it emerged he had announced a strict Covid-testing protocol for schools shortly before the start of the January school term while he was on holiday in Ibiza.

As French teachers and parents struggled to prepare children’s return to school amid France’s fifth wave of Covid, Jean-Michel Blanquer had flown to the Spanish island known for its beautiful beaches and party culture for a four-day holiday over the new year, the investigative website Mediapart reported.

The revelation that Blanquer was on holiday in Ibiza at one of the toughest moments for schools and parents has created a public relations disaster for the government.

Teachers’ and parents’ unions have called for a second nationwide strike on Thursday after tens of thousands of teachers took part in a one-day strike last week.

The strict testing and isolation rules were unveiled by Blanquer in an interview with Le Parisien newspaper on 2 January, hours before classes were to resume after the holiday break.

Mediapart revealed that the interview had taken place by video from Blanquer’s holiday in Ibiza, from which he flew back on the afternoon of Sunday 2 January in time for the start of the new term the next day. Le Parisien said its journalists had not known the minister’s location.

Blanquer was not breaking any laws – there were no Covid restrictions stopping travel to Spain and ministers had been asked to remain in Europe, two hours from Paris. But it has presented the government with an image problem as political campaigning is under way for the spring presidential election.

“There is a real gap between what Ibiza represents and what school staff were going through at that moment just before the start of the school term,” said Guislaine David, of the SNUipp-FSU teachers union. She said it would deepen the “already big divide” between the education ministry and teaching staff.

Other French political figures have poured scorn on the minister, which you can delve into here:

12:44

Poland expects daily cases to top 60,000 by mid-February in ‘fifth wave’

Poland’s health officials say the country has entered a new Covid wave and predict it will peak in mid-February with at least 60,000 new infections per day, the country’s highest infection rate so far in the pandemic.

AP reports:

Waldemar Kraska, the deputy health minister, said on Tuesday that the highly transmissible omicron variant now accounts for 19% of the samples nationwide that have been sequenced, though 50% are in the Pomerania province along the Baltic coast in the country’s north.

If the health ministry’s predictions prove correct, the rate of infection in the coming wave would be more than double that of the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in the spring of 2021.

Just over half of Poland’s 38 million people (56.5%) are vaccinated, and the death rate is significantly higher in proportion to the population – risking potential strain on the country’s health system.

Poland recorded 19,652 cases of coronavirus and 377 deaths on Tuesday. Kraska said that almost 80% of those deaths were among unvaccinated people. “These are deaths that we could have avoided if these people had been vaccinated,” he said.

Given Omicron’s high transmissibility and the low levels of vaccination across broad swaths of the country, Poland expects cases to keep climbing.

Health minister Adam Niedzielski said there were other forecasts which predict new infections reaching 120,000 new daily cases or even higher.

“We have to say that the fifth wave is becoming a fact and we can expect increases in the near future,” Niedzielski said on Monday.

He said that the health care system is exposed to “the risk of a very high burden,” one that Poland has not yet faced during any of the infection surges to date. The death rate in the central European nation has now reached 102,686.

Updated

12:14

News of Japan’s plans to declare a state of quasi-emergency broke earlier. Here’s our Tokyo correspondent, Justin McCurry, with the latest on the country’s Covid measures.

Japan’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, is poised to declare a quasi-state of emergency in Tokyo and several other regions after the country reported the highest number of new coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic.

Kishida is expected to make a formal announcement this week, giving local governors the power to ask bars and restaurants to stop serving alcohol and close early and residents not to travel across prefectural borders.

Japanese authorities do not have the legal power to impose shorter operating hours or restrictions on people’s movements, but businesses that refuse to cooperate can face fines.

Japan reported more than 30,000 new infections on Tuesday, well above the previous record of almost 26,000 last August, just after Tokyo had hosted the summer Olympics. The Japanese capital reported 5,148 new cases – a more than fivefold increase from the same day last week – while Osaka recorded 5,396 infections.

The measures will reportedly go into effect on Friday in Tokyo and 12 other prefectures and end on 13 February. Okinawa and two other prefectures are already under quasi-emergency measures following outbreaks at US military bases that spread to local civilian populations.

Japan’s prime minister Fumio Kishida, delivers a policy speech at the lower house of the parliament in Tokyo, pledging to control the Covid-19 spreading in Japan generated by the Omicron variant. Photograph: Franck Robichon/EPA

The Omicron variant appears to be driving the latest surge in cases in what officials are describing as a sixth wave. “The Omicron variant is clearly different from existing variants. It is crucial to take effective measures that suit its characteristics,” the government’s chief health adviser, Shigeru Omi, told reporters after meeting Kishida.

The chief cabinet secretary, Hirokazu Matsuno, acknowledged that infections were spreading at an “unprecedented speed”, adding that there were concerns over pressure on hospitals if cases continued to rise dramatically.

Tokyo’s occupancy rate of hospital beds for Covid-19 patients reached 23.4% on Tuesday – occupancy would have to reach 50% to trigger a full-blown state of emergency.

About 80% of Japan’s 125 million population is double vaccinated, but only around 1% has received a booster shot. The government has promised to speed up boosters, but most people will have to wait until March or later under the current schedule.

12:01

More than 900 Covid deaths recorded in England and Wales in first week of January

Weekly registered deaths involving Covid have risen after reporting delays over the Christmas period, ONS figures show.

In the first week after New Year, 922 death certificates mentioned Covid-19. This is up 58% on the previous seven days, but the ONS says the rise is partly because of delays caused by bank holidays during Christmas and New Year.

12,262 deaths were registered in England and Wales in the week ending 7 January – a rise of 3,785 compared with the previous week, but 7.6% below the five-year average (950 fewer deaths).

In the latest week, around one in 13 (7.5 per cent) registered deaths mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) (@ONS)

12,262 deaths were registered in England & Wales in the week ending 7 Jan 2022. This was

▪ 3,785 more than Week 52 2021
▪ 1,036 (7.8%) fewer deaths than the five-year average.

Death registrations were affected by Christmas and Boxing Day Bank Holidays https://t.co/dmMXSdVwyX pic.twitter.com/9qtkpftQ4S

January 18, 2022

Updated

11:44

Russia has so far recorded 1,682 cases of the Omicron variant, as authorities brace for a new wave of infections, reports Reuters.

Deputy prime minister Tatiana Golikova said on Tuesday that Russia has recorded 1,682 cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant across 42 regions, as authorities brace for a significant rise in infections.

Omicron has pushed case figures to record highs in parts of western Europe and the US but the variant has been slower to hit Russia.

Coronavirus cases in Russia have been steadily rising in the past week, and officials have warned the rapid spread of Omicron will lead to a surge in infections. Anna Popova, head of Russia’s public health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, said last week that daily new cases might reach six-figure levels.

The country’s state coronavirus task force registered 30,726 new infections on Monday – twice as many as just a week ago and the highest daily tally since early December. The task force has also reported 670 deaths.

Russia’s state coronavirus task force has registered over 10.8m confirmed infections and 321,990 deaths since the start of the pandemic. Russia’s state statistics agency, which uses broader counting criteria, puts the death toll much higher, saying the overall number of virus-linked deaths between April 2020 and October 2021 was over 625,000.

Updated

11:25

Greetings from London. I’m Georgina Quach and I’ll be at the helm for the next eight hours. As always, feel free to get in touch with comments, story tips and suggestions.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @georginaquach

11:24

A quick snap from Reuters here confirming that Japan’s prime minister Fumio Kishida has said he plans to impose a state of quasi-emergency, meaning stronger Covid-19 curbs on dining and gatherings, on 13 regions including Tokyo from 21 January to 13 February.

11:20

Today so far …

  • The Chinese city of Tianjin reported fewer Covid-19 cases on Tuesday after mass testing and locking down some areas appears to have to curbed an outbreak of the highly transmissible Omicron variant. National Health Commission (NHC) official He Qinghua said on Saturday the risk of the Tianjin outbreak spreading to other areas was gradually declining.
  • China’s postal service has ordered workers to disinfect international deliveries and urged the public to reduce orders from overseas after authorities claimed mail could be the source of recent coronavirus outbreaks.
  • Thailand will lower its Covid-19 alert level and is considering easing more restrictions to boost its economy, its health minister said.
  • Romania reported 16,760 new cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday, the biggest single-day rise since October.
  • Germany is reporting a further 74,405 confirmed coronavirus cases and 193 deaths, according to the Robert Koch Institute. The figures are a significant jump on cases recorded at the end of the last week.
  • Poland is experiencing a fifth wave of Covid-19 infections, the health minister said on Monday, warning that the spread of the Omicron variant could send daily case numbers soaring to levels not yet seen in the country.
  • Boris Johnson’s fight to salvage his premiership continues to somewhat overshadow the Covid crisis unfolding in the UK. Rebel Tories are upping pressure on the PM to quit over the Downing Street parties scandal, while deputy prime minister Dominic Raab has been forced to concede that lying to parliament a resigning matter, amid claims that Johnson has misled MPs.
  • Prof Andrew Hayward, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) in the UK, has said of future prospects for the pandemic that “we may still get quite big winters of infection but not the sort of level where we can justify wholesale societal closedown. So I think it is genuinely an optimistic picture, but we’re still not quite there yet.”
  • Abu Dhabi has announced it is requiring people entering the city to show proof of booster shots.
  • New York City and some north-eastern US states appear to be seeing rapid decreases in their numbers of Covid-19 cases in recent days, raising the possibility that the Omicron wave has now already peaked in some parts of the US.
  • Four inmates at an Arkansas jail in the US have filed a lawsuit against the facility and its doctor after they said they were unknowingly prescribed ivermectin to treat Covid-19 as a form of “medical experimentation” despite US health officials warning that the anti-parasitic drug should not be used for that purpose.
  • Australia reported a record daily death toll on Tuesday with 74 deaths. It is the highest daily toll of the pandemic for Australia to date.
  • The Tennis Australia board has come out in support of its under-pressure chief executive, Craig Tiley, while acknowledging it “deeply regrets” the distraction the Novak Djokovic deportation saga caused other Australian Open players.

Andrew Sparrow has all the latest UK politics and Covid news on his live blog. I am handing over this international Covid live blog to Georgina Quach. I’ll see you tomorrow.

Updated

11:12

Hong Kong to cull thousands of hamsters after Covid found on 11

Hong Kong has ordered thousands of hamsters be surrendered for “disposal” after traces of Covid-19 were found on 11 animals in a pet shop.

The order includes pets that were bought days before Christmas be handed over, with a warning not to “kiss or abandon them on the street” as Hong Kong and mainland China attempt to sustain a zero Covid strategy, attempting to suppress all outbreaks internally while maintaining tight border controls with the outside world.

A closed pet shop after an outbreak of Covid being blamed on hamsters in Hong Kong. Photograph: Kin Cheung/AP

Authorities announced on Tuesday that traces of the virus were detected on 11 hamsters out of 178 hamsters, rabbits and chinchillas tested at the Little Boss pet shop and associated warehouse in Causeway Bay while investigating the city’s first untraceable Delta variant diagnosis in more than three months, in a 23-year-old store employee.

Two employees were also confirmed to have the disease, including one who cleans out the animal cages and handles the hamsters.

In response, they ordered the immediate suspension of hamster sales and imports of all rodents. An estimated 2,000 hamsters, including any bought since 22 December, must be handed over, local media reported, and the owners must report for testing.

Read more of Helen Davidson’s report here: Hong Kong to cull thousands of hamsters after Covid found on 11

11:09

Indonesia recorded 1,362 new Covid-19 cases today, report Reuters, making it the biggest single one-day increase for the country since 8 October.