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Covid three times more frequent among young children in England, study finds
Covid infections among five- to 11-year-olds are three times more prevalent than in the general population of England, a government-backed study has found.
An estimated 4.47% of primary school-aged children had the virus within the period of the study in contrast with 1.41% across the country overall, according to the research.
React-1, a joint study by Imperial College London and Ipsos Mori, analysed data from 97,000 volunteers in England to examine national Covid-19 levels between 23 November and 14 December.
It predicted that the rapidly spreading Omicron variant will become the dominant strain across the country more than three times faster than Delta overtook Alpha.
However, the speed of the vaccine rollout to secondary school-aged children and the booster rollout among adults may have helped to curb infection rates among other age groups, researchers said.
Read the full story here.
The White House has warned that the Pfizer Covid-19 pill will not be widely available for months, the Financial Times is reporting.
The complex nature of the drug reportedly means it will take more than half a year to make the 10 million courses that are on order.
We will have more on this story as it develops.
Hello it’s Samantha Lock reporting to you from Sydney as I take over the Covid blog from my colleague Jem Bartholomew, who was reporting to you from London.
As usual, let’s start with some numbers out of Australia.
The nation’s most populous state of NSW saw cases soar to 5,715 new infections with one death while Victoria reported 2,005 cases and 10 deaths.
Tasmania’s numbers are also in. There have been 26 new Covid cases reported – a record high for the state. Queensland recorded 369 new cases.
Prime minister Scott Morrison has insisted it’s not necessary for the states to introduce mask mandates in response to a rapid rise in Covid-19 cases, despite health advice recommending they be compulsory in indoor settings.
Here’s a round-up of Wednesday’s global developments on Covid and Omicron:
- Early UK data suggests the risk of a hospital stay is 40% lower with Omicron than Delta, according to a study by Imperial College London. Another study from South Africa also appeared to suggest a lessened severity from the highly-transmissible variant.
- The UK logged 100,000 new Covid infections for the first time since the pandemic began, with Northern Ireland and Wales announcing new restrictions.
- Canada will expand support to people and business over Omicron restrictions, after provinces Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia announced new restrictions to push back the virus.
- Health regulators in the United States issued an emergency use authorisation for a pill made by Pfizer that can be used to treat Covid at home.
- Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said booster programmes in wealthy nations are likely to prolong the pandemic as much of the world’s population remains unvaccinated.
- France reported 84,272 new cases ad health minister Olivier Véran warned the country could soon have around 100,000 infections a day.
- Belgian concert halls, cinemas and other entertainment venues will close because of the surging variant, the government announced.
- In Spain, face masks will once again be compulsory at all times outdoors even when a distance of 1.5m from other people can be maintained, the country’s prime minister Pedro Sánchez said.
- Germany’s new health minister Karl Lauterbach suggested a fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose would be required in order to protect against Omicron.
- Israel is set to become the first country in the world to offer a fourth dose of Covid vaccines, to over 60s and healthcare workers, in an effort to protect against the Omicron variant.
- Ukraine said it expects a new wave of cases to begin in February, just weeks after its last wave spiked.
- In the US, California’s governor Gavin Newsom said healthcare workers in “high-risk congregate settings” will require a Covid vaccine booster by 1 February.
- Denmark will tighten restrictions in schools from 5 January, with pupils and staff taking two weekly tests, teachers and parents urged to wear face masks (except in class) and contact reduced between students.
That’s all from me, Jem Bartholomew in London, and I’m handing over to my colleague Samantha Lock in Australia. I’ll be back tomorrow. Do get in touch by email or on Twitter with tips and stories for then.
How is the Omicron wave impacting UK cities?
As with other waves, it appears the public have started to take action ahead of any potential tougher government restrictions.
Data from the retail intelligence firm Springboard on Wednesday showed a 17.3% drop in footfall in central London compared with the same day last week, and regional cities have recorded a 3.4% drop. My colleague Alexandra Topping has this report:
The busy streets of central London are normally no place for the faint-hearted in the run-up to Christmas. Shoppers jostle with increasing urgency to secure last-minute gifts while revellers spill out from bars and restaurants to celebrate their final days in the office.
But this is far from a normal Christmas. Shoppers and tourists have stayed away from the capital in large numbers, data – and haunting pictures – reveal.
Images of near-empty streets in citiessuch as Manchester and Edinburgh tell a tale of shoppers and tourists alike staying away from city centres over fears about the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant and a mass return to working from home. Andrew Lloyd Webber has closed Cinderella until next year, and productions of Hamilton and The Lion King have been pulled.
Elizabeth Stokoe, professor of social interaction at Loughborough University, told me this has characterised UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s approach throughout the pandemic, with polling showing the public generally ahead of the government over restrictions. Johnson has in the past imposed restrictions only after, she said, it became clear the public supported them.
“If the public are the motorway traffic, going in one direction, Johnson just joins from the side – but he’s not directing the traffic,” Stokoe said.
Read The Guardian’s full report here.
In the US, the flu virus, which all but disappeared in 2020, is circulating agan, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About 2,500 positive flu infections were reported the week ending 11 December, back to pre-Covid levels.
That could cause problems alongside the surging Omicron wave, epidemiologists warned the New York Times, amid worries whether health systems can keep up with two respiratory viruses.
“We have seen how surges in Covid-19 infections can overwhelm hospitals, and influenza infections could further stress health care systems,” CDC epidemiologist Sonja Olsen said. “If both viruses continue to circulate and increase in activity, the situation could get worse.”
The Times has the full report here.
Russia reported 25,264 new Covid infections on Wednesday, the Moscow Times reports, a 16% decrease on the 30,228 new cases logged on Wednesday two weeks ago.
Russia saw its recent wave spike in early November, when daily case rates nudged close to 40,000, and in recent weeks has seen a receding epidemic.
But death rates remain high. 1,020 people died from Covid-related causes on Wednesday, down 11% on the 1,149 on Wednesday two weeks ago.
But with the Sputnik V vaccine proving little effective against the Omicron variant in an early study – research Russia rejects – there are worries of a resurgent wave. Health authorities said there had been 41 cases of Omicron detected so far on Tuesday.
In the US, Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the president, said on Wednesday that large gatherings of over 40 people during the holiday season are unsafe, even if you’re vaccinated and boosted.
“There are many of these parties that have 30, 40, 50 people in which you do not know the vaccination status of individuals. Those are the kind of functions in the context of Omicron that you do not want to go to,” Fauci said at a White House briefing.
Denmark will tighten restrictions in schools, with pupils and staff taking two weekly tests, staff and parents urged to wear facemasks and contact reduced between students in efforts to roadblock Omicron.
The new restrictions will begin when students return on 5 January, the education minister, Pernille Rosenkrantz-Theil, said, as reported by the Copenhagen Post. Teachers will be exempt from wearing masks in classrooms.
It comes after schools continue to drive infections. The Post reported that recently, almost 2,500 out of every 100,000 school kids aged six to 11 were infected, twice as many as any other age group.
Denmark has seen cases surge in recent weeks: 13,057 Covid infections were detected on Tuesday, a 106% climb on the 6,324 positive tests on Tuesday two weeks ago.
Canada to expand support to people and business over Omicron restrictions
Canada will expand support for people and businesses hit by the Omicron wave.
“We are in for some even tougher times ahead. That is true and that is really hard,” finance minister Chrystia Freeland said on Wednesday. She announced Ottawa would temporarily expand programs on the cost of rent and wages until 22 February.
It followed restrictions announced earlier by provinces Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia to try and push back the virus. Prime minister Justin Trudeau said at a government briefing three of his staff, plus three security detail workers, have Covid.
Canada reported 11,300 new cases in the past 24 hours, a 220% increase on the 3,529 new infections on Wednesday two weeks ago.
Ukraine expects new wave in February
Oleksiy Danilov, Ukraine’s secretary of the national security and defense council, said the country expects a new wave to take off in February, local media Ukrinform reports.
“As of today, the situation is under control. The ongoing fourth wave declines now, we are following it. We expect the next wave to start on February 10 – 15. It all depends on vaccination pace,” Danilov said.
Ukraine experienced spiking cases in late-October and early-November, with daily infections sometimes hitting 27,000.
But in recent weeks the epidemic has receded. Ukraine reported 6,363 Covid cases in the past 24 hours, Ukrinform reported, a 36% decline on the 9,895 new cases on Wednesday two weeks ago.
A further 301 people died from Covid-related causes on Wednesday, down 37% from 480 people on Wednesday two weeks ago.
In the US, California’s governor Gavin Newsom said healthcare workers in “high-risk congregate settings” will require a Covid vaccine booster by 1 February, in signs booster shots are being integrated into existing mandates as data emerges three doses are required for protection against Omicron.
A previous mandate for Californian healthcare workers to be vaccinated came on 30 September. (Workers can apply for a religious of medical exemption.)
According to the state’s data, 70.4% of people statewide are double-vaccinated and 42.4% of people are boosted. Healthcare workers not yet boosted must submit to two Covid test a week ahead of 1 February, Newsom said.
Risk of hospital stay 40% lower with Omicron than Delta, UK data suggests
People who test positive with the Omicron variant are on average 15% less likely than Delta cases to attend hospital and have a 40% lower risk of being hospitalised for a night or more, UK data suggests.
The Imperial College outbreak modelling team led by Prof Neil Ferguson analysed hospitalisations and vaccine records among all PCR-confirmed Covid cases in England between 1 and 14 December.
In a report published on Wednesday, the scientists found that any attendance at hospital was a fifth to a quarter lower with Omicron versus Delta cases, and between 40% and 45% lower when the visit resulted in being admitted for at least one day.
My colleague Ian Sample will have a longer report on this shortly.
Here are the UK’s record-breaking Covid case numbers – jumping over 100,000 for the first time – in context.
This is Jem Bartholomew in London taking charge of the international blog for the next few hours. Do get in touch with tips and stories, it’s always great to hear from readers.
- Email me here.
- Message me on Twitter here.
Here’s a quick roundup of what’s been happening so far:
- Health regulators in the United States issued an emergency use authorisation for a pill made by Pfizer that can be used to treat Covid-19 at home. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said the pill, sold under the brand name Paxlovid, could be used to treat mild-to-moderate Covid-19 in adults and children 12 years and older, so long as they have tested positive for the virus and are at high risk of severe Covid symptoms.
- The UK recorded 106,122 new Covid cases on Wednesday, the highest daily figure since the beginning of the pandemic and the first time cases have passed 100,000. Government figures showed a further 140 deaths were also reported, bringing the total to 147,573.
- The Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine has been approved for use in vulnerable primary school children in the UK, following a recommendation by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
- A maximum of six people will be allowed to meet in pubs, cinemas and restaurants in Wales from 6am on 26 December, the first minister has announced. The two-metre social distancing rules will also return in public places and outdoor events will be limited to 50, and 30 indoors. Nightclubs in Northern Ireland will close on Boxing Day.
- South Africa has reported data on Covid cases driven by the Omicron variant that appears to give added impetus to claims the country is experiencing a lower severity of disease. “In South Africa, this is the epidemiology: Omicron is behaving in a way that is less severe,” said one of the authors of the study.
- France reported 84,272 new coronavirus cases today, close to the daily record of just less than 87,000 in November 2020. French health minister Olivier Véran warned the country could soon have around 100,000 new Covid cases a day, but said no new restrictions were on the table for now.
- Concert halls, cinemas and other entertainment venues in Belgium will close because of the surging variant, the government announced. From Sunday, no indoor activities will be allowed except for museum visits, exercise, weddings or funerals and sports fans will not be allowed into stadiums.
- In Spain, face masks will once again be compulsory at all times outdoors even when a distance of 1.5m from other people can be maintained, the country’s prime minister Pedro Sánchez said. The announcement comes a day after Spain recorded its highest daily case numbers since the pandemic began.
- Germany’s new health minister Karl Lauterbach suggested a fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose would be required in order to protect against Omicron. He said the new variant will become the dominant strain within three weeks and the country has ordered 80m doses of Omicron-specific vaccine for delivery in April or May.
- Israel is set to become the first country in the world to offer a fourth dose of Covid-19 vaccines in an effort to protect against the Omicron variant. People over the age of 60 and healthcare workers will be eligible for a second booster shot, the prime minister, Naftali Bennett, said.
- The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said the world will have enough doses of Covid vaccines in the first quarter of 2022 to inoculate all of the global adult population – if western countries do not hoard those vaccines to use in blanket booster programme.
- Separately, a WHO official said it is too soon to say whether the new variant is more transmissible than the Delta variant. “We do have some data suggesting that rates of hospitalisation are lower,” said WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19, Maria van Kerkhove, but she warned against drawing conclusions from early data because “we have not seen this variant circulate long enough in populations around the world”.
That’s it from me, Léonie Chao-Fong, for today as I hand over the blog to my colleague Jem Bartholomew, who will continue to bring you the latest coronavirus news from around the world.
France reported 84,272 new cases, coming close to its all-time high of almost 87,000 cases in November 2020.
The latest figure marks the biggest one-day increase on record and the country’s second-highest this year.
Earlier today, France’s health minister Olivier Véran warned the country could soon have around 100,000 new Covid cases a day. He said no new restrictions were on the table for now, although nothing could be ruled out.
US President Joe Biden has tested negative for Covid-19, days after he was in contact with a White House aide who later tested positive for the virus.
The White House announced the results after Biden told reporters hours earlier that he had received a PCR test but was waiting on results.
On Monday, the White House said a “mid-level staff member” who tested positive on Monday had spent about 30 minutes “in proximity to the president” on Air Force One as Biden flew from South Carolina to Pennsylvania on Friday.
The staffer, who is fully vaccinated and boosted, had tested negative before getting on the plane and did not experience symptoms until Sunday, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki.