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The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic
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Huge study finds myocarditis is at least four times more likely to occur after a covid-19 infection than after a vaccination
Heart inflammation is more likely to develop after a covid-19 infection than following vaccination, a study of almost 39 million people in England has found.
The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus vaccines have previously been linked with rare cases of heart muscle inflammation, known as myocarditis.
Symptoms include breathlessness and chest pain. The condition is generally mild and treated with rest and ibuprofen, although all suspected cases require medical attention.
Covid-19 infection is also known to cause heart problems, however, so Julia Hippisley-Cox at the University of Oxford and her colleagues followed nearly 39 million people over the age of 16 in England who were registered with an English vaccination database. Their data was linked to national data on hospital admissions, deaths and covid-19 infections – either before or after vaccination.
Within 28 days of an initial dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, the team recorded an extra two cases of myocarditis per million people. An additional one case per million was noted following a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, and six extra cases per million followed a first dose of a Moderna jab. There were also an extra ten cases per million after a second dose of Moderna.
But an extra 40 cases of myocarditis per million people were recorded within 28 days of a positive covid-19 test result. “We estimated extra myocarditis events to be between 1 and 10 per million persons in the month following vaccination, which was substantially lower than the 40 extra events per million persons following infection,” the authors wrote in their paper.
“The take-home: if you don’t want to get myocarditis or pericarditis, get vaccinated. If you don’t get vaccinated, it is only a matter of time before you get covid-19; and the risks if you do massively outweigh the risks of vaccination,” Peter English, past chairperson of the British Medical Association’s Public Health Medicine Committee, said in a statement.
Other coronavirus news
Two antibody-based treatments for covid-19 lose most of their effectiveness when exposed to the omicron variant in lab tests, a study posted online yesterday has found.
Ronapreve, made by Regeneron, appeared to be inefficient in inhibiting the virus, while Eli Lilly’s cocktail of bamlanivimab and etesevimab seemed to fail to prevent the virus from entering human cells. “The neutralizing activity of several monoclonal antibodies is strongly affected against the omicron variant and will limit treatment options for omicron-induced covid-19,” the researchers said in their paper.
Adults must now present a covid-19 pass showing they have had two vaccines or proof of a negative test in order to access nightclubs and large events in England. The tests can be either PCR or the rapid lateral flow types, but must have been done in the last 48 hours.
People in Scotland have been advised that social events over Christmas should involve no more than three households. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also asked people to limit their social contacts as much as possible over the coming weeks.
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Covid-19: The story of a pandemic
New Scientist Weekly features updates and analysis on the latest developments in the covid-19 pandemic. Our podcast sees expert journalists from the magazine discuss the biggest science stories to hit the headlines each week – from technology and space, to health and the environment.
The Jump is a BBC Radio 4 series exploring how viruses can cross from animals into humans to cause pandemics. The first episode examines the origins of the covid-19 pandemic.
Why Is Covid Killing People of Colour? is a BBC documentary, which investigates what the high covid-19 death rates in ethnic minority patients reveal about health inequality in the UK.
Panorama: The Race for a Vaccine is a BBC documentary about the inside story of the development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine against covid-19.
Race Against the Virus: Hunt for a Vaccine is a Channel 4 documentary which tells the story of the coronavirus pandemic through the eyes of the scientists on the frontline.
The New York Times is assessing the progress in development of potential drug treatments for covid-19, and ranking them for effectiveness and safety.
Humans of COVID-19 is a project highlighting the experiences of key workers on the frontline in the fight against coronavirus in the UK, through social media.
Belly Mujinga: Searching for the Truth is a BBC Panorama investigation of the death of transport worker Belly Mujinga from covid-19, following reports she had been coughed and spat on by a customer at London’s Victoria Station.
Coronavirus, Explained on Netflix is a short documentary series examining the coronavirus pandemic, the efforts to fight it and ways to manage its mental health toll.
COVID-19: The Pandemic that Never Should Have Happened, and How to Stop the Next One by Debora Mackenzie is about how the pandemic happened and why it will happen again if we don’t do things differently in future.
The Rules of Contagion is about the new science of contagion and the surprising ways it shapes our lives and behaviour. The author, Adam Kucharski, is an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK, and in the book he examines how diseases spread and why they stop.
Syringes filled with the Pfizer covid-19 vaccine
THOMAS KIENZLE/AFP via Getty Images
Two doses of the Pfizer jab are only 33 per cent effective against infection with the omicron coronavirus variant
One of the first major analysis of real-world data involving the omicron variant suggests that two doses of a coronavirus vaccine are not particularly effective at preventing infection, but they do give reasonable protection against hospitalisation.
Researchers at South Africa’s largest private health insurance administrator, Discovery Health, looked at over 200,000 positive covid-19 cases from 15 November to 7 December in the country. Around 37 per cent of their sample was from this period and so they estimate that about 78,000 of the cases were probably due to the omicron variant.
The researchers found that two doses of the Pfizer vaccine are only 33 per cent effective against infection and are 70 per cent effective against hospitalisation.
Previous research by the firm found that two Pfizer doses were 80 per cent effective against infection before the spread of the omicron variant and 93 per cent effective against hospitalisation.
Other coronavirus news
Norway has banned alcohol in restaurants and bars to curb the spread of the omicron variant. The country has also closed gyms and swimming pools to most users. “There is no doubt – the new variant changes the rules. That’s why we need to act fast and we need to act again,” prime minister Gahr Stoere said yesterday.
The US Air Force has dismissed 27 members for refusing to get vaccinated for coronavirus. They are believed to be the first military members in the US to be forced out over the jabs.
Almost 96 per cent of active-duty members have had at least one dose of the vaccine. Meanwhile not a single service member has thus far been granted a religious exemption for getting vaccinated.
Visitors queue for covid-19 vaccinations at a walk-in vaccine center in Romford, UK
Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
All adults in England will be offered a booster dose of a covid-19 vaccine – but it may not be enough to stop the spread of omicron, warn scientists
England’s vaccination programme will be accelerated to offer all over-18s in the country a booster dose from this week, in light of soaring cases of the omicron variant.
Prime minister Boris Johnson declared an “omicron emergency” yesterday in a televised briefing. The UK government plans to deliver one million booster jabs a day this month – 156,000 more than the UK’s previous record of 844,000 per day in March.
But the booster programme will need to be accompanied by other measures to limit the impact of the omicron variant, scientists have warned.
“This idea that kids can go to school if someone in their house has covid is just stupid,” Christina Pagel of University College London told The Guardian. “We should be saying no parties, no gatherings bigger than 10 people, say. We need to think about moving back down the roadmap and restricting contact.”
Other researchers are calling for children aged between five and 11 to be vaccinated in the UK.
“There’s been no discussion of how we’re going to protect children in January when schools reopen,” Deepti Gurdasani at Queen Mary University of London told The Guardian. “The US has vaccinated 5 million children. The EMA [European Medicines Agency] has approved, FDA [US Food and Drug Administration] has approved, [but] there’s no word from the MHRA [the UK regulator] which is quite stunning.”
Other coronavirus news
Omicron induces a lower antibody response in those with two doses of the coronavirus jab compared to the delta variant, a study suggests.
Researchers at the University of Oxford analysed blood samples of participants who were given two doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca or Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines.
The team found that omicron infections generated a lower antibody response than the delta variant. This does not necessarily mean that omicron is likely to cause more severe disease, but it suggests that vaccinated individuals may be more likely to become infected with the variant.
“These data are important but are only one part of the picture,” study co-author Matthew Snape at the University of Oxford said in a press release. Snape and his colleagues only looked at neutralising antibodies after a second dose, but didn’t look at other forms of immunity, such as that conferred by T-cells.
“Importantly, we have not yet assessed the impact of a ‘third dose’ booster, which we know significantly increases antibody concentrations, and it is likely that this will lead to improved potency against the omicron variant,” Snape said.
So far, UK data suggests that a third vaccine dose substantially raises protection against symptomatic infection with the omicron variant.
Very little is known about the clinical severity of the omicron variant, the World Health Organization has said.
But the overall risk the variant poses is high, due to its high transmission rates and preliminary evidence suggesting that the variant escapes some forms of immunity, the organisation has warned.
The US recorded its 800,000th death from coronavirus on Sunday, according to a tally by the Reuters news agency. Over 450,000 people in the US have died from covid-19 since the start of this year.
Commuters make their way across London Bridge on 9 December, 2021 in London, England
Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images
Omicron variant may be spreading faster in UK than in South Africa
The UK is going to see a large wave of omicron cases and deaths in the next few months, a scientist advising the government has said. John Edmunds of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), said that sequencing suggested omicron had been around since mid-October and the variant may be spreading even faster in the UK than it is in South Africa, where it was first detected.
“I think over the next two months, we’re going to see a really rather large wave of omicron,” he said at a Royal Society of Medicine briefing. “We’re getting large numbers of cases and that will result in a large number of hospitalisations and, unfortunately, it will result in a large number of deaths, I’m pretty sure of that.”
The UK Health Security Agency identified a further 249 omicron cases on Thursday, almost twice the number announced the day before, bringing the UK total to 817. At this rate of growth, the UK could have more than 60,000 cases of omicron before Christmas, Edmunds said.
The overall covid-19 numbers in the UK show cases rising 8 per cent week-on-week and hospital admissions rising 3.9 per cent, while deaths have risen by 0.7 per cent.
In South Africa, covid-19 cases have surged by 255 per cent in the past week. The country’s biggest private healthcare provider said it is seeing patients with milder symptoms than those in previous waves, with fewer requiring oxygen therapy.
A report from SPI-M-O, a modelling group advising the UK government, says if the characteristics of omicron estimated from South Africa apply in the UK, there is the potential for a peak of infections much larger than the one seen in January 2021. “If omicron in the UK combines increased transmissibility and immune escape, irrespective of severity, it is highly likely that very stringent measures would be required to control growth and keep R below 1,” the report said.
Other coronavirus news
At a Christmas party in Oslo, Norway, 80 out of 111 people who attended were subsequently diagnosed with covid-19, according to a report by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. Genetic sequencing has confirmed 17 of those cases as being linked to the omicron variant, and the researchers think it is likely that most of the others are also infected with omicron. The vast majority of the participants were vaccinated with two doses of mRNA vaccine.
Australia will start vaccinating children aged 5 to 11 against covid-19 in January, prime minister Scott Morrison has said. The rollout will initially use two doses of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, eight weeks apart. Regulators are also considering whether to approve the Moderna vaccine for this age group.
Future variants: Viral evolution is inevitable, but there are ways we can lower the risk of dangerous new variants emerging, says Michael Le Page.
UK prime minister Boris Johnson, center, chief medical officer for England Chris Whitty, left, and chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance.
Mask-wearing rules extended under new coronavirus measures in England
UK prime minister Boris Johnson has announced new measures in England to reduce the spread of covid-19 with cases of the omicron variant growing rapidly. Mandatory mask-wearing will be extended to indoor public venues including cinemas, theatres and places of worship from Friday but will not be required in pubs and restaurants, while the guidance to work from home where possible will return on Monday. The NHS covid pass, which can be obtained by having two vaccines or a negative lateral flow test, will be required for entry into nightclubs and other large venues from 15 December.
Johnson warned it is clear that the new variant is “growing much faster” than the delta variant, and cases of omicron could be doubling every two or three days. He said Christmas parties and nativities could go ahead, but urged people to “exercise due caution” and get their booster jabs.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) warned omicron is spreading “rapidly” and it is possible hospital admissions from the new variant in England could exceed 1000 per day – and still be increasing – by the end of the year. “The overall scale of any wave of hospitalisations without interventions is highly uncertain, but the peak could reach several times this level,” the minutes from a meeting held on Tuesday said.
Other coronavirus news
People who have three doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine have high enough antibody levels to neutralise the omicron variant, according to laboratory tests carried out by the vaccine makers. In blood samples taken around a month after the third dose, antibodies neutralised the omicron variant about as effectively as two doses neutralised the original SARS-CoV2 virus. Having only two doses of the vaccine results in lower levels of neutralising antibodies, but could still protect against severe disease, the companies said.
The US medicines regulator has approved a new therapy to prevent covid-19 infections in people with weak immune systems or a history of severe side effects from coronavirus vaccines. Evushield, made by AstraZeneca, is made up of two lab-made antibodies that linger in the body for months. A trial found that it cuts the risk of people developing covid-19 symptoms by 77 per cent.
How likely is reinfection? Early evidence from South Africa suggests that people who have had covid-19 before are more likely to get reinfected by the omicron variant, but they still have a high level of immunity.
Maria Van Kerkhove interview: The World Health Organization’s technical lead on covid-19 spoke to New Scientist about the omicron variant, how she is approaching the festive season and how 2022 might pan out.
Vials of the Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine.
Small study shows the omicron variant is less affected by Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine antibodies
Some of the first tests of the omicron variant against blood samples show the virus has significant ability to evade the immune response – but that some protection remains, especially in people who have had booster vaccines.
The study of 12 people in South Africa found that antibodies triggered by the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines and prior infections were on average 40 times less potent at blocking omicron than they were the original coronavirus variant. This does not translate to the vaccine’s overall effectiveness, however, as the immune system comprises multiple other elements, such as T-cells, which attack virus-infected cells directly.
The study, which was posted online yesterday, also found stronger protection from antibodies in people who had been infected before being vaccinated. Five out of six people who had been infected with the original variant before they had their two vaccine doses had more potent antibodies against omicron.
This suggests that people who have had three vaccine doses could have similarly good protection against omicron, Danny Altmann at Imperial College London, who was not involved in the study, said in a statement. “Those who’ve seen [the virus spike protein] three times, either by boosting or by infection plus two doses, appear generally in the safety zone. Those who are unvaccinated, or even two-dose vaccinated, are likely to be highly vulnerable to infection.”
“There is a very large drop in neutralisation of omicron by [Pfizer/BioNTech] immunity relative to ancestral virus,” research leader Alex Sigal at Africa Health Research Institute in Durban, South Africa, said on Twitter yesterday. “The fact that… escape is incomplete means it’s a tractable problem with the tools we got. This was better than I expected of omicron.”
Other coronavirus news
UK covid-19 cases caused by the omicron variant seem to be doubling every two to three days, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) told the BBC’s Radio 4 today. Neil Ferguson, who was speaking in a personal capacity, said if the trend continues, omicron is likely to become the dominant UK variant before Christmas.
People who are 40 and over in England can now book booster jabs against covid-19 if three months have passed since their second vaccine dose. The interval has been reduced from six months.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has asked all firms to let people work from home where possible. Sturgeon said the home-working should continue until at least mid-January, when the advice would be reviewed. As of Monday, 99 cases of the omicron variant had been found in Scotland.
Convalescent plasma, obtained from people recently infected with the coronavirus, is not an effective treatment for covid-19, the World Health Organization has said.
One year of vaccinations: The UK today celebrates 12 months of its public coronavirus vaccination programme. Clare Wilson takes a look at what we’ve learned over the past year, and the global vaccine inequality that remains
A patient rests in bed while their pulse oximeter is checked.
Some mental health conditions are associated with a higher risk of death from covid-19
People who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia at some point in their life may be five times more likely to die from covid-19 than those who haven’t been diagnosed with a certain mental health condition.
Researchers at the University of Manchester analysed data from more than 1900 people living in the UK who have had a diagnosis of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or depression. They were all participants in the UK Biobank, a database that holds the medical and genetic information of half a million people.
The researchers compared data from these people to that from more than 400,000 people in the UK Biobank who had no recorded history of these conditions.
They found that, compared with those with no history of a mental health diagnosis, those with schizophrenia were five times as likely to have died from covid-19 by the end of February 2021. Those with a history of bipolar disorder were 3.76 times more likely to have died, and those with a history of depression were twice as likely.
However, the UK Biobank is not representative of the UK population. Most of the participants are over the age of 65 and about 95 per cent of the total sample is white.
Other coronavirus news
All international arrivals to the UK will, from today, have to show a negative lateral flow or PCR test to enter the country.
The new rules came into force at 4am today and have been brought in to tackle the spread of the omicron variant. The test must have been taken within 48 hours of departure time.
All private employees who go to work in New York City will need to have been vaccinated against covid-19 by 27 December.
The plans were unveiled yesterday by the city’s mayor Bill de Blasio. The rules will apply to about 184,000 businesses. It follows the city’s vaccine mandate for municipal workers which came into force in November.
The mayor described it as a pre-emptive strike against the omicron variant. “We cannot let covid back in the door again,” de Blasio said in a press conference. There will be exemptions for people with medical or religious reasons.
The omicron wave: It remains unclear whether the omicron coronavirus variant causes less severe disease, but even if this is true, hospitals could still be overwhelmed by the sheer number of cases
A child receives a covid-19 vaccine in Canada.
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Children in Australia aged between five and 11 could be vaccinated in January
Five to 11-year-olds in Australia could get a coronavirus vaccine as early as 10 January, following provisional approval by the nation’s drugs regulator.
A one-third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was approved as safe and effective for this age group by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
The rollout is subject to approval by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation. Like adults, the 2.3 million eligible children will receive two doses of the vaccine at least three weeks apart.
In the UK, covid-19 vaccinations are only available for those aged 12 and over. But the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is currently adjudicating on whether under-12s should also get jabbed. The US and Israel began offering the vaccine to 5 to 11-year-olds last month.
Other coronavirus news
The omicron variant will be the dominant strain of coronavirus in the UK within the next few weeks according to Paul Hunter at the University of East Anglia. He told the BBC that the variant is “spreading rather more quickly than the delta variant”.
“How it’s likely to spread in the UK is still uncertain,” he said. “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.”
While it is too soon to be sure how severe infections caused by the omicron variant are, early signs are encouraging, according to Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“Though it’s too early to really make any definitive statements about it, thus far it does not look like there’s a great degree of severity to it,” Fauci told CNN on Sunday. “Thus far, the signals are a bit encouraging. But we have really got to be careful before we make any determinations that it is less severe, or it really doesn’t cause any severe illness, comparable to delta.”
Ethnic disparities: People in the UK of Bangladeshi or Pakistani heritage are more likely to live in multigenerational households, which might explain why they were more likely to die from covid-19 during the country’s second wave.
A nurse administers a booster vaccine in Cwmbran, Wales
Huw Fairclough/Getty Images
Three different vaccines lead to big increases in antibody levels when used as boosters
Three covid-19 vaccines given as boosters in a UK trial were safe and provoked strong immune responses, researchers have reported. The study involved 2878 adults aged 30 or over, all of whom previously had two doses of either the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine or the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. They were given booster vaccines 10 to 12 weeks after their second dose.
The trial tested seven vaccines as boosters: AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Novavax, Janssen, Moderna, Valneva and Curevac. The researchers measured levels of antibodies and T cells in the participants’ blood. The Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines all produced strong antibody and T cell responses, regardless of which vaccine had been given for the first two doses. The results suggest that people’s immunity from covid-19 increased, although the study does not yet include data on how well people are protected against infection or disease.
The trial was carried out in early 2021, when alpha was the dominant coronavirus variant in the UK. Saul Faust, the trial lead at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, said that although this trial cannot show how effective boosters are against the omicron variant, the T cell responses could be helpful in this respect.
“Even though we don’t properly understand its relation to long-term immunity, the T cell data is showing us that it does seem to be broader against all the variant strains, which gives us hope that a variant strain of the virus might be able to be handled, certainly for hospitalisation and death if not prevention of infection, by the current vaccines,” Faust told the Press Association.
Other coronavirus news
A greater proportion of Black and south Asian people are dying with covid-19 than white people in the UK, despite case numbers in the latter group being higher, a study has warned. The final report into covid-19 disparities, produced by the UK Cabinet Office’s Race Disparity Unit, outlines the main risk factors in ethnic minority groups. These include occupation, particularly in the case of frontline workers, and household size, especially for those containing schoolchildren and older relatives. Living in densely populated areas with higher levels of deprivation was also a risk factor. Raghib Ali, the UK government’s independent adviser on covid-19 and ethnicity, said the higher rates of hospitalisation and death for south Asian and Black people almost certainly reflects differences in vaccination rates.
There could be more than 230,000 new cases of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in England as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has warned. The figure comes from modelling work by the NHS Strategy Unit, forecasting new referrals for PTSD between 2020/21 and 2022/23. Some covid-19 patients who needed hospital care and frontline healthcare staff are thought to be particularly at risk of PTSD. Studies have found that 35 per cent of covid-19 patients put on a ventilator and 40 per cent of intensive care staff report symptoms of PTSD.
Vaccines for children: Compared with other high-income countries, the UK has been slow to approve and roll out covid-19 vaccines to teenagers, prompting concerns over long covid and the new omicron variant.
People wait to get vaccinated at the Lenasia South Hospital near Johannesburg, South Africa
Omicron has become the dominant variant in South Africa
The omicron variant of the coronavirus is driving a sharp rise in covid-19 infections in South Africa and has rapidly become the dominant variant in the country, health officials have said.
Yesterday, South Africa reported 8561 new covid-19 cases, almost double the count from the previous day. The proportion of tests with positive results jumped to 16.5 per cent on Wednesday from 10.2 per cent a day before, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said, a strong indication that the rise in cases is not simply due to increased testing.
The NICD said omicron, which was first detected on 8 November, accounted for 74 per cent out of 249 virus genomes it sequenced last month. There is concern that omicron may get around immunity to some extent, but “protection against severe disease and vaccines should be less affected”, the institute’s latest surveillance report said.
At a press briefing on Wednesday, World Health Organization scientist Maria Van Kerkhove said it’s too early to tell if the new variant is more transmissible than delta. “We expect to have more information on transmission within days, not necessarily weeks, but in days,” she said.
At least 24 countries have now detected the omicron variant and many more have tightened border controls as a precaution.
Other coronavirus news
The UK has approved a new antibody-based drug treatment for covid-19 made by GlaxoSmithKline. The company says initial tests in the lab suggest that it works against the omicron variant. Clinical trial results found that Xevudy (sotrovimab) cuts hospital admission and death by 79 per cent in people at high risk. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has authorised the therapy for people with mild to moderate covid-19 who are at high risk of developing severe disease. The UK government has ordered around 100,000 doses of the drug.
Scientists believe they may have found the trigger behind the extremely rare blood clot complications linked to the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. A study suggests the reaction can be traced to the way adenoviruses, which are used by the vaccine to shuttle the coronavirus’ genetic material into cells, bind with a protein in the blood known as platelet factor 4 (PF4). Researchers think this may spark a chain reaction in the immune system which can culminate in the development of blood clots – a condition known as vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT).
Booster vaccines: Emerging evidence on vaccine booster programmes reveals that a third dose can take people’s coronavirus protection to unexpectedly high levels.
New vaccines for omicron: Vaccine-makers are already adapting vaccines to fight the omicron coronavirus variant, but it will probably already have swept the world by the time these arrive.
A mobile NHS vaccination service
All UK adults to be offered booster jab
Covid-19 vaccine booster doses will be offered to everyone over the age of 18 in the UK. The move follows a recommendation from the UK Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) yesterday, and is intended to limit the impact of the omicron coronavirus variant.
The minimum gap between a person’s second vaccine dose and their booster is also to be halved from six months to three months, based on recommendations made by the JCVI.
The committee also recommended that children aged between 12 and 15 should be invited for a second jab.
Other coronavirus news
Face coverings are now mandatory again in shops and on public transport in England, as of 4am today. The restrictions were put in place following the detection of 14 cases of omicron in the UK. Face coverings haven’t been mandated by the UK government since 19 July 2021.
The omicron variant is a “cause for concern, not panic”, according to US president Joe Biden. No cases of the variant have been discovered in the US so far, but Biden said it was “almost inevitable” that they would be found soon. “We’re going to fight and beat this new variant,” he told journalists at the White House on Monday.
The omicron variant was first detected in South Africa, and has prompted calls for high income countries to donate more vaccine doses to lower income countries. China’s president Xi Jinping announced yesterday that the country will give one billion doses of coronavirus vaccines to Africa. He said 600 million doses would be donated directly, while the other 400 million doses would be provided through joint partnerships between Chinese firms and African countries.
Six cases of omicron have been identified in Scotland.
Peter Summers/Getty Images
Six omicron cases identified in Scotland
Six cases of the omicron coronavirus variant have been identified in Scotland, it was announced today. Some of the individuals affected have no recent history of travel, and the source of their infections is not clear.
Contact tracers are trying to find the origin of the virus in Scotland. All close contacts of suspected omicron cases are advised to self-isolate for ten days – regardless of vaccination status. The news follows the confirmation of three other UK cases of the variant over the weekend in Essex, Nottingham and London.
The omicron variant poses a “very high” global risk of infection, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Sunday.
The agency warned that “there could be future surges of covid-19, which could have severe consequences”. Member states have been urged to accelerate vaccination programmes, particularly for people who are vulnerable and those who are not yet fully vaccinated.
No deaths have been linked to the variant so far. Omicron was first detected on 23 November in South Africa, and new cases have since been uncovered in the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark and Australia.
Japan will ban all foreign travellers entering the country from tomorrow in light of the emergence of the omicron variant. Israel has temporarily restricted the entry of tourists as of 28 November, and Morocco has implemented a two-week suspension of incoming passenger flights as of 29 November.
A sign at a museum requires visitors to be vaccinated against covid-19, New York, US
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Unvaccinated individuals in the US are much more likely to die from covid-19, CDC says
Unvaccinated people in the US are at a 14 times greater risk of dying from covid-19 than those who are fully vaccinated against coronavirus, according to data from September published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Unvaccinated individuals are also almost six times as likely to test positive for the virus. While 196.4 million people in the US are fully vaccinated, and over 36 million have received a booster dose, more than 47 million adults and 12.4 million teenagers are yet to be fully vaccinated, CDC director Rochelle Wallensky told journalists at a White House press briefing on Monday.
A similar picture is emerging in the UK, where “covid-19 is no longer a disease of the vaccinated”, according to Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group at the University of Oxford. The “ongoing horror” of people with covid-19 fighting for breath in intensive care units in hospitals across Britain “is now largely restricted to unvaccinated people”, Pollard writes in The Guardian.
Other coronavirus news
People in England who are planning to head to crowded enclosed areas are now being advised by the UK government to first take lateral flow tests. People who are visiting individuals who are at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill with covid-19 may also “wish to take a rapid lateral flow test”, the government’s website states.
It is the first time official guidance has encouraged members of the public to take covid tests before taking part in certain activities.
The Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine is 100 per cent effective in 12-to-15-year-olds at least four months after a second dose, according to trial results described in a statement by the two companies.
The phase 3 trial included 2228 volunteers. While 30 of the unvaccinated volunteers developed symptomatic cases of covid-19, no such cases developed among those who had been given two doses of the vaccine.
No serious safety concerns were observed during a six-month follow up period, say the two companies. All 12-to-15-year-olds in the UK are currently being offered a single dose of the vaccine.
Dashboard: Use our covid-19 dashboard to stay up to date with deaths, cases and vaccination rates around the world
Closed Christmas stands in the city centre, Vienna, Austria.
Austria enters its fourth lockdown as coronavirus cases surge
Austria went back into lockdown today – becoming the first European country to do so in response to the latest surge in covid-19 infections seen across the continent.
It is the country’s fourth national lockdown since the pandemic began. People can only leave home for work, exercise and grocery shopping. Non-essential shops, restaurants, bars and cinemas will be closed until 12 December – though officials say lockdown measures will be reassessed in 10 days’ time.
Austria is currently reporting 173,500 active coronavirus infections. 1,102 coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents were recorded on 20 November. The UK, by comparison, is currently reporting a figure of 418 cases per 100,000 people in the 7 days up to 16 November.
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Water cannons and tear gas were deployed against people protesting covid restrictions in Brussels on Sunday.
Around 35,000 individuals gathered to protest new covid rules, which include the mandatory wearing of face coverings in public spaces and working from home. Some protesters threw objects at police, who then used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the crowds.
Restrictions protests have also occured in Austria, the Netherlands, Italy and Switzerland.
Time is running out to prevent a “dangerous” surge of coronavirus infections in the US, Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) said yesterday.
Coronavirus cases in the US are rising again, with new cases approaching 100,000 per day. Millions of people in the US tend to travel to visit family during the Thanksgiving holiday, which this year falls on 25 November. This could lead to a further surge in cases, Fauci warns.
All US adults that are eligible for a vaccine booster should get one, Fauci told CNN on Sunday. “As we’re getting into the holiday season, you want to be fully protected,” he said. “Bottom line… get boosted.”
A woman wearing a face mask walks past a street mural in Hong Kong
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Review of studies reinforces the effectiveness of face coverings, handwashing and social distancing
Mask wearing is one of the most effective public health measures for preventing covid-19, and is associated with a 53 per cent reduction in the incidence of the disease, according to a review of published research.
Stella Talic at Monash University in Australia and her colleagues carried out a meta-analysis using data from 72 studies to assess the effectiveness of non-pharmaceutical interventions – measures that don’t involve drugs – at containing the virus.
Handwashing was also estimated to be associated with a 53 per cent reduction in covid-19 incidence, but this result was not statistically significant because only a small number of studies on it were included. Physical distancing was associated with a 25 per cent reduction in covid-19 incidence.
“It is likely that further control of the covid-19 pandemic depends not only on high vaccination coverage and its effectiveness but also on ongoing adherence to effective and sustainable public health measures,” Talic and her colleagues write in the British Medical Journal.
We updated the above story on 25 November to clarify that the review found associations between these measures and reduced covid-19 incidence.
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Children aged 12 to 17 who have had a covid-19 infection should not get a vaccine until 12 weeks later, according to new guidance in the UK. This could help to reduce the “very, very small” risk of heart inflammation after vaccination, experts from the UK Health Security Agency said. The current case rates of myocarditis after vaccination among under-18s are suspected to be around nine per million vaccinations, and cases have been “relatively mild”, officials said. Research suggests that myocarditis is much more likely to occur after a coronavirus infection than after vaccination. For older people and for anyone who is high risk and aged 12 or over, the current advice is that they should wait four weeks between covid infection and having a dose of vaccine.
A fourth wave of the pandemic is hitting Germany “with full force”, chancellor Angela Merkel has said ahead of a crisis meeting with regional leaders. Authorities are considering new measures to replace nationwide rules that expire at the end of the month. Lothar Wieler, the director of the Robert Koch Institute, a German government agency, said the country is heading towards a serious emergency, with hospitals already struggling to find space for patients. “We are going to have a really terrible Christmas if we don’t take countermeasures now.”
AstraZeneca has reported that its preventative antibody drug AZD7442 offered 83 per cent protection against covid-19 over six months in a clinical trial. The injected therapy could provide an alternative option for preventing illness in people who do not mount a good immune response to vaccines.
A nurse prepares to administer the Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine, London, UK
A fifth of cyberattacks in UK targeted vaccine firms or health organisations
Hackers targeted labs this year that were crucial to the UK’s pandemic response, according to the National Cyber Security Centre.
The watchdog said that it handled a record 777 cyberattack incidents between August 2020 and September 2021. A fifth of these targeted firms were linked to vaccines and the health sector.
It also said that it helped the University of Oxford’s AstraZeneca vaccine researchers protect themselves against an attempted ransomware attack that could have had major ramifications for the UK’s pandemic response.
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Pfizer has allowed cheaper versions of its prospective antiviral covid-19 pill to be made in poorer countries – granting access to hundreds of millions of people.
The pharmaceutical giant says it will allow generic copies of Paxlovid to be made in 95 low and middle-income countries, covering 53 per cent of the population.
Ireland’s bars, restaurants and nightclubs will have a midnight curfew from Thursday to curb coronavirus infections. Ireland’s prime minister, Micheal Martin, also said that everyone should work from home unless it is “absolutely necessary” not to.
Strict covid rules came into force in Beijing, China, today as the country gears up for the Winter Olympics next year. Anyone visiting the city must show a negative covid test from the past 48 hours.
The National Covid Memorial Wall on the South Bank of the River Thames, London.
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995 covid-related deaths were recorded in the week ending 5 November
The week ending 5 November saw the highest number of covid-related deaths in England and Wales since March. The UK Office for National Statistics reported 995 covid-related deaths in that week, representing 8.6 per cent of all deaths. It is the largest figure since the week ending 12 March, and a 16 per cent rise on the number of covid-related deaths from the previous week.
In total, 168,600 death certificates have mentioned covid-19 in the UK since the pandemic began. The highest number on a single day was 1,484 on 19 January 2021.
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Antidepressant use is linked to a lower risk of dying from covid-19, according to an analysis of medical records in the US. Researchers in California assessed a database of around 83,500 people diagnosed with covid-19. The 3401 individuals who were taking fluoxetine, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), appeared to be more likely to survive the infection.
“We can’t tell if the drugs are causing these effects, but the statistical analysis is showing significant association,” says Marina Sirota at the University of California, San Francisco.
Travel restrictions in India have been removed for fully vaccinated tourists for the first time since the pandemic began. Many travellers must also test negative for the virus within 72 hours of their flight, although this won’t apply to those visiting from countries that have an agreement with India in place, such as those from the US, UK and some other European countries.
Amazon has been fined $500,000 by California officials for failing to “adequately notify” workers about new covid-19 cases in the workplace.
Amazon employs around 150,000 people in California, most of whom work in the company’s mammoth warehouses. California state requires companies to notify workers about new coronavirus cases among employees.
A woman receives her covid-19 vaccination booster jab, London, UK
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16 and 17-year-olds set to be offered second doses of covid-19 vaccines
The UK’s covid-19 vaccine booster programme will be extended to include all 40 to 49-year-olds, following a recommendation from the government’s vaccination advisers. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised that all adults over the age of 40 should be offered a booster, six months after their second dose.
It has also advised 16 and 17-year-olds to come forward for a second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab, which should be given at least 12 weeks after the first.
Until now, boosters have been offered to people over 50 and younger people who are clinically vulnerable, and 12.6 million people have had a third covid-19 jab so far. The JCVI said people should be offered the Pfizer or Moderna jab as a booster, irrespective of which vaccine they had initially.
Sajid Javid, the health secretary, said the advice has been accepted in England and NHS England has been instructed to implement it as soon as possible. The Scottish government also said it would extend the booster programme.
The announcement comes as a new study from the UK Health Security Agency finds that booster vaccines reduce the risk of symptomatic covid-19 by at least 93 per cent in adults over 50. Protection against more severe disease and death is expected to be even higher.
“Booster vaccine doses in more vulnerable adults, and second vaccine doses in 16 to 17-year-olds are important ways to increase our protection against covid-19 infection and severe disease,” Wei Shen Lim, chair of covid-19 immunisation for the JCVI, said in a statement. “These vaccinations will also help extend our protection into 2022.”
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Austria has ordered a nationwide lockdown for anyone over 12 who is not fully vaccinated against covid-19. This group – around 2 million people – will only be allowed to leave home for limited reasons, including going to work or shopping for essentials. Around 65 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in Europe.
A new covid-19 vaccine that works via T-cells rather than antibodies is about to enter human trials. Existing covid-19 vaccines primarily aim to generate immunity based on antibodies, proteins that stick to the virus and stop it from infecting cells. T-cells are another part of the immune system that find and destroy infected cells, and they are thought to offer longer-lasting immunity. The experimental vaccine is administered via a skin patch. Emergex, the company that developed it, has been given a green light to carry out an initial trial involving 26 people in Lausanne, Switzerland, The Guardian reports.
Covid-19 in wild animals: Recent studies suggest that SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes covid-19, is rife among white-tailed deer in North America. Animal reservoirs of the virus increase the chances of potentially dangerous new variants emerging and crossing back into humans.
Treatment of covid-19 patients in Uzhhorod hospital, Ukraine
Covid-19 cases rising in Europe but stable or falling in rest of the world
Coronavirus deaths in Europe jumped by 10 per cent in the week to 7 November, according to the latest epidemiological update from the World Health Organization (WHO). New cases of covid-19 increased by 7 per cent in Europe, while other regions saw case numbers remain stable or decline. The global number of recorded covid-19 deaths in the week was 48,000, a 4 per cent decrease from the previous week.
Europe had the highest incidence of confirmed cases, with 208.9 cases per 100,000 population, ahead of the Americas which had 68.8 new cases per 100,000.
Hans Kluge, the WHO director for Europe, said the region was “back at the epicentre of the pandemic” and could see another 500,000 deaths by February if more actions aren’t taken to limit the spread of the virus, Euronews reports.
The countries with the highest numbers of new cases are the US, Russia, UK, Turkey and Germany. In Russia, over 1000 deaths have been reported every day since late October. Some hospitals in Germany are reportedly unable to admit new patients because of the high numbers of people needing treatment for covid-19.
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Tens of thousands of care home staff in England who have not had two coronavirus vaccine doses will be unable to legally work in care homes from today as a mandatory jab policy comes into effect. Staff working in registered care homes in England must have had both jabs to continue in their role unless they are medically exempt. Official figures due later today are expected to show that more than 50,000 current staff in care homes have not been recorded as having had both doses as of 7 November, four days before the deadline. Several thousand of these are understood to have self-certified as medically exempt or to have applied for formal proof.
A study showing that some people may have had pre-existing immunity to the SARS-CoV-2 virus during the first wave of the pandemic has raised hopes that a universal coronavirus vaccine could be developed. The research found that some healthcare workers in the UK who were regularly tested encountered the covid-19 virus but never became fully infected with it or developed covid-19 antibodies. These people are thought to have had an immune memory in their T cells because of exposure to other coronaviruses that cause seasonal colds. Read New Scientist’s story to find out more.
The number of antibiotic prescriptions in England during the first year of the covid-19 pandemic dropped by 17 per cent compared with the previous year, according to analysis by the charity Antibiotic Research UK. Prescriptions in the winter were only 4 per cent higher than in the summer, compared with a 21 per cent seasonal difference before the pandemic. The trend may be due in part to less infection transmission during lockdowns.
A vaccinator administers the Pfizer/BioNTech booster covid-19 vaccine
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France follows Israel in starting to make booster shots a requirement for vaccine passes for the over-65s
French people aged over 65 will have to have a third dose of the coronavirus vaccine to prove they have been fully vaccinated on their health passes from mid-December. The passes show if a person has been immunised, has recently recovered from infection or has recently had a negative test. In France they are needed for many common activities including going to restaurants and bars, libraries, the gym and for long-distance train and plane journeys.
President Emmanuel Macron also said yesterday that boosters would be available for people between the ages of 50 and 65 from next month, and that use of health passes would increase. Although infection rates in France are lower than in some other European countries such as Germany, they are rising. Macron said a “fifth wave” of covid-19 had arrived in Europe. “We are not yet finished with the pandemic.”
Israel has also made boosters six months after a second dose a condition for its digital vaccine certificates. Meanwhile in Wales, a requirement for covid passes showing double vaccination or a recent negative covid-19 test will be extended to theatres, concerts and museums from Monday.
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An antiviral medicine that can be taken at home and cuts hospitalisations and deaths from covid-19 by nearly 90 per cent could be available by very early next year, the head of Pfizer UK has said. The pills, called Paxlovid, are taken twice daily for five days, by people who are at risk of developing severe disease.
Unvaccinated people in Singapore could face a hefty hospital bill if they need treatment for covid-19 from next year. The government has said it will no longer pay medical bills for people with covid-19 who are “unvaccinated by choice”.
May Parsons, the nurse who administered the first coronavirus vaccine dose in December last year, receives her booster jab.
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Frontline NHS staff will have to have both doses of vaccine by spring
The UK government is expected to announce mandatory covid-19 vaccinations for frontline National Health Service (NHS) staff in England, with a deadline of next spring for both doses. The Department of Health said it was not commenting on speculation around the timing of the announcement, which the BBC said would be later on Tuesday. However, NHS officials said they expect the move to happen. The measure is expected to affect thousands of unvaccinated staff working in the health service.
Care home workers in England have already been told they must be fully vaccinated by this Thursday. According to NHS figures, tens of thousands of care home staff were not recorded as having been double jabbed yet as of 31 October.
NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said there are between 80,000 and 100,000 NHS workers in England who are unvaccinated. “If we get it right, actually, it could be quite a useful spur in some senses to drive the take-up up, but the bit that we just need to be careful of is avoiding scapegoating people,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
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More than 11,000 people who died of covid-19 in England are thought to have caught the virus in a National Health Service hospital, The Telegraph has reported. The figure was compiled from data collected by NHS trusts using Freedom of Information laws. The trusts also reported over 40,000 probable or definite hospital-acquired covid-19 infections. Some trusts refused to disclose their data, suggesting the true numbers are even higher.
France’s public health authority has recommended that people under 30 should be given the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine in preference to the Moderna vaccine, because of a rare side effect. The risk of myocarditis, a heart condition, in this age group is around five times less in people who receive the Pfizer jab than Moderna, the Haute Autorité de Santé said.
The UK government and NHS leaders are urging people to get their flu and covid-19 booster jabs.
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Eligible people who do not take up boosters could face travel restrictions
More than 10 million people have had covid-19 booster vaccines or third doses in the UK, as politicians urged others who are eligible to get their jabs.
People over 50 and those most at risk from covid-19 are among those eligible for a covid vaccine booster shot. From today, the NHS booking system will allow people to book a booster appointment five months after their second dose.
The latest figures show that 10,062,704 people in the UK have received a booster or third dose, with 409,663 receiving one on Saturday. But about 30 per cent of over-80s and 40 per cent of over-50s in England are yet to receive a booster, the Department of Health and Social Care said.
On Sunday, the UK health secretary Sajid Javid urged eligible people to get the vaccine, saying it would help the country “avoid a return to restrictions and enjoy Christmas”.
According to media reports, ministers are considering changing travel rules so that those who are eligible but refuse a third dose face stricter quarantine and testing rules. Official guidance was updated earlier this month to say the Government “is reviewing the implications and requirements of boosters for international travel certification” and “looking at whether and how booster vaccinations could be included in the NHS Covid Pass for travel”.
Deaths from covid-19 are increasingly occurring in vaccinated people, because of immunity waning over time, said Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at the UK Health Security Agency. “It is particularly the older age groups, so the over-70s in particular, but also those who are clinically vulnerable, extremely vulnerable, and have underlying medical conditions,” she said.
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The UK will begin rolling out the covid-19 antiviral drug molnupiravir in a clinical trial later this month, Susan Hopkins at the UK Health Security Agency has said. Molnupiravir, developed by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, was approved by the UK medicines regulator last week. Trials have shown that it halves the risk of unvaccinated people needing hospital treatment or dying, and further trials are needed to see how it works in the vaccinated population, Hopkins said.
Restrictions on travelling to the US from 33 countries have been lifted today. The ban, covering the UK, much of Europe, China and India, has been in place since early 2020. Proof of vaccination and a recent negative covid-19 test are now required to enter the US.
The Pfizer building on 42nd street, New York, US.
First antiviral approved for use by vulnerable people at home
A new antiviral therapy cuts the risk of being hospitalised or dying from covid-19 by nearly 90 per cent. The treatment, called Paxlovid, is given twice daily for five days to people outside of hospital who are at risk of severe illness.
Paxlovid, made by US firm Pfizer, is a combination of two drugs; a compound currently called PF-07321332, which blocks activity of an enzyme that the coronavirus needs to replicate. The second drug is called ritonavir; developed as a treatment for HIV, it helps slow the breakdown of PF-07321332.
In a placebo-controlled trial of 1219 people from all over the world, 0.8 per cent of people who received Paxlovid within three days of a positive covid-19 test required hospital treatment, compared with 7 per cent of people who received a placebo. The equivalent figures were 1 and 6.7 per cent for those who got treatment within five days. The results have not yet been fully published, but were announced today in a press release from Pfizer.
Meanwhile, another antiviral called molnupiravir was approved yesterday in the UK. This medicine is also given twice daily to people who are at risk of severe illness but have not been hospitalised. Trials showed it halves the risk of people needing hospital treatment or dying.
Molnupiravir should be taken as soon as possible after a positive covid-19 test, or at least within five days. It works by causing mutations as the virus duplicates its genetic material, stopping it from multiplying within cells. The UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has authorised its use for people with at least one risk factor for severe infection, including being 60 or older, having diabetes, heart disease or obesity.
“We are working at pace to deploy molnupiravir to patients through a national study as soon as possible,” Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said in a statement. Penny Ward at King’s College London said in a statement that the government may want to assess its effectiveness in people who are vaccinated, as the trials so far have been in unvaccinated people.
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Opening windows for ten minutes every hour will help reduce the risk of catching the coronavirus indoors, people in England are being told in a public information campaign launching today. The key message of the campaign, running on radio stations and in the press, is to “Stop coronavirus hanging around”, by improving ventilation.
Europe is once again at the “epicentre” of the covid-19 pandemic, thanks to countries relaxing prevention measures and uneven vaccine coverage, the World Health Organization has said. Hans Kluge, the WHO’s Europe director, said yesterday that all European countries were either facing “a real threat of covid-19 resurgence or already fighting it”.
A woman draws red hearts representing individual coronavirus deaths onto the newly-unveiled National Covid Memorial Wall in London, England.
The pandemic has led to the loss of at least 28 million years of life
The pandemic led to the loss of 28 million years of life globally in 2020 – though this figure is likely to be a severe underestimate as it only looked at 37 countries.
Researchers at the University of Oxford calculated how many years of life had been lost due to coronavirus in 37 countries, including Russia, the US and Italy. They did this by analysing excess deaths in each nation, the ages of those who died, and each country’s average life expectancy.
They calculated that more than 28 million years of life had been lost across 31 of the countries they analysed. Six countries, including New Zealand, Denmark and South Korea, did not see an increase in loss of years of life as a result of the pandemic. However globally, the total lost years of life due to the pandemic will be much higher, and the team’s analysis did not include many Asian, African or South American countries due to a lack of data.
The researchers also looked at life expectancy declines in each country for 2020. The biggest falls were seen in Russia, the US and Bulgaria. In England and Wales, male life expectancy dropped by 1.2 years, while female life expectancy dropped by 0.8-years.
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Coronavirus infections nearly doubled in over-65s between September and October in England. In the latest survey by Imperial College London, about 0.8 per cent of 65 to 74-year-olds tested positive for coronavirus, while 0.67 per cent of over-75s had covid-19 in between 19 and 29 October. But school-children continue to be most at risk from infection with nearly six per cent of five-to-17-year-olds testing positive for the virus.
India’s home-grown vaccine, Covaxin, has been approved for emergency use by the World Health Organisation. It is the seventh jab to be approved by the intergovernmental body. More than 105 million doses of the vaccine have been administered to people in India so far.
A boy receives the Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine.
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Covid-19 jabs for elementary-school-aged children given final sign-off
The US is gearing up to offer covid-19 vaccines to 5-to-11-year-olds this week, after the Pfizer/BioNTech jab passed its final hurdle of approval by the country’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention yesterday. The vaccine has been approved for this age group at one third of the dose used for adults and teenagers. The child-sized doses will be packaged in bottles with orange lids to avoid mix-ups.
Vaccines could start being offered this week, but it will be next week before roll-out would be “fully up and running”, Jeff Zients of the White House said on Monday. There would be “millions more doses packed, shipped and delivered and thousands of additional sites coming online each day”, he said. In the UK, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is still reviewing the children’s vaccine. Yesterday Pfizer reported that its earnings and sales more than doubled in the past quarter, mainly thanks to its covid-19 vaccines.
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A member of the UK government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) stepped down at the end of October. Sir Jeremy Farrar, head of the Wellcome health charity, had been advocating for more restrictions, such as face mask wearing, to be brought in due to the UK’s current high level of coronavirus infections, according to Sky News. “The high levels of transmission seen in the UK remain concerning,” he said. “My focus now must be on our work at Wellcome. This includes supporting the international research effort to end the pandemic.”
The Netherlands has reintroduced covid restrictions, one of the first western European countries to do so after measures were relaxed over summer. They will include new requirements to wear face masks, asking people to work from home half the week where possible and extending the use of covid passes to restaurant terraces and museums. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, 7727 new covid-19 cases were reported in the Netherlands on 2 November, compared with 33,546 in the UK.
A “You need to self-isolate screen” on the NHS covid-19 app.
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Self-isolation compliance falls in 35 to 54-year-olds
One in four people between the ages of 35 and 54 are failing to self-isolate for a full ten days after testing positive for coronavirus, according to the Office for National Statistics.
The figures are based on a survey of 881 people in England conducted in late September and early October. The researchers found that only 75 per cent of participants isolated for ten days after a positive covid-19 test. It is a major drop from the 86 per cent who reported full compliance in July.
The opposite trend was seen in people aged between 18 and 34, with 82 per cent reporting full compliance in the latest survey as opposed to 75 per cent in July.
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Around 9000 New York City public workers were put on unpaid leave on Monday for not being vaccinated. The city’s vaccine mandate for public sector workers came into effect yesterday. One in four firefighters in the city are still not vaccinated, while one in six police staff are also unjabbed.
Indonesia has become the first country in the world to give emergency authorisation for the Novavax vaccine. Studies have shown that it is about 90 per cent effective against symptomatic covid-19.
Disneyland Shanghai in China has been shut for at least two days due to a single visitor testing positive for coronavirus. The move comes as the country aims to hit zero coronavirus infections by the time it hosts the Winter Olympics early next year.
A gravedigger in Manaus, Amazonas state, Brazil.
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Global recorded covid-19 death toll hits 5 million
The number of total recorded deaths from covid-19 worldwide has hit five million, less than two years since the pandemic begun.
Around 7000 people around the globe are dying from the virus each day, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University in the US.
But the true figure is likely to be more than double that. Analysis by The Economist suggests the toll is probably closer to 16.7 million deaths – after taking into account those who died from the disease without knowing they had contracted the virus and those who could not be treated for other illnesses because hospitals were overwhelmed with covid-19 patients.
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Booster jabs are now available at walk-in sites in England for those who received their second dose at least six months ago and who meet certain eligibility criteria, such as being aged 50 or over, or being a frontline health or social worker. It means over 30 million people who meet these criteria will no longer have to book an appointment to get a booster shot. More than six million have had a booster jab or a third dose so far, according to NHS England.
Activists from developing countries have been excluded from COP26 due in part to global vaccine inequality, climate change activists have claimed.Lidy Nacpil, of the Asian People’s Movement on Debt and Development, who is based in the Philippines, told The Guardian: “The challenges and complications related to vaccines, visas and quarantine requirements that the UK failed to adequately address are the main reasons why we will not be at COP26.”
See previous updates from September to October 2021, July to September 2021, June to July 2021, May 2021, April-March 2021, February 2021, January 2021, November/December 2020, and March to November 2020.
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Covid-19 news archive: September to October 2021