covid:-south-korea-reports-more-than-100,000-new-cases-for-first-time-–-as-it-happened

South Korea reports more than 100,000 new cases for first time

South Korea reported 109,831 new Covid cases on Friday, including 109,715 local cases, marking the first time daily reported cases have exceeded 100,000 since the pandemic began. A further 45 deaths were recorded.

Case numbers have spiked in recent weeks driven by the fast spread of the Omicron variant. Daily infections have nearly doubled in just a week after topping 50,000 for the first time on 10 February.

Despite the spike in cases, authorities announced a partial relaxing of some restrictions. From Saturday, a curfew on restaurants and cafes will be extended an hour, from 9pm to 10pm, in a nod to increasing criticism from business owners.

But other restrictions such as a six-person limit on private gatherings, mask mandates in public spaces, a seven-day quarantine for international arrivals, and vaccine passes for a range of businesses, will remain in place until at least 13 March, officials said.

Health authorities warn daily cases could still double or triple. Earlier today, prime minister Kim Boo-kyum said the virus peak is expected to pass around end-February and mid-March.

A screen shows the number of new coronavirus infections nationwide at a subway station in Seoul.
A screen shows the number of new coronavirus infections nationwide at a subway station in Seoul. Photograph: Ahn Young-joon/AP

That’s all from me, Léonie Chao-Fong on the global coronavirus blog for today as I cross over to our Ukraine coverage. Please feel free to join me there. In the meantime, here’s a recap of all the international Covid developments:

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  • Six African countries – Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia – will be the first on the continent to receive the technology needed to produce their own mRNA vaccines from a scheme headed by the World Health Organization. The project aims to end much of the reliance of African countries on vaccine manufacturers outside the continent.
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  • Covid antibody levels for people who have had the AstraZeneca or Pfizer/BioNTech jab decrease with age as well as being higher in women and people who had previously had Covid, data released by the British Medical Journal shows.
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  • Scrapping free coronavirus tests and the requirement to self-isolate in England could result in a “sudden change” in the public’s behaviour and lead to “rapid epidemic growth”, the UK’s government advisers have warned. The government’s advisory pandemic modelling group SPI-M-O cautioned against easing rules any further ahead of the prime minister’s unveiling of his “Living with Covid” plan on Monday.
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  • South Korea reported 109,831 new Covid cases on Friday, marking the first time daily reported cases have exceeded 100,000 since the pandemic began. Despite the spike in cases, authorities announced a partial relaxing of some restrictions including a later curfew for restaurants and bars.
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  • In Japan, health officials have now approved a plan for more targeted restrictions in areas where infections are still relatively high. From Sunday, limits on mobility and commerce will end in five prefectures where the virus appears to have peaked, but curbs will be extended until 6 March in 17 areas with a high level of cases.
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  • People no longer have to show a Covid pass by law in order to get into large events, cinemas and nightclubs in Wales after the rule expired at midnight. As of Friday, venues are no longer required to ask customers for proof of two Covid jabs, or a recent negative lateral flow test result.
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  • As Hong Kong finds itself engulfed in soaring Covid cases and hospitals reach breaking point, charities are warning that the city’s foreign domestic workers are being “abandoned”, with some forced to sleep rough or being denied treatment after testing positive.
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  • Germany’s health minister, Karl Lauterbach, has dismissed calls for a speedier relaxation of restrictions to control Covid, warning that the country was in a more vulnerable situation than comparable countries owing to the relatively high number of unvaccinated people in the over 60 age bracket.
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  • The World Health Organization (WHO) said countries struggling with surging Covid infections may shorten the recommended quarantine duration of 14 days in some situations. The UN agency said its new guidelines may be helpful for places where essential services are under pressure.
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Thank you for following along today and have a lovely weekend.

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If you’ve just joined us, here is a quick snapshot of all the most recent news stories

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  • South Korea reported 109,831 new Covid cases on Friday, marking the first time daily reported cases have exceeded 100,000 since the pandemic began. Despite the spike in cases, authorities announced a partial relaxing of some restrictions including a later curfew for restaurants and bars.
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  • In Japan, health officials have now approved a plan for more targeted restrictions in areas where infections are still relatively high. From Sunday, limits on mobility and commerce will end in five prefectures where the virus appears to have peaked, but curbs will be extended until 6 March in 17 areas with a high level of cases.
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  • People no longer have to show a Covid pass by law in order to get into large events, cinemas and nightclubs in Wales after the rule expired at midnight. As of Friday, venues are no longer required to ask customers for proof of two Covid jabs, or a recent negative lateral flow test result.
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  • As Hong Kong finds itself engulfed in soaring Covid cases and hospitals reach breaking point, charities are warning that the city’s foreign domestic workers are being “abandoned”, with some forced to sleep rough or being denied treatment after testing positive.
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  • Germany’s health minister, Karl Lauterbach, has dismissed calls for a speedier relaxation of restrictions to control Covid, warning that the country was in a more vulnerable situation than comparable countries owing to the relatively high number of unvaccinated people in the over 60 age bracket.
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  • The World Health Organization (WHO) said countries struggling with surging Covid infections may shorten the recommended quarantine duration of 14 days in some situations. The UN agency said its new guidelines may be helpful for places where essential services are under pressure.
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  • The WHO said that six African countries – Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia – would be the first on the continent to receive the technology needed to produce mRNA vaccines in a project it launched last year.
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  • Western Australia’s hard border will come down on 3 March, as the premier, Mark McGowan, acknowledges that sealing off the state has become “ineffective” in the face of a surging local outbreak. WA had been the last Australian state to succeed in avoiding significant community transmission of Covid.
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  • The estimated range of England’s Covid-19 reproduction “R” number is between 0.8 and 1.0, unchanged on the previous week, the UK Health Security Agency said, with the daily cases possibly reducing at a slightly quicker rate.
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  • Also in England, NHS leaders said free Covid tests should continue for the public and urged against the scrapping of self-isolation rules.
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The estimated range of England’s Covid-19 reproduction “R” number is between 0.8 and 1.0, unchanged on the previous week, the UK Health Security Agency said, with the daily cases possibly reducing at a slightly quicker rate.

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An R number between 0.8 and 1.0 means that for every 10 people infected, they will on average infect between 8 and 10 other people.

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The daily growth of infections was estimated at between -4% to -1%, compared with -3% to 0% the previous week.

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n”,”url”:”https://twitter.com/UKHSA/status/1494665520427188226″,”id”:”1494665520427188226″,”hasMedia”:false,”role”:”inline”,”isThirdPartyTracking”:false,”source”:”Twitter”,”elementId”:”6a654440-cccc-4c5a-9445-fce315533843″}],”attributes”:{“pinned”:false,”keyEvent”:true,”summary”:false},”blockCreatedOn”:1645191951000,”blockCreatedOnDisplay”:”13.45 GMT”,”blockLastUpdated”:1645192095000,”blockLastUpdatedDisplay”:”13.48 GMT”,”blockFirstPublished”:1645191994000,”blockFirstPublishedDisplay”:”13.46 GMT”,”blockFirstPublishedDisplayNoTimezone”:”13.46″,”title”:”England’s R number unchanged at between 0.8 and 1.0″,”contributors”:[],”primaryDateLine”:”Fri 18 Feb 2022 16.46 GMT”,”secondaryDateLine”:”First published on Fri 18 Feb 2022 07.33 GMT”},{“id”:”620f8a698f0866a40a9d89d7″,”elements”:[{“_type”:”model.dotcomrendering.pageElements.TextBlockElement”,”html”:”

South Korea reported 109,831 new Covid cases on Friday, including 109,715 local cases, marking the first time daily reported cases have exceeded 100,000 since the pandemic began. A further 45 deaths were recorded.

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Case numbers have spiked in recent weeks driven by the fast spread of the Omicron variant. Daily infections have nearly doubled in just a week after topping 50,000 for the first time on 10 February.

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Despite the spike in cases, authorities announced a partial relaxing of some restrictions. From Saturday, a curfew on restaurants and cafes will be extended an hour, from 9pm to 10pm, in a nod to increasing criticism from business owners.

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But other restrictions such as a six-person limit on private gatherings, mask mandates in public spaces, a seven-day quarantine for international arrivals, and vaccine passes for a range of businesses, will remain in place until at least 13 March, officials said.

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Health authorities warn daily cases could still double or triple. Earlier today, prime minister Kim Boo-kyum said the virus peak is expected to pass around end-February and mid-March.

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Korea reports more than 100,000 new cases for first time”,”contributors”:[],”primaryDateLine”:”Fri 18 Feb 2022 16.46 GMT”,”secondaryDateLine”:”First published on Fri 18 Feb 2022 07.33 GMT”},{“id”:”620f71698f086f7273b87eab”,”elements”:[{“_type”:”model.dotcomrendering.pageElements.TextBlockElement”,”html”:”

People no longer have to show a Covid pass by law in order to get into large events, cinemas and nightclubs in Wales after the rule expired at midnight.

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As of Friday, venues are no longer required to ask customers for proof of two Covid jabs, or a recent negative lateral flow test result.

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Scrapping Covid passes is the first step in a three-week plan to further ease Wales’ coronavirus rules.

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On 28 February, face masks regulations will only be required in shops, including hairdressers and salons, on public transport and in health and social care. They will no longer be required in other venues – including museums and cinemas – from that date.

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Welsh ministers could follow England in scrapping the remaining regulations, including self-isolation requirements and the mask rules, by the end of next month. No precise date has been fixed, although ministers are expected to make their decision on or around 3 March.

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The BBC has the story.

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Western Australia’s hard border will come down on 3 March, as the premier, Mark McGowan, acknowledges that sealing off the state has become “ineffective” in the face of a surging local outbreak.

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McGowan announced the new border reopening date on Friday, allowing quarantine-free travel for those who have received three vaccine doses.

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The state’s reopening will happen nearly 700 days after WA first sealed itself off from other states in April 2020, with its international border remaining tightly controlled since the federal government initially shut Australia’s borders in March 2020.

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WA had been the last Australian state to succeed in avoiding significant community transmission of Covid. However, local cases have surged in recent days, with a record 194 new local infections reported on Friday.

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McGowan said:

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n

I firmly believe saving West Australian lives has been worth every effort over the past two years.

n

Eventually there comes a point where the border is ineffective when you get to high case numbers within the state.

n

It is plain to see that four weeks of caution has paid dividends. It means it is now far safer to relax our hard border settings.

n

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From 12.01am on 3 March, travellers who have had three doses of Covid-19 vaccine will be able to enter WA, however they will still have to complete a G2G border pass prior to entry and take a rapid antigen test within 12 hours of arrival. Unvaccinated travellers from interstate will not be able to enter WA.

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The reopening of the international border will be in line with the federal government’s previously announced plan that is already in place in all other jurisdictions – which requires two doses of Covid vaccine. In WA, unvaccinated returning Australians will have to undergo seven days of hotel quarantine, with a smaller cap of 70 people per week.

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New mask rules, as well as density and gathering restrictions, will also be introduced ahead of the 3 March reopening, to protect the state’s health system from being overwhelmed by the spread of the Omicron variant.

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The full story is here: Western Australia to reopen 3 March to triple-vaccinated travellers

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Free Covid tests should continue for the public and self-isolation rules must not be scrapped, according to a survey of NHS leaders.

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More than 300 senior staff in England polled by the NHS Confederation found 79% disagreed or strongly disagreed with the plan to stop free access to Covid-19 tests for the public.

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Boris Johnson is expected to unveil his plan for living with coronavirus on Monday, with ministers having suggested that free tests will be axed.

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In the survey, 94% of the 307 NHS leaders polled said testing for health staff and other key workers must also continue. At present, NHS staff are asked to test at home twice a week.

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Asked on Thursday if free Covid tests would be scrapped next week, Sajid Javid, the health secretary, said “the protections we’ve enjoyed over the last few months” should be “reviewed”.

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The survey also found that more than three-quarters would disagree with any axing of the legal requirement to self-isolate following a positive Covid result in favour of it being advisory only.

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Furthermore, more than four in five (82%) would be against ending compulsory mask-wearing in the NHS and care homes.

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And 83% of health leaders said they did not want the weekly Office for National Statistics infection survey to be dropped or scaled back, as has been reported.

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Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, warned “now is not the time to take risks” with easing coronavirus rules, and reiterated the call for some restrictions to be retained.

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He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:

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n

The strong sense from our members is that things are starting to return to normal – we are starting to make some inroads into that enormous challenge. But this is not the time to take risks. We need to operate in an evidence-based and incremental way.

n

And that’s why the overwhelming majority of NHS leaders want to see the continued access to free testing. We want to see the continuation of survey every week which tells us about the level of prevalence which exists. We don’t want to get rid of the legal requirement to self isolate and we want the requirement for people to wear masks in the clinical setting.

n

None of those things need disrupt daily life but they will enable us hopefully to continue to move out of this pandemic without taking unnecessary risks.

n

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The full story is here: Free Covid tests and self-isolation rules must continue, say NHS leaders

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Good morning from London. The World Health Organization said on Thursday countries struggling with surging Covid infections may shorten the recommended quarantine duration of 14 days in some situations.

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The UN agency said its new guidelines may be helpful for places where essential services are under pressure.

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For example, quarantine could be shortened to 10 days without a test, and to 7 days with a negative test – provided the person does not develop any symptoms, WHO said.

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Where testing to shorten quarantine is not possible, the absence of symptoms could be used as a proxy for testing, the agency said in its new interim guidance.

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WHO also said countries may consider relaxing their contact tracing measures in similar situations.

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For contacts of people infected with Covid, those at highest risk of getting infected such as healthcare workers should be prioritised, as well as those at high risk of severe disease such as people with underlying ailments or the unvaccinated.

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A number of countries such as the US, Germany and Switzerland have already shortened the quarantine period to cope with a wave of Omicron-driven infections.

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I’ll be bringing you all the latest global developments on the coronavirus pandemic for the next few hours. Please feel free to get in touch with me as I work if you have a story or tips to share! Your thoughts are always welcome.

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Email: lucy.campbell@theguardian.com
Twitter: @lucy_campbell_

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Key events:

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Summary

That’s all from me, Léonie Chao-Fong on the global coronavirus blog for today as I cross over to our Ukraine coverage. Please feel free to join me there. In the meantime, here’s a recap of all the international Covid developments:

  • Six African countries – Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia – will be the first on the continent to receive the technology needed to produce their own mRNA vaccines from a scheme headed by the World Health Organization. The project aims to end much of the reliance of African countries on vaccine manufacturers outside the continent.
  • Covid antibody levels for people who have had the AstraZeneca or Pfizer/BioNTech jab decrease with age as well as being higher in women and people who had previously had Covid, data released by the British Medical Journal shows.
  • Scrapping free coronavirus tests and the requirement to self-isolate in England could result in a “sudden change” in the public’s behaviour and lead to “rapid epidemic growth”, the UK’s government advisers have warned. The government’s advisory pandemic modelling group SPI-M-O cautioned against easing rules any further ahead of the prime minister’s unveiling of his “Living with Covid” plan on Monday.

  • South Korea reported 109,831 new Covid cases on Friday, marking the first time daily reported cases have exceeded 100,000 since the pandemic began. Despite the spike in cases, authorities announced a partial relaxing of some restrictions including a later curfew for restaurants and bars.
  • In Japan, health officials have now approved a plan for more targeted restrictions in areas where infections are still relatively high. From Sunday, limits on mobility and commerce will end in five prefectures where the virus appears to have peaked, but curbs will be extended until 6 March in 17 areas with a high level of cases.
  • People no longer have to show a Covid pass by law in order to get into large events, cinemas and nightclubs in Wales after the rule expired at midnight. As of Friday, venues are no longer required to ask customers for proof of two Covid jabs, or a recent negative lateral flow test result.
  • As Hong Kong finds itself engulfed in soaring Covid cases and hospitals reach breaking point, charities are warning that the city’s foreign domestic workers are being “abandoned”, with some forced to sleep rough or being denied treatment after testing positive.
  • Germany’s health minister, Karl Lauterbach, has dismissed calls for a speedier relaxation of restrictions to control Covid, warning that the country was in a more vulnerable situation than comparable countries owing to the relatively high number of unvaccinated people in the over 60 age bracket.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) said countries struggling with surging Covid infections may shorten the recommended quarantine duration of 14 days in some situations. The UN agency said its new guidelines may be helpful for places where essential services are under pressure.

Thank you for following along today and have a lovely weekend.

Peter Beaumont

Peter Beaumont

Peter Beaumont, senior reporter on our Global Development desk, on a groundbreaking project headed by the WHO announced today:

Six African countries – Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia – will be the first on the continent to receive the technology needed to produce their own mRNA vaccines from a scheme headed by the World Health Organization.

The project aims to assist low- and middle-income countries in manufacturing mRNA vaccines at scale and according to international standards, with the aim of ending much of the reliance of African countries on vaccine manufacturers outside the continent.

The announcement comes in the same week that BioNTech, which produces the Pfizer vaccine for Covid-19 – itself an mRNA vaccine – announced it planned to deliver factory facilities built out of shipping containers to several African countries to allow the Pfizer vaccine to be produced on the continent.

Primarily set up to address the Covid-19 pandemic, the global mRNA hub has the potential to expand manufacturing capacity for other vaccines and products, such as insulin to treat diabetes, cancer medicines and, potentially, vaccines for diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV.

The WHO established its global mRNA technology transfer hub after vaccine hoarding by wealthy countries – and problems with supply from India, as companies prioritised sales to governments that could pay the highest price – meant low- and middle-income countries were pushed to the back of the queue for Covid-19 vaccines.

The scheme’s ultimate goal is to spread capacity for national and regional production to all health technologies.

No other event like the Covid-19 pandemic has shown that reliance on a few companies to supply global public goods is limiting, and dangerous,

said the WHO chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, announcing the first recipients of the technology on Friday after visiting the hub in South Africa last week.

Scrapping free coronavirus tests and the requirement to self-isolate in England could result in a “sudden change” in the public’s behaviour and lead to “rapid epidemic growth”, the UK’s government advisers have warned.

In a document published today, the government’s advisory pandemic modelling group SPI-M-O cautioned against easing rules any further ahead of the prime minister’s unveiling of his “Living with Covid” plan on Monday.

SPI-M-O writes:

While behaviour change following the lifting of restrictions has previously been gradual, a sudden change, such as an end to testing and isolation, has the scope to lead to a return to rapid epidemic growth.

Warwick University research estimates that the combination of restrictions and behavioural change since before the pandemic, such as testing, self-isolation and mask-wearing, were reducing transmission by around 20-45%.

The estimates indicate there is a potential for transmission to increase by around 25%-80% if the population were to return to pre-pandemic behaviour with no mitigations.

Regulators in the US delayed the review of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for children under five because its two-dose regimen did not work well against the Omicron variant, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Last week, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it would delay its decision for at least two months as more data was needed on the vaccine.

An early look at data showed the vaccine to be effective against the Delta variant but some vaccinated children developed Covid-19 after Omicron emerged, the report said, citing people familiar with the FDA’s decision.

The FDA did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

The British Medical Journal has just released data showing Covid antibody levels for people who have had the AstraZeneca or Pfizer/BioNTech jab decrease with age as well as being higher in women and people who had previously had Covid.

SARS-CoV-2 antibody levels after receiving the AstraZeneca or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine decrease with age and are higher in females and people with prior infection, show data from the Real-time Assessment of Community Transmission (React-2) studyhttps://t.co/NDqrE63RXy

— The BMJ (@bmj_latest) February 18, 2022

n”,”url”:”https://twitter.com/bmj_latest/status/1494686286321434627″,”id”:”1494686286321434627″,”hasMedia”:false,”role”:”inline”,”isThirdPartyTracking”:false,”source”:”Twitter”,”elementId”:”caab76ff-b0f6-45d7-b819-5256cd749098″}}”>

SARS-CoV-2 antibody levels after receiving the AstraZeneca or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine decrease with age and are higher in females and people with prior infection, show data from the Real-time Assessment of Community Transmission (React-2) studyhttps://t.co/NDqrE63RXy

— The BMJ (@bmj_latest) February 18, 2022

The article goes on to say:

The study, led by Imperial College London, analysed self-reported results from Fortress lateral flow tests to detect antibodies in a drop of blood from a finger prick. Data were collected from 212,102 adults from January to May 2021, of whom 71,923 (33.9%) had received at least one dose of Pfizer-BioNTech and 139,067 (65.6%) had at least one dose of AstraZeneca.

Results published in Nature Communications showed that, after either of the vaccines, antibody positivity peaked four to five weeks after the first dose and then declined until after second doses were given. “For both vaccines, there was a clear increase in the proportion of individuals testing positive after second doses,” the researchers said.

You can read the full piece here.

With Covid restrictions all but gone in the UK, Guardian writer Joel Golby has written a guide to behaving in public – in case you’ve forgotten. Here is his quick refresher on everyday encounters from shaking hands to sharing drinks:

Summary

If you’ve just joined us, here is a quick snapshot of all the most recent news stories

  • South Korea reported 109,831 new Covid cases on Friday, marking the first time daily reported cases have exceeded 100,000 since the pandemic began. Despite the spike in cases, authorities announced a partial relaxing of some restrictions including a later curfew for restaurants and bars.
  • In Japan, health officials have now approved a plan for more targeted restrictions in areas where infections are still relatively high. From Sunday, limits on mobility and commerce will end in five prefectures where the virus appears to have peaked, but curbs will be extended until 6 March in 17 areas with a high level of cases.
  • People no longer have to show a Covid pass by law in order to get into large events, cinemas and nightclubs in Wales after the rule expired at midnight. As of Friday, venues are no longer required to ask customers for proof of two Covid jabs, or a recent negative lateral flow test result.
  • As Hong Kong finds itself engulfed in soaring Covid cases and hospitals reach breaking point, charities are warning that the city’s foreign domestic workers are being “abandoned”, with some forced to sleep rough or being denied treatment after testing positive.
  • Germany’s health minister, Karl Lauterbach, has dismissed calls for a speedier relaxation of restrictions to control Covid, warning that the country was in a more vulnerable situation than comparable countries owing to the relatively high number of unvaccinated people in the over 60 age bracket.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) said countries struggling with surging Covid infections may shorten the recommended quarantine duration of 14 days in some situations. The UN agency said its new guidelines may be helpful for places where essential services are under pressure.
  • The WHO said that six African countries – Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia – would be the first on the continent to receive the technology needed to produce mRNA vaccines in a project it launched last year.
  • Western Australia’s hard border will come down on 3 March, as the premier, Mark McGowan, acknowledges that sealing off the state has become “ineffective” in the face of a surging local outbreak. WA had been the last Australian state to succeed in avoiding significant community transmission of Covid.
  • The estimated range of England’s Covid-19 reproduction “R” number is between 0.8 and 1.0, unchanged on the previous week, the UK Health Security Agency said, with the daily cases possibly reducing at a slightly quicker rate.
  • Also in England, NHS leaders said free Covid tests should continue for the public and urged against the scrapping of self-isolation rules.

Here’s an interesting thread from Philip Schellekens, a senior economic adviser at the World Bank Group, on how global vaccine inequities in last year’s primary vaccination programme have extended into booster coverage in 2022.

Vaccine equity is having a déjà vu

The inequities of primary vaccination in 2021 have become the inequities of booster vaccination in 2022

Let's unpack this – short 🧵

1/ pic.twitter.com/hruJojn1TD

— Philip Schellekens (@fibke) February 18, 2022

n”,”url”:”https://twitter.com/fibke/status/1494659445313445896″,”id”:”1494659445313445896″,”hasMedia”:false,”role”:”inline”,”isThirdPartyTracking”:false,”source”:”Twitter”,”elementId”:”47c25785-e6bd-44c3-b773-4616133bb4d5″}}”>

Vaccine equity is having a déjà vu

The inequities of primary vaccination in 2021 have become the inequities of booster vaccination in 2022

Let’s unpack this – short 🧵

1/ pic.twitter.com/hruJojn1TD

— Philip Schellekens (@fibke) February 18, 2022

Where we are today

High-income countries: 151 primary doses and 39 boosters per 100 people
Upper-middle-income countries: 153 and 27
Lower-middle-income countries: 100 and 3
Low-income countries: 16 and 0

5/https://t.co/Ck3yYfOXKL pic.twitter.com/uMLfZ5BSEl

— Philip Schellekens (@fibke) February 18, 2022

n”,”url”:”https://twitter.com/fibke/status/1494659468130492426″,”id”:”1494659468130492426″,”hasMedia”:false,”role”:”inline”,”isThirdPartyTracking”:false,”source”:”Twitter”,”elementId”:”50a6f351-165c-4d43-98ac-dd1baf60b45a”}}”>

History is repeating itself with boosters: a huge lag an a huge gap.

9/https://t.co/MMuD9SUUqE

— Philip Schellekens (@fibke) February 18, 2022

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England’s R number unchanged at between 0.8 and 1.0

The estimated range of England’s Covid-19 reproduction “R” number is between 0.8 and 1.0, unchanged on the previous week, the UK Health Security Agency said, with the daily cases possibly reducing at a slightly quicker rate.

An R number between 0.8 and 1.0 means that for every 10 people infected, they will on average infect between 8 and 10 other people.

The daily growth of infections was estimated at between -4% to -1%, compared with -3% to 0% the previous week.

Latest weekly figures for the reproduction number (R) and growth rate of #coronavirus (#COVID19)

Statistics for England as of 18 February:

▶️R value range: 0.8 to 1.0

▶️Growth rate range: -4 to -1%

More info: https://t.co/tQUj8yTEVu pic.twitter.com/51kqMAbXCn

— UK Health Security Agency (@UKHSA) February 18, 2022

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As Hong Kong finds itself engulfed in soaring Covid cases and hospitals reach breaking point, charities are warning that the city’s foreign domestic workers are being “abandoned”, with some forced to sleep rough or being denied treatment after testing positive.

Hong Kong relies on some 370,000 foreign domestic workers, the vast majority of which are women from the Philippines and Indonesia, Agence France-Presse reports. Foreign domestic workers must live with their employers, cannot swap jobs easily, and are only entitled to one day off a week.

Today, a coalition of groups representing migrant workers said the already grim pandemic conditions have plunged further in the current outbreak.

Some workers who have tested positive for the virus have been sacked by employers, forcing them to sleep outdoors. Others have been denied medical treatment at hospitals because they have lost their jobs.

J, a foreign domestic worker from the Philippines, told HKFP that she had been living in a park in Yau Ma Tei since testing positive for Covid-19 on Tuesday. Temperatures in Hong Kong are expected to drop to 10C during the weekend.

J, who wished to remain anonymous, said:

I’m freezing because of the weather, [it’s] very cold. I really don’t [know] what to do.

Eni Lestari, an Indonesian domestic worker and activist, told AFP that her peers had been on the “frontlines” helping families throughout the pandemic, adding:

Now we are being neglected, we are being denied services, we are being abandoned.

We are very alarmed and we are very angry.

A foreign domestic worker sits in front of slogan banner in Central, Hong Kong.
A foreign domestic worker sits in front of slogan banner in Central, Hong Kong. Photograph: Liau Chung-ren/ZUMA Press Wire/REX/Shutterstock
Workers gather inside the make-shift partition outside HSBC headquarters in Hong Kong.
Workers gather inside the make-shift partition outside HSBC headquarters in Hong Kong. Police have been handing Covid-19 fines to workers for flouting a gathering ban. Photograph: Liau Chung-ren/ZUMA Press Wire/REX/Shutterstock

Our Berlin correspondent, Kate Connolly, reports on why Germany is behind its neighbours in relaxing pandemic restrictions.

Germany’s health minister, Karl Lauterbach, has dismissed calls for a speedier relaxation of restrictions to control Covid, warning that the country was in a more vulnerable situation to comparable countries such as Denmark or the UK owing to the relatively high number of unvaccinated people in the over 60 age bracket.

Speaking at a weekly press briefing in Berlin, Lauterbach said that about 12% of Germany’s over 60s remained unvaccinated, which he said was around three to four times higher than in other comparable countries.

Currently 75% of Germans have had two jabs, and 56% have received booster shots. The UK’s figures are 73% and 56% respectively. Denmark’s are 81% and 62%.

The German media in particular has looked with envy to Denmark and the UK in recent weeks as they have dropped most major restrictions, asking when Lauterbach would also declare “freedom day” in Germany.

But Lauterbach said: “There can be no such thing as ‘freedom day’.” He said that lateral flow tests and PCR tests would remain free, and that to do away with them would be the equivalent of “flying blind”.

A relaxation of protection measures starting with the immediate abolition of the need for people to show their vaccine or recovered status when entering non-essential shops, must be carried out in a “precise fashion” he warned, so as not to cause another wave.

Germany’s Omicron wave passed its peak earlier this week. Lars Schade, vice president of the disease control agency Robert Koch Institute, warned that despite a general decrease in the incidence rate, the number of older people getting infected, especially in care homes, was currently rising, and deaths remained high, with 264 new deaths announced on Thursday.

Schade added that a close eye was being kept on the advance of the Omicron sub-type BA.2, which is thought to be more infectious and to cause more severe symptoms.

Michael Meyer-Hermann, a professor of immunology who is a member of the government’s council of experts, said there was finally “light at the end of the tunnel”. He said Germany had, compared with neighbouring countries, so far emerged with a comparably lower death rate, even though he said 1,400 deaths per million of the population, compared with the average in Europe of 2,200, was still “far too high”.

He warned people who got infected with Omicron against believing this would offer them protection against the virus similar to that given by the vaccine.

“People who have recovered from an Omicron infection but are not vaccinated will have a lower protection against other variants,” he said.

Lauterbach said he believed Covid would remain a major public health issue for at least a decade. Which was why it was important he said to create a “basic immunity” against it as soon as possible.

Members of Independent Sage have warned that removing access to free coronavirus tests in England will lead to an increased risk of spread of Omicron and subsequent variants, “leading to more illness, death and burden on the NHS and more risk of new variants emerging”.

In a statement published today, they said widespread availability of these tests may have contributed to reducing peak infections last summer and this winter.

If the public was no longer able to access free testing, it could lead to a “loss of intelligence on the continuing course of the pandemic” as well as reducing the UK’s ability to detect and track newly emergency variants, the statement reads.

Scrapping free Covid tests will have a “disproportionate impact on many of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in society”, Indy Sage members warn, leading to widening inequalities and affecting the ability of clinically vulnerable people to safely engage with society.

Members continue:

Independent Sage calls on the government to publish, immediately, the scientific evidence and risk assessments on which it has based this decision.

It further calls on the devolved administrations not to follow this path until they have seen convincing evidence that it is safe.

Our China affairs correspondent, Vincent Ni, on the recent decision to postpone the election of Hong Kong’s chief executive.

Hong Kong has said it will postpone the upcoming election of the chief executive from 27 March to 9 May as the Chinese territory battles a raging wave of the coronavirus, overwhelming hospitals.

Citing the emergency ordinance and chief executive election rules, Carrie Lam, the city’s incumbent chief executive said on Friday that the administration’s focus now had to be on the fight against the pandemic.

A fifth wave of the virus has engulfed Hong Kong in recent weeks. Despite its intensive contact tracing and stringent quarantine policies, infections have risen 60-fold since 1 February. On Friday, Hong Kong reported 3,629 new daily infections, with an additional 7,600 preliminary positive cases.

A policy of admitting every single positive case to hospital also meant that thousands of residents are being added to an already huge backlog every day. The city’s Hospital Authority said 3,774 people on Thursday sought treatment at accident and emergency departments, but only 691 were eventually admitted.

On Wednesday, China’s president, Xi Jinping, told Lam that her “overriding mission” was to stabilise and control a worsening outbreak. Xi expressed his “concern about the pandemic situation” and his care for local residents, according to front page stories in local pro-Beijing newspapers.

South Korea reports more than 100,000 new cases for first time

South Korea reported 109,831 new Covid cases on Friday, including 109,715 local cases, marking the first time daily reported cases have exceeded 100,000 since the pandemic began. A further 45 deaths were recorded.

Case numbers have spiked in recent weeks driven by the fast spread of the Omicron variant. Daily infections have nearly doubled in just a week after topping 50,000 for the first time on 10 February.

Despite the spike in cases, authorities announced a partial relaxing of some restrictions. From Saturday, a curfew on restaurants and cafes will be extended an hour, from 9pm to 10pm, in a nod to increasing criticism from business owners.

But other restrictions such as a six-person limit on private gatherings, mask mandates in public spaces, a seven-day quarantine for international arrivals, and vaccine passes for a range of businesses, will remain in place until at least 13 March, officials said.

Health authorities warn daily cases could still double or triple. Earlier today, prime minister Kim Boo-kyum said the virus peak is expected to pass around end-February and mid-March.

A screen shows the number of new coronavirus infections nationwide at a subway station in Seoul.
A screen shows the number of new coronavirus infections nationwide at a subway station in Seoul. Photograph: Ahn Young-joon/AP

More on Japan, where Covid deaths have risen to record levels despite a decline in new cases. Japanese health officials have now approved a plan for more targeted restrictions in areas where infections are still relatively high.

From Sunday, limits on mobility and commerce will end in five prefectures where the virus appears to have peaked, but curbs will be extended until 6 March in 17 areas with a high level of cases.

The top health adviser Shigeru Omi told reporters:

The priority going forward is to try to hold down serious cases and deaths among the elderly.

It comes as Covid deaths rose to a record 271 on Thursday, marking the third consecutive day that deaths have exceeded 200.

About 2,446 people have died so far this month, making February the second deadliest month in Japan since the pandemic began.

Hello everyone. It’s Léonie Chao-Fong here again, taking over the live blog from Lucy Campbell to bring you all the latest global developments on the coronavirus pandemic. Feel free to drop me a message if you have anything to flag, you can reach me on Twitter or via email.

We start with the news that Germany has passed its peak of new daily cases with the Omicron variant of coronavirus, according to the country’s health minister, Karl Lauterbach. Speaking to reporters today, he said government measures to curb numbers have been effective but warned against relaxing restrictions too quickly, adding:

We are not really in safe waters.

Lauterbach, an epidemiologist by training, noted that as many as 12% of people aged over 60 in Germany are still unvaccinated. In total, almost a quarter of the country’s 20m population has not yet been vaccinated.

Germany’s disease control agency reported 220,048 new cases and 264 further deaths today.

Germany has been slower than many of its European neighbours in relaxing pandemic restrictions. On Wednesday, chancellor, Olaf Scholz, and the country’s 16 state governors agreed on a three-step plan to end most of the country’s restrictions by 20 March.

Lauterbach defended the cautious approach, saying that “if we open too quickly, then the case numbers will rise again”. He said a general vaccine mandate was still necessary, and urged opposition lawmakers not to block compulsory vaccination proposals.

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