Covid news – live: ‘Too late’ to stop omicron wave, expert says as cases of new variant rise by 50% in one day

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It is “too late” to make a “material difference” to a potential wave of omicron cases in Britain, a government adviser has said, stressing the current travel bans and pre-departure tests will do little to help.

“If omicron is here in the UK, and it certainly is, if there’s community transmission in the UK, and it certainly looks that way, then it’s that community transmission that will drive a next wave,” said Professor Mark Woolhouse, an epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh.

Asked about new travel rules announced by health secretary Sajid Javid last night, including forcing all travellers attempting to enter the UK to take a pre-departure Covid test, Prof Woolhouse said that the measures were akin to “shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted”.

It came as a further 86 omicron cases were reported across the UK – bringing the total to 246 and representing a rise of more than 50 per cent in just one day.

Meanwhile, Dominic Raab urged the British public to exercise a “common-sense approach” to Christmas. Describing allegations of parties within No 10 last year as “unsubstantiated rumours”, the justice secretary accepted that, if true, they would represent a clear breach of the rules at the time.

Follow our live coverage below

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Key points

  • Breaking: Omicron cases surge by 50% in one day, bringing UK total to 246

  • Professor: ‘Too late’ to make ‘material difference’ to omicron wave

  • UK’s Covid progress ‘squandered’ by omicron, warns top scientist

  • Travellers to UK now require pre-departure test

  • Initial data on omicron emerges from South Africa

Good morning

Sunday 5 December 2021 07:52 , Sam Hancock

Hello, and welcome to The Independent’s rolling coronavirus coverage. Stay tuned as we bring you the latest updates on the spread of omicron, including statistics and analysis from the experts.

UK’s Covid progress ‘squandered’ by omicron, warns top scientist

Sunday 5 December 2021 08:00 , Sam Hancock

One of Britain’s most senior scientific figures has warned that the emergence of the omicron Covid variant shows the world is “closer to the start of the pandemic than the end” - and that the UK’s fight against the virus is “being squandered”.

Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, who stepped down as a government scientific adviser last month, said rich countries had been taking “a very blinkered domestic focus, lulled into thinking that the worst of the pandemic was behind us”.

Writing in the Observer, he also said while he was cautiously hopeful that current vaccines would protect against severe illness from omicron, that may not be true for future variants.

“The longer this virus continues to spread in largely unvaccinated populations globally, the more likely it is that a variant that can overcome our vaccines and treatments will emerge,” he wrote in the Sunday paper. “If that happens, we could be close to square one.

“This political drift and lack of leadership is prolonging the pandemic for everyone, with governments unwilling to really address inequitable access to the vaccines, tests and treatment. There have been wonderful speeches, warm words, but not the actions needed to ensure fair access to what we know works and would bring the pandemic to a close.”

He added that the urgent action needed had not changed – “wearing masks indoors, increasing testing, social distancing, isolating if positive (with support to do so) and vaccination will all help to drive down transmission and protect against illness”.

Farrar announced he was quitting the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) last month, warning of ‘concerning high levels of transmission’ in Britain (Reuters)
Farrar announced he was quitting the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) last month, warning of ‘concerning high levels of transmission’ in Britain (Reuters)

Travellers to UK now require pre-departure test

Sunday 5 December 2021 08:03 , Sam Hancock

Last night, Sajid Javid announced new travel rules related to the omicron variant.

From 4am Monday, only UK/Irish citizens and residents travelling from Nigeria will be allowed entry into the UK and must isolate in a managed quarantine facility, the health secretary wrote on Twitter.

He added that, from 4am Tuesday, anyone travelling to the UK from countries not on the Red List will be required to take a pre-departure test, regardless of their vaccination status.

He also urged people to get vaccinated. “Vaccines remain our first line of defence – the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones. Please get vaccinated or #GetBoosted as soon as you can,” he said.

Here’s the tweet in case you missed it:

What are the new travel rules?

Sunday 5 December 2021 08:07 , Sam Hancock

Following my last post, here’s our travel correspondent Simon Calder with everything you need to know about travelling to the UK under the latest changes.

Testing rules for travellers to the UK will revert largely to where they were months ago, the health secretary has said.

Airlines, holiday firms and cruise and ferry lines are aghast at the latest government U-turn, just a week after the red list was revived and testing rules toughened.

Sajid Javid has also extended the red list, requiring travellers returning from Nigeria who arrive after 4am on Monday 6 December to go into hotel quarantine at a cost of thousands of pounds.

So, how will these changes work in practise? Simon takes a closer look.

What are the new Covid travel rules?

Watch: Javid announces pre-departure tests for UK travellers

Sunday 5 December 2021 08:17 , Sam Hancock

Covid antiviral pill to be offered to patients before Christmas – report

Sunday 5 December 2021 08:22 , Sam Hancock

The first at-home Covid treatment could be on offer before Christmas as an attempt to protect the most vulnerable people from the omicron variant, a report suggests.

Health secretary Sajid Javid is set to launch a national pilot of the Molnupiravir antiviral pill - also known as Lagevrio - in the next few weeks, the Sunday Telegraph writes.

The paper said that under the plans, the NHS was expected to deliver courses of the tablet to clinically vulnerable and immunosuppressed patients within as little as 48 hours of them testing positive for Covid.

It said hospitals and GPs had been told a series of Covid medicines delivery units were being established to ensure the treatment gets to patients as quickly as possible once it is confirmed they have the virus.

Last month, the UK became the first country in the world to license its use - a move described as a “game-changer” by Mr Javid. But, just over a week ago, England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty warned its use may have to be reconsidered in the light of the new omicron variant.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said only of the news: “There are a number of exciting opportunities in the pipeline and we will provide further details in due course.”

Ex-govt adviser warns vaccine inequity leading to new variants

Sunday 5 December 2021 08:41 , Sam Hancock

Following my earlier post (8am), here’s Thomas Kingsley with the report on what Sir Jeremy Farrar had to say about omicron.

Omicron variant has squandered UK’s progress in pandemic, top scientist warns

No Christmas party for Ministry of Justice this year, Raab says

Sunday 5 December 2021 09:04 , Sam Hancock

The justice secretary has revealed that his department won’t be enjoying the regular office party festivities this year, while encouraging the public to approach Christmas with “common sense”.

Asked what, amid the new omicron Covid variant, he thinks the “right thing to do is” in terms of holiday parties, Dominic Raab said the government was “clear” that it wanted the British public to “enjoy Christmas this year” – but dropped into conversation that there would be no “Ministry of Justice-wide Christmas party” in the next few weeks.

Instead, he told Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday programme, “I think we’ll be doing something much more appropriate on a smaller scale.”

Pressed on what “appropriate” meant – and what the public should do amid mixed messaging – the deputy PM said “the rules are very clear” and that he advised people to make festive plans with a “common sense approach”.

“The right thing to do is for every employer and employee to take a common sense approach,” Mr Raab repeated, adding: “The guidance we are offering is that those parties can happen ... of course employers will want to think about how they do that.

“We don’t want to substitute for that discretion and that common sense.”

Raab speaks to Sky News presenter Trevor Phillips this morning (Sky News)
Raab speaks to Sky News presenter Trevor Phillips this morning (Sky News)

Mandatory vaccines ‘wouldn’t be effective,’ claims deputy PM

Sunday 5 December 2021 09:10 , Sam Hancock

More from Raab now, who also spoke about the potential for a vaccine mandate to come into effect in the UK.

Asked what his views on such a move would be, the deputy PM and justice secretary said he was “not convinced that wholesale, straight-jacket, mandatory vaccinations” – other than in vulnerable settings, “such as health and social care staff” – will be “effective”.

He also questioned whether such a rule change would be “moral”.

It comes after Austria last month became the first Western country to make vaccines obligatory, with all residents being told that if they are not double-jabbed by February 2022, they will live a much more restricted life than those who are.

Raab defends reintroduction of pre-departure Covid tests

Sunday 5 December 2021 09:22 , Sam Hancock

Last bit from Raab, who this morning defended the government’s decision to re-introduce Covid pre-departure tests following the emergence of the omicron variant.

Still on Sky News’ Trevor Phillips on Sunday programme, he said: “I know that is a burden for the travel industry but we have made huge, huge strides in this country.

“We have got to take the measures targeted forensically to stop the new variant seeding in this country to create a bigger problem.

“We have taken a balanced approach but we are always alert to extra risk that takes us back not forward.”

Raab scales back Christmas party plans due to omicron

Sunday 5 December 2021 09:36 , Sam Hancock

Following my earlier post (9.04am), here’s our political editor Andrew Woodcock with more about Dominic Raab’s remarks this morning.

Dominic Raab scales back Christmas party plans because of Omicron

‘Too late’ to make ‘material difference’ to omicron wave, warns prof

Sunday 5 December 2021 10:04 , Sam Hancock

Let’s get some expert commentary on the omicron variant now.

Professor Mark Woolhouse, a government science adviser, says it is “too late” to make a “material difference” to a potential wave of omicron cases - and that the variant could potentially replace the current dominant delta one.

Asked about the new travel rules, Prof Woolhouse said it was “a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted”.

He continued: “If omicron is here in the UK, and it certainly is, if there’s community transmission in the UK, and it certainly looks that way, then it’s that community transmission that will drive a next wave ... but I think it’s too late to make a material difference to the course of the omicron wave if we’re going to have one.”

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Prof Woolhouse also discussed the disease’s transmissibility, saying it “appears to be spreading very rapidly in South Africa and the early signs are that it’s spreading pretty rapidly in the UK too”.

“If those trends continue then over the course of the coming weeks and months, omicron could even come to replace selta entirely right around the world,” he said, adding: “The numbers are still quite small, so the absolute number of Omicron cases in the UK, I would strongly suspect, is more in the hundreds than the thousands.

“But the important point is that they’re growing and they’re growing quite fast.”

Closer look: Travel bans ‘will do nothing to stop spread of omicron’

Sunday 5 December 2021 10:06 , Sam Hancock

Travel bans and pre-departure tests will do nothing to stop the spread of omicron to the UK, according to a leading scientist from South Africa, where the new variant of coronavirus was first detected.

And a member of the government’s Sage scientific advisory board said that measures announced on Saturday by Sajid Javid were “shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted”.

Community transmission is already under way in the UK and can be expected to “drive the next wave” and see cases rise from hundreds to thousands, regardless of travel restrictions, said epidemiologist Prof Mark Woolhouse, of the University of Edinburgh.

Our political editor Andrew Woodcock has the full report:

Travel bans will do nothing to stop spread of omicron to UK, scientist warns

Initial data on omicron emerges from South Africa

Sunday 5 December 2021 10:25 , Sam Hancock

Some of the first data about omicron’s qualities is emerging from South Africa, where it is believed to have originated from.

A health researcher in the nation says early suggestions are that the new Covid variant is highly transmissible, but has a less than 1 per cent chance of re-infection and typically results in “milder” disease.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Professor Willem Hanekom, director of the Africa Health Research Institute in South Africa, said: “We know three things that we didn’t know last week, the first thing is that the virus is spreading extraordinarily fast in South Africa, the increase in cases is much steeper than it’s been in the past three waves so it seems that omicron is able to spread very easily and virtually all the cases that we see in South Africa right now are omicron.

“The second thing we have data on is re-infections, so as you know, after you’ve had Covid you have about a 1 per cent chance, or perhaps even less than a 1 per cent chance, of getting re-infected and even getting disease again, of course, by this virus.”

He continued: “The third little bit of data we have already relates to clinical cases and how severe the disease is. The only data suggests the disease may occur more in younger people and mostly younger people who are unvaccinated and overall, so far, the disease has appeared to be milder but again I want to say we have to be cautious - these are very early days.”

Prof Willem Hanekom (WillemAHanekom/Twitter)
Prof Willem Hanekom (WillemAHanekom/Twitter)

Omicron not ‘really severe’ when people get it, claims professor

Sunday 5 December 2021 10:44 , Sam Hancock

Some more about the potential impact of omicron now, as a leading statistician says the variant does not look “really severe” when people get it.

However, Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter admitted it’s currently a “difficult situation because we haven’t got a lot of data yet at all”.

“There’s almost nothing from this country about what the risks are,” Sir David said about the UK.

“In South Africa there’s data coming out showing pretty strong evidence that the increased risk of transmission and some evidence about people going to hospital - it may actually be milder but we haven’t got enough data yet to be able to say,” he told Sky News’ Trevor Phillips on Sunday.

“It doesn’t look as if it’s really severe if you get it, I think that’s about all we can say at the moment.”

Asked if measures to combat the spread of omicron have gone far enough, Sir David added: “It’s best to be precautionary, when there’s so much we don’t know ... and when we don’t know it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Watch: Raab discusses kissing under the mistletoe this Christmas

Sunday 5 December 2021 10:48 , Sam Hancock

Raab admits No 10 parties broke lockdown rules ‘if they took place’

Sunday 5 December 2021 11:28 , Sam Hancock

Doing the media rounds this morning, Dominic Raab was asked about reports of No 10 having a Christmas party during lockdown last year.

The deputy PM has admitted the event would have breached Covid restrictions, if it took place.

Boris Johnson has not denied reports that his staff held a party on 18 December 2020 when London was under Tier 3 restrictions but has insisted that no rules were broken.

Mr Raab, who is also the justice secretary, said that if reports based on “unsubstantiated claims all on the basis of anonymous sources” turned out to be true then there would have been a breach.

“Until there is something substantiated, until it is more than anonymous sources, I think we are chasing shadows,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show. “If there is a breach of the rules there is a breach of the rules. But I don’t know the full facts because I wasn’t there.”

He added: “If anyone held a party that it is contrary to the rules, of course that is the wrong thing to do.

“If something unsubstantiated from anonymous sources actually materialised then of course it would be wrong.”

ICYMI: Asthmatic children six times more likely to be hospitalised with Covid

Sunday 5 December 2021 11:39 , Sam Hancock

Poorly controlled asthma in children increases the risk of them requiring hospital treatment once infected with Covid-19, an “urgent analysis” requested by the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has found.

Studying data on all children in Scotland aged between five and 17 years old, researchers found that those prescribed two or more courses of oral steroids for their asthma in the previous two years were three times more likely to be hospitalised with coronavirus than those without asthma.

That increase rose from three to sixfold in children who had recently been hospitalised as a result of their asthma, according to the study published this week in Lancet Respiratory Medicine.

Andy Gregory reports:

Children with poorly controlled asthma more likely to be hospitalised with Covid-19

Watch: Christmas party reports ‘unsubstantiated’, Raab says

Sunday 5 December 2021 11:39 , Sam Hancock

Johnson urged ‘not to close schools’ amid omicron

Sunday 5 December 2021 11:52 , Sam Hancock

The children’s commissioner for England said she would urge the PM “not to close schools” following the emergence of the omicron variant.

Speaking about how lockdown had weakened the system of support for children, Dame Rachel de Souza said: “It’s also why I think we must not close schools again, we must not ... I would urge [Boris Johnson] not to close schools.”

She added: “[Children] want things back to normal, they took a huge hit for us.

“We must not close schools again and my headteacher colleagues across the country are incredibly good at managing this situation, I watched them rush in to support the most vulnerable and I would definitely advise not to do this, if there is any other option.”

Everything we know about the omicron Covid variant

Sunday 5 December 2021 12:25 , Sam Hancock

What is the new omicron variant?

Where did it emerge?

How prevalent is it in the UK?

Eleanor Sly, Emily Atkinson, Shweta Sharma and Andy Gregory lay out everything we know about the latest variant here:

Everything we know about the new ‘omicron’ variant

Continue with Christmas plans – but ‘make them safer’, Scottish health secretary says

Sunday 5 December 2021 12:48 , Andy Gregory

People should continue with their Christmas plans but “make them safer”, Scotland's health secretary has said.

Humza Yousaf said he was not going to tell people not to invite their granny for Christmas dinner, but urged them to ask people to take lateral flow tests before arrival amid concern about the new omicron variant.

Scotland recorded 14 coronavirus-linked deaths and 1,257 new cases in 24 hours, according to the latest data released on Saturday afternoon, including a total of 30 Omicron cases.


Labour attacks government messaging and travel policy

Sunday 5 December 2021 12:59 , Andy Gregory

The government has been “very late in making the calls that are required to keep our borders safe”, Labour’s shadow environment secretary has said.

“The worst thing in the world after all the sacrifices that we’ve made is that a new variant comes in and completely takes the rug from under” the vaccine programme, Jim McMahon told Sky News, adding: “It’s very important the government get a grip” and take “swift action”.

In an apparent dig at the allegations of parties at No 10 last Christmas, he added: “Most of us last year at Christmas were adhering to the rules and we made sacrifices, we didn’t see our loved ones, we didn’t mix, we didn’t have parties in the office, we adhered to the rules.

“After all that sacrifice that we’ve made, we want to look forward to this Christmas. And the only way to do that is for the government to have a very clear plan for them to get on with the booster vaccination rollout and to make sure that throughout the course of that, that the messaging is really clear.

“Because the worst thing in the world is that the government say one thing, but then do another and people look at the actions of the government and they get a confused message.”

Fresh anti-Covid protest getting underway in Brussels

Sunday 5 December 2021 13:17 , Andy Gregory

Another protest against coronavirus measures appears to be getting underway in Brussels.

It comes a fortnight after tens of thousands of people took to the Belgian capital’s streets, responding to new mask and home-working mandates with demonstrations that saw violent clashes between riot police – who fired water cannon and tear gas – and protesters, who responded with rocks, smoke bombs and fireworks.

The BBC’s Brussels correspondent shared this clip a short while ago, and described a frequent sound of fireworks being let off:

G20 must help with vaccine rollout in African nations, Tony Blair Institute says

Sunday 5 December 2021 13:33 , Andy Gregory

Describing global vaccine inequity as “the most obvious failure of the international response to the pandemic”, the Tony Blair Institute is warning that – ahead of an expected influx of doses next year – the looming challenge for African nations will be administering the newly-arrived jabs at pace.

Without a boost to their delivery programmes, “African countries seriously risk falling behind a target of achieving 70 per cent adult vaccination by the middle of 2022”, the think-tank said.

“Each country faces distinct challenges getting jabs into arms but, above all, adequate funding is needed to strengthen absorptive capacities. It is in the global interest to ensure that African countries can administer the vaccines they receive.”

The institute is urging the G20 to back a plan to ensure support with financing and monitoring the vaccine rollout.

Sajid Javid urges people to get flu jab to maximise Christmas protection

Sunday 5 December 2021 13:52 , Andy Gregory

The government has launched a fresh push to ensure people get their flu and booster jabs before 10 December to allow them to take full effect before Christmas.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is particularly pushing for pregnant women and those with underlying health conditions to come forward, but is also calling on people from a black Caribbean or black African background, following data which suggests they have had the lowest uptake of the vaccine.

While uptake among over-65s is above the World Health Organisation's recommended threshold of 75 per cent, the UKHSA is aiming to increase that number.

The health secretary Sajid Javid said: “Getting your winter vaccines, whether that is your flu jab if eligible or your booster jab, is one of the most important things people can do for yourself and your family this winter.

“Record numbers of people took up the offer of a free flu vaccine last year and the programme is expanding even further this year, with a record 35 million people in England eligible.

“Don't delay, book your flu vaccine as soon as possible.”

NHS will be in ‘very, very difficult position’ if omicron leads to hospitalisation surge

Sunday 5 December 2021 14:07 , Andy Gregory

The president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine has warned that the NHS will be in a “very, very difficult position” if the omicron variant were to lead to a surge in hospital admissions.

Dr Katherine Henderson said hospitals were already struggling to cope as they enter winter.

“It is pretty spectacularly bad now, it will get worse – and if the new variant becomes a thing in terms of numbers and translates into hospitals admissions we are going to be in a very, very difficult position,” she said.

“We will always still be there. We still want patients to come but we do have to help people to understand that really at the moment the service is so stretched that an extra push could be very very difficult.”

Known omicron cases in UK rise by 86 to 246

Sunday 5 December 2021 14:24 , Andy Gregory

Some 86 new omicron cases have been identified across the UK in the past 24 hours – bringing the total to 246, according to the UK Health Security Agency.

Sixty-eight of these were discovered in England, and the other 18 in Scotland, where there are now 48 confirmed cases in total.

Sunday 5 December 2021 14:50 , Andy Gregory

Here’s a further breakdown of the 18 new omicron cases in Scotland:

  • NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde had the largest rise, with 12 more cases – taking its total to 23.

  • NHS Lanarkshire recorded four new omicron cases and now has 13 overall.

  • One more case was confirmed in the Forth Valley health board area, taking the total to six.

  • And a case of the new variant was recorded in NHS Lothian for the first time.

  • Case numbers in NHS Highland and NHS Grampian remain at three and two respectively.

Sunday 5 December 2021 15:01 , Andy Gregory

My colleague Sam Hancock has this breaking report on the newly reported variant cases, which you can refresh for updates:

Omicron cases in UK rise by more than 50% in one day

Kwasi Kwarteng weighs in on Downing Street party allegations

Sunday 5 December 2021 15:13 , Andy Gregory

Asked about an alleged Christmas party in Downing Street last year, the energy secretary said events held there would “follow strict working guidance”.

Speaking on a visit to Penshaw, near Sunderland, Kwasi Kwarteng said: “I don't know anything about the details of the party.

“I don't really know what party people are talking about. All I would say is that No 10 events are done under strict working conditions and that would be the case, certainly.”

Omicron reported in at least 15 US states so far

Sunday 5 December 2021 15:33 , Andy Gregory

Here’s a brief update on the spread of the omicron variant in the United States.

According to a Reuters tally, at least 15 states have reported cases of the new variant so far – California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin.

The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has been found in about 15 U.S. states so far, but the Delta variant remains the majority of COVID-19 cases nationwide, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Sunday.

“We know we have several dozen cases and we're following them closely. And we are every day hearing about more and more probable cases so that number is likely to rise,” the director of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention Dr Rochelle Walensky told ABC News.

She said that of the 90,000 to 100,000 cases a day, 99.9 per cent of them are the delta variant.

Tony Blair calls for organisation of ‘global genomic sequencing’

Sunday 5 December 2021 15:51 , Andy Gregory

Tony Blair has urged the international community to “organise global genomic sequencing” to act faster on new variants.

Vaccinations “are the only way out of” the pandemic, the former prime minister said, adding: “If you've got large populations that are unvaccinated, it's likely to mutate faster and further. The failure to organise mass vaccination globally has been a huge problem right throughout this crisis.”

He continued: “I think over the coming weeks and months, we'll have a large supply of vaccine flowing even to Africa, but we will have to organise the distribution, the logistics and absolutely vitally we've got to organise global genomic sequencing so that we know what's happening in countries.”

He added: “This is really important because the faster you know that a new variant has emerged, the easier it is obviously to try and control it.”

Breaking: UK records another 54 deaths and nearly 44,000 cases

Sunday 5 December 2021 16:10 , Andy Gregory

The latest daily coronavirus figures are in – with a further 54 deaths within 28 days of a positive test reported today.

There were also a further 43,992 new cases recorded, which is fairly consistent with recent daily totals.

Northern Ireland to introduce pre-departure Covid tests

Sunday 5 December 2021 16:28 , Andy Gregory

From 4am on Tuesday, anyone over the age of 12 travelling to Northern Ireland will be required to undergo a pre-departure Covid test, health authorities have confirmed.

The changes to international travel for Northern Ireland mirror a similar announcement made on Saturday for England, amid concern over the new omicron variant.

No cases of omicron have yet been identified in Northern Ireland, but health minister Robin Swann has previously said it is expected that the new variant is already in the region.

Covid sees Germany’s new government face backlash before it takes power

Sunday 5 December 2021 17:10 , Andy Gregory

Under normal circumstances the arrival of Olaf Scholz’s new government in Germany – filled with a fresh-faced crop of progressive young leaders – would be a harbinger of hope and optimism.

But not in Germany this year.

“The mood in Germany is really, really lousy at the moment,” said Thomas Jäger, a political scientist at Cologne University, in an interview with The Independent.

“People have lost faith in any government’s ability to manage this crisis. You can see the anger and frustration for yourself if you’re one of the unfortunate people standing outside in the cold for hours waiting and hoping, sometimes in vain, to get a booster shot at a vaccination centre. Nothing at all seems to working the way it should right now.”

You can find Erik Kirschbaum’s full report from Berlin here, with Independent Premium:

Germany’s new government faces backlash before it takes power

Nearly 450,000 receive booster jabs and third doses

Sunday 5 December 2021 17:30 , Andy Gregory

A further 25,679 first vaccine doses were reported in the UK on Saturday, bringing the total to nearly 51.1 million.

More than 46.5 million second doses had also been delivered by Saturday – an increase of 35,719 on the previous day.

A combined total of 20.2 million booster jabs and third doses have also been given – representing a day-on-day rise of 448,975.

Fierce anti-Covid protests again reported in Brussels

Sunday 5 December 2021 17:48 , Andy Gregory

A fortnight after tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Brussels to protest against new mask and home-working mandates, the Belgian capital has again witnessed fierce demonstrations.

Thousands gathered again on Sunday, facing tear gas and water cannon to show their objection to new measures brought in by prime minister Alexander De Croo on Friday, which included the early holiday closure of day care centres and primary schools, and limits on indoor events with more than 200 people.

Fauci hopes US travel bans against southern African nations can be lifted in ‘reasonable period’

Sunday 5 December 2021 18:09 , Andy Gregory

Top US infectious disease official Anthony Fauci has said that he hopes the ban on travellers from southern African countries can be lifted in a “reasonable period of time” as more information is gathered on the omicron variant.

The new variant has been discovered in nearly a third of US states and at least 38 countries across the world.

Dr Fauci told CNN on Sunday that US authorities are mindful of the hardship the travel ban is causing and are constantly re-evaluating the policy.

Pandemic has weakened China’s power in the Indo-Pacific, think-tank claims

Sunday 5 December 2021 18:40 , Andy Gregory

The coronavirus pandemic has weakened China's power in the Indo-Pacific, and the region's deepening security uncertainties present a “significant” risk of war, a Sydney-based foreign policy think-tank has claimed.

In a report on Sunday, the Lowy Institute said the impact from the pandemic has undermined the overall region’s prosperity, weakening China's comprehensive power.

“Beijing is now less likely to pull ahead of its peer competitor in comprehensive power by the end of the decade – this suggests that there is nothing inevitable about China’s rise in the world,” the report said.

“It appears very unlikely China will ever be as dominant as the United States once was.”

Sunday 5 December 2021 18:59 , Andy Gregory

The government’s guidance is “too muddled”, a scientist on the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies has said.

You can listen to the comments from Henry Potts of University College London here:

Sunday 5 December 2021 19:14 , Andy Gregory

Here’s a little background on the creation of the coronavirus dashboard on the government’s website, from its technical and development lead Pouria Hadjibagheri:

He also revealed that the site recently had visitors from 152 countries around the world in a single day.

Scottish government advisor denounces ‘cynical fatalism’ regarding omicron wave

Sunday 5 December 2021 19:33 , Andy Gregory

Professor Devi Sridhar, who sits on the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 Advisory Group, has rejected the idea that “there’s nothing we can do about another large omicron wave”, saying: “Our micro-behaviours matter. Think of the NHS.”

Continued travel bans against southern African nations ‘disappointing’, WHO chief says

Sunday 5 December 2021 19:49 , Andy Gregory

The director-general of the World Health Organisation has repeated his disappointment that countries – including the UK – continue to enact travel bans against countries in southern Africa in response to the discovery of the omicron variant by scientists in South Africa.

It remains uncertain in which country – or continent – the variant first emerged. It has now been detected in scores of countries around the world.

Putin voices hopes for speedy WHO approval of Sputnik vaccine

Sunday 5 December 2021 20:29 , Andy Gregory

Russian president Vladimir Putin has voiced hope for a quick approval of the country's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

In a video call with the president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Mr Putin said receiving the WHO’s vetting is necessary to spread the Russian vaccine more broadly around the world, including free supplies.

“We intend to expand such assistance,” Mr Putin said.

The Russian leader also argued that WHO's approval should open the door for Russians and others who have had the Sputnik V vaccine to travel more freely around the world. He said about 200 million people worldwide have received Sputnik V.


Everything we know about the new Covid variant

Sunday 5 December 2021 21:07 , Andy Gregory

You can find details on the spread of the new omicron variant, its emergence, and what scientists are saying about it in this explainer:

Everything we know about the new ‘omicron’ variant

Mandatory vaccinations could be introduced for German medical staff

Sunday 5 December 2021 21:58 , Ella Glover

Back to Germany now, where the incoming government wants to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory in certain jobs from next Spring.

A draft legislation seen by Reuters proposes mandatory vaccinations for people working in hospitals, nursing homes and other medical practices.

Under the legislation, staff working in these areas would have to prove that they are vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19 or present a medical certificate to show they cannot be vaccinated by March 15, Reuters reported.

The legislation is expected to be presented to parliament in the coming week and would come into force from March 15 2022.

It also extends temporary measures that would allow Germany’s federal states to introduce more drastic lockdown measures if necessary until February 15, and would allow dentists, veterinarians and pharmacists to be allowed to give shots for a temporary period with the appropriate training.

Germany has been hesitant about making vaccines compulsory for fear of exacerbating a shortage of medical and nursing home staff, but support has grown for the idea as the country has faced surging infections in a fourth wave of the pandemic.

Tunisia records first omicron case

Sunday 5 December 2021 22:20 , Ella Glover

Tunisia recorded its first case of the omicron variant Sunday after health authorities in the North African country said a man traveling in from Turkey tested positive, AP reports.

The man was from the Democratic Republic of Congo and tested positive on Friday at the Tunis international airport after arriving from Istanbul.

A member of Tunisia’s Covid-19 task force, Dr. Hachemi Louzer, said a subsequent screening of the sample at the Pasteur Institute for Public Health in the capital, Tunis, confirmed the omicron variant.

Starmer calls for a renewed effort to step up booster jab delivery

Sunday 5 December 2021 22:34 , Ella Glover

The Labour leader, who is getting his Covid-19 booster jab tomorrow, has called for a renewed national effort” to step up delivery of the Covid-19 booster jab, PA reports.

Recent analysis by Labour suggested the rollout of the vaccination programme has slowed with an average of 435,542 jabs a day, compared to a peak of 602,265 a day in March.

He called on those eligible to get the vaccine to “think again”.

“It is frustrating and worrying that medics are seeing too many hospital beds and NHS resources are taken by those that have chosen not to get the vaccine,” he said.

“I am calling on those who are eligible but unwilling to get vaccinated to consider the impact of their decision and think again.

“But with the number of vaccinations down a quarter from the peak earlier this year, we simply cannot afford for the Government to take its eye off the ball in speeding up the rollout of the booster programme.

“The Prime Minister needs to break the habit of his tenure by stepping up and getting a grip.”

Good night from The Independent

Sunday 5 December 2021 23:59 , Ella Glover

That’s it for today’s rolling coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

Come back tomorrow for more updates.

Good night from The Independent

Sunday 5 December 2021 23:59 , Ella Glover

That’s it for today’s rolling coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

Come back tomorrow for more updates.

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