Covid news - live: Leaked video shows No 10 joking about party it later denied, as PM urged to ‘be honest’

·38 min read

New leaked footage appears to show Downing Street staff joking last Christmas as they prepared a suitable response to potential questions over whether a party in No 10 broke Boris Johnson’s own coronavirus rules.

In a recording obtained by ITV News, reportedly made on 22 December, former Downing Street press secretary Allegra Stratton can be seen laughing and saying, “this fictional party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced”, while reminding colleagues: “This is recorded.”

Its publication came hours after Sir Keir Starmer called on the prime minister to “be honest” and “own up” about the alleged parties. Asked on Tuesday, Mr Johnson did not deny a party had taken place, but said: “I am satisfied myself that the guidelines were followed at all times.”

Meanwhile, the UK recorded its highest weekly rise in new Covid-19 cases in January – with a total of nearly 337,000 new infections reported over the past seven days. In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon asked people across Scotland to work from home until the middle of January in a bid to stem the “potentially rapid rise” of the omicron variant.

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Key Points

  • UK records highest weekly cases since January

  • Omicron appears more transmissible than delta, PM says

  • Omicron variant spreading within the community, says UK health secretary

  • Travel bans ineffective and will not stop omicron, WHO says

  • Only one in 10 Covid infections checked for omicron, says Javid

  • New York mandates Covid vaccine for all private offices and children over 5

19:31 , Andy Gregory

The Independent has approached Allegra Stratton for comment over the footage obtained by ITV News.

19:30 , Andy Gregory

Our policy correspondent Jon Stone has this report on the leaked footage from Downing Street. You can refresh the article for the latest updates on this breaking story:

Leaked recording shows Downing Street staff joking about Christmas party in No.10

Breaking: Downing Street staff filmed laughing about Christmas party in leaked footage

19:05 , Andy Gregory

New leaked footage appears to show Downing Street’s former press secretary Allegra Stratton laughing last year as No 10 staff appeared to attempt to prepare her for the possibility of journalists’ questions over a party in the building.

A recording obtained by ITV News purports to show Ms Stratton in Downing Street’s newly built £2.6m press briefing room, answering questions from one of Boris Johnson’s advisers about whether she “recognises” reports of a party in No 10.

“I went home,”Ms Stratton can be heard replying, before starting to laugh and adding, “hold on”, while appearing to think of an appropriate response.

After a significant pause, she is asked whether the prime minister would condone having a Christmas party, to which she laughs and responds: “What’s the answer?”

Others in the room can be heard saying: “It wasn’t a party, it was cheese and wine.”

“Is cheese and wine alright?” Ms Stratton can be heard asking, before adding with a laugh: “This is recorded. This fictional party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced.”

18:48 , Andy Gregory

Professor Adam Kucharski, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, has illustrated why a more transmissible variant can be more damaging than a more deadly one – showing how, in the event of 10,000 cases, a variant that is 50 per cent more transmissible would cause more significantly more deaths after a month of spreading than one that is 50 per cent more deadly .

Fauci says omicron Covid variant ‘almost certainly’ not more severe than delta

18:27 , Andy Gregory

The United States’ top infectious disease official has said that the omicron coronavirus variant is “clearly highly transmissible”, but is “almost certainly” not more severe than delta.

Speaking to Agence France-Presse, Dr Anthony Fauci said that experiments testing the potency of antibodies from the various vaccines against the omicron variant should be available in the “next few days to a week”.

Fauci says omicron Covid variant ‘almost certainly’ not more severe than delta

Charities welcome Holyrood support for intellectual property waiver on vaccines

18:16 , Andy Gregory

Scottish charities have welcomed Nicola Sturgeon’s comments (see post at 5:21pm) in Holyrood today supporting their call for a temporary intellectual property waiver to address global vaccine equity and to write to Boris Johnson on the matter.

“The British government has repeatedly blocked efforts to expand access to Covid-19 vaccines around the world through an emergency suspension of intellectual property rules, including vaccine patents. But today, Nicola Sturgeon has made clear that the UK does not do this in Scotland’s name,” said Liz Murray, head of campaigns at Global Justice Now Scotland.

“The UK government is becoming more and more isolated globally in its shameful refusal to back a just solution to global vaccine inequality ... With pressure growing on Boris Johnson to support the suspension of patents on Covid-19 vaccines, it’s time for him to finally put the health of people around the world before the profits of the pharmaceutical companies.”

Jamie Livingstone, head of Oxfam Scotland, called it “a vital intervention”, adding: “The emergence of omicron should be a clear signal to the UK government that we can’t just booster our way out of this pandemic while leaving Covid to run rampant across the rest of the world.”

Infection rates rise across three quarters of the UK

17:56 , Andy Gregory

Infection rates rose in nearly 75 per cent of all local authorities in the UK during the week to Friday, with 280 out of 377 local areas reporting a rise compared to the previous seven days.

Torridge in Devon continues to have the highest rate in the UK, with 665 new cases discovered that week – the equivalent of 967 per 100,000 people.

This is down from 1,079 the previous week.

Ashford in Kent has the second highest rate, up from 676 to 872 – with 1,143 new cases.

Reigate and Banstead in Surrey had the third highest rate, up from 664 to 871, with 1,300 new cases.

Take whatever action you can to improve global vaccine equity, Nicola Sturgeon to tell Boris Johnson

17:21 , Andy Gregory

Nicola Sturgeon has said she plans to write to Boris Johnson urging him to better support developing countries to obtain vaccine doses.

Addressing Holyrood after the People's Vaccine Alliance – a campaign group whose members in Scotland include Oxfam Scotland, Global Justice Now Scotland and Christian Aid Scotland – urged her to intervene, Ms Sturgeon said: “I certainly call on the prime minister to take whatever action he can to ensure that we get vaccines equitably to the population of the world as quickly as possible.

“I also take very seriously the responsibility on the shoulders of my government to make sure we're doing everything possible. Covid is a global crisis – it's very understandable that we focus on the implications for ourselves in our own countries but it is an unprecedented global crisis.”

She added: “It is fundamentally the case, as omicron is reminding us, that until every across the world is safe, none of us is truly safe, so we are very keen to explore further routes that support equitable access to vaccines.”

Scientists call for more caution in face of omicron

17:01 , Andy Gregory

Describing omicron as a “game-changer” which could drive a “huge spike” in hospitalisations even by optimistic assumptions without action to the contrary, a scientist on the the government’s behavioural science advisory group, SPI-B has highlighted some basic steps the public and government could take:

Stephen Reicher, a social psychology professor at St Andrew’s University, urged people to “get jabbed”, limit contacts where possible and take lateral flow tests before meeting other people.

Dr Deepti Gurdasani, a clinical epidemiologist at Queen Mary University London, also appeared to back further domestic measures to stop the spread of omicron in the UK, warning that relying on “boosters alone, waiting and watching, and considering small incremental steps ... isn’t how one prepares for a crisis”.

Breaking: UK records most cases in a week since January

16:48 , Andy Gregory

The UK has reported its highest weekly number of new coronavirus cases since January.

A total of 336,893 new cases have been reported in the past seven days, government figures show – including 45,691 on Tuesday.

This is the highest number for a seven-day period since the week to 16 January, when nearly 340,000 cases were reported.

My colleague Tom Batchelor has more on this breaking story here:

UK reports highest weekly number of new Covid cases since January

Scottish ministers not considering sweeping school closures, Nicola Sturgeon says

16:29 , Andy Gregory

Holyrood ministers are not currently considering a blanket closure of schools in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

A primary school in Paisley has already been forced to close for a week due to a suspected outbreak of the new omicron variant, with some class groups at Todholm Primary now being required to self-isolate.

Pressed by Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross – who said shutting schools “may be necessary in extreme circumstances” – to confirm that her Cabinet had not discussed school closures on a national basis, Ms Sturgeon said: “We are not discussing the closure on a national basis of schools.”

“Everything that can be done to avoid that will be done by this government, and that is a really important principle that will drive everything we do.”

But she added achieving that “means doing some other things that Douglas Ross has opposed time and again” – such as requiring staff and pupils in secondary schools to wear face coverings.

Ms Sturgeon stressed the need for “sensible mitigations in schools”, saying that while “nobody likes” pupils having to wear them, doing so is “essential”.

Scotland’s home-working position ‘not ours’, Downing Street says

16:11 , Andy Gregory

In response to Nicola Sturgeon extending Scotland’s work-from-home guidance until mid-January, Downing Street said “that's not our position”.

The prime minister's official spokesman said “we are obviously looking at incoming data on the Omicron variant” but “our position remains as set out, with the limited number of restrictions we have introduced so far”.

Asked whether it was a proportionate response, the spokesman said: “It's entirely in their gift, as has always been the case for devolved administrations, to make a judgment on what they believe is best.”

Covid expert warns public not to do lateral flow tests

16:00 , Thomas Kingsley

A covid expert has warned people not to take lateral flow tests in the cold.

Harvard Medical School epidemiologist, Professor Michael Mina said taking the portable tests in cold temperatures could result in false-negative tests.

“If using rapid tests this holiday season and asking ppl to test before a gathering… or any time… Suggest they be done before leaving the house, or in the car, etc. Someplace >55 F (12C),” he wrote on Twitter.

“Also, if your counter or table or wherever you are letting them sit for 15 minutes is cold (like a granite countertop) - place it on top of the box or literally any other surface that’s not cold (wood table, book etc).”

Sir Keir Starmer calls on Boris Johnson to ‘be honest' about Christmas party

15:45 , Thomas Kingsley

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has urged the Prime Minister to “be honest” about the “knees up” at Downing Street.

“Very many people are very, very upset by this because while all the rest of the country was in lockdown not seeing loved ones, the people who lost people in that period now know that there was a knees-up and a booze-up in Downing Street, and even now the Prime Minister can't just be honest.

“So I say to him: be honest, own up. We don't need a criminal investigation, we need a Prime Minister who is honest about it.

Meanwhile, chancellor Rishi Sunak denied having attended any parties in Downing Street during the lockdown.

Labour MP Karl Turner asked: “The chancellor was evasive when interviewed by the media last week but we need a clear answer on this very important point because many people across the country made great personal sacrifice during the lockdown.

“So will the chancellor categorically deny in the House that he or any of his officials or Spads (special advisers) attended any of the Downing Street Christmas parties on 27 November or 18 December last year?”

Nicola Sturgeon asks Scots to work from home until mid-January

15:39 , Thomas Kingsley

Nicola Sturgeon has asked people across Scotland to work from home until the middle of January in a bid to stem the “potentially rapid rise” of the covid omicron variant.

Going further than Boris Johnson – who has been reluctant to bring back remote working guidance in England – the first minister asked Scotland’s employers to make sure staff that can work from home do so until mid-January 2022.

“If you had staff working from home at the start of the pandemic, please now do so again,” said Sturgeon on Tuesday. “We’re asking you do this from now until the middle of January when we will review this advice.”

Our political correspondent Adam Forrest has the full report below:

Nicola Sturgeon asks Scots to work from home until mid-January

Archbishop of Canterbury urges British government to remove Nigeria and South Africa from red list

15:30 , Thomas Kingsley

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has appealed to the British government to remove Nigeria, South Africa and all other countries from the red list.

“With omicron set to become the dominant variant in the UK, I appeal to the British government to remove Nigeria and South Africa from the red list - together with all other countries currently on it,” he wrote on Twitter.

Bishop Welby called it “morally wrong and self-defeating” to punish other nations for discovering new covid variants. He insisted that the only way out of the pandemic was “vaccine equity.”

“We must end vaccine nationalism and stockpiling. We must get vaccines distributed in countries that need them the most.”

Nicola Sturgeon calls for working from home and more tests as omicron cases increase

15:15 , Thomas Kingsley

Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon has stressed the importance of working from home and regular testing

“I know this is difficult, but I cannot stress enough how much difference we think this could make in helping stem transmission and avoid the need for even more onerous measures,” she said.

She also urged Scots to follow rules around testing and self-isolation should they have symptoms, as well as regular lateral flow testing.

“I am not excluding myself from this,” she said.

“I am currently doing a test every morning before coming to work and I will do a test on any occasion I mix with others over the festive period. I will ask anyone visiting my home over Christmas to do likewise.”

Ms Sturgeon also urged MSPs to “lead by example” on testing.

Nearly all children have fallen behind with education amid the pandemic, Ofsted says

15:00 , Thomas Kingsley

Nearly all children have fallen behind in their education and suffered as a result of the pandemic, Ofsted has said.

The watchdog has called on schools to offer pupils sport and extra-curricular activities to ensure children “regain a sense of normality” in their lives.

Chief inspector Amanda Spielman warned that many of the youngest children’s progress and development “faltered” amid the pandemic, with some regressing in basic language and social skills.

Loneliness, boredom and misery became “endemic” among the young - and the loss of education, disrupted routine and fewer activities led to physical and mental health problems for many children, she said.

The younger generation should not be “denied” its chance to enjoy childhood and fulfill its potential in the year ahead, Ms Spielman has urged.

Her comments come after the latest department for education (DfE) figures show that the number of children and staff off school for covid-related reasons in England has risen in recent weeks.

 (Getty)
(Getty)

101 new cases of omicron variant detected, UKHSA says

14:54 , Thomas Kingsley

A further 101 new cases of the omicron variant have been detected in the UK bringing the total number of UK cases to 437.

Of the 101 new cases, one was confirmed in Wales while there have been no new cases reported in Northern Ireland.

The UK Health Security Agency said a further 101 confirmed cases of the omicron variant have been reported in the UK on Tuesday.

Alcohol deaths in UK hit new high after record increase

14:45 , Thomas Kingsley

It is too early to know if the rise can be linked to the covid-19 lockdowns.

Deaths in the UK caused directly by alcohol hit a new high in 2020 after the biggest year-on-year increase since records began, figures show.

A total of 8,974 deaths related to alcohol-specific causes were registered in the UK last year, or 14.0 deaths per 100,000 people. This is up 18.6 per cent on the 7,565 deaths registered in 2019, or 11.8 per 100,000.

Separate data from the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities has suggested levels of alcohol consumption in England have changed since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, with periods of lockdown coinciding with a slight rise in the proportion of people drinking a high number of units of alcohol each week.

More details in the full story below:

Alcohol deaths in Britain hit new high after record increase

Here’s what’s been happening today

14:30 , Thomas Kingsley

Cases of the new omicron variant continue to increase while scientists race to understand whether the heavily mutated “variant of concern” will escape current vaccines and lead to more severe symptoms.

Here is the latest from today on coronavirus:

  • Boris Johnson said that the omicron variant appears to be more transmissible than delta, according to early indications, however, he insisted that much remains unknown still about the new variant and the government were not looking to implement plan B restrictions.

  • Omicron spread is doubling every two days, a top scientist has warned. Professor Tim Spector, of the covid Zoe app, said that cases are likely over 1,000 in the UK and will be greater than countries on the UK red list.

  • Spain approved coronavirus vaccines for five to 11-year-olds following a recommendation from the European health regulator.

  • The World Health Organisation said that travel bans are ineffective and will not stop omicron. It urged nations to stick to tried and tested measures.

Health chiefs want to see ‘minimum restrictions possible,’ deputy health chief says

14:15 , Thomas Kingsley

Wales’ deputy health chief has said health chiefs want to see the “minimum restrictions possible” as omicron cases were detected in the country.

Dr Gill Richardson was asked if the expected sharp rise in covid-19 cases due to the new variant is not followed by an increase in hospitalisations and deaths, if further restrictions over the festive period could be avoided.

Speaking at a press conference, she said: “I think obviously, we would like to impose the minimum restrictions possible whilst maintaining a safe approach to covid-19 and that includes this variant at the moment.”

Ministers have ‘no handle’ on thousands of ‘ghost children’ off radar in pandemic, says Ofsted

14:00 , Thomas Kingsley

Ministers have “no handle” on the identities or whereabouts of thousands of children who have fallen off the radar during the pandemic, Ofsted has warned.

Chief inspector Amanda Spielman raised alarm about the “harm” the lockdowns had caused children, warning that the fact that so many had “disappeared from teachers’ line of sight” had resulted in significantly lower levels of referrals to social care and a higher risk of neglect.

Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons education committee, warned on Monday that 100,000 “ghost children” are at risk of abuse after failing to return to school following the closure of schools last year.

Our social affairs correspondent, May Bulman, has the full story below:

Britain has ‘no handle’ on number of children ‘lost’ during lockdowns, warns Ofsted

13:45 , Thomas Kingsley

Tottenham Hotspur has suffered an outbreak of covid-19 within their squad, with several first-team players and two members of staff believed to have tested positive.

The news has come as a serious blow to Antonio Conte, with Spurs heading into a series of important fixtures.

After facing Rennes in the Europe Conference League on Thursday, Tottenham face Brighton and Liverpool in the Premier League, and then West Ham in the Carabao Cup quarter-final within the space of a fortnight.

Our sports reporter Tom Kershaw has the full story below:

Tottenham hit by Covid-19 outbreak in first-team squad

Travel bans ‘ineffective’ WHO says

13:30 , Thomas Kingsley

Travel bans to control covid-19 are ineffective and will not stop omicron, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has reiterated.

It urged nations to stick to vaccines and mask-wearing to control the spread of omicron, as the new variant appears to be more transmissible than delta.

Many experts believe that although omicron will cause a wave of infection, vaccines should still by and large hold out against severe disease and death.

Speaking to reporters, Dr Hans Kluge, WHO's regional director for Europe, said that bans on flights did not work and were too late “because omicron is already everywhere.”

Dr Catherine Smallwood, the senior emergency officer at the WHO Regional Office for Europe, said 43 countries in the European region had imposed travel restrictions because of omicron.

“Disease outbreaks are contained at their source, not at their borders,” she told the press briefing.

“And travel bans, though they may be easily accessible in terms of political decision-making, they are not effective in preventing spread of disease. They really are not effective.”

 (Rex)
(Rex)

Three new omicron cases detected in Wales

13:16 , Thomas Kingsley

Three new cases of the omicron variant of covid-19 have been detected in Wales, Welsh minister for health Eluned Morgan has said, bringing the total to four.

The Welsh government announced on Monday evening that all eligible adults will now be offered at a booster vaccine by the end of January.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Baroness Morgan warned: “There's a lot we don't know about omicron but all the evidence we do have so far suggests this is a fast-moving form of the virus which will quickly overtake delta as the dominant form.”

“We need to do everything we can to protect ourselves, and that includes increasing vaccination.”

The Welsh government is also now offering all 12 to 15-year-olds their second dose of the vaccine.

Spain approves coronavirus vaccine for children aged five to 11

12:59 , Thomas Kingsley

The Spanish health commission approved Tuesday the vaccination against covid-19 of children aged five to 11 following a recommendation by the European health regulator late last month. The decision comes as the country, with a nationwide vaccination rate of nearly 80 per cent, seeks to address an acceleration of coronavirus cases.

Inoculating children and young people, who can unwittingly transmit COVID-19 to others, is considered a critical step towards taming the pandemic.

NEW: Omicron may be more tranmissible than delta variant, PM says

12:53 , Thomas Kingsley

Early indications show that omicron is more transmissible than the delta variant, Boris Johnson’s spokesman said.

Boris Johnson made the comments in a cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning.

Giving an account of the meeting on Tuesday morning, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: “The Prime Minister said it was too early to draw conclusions on the characteristics of omicron but early indications were that it is more transmissible than delta.”

 (PA Wire)
(PA Wire)

Covid deaths fall for second week in England and Wales

11:18 , Alastair Jamieson

The number of deaths involving Covid-19 registered in England and Wales has fallen for the second week in a row, with deaths among over-80s at their lowest level for nearly two months.

A total of 817 deaths registered in the week ending November 26 mentioned coronavirus on the death certificate, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

This is down 14% on the previous week, and follows a 7% fall a week earlier.

Some 348 deaths were of people aged 80 and over - the lowest number for this age group since the week to October 8.

New data shows GSK-Vir drug works against all omicron mutations

11:15 , Thomas Kingsley

British drugmaker GSK (GSK.L) said on Tuesday its antibody-based covid-19 therapy with U.S. partner Vir Biotechnology (VIR.O) is effective against all mutations of the new omicron coronavirus variant, citing new data from early-stage studies.

The data, yet to be published in a peer-reviewed medical journal, shows that the companies' treatment, sotrovimab, is effective against all 37 identified mutations to date in the spike protein, GSK said in a statement.

Last week, another pre-clinical data showed that the drug had worked against key mutations of the omicron variant. Sotrovimab is designed to latch on to the spike protein on the surface of the coronavirus, but omicron has been found to have an unusually high number of mutations on that protein.

The new drug was approved in the UK last week and clinical trial data has shown a single dose reduced the risk of hospitalisation and death by 79 per cent in high risk adults.

 (AP)
(AP)

One year from the first Covid-19 jab, how many are still unvaccinated?

10:55 , Thomas Kingsley

One year on from Margaret Keenan becoming the first person in the world to receive a covid-19 jab as part of a mass vaccination programme, around one in 10 eligible people in the UK – 6.4 million – remain unvaccinated.

Ms Keenan, aged 90 at the time, was given the dose at University Hospital in Coventry on 8 December 2020.

Since then, just over 51 million first doses of vaccine have been given in the UK, along with more than 46 million second doses and 20 million extra doses.

Read the full story below for more details:

One year from the UK’s first Covid-19 jab, how many are still unvaccinated?

817 covid deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending 26 November

10:30 , Thomas Kingsley

A total of 817 deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending 26 November mentioned covid-19 on the death certificate, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

This is down 14 per cent on the previous week and is the lowest number of deaths since the week to 22 October.

Around one in 14 (7.1 per cent) of all deaths registered in England and Wales in the week to 26 November mentioned covid-19 on the death certificate

Omicron closures should be expected ahead of Christmas, top Scottish medical adviser warned

10:15 , Thomas Kingsley

Locations are likely to be closed due to the omicron variant before Christmas, Scotland’s national clinical director has said.

Professor Jason Leitch made the claim after staffing worries caused the closure of Todholm Primary School in Paisley for a week on Monday due to a number of workers being forced to isolate.

Professor Leitch said on Tuesday there would likely be more closures, but they would not necessarily be restricted to educational settings.

“I’m expecting there to potentially be other location closures before Christmas,” he told BBC Radio Scotland.

“That’s random - it might be a school, might be a call centre, might be my office, might be yours.

“It depends where omicron appears.”

While Professor Leitch said the new variant remains sparse in Scotland and the delta variant is still more concerning, the national clinical director described omicron as an “unknown”.

Covid-19 Plan B ‘not required,’ Dominic Raab says

10:00 , Thomas Kingsley

Dominic Raab said the government does not believe its Plan B on covid-19 is required “because of the success of the vaccine programme”.

The Deputy Prime Minister told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: “We're doing everything that can be done to tackle the risk that we face, and we're doing it in the proportionate way that doesn't create other risks and other challenges.”

Pressed on why the government is not implementing Plan B, he said: “We don't think Plan B is required. Why? Because of the success of the vaccine programme. We've got 118 million doses dispensed.”

 (PA Wire)
(PA Wire)

Suspected omicron outbreak closes Paisley primary school

09:40 , Thomas Kingsley

A suspected outbreak of the omicron variant has closed a primary school in Renfrewshire for one week.

Parents of children at Todholm Primary on Lochfield Road, Paisley, were informed of the closure by email on Sunday. Renfrewshire Council said the decision was taken as a result of low staffing levels amid the outbreak.

Pupils have subsequently been switched to remote learning from Monday 6 December until Friday 10 December.

The decision to close the primary school was taken by Renfrewshire Council.

A spokesperson from Renfrewshire Council told the BBC: “This is due to covid-19 cases linked to the school confirmed as being, or with the potential to be, the new omicron variant.

“Following identification of cases, a further risk assessment was carried out by public health and environmental health teams and all appropriate safety measures were found to be robust.

“We have apologised to parents for any disruption and will keep them updated.”

Todholm Primary has been forced to close due to a suspected omicron outbreak (Google)
Todholm Primary has been forced to close due to a suspected omicron outbreak (Google)

Double jab and having had coronavirus best defence against new variants, study finds

09:25 , Thomas Kingsley

The best defence against new covid-19 variants is to have had the virus and been double jabbed, according to a new study.

People who have both tested positive for covid and been double-vaxxed have “high quality” antibodies that can fend off new and emerging strains of the virus.

But the study discovered that people who tested positive early on in the pandemic, before new variants were identified, have less protection than someone who may have been infected after May 2020.

Researchers say the pandemic continues because new variants are evolving which helps the virus to spread more easily from person-to-person.

Like with the omicron variant, breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated are likely to occur.

In uninfected patients who had received one of two covid-19 vaccines, the researchers found antibodies that were less effective against mutations in the new variants (like beta or gamma).

Similarly, researchers in the University of California Los Angeles study found people who had been infected with coronavirus before variants were identified, May 2020, had reduced potency against newer variants compared to the original.

Boris Johnson gets his booster jab (PA)
Boris Johnson gets his booster jab (PA)

‘Very unwise for No 10 to lie’ about lockdown Christmas party, says Dominic Cummings

09:10 , Thomas Kingsley

Dominic Cummings has implied that Downing Street is covering up Christmas parties during lockdown last year, saying it is “very unwise for No 10 to lie” after the prime minister’s spokesperson explicitly told reporters “there was not a party”.

Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser also alleged some political journalists attended gatherings at the PM’s flat.

Our reporter, Celine Wadhera, has the full report below:

‘Very unwise for No 10 to lie’ about lockdown Christmas parties, says Cummings

ICYMI: Omicron latest cases

08:55 , Thomas Kingsley

The UK Health and Security Agency yesterday released the latest identified omicron cases in the UK which showed that cases of the new variant increased by 90 yesterday to a total of 336 across the UK.

 (PA)
(PA)

NHS cancelled 13,000 operations in last two months

08:40 , Thomas Kingsley

Data suggests that some 13,000 planned operations have been cancelled over the past two months, delaying vital surgeries for thousands of people across the country.

Figures from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) showed that 6,726 operations were cancelled in November, while 6,335 were cancelled in October.

Specific reasons for the cancellations were not provided but it appears that the majority were cancelled by the NHS, which previously stopped recording the number of cancelled operations because of the covid-19 pandemic. Only recently has the NHS resumed the practice.

Our reporter, Celine Wadhera, has the full report below:

13,000 NHS operations cancelled in last two months

Mother dies of covid-19 after delaying shot to breastfeed

08:30 , Thomas Kingsley

An unvaccinated covid-positive mother in Utah died from the disease after deciding to delay her vaccine shots due to breastfeeding concerns, according to information shared on her GoFundMe page.

Dezi Scopesi, 23, died on Thursday, the organisers of the GoFundMe page meant to aid her family, said on Sunday.

Scopesi contracted the virus on 25 October and began to battle severe infection after being hospitalised on 29 October, according to the organisers, which included her husband Stephen Scopesi-Steadman.

Our reporter Arpan Rai has the full story below:

Mother dies of Covid-19 after delaying shot to breastfeed

UK could have more omicron cases than red list countries in 10 days, scientist warns

08:15 , Thomas Kingsley

Professor Tim Spector, from the covid Zoe app, said that in around 10 days' time the UK could have more cases of omicron than some countries it had put on the travel red list.

The professor of genetic epidemiology at King's College London told BBC Breakfast: “The official estimates are about 350-odd omicron cases, and because the current testing is missing a lot of those, it's probably at least 1,000 to 2,000 I would guess at the moment.

“And we are expecting this to be doubling about every two days at the moment, so if you do your maths - say assumed it's 1,000 at the moment, and you think it's going to be doubling every two days, you can see that those numbers are going to be pretty (high) certainly in about 10 days time.

“By that time, we'll probably have more cases than they will in some of those African countries

“So I think these travel restrictions do perhaps have their place initially, when cases are really low here and really high in the other country, but when we reach that equilibrium, there's very little point in having them in my opinion.”

Omicron to be dominant UK variant “within a matter of weeks,” top scientist warns

07:59 , Thomas Kingsley

Dr Jeffrey Barrett, director of the covid-19 genomics initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said he thought omicron would take over from delta in the UK as the dominant variant of coronavirus “within a matter of weeks”.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: “I think we can now say that this variant is spreading faster in the UK than the delta variant at the same time, and that's something that I think was unclear until very recently.

“I am pretty confident that it's going to take over (Delta) probably in a matter of weeks.”

Asked about the implications of that, he said: “Well, we don't know and that's the really critical question, of course, is how many of those cases of which there will likely be a large number will lead to severe disease?

“And a number of people including Dr Fauci (chief medical adviser to US president), as you mentioned, have hypothesised that this variant may be more mild or less likely to cause severe disease than previous variants of the virus.”

New UK travel rules come into force

06:48 , Stuti Mishra

All international arrivals to the UK are now required to have taken a pre-departure Covid test as per the latest guidelines that came into force at 4am (GMT) this morning.

New rules designed to slow the spread of the omicron variant of coronavirus will mean anyone travelling to the UK from countries not on the red list will be required to take a pre-departure test a maximum of 48 hours before leaving, regardless of their vaccination status.

If they test positive, they will not be allowed to travel.Scotland and Wales have said they will implement similar measures.

The decision on pre-departure tests followed calls from Labour to implement the process and comes amid warnings that the time between infection and infectiousness could be shorter with the new variant.

Geraldine Scott explains everything you need to know about travelling to the UK with new rules in effect:

New rules for travellers aim to slow down transmission of Omicron

Nepal reports first omicron cases

06:35 , Stuti Mishra

Nepal has detected its first two cases of the omicron variant of coronavirus, its health ministry said on Monday.

It is the third South Asian country to report cases of omicron as the presence of the new variant has now been confirmed in over 40 countries.

A 66-year-old foreigner, who had entered Nepal from a country with confirmed omicron cases on 19 November, and another 71-year-old person who was in close contact with him, tested positive for omicron on Sunday, the ministry said in a statement.It did not identify their nationalities.

“Both of them are in isolation and getting healthcare under the supervision of health workers,” the statement said.Sixty-six other people who had contacts with them were traced and all tested negative, it added.

Nepal recently banned travellers from eight African countries and Hong Kong over fears about the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

100 foreigners ‘go missing’ as India records 7,000 new Covid cases

06:16 , Stuti Mishra

India has been struggling to track visitors since it tightened international travel rules in the wake of the new omicron variant, with over a hundred new arrivals reported missing near Mumbai.

Kalyan Dombivali Municipal Corporation (KMDC) chief Vijay Suryavanshi said as many as 109 out of 295 recent foreign returnees to the township in Thane district, who were supposed to go through a mandatory quarantine, were untraceable currently with their mobile phones switched off and some addresses found locked.

Earlier on Saturday, authorities in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh said 13 passengers who entered India have “disappeared” in the city of Meerut, 74 kilometres from Delhi, after providing false addresses and contact information. Seven of them travelled to India from South Africa.

India tightened its border restrictions last week making testing mandatory for all foreign returnees irrespective of vaccination status and a mandatory quarantine for people coming from “at risk” countries where cases of the new variant have been detected.

India has so far detected 23 cases of the omicron variant, with the latest Covid case numbers announced by India’s health ministry on Tuesday standing at 6,882, a significant drop from 8,306 cases a day before.

ICYMI: New York mandates Covid vaccine for all private offices and children over 5

05:30 , Stuti Mishra

New York has tightened its Covid-19 restrictions, setting vaccine requirements for children as young as 5 years old and for workers at all private-sector companies as cases of the highly transmissible omicron variant in the US increase.

The city has set a deadline for all businesses to mandate vaccination proof for their employees before 27 December, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

Children between the ages of 5 to 11 years must get at least one dose by 14 December and those 12 and older need to be fully vaccinated by 27 December to enter public places like restaurants and take part in group activities like sports.

“Vaccination is the way out of this pandemic, and these are bold, first-in-the-nation measures to encourage New Yorkers to keep themselves and their communities safe,” Mr de Blasio said in a statement.

China reports increase in Covid cases

05:17 , Stuti Mishra

China reported 94 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Monday, up from 61 a day earlier, its health authority said on Tuesday.

Of the new infections, 60 were locally transmitted, according to a statement by the National Health Commission, compared with 38 a day earlier.

The new local cases were reported by local authorities in Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang, Yunnan and Zhejiang.

China reported 14 new asymptomatic cases, which it classifies separately from confirmed cases, compared with 44 a day earlier.

The country hasn’t reported cases of the new variant yet but authorities say they are ready to rapidly identify it.

“We have established the testing capacity for mutant strains to prevent and control omicron,” Yang Peng, an official at the Beijing Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, was quoted by SCMP as saying.

ICYMI: Only one in 10 Covid infections checked for omicron, says Javid

05:00 , Stuti Mishra

As few as one in 10 confirmed Covid cases are analysed for the omicron variant, health chiefs have admitted, as “community transmission” of the strain was confirmed.

Only half of UK testing facilities are able to carry out genetic sequencing of positive PCR tests, which is needed to identify the variant feared to be more transmissible and, to some extent, vaccine-evasive.

It means only 10-20 per cent of positive results are sequenced, although a further 10 per cent are assessed for the absence of the S gene, cases which are likely to be omicron.

The health secretary Sajid Javid acknowledged the gap in sequencing and told MPs he is “expanding” other omicron testing methods to all centres, but was unable to say when that will happen.

The admission came as Mr Javid said there were 336 confirmed omicron case across the UK – a number which is likely to be a severe underestimation.

Rob Merrick has more:

As few as one in 10 Covid infections checked for omicron variant

ICYMI: Omicron spreading within the community, says UK Health Secretary

04:45 , Stuti Mishra

The Omicron variant of coronavirus is now circulating within the community, Health Secretary Sajid Javid has confirmed.

Mr Javid told MPs on Monday that “multiple regions of England” were seeing cases of the variant that were not linked to international travel.

And he said he could not guarantee the variant would not “knock us off our road to recovery”, as he said the “the window between infection and infectiousness may be shorter for the Omicron”.

Earlier, Professor Paul Hunter, from the school of medicine at the University of East Anglia had warned the Omicron variant could be spreading faster than a previous variant, Delta.

Here are the highlights from the health secretary’s address:

Omicron circulating in the community, Sajid Javid confirms

Indian doctors warn of 'massive' third wave due to omicron

04:31 , Stuti Mishra

The Indian Medical Association has warned that India could witness a devastating third wave if additional measures, including boosters and faster vaccination, aren’t introduced as soon as possible to prevent an outbreak of the omicron variant.

“At a time when India is limping back to normalcy, this is a great setback. If we do not take adequate measures, we may have a massive third wave,” the top doctor’s body told a press conference.

“It’s important that all healthcare workers and frontline workers should be given vaccine booster doses to enhance their immunity,” the IMA president Dr JA Jayalal was quoted as saying.

India has reported 23 cases of the omicron variant so far after its first two cases were reported last week. Some of the cases relate to individuals who haven’t travelled abroad recently.

The body also demanded that the government expedite the proposal of vaccinating children over the age of 12. India has now vaccinated 50 per cent of its adult population with two doses, but is not currently considering rolling out inoculations to minors.

It means that only 34.6 per cent of India’s total 1.4 billion population has been fully vaccinated, with almost 60 per cent having received their first dose.

04:02 , Stuti Mishra

Good morning, and welcome to The Independent’s live blog covering the Covid-19 pandemic for Tuesday 7 December.

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