Covid Cases Keep Falling


There is a concern that Omicron “is spreading rather more quickly than the Delta variant” and there were probably more than 1,000 cases in the UK at the moment, a top expert has said.

Professor Paul Hunter, from the school of medicine at the University of East Anglia, it was not clear how evidence from South Africa would translate to the UK as we have a highly vaccinated population.

He added there are “early signs” that Omicron will become the dominant variant “within the next few weeks or a month”, but it is still not clear how “harmful” the new variant is if you get Covid.

His comments come after one of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine inventors has warned that another pandemic could be “more contagious” and “more lethal” than coronavirus.

Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, said “it will not be the last time” a virus threatens humanity and that the next pandemic “could be worse”.

Meanwhile, the laws requiring masks in shops and on public transport are reportedly set to stay until the New Year, as reported by the Daily Mail.

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Key points
  • Next pandemic could be more lethal than Covid, warns Oxford vaccine creator

  • Government accused of weakening UK’s defences against future variants and pandemics

  • India achieves 50% vaccinations milestone

  • Daily Covid cases in US highest in two months

  • UK vaccine inventor urges caution as variant likely has ‘increased transmissibility’

  • Omicron cases 'likely to rise in US'

  • Concerns Omicron ‘is spreading rather more quickly than the Delta variant', says top scientist

South Africa president says omicron is fuelling a fourth wave of Covid

10:58 , Joe Middleton

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa has said that omicron is driving the fourth wave of Covid-19 infections in the country and there had been a five-fold increase in daily infection rates over the last week.

Describing the situation as “concerning,” he said omicron is dominating new infections in most provinces and nearly a quarter of all Covid samples have now come back positive compared to two weeks ago.

“As the country heads into a fourth wave of Covid-19 infections, we are experiencing a rate of infections that we have not seen since the pandemic started,” Mr Ramaphosa said in his weekly newsletter.

Shweta Sharma reports.

South Africa president says omicron is fuelling a fourth wave of Covid

Russia reports first case of Omicron

10:43 , Joe Middleton

Russia on Monday reported its first confirmed cases of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus, Russian news agencies reported, in two people who returned from South Africa.

Interfax cited consumer health regulator Rospotrebnadzor as saying that 10 people who returned from South Africa had tested positive for Covid-19. RIA said Omicron had been detected in two arrivals from South Africa.

President Vladimir Putin last week ordered the government to prepare an action plan to fight Omicron, saying it was important to maintain supplies of drugs, oxygen and hospital beds.

Don’t let misinformation put you off getting a Covid jab, says Labour leader

10:24 , Joe Middleton

Sir Keir Starmer urged people not to allow “misinformation” to put them off getting their Covid-19 vaccinations, after he received his booster jab.

The Labour leader made the comments at the Macey Chemist vaccination centre in London on Monday.

He said: “I would encourage absolutely everyone who is eligible to come forward and have their booster. Don’t be taken in by the misinformation.

“Come forward, have your booster, think of yourself, think of others, think of your communities. Places like this are open. It’s quick, it’s easy. Please do it.”

Keir Starmer receives Covid booster jab at London pharmacy

10:11 , Joe Middleton

(PA)PM denies scientists’ claims that travel restrictions are ‘shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted'

09:52 , Joe Middleton

Boris Johnson has denied scientists’ allegations that introducing travel restrictions to slow the spread of Omicron is like “shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted”.

Visiting police in Merseyside, the Prime Minister told reporters: “No, I think what we’re doing is responding to the pandemic.

“We were the first country in the world to take decisive measures to tackle Omicron. We put about 10 countries automatically, immediately, on to the red list and we said that anybody coming from any country in the world would have to quarantine for a couple of days.

“We’re now going further and toughening those measures up as we see the spread of Omicron around the world.

“I don’t think we need to change the overall guidance and advice we’re giving about Omicron in this country. We’re still waiting to see exactly how dangerous it is, what sort of effect it has in terms of deaths and hospitalisations.”

09:39 , Joe Middleton

Travel testing chaos as government gives conflicting timings on pre-departure tests

09:31 , Joe Middleton

As travellers try to comply with the new demand for pre-departure testing to return to the UK, they face conflicting versions of the timeframe in which they must take a test.

On Saturday, the health secretary, Sajid Javid, said tests “will be required a maximum 48 hours before the departure time”.

The press release that accompanied the statement made the same assertion, claiming the timing was “no earlier than 48 hours before departure”.

But the official statement of the rules is: “From 4am 7 December, you can take the test any time in the two days before the service on which you will arrive in England departs.”

The implication is that the test can be taken on either of the two days before departure to the UK, or on the day of travel, writes The Independent’s travel correspondent

Simon Calder.

Travel testing chaos as government gives conflicting timings on pre-departure tests

It could be five years before Covid-19 ICU patients ‘reach their normal lives again’, says consultant

09:20 , Joe Middleton

Critical care consultant Dr Zudin Puthucheary said it could be five years before Covid-19 intensive care unit (ICU) patients “reach their normal lives again”.

The member of the Intensive Care Society Council raised concerns that there are not enough staff to rehabilitate patients who are treated in ICUs.

He told Sky News: “People who have chosen to be unvaccinated make up the vast majority of patients on the intensive care unit at the moment, and certainly most of our pregnant patients are unvaccinated.

“These are the young people - the vast majority of them do survive, 60% of our patients are currently surviving.

“But that survival comes with a huge cost and that needs rehabilitation. We don’t have the staff, have the resources to rehabilitate these patients, and it may be up to five years before they reach their normal lives again.

“But 40% of these people are dying, and they don’t need to die had they been vaccinated.”

Asked about winter pressures on the NHS, he said: “Things aren’t great in hospitals right now. As we gear up for winter, we have intensive care units that are full, wards that are full and a dropping number of stuff.”

People with ‘cold-like symptoms’ should self-isolate for the first few days, says top scientist

09:02 , Joe Middleton

Professor Tim Spector said people with cold-like symptoms should isolate for the first few days while they are most contagious.

“That’s when you’re most contagious, that’s when you’re most likely to transmit,” the professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London told Times Radio.

“Whether it’s a respiratory virus, you’re just giving someone a cold, or you might be giving them Omicron or Delta, then it’s those first few days.

“And so we should really be encouraging people not to come in to the office, not to go to that Christmas party if they’re feeling unwell.

“Take a test and then, when the symptoms subside, then they can come out - it doesn’t have to be 10 days but just those first few days are probably the most crucial.

“I think we need to get that message out there if we’re going to really have an impact in the next few weeks.”

Police must investigate ‘historic crimes’, says minister after Raab suggests No 10 parties should be ignored

08:47 , Joe Middleton

Police should investigate whether Christmas parties were held in Downing Street in violation of Covid restrictions if a report is made, the policing minister has suggested.

Home Office minister Kit Malthouse said forces “should be investigating anything that is a historic crime to them”, amid claims that festive events were held at No 10 while strict curbs were in place last year.

It follows criticism of justice secretary Dominic Raab after he suggested on Sunday that police “don’t normally look back and investigate things that have taken place a year ago”.

Adam Forrest reports.

Police must investigate ‘historic crimes’, says minister amid Raab row

Concerns Omicron ‘is spreading rather more quickly than the Delta variant', says top scientist

08:34 , Joe Middleton

Professor Paul Hunter, from the school of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said there was current concern that Omicron “is spreading rather more quickly than the Delta variant”, and there were probably more than 1,000 cases in the UK at the moment.

He told BBC Breakfast it was not clear how evidence from South Africa would translate to the UK as we have a highly vaccinated population.

He added: “How it’s likely to spread in the UK still uncertain, but I think the early signs are that it will probably spread quite quickly and probably start outcompeting Delta and become the dominant variant probably within the next weeks or a month or so at least.

“The big remaining question is actually how harmful it is if you do get Covid with this Omicron variant, and that’s the question that we’re struggling to answer at the moment.”

He said travel restrictions would have a minor impact, adding that “one of the problems with travel restrictions like this is that it then de-motivates other countries to actually be open about their own situations for fear of what they would see as economic sanctions. So I think once the infection is spreading within a country, then border restrictions don’t really add anything.”

“We’ve known that long before Covid. This has been knowledge that we’ve had for decades, if not centuries, to be honest.”

Police should investigate No10 Christmas party claims, suggests policing minister

08:16 , Joe Middleton

Policing minister Kit Malthouse suggested officers should investigate whether a party was held in No 10 Downing Street during coronavirus restrictions, if a report is made.

He told Sky News: “No 10 are reassuring everybody that all rules were complied with during that period and I take that reassurance at face value but no doubt if the police are alerted they will have a look and they will form a view and we’ll learn more about it in the days to come.

“The police should be investigating anything that is a historic crime to them.

“If reports are made then inquiries should follow and let’s see where it goes after that.”

Government accused of weakening UK’s defences against future variants and pandemics

07:58 , Joe Middleton

Ministers’ plans to sell off the UK’s vaccine manufacturing plant would leave Britain vulnerable to emerging Covid variants, the head of the centre behind the Oxford jab has warned.

The government is considering a number of bids from the private sector for the Vaccine Manufacturing Innovation Centre (VMIC) in Harwell – a “surprising” decision that has drawn criticism from one of the leading scientists behind the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab.

Professor Adrian Hill, director of the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute, compared the sale of VMIC to “having been in a terrible war and you suddenly cut your defence budget substantially”.

Samuel Lovett has the details.

Government accused of weakening UK’s defences against future variants and pandemics

South Korea’s Covid rules sparks concerns among foreign embassies

07:37 , Shweta Sharma

As South Korea continues to report a rise in daily Covid cases, the country has imposed tougher measures to contain infections including the omicron variant, leaving several foreign residents effectively barred from public places.

Foreign embassies in the country are demanding a review of policies that do not recognise the vaccination status of foreigners who were vaccinated overseas unless they entered the country under a quarantine exemption.

This has left some foreigners in the country effectively barred from places such as restaurants, cafes and cinemas.

“We continue to argue for urgent review of the guidance in order to ensure equitable treatment of foreign and Korean nationals vaccinated overseas,” Stephen Burns, a spokesman for the British embassy in Seoul, told Reuters.

On Monday, Australian ambassador Catherine Raper pushed for changed in policies and said the embassy is in contact with the South Korean government over the matter.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency says the policy affects only a small number of people and is necessary given rising Covid-19 cases.

“A cautious approach is required at this time with locally and globally confirmed cases of the omicron variant and the possibility of further community spread,” a spokesperson said, adding that officials will review the rules depending on the domestic outbreak situation.

Next pandemic could be more lethal than Covid, warns Oxford vaccine creator

07:35 , Joe Middleton

Another pandemic in the future could be “more lethal” than the present Covid-19 pandemic that has killed over 5 million people across the globe, one of the creators of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine said.

Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, delivering the 44th Richard Dimbleby Lecture, also warned that current set of vaccines being deployed across the world could be less effective against the newly discovered omicron variant of the coronavirus.

She said: “This will not be the last time a virus threatens our lives and our livelihoods. The truth is, the next one could be worse. It could be more contagious, or more lethal, or both.”

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar reports.

Next pandemic could be more lethal than Covid, warns Oxford vaccine creator

South Africa races to prepare hospitals as omicron threatens fourth wave

07:06 , Shweta Sharma

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday said hospitals are preparing for more admissions while stressing supplies are currently sufficient, as the omicron variant is threatening the country with a fourth wave of the Covid pandemic.

In a weekly newsletter, Mr Ramaphosa said that the new variant appeared to be dominant in the new cases in most of the country’s nine provinces while urging more people to get vaccinated against Covid.

“South Africa now has sufficient supplies of vaccines... vaccination is essential for our economic recovery because as more people are vaccinated more areas of economic activity will be opened up,” he said.

The government would convene the National Coronavirus Command Council to review the state of the pandemic, he added.

Thailand detects first case of Omicron variant

07:04 , Shweta Sharma

Thailand has detected its first case of omicron variant of coronavirus, a health official said on Monday.

An American citizen who had travelled to the country from Spain in late November tested positive for the omicron variant of the virus, but has mild symptoms.

Thailand has become the 47th country to have found the new variant, Opas Karnkawinpong, Director-General of the Department of Disease Control, told a news conference.

“This first confirmed case of Omicron variant is a 35-year-old man who is a US citizen who lived in Spain for a year,” Opas said adding that the patient had mild symptoms.

He said health authorities are conducted contact tracing of the man.

Opas said health authorities were conducting further tests of people who had come into contact with the man, but said all contacts so far were low risk.

Thailand banned travellers from eight African countries including Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe at the start of December amid concerns about the Omicron variant.

It has reported 4,000 new Covid cases and 22 deaths on Monday, taking the tally to more than 2.1 million cases since the pandemic began last year.

India achieves 50% vaccinations milestone

06:25 , Shweta Sharma

India has completed vaccination of more than 50 per cent of its adult population with two jabs, within 11 months of the launch of its drive.

India has exceeded 1.27 billion vaccinations across the country as of Sunday, with 85 per cent of the 18 plus population receiving at least one vaccination.

India’s prime minister Narendra Modi stressed that it is “important to keep this momentum to strengthen the fight” against the deadly virus.

“And yes, keep following all other Covid-19 related protocols including masking up and social distancing,” he added.

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.Update your settings here to see it.Daily Covid cases in US highest in two months

05:58 , Shweta Sharma

The US is averaging 100,000 new Covid infections a day for the first time in months as scientists race to track the spread of the new omicron variant.

Data from Johns Hopkins University showed the seven day rolling average for cases per day rising to about 121,437 on 2 December, higher than at any point since 26 September.

Figures showed the US crossing the threshold of 100,000 cases per day on Thursday, having stayed below that level since 6 October.

The Independent’s Io Dodds has more details.

US averaging 100,000 new Covid infections a day for first time in months

Sharp rise in omicron cases in India

05:43 , Shweta Sharma

India’s cases linked to the new omicron variant shot up to a total of 21 so far on Monday, after 17 more cases were added.

A cluster of nine people from the same family tested positive in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan state, seven tested positive in Maharashtra’s Pune city and a case was detected in a fully vaccinated man who arrived in Delhi from Tanzania.

According to official data, India reported 8,306 new Covid cases as a whole on Monday, as the country’s active caseload stands at 98,416 — its lowest in 552 days.

India’s weekly Covid infections have continued to fall but the downward trend slowed to about three per cent the week ending Sunday. This comes as nine states reported a rise in infections amid renewed fears from the omicron variant.

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.Update your settings here to see it.UK vaccine inventor urges caution as variant likely has ‘increased transmissibility’

05:23 , Shweta Sharma

Dame Sarah Gilbert, who was one of the inventors of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine, has urged officials to be “cautious” and keep taking preventive measures until more is known about the variant.

“The spike protein of this variant contains mutations already known to increase transmisability of the virus but there are additional changes that may mean antibodies induced by the vaccines, or by infection with other variants, may be less effective at preventing infection with omicron,” she said.

She also warned the next pandemic could be “more contagious” and “more lethal.”

“We cannot allow a situation where we have gone through all we have gone through, and then find that the enormous economic losses we have sustained mean that there is still no funding for pandemic preparedness,” she said.

Ms Sarah Gilbert urged that the “advances we have made, and the knowledge we have gained, must not be lost”.

(PA)Omicron cases 'likely to rise in US'

05:00 , Shweta Sharma

Dr Rochelle P Walensky, the director of the CDC, said on ABC’s “This Week” that the number of omicron infections in the US was “likely to rise” as cases related to the variant have been detected in at least 16 US states.

She noted that the main concern right now remains the dominant delta variant in the US, which has led to more hospitalisations.

“We have about 90 to 100,000 cases a day right now in the United States, and 99.9 per cent of them are the delta variant,” she said.

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.Update your settings here to see it.

04:51 , Shweta Sharma

Good morning and welcome to The Independent’s live blog on the Covid-19 pandemic for Monday 6 December.

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