16/05/2022

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coronavirus-live:-covid-passes-take-effect-in-england;-omicron-‘probably-present-in-most-countries’

Coronavirus live: Covid passes take effect in England; Omicron ‘probably present in most countries’

Pfizer set to oust AstraZeneca as top supplier of Covid shots to poor nations

Pfizer and BioNtech are set to displace AstraZeneca as the main suppliers of Covid-19 vaccines to the global COVAX programme at the start of 2022, Reuters reports.

The expected change comes with headaches for receiving countries that lack sufficient cold storage capacity to handle the Pfizer vaccine, and amid risks of a shortage of syringes needed to administer that shot.

AstraZeneca is currently the most distributed vaccine by COVAX, according to data from Gavi, the vaccine alliance that co-manages the programme with the World Health Organization (WHO).

The programme has so far delivered more than 600 million shots to nearly 150 countries, of which more than 220 million are AstraZeneca’s and about 160 million Pfizer’s.

But in the first quarter of next year Pfizer is set to take over, according to Gavi and WHO figures on doses assigned by the COVAX programme for future supplies.

Pfizer and BioNtech are set to displace AstraZeneca as the main suppliers of Covid-19 vaccines to the global COVAX programme at the start of 2022, Reuters reports.
Pfizer and BioNtech are set to displace AstraZeneca as the main suppliers of Covid-19 vaccines to the global COVAX programme at the start of 2022, Reuters reports. Photograph: Dado Ruvić/Reuters

Updated

Covid could cause major shortages across industry, hospitality and healthcare

Jessica Elgot

Soaring Covid cases could cause major shortages across industry, hospitality and healthcare, UK ministers have been told, as rail companies cancelled services and Royal Mail said it was experiencing high staff absences.

According to cabinet sources, Boris Johnson and England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, said at a briefing that rising cases would be likely to affect businesses with mass worker absences. Whitty also told ministers to expect a “significant increase” in hospital admissions.

West End shows have been cancelled because of the surge in suspected Omicron cases, while waste collections, deliveries and schools are all under threat from shortages. No 10 emphasised there had not been “any discussion or any warning about hospitals or clinical settings having to close as a result of this variant”.

Read the full story here.

Hello and thanks for following along. If you’ve just joined here’s a quick snapshot of the main developments so far.

All adults in England must now show a Covid pass detailing proof of double-vaccination or a negative PCR or lateral flow test result within the last 48 hours in order to enter nightclubs and other large events.

The new measures come into force today and apply to nightclubs, indoor unseated venues with a capacity of more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues that hold more than 4,000 people, and any venue with more than 10,000 people.

A warning from the World Health Organization (WHO) cautioned that the Omicron variant is spreading at an unprecedented rate.

“The reality is that Omicron is probably in most countries even if it hasn’t been detected yet,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters on Tuesday. “Omicron is spreading at a rate we have not seen with any previous variant,” he added.

Heres a rundown of everything you might have missed:

  • Almost 100 Conservative lawmakers voted against new coronavirus restrictions, dealing a major blow to British prime minister Boris Johnson’s authority and raising questions about his leadership.
  • Australia reopened borders to vaccinated skilled migrants and foreign students after a near two-year ban on entry.
  • New Zealand has fully vaccinated 90% of its eligible population, prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced. Auckland also reopened its border.

  • Italy extended a Covid-19 state of emergency to March 31 and ruled that all visitors from EU countries must take a test before departure.
  • South Korea reported its highest daily total of cases, as breakthrough infections among those already vaccinated continue to spike.

  • Cambodia detected its first case of the Omicron variant in a local woman who had travelled from Ghana.
  • The Philippines also detected two imported cases of Omicron.
  • Rwanda confirmed six cases of the Omicron variant of coronavirus, the health ministry said.
  • Low vaccination rates in regions including Africa – where Omicron was first detected and which has recorded a massive rise in cases over the past week – would provide breeding grounds for new variants, the World Health Organization warned.
  • Africa is experiencing its fastest surge in cases this year, with the number up 83% in the past week, although deaths remain low, the WHO said.
  • Canada is expected to toughen restrictions on international travel with new measures to be announced on Wednesday, CBC News reported.
  • Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine has been less effective in South Africa at keeping infected people out of hospital since the Omicron variant emerged last month, a study showed.
  • All three US-authorised vaccines appear to be significantly less protective against Omicron in laboratory testing, but a booster dose likely restores most of the protection, a study showed.
  • Pfizer’s antiviral Covid-19 pill showed near 90% efficacy in preventing hospitalisations and deaths in high-risk patients, and recent lab data suggests the drug retains its effectiveness against Omicron.
  • The US surpassed 50 million coronavirus cases, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Updated

The Philippines has detected two imported cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant of concern, its first reported cases, the Department of Health said on Wednesday.

The two Omicron variant cases, detected from 48 samples sequenced on 14 December were currently isolated in a quarantine facility, the department said in a statement.

The news comes as an incoming typhoon has forced the Philippines to delay Covid-19 vaccinations of millions of people living in the path of the storm, as authorities hastened preparations in anticipation of its arrival this week.

New Zealand reaches 90% vaccination milestone

New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced the country has fully vaccinated 90% of its eligible population.

In her final speech to Parliament for the year, Ardern said:

“That 90% puts us above the United States, the UK, Israel…we are now finishing with a rate much higher than them.”

“And we have not finished. In Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland), we are seeing some [District Health Boards] reach 97%, so let’s keep going.”

Ardern concluded her speech by thanking New Zealanders for putting in the hard work to get through the Covid-19 outbreak.

“It’s been hard, people have been weary, but Kiwis have done what it takes to put us in the best possible place for us to keep moving…and I for one will never underestimate New Zealanders. So to everyone, I wish you a wonderful break, you bloody deserve it.”

A family reunites at Auckland Domestic Airport on 15 December as border restrictions officially lifted.
A family reunites at Auckland Domestic Airport on 15 December as border restrictions officially lifted. Photograph: Phil Walter/Getty Images

California is exempting San Francisco from a rule that takes effect on Wednesday requiring all people to wear masks indoors in a bid to contain a troubling rise in new coronavirus cases, the Associated Press reports.

San Francisco will continue to allow fully vaccinated people to remove their masks in gyms and workplaces while its overall masking mandate remains in effect, the city Department of Public Health announced.

“It’s a recognition of all of the thought and care that San Francisco residents have been putting into staying as safe as possible,” said Dr Susan Philip, San Francisco’s health officer.

About 86% of eligible San Francisco residents have received at least one vaccine dose, according to the public health department.

A sign on a bus in San Francisco advises that passengers are required to wear masks.
A sign on a bus in San Francisco advises that passengers are required to wear masks. Photograph: Jeff Chiu/AP

Updated

Rwanda has just confirmed six cases of the Omicron variant of coronavirus, the health ministry said, pushing for authorities in the small East African nation to urge people to get vaccinated.

“All arriving passengers must quarantine for three days at a designated hotel at their own cost,” the cabinet of ministers said in a resolution on Tuesday, adding that it had suspended night club operations and live band entertainment elsewhere.

A member of United States secretary of state Antony Blinken’s travelling press pool has tested positive for Covid-19 on arrival in Kuala Lumpur and is isolating, a state department spokesperson said.

Secretary Blinken and his senior staff were also tested upon arrival in Kuala Lumpur and were all tested negative, Reuters reports.

The Chinese vaccine Sinovac, which has been administered to millions of people around the world, does not provide enough antibodies to neutralise the Omicron variant, according to researchers in Hong Kong.

In a sample of 25 people, initial findings revealed that none of them showed sufficient antibodies in their blood serum to take out the threat of the Omicron variant, researchers at the University of Hong Kong said on Tuesday night, Bloomberg reported.

Out of another group of 25 people double-dosed with the Pfizer jab, Inc. and BioNTech SE, five had neutralising ability against the new variant, the scientists said.

Do Covid vaccine mandates work?

In Australia, where employment-related mandates on the coronavirus vaccine were introduced months ago, the stories of two women demonstrate how such measures can work – and how they can backfire.

The Guardian’s science correspondent, Nicola Davis, explains that vaccine mandates are nothing new: governments around the world have long imposed vaccination requirements in different areas of life. Such policies can be effective – but health officials must be prepared to confront misinformation and public mistrust.

Listen to the latest Today in Focus podcast here.

South Korea sets daily Covid record, brings back restrictions

South Korea will clamp down on social gatherings and cut the hours of some businesses to fight a record-breaking surge of the coronavirus that has led to a spike in hospitalisations and deaths.

Prime minster Kim Boo-kyum confirmed the government’s intent to restore stricter social distancing measures during a meeting on Wednesday as the country set another new one-day record in infections with 7,850 cases, the fourth time this month the daily tally exceeded 7,000.

The country’s death toll is now 4,456 after 70 virus patients died in the past 24 hours, while a record 964 patients were in critical or serious condition.

People wait in line to get Covid-19 tests at a testing centre in Seoul on 14 December.
People wait in line to get Covid-19 tests at a testing centre in Seoul on 14 December. Photograph: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images

Officials previously said the country’s medical system could buckle if the number of serious cases topped 1,000 because it would greatly hamper hospitals’ ability to respond not only to Covid-19 but also to other medical conditions.

Kim Boo-kyum said:

The government sees the current virus situation as serious and plans to enforce stronger social distancing measures.

We are considering measures that include further reducing the size of allowable social gatherings and imposing business-hour restrictions, and these steps will be confirmed and announced soon.”

Updated

Omicron likely to become dominant strain in Australia, experts say

Melissa Davey

A third booster Covid-19 vaccine dose will be essential to get high protection against symptoms from the Omicron variant and it appears likely the variant will become the dominant strain in Australia, virologists from the Kirby Institute say.

The new data from the Kirby Institute comes as Covid-19 case numbers in New South Wales jumped again on Wednesday to 1,360, 25 of them are the Omicron variant. There are now 89 Omicron cases in NSW.

The researchers also said Covid boosters may be required every six months to protect against the variant.

Virologists from the Kirby Institute presented new data on Wednesday after growing the Omicron variant in a laboratory and testing how it responded to various samples, including from the fully vaccinated, from those who had recovered from the virus but were unvaccinated, and those who had recovered from the virus and also received two vaccine doses.

Read the full story here.

Auckland, New Zealand, reopens border

There were tears of joy, long embraces and sighs of relief, as thousands of New Zealanders boarded flights or hit the road on Wednesday, in what was, for many, the first reunion with friends and family in four months.

The wider Auckland region was closed off in August as the city tried to contain an outbreak of Covid-19. In November, the government announced it would relax the border from 15 December to allow people to travel, due to the eligible population nearing the 90% double-vaccination rate.

Jake Kenny (@JakeKennyNZ)

To brighten your day, here’s the heartwarming moment a grandmother and granddaughter were reunited after months apart due to Auckland’s lockdown: pic.twitter.com/Jkv0eBPqcD

December 14, 2021

At midnight, the road checkpoints at the edge of the city were removed, and the queues of cars, some with boats and trailers attached, were given the green light to move. On Wednesday morning, airport terminals around the country buzzed with Aucklanders eager to leave and reunite with loved ones.

About 12,000 people were expected to fly out of Auckland on Wednesday. It will mark the beginning of a 4000% increase in movement through the airport over the summer period, the airport said.

Read the full story from our reporter in New Zealand, Eva Corlett, here.

Cambodia has just detected the country’s first case of the Omicron variant in a local woman who had travelled from Ghana.

The 23-year old woman had returned from Ghana via Dubai and Bangkok, the ministry of health said in a statement issued on Tuesday.

The woman, who was 15 weeks pregnant, had been admitted to hospital for treatment, it said.

Africa is ‘breeding ground’ for new variants, WHO warns

Low vaccination rates in regions including Africa – where Omicron was first detected and which has recorded a massive rise in cases over the past week – would provide breeding grounds for new variants, the World Health Organization has warned.

WHO estimated it will take Africa until May 2022 to have 40% vaccination coverage and until August 2024 to reach 70% as countries with plentiful vaccine supplies raced to administer third doses to beat Omicron.

Although Africa has recorded a massive rise in cases over the past week, the region is reporting a lower number of deaths compared with previous waves.

People register for Covid-19 vaccination at Soweto’s Baragwanath hospital, South Africa, on 13 December as the WHO warns low vaccination rates in Africa would provide breeding grounds for new variants.
People register for Covid-19 vaccination at Soweto’s Baragwanath hospital, South Africa, on 13 December as the WHO warns low vaccination rates in Africa would provide breeding grounds for new variants. Photograph: Jérôme Delay/AP

Omicron probably present undetected in most countries, WHO says

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the Omicron variant is spreading at an unprecedented rate and had “probably” spread to most nations undetected.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters on Tuesday:

The reality is that Omicron is probably in most countries even if it hasn’t been detected yet. Omicron is spreading at a rate we have not seen with any previous variant.”

The WHO urged countries to act swiftly to rein in transmission and protect their health systems and warned against complacency.

WHO expert Bruce Aylward strenuously warned against “jumping to a conclusion that this is a mild disease”.

“We could be setting ourselves up for a very dangerous situation,” he added.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros)

Omicron is spreading at a rate we have not seen with any previous variant. I need to be very clear: vaccines alone will not get any country out of this crisis.

It’s not vaccines instead of masks, distancing, ventilation or hand hygiene.

Do it all. Do it consistently. Do it well. pic.twitter.com/YAVfJXsviQ

December 14, 2021

Hello it’s Samantha Lock back with you as we go through all the latest coronavirus developments.

Let’s start with the news that the United States has just surpassed 800,000 coronavirus-related deaths, according to recently updated data from Johns Hopkins University.

The grim milestone means the country now has the highest number of reported total Covid-19 deaths in the world, followed by Brazil and India. On Monday, the US reached 50m confirmed cases of Covid-19.

Covid deaths this year were mostly in unvaccinated patients and may have been preventable, health experts say. Roughly 60% of the US population has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, CDC data shows.

A warning from the World Health Organization (WHO) has also cautioned that the Omicron variant is spreading at an unprecedented rate.

“The reality is that Omicron is probably in most countries even if it hasn’t been detected yet,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters on Tuesday. “Omicron is spreading at a rate we have not seen with any previous variant,” he added.

The WHO also noted that low vaccination rates in regions including Africa – where Omicron was first detected and which has recorded a massive rise in cases over the past week – would provide breeding grounds for new variants.

Here is a snapshot of all the key Covid developments:

  • The US surpassed 50 million coronavirus cases, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
  • The UK has recorded another 59,610 Covid cases, the highest figure since early January. A further 633 confirmed Omicron cases were reported, taking the total to 5,346, according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
  • In England, MPs have backed Covid passes being required at nightclubs and large venues as dozens of Tories rebelled against the government’s ‘plan B’ winter Covid measures.
  • Germany will exempt people who have had a booster jab from having to take a Covid test before entering some leisure facilities, federal and regional health ministers agreed on Tuesday.

  • Italy has extended a Covid-19 state of emergency to 31 March.
  • Denmark and Norway announced stricter Covid measures to battle soaring infection numbers.
  • Austria is likely to recommend Covid booster shots for children aged 12 and over once four months have passed since their second vaccine dose, putting the country ahead of most European countries in terms of vaccinating children.
  • Moderna’s chief medical officer, Dr Paul Burton, said Omicron “poses a real threat” and cautioned against claims it causes milder disease, warning that Omicron and Delta are likely to circulate together for some time.

  • The UK will need a mini-furlough in the event that the Omicron variant forces the government into closing parts of the economy, the International Monetary Fund has said.

  • Pfizer says its antiviral Covid-19 pill showed near 90% efficacy in preventing hospitalisations and deaths in high-risk patients, and recent lab data suggests the drug retains its effectiveness against the Omicron variant.
  • France detected 130 cases of the Omicron variant but so far has no plans to impose new restrictions.
  • South Korea marked its deadliest day since the start of the pandemic.
  • Israel’s prime minister Naftali Bennett is in quarantine after catching a flight with someone who tested positive for Covid.
  • Billie Eilish revealed that she had Covid-19 in August, and said that she felt sure she “would have died” had she not been vaccinated.
  • China’s economically important Zhejiang province is battling a Covid outbreak that has left half a million people quarantined and some districts under business shutdown.
  • The US air force discharged 27 people for refusing to get the Covid-19 vaccine, making them what officials believe are the first service members to be removed for disobeying the mandate.
  • Mainland China detected its second imported case of the Omicron variant, this time in its southern Guangdong province, following reports of the first case in the northern city of Tianjin on Monday.
  • Africa is experiencing its fastest surge in Covid cases this year, with the number up 83% in the past week, although deaths remain low.
  • High levels of previous exposure to three previous waves of Covid infection in South Africa may explain the relatively low levels of hospitalisation and severe disease in the current outbreak of the Omicron variant, rather than the variant itself being less virulent.

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