Coronavirus latest as Co-op and Iceland supermarkets say staff won’t enforce new mask rule; Nigeria finds Omicron case from month before South Africa; all adults to be offered booster by the end of January; Boris Johnson on spot over “boozy” party in Downing Street during lockdown.
Farnham in Surrey and its surrounding areas have consistently led the way with vaccination success, writes Sky’s Ashna Hurynag.
Getting people through the door is not difficult – everyone I spoke to today said they were both keen and relieved to be getting their booster doses.
Everyone we met was over 40 and had their initial jabs more than six months ago, so were conscious of waning immunity. They were adamant on getting their jabs as soon as the call came through, as for many Christmas is weighing heavily on their minds.
When the Farnham centre opened in December 2020, they were full of vaccinators and volunteers. Many had come from primary care. But this time resources are being distributed elsewhere, with a focus on tackling the gigantic NHS waiting lists.
Dr Ed Wernick from the Farnham Vaccination Service says the challenges this time round will be finding the people to man the centres and clinics. He’s never seen the primary sector so busy – hence the advice to recruit volunteers and vaccinations from elsewhere. Today we met two retired GPs helping put jabs in arms.
A collective effort is needed once again – and then some more for this “national mission”, as it’s been dubbed by the Health Secretary.
The other issue lies in the vaccination supply. The ambitious target of January for all adults to have been offered a jab is a great target, says Dr Wernick, but only if they are confident the vaccines themselves are available.
As the clinical lead, he says they have had “verbal assurances” they will get all the doses they need to reach the January target.
The prime minister’s official spokesperson was responding to reports from Tshwane in South Africa that children under the age of two accounted for about 10% of total hospital admissions with the variant.
“We have seen those reports, but we have seen nothing to suggest … there’s no hard evidence to suggest it disproportionately affects children in the way you suggest,” they said.
“Clearly, we will [be] monitoring all evidence very carefully.
“It’s important to stress that there is nothing to suggest it’s impacting on different age groups in a different way to [what] we see with other variants, and it’s also worth noting the different age profile characteristics of South Africa as well.”
Still little is known about the new variant and how it affects those infected.
A World Health Organisation official has said no severe cases of the Omicron variant have been identified so far – although the number of reported infections remains low.
They also said there is no evidence so far to suggest the efficacy of the vaccines has been reduced by Omicron.
Vaccine makers are being told not to develop a new vaccine and to simply make minor adjustments to the current jabs, as is done with flu vaccines every year.
The spokesperson said more than 40 different mutations have been identified with the Omicron variant and countries should step up their disease surveillance to detect cases early.
The government is aiming to keep education settings open despite fears over the Omicron variant.
Speaking in front of the Commons Education Committee, children’s minister Will Quince said it was “deeply regrettable” some nativity plays have been cancelled already.
Asked whether schools will be kept open until the Christmas break, he said: “That is certainly our plan and we want to see schools stay open.”
Schools are now facing stricter coronavirus measures, with face masks recommended in communal areas of England’s secondary schools and colleges.
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The rollout will begin on 13 December – one week earlier than previously planned – according to Germany’s health ministry.
Germany is set to receive 2.4 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
“Given the current pandemic situation, this is good news for parents and children. Many are awaiting this eagerly,” acting health minister Jens Spahn said.
The country is struggling with its fourth wave of infection and today recorded its highest daily tally of deaths since February.
By Ashish Joshi, health correspondent
The language is stark. The warning is grim. But read carefully what the government’s advisory panel is saying and it makes total sense. And you will see there are plenty of caveats.
The identification of a heavily mutated variation of a deadly virus that is left to run through a population could have very serious consequences. Of course it could. But that does not mean it necessary will. And the NERVTAG scientists make that absolutely clear too.
Any coronavirus that spreads at scale can possibly cause a surge in infections and if these cause severe illness then the NHS will be at threat of being overwhelmed. But without the data, for now, these are worst-case scenarios designed to prompt preventative action.
And that, the government says, is exactly what it has done. They were warned to take early robust action and they responded with travel restrictions, face masks and a boosted booster campaign.
The advisory group accepts the risks are uncertain because so little is known about Omicron. But given the devastating impact Delta has had, it would be unwise not to flag potential dangers and urge immediate action.
If later on Omicron is found to pose no significant threat then no serious damage has been done, except of course the impact on the economies of the South African countries affected by the travel bans and the disruption to families who were preparing to travel to the region.
But if it were the other way round, no warnings were sounded and zero interventions made, and the virus did turn out to be vaccine-resistant and hugely transmissible causing severe illness, then we would have been left totally exposed.
A top official in the country’s ministry has said it is “unfair” to treat Botswana as ground zero of the new variant.
Out of the total 19 cases, 16 were asymptomatic. The remaining two had “very, very mild” symptoms.
Pamela Smith-Lawrence, acting director of health in the ministry of health and wellness, also said the majority of the infected people had already started to test negative.
Despite having one of the strongest vaccination records in Europe, Portugal is seeing an upward trend in coronavirus infections.
The country is now tightening passenger control in airports, seaports and land borders, demanding negative coronavirus tests for most incoming visitors as of Wednesday.
Face masks will also be mandatory in enclosed spaces, while COVID passes are needed to enter restaurants, cinemas, gyms and hotels.
Portugal has now designated a “state of calamity” – the second this year and one step below the country’s top level of alert.
This means the rule will apply to those travelling from the UK – including people who are fully vaccinated.
Up until now, fully vaccinated travellers to France had only needed to provide proof of vaccination and a “statement of honour” confirming they have not come into contact with any COVID cases.