Coronavirus

Coronavirus live news: Cambodia starts vaccinating six-year-olds; Africa jabs shortfall ‘raises risk of deadly variants’

coronavirus-live-news:-cambodia-starts-vaccinating-six-year-olds;-africa-jabs-shortfall-‘raises-risk-of-deadly-variants’

The first civil lawsuit began in a court in Vienna on Friday over a notorious outbreak of coronavirus at a popular ski resort last year, where thousands of people from 45 countries claim to have become infected.

The case is the first of 15 lawsuits filed by plaintiffs from Austria and Germany, accusing the authorities of not responding quickly enough to Covid-19 outbreaks in Ischgl and other resorts in the province of Tyrol, AFP reports.

It is being brought on behalf of Sieglinde Schopf and her son Ulrich, the widow and son respectively of 72-year-old Hannes Schopf, who died after contracting the virus in Ischgl.

Sieglinde was not present in Vienna’s Palace of Justice on Friday but her son Ulrich sat alongside the legal team bringing their case, amid substantial media interest.

Lawyer Alexander Klauser, acting for the Schopf family and the VSV consumer organisation helping them and others bring their cases to court, has said the official shortcomings that allowed Ischgl and the surrounding area to become a virus hotspot were manifold.

He pointed to a report last October by an independent commission of experts which found that local officials had “reacted too late” and made “serious miscalculations” when alerted by Iceland on March 5 that several of its nationals had tested positive on returning home.

Local officials “had at least 48 hours to react” after the warning, Klauser told AFP earlier this week.

They also missed an opportunity to prevent more tourists coming to the valley that weekend, and the regional government cast doubt on whether the Icelandic tourists had been infected in Ischgl, he said.

Klauser also accused the local authorities of doing “too little, too late” when a restaurant worker tested positive for the virus.

When the valley was finally placed in quarantine, an orderly evacuation of was “thwarted” by the chaotic manner in which it was announced and organised, Klauser said, pointing the finger at Chancellor Sebastian Kurz as well.

Schopf’s widow said the retired journalist and avid skier caught the virus during the panicked evacuation by bus, crammed with other tourists who were sneezing and coughing.

The Schopf family is now suing the Republic of Austria for 100,000 euros (£85,500) over his death.

Summary

I’m Harriet Grant and I’m handing over the Covid live blog to Nicola Slawson now

Here’s a summary of news from the last few hours

  • 1.9 bn pieces of PPE held in stock by the UK is not fit for purpose
  • Politicians and scientists have been discussing plans to change the rules on travel in and out of the UK, with warnings that some restrictions will have to remain in place to watch for new variants entering the country
  • Cuba has started vaccinating two-year-olds – while in Cambodia the start of school has heralded a programme to vaccinate children between six and 12.
  • In western US states hospitals are facing a “dire” crisis of care, as Covid cases fill wards and ICU units
  • Shortsightedness in children is on the increase in China – and possibly elsewhere in the world – the result, scientists believe, of too much time indoors during lockdown.

Updated

Minister says 1.9bn items of stocked UK PPE are not fit for purpose

Personal protective equipment (PPE) worth £2.8bn is not fit for purpose and cannot be used by the NHS, a health minister has revealed in parliament.

PA Media reports that Lord Bethell – a health minister – was answering a question from crossbencher Lord Alton of Liverpool on the subject of “faulty PPE” that has not met the required level of protection.

“As of 10 June, 1.9bn items of stock were in the ‘do not supply’ category,” Lord Bethell said. ‘This is equivalent to 6.2% of purchased volume with an estimated value of 2.8 billion.

“We are considering options to repurpose and recycle items in this category which ensures safety and value for money.”

Earlier this month, it emerged the government was in dispute with several companies over 1.2bn items of PPE that has been deemed “sub-standard” or was undelivered.

At that time, Lord Bethell provided a written response to the Lib Dem peer Lord Lee, who had asked how much had been reclaimed from firms providing equipment found to be “not fit for purpose”.

The health minister replied: “As of 27 July 2021, the department was engaged in commercial discussions – potentially leading to litigation – in respect to 40 PPE contracts with a combined value of £1.2bn covering 1.7bn items of PPE.”

Updated

As the UK government prepares to announce changes to travel restrictions in England, voices across politics and science have been debating what should happen next.

A shadow minister has said that the Labour opposition backs the scrapping of the amber travel list and has done “for ages” calling it “confusing”.

Sarah Jones MP told Sky News: “We want travel to open up as safely and as quickly as possible. We’ve been calling for ages for the amber list to be scrapped, which has been touted in the papers today, because it always added to confusion – people never quite understood what the system was.

Labour has in the past called for an expanded red travel list.

Jones added: “And we’ve been calling for a proper process to work out an international vaccine passport so we can get people safely moving around.”

One of the scientists behind the UK’s testing network for quickly identifying Covid variants of concern has urged the government to continue surveillance of coronavirus cases brought into the UK from abroad.

Alan McNally, a professor in microbial evolutionary genomics who worked on setting up the lighthouse laboratories, made the comments amid reports ministers are preparing to overhaul Covid travel restrictions, including a relaxing of test rules.

It has been reported that double-jabbed travellers will no longer need to take a more costly PCR test after returning from green countries, but take a cheaper lateral flow test instead, while pre-departure tests, taken 72 hours before a passenger flies home are also likely to be scrapped.

McNally said: “It kind of makes sense if you look at the rates of Covid in the UK right now, they’re high, so probably lateral flow tests will be sufficient for travellers.

“But I don’t think we can just completely remove all controls on travel and travel-associated Covid, we know from the past that travel-associated Covid is very high risk to this country.

Updated

Cuba jabs toddlers

As Cambodia vaccinates children over six, in Cuba a programme is under way to get jabs into the arms of two-year-olds.

Vaccinating under-18s began in early September, starting with older teens. Cuba is one of the first countries to target such young children for vaccination but the health officials leading the operation say it is safe.

“Our country would not put (infants) even at a minimal risk if the vaccines were not proven save and highly effective when put into children,” Aurolis Otaño, the director of the Vedado Polyclinic University, told the Associated Press in a vaccination room.

Those between five and 10 are receiving their first shot at their schools.

Cuba faces a persistent Covid-19 outbreak that almost collapsed its health-care system. Provinces such as Matanzas, Ciego de Ávila and Cienfuegos received support from doctors from other parts of the country.

Most countries have not approved the vaccine for under-12s. Children have largely escaped the worst of the pandemic and show less severe symptoms when they contract the virus.

Yesterday an analysis of studies from around the world indicated that long covid is also rarer in children than was at first believed.

Updated

Cambodia starts to vaccinate six- to 11-year-olds

Cambodia began vaccinating six- to 11-year-olds on Friday as part of a programme to reopen schools that have been closed for months.

Countries around the world have taken different approaches to vaccinating children and many schools have reopened globally without vaccinating under-12s. Yesterday a report from Unicef urged governments to let children return to school, releasing figures showing that schools for nearly 77 million children in six countries are still almost completely closed.

Prime minister Hun Sen inaugurated the campaign to vaccinate the children, speaking live on state television and his Facebook page as his grandchildren and young family members of other senior officials were shown being given their jabs.

He said: “To protect children’s health and their lives is our duty because we want to make sure that once they go back to their schools, these children and their teachers are safe from Covid-19”

Hun Sen said he has ordered health officials to study if children aged three to five can also be vaccinated.

Nearly 72% of Cambodia’s almost 17 million people have received at least one Covid-19 shot since vaccinations began in February. China’s Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines account for most inoculations.

Updated

UK minister warns vaccine variant could mean a return of ‘full lockdown’

The environment secretary George Eustice has been giving interviews to radio and TV programmes today. This morning’s headlines are all about changes that could make travel easier but Eustice told Sky News that is still a need to be “vigilant” of new variants, warning that they could potentially trigger “full lockdown”. A Covid committee will be discussing travel and testing later today.

On LBC radio a short time ago he said “no decisions have been made yet” on travel restrictions being lifted despite “speculation”.

Updated

‘The situation is dire’

US western states face ‘crisis’ conditions as Covid admissions rise

In the US several western states are officially rationing health care as Covid admissions rise. In Idaho, the Department for Health and Welfare announced it would be rationing healthcare further. Hospitals in Alaska and Montana are also at crisis level, Associated Press reports.

Health leaders link the admissions to problems convincing adults to get the vaccine. Idaho is one of the least vaccinated states in the US with only about 40% of residents fully vaccinated. The implementation of crisis care standards means that ICU beds will be given to those most likely to survive.

Idaho hospitals have been rationing care in northern parts of the state since last week but now St Luke’s Health System, the state’s largest hospital network, asked health leaders to allow “crisis standards of care” because the increase in Covid-19 patients has exhausted the state’s medical resources.

“The situation is dire – we don’t have enough resources to adequately treat the patients in our hospitals, whether you are there for Covid-19 or a heart attack or because of a car accident,” Idaho Department of Welfare director Dave Jeppesen said in a statement.

On Monday, the most recent data available from the state showed that 678 people were hospitalised statewide with coronavirus.

On Wednesday, nearly 92% of all of the Covid-19 patients in St Luke’s network of hospitals were unvaccinated. Sixty-one of the hospital’s 78 ICU patients had Covid-19.

Patients are being ventilated by hand – with a nurse or doctor squeezing a bag – for up to hours at a time while hospital officials work to find a bed with a mechanical ventilator, said chief medical officer Dr Jim Souza.

The normal standards of care act as a net that allows physicians to “carry out the high wire acts that we do every day, like open heart surgery and bone marrow transplants and neuro-interventional stroke care”, Souza said. “The net is gone, and people will fall from the high wire.”

Now the medical group is also preparing to monitor patients who are released from hospitals earlier than normal or trying to avoid emergency rooms completely, said CEO Dr David Peterman. “This is heart-wrenching. I’ve practised medicine in south-west Idaho for 40 years and I have never seen anything like this,” he said.

Updated

Home learning and lockdown linked to eye problems in children

A new study from China adds weight to a growing body of research that links short sightedness in children to quarantines and lockdowns.

Associated Press medical writer Lindsey Tanner reports that researchers from Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou compared data from eye exams given a year apart to about 2,000 children starting in Chinese second grade (children of six or seven). Half the children were tested before the pandemic in late 2018 and then a year later. The others were tested in late 2019 and then in late 2020 after several months of home learning and lockdown.

While the first tests showed similar levels of myopia in both groups – about 7% – it went up more in the groups retested late last year. By third grade, about 20% of those children were shortsighted compared with 13% of a group tested before the pandemic.

Eye specialists believe the concerning trend may be happening worldwide.

The study lacked information on how much time kids in both groups spent online or doing other work that might strain the eyes but a journal editorial said the results and those from earlier studies “should prompt parents, schools and governmental agencies to recognise the potential value of providing children with outdoor activity time and monitoring how much time is spent on near work”.’

Noreen Shaikh, a myopia specialist at Lurie Children’s hospital in Chicago, called the Chinese research solid and said Lurie researchers are investigating any changes in nearsightedness among US children during the pandemic.

“Anecdotally, there definitely seems to be an increase – particularly in younger children,” Shaikh said.

Myopia affects about 30% of the world’s population and evidence shows it has been steadily increasing over the past 20 years.

Updated

Good morning from London. This is Harriet Grant on the liveblog with all the latest coronavirus-related news from around the world.

Summary

That’s it from me, Helen Livingstone, for today, I’m handing over to my UK colleague Harriet Grant.

Before I go, here’s a brief roundup of what’s been happening over the past 24 hours.

  • The first civil lawsuit, over a notorious outbreak of coronavirus at the popular Austrian ski resort of Ischgl in March 2020, where thousands of people from 45 countries claim to have become infected, is set to begin in Vienna.
  • Australia is to trial a home quarantine system for fully vaccinated international travellers arriving in Sydney, prime minister Scott Morrison has said, as the country moves to reopen its borders despite persistent Covid-19 cases.
  • France suspended 3,000 health workers without pay for refusing the Covid vaccine. The health minister, Olivier Véran, said the staff had been notified in writing before the government-imposed deadline to have at least one dose.
  • Alberta’s premier announced sweeping new restrictions to combat the spread of the coronavirus, admitting the Canadian province was gripped by a “crisis of the unvaccinated”. Alberta currently has the worst coronavirus outbreak in Canada.
  • Care homes in England may be forced to close and thousands of staff risk losing their jobs if they decline to receive their first Covid-19 vaccine by the end of Thursday, ministers have been warned.
  • The White House offered to connect Nicki Minaj with one of the Biden administration’s doctors to address her questions about the Covid-19 vaccine, after the Trinidadian-born rapper’s erroneous tweet alleging the vaccine causes impotence went viral.
  • The Italian government approved a decree making it obligatory for all public and private sector workers either to show proof of vaccination, a negative test or recent recovery from infection, a government source said on Thursday.

  • Vaccinations are estimated to have directly averted about 230,800 hospital admissions in England, according to figures.
  • All diplomats attending the UN general assembly in New York next week will have to provide proof of vaccination, the city government has confirmed, prompting an angry response from Russia.

Updated

A British study will look into the immune responses of children to mixed schedules of different Covid-19 vaccines as officials try to determine the best approach to second doses in adolescents given a small risk of heart inflammation, Reuters reports.

Children aged 12-15 in Britain will be vaccinated from next week, while those aged 16-17 have been eligible for shots since August.

However, while the children will be offered a first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, officials have said that advice about second doses will be given at a later date, while more data is gathered.

Britain’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) initially declined to recommend shots for all 12- to 15-year-olds, citing uncertainty over the long-term impact of myocarditis, a rare side effect of mRNA-based vaccines such as Pfizer’s. The heart condition typically resolves itself with mild short-term consequences, health experts have said.

Hong Kong has advised children only get one shot, owing to similar concerns over heart inflammation.

The study, called Com-COV3, will test different vaccine schedules in 12- to 16-year-olds, looking at the immune responses and milder side-effects.

“The concern here is about the risks of myocarditis, particularly with the second dose with Pfizer vaccine in young men,” the trial’s lead researcher, Matthew Snape of the Oxford Vaccine Group, told reporters.

“This will provide the JCVI with information crucial to informing their advice about immunising teenagers in the UK,” he said.

The trial will give all participants a first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. That will be followed eight weeks later by either a second full dose or a half dose of the Pfizer shot, a full dose of Novavax’s vaccine or a half dose of Moderna’s shot.

The trial is recruiting 360 volunteers, not large enough to directly assess the myocarditis risk of the different combinations, which Snape said was 1 in 15,000 after two doses of the Pfizer shot in young men.

But, he added, it “would be reassuring to see if there was a lower inflammatory response after one of these changes compared to Pfizer (followed by) Pfizer,” and that it might be “reasonable to infer that the risks of myocarditis might be lower” in such an instance.

Snape is running another arm of the trial in adults, giving mixed vaccine schedules both four and 12 weeks apart, and comparing the responses. He said the results of that would be coming “very shortly”.

Africa faces a 470m shortfall in Covid-19 vaccine doses this year after the Covax alliance cut its projected shipments, raising the risk of new and deadly variants, the WHO said on Thursday.

Only 17% of the continent’s population will now be vaccinated by the end of this year, compared with the 40% target set by the World Health Organization, the global agency’s Africa unit said at its weekly briefing in the Congolese capita of Brazzaville, AFP reports.

“The staggering inequity and severe lag in shipments of vaccines threatens to turn areas in Africa … into breeding grounds for vaccine-resistant variants,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Africa director.

“This could end up sending the whole world back to square one.”

Due to global shortages, the Covax alliance set up to ensure equitable delivery of jabs, will ship about 150m fewer doses of vaccine to Africa than planned.

Taking into account this shortfall, the 470m doses of vaccine now expected in Africa will allow only 17% of the population to be fully protected, the WHO’s regional office said.

“As long as rich countries lock Covax out of the market, Africa will miss its vaccination goals,” Moetti said.

The reduction in the vaccination target comes as Africa passes the eight million mark in infections this week, the WHO said.

About 95m doses should have been received in Africa via Covax during September, but despite the resumption of shipments, “Africa has only been able to vaccinate 50m people, or 3.6% of its population,” says WHO Africa.

The Covax international funding mechanism is supposed to allow 92 disadvantaged states and territories to receive free vaccines funded by more prosperous nations.

Last week, it revised its forecasts downwards, explaining the lack of doses “by export bans, the priority given to bilateral agreements between manufacturers and countries, delays in filing applications for approval”, among other reasons.

The first civil lawsuit over a notorious outbreak of coronavirus at the popular ski resort of Ischgl in March 2020, where thousands of people from 45 countries claim to have become infected, is set to begin in a court in Vienna, AFP reports.

The case is the first of 15 lawsuits filed by plaintiffs from Austria and Germany, accusing the authorities of not responding quickly enough to Covid-19 outbreaks in Ischgl and other resorts in the province of Tyrol.

It is being brought on behalf of the family of 72-year-old Hannes Schopf, who died after contracting the virus in Ischgl.

Lawyer Alexander Klauser, acting for the Schopf family and the VSV consumer organisation helping them and others bring their cases to court, said the official shortcomings that allowed Ischgl and the surrounding area to become a virus hotspot were manifold.

Sieglinde Schopf and her husband Hannes Schopf, a retired journalist, posing near the Albonabahn cable car during their ski holidays in the Austrian Alps in Stuben, Vorarlberg.
Sieglinde Schopf and her husband Hannes Schopf, a retired journalist, posing near the Albonabahn cable car during their ski holidays in the Austrian Alps in Stuben, Vorarlberg. Photograph: FAMILY HANDOUT/AFP/Getty Images

He pointed to a report last October by an independent commission of experts which found that local officials had “reacted too late” and made “serious miscalculations” when alerted by Iceland on 5 March that several of its nationals had tested positive on returning home.

Local officials “had at least 48 hours to react” after the warning, Klauser told AFP.

They also missed an opportunity to prevent more tourists coming to the valley that weekend, and the regional government cast doubt on whether the Icelandic tourists had been infected in Ischgl, he said.

Klauser also accused the local authorities of doing “too little, too late” when a restaurant worker tested positive for the virus, saying contact tracing was insufficient and the implementation of restrictions on tourist activity over the subsequent few days was only “halting”.

When the valley was finally placed in quarantine, an orderly evacuation of the area was “thwarted” by the chaotic manner in which it was announced and organised, Klauser continued, pointing the finger at Chancellor Sebastian Kurz as well.

According to Schopf’s widow, the retired journalist and avid skier caught the virus during the panicked evacuation by bus, crammed with other tourists who were sneezing and coughing for three hours.

The Schopf family is now suing the Republic of Austria for 100,000 euros ($120,000) over his death.

Welcome

Hello and welcome to the Guardian’s rolling coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, with me, Helen Livingstone.

The first civil lawsuit over a notorious outbreak of coronavirus at the popular ski resort of Ischgl in March 2020, where thousands of people from 45 countries claim to have become infected, is set to begin in Vienna.

Africa faces a 470 million shortfall in Covid-19 vaccine doses this year after the Covax alliance cut its projected shipments, raising the risk of new and deadly variants, the WHO has said, warning it could take the world ‘back to square one’.

Here’s a roundup of what’s been happening over the past 24 hours:

  • Australia is to trial a home quarantine system for fully vaccinated international travellers arriving in Sydney, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said , as the country moves to reopen its borders despite persistent Covid-19 cases.
  • France suspended 3,000 health workers without pay for refusing the Covid vaccine. The health minister, Olivier Véran, said the staff had been notified in writing before the government-imposed deadline to have at least one dose.
  • Alberta’s premier announced sweeping new restrictions to combat the spread of the coronavirus, admitting the Canadian province was gripped by a “crisis of the unvaccinated”. Alberta currently has the worst coronavirus outbreak in Canada.
  • Care homes in England may be forced to close and thousands of staff risk losing their jobs if they decline to receive their first Covid-19 vaccine by the end of Thursday, ministers have been warned.
  • The White House offered to connect Nicki Minaj with one of the Biden administration’s doctors to address her questions about the Covid-19 vaccine, after the Trinidadian-born rapper’s erroneous tweet alleging the vaccine causes impotence went viral.
  • The Italian government approved a decree making it obligatory for all public and private sector workers either to show proof of vaccination, a negative test or recent recovery from infection, a government source said on Thursday.

  • Vaccinations are estimated to have directly averted about 230,800 hospital admissions in England, according to new figures.
  • All diplomats attending the UN general assembly in New York next week will have to provide proof of vaccination, the city government has confirmed, prompting an angry response from Russia.

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