Covid self-isolation cut to seven days with negative test in England
The Covid self-isolation period has been cut to seven days in a move that could save Christmas for thousands of people and ease mounting staff shortages.
From Tuesday, new guidance will enable the 10-day self-isolation period for vaccinated people in England who have tested positive for coronavirus to be reduced by three days if they get the all-clear from lateral flow tests.
People who receive negative results from tests taken 24 hours apart on day six and day seven of their self-isolation period will no longer have to self-isolate for the full 10 days, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said.
Those who leave self-isolation on or after day seven are “strongly advised” to limit close contact with other people in crowded or poorly ventilated spaces, work from home and minimise contact with anyone who is at higher risk of severe illness if infected with Covid-19, the agency added.
Read the full story here.
Hello it’s Samantha Lock back with you on the blog.
First up, some numbers out of Australia where I will reporting to you from.
The state of NSW has recorded 3,763 new cases and two deaths. It is rise of more than 700 on yesterday’s number, a previous record day. Victoria reported 1,503 cases and six deaths.
Meanwhile, Australia could have 200,000 new Covid cases a day by late January or early February under a “worst-case scenario” included in Doherty Institute modelling to be discussed at national cabinet.
- Boris Johnson has confirmed no further Covid restrictions will be put in place in England before Christmas. The UK prime minister said there was currently not enough evidence to justify tougher measures before Christmas but curbs could be imposed after 25 December.
- Edinburgh’s annual Hogmanay street party has been cancelled, while in Wales employees face £60 fines for failing to work from home as governments tightened rules to limit the spread of the Omicron variant. The Scottish and Welsh governments also imposed limits on sporting events from Boxing Day.
- People over the age of 60 in Israel will be eligible for a fourth Covid vaccination, the country’s prime minister, Naftali Bennett, announced. His remarks came the country recorded its first death from the Omicron variant.
- The World Health Organization’s European chief has warned countries to brace for a “significant surge” in cases as Omicron spreads across the continent. Dr Hans Kluge said Omicron is now the dominant variant in a number of European countries, including the UK, Denmark and Portugal.
- The next mayor of New York City, Eric Adams, said on Tuesday he would postpone his inauguration ceremony, which was set for 1 January, due to the rise in cases of the Omicron variant of Covid-19. He did so shortly after the current mayor, Bill de Blasio, announced that residents who get a Covid-19 booster shot by the end of the year will receive $100.
- Germany has announced a string of new measures that are to take effect from 28 December “at the latest”, in a bid to get a rampant surge in new infections under control. Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the fourth wave of infections was now under control, but warned that the fifth wave was just around the corner.
- Portugal’s government ordered nightclubs and bars to shut doors and told people to work from home from 26 December to at least 9 January to control the spread of Covid-19 over the holiday period. A negative coronavirus test will also be required to stay at Portuguese hotels and outdoor gatherings will be limited to 10 people per group on New Year’s Eve.
- The archbishop of Canterbury has said that people will have felt “sorrow and sadness” seeing the photograph of Downing Street staff drinking together last May because it will have reminded them of what they sacrificed. In an interview, Justin Welby hinted at his disapproval over the gathering, saying that leadership involved setting an example.
- A bailout package worth about £1bn for businesses losing trade because of the Omicron surge was announced by the UK’s chancellor, Rishi Sunak. The funding will primarily help firms in the leisure and hospitality sectors, and follows concerns that they have faced cancelled bookings.
Israeli PM announces fourth Covid jab for over-60s to tackle Omicron
Israelis over the age of 60 and medical teams will be eligible for a fourth Covid vaccination to protect against the fast-spreading Omicron variant, the country’s prime minister, Naftali Bennett, has announced.
“The citizens of Israel were the first in the world to receive the third dose of the Covid-19 vaccine and we are continuing to pioneer with the fourth dose as well,” he said on Tuesday, calling on those who meet the criteria to “go and get vaccinated”.
Bennett’s remarks came after a meeting of the country’s ministerial coronavirus cabinet which convened amid growing concern over the spread of the Omicron variant.
The premier called the pandemic expert committee’s decision to go ahead with a fourth dose “wonderful news that will assist us in getting through the Omicron wave that is engulfing the world”.
A statement from the health ministry noted that immunodeficient people will also be eligible for the fourth shot, which can be administered to them, elderly people and the medical teams at least four months after the third shot.
Read the full article here:
The UK’s National Health Service has increased the daily rate of booster vaccinations by three-quarters in a week – but remains short of the roughly 1.5m jabs a day needed to match Boris Johnson’s promise of a booster jab for all those eligible by the end of the year.
One group of health service bosses said the NHS “should not be blamed” if the target is not met, reflecting concern there could be political recriminations if the goal set by the prime minister just over a week ago is not reached.
On Monday, 897,979 boosters were administered around the UK, compared with 513,722 a week ago, the day after the prime minister brought forward the vaccination target in a televised address.
There remain 15.1 million people across the UK who had a second jab before the end of September and have not yet had a booster – and there are 10 days, excluding Christmas Day, to complete the programme in line with the prime minister’s pledge.
Read the full article by my colleagues Dan Sabbagh and Libby Brooks here:
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has said he thought about “the sorrow and sadness” many will have felt at seeing the picture of Boris Johnson and Downing Street staff drinking wine during lockdown.
Speaking to ITV, he said he “felt a whole lot of emotions” after seeing the photograph, adding:
I thought about the many people who’ll look at that and remember what they were doing on that day – and the sorrow and sadness they felt because of not being able to see someone or a bereavement of the last time they saw someone they loved.
Although he said he was “not quick to judge people”, he said it “costs lives” not to have the “moral authority to lead”.
There needs to be truth and integrity and the cost of leadership is that you set an example. You lead from the front which means you obey the rules.
The next mayor of New York City, Eric Adams, said on Tuesday he would postpone his inauguration ceremony, which was set for 1 January, due to the rise in cases of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.
He did so shortly after the current mayor, Bill de Blasio, announced that residents who get a Covid-19 booster shot by the end of the year will receive $100.
“Today we’re announcing a $100 incentive for anyone who gets a Covid-19 booster at a city-run site or with our partner Somos Care,” De Blasio said. “This is a limited time opportunity – through 12/31.
“This is the moment. Get your booster and protect your family and city,” he said.
In his own statement, Adams, a Democrat like De Blasio, said: “It is clear that our city is facing a formidable opponent in the Omicron variant. After consulting public health experts, we have decided that [the] inauguration ceremony will be postponed to a later date.”
The Omicron variant is spreading rapidly. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Omicron is now the dominant version of the coronavirus in the US, making up 73% of new infections last week. CDC data revealed a nearly six-fold increase in Omicron’s share of infections in just one week.
New York state reported that nearly 22,000 people tested positive on Friday, the highest single-day total for new cases since testing became widely available. More than half of the positive results came from New York City.
Read the full article here:
One of Britain’s most senior scientific figures has warned “uncontrolled, high transmission” could have a “profound” impact across all sectors in the country.
Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, said it is “impossible to have a functional economy” if high rates lead to illness, time off work and hospitalisations.
As we await more data to confirm trends, he has recommended the public get boosted, wear masks in all indoor spaces as well as to reduce contacts as much as possible.
Early human testing of an experimental Covid-19 antiviral pill developed by Pardes Biosciences shows it works as a standalone treatment, the company said.
If the drug, PBI-0451, proves effective in later-stage testing, it could have an advantage over similar pills that need to be taken with a second booster medication, such as Pfizer’s two-drug antiviral regimen, Paxlovid.
Pardes said it expects to complete its current phase I study in healthy volunteers early next year and plans to go public by merging with a special purpose acquisition company, Reuters reports.
“We’re hoping to be able to move as quickly as possible and generate significant data in 2022,” said the company’s chief development officer Brian Kearney.
The Pardes pill is a protease inhibitor, designed to prevent the coronavirus from replicating in human cells. Company officials said it plans to discuss with regulators the design of a larger, global trial of PBI-0451, including the number of participants and geographic locations.
Hospital bosses in England are bracing themselves for “a dangerous situation” because of the fast-growing Omicron-driven surge in Covid cases, an NHS leader has said.
Responding to Boris Johnson ruling out any new rules limiting social mixing in England before Christmas, NHS Confederation chief executive Matthew Taylor said: “It remains a question of when rather than if further restrictions will be brought in to curb the rapid spread of Omicron.
“While it is for the government to decide national policy on Covid restrictions, many NHS leaders are preparing for a dangerous situation in which rising patient numbers coincide with rising numbers of NHS staff off sick. That is why we must monitor the situation daily and stand ready to respond to changing evidence,” said Taylor.
He did not comment directly on the prime minister’s decision. But it is likely that hospital chiefs, many of whom are busy finalising plans for yet another wave of seriously ill patients who need to be admitted, will be concerned at Johnson’s reluctance to change tack because his action could help the virus to spread – which could result in a spike of hospitalisations.
Taylor urged the public to behave responsibly over the festive season. “The best thing the public can do is continue to behave in ways that will keep themselves and others safe, including taking up the offer of a vaccine or booster if they are eligible,” he added.
Hello, it is Léonie Chao-Fong here, taking over from my colleague Jedidajah Otte. The World Health Organization’s European chief has warned countries to brace for a “significant surge” in cases as Omicron spreads across the continent.
Speaking at a press conference in Vienna, Dr Hans Kluge said Omicron is now the dominant variant in a number of European countries, including the UK, Denmark and Portugal. He said:
We can see another storm coming.
Within weeks, omicron will dominate in more countries of the region, pushing already stretched health systems further to the brink.
Last week, 27,000 people died from Covid in the region and an additional 2.6m cases were reported, he said. Although these cases include all variants, he noted this figure is 40% higher than during the same period last year. He added:
The sheer volume of new Covid-19 infections could lead to more hospitalisations and widespread disruption to health systems and other critical services.
Governments and authorities need to prepare our response systems for a significant surge.
The Welsh parliament will be recalled on Wednesday “to consider a matter of urgent public importance”, government officials have confirmed.
First minister Mark Drakeford will make a virtual statement addressing the Senedd on the Covid-19 pandemic from 1.30pm and ministers will then have the opportunity to ask questions.
It will follow a government media briefing which will be held just after midday to update the country on the Omicron crisis after Cabinet talks were held on Tuesday.
The Senedd has been on winter recess since Monday. It is planned to sit again in Plenary on Tuesday, 11 January 2022.
Germany poised to introduce tougher restrictions after Christmas
Germany has announced a string of new measures that are to take effect from 28 December “at the latest”, in a bid to get a rampant surge in new infections under control.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz, North Rhine-Westphalia’s prime minister Hendrik Wüst and Berlin’s governing mayor Franziska Giffey gave a press conference about new coronavirus measures.
Scholz said the Omicron variant would soon cause infections to skyrocket. “Covid-19 won’t take a Christmas break,” he said.
The chancellor said the fourth wave of infections was now under control, but warned that the fifth wave was just around the corner.
Private gatherings will be limited to 10 people even for those who have recovered from the virus or who have been vaccinated. Children under the age of 14 are not included in this number. Clubs and discos will remain closed.
The “2G rule” – which stipulates that people must either be vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19 – will apply in cinemas and theatres.
In addition, the sale of fireworks will be prohibited on New Year’s Eve, and there will be a ban on assemblies on 31 December.
Tough restrictions for unvaccinated people will remain in place – with the 3G rule [having to be either vaccinated, recovered or able to produce a negative test] applying at work and on public transport, and tight contact restrictions also applying over Christmas.
All measures decided on Tuesday should not start until after Christmas, Scholz said, adding that the past few years had shown that Easter and Christmas aren’t major drivers of infection.
The government is aiming to administer a further 30m booster vaccinations by the end of January, Scholz said. As an interim goal, the overall vaccination rate in the population is hoped to increase to at least 80%.
The different heads of Germany’s individual states will meet again on 7 January to discuss further steps, which is also when further financial aid for companies will be discussed again.
France will pass a law that will transform its health pass – currently needed to exercise some professions and to go to cinemas and bars – into a “vaccination” pass in the first half of January, government spokesman Gabriel Attal told journalists on Tuesday.
“The wave awaiting us will be high,” Attal said, adding that the Omicron variant accounts for 20% of new Covid-19 infections in France and is spreading rapidly, particularly in the Paris region.
The main aim of a vaccination pass will be to do away with the option of obtaining a valid certificate by testing negative instead of having the jabs.
In contrast to other European governments, Attal on Tuesday ruled out further restrictions, saying that the country had the means to battle the next wave of cases with its vaccination campaign and mass testing.
France logged 72,832 fresh infections on Tuesday, compared with 63,405 a week ago.
Israel records first death from Omicron variant
Israel on Tuesday recorded its first death from the Omicron coronavirus variant, according to Israeli news media which on Tuesday reported that a man in his seventies with pre-existing conditions died in Beersheva on Monday after having received two vaccination doses, Reuters reports.
The country confirmed 170 new cases of the Omicron variant, the health ministry said on Tuesday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases of the highly infectious variant to 341.
The health ministry said it was looking into 807 confirmed Covid cases that may be Omicron, but have yet to be confirmed, Haaretz reports.
The government’s coronavirus cabinet is set to meet later on Tuesday to discuss ways to handle the spread of the Omicron variant in Israel, in what will be the cabinet’s first meeting since the end of November.
Fresh infections continue to soar, with Tuesday’s 1,306 new coronavirus cases marking a two-month peak, but the number of patients in serious condition remains stable, according to official figures.
The country’s R number – representing the average number of people each coronavirus carrier goes on to infect – continues to climb, but the country has been able to observe a slight downward trend in serious cases over the past month.
Currently, there are 81 patients in serious condition, out of whom 48 are in critical condition and 41 are on ventilators.
Portugal tightens restrictions over virus wave concerns
Portugal’s government on Tuesday ordered nightclubs and bars to shut doors and told people to work from home from 26 December to at least 9 January to control the spread of Covid-19 over the holiday period.
Prime minister Antonio Costa also announced that a negative coronavirus test would be required to stay at Portuguese hotels and said authorities would limit outdoor gatherings to 10 people per group on New Year’s Eve.
Portugal’s recorded infections are still below the EU average, with 433 new Covid cases per day per million inhabitants. But in the previous week, this number stood at 386.
A total of 7,801 people were in hospital in the UK with Covid-19 as of 20 December, government figures show.
This is the highest number since November 23 and is up 1% from a week earlier, PA reports.
During the second wave of coronavirus, hospital numbers peaked at 39,254 on 18 January.
Separate figures from NHS England show that 1,904 people were in hospital in London with Covid-19 as of 21 December, the highest number since 2 March and up 41% from a week earlier.
The peak of the second wave had stood at 7,917 on 18 January.
Across England, 6,902 patients were in hospital with Covid-19 on 21 December – the highest number since 10 November and up 7% week-on-week.
The second-wave peak for England was 34,336 on 18 January.
Italy reported 153 coronavirus-related deaths on Tuesday versus 137 the day before and 120 a week prior, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 30,798 from 16,213, the first time above 30,000 since November last year.
Italy has registered 135,931 deaths linked to Covid-19 since February last year, the second-highest toll in Europe after the UK and the ninth-highest in the world. The country has reported 5.4 million cases to date.
Patients in hospital with Covid-19 – not including those in intensive care – stood at 8,381 on Tuesday, up from 8,101 a day earlier.
There were 96 new admissions to intensive care units, up from 73 on Monday. The total number of intensive care patients increased to 1,012 from a previous 987.
851,865 tests for Covid-19 were carried out over the past 24 hours, compared with a previous 337,222, the health ministry said.