Home » Covid Live: WHO Says ‘we Can See End In Sight But We’re Not There’; Germany To Study Rapid Test Reliability For Omicron

Covid Live: WHO Says ‘we Can See End In Sight But We’re Not There’; Germany To Study Rapid Test Reliability For Omicron

WHO says end of pandemic is ‘in sight, but we’re not there’

Dr David Nabarro, the World Health Organization’s special envoy on Covid, said the virus is going to pose a very difficult situation for the next three months “at least” but “we can see the end in sight”.

He told Sky News:

I’m afraid we are moving through the marathon but there’s no actual way to say that we’re at the end – we can see the end in sight, but we’re not there. And there’s going to be some bumps before we get there.

And I can’t tell you how bad they’re going to be, but I can at least tell you what I’m expecting. First of all, this virus is continuing to evolve – we have Omicron but we’ll get more variants.

Secondly, it really is affecting the whole world. And, whilst health services in western Europe are just about coping, in many other parts of the world, they are completely overwhelmed.

And thirdly, it’s really clear that there’s no scope for major restrictions in any country, particularly poor countries. People have just got to keep working and so there are some very tough choices for politicians right now. It’s going to be difficult for the next three months at least.

Dr David Nabarro. Photograph: Pierre Albouy/Reuters

Asked about a suggestion that there could be coronavirus surges two or three times a year, he added:

The way this virus is behaving, and has behaved really since we first met it, is that it builds up and then surges quite dramatically, and then it comes down again, and then surges again about every three or four months.

It’s difficult to use past behaviour to predict the future. And I don’t like doing that too much. But I would agree that the pattern, I think, that is going to happen with this virus is continued surges, and living with Covid means being able to prepare for these surges and to react and really quickly when they occur.

Life can go on, we can get the economy going again in many countries, but we just have to be really respectful of the virus and that means having really good plans in place for dealing with the surges.

Updated

Pope Francis has said getting vaccinated against coronavirus is a “moral obligation” and denounced how naysayers had been swayed by “baseless information”.

The Associated Press reported:

Francis used some of his strongest words yet calling for people to get vaccinated in a speech to ambassadors accredited to the Holy See, an annual event in which he takes stock of the world and sets out the Vatican’s foreign policy goals for the year.

Francis, 85, has generally shied away from speaking about vaccination as a “moral obligation”, though his Covid advisory body has referred to it as a “moral responsibility”. Rather, Francis has termed vaccination as “an act of love” and that refusing to get inoculated was “suicidal”.

On Monday, he went a step further, saying that individuals had a responsibility to care for themselves “and this translates into respect for the health of those around us. Health care is a moral obligation”, he asserted.

He lamented that, increasingly, ideological divides were discouraging people from getting vaccinated.

Updated

Stricter pandemic measures are to be introduced in Sweden in response to a rising number of Covid cases and pressure on hospitals, the prime minister has said.

“The situation has deteriorated, without doubt. The level of infections in Sweden is at a historically high level,” Magdalena Andersson told a news conference, according to Reuters.

The new measures include a work from home mandate where possible and a cap on the number of people allowed at public events. Restaurants will have to close at 11pm and guests will have to be seated and in groups no bigger than eight people. Adults are also being asked to limit social contacts indoors.

The measures will be evaluated after two weeks, but are expected to be in place for at least four weeks.

Updated

The prime minister of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, has called for European officials to consider ditching detailed pandemic tracking for Covid in favour of a flu-like monitoring system.

The change would mean treating Covid-19 as an “endemic illness” rather than a pandemic, Sánchez said on Monday. He pointed out that deaths as a proportion of recorded cases has fallen since the initial onset of the pandemic.

The Associated Press quoted Sánchez telling Spanish radio: “I believe that we have the conditions for, with precaution, slowly, opening the debate at the technical level and at the level of health professionals, but also at the European level, to start evaluating the evolution of this disease with different parameters than we have until now.”

Sánchez also announced that Spain is purchasing this month 344,000 pills of a Covid-19 antiviral drug developed by the US pharmaceutical firm Pfizer.

Despite one of Europe’s most successful vaccination rollouts, with 81% of the country having received a full course of Covid vaccinations, Spain is grappling with an unprecedented surge of coronavirus infections.

Updated

As schools reopen in one part of the world, they are closing in another. Schools across Nepal will close for nearly three weeks after a spike in coronavirus cases, a government spokesman said on Monday.

Nepal reported 841 new cases on Sunday, the biggest single-day jump since September last year, taking its total to 832,589 since the pandemic began. Its death toll from the coronavirus is 11,604.

Deepak Sharma, spokesperson for the education ministry, said schools would remain closed until 29 January, although a campaign to vaccinate children aged 12 to 17 at their schools would go ahead.

“Schools must notify students about the time and date when they need to go to schools and receive the shots,” Sharma told Reuters.

Nepal has provided two shots of Covid-19 vaccines to 36.7% of its population of 30 million since an inoculation drive began a year ago.

Updated

Children in Uganda have finally begun returning to school, after nearly two years off. On Monday, the country ended 83 weeks of full or partial school closures, the longest anywhere in the world.

Uganda first shut its schools in March 2020, after the first coronavirus case was recorded in Africa. Some classes were reopened to students in February 2021, but a total lockdown was imposed again in June.

The shutdown affected more than 10 million students.

Welcoming the reopening of Uganda’s schools, Save the Children warned that “lost learning may lead to high dropout rates in the coming weeks without urgent action”, including what it described as catch-up clubs.

The aid group warned in a statement Monday of a wave of dropouts “as returning students who have fallen behind in their learning fear they have no chance of catching up”.

According to the Associated Press, the school reopenings on Monday caused traffic congestion in some areas of the capital, Kampala. Students walked through the city’s streets carrying their mattresses on their backs, a back-to-boarding school phenomenon not witnessed here for nearly two years.

But schools may yet close again, and soon, with infection numbers on the rise again in Uganda in recent days. Museveni has warned of a possible new lockdown if intensive care units reach 50% occupancy.

Updated

Summary

Here is a brief round-up of the day’s top Covid news stories so far:

  • Dr David Nabarro, the World Health Organization’s special envoy on Covid, said the virus is going to pose a very difficult situation for the next three months “at least” but “we can see the end in sight”.
  • High levels of T-cells from common cold coronaviruses can provide protection against Covid, an Imperial College London study published on Monday has found, which could inform approaches for second-generation vaccines.
  • The UK government is warning that almost all pregnant women admitted to hospital with Covid symptoms were unvaccinated in one analysis over several months last year, as it kicks off an advertising campaign encouraging expectant mothers to get boosted.
  • Novak Djokovic has won a battle with the Australian government after a court quashed the decision to cancel his visa – but he may still yet lose the war. No sooner had federal circuit judge Anthony Kelly revealed the home affairs minister had agreed to settle the case, than the Australian government’s counsel warned the immigration minister could still decide to use a personal power to cancel Djokovic’s visa anew.
  • In the UK, hospitals will be able to use spare capacity in the private sector under a deal struck with the NHS. Under the three-month agreement, private healthcare staff and facilities will be put on standby to support the NHS should hospital admissions or staff absences due to Covid threaten the provision of urgent care.
  • India’s health ministry has said that only between five and 10% of Covid patients have needed hospitalisation this time around compared with 20-23% in the previous wave that peaked in May.
  • China is battling to stamp out its first outbreak of the Omicron variant, only weeks before the Chinese new year and the Beijing Winter Olympics, with cases recorded in at least two distant provinces.
  • The Spanish government is working on rules to limit the retail price of Covid antigen tests, prime minister Pedro Sánchez said on Monday, after shortages were reported in many pharmacies across the country last month.
  • People self-testing for Covid should swab their throat as well as their nose when using rapid antigen kits to increase the chances of detecting the Omicron variant, a top Israeli health official said on Monday.
  • Indonesian authorities have granted emergency authorisation to five different Covid vaccines as booster shots that will prioritise vulnerable groups.
  • Two of New Zealand’s most prominent Covid-19 experts have warned that the country is unprepared to prevent the health system from being overloaded by an Omicron outbreak.
  • US Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has announced she tested positive for Covid-19.
  • Hungary’s government is considering the option of a fourth Covid-19 vaccine booster shot, Reuters is reporting.
  • Israel could have up to nearly 40% of its population infected by Covid during the current wave, prime minister Naftali Bennett has said.

I am now handing over the global coronavirus blog to my colleague Damien Gayle, who will be along shortly. He will be bringing you the latest Covid news from around the world for the next hour.

Updated

China is battling to stamp out its first outbreak of the Omicron variant, just weeks before the Chinese new year and the Beijing Winter Olympics, with cases recorded in at least two distant provinces.

On Monday, health authorities reported 97 new locally transmitted cases for the preceding 24 hours, across several cities. At least 30 cases were in Henan province, while 21 new cases were reported in the Tianjin district of Jinnan, including 15 children aged five to 15.

At least two of the cases detected in Jinnan were reported as Omicron, the latest variant of Covid-19, which is many times more transmissible and is tearing through other countries around the world. In Anyang, Henan province, two Omicron cases were traced to a student who had arrived from Tianjin more than 300 miles (500km) away, officials said. There were 15 cases reported in Anyang for Monday but the breakdown of variant type was not disclosed.

State media have described the outbreak as China’s “first real battle against Omicron”.

Updated

T-cells from common colds can provide Covid protection

High levels of T-cells from common cold coronaviruses can provide protection against Covid, an Imperial College London study published on Monday has found, which could inform approaches for second-generation vaccines.

Reuters reported:

Immunity against Covid is a complex picture, and while there is evidence of waning antibody levels six months after vaccination, T-cells are also believed to play a vital role in providing protection.

The study, which began in September 2020, looked at levels of cross-reactive T-cells generated by previous common colds in 52 household contacts of positive Covid cases shortly after exposure, to see if they went on to develop infection.

It found that the 26 who did not develop infection had significantly higher levels of those T-cells than people who did get infected. Imperial did not say how long protection from the T-cells would last.

“We found that high levels of pre-existing T-cells, created by the body when infected with other human coronaviruses like the common cold, can protect against Covid-19 infection,” study author Dr Rhia Kundu said.

The authors of the study, published in Nature Communications, said that the internal proteins of the Sars-CoV-2 virus which are targeted by the T-cells could offer an alternative target for vaccine makers.

Updated

The Spanish government is working on rules to limit the retail price of Covid antigen tests, prime minister Pedro Sánchez said on Monday, after shortages were reported in many pharmacies across the country last month.

“The debate we had before and during the Christmas season was the supply of tests, there was a bottleneck,” Sánchez said in an interview with Cadena SER radio station. “Now, we will get into the control of the prices of tests.”

The higher price of antigen tests in Spain during the surge of the Omicron coronavirus variant and the scarcity of tests in pharmacies have raised protests from opposition politicians and consumer groups, many of whom are calling for their sale to be allowed in supermarkets.

Nurses work inside one of the 12 mobile units that Castille and Leon’s regional government has contracted to test for antigens to the population with symptoms of coronavirus throughout January, in Valladolid, central Spain. Photograph: Nacho Gallego/EPA

Updated

India’s health ministry has said that only between five and 10% of Covid patients have needed hospitalisation this time around compared with 20-23% in the previous wave that peaked in May.

“The situation is dynamic and evolving, therefore, the need for hospitalisation may also change rapidly,” health secretary Rajesh Bhushan wrote in a letter to state authorities asking them to regularly review their requirements of healthcare workers.

Health workers carry a Covid-19 patient to be admitted at Civil hospital in Ahmedabad, India, on Saturday. Photograph: Ajit Solanki/AP

Updated

Novak Djokovic has won a battle with the Australian government after a court quashed the decision to cancel his visa – but he may still yet lose the war.

No sooner had federal circuit judge Anthony Kelly revealed the home affairs minister had agreed to settle the case, than the Australian government’s counsel warned the immigration minister could still decide to use a personal power to cancel Djokovic’s visa anew.

That means that Alex Hawke, one of the closest political allies of prime minister Scott Morrison, now has a momentous political decision to make: let Djokovic stay and play for a record 21st grand slam singles title; or deport him, which comes with a hefty three-year ban from re-entering Australia.

The harsh border policies that have allowed Australian governments to detain asylum seekers indefinitely are now being directed at one unvaccinated man, who happens to be the world’s No 1 ranked male tennis player.

Djokovic obtained an exemption on the basis he had recently contracted Covid-19, which the judge noted had satisfied a qualified physician and an independent panel set up by the Victorian government.

But a delegate of the home affairs minister cancelled his visa on the basis the tennis star might pose a risk to public health. The government argues recently having Covid by itself does not justify an exemption, because Djokovic has recovered.

NHS likely to be under ‘real pressure’ for ‘next two or three weeks’

Britain’s NHS is likely to be under real pressure for “the next two or three weeks, perhaps longer”, Michael Gove said.

The cabinet minister told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:

Our first responsibility at the moment must be to support the NHS, but you quite rightly legitimately ask if we get through – and at the moment I hope and pray that we will get through this difficult period – then there will be better times ahead.

And I think one of the things that we do need to think about is how we live with Covid, how we live with this particular type of coronavirus. There are other coronaviruses which are endemic and with which we live, viruses tend to develop in a way whereby they become less harmful but more widespread.

So, guided by the science, we can look to the progressive lifting of restrictions, and I think for all of us the sooner the better. But we’ve got to keep the NHS safe.

Gove said the prime minister was right in his decision not to introduce extra restrictions. He said he had been at the “more cautious end” in the discussions.

But he added that Boris Johnson had “argued publicly that we would be able to get through this with the booster campaign, so if more were required then we would be ready to put in additional measures”.

“We always keep that under review but his judgment has been vindicated,” he said.

Updated

People self-testing for Covid should swab their throat as well as their nose when using rapid antigen kits to increase the chances of detecting the Omicron variant, a top Israeli health official said on Monday.

The recommendation goes against the advice of the US Food and Drug Administration, which has said manufacturers’ instructions should still be followed and that any incorrect use of throat swabs could pose a safety risk.

On Israeli Army Radio, Sharon Alroy-Preis, Israel’s public health chief, said antigen tests, used widely in the country, are less sensitive than PCR tests in detecting illness.

“In order to increase their sensitivity we will from now on recommend swabbing the throat and the nose. It’s not what the manufacturer instructs but we are instructing this,” she said.

WHO says end of pandemic is ‘in sight, but we’re not there’

Dr David Nabarro, the World Health Organization’s special envoy on Covid, said the virus is going to pose a very difficult situation for the next three months “at least” but “we can see the end in sight”.

He told Sky News:

I’m afraid we are moving through the marathon but there’s no actual way to say that we’re at the end – we can see the end in sight, but we’re not there. And there’s going to be some bumps before we get there.

And I can’t tell you how bad they’re going to be, but I can at least tell you what I’m expecting. First of all, this virus is continuing to evolve – we have Omicron but we’ll get more variants.

Secondly, it really is affecting the whole world. And, whilst health services in western Europe are just about coping, in many other parts of the world, they are completely overwhelmed.

And thirdly, it’s really clear that there’s no scope for major restrictions in any country, particularly poor countries. People have just got to keep working and so there are some very tough choices for politicians right now. It’s going to be difficult for the next three months at least.

Dr David Nabarro. Photograph: Pierre Albouy/Reuters

Asked about a suggestion that there could be coronavirus surges two or three times a year, he added:

The way this virus is behaving, and has behaved really since we first met it, is that it builds up and then surges quite dramatically, and then it comes down again, and then surges again about every three or four months.

It’s difficult to use past behaviour to predict the future. And I don’t like doing that too much. But I would agree that the pattern, I think, that is going to happen with this virus is continued surges, and living with Covid means being able to prepare for these surges and to react and really quickly when they occur.

Life can go on, we can get the economy going again in many countries, but we just have to be really respectful of the virus and that means having really good plans in place for dealing with the surges.

Updated