Covid news - live: Javid ‘optimistic’ rules will end next week, as variants predicted to become ‘less severe’

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Health secretary Sajid Javid has said he is “cautiously optimistic” that the UK’s coronavirus restrictions will be eased from next week.

The Tory frontbencher told the Commons on Tuesday that the measures, imposed last year to combat the spread of the Omicron variant, will not be in force “a day longer than they are absolutely necessary”.

The comment comes amid a sharp decline in UK Covid-19 cases , with the World Health Organisation predicting that the end of Britain’s pandemic is “not far away”.

However, the global health body has warned that there will be “more variations and mutations” and “further challenges” ahead.

Meanwhile, Professor Andrew Hayward, an epidemiologist who advises the UK government on science, has expressed hope that future variants will be “less severe”, if more transmissible like Omicron.

On the other side of the world, Australia has recorded its deadliest day since the start of the pandemic, with 74 deaths recorded nationwide in the last 24 hours.

Key Points

  • Omicron measures set to be eased next week, says Javid

  • Covid-19 variants could become less severe, say experts

  • End of the tunnel may be in sight for UK pandemic

  • Covid may be changing eating habits of some children, experts say

  • Australia records deadliest day in pandemic

Good Morning!

04:24 , Stuti Mishra

Welcome to The Independent’s live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. Stay tuned for rolling updates and statistics.

Australia records deadliest day of the pandemic

04:48 , Stuti Mishra

Australia reported a record high of Covid-19 deaths on Tuesday with its second-largest state declaring an emergency in hospitals to cope with surging patient admissions and a staffing shortage.

The 74 deaths occurred in its three most populous states. New South Wales reported 36, Victoria reported 22 and Queensland 16. The previous daily record was 59 coronavirus-related deaths on 4 September 2020.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said there were signs that New South Wales’ infection rate was peaking and Victoria was near a plateau.

The New South Wales government has ruled out a return to lockdown to counter the highly contagious omicron variant.

Another lockdown would have “substantial consequences for men and women right across the state in terms of being able to provide food on the table for their family,” state Premier Domonic Perrottet told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

“Today is a very difficult day for our state,” Mr Perrottet said during a media briefing, adding that hospitals can still cope with the rising number of admissions.

“Despite the challenges, they are not unique to the rest of the world,” he said.

Victoria declared an emergency for hospitals in its state capital, Melbourne, and several regional hospitals from midday on Wednesday because of staff shortages and a surge in patient admissions. About 5,000 staff are absent because they are either infected or were in close contact with an infected person.

“We’ve reached a point in our healthcare system where it’s juggling extreme workforce shortages. alongside a vast number of patients with Covid-19 who require hospitalisation, alongside that an extraordinary workforce that are absolutely exhausted,” Acting Health Minister James Merlino said.

It is the first time the emergency has been activated in multiple hospitals across the state.

Authorities have said unvaccinated younger people form a “significant number” of the country’s hospital admissions.

Covid-19 pandemic may be coming to an end in the UK, WHO expert suggests

05:06 , Stuti Mishra

The Covid pandemic may be coming to an end in the UK, a leading expert has suggested, despite the government’s scientific advisers warning that claims the virus is now endemic are premature.

Dr David Nabarro, a World Health Organisation (WHO) special envoy for Covid-19, has said there is now “light at the end of the tunnel” for the UK in tackling the disease.

His words come as national hospital admissions fell for the sixth day in a row on Monday, from 2,180 to 1,604.

Our health correspondent Rebecca Thomas has more:

‘Light at the end of the tunnel’ for Covid in UK, says WHO

Two ex-air crew arrested in Hong Kong for breaking Covid rules

05:30 , Stuti Mishra

Hong Kong police arrested two former flight attendants for allegedly leaving their homes when they should have been in isolation for possible coronavirus infections, which were later confirmed.

The two arrived from the US on 24 and 25 December. While in medical surveillance, they had “conducted unnecessary activities,” according to a government statement posted late Monday.

While the statement did not name their employer, the arrests came after flagship carrier Cathay Pacific said it had fired two crew members for breaching coronavirus protocols. Both later tested positive for the omicron variant.Read more:

Hong Kong arrests 2 ex-air crew for breaking COVID-19 rules

Japan to impose restrictions in Tokyo and nine other regions as Omicron cases surge

05:50 , Stuti Mishra

Japan’s government is preparing social restrictions in Tokyo and other regions as the omicron variant of the coronavirus infects more people.

Japan has never had a lockdown during the pandemic but has focused instead on asking restaurants and bars to close early. Crowds are back in many parts of Japan, with people packing stores and events, while Covid-19 cases jump.

The order will be finalized this week and is likely to take effect on Friday for Tokyo and nine other regions, including Chiba, Kanagawa, Aichi and Kumamoto the government spokesman said on Tuesday.

Read more:

Japan ready to expand COVID restrictions as infections surge

UK could scrap all Covid rules as eary as March

06:10 , Stuti Mishra

The government is said to be drawing up plans to ditch Covid laws in England from as early as the spring.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is said to be considering a permanent revocation of emergency coronavirus laws he brought in at the start of the pandemic.

The Covid legislation, which is set to expire in a few months’ time, includes the legal obligation for someone infected with Covid to self-isolate – with failure to do so punishable with a fine of up to £10,000.

Lamiat Sabin has more:

Plans drawn up ‘to scrap all Covid rules in England as early as March’

Poland has entered a fifth wave of Covid, says minister

06:30 , Stuti Mishra

Poland is experiencing a fifth wave of Covid-19 infections, country’s 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.

While daily case numbers have fallen since early December, the European Union’s largest eastern member has had little respite since the fourth wave, regularly reporting over 10,000 new infections per day amid low vaccine take-up and limited restrictions on public life.

“We predict that the peak of infections will be in mid-February and that peak is about 60,000 cases a day,” Adam Niedzielski told a news conference.

The highest number of daily cases reported since the pandemic began was 35,251 on 1 April 2021.

Mr Niedzielski said that he expected figures released on Tuesday to show in excess of 20,000 daily cases.

The country of around 38 million has so far reported 4,323,482 cases of coronavirus and 102,309 deaths.

Boris Johnson lied about lockdown party, Dominic Cummings claims

06:50 , Stuti Mishra

#ICYMIDominic Cummings says evidence will show Boris Johnson “lied to parliament” when he denied knowing about the No 10 garden party, plunging his position deeper into jeopardy.

An email sent by “a very senior official” warned the “bring your own booze” event broke Covid rules, the exiled former chief aide claims – blowing apart the prime minister’s defence that he thought it was “a work event”.

In an explosive blog post, Mr Cummings wrote: “Not only me but other eyewitnesses who discussed this at the time would swear under oath this is what happened.”

The Independent’s deputy political editor Rob Merrick has more:

Cummings says PM was told No 10 party ‘broke the rules’ but said it should go ahead

Covid may be changing eating habits of some children, experts say

07:10 , Stuti Mishra

Children may have been put off certain foods and eating altogether in some cases because of a condition caused by Covid, experts have suggested.

Smell experts at the University of East Anglia and Fifth Sense, the charity for people affected by smell and taste disorders, say some children who have been infected with the virus could be suffering from parosmia.

Parosmia is a condition that changes or distorts the smell of things change.

Matt Mathers has more:

Covid may be turning some children into fussy eaters, experts say

Inmates sue jail over involuntary Ivermectin treatment

07:30 , Stuti Mishra

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Washington County Detention Centre in Arkansas after a group of men detained at the facility claimed they were experimented on with Ivermectin to see if it is effective in treating Covid-19.

According to CBS News, the men claim that medical staff at the facility gave them the anti-parasitic drug without their consent, allegedly telling them that the pills were “vitamins.”

Graig Graziosi has more:

Inmates file lawsuit over involuntary Ivermectin treatment

End of the tunnel may be in sight for UK pandemic

07:45 , Holly Bancroft

The coronavirus pandemic may be coming to an end in the UK, an expert at the World Health Organisation has said.

Dr David Nabarro, a WHO special envoy for Covid-19, has said that there is now “light at the end of the tunnel” for this country.

Read my colleague Rebecca Thomas’s report for more detail about Dr Nabarro’s comments.

‘Light at the end of the tunnel’ for Covid in UK, says WHO

ICYMI: Plans drawn up to ‘scrap all Covid rules in England as early as March'

08:00 , Holly Bancroft

Government ministers are said to be drawing up plans to get rid of Covid-19 restrictions from as early as Spring.

The restrictions currently include advice for people to work from home where possible, the mandatory wearing of face masks on public transport and in some indoor places.

There is also a requirement to show Covid-19 immunity passes for entry to certain venues.

Read the full story here:

Plans drawn up ‘to scrap all Covid rules in England as early as March’

Modern aims to launch single Covid and flu jab within two years

08:05 , Holly Bancroft

Vaccine company Moderna has set its sights on a single booster jab for Covid-19 and the flu, its chief executive has said.

Stephane Bancel thinks that the vaccine could be ready within the next two years and could be made available before the winter flu season in 2023.

He said: “Our goal is to be able to have a single annual booster so that we don’t have compliance issues where people don’t want to get two or three shots a winter. The best-case scenario would be the fall of 2023.”

Covid-19 situation in the UK ‘gives grounds for hope'

08:30 , Holly Bancroft

The World Health Organisation’s special envoy, Dr David Nabarro, has repeated his comments that the UK could be nearing the end of the coronavirus pandemic.

He told BBC Breakfast this morning: “The situation in the UK. It gives us grounds for hope and I’m personally very pleased to see that. The goal that we’re all aiming for is a situation where this virus is present, but life is organised so that it is not disrupted.”

He added: “We need real honesty - it’s just no good anybody suggesting that the situation is rosier than it really is.

“That’s why I’ve been careful. I’m saying I can see where the end is, I can see light at the end of the tunnel, but I really do anticipate right throughout the world a bumpy journey ahead during 2022.”

New York City sees rapid fall in number of Covid-19 cases

08:50 , Holly Bancroft

New York City, as well as some other US states, has started to see a rapid decline in the number of Covid-19 cases over the past few days.

In New York City the seven-day average of new cases was standing at 28,000 a day on January 16, down an average of more than 40,000 on January 9.

The same was true of positivity rates. Of the 400,000 Covid tests carried out in New York on Saturday, 12.9 percent came back positive.

This is a fall on the week before, where the positivity rate was recorded around 20 percent.

Several other north-east states, such as New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts, are also seeing a decline in recorded cases.

China urges people to wear gloves when opening mail over Covid fears

09:05 , Holly Bancroft

China is urging people to wear masks and gloves when opening their mail, especially if it is from abroad, following the discovery of the first case of Omicron in the country.

Authorities have suggested that the variant might have arrived in China via a package from Canada.

“Minimize purchases of overseas goods or receiving mail from abroad,” state broadcaster CCTV said on Monday in a post on social media.

“Be sure to protect yourself during face-to-face handovers and wear masks and gloves; try to open the package outdoors”.

Hong Kong police arrest two ex-flight attendants over COVID-19 rule breach

09:20 , Matt Mathers

Hong Kong police said they have arrested and charged two former flight attendants over allegations they broke the city's coronavirus rules.

The statement, which was published late on Monday, did not name the airline but the announcement comes after Cathay Pacific said in January it had fired two aircrew who were suspected of breaching COVID-19 protocols.

Police said the two had returned to Hong Kong from the United States on Dec. 24 and 25 where they had "conducted unnecessary activities" during their home isolation period.

They both later tested positive for the fast-spreading Omicron strain. If convicted, they could face up to six months in prison and a fine of up to HK$5,000 ($642).

They have been released on bail with their case to be heard on Feb. 9.

China’s Xi rejects ‘Cold War mentality,’ pushes cooperation on Covid

09:35 , Matt Mathers

Chinese President Xi Jinping said Monday that his country will send an additional 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine to other countries, calling for global cooperation to tackle the pandemic and other challenges while urging other powers to discard a "Cold-War mentality" — a veiled swipe at the United States.

Xi touted China's efforts to share vaccines, fight climate change and promote development in the opening speech of a virtual gathering hosted by the World Economic Forum. The online event is being held after the group put off its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Efforts to battle the global outbreak that has claimed over 5.5 million lives and upended the world economy and climate change were prominent themes Monday.

In a panel session on the virus, Moderna's CEO said the vaccine maker was working on a single-shot booster for both COVID-19 and the flu, while U.S. infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci lamented as "very disturbing" the reluctance of many Americans to follow basic measures like mask-wearing and getting vaccinated.

YE Reporter's Notebook China (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
YE Reporter's Notebook China (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Xi, who hasn't left China since the coronavirus emerged in early 2020, said his country has exported more than 2 billion doses of its COVID-19 vaccines to over 120 countries and international institutions. He announced plans to provide an additional 1 billion, including a donation of 600 million doses to Africa and an extra 150 million to Southeast Asia.

"We need to discard Cold War mentality and seek peaceful coexistence and win-win outcomes," Xi said through a translator. "Protectionism and unilateralism can protect no one. ... Even worse are the practices of hegemony and bullying, which run counter to the tide of history" — terms Beijing has used to describe U.S. policy and actions.

"A zero-sum approach that enlarges one's own gain at the expense of others will not help," he added. "The right way forward for humanity is peaceful development and win-win cooperation."

Australia suffers deadliest day of pandemic as Omicron drives up hospital cases

09:50 , Matt Mathers

Australia on Tuesday suffered its deadliest day of the pandemic as a fast-moving Omicron outbreak continued to push up hospitalisation rates to record levels, even as daily infections eased slightly.

Australia is dealing with its worst COVID-19 outbreak, fuelled by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus that has put more people in hospitals and intensive care than at any time during the pandemic.

A total of 74 deaths were registered by late morning between New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, Australia's three most populous states, exceeding the previous national high of 57 last Thursday, official data showed.

"Today, is a very difficult day for our state," New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet said during a media briefing as the state reported 36 deaths, a new pandemic high.

China reports 171 new COVID-19 cases on Jan 17 vs 223 a day earlier

10:05 , Matt Mathers

China reported 171 new confirmed COVID-19 cases for Jan. 17, down from 223 a day earlier, its health authority said on Tuesday.

Of the new infections, 127 were locally transmitted, according to a statement by the National Health Commission, down from 163 a day earlier. The other new cases were imported.

The new locally transmitted cases were in Henan, Tianjin, Guangdong, Beijing and Shaanxi, the NHC said.

The country reported 33 new asymptomatic cases for Jan. 17, which it classifies separately from confirmed cases, up from 28 infections a day earlier.

There were no new deaths, leaving the death toll at 4,636.

As of Jan. 17, mainland China had 105,258 confirmed cases.

Japan’s Osaka prefecture to report new record of about 6,000 COVID-19 cases

10:20 , Matt Mathers

Japan's Osaka prefecture will record about 6,000 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, the Kyodo news agency reported.

That would far surpass the previous all-time high of 3,760 set on Sunday.

Tianjin reports fewer COVID-19 cases; curbs affect some Boeing employees

10:35 , Matt Mathers

The Chinese city of Tianjin reported fewer COVID-19 cases on Tuesday after quickly taking measures to curb the highly transmissible Omicron variant, steps that have also affected the local operations of foreign firms such as Boeing.

Tianjin, a key port in northern China, reported 18 domestically transmitted cases with confirmed symptoms for Monday, the National Health Commission (NHC) data showed on Tuesday. That marks the lowest daily number in a week.

NHC official He Qinghua said on Saturday the risk of the Tianjin outbreak spreading to other areas was gradually declining, as new cases in the past three days were mainly in people who had been quarantined.

The China unit of U.S. planemaker Boeing said on Tuesday that a small number of employees has been impacted by various "community-level lockdowns" during the Tianjin outbreak.

"We are currently maintaining a normal level of operation," Boeing China said in a statement.

China suspects COVID-19 might arrive in overseas mail

10:50 , Matt Mathers

China is urging people to wear masks and gloves when opening mail, especially from abroad, after authorities suggested the first case of the Omicron coronavirus virus variant found in Beijing could have arrived via a package from Canada.

Authorities vowed to step up disinfection of overseas mail and are insisting postal staff handling it are fully vaccinated.

The precautions come less than three weeks before the capital opens the Winter Olympic Games and as several cities work to stamp out new outbreaks of coronavirus infections.

"Minimize purchases of overseas goods or receiving mail from abroad," state broadcaster CCTV said late on Monday in a social media post.

"Be sure to protect yourself during face-to-face handovers and wear masks and gloves; try to open the package outdoors."

Israel sticks with 4th vaccine shot, sees Omicron waning in a week

11:05 , Matt Mathers

Israel will continue to offer a fourth COVID-19 vaccine shot despite preliminary findings that it is not enough to prevent Omicron infections, a senior health official said on Tuesday, predicting contagions stoked by the variant will wane in a week.

The fastest country to roll out vaccinations a year ago, Israel last month started offering a fourth shot - also known as a second booster - to its most vulnerable and high-risk groups.

A preliminary study published by an Israeli hospital on Monday found that the fourth shot increases antibodies to even higher levels than the third but "probably" not enough to fend off the highly transmissible Omicron.

Health Ministry director-general Nachman Ash described those findings as "unsurprising, to a degree" as Omicron infections had been logged in some people after they received fourth doses.

"But we assess that protection from serious morbidity, especially for the elderly population and at-risk population, is still afforded by this vaccine (dose), and therefore I call on people to keep coming to get vaccinated," he told Army Radio.

Japan sees record 27,000 COVID-19 cases as government mulls curbs

11:20 , Matt Mathers

Japan’s new COVID-19 cases jumped to a record on Tuesday, local media reported, as the government considered expanding measures to contain the infectious Omicron coronavirus variant.

The country had more than 27,000 new cases, broadcaster TBS said, exceeding the previous high seen in August shortly after Tokyo hosted the Summer Olympics.

The western prefecture of Osaka posted a record 5,396 new cases, while Tokyo had 5,185, the highest since Aug. 21.

Russia records 1,682 Omicron cases, deputy PM says

11:37 , Matt Mathers

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova said on Tuesday that Russia had so far recorded 1,682 cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant across 42 regions, as authorities brace for a significant rise in infections.

Omicron has pushed COVID-19 case figures to record highs in parts of western Europe and the United States but the variant has been slower to hit Russia, where daily COVID cases have fallen from a peak of 41,335 registered in early November.

Watch live as Sajid Javid takes questions from MPs on Covid recovery

11:40 , Matt Mathers

UK wins court appeal over contract linked to ex-PM aide Cummings

11:50 , Matt Mathers

Britain's government has won its bid to overturn a ruling that it acted unlawfully when it gave a contract to a public relations firm run by associates of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's former chief adviser, Dominic Cummings.

A Court of Appeal ruling published on Tuesday overturned a decision made in June which said the government had shown "apparent bias" in awarding more than 560,000 pounds ($794,000) to Public First to test public opinion on the government's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The appeal court ruling set out that a fair-minded and reasonably informed observer would not have concluded that failing to carry out comparative procurement exercises created a possibility that the decision-maker was biased.

Nor, the ruling said, would an observer have concluded, given the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, that the absence of any formal record of the decision-making process was indicative of apparent bias.

Public First is run by James Frayne and Rachel Wolf, both of whom previously worked with Cummings and senior minister Michael Gove. Cummings quit as Johnson's chief adviser in Nov. 2020.

Sturgeon to reveal if restrictions will be relaxed further

12:05 , Matt Mathers

Nicola Sturgeon will later reveal if coronavirus restrictions in Scotland are set to be relaxed further as she faces demands to lift almost all restrictions by the end of the month.

On Monday 60,000 football fans swarmed into Celtic Park to see the Hoops beat Hibs in the first match to be held with a large crowd in weeks, as Scotland continued to loosen restrictions introduced as the mutant Omicron variant swept the country, but pressure is mounting on the First Minister to go further in her statement to MSPs later on Tuesday.

A decision is expected to be made on current restrictions on hospitality and leisure venues later, but Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, called on the First Minister to scrap restrictions apart from mask rules.

Covid-19 variants could become less severe, say experts

12:18 , Rory Sullivan

Future Covid-19 variants could be less severe than previous ones, experts have predicted.

Professor Andrew Hayward, an epidemiologist at UCL who advises the UK government, said it “doesn’t do the virus any good” to increase its severity.

“In fact, it looks like the Omicron variant, by becoming more transmissible, that it’s also become less severe, and we would hope that’s the general direction of travel,” he told Times Radio.

His comment comes as health experts have said the end of Britain’s pandemic is not far away, with cases dropping by more than 40 per cent in a week.

“I think it is genuinely an optimistic picture, but we’re still not quite there yet,” Prof Hayward said.

Two of Pope’s closest aides contract coronavirus

12:31 , Rory Sullivan

Two of the Pope Francis’ closest aides have tested positive for Covid-19, the Vatican has said.

Secretary of state Cardinal Pietro Parolin and his deputy, Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra, are both quarantining in their residences.

It is unclear when they last had contact with the 85-year-old pontiff.

Omicron measures set to be eased next week, says Javid

12:39 , Rory Sullivan

Coronavirus restrictions introduced to stem the spread of the Omicron variant could end next week, Sajid Javid has said.

The health secretary said he was “cautiously optimistic” that this could happen after it appeared infections and hospitalisations had peaked.

“I have always said that these restrictions should not stay in place a day longer than they are absolutely necessary,” Javid told MPs on Tuesday.

Sweden scraps Covid test requirement for travellers

13:00 , Rory Sullivan

Travellers arriving in Sweden will no longer have to show proof of a recent negative coronavirus test, the government has said.

The policy was introduced on 28 December to halt the fast spread of the Omicron variant.

“Travelers are no longer considered to pose a particular risk of affecting the spread of Omicron in Sweden,” the government said on Tuesday.

Although Sweden has seen record numbers of daily infections recently, its vaccine rollout means the infections have not put as much strain on health services as earlier Covid-19 waves.

Pier Corbyn faces May trial over anti-lockdown protests

13:18 , Matt Mathers

Piers Corbyn will face trial in May charged with breaching Covid-19 restrictions during a series of anti-lockdown protests in central London.

The 74-year-old appeared at Westminster Magistrates' Court on Tuesday charged with five counts of holding a gathering and five counts of participating in a gathering of more people than restrictions allowed at the time.

The charges relate to five separate incidents in Trafalgar Square or within the City of Westminster between August 29 and December 31 2020.

Fellow protesters Vincent Dunmall, 55, and Louise Creffield, 35, also appeared in court charged with four counts of holding a gathering and four counts of participating in a gathering that breached restrictions on four occasions between August 29 and November 28 2020.

All three defendants' lawyers argued that prosecutors made several failings during the evidence disclosure process.

They included failing to hand the defence teams video footage in a format that allowed them time to review it effectively before trial, the court heard.

Richard Parry, defending Corbyn, told the court it was "simply impossible" for proceedings to go ahead in the next few days.

Asked by District Judge Timothy Godfrey if any other evidence could be heard this week, prosecutor Flora Page agreed with the defence, saying: "Realistically I do not see how this trial can go ahead under these circumstances."

District Judge Godfrey adjourned the trial until May 17.

MSPs to probe impact of Covid pandemic on children’s attainment

13:35 , Matt Mathers

A Holyrood committee is to examine the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on children’s attainment - and how successful Scottish Government cash has been in closing the gap between youngsters from different backgrounds.

Ministers have pledged to spend £1 billion over the period 2021 to 2026 as part of efforts to close the poverty-related attainment gap - with First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, having previously declared this a top priority.

MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s Education Committee will look at how effective money spend as part of the Scottish Attainment Challenge has been in helping pupils from deprived backgrounds.

But the committee will also look at the impact of the pandemic on the attainment of pupils across Scotland over the past two years.

Hong Kong to cull 2,000 animals after hamsters get Covid

13:50 , Matt Mathers

Hong Kong authorities are to cull 2,000 small animals including hamsters after several of the rodents tested positive for coronavirus at a pet store where an infected employee was working.

The city will also stop the sale of hamsters and the import of small mammals, according to officials from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.

The move came after the pet shop employee tested positive for the Delta variant on Monday.

Several hamsters imported from the Netherlands at the same store tested positive as well.

“If you own a hamster, you should keep your hamsters at home, do not take them out,” said department director Leung Siu-fai at a news conference.

“All pet owners should observe good personal hygiene, and after you have been in contact with animals and their food, you should wash your hands.

“Do not kiss your pets.”

Spanish government spokesperson says Djokovic must get vaccinated

14:05 , Matt Mathers

Tennis star Novak Djokovic should get vaccinated against COVID-19 as the player is expected to compete in Spain, the Spanish government spokesperson said on Tuesday.

“What Mr. Djokovic has to do is get vaccinated, that would be the most sensible thing to do,” Isabel Rodriguez told a news conference when asked whether the world men’s tennis No. 1 would be allowed to compete in Spain after his deportation from Australia for not being vaccinated.

Djokovic travels regularly to Spain where he owns a house in the southern resort of Marbella. He spent a few days there in late December and early January and video footage showed him training there.

Moscow mayor extends curbs, says tough weeks ahead with Omicron

14:20 , Matt Mathers

The mayor of Moscow said on Tuesday he was extending COVID-19 home-working rules and guidance to protect elderly people until April 1 as the city braces 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," Mayor Sergei Sobyanin 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."

Russia shortens COVID-19 isolation to 7 days as cases surge

14:42 , Matt Mathers

Russian authorities are shortening the required isolation period for people infected with COVID-19 from 14 to seven days as the country faces another surge of COVID-19 cases, this time driven by the highly contagious omicron variant.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, who runs the country's coronavirus task force, said Tuesday that health officials were "optimizing our approaches to quarantine and testing of our citizens, including shortening the quarantine period to seven days."

Golikova added that other policy changes will be adopted in the coming days, without elaborating. She also didn't explain the rationale for cutting the isolation period. Earlier rules required a two-week isolation period for those who test positive, with a mandatory follow-up test on day 11.

Scotland’s Omicron restrictions to end on Monday, says Nicola Sturgeon

15:03 , Matt Mathers

First minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced that all Covid restrictions brought in to deal with the Omicron wave in Scotland will be lifted from next Monday – including an end to nightclub closures.

Our politics reporter Adam Forrest has more below:

Scotland’s Omicron restrictions to end on Monday, says Nicola Sturgeon

China urges people to wear masks and gloves to open overseas mail after Omicron case

15:14 , Emily Atkinson

Chinese officials have urged people to minimise receiving mail and purchases from abroad after authorities suggested the first case of the Omicron found in Beijing could have arrived via a package from Canada.

“Minimise purchases of overseas goods or receiving mail from abroad,” state broadcaster CCTV said on Monday night.

“Be sure to protect yourself during face-to-face handovers and wear masks and gloves; try to open the package outdoors.”

The case highlighted the importance of “personal defence”, the broadcaster said.

UK approach to Covid favoured elderly and harmed the young, says leading paediatric expert

15:25 , Emily Atkinson

The UK’s approach to tackling Covid-19 was weighted in favour of the elderly and has harmed children as a result, a leading paediatric expert has said.

“Our children have suffered too much from us closing down their lives, to protect the middle age and the vulnerable,” Russell Viner, a professor in adolescent health at University College London, told The Independent. “I don’t think during this pandemic we have necessarily got the balance right.”

Our science correspondent Samuel Lovett reports:

UK approach to Covid favoured elderly and harmed the young, says leading expert

Sweden lifts demand on travellers for negative Covid test

15:35 , Emily Atkinson

Sweden has scrapped the demand on travellers to present a negative coronavirus test when entering the country, the government announced today.

The measure was introduced on 28 December last year in an attempt to stem the spread of the Omicron variant in Sweden.

“Travellers are no longer considered to pose a particular risk of affecting the spread of Omicron in Sweden,” the government said in a statement.

Romania witness biggest 24-hour Covid case jump in three months

15:47 , Emily Atkinson

Romania reported 16,760 new cases of coronavirus today - marking the country’s the biggest single-day rise since October.

Romania is second-least vaccinated state within the EU, according to Reuters, with just under 41 per cent of the population having been fully jabbed.

UK records 94,432 cases of Covid-19

16:06 , Emily Atkinson

The UK reported a further 94,432 cases of coronavirus on Tuesday.

The latest government figures bring the seven-day total to 673,987 cases - down 38.9 per cent on the previous week.

Meanwhile, 438 deaths within 28 days of positive test were recorded today.

Latest update from UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA)

16:15 , Emily Atkinson

Djokovic should get vaccinated ahead of competing in Spain, says government spokesperson

16:25 , Emily Atkinson

The tennis champion Novak Djokovic should get vaccinated against coronavirus ahead of competing in Spain, a Spanish government spokesperson said on Tuesday.

When asked whether the world he would be allowed to compete in Spain after his deportation from Australia for refusing the jab, Isabel Rodriguez said: “What Mr. Djokovic has to do is get vaccinated, that would be the most sensible thing to do.”

UK Covid situation ‘gives grounds for hope’, says WHO cheif

16:44 , Emily Atkinson

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) special envoy on Covid-19 today said it is “important that there is no premature promising that restrictions will end at a particular time”.

Dr David Nabarro told BBC Breakfast: “I’m a public health person ... I would not be making promises some time in the future because, once you make a promise, it’s super hard then to change what you’re going to do - you feel you’re kind of doing a U-turn.

“This virus is constantly evolving and it’s super hard to predict where it will be - we can say where we hope we’re going to go, we can say where we’d like to go, we can say what we think we need to do to get there - but making promises that we’ll do something on a particular date, I think, is unwise.”

He went on to reiterated his view that the situation in the UK “gives us grounds for hope” but continued to urge caution.

“The goal that we’re all aiming for is a situation where this virus is present, but life is organised so that it is not disrupted,” he said.

“We also need to be humble - this virus is continuing to evolve and we’re never quite sure that we know exactly where it’s going to go next.”

UK records 19,450 Covid-19 hospitalisations

17:07 , Emily Atkinson

A total of 19,450 people were in hospital in the UK with Covid-19 as of 17 January, government figures show.

This is down 2 per cent week-on-week, though the total has risen slightly in the most recent two days.

During the second wave of coronavirus, the number of hospital patients peaked at 39,254 on 18 January 2021.

There were 1,892 Covid-19 hospital admissions on 14 January, the latest UK-wide figure available, down 5 per cent week-on-week.

Admissions during the second wave peaked at 4,583 on January 2021.

Hong Kong orders cull of 2,000 hamsters following Covid outbreak

17:21 , Emily Atkinson

Hong Kong has ordered a mass cull of hamsters after 11 of the rodents tested positive for Covid.

It comes after a recent surge in coronavirus cases among humans were traced back to a pet shop.

Hong Kong has said that 2,000 hamsters will be “humanely” put down, and imports and sales suspended

Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department director, Leung Siu-fai Leung, said: “Pet owners should keep a good hygiene practice, including washing hands after touching the animals, handling their food or other items, and avoid kissing the animals.”

The local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, responded: “The SPCA is shocked and concerned over the recent government announcement on the handling of over 2,000 small animals, which did not take animal welfare and the human-animal bond into consideration.”

Latest Covid-19 case rates for UK local authority areas

17:39 , Emily Atkinson

The list, compiled below by the PA news agency, documents the week-on-week fall in Covid case rates in all 377 local areas of the UK:

Latest Covid-19 case rates for UK local authority areas

Global vaccination ‘central strategic pillar’ out of pandemic, says WHO chief

18:03 , Emily Atkinson

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) emergencies director has said that over half of the world’s population has received two doses of the coronavirus vaccine - but only 7 per cent of people have been fully jabbed in Africa.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum’s virtual Davos Agenda conference, Mike Ryan added: “The problem is we are leaving huge swathes of the world behind...But vaccines are absolutely central. There is no way out of the pandemic right now without vaccines as the central strategic pillar.”

The director of the Africa Centre for Disease Control, John Nkengasong, said it was “unacceptable” that Africa had been left behind in the global vaccination effort, calling it a “collapse of global cooperation and solidarity.”

“The only way to prevent other variants challenging the global efforts and advances we have seen is to vaccinate on scale, including Africa,” he said.

Worst of Omicron wave could be ‘done with’ in some countries – WHO

18:28 , Emily Atkinson

The Omicron wave may have peaked in some countries, global health leaders have said.

But the World Health Organisation (WHO) said that “no country is out of the woods yet” and it is not time to “give up and wave the white flag”.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus director general of the WHO also said that the pandemic is “nowhere near over” and warned that new variants are likely to emerge.

Worst of Omicron wave could be ‘done with’ in some countries – WHO

Watch: Boris Johnson says ‘nobody told me’ Downing Street party broke lockdown rules

18:42 , Emily Atkinson

Mild Covid sufferers may experience ‘degraded attention and memory’ for up to nine months post-recovery

18:55 , Emily Atkinson

New research has shown people who contracted mild coronavirus but experienced no long-Covid symptoms may have memory problems for up to six to nine months after infection.

It comes after previous studies found sufferers of long-Covid experienced similar difficulties, known colloquially as “brain fog.”

Dr Sijia Zhao, of Oxford’s Department of Experimental Psychology, said: “What is surprising is that although our Covid-19 survivors did not feel any more symptomatic at the time of testing, they showed degraded attention and memory.

“Our findings reveal that people can experience some chronic cognitive consequences for months.”

Covid: Javid says he is optimistic restrictions will be ‘substantially reduced’ next week

19:22 , Emily Atkinson

In case you missed it...

Health secretary Sajid Javid has said he is “cautiously optimistic” that Covid-19 regulations can be “substantially reduced” next week.

The government is set to review its “plan B” measures on 26 January, which apply to England, and include mandatory mask wearing in certain places as well as working from home where possible.

Speaking today, Mr Javid told the Commons: “Eight weeks ago, when this house last met for health and social care questions, the world had not even heard of the Omicron variant, yet since then we have seen a third of the UK’s total number of Covid-19 cases recorded.

Our policy correspondent Jon Stone has the story:

Sajid Javid says Covid rules likely to be ‘substantially’ relaxed next week

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