Coronavirus

Covid live news: fourth wave hitting Germany with ‘full force’, Merkel warns; Belgium mandates working from home

covid-live-news:-fourth-wave-hitting-germany-with-‘full-force’,-merkel-warns;-belgium-mandates-working-from-home

In the United States, the White House says about 10% of eligible children aged 5 to 11 have received a dose of the Pfizer Covid vaccine since its approval for their age group two weeks ago.

At least 2.6 million kids have received a shot, White House Covid-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said on Wednesday, with 1.7 million doses administered in the last week alone, roughly double the pace of the first week after approval.

The Associated Press reported:

It’s more than three times faster than the rate adults were vaccinated at the start of the nation’s vaccination campaign 11 months ago.

Zients said there are now 30,000 locations across for kids to get a shot, up from 20,000 last week, and that the administration expects the pace of pediatric shots to pick up in the coming days.

Kids who get their first vaccine dose by the end of this week will be fully vaccinated by Christmas, assuming they get their second shot three weeks after the first one.

The Biden administration is planning to dedicate billions of dollars to build up vaccine manufacturing in the US to produce at least a billion doses each year, in an effort to shore up global Covid-19 supply for poorer countries while also pre-empting future pandemics.

As part of a public-private partnership, the government will draw on knowledge from companies that already use mRNA technology to make vaccines. Its ambitious goal is to get to a point where the US can produce at least a billion doses each year starting around mid-2022, according to the New York Times, which first reported the news.

“This is about assuring expanded capacity against Covid variants and also preparing for the next pandemic,” David Kessler, who leads vaccine distribution for the White House, told the Times.

“The goal, in the case of a future pandemic, a future virus, is to have vaccine capability within six to nine months of identification of that pandemic pathogen, and to have enough vaccines for all Americans.”

Sajid Javid’s criticisms fuelling abuse of doctors, says GPs’ chief

Denis Campbell

Sajid Javid’s criticisms of how GPs work have fuelled a rise in verbal and physical attacks on them and their staff, the leader of Britain’s family doctors has claimed.

Dr Richard Vautrey said comments by the health secretary and NHS bosses, alongside negative coverage of GPs in some newspapers, had wrongly made the public think they were “hiding away” from patients, and exposed staff to abuse.

Vautrey, the outgoing chair of the British Medical Association’s GPs committee, made the claim in an interview with the Guardian before the union’s decision on Thursday about whether to press ahead with industrial action in protest at a government edict that GPs in England must see any patient face to face if requested.

Before the pandemic 80% of consultations in England were face-to-face. That fell dramatically on government and NHS orders when the Covid pandemic struck, though in recent months it has risen again to 60%.

Good evening, I’m Tom Ambrose and I will be bringing you the latest Covid news from home and abroad over the next couple of hours.

We start with the news that the Czech Republic and Slovakia both reported record daily new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, a day before the two European Union countries plan to approve new restrictions for unvaccinated people in response to rising infections.

Thousands in the capitals of both countries, Prague and Bratislava, used Wednesday’s anniversary of the 1989 anti-communist Velvet Revolution to rally against their government’s upcoming coronavirus restrictions.

The protesters ignored social distancing and didn’t wear masks. Police didn’t intervene in Prague. In Bratislava, police said two officers sustained injuries after the crowd near the seat of the government detonated fire crackers.

People form a human chain in support of political prisoners in Belarus during the commemoration of the 32nd anniversary of the 1989 Velvet Revolution in Prague, Czech Republic.
People form a human chain in support of political prisoners in Belarus during the commemoration of the 32nd anniversary of the 1989 Velvet Revolution in Prague, Czech Republic. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The Czech daily tally soared to 22,479 new cases, eclipsing the previous record set 7 January by almost 5,000 and nearly 8,000 more than just a week ago. The country’s infection rate rose to 813 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days, up from 558 a week earlier.

That’s it from me for today. Thank you all so much for reading along, writing in and generally keeping me company. My colleague Tom Ambrose will be along shortly to continue our coronavirus coverage, and I’ll see you all again tomorrow.

Fourth Covid wave hitting Germany with ‘full force’, Merkel says

Germany’s coronavirus situation is dramatic, the chancellor Angela Merkel has said, calling for an extra push on vaccinations ahead of a crisis meeting with federal and regional leaders to agree on measures to curb a fourth wave of the virus.

Germany reported 52,826 new infections on Wednesday – up by a third from a week ago and another daily record, while 294 people died, bringing the total to 98,274, as the pandemic tightens its grip on Europe.

The surge in infections comes at an awkward time in Germany with the conservative Merkel acting in a caretaker capacity while three other parties negotiate to form a new government after an inconclusive September election.

Merkel said a national effort was needed and appealed to federal and regional leaders meeting on Thursday to introduce steps to trigger tighter restrictions based on the number of infected people being hospitalised in a week.

A draft of the document to be discussed and seen by Reuters sets out steps, including forcing people to show proof of vaccination or recovery or a negative Covid test on public transport and at work and imposing tighter restrictions for leisure activities.

In addition, financial aid for companies and individuals hit by the crisis could be extended by three months to the end of March 2022.

Merkel appealed to vaccine-sceptics to change their minds and called for a speedier distribution of booster shots.

Merkel told a congress of German city mayors:

The fourth wave is hitting our country with full force. The number of daily new infections is higher than ever before… and the daily death toll is also frightening.

It is not at all too late to decide for a first vaccination. If enough people get vaccinated that is the way out of the pandemic.

Only 68% of people in Europe’s most populous country are fully vaccinated – lower than the average in western Europe due to a tradition of vaccine hesitancy, while 5% of the population has had a booster shot.

The Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats, who aim to form the next government, will also propose measures to fight the pandemic in a draft law to go to parliament on Thursday.

That would replace emergency powers, due to end on 25 November, which provide a national legal framework for restrictions. Merkel’s conservatives want to extend these powers instead.

Summary

Here is a quick recap of some of the main developments from today so far:

  • Belgium tightened its coronavirus restrictions, mandating wider use of masks in indoor settings such as cafes and restaurants, and enforcing work from home, as cases rose in the country’s fourth Covid wave. The country has one of the highest cases per capita rates in the EU, at around one per hundred people over the past 14 days, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. The prime minister Alexander De Croo said: “The alarm signals are all red.”
  • Spain is now offering third doses of Covid vaccines to people aged 60 and over, expanding the booster shot programme from the previous age threshold of 70 as infections rise, the prime minister Pedro Sanchez said.

  • The UK Health Security Agency said children aged between 12 and 15 should delay getting a Covid vaccine if they’ve recently had Covid to at least 12 weeks after they were infected. The advice brings guidance for 12 to 15-year-olds into line with that for 16 and 17-year-olds, who were advised to wait 12 weeks after infection before getting a shot when officials gave a go ahead for second doses for that age group. The UKHSA said that the increase in the gap, from previous guidance of a 4-week interval, could cut rare cases of a mild and usually short-lived side effect of heart inflammation known as myocarditis further.

  • The UK reported another 38,263 Covid infections and a further 201 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, according to the latest data from the government’s coronavirus dashboard.
  • Mandatory vaccine passports are set to be introduced in Northern Ireland after Stormont ministers voted by a majority to support the move. It is understood that, amid rising infections and increasing pressure on the healthcare system, the health minister Robin Swann wants to see enforceable Covid certification in operation across a range of hospitality settings from 13 December.
  • Sweden plans to introduce a requirement for Covid vaccine passes at indoor events where more than 100 people attend, a step recommended by health officials warning of a rising tide of infections in coming weeks. “The spread is increasing in Europe. We haven’t seen it yet in Sweden, but we are not isolated,” the health minister Lena Hallengren said. “We need to be able to use vaccination certificates.”
  • Also in Sweden, the Public Health Agency said it would reverse a widely-criticised decision to stop recommending testing for people who are fully vaccinated but show symptoms of Covid-19. Covid testing in Sweden has fallen by some 35% after the health agency announced in October that people displaying symptoms no longer needed to get tested if they were fully vaccinated against the virus. The recommendation drew heavy criticism at a time when the pandemic is gaining traction again across Europe.

  • Hungarian doctors have warned of a “very sad Christmas” ahead and called for preventive measures as infections and hospitalisations continue to rise. Hungary reported 10,265 new Covid cases on Wednesday, its highest daily tally since the end of March, prompting the country’s Medical Chamber to call for a ban on mass events and mandatory mask-wearing in closed spaces. In a statement, the Hungarian Medical Chamber also said entry to restaurants, theatres and cinemas should be conditional on a Covid immunity certificate.

  • The World Health Organization said coronavirus deaths in Europe rose by 5% in the last week, making it the only region in the world where Covid-19 mortality increased. In its weekly report on the pandemic, the WHO said Covid deaths in all regions other than Europe remained stable or declined, and totalled 50,000 worldwide last week. Of the 3.3 million new infections reported, 2.1 million came from Europe. It was the seventh consecutive week that Covid cases continued to mount across the 61 countries the WHO counts in its European region.
  • The Czech Republic will ban people who have not been vaccinated against Covid from access to public events and services from Monday, the prime minister Andrej Babiš announced, and negative tests will no longer be recognised as qualification to enter events and service establishments. The restrictions, to be approved by the full cabinet on Thursday, come after a surge in new infections to a record 22,479 on Tuesday. “People have to finally believe that Covid kills,” Babiš said.

Belgium mandates indoor mask-wearing and working from home

Belgium tightened its coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday, mandating wider use of masks and enforcing work from home, as cases rose in the country’s fourth Covid wave, Reuters reports.

From Saturday, all people in indoor venues such as cafes and restaurants will need to wear a mask unless seated and the rule will apply to those aged 10 or older. The previous age threshold was 12.

Nightclubs may have to test their guests if they want to let them dance mask-free.

People wanting to eat in a restaurant or go to the theatre already must present a Covid pass, showing vaccination, a negative test or recent recovery.

Most Belgians will also have to work from home four days a week until mid-December, and for three days after that.

Belgium has one of the highest cases per capita rates in the European Union, at around one per hundred people over the past 14 days, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

“The alarm signals are all red,” the prime minister Alexander De Croo told a news conference. “We had all hoped to have a winter without coronavirus, but Belgium is not an island.”

The new restrictions are still milder than the lockdown imposed on the unvaccinated in Austria and the shortening of bar and restaurant opening hours in the Netherlands.

De Croo said Belgium planned to give booster jabs, currently limited mostly to the elderly, to the wider population.

Belgium’s infections rise has been sharpest in the northern region Flanders, where vaccination rates are higher, prompting eased restrictions in October.

Updated

Spain is now offering third doses of Covid vaccines to people aged 60 and over, expanding the booster shot programme from the previous age threshold of 70 as infections rise, the prime minister Pedro Sanchez said on Wednesday.

Spain has fully vaccinated 79% of its population, and started the campaign to administer booster shots last month, including for cancer patients, nursing home residents and other vulnerable groups.

“The meeting of the vaccines panel has just ended, and it has been agreed that a third dose of vaccination will be given to health and social-health professionals and for people over 60 years of age,” Sanchez told reporters during a visit to Turkey.

The country’s infection rate, as measured over the preceding 14 days, has been rising steadily since late October. It rose to 96 per 100,000 on Wednesday from about 89 on Tuesday, though remains well below levels in some countries like Austria, with over 1,400 cases per 100,000, or the Netherlands with over 900.

Spain reported 6,667 cases on Wednesday, bringing the total to 5,067,712 since the pandemic began, while the number of deaths rose by 30 to an overall 87,775.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has said that children aged between 12 and 15 should delay getting a Covid vaccine if they’ve recently had Covid to at least 12 weeks after they were infected, Reuters reports.

The advice brings guidance for 12 to 15-year-olds into line with that for 16 and 17-year-olds, who were advised to wait 12 weeks after infection before getting a shot when officials gave a go ahead for second doses for that age group.

Currently, 12 to 15-year-olds are only advised to get an initial shot of Pfizer’s vaccine, which has been associated with rare, mild and usually short-lived side effect of heart inflammation known as myocarditis.

The UKHSA said that the increase in the gap, from previous guidance of a 4-week interval, could cut rare cases of myocarditis further.

“The Covid-19 vaccines are very safe. Based on a highly precautionary approach, we are advising a longer interval between Covid infection and vaccination for those aged under 18,” Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisations at UKHSA, said in a statement.

“This increase is based on the latest reports from the UK and other countries, which may suggest that leaving a longer interval between infection and vaccination will further reduce the already very small risk of myocarditis in younger age groups,” she added.

Children have had some of the highest rates of infection in England since schools went back at the start of September, although prevalence has fallen from its peak since a half-term school holiday at the end of October.

UKHSA said that current advice for at-risk children between 12-17 was unchanged, owing to their higher risk from Covid which would outweigh any benefit from delaying the shots.

Canada is set to announce it will no longer require travellers returning from short foreign trips to take PCR Covid tests, a government source has said.

Reuters reported that the source, who requested not to be named, said the change will affect those taking trips of 72 hours or less.

The travel industry complains that the requirement to take the tests, the most reliable commonly-used method of detecting Covid, is deterring tourism.

The official announcement is expected to be made on Friday.

Covid deaths have decreased 17% in the Americas over the past week, but the most populous countries like the US, Brazil and Colombia are seeing a levelling of new infections after weeks of declining trends, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday.

Mexico is reporting an increase in new deaths and in the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago had a sharp rise in deaths as intensive care unit (ICU) beds fill with patients with Covid, PAHO said.

In an important milestone, half of the people in Latin America and the Caribbean have now been fully vaccinated against Covid, though coverage remains below 10% in Nicaragua and Haiti, PAHO director Carissa Etienne said.

“The Covid pandemic is still very active in our region,” she warned in a webcast news conference.

Countries across Central and South America have seen a decline in new infections, except for Bolivia, it said.

As Uruguay and Chile have relaxed pandemic restrictions, Covid cases have risen, even with their high vaccination coverage, the health agency said.

Etienne urged people in the region to get vaccinated and stick to social distancing and mask wearing as the holiday season approaches.

The UK has reported another 38,263 Covid infections and a further 201 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, according to the latest data from the government’s coronavirus dashboard.

That compares with 37,243 cases and 214 fatalities reported in the 24 hours prior.

Updated

Ministers vote to introduce vaccine passports in Northern Ireland

Mandatory vaccine passports are set to be introduced in Northern Ireland after Stormont ministers voted by a majority to support the move.

The PA news agency understands DUP ministers opposed the health minister Robin Swann’s proposal at the executive meeting on Wednesday. However, the other four executive parties – Sinn Féin, SDLP, Alliance and Mr Swann’s UUP – backed the move.

Swann wants to see enforceable Covid certification in operation across a range of hospitality settings from §3 December.

While the four DUP ministers voted against the proposal, the party did not deploy a cross-community voting mechanism that could have blocked the introduction of vaccine certification in the region.

The Department of Health is set to produce a further paper detailing how the policy will be rolled out.

PA Media understands Swann has proposed that passports are used to gain entry to nightclubs, hospitality premises that serve food and/or drink, cinemas, theatres and conferences halls.

Covid certificates would also be needed to access indoor events with 500 or more attendees where some or all of the audience is not normally seated.

They would be required for outdoor events with 4,000 or more attendees where some or all of the audience is not normally seated.

They would also be mandatory at all events of 10,000 or more attendees whether the audience is seated or not.

Swann is proposing that regulations needed for the law change come into effect on 29 November, with a 14-day grace period prior to becoming enforceable on 13 December.

Under the proposals, people wishing to gain entry to the venues would need to demonstrate evidence of Covid-19 vaccination, a negative lateral flow test result, or proof of a coronavirus infection within the previous six months.

A modelling paper from health officials presented to the Executive ahead of Wednesday’s meeting warned passports may not be enough to suppress rapidly increasing Covid case numbers, which have surged 23% in a week, and that “more severe restrictions” may need to be considered in mid-December to avoid hospitals being overwhelmed.

Swann’s proposals come amid escalating pressures on the region’s beleaguered health system.

Covid-19 transmission rates have soared in recent weeks, particularly among young people.

Making certification a legal entry requirement for hospitality venues has been credited with driving up vaccination rates among young people in the Irish Republic.

Proof of vaccination has already been required to access cinemas, nightclubs, theatres, concert halls and large events in Wales.

Scotland has similar requirements, though the government is considering whether to expand it to other sectors.

In England, the government ditched its plans for vaccine passports for access to nightclubs and large events, which had been due to start at the end of September. However, they could still be introduced under its so-called winter “plan B” if the situation deteriorates.

Updated

Dutch health authorities said on Wednesday they were running short of Covid tests, as the Netherlands registered more than 20,000 new cases for the second day in a row, the highest since the pandemic began, Reuters reports.

“We are coming up against the maximum of our capacity,” Jaap Eikelboom, head of Covid-19 operations at the National Public Health Service, said in a statement.

The service said it was working to expand test capacity amid a new surge that has caught health authorities and the prime minister Mark Rutte’s government off guard.

About 85% of the adult Dutch population is fully vaccinated.

The National Institute for Health (RIVM) on Tuesday reported a record of more than 110,000 new cases in the week ended 16 November, an increase of 44% from the week before, with the strongest rise among children aged 4-12.

Hospital admissions are rising and several are curtailing regular care to accommodate patients with coronavirus.

The latest wave began shortly after the government ended social distancing and other measures in September – a decision that has been reversed as cases surge.

Earlier this month, Rutte’s government reintroduced masks in stores, and last weekend it reimposed a partial lockdown, including closing bars and restaurants after 8pm.

But the impact of those measures has not yet been seen in the daily numbers.

Parliament met with Rutte on Tuesday night to debate whether to restrict access to indoor public venues to people who have a “corona pass” showing they have been vaccinated or already recovered from an infection.

Politicians were sharply divided on the idea, with some arguing that it discriminates unfairly against the unvaccinated and others arguing that it may be necessary anyway as a matter of public health.

No law has yet been proposed for a vote.

Updated

Sweden to introduce Covid vaccine passes for indoor events

The Swedish government plans to introduce a requirement for Covid vaccine passes at indoor events where more than 100 people attend, a step recommended by health officials warning of a rising tide of infections in coming weeks, Reuters reports.

Infection rates have soared across large swaths of Europe in recent weeks and while Sweden – hard hit at times earlier in the pandemic – has yet to record a similar surge, healthy agency modelling suggests infections will reach a peak in mid-December.

The centre-left government was preparing a bill to be put forward to parliament with the aim to having the vaccination passes in effect from 1 December, the health minister Lena Hallengren said.

“The spread is increasing in Europe. We haven’t seen it yet in Sweden, but we are not isolated,” she told a news conference. “We need to be able to use vaccination certificates.”

Sweden’s health agency said earlier on Wednesday it would reverse a widely criticised decision to stop recommending testing for people who were fully vaccinated but show symptoms of Covid. [see 12.16pm.]

Around 85% of all Swedes over 16 have received one dose vaccine and 82% have had two doses or more.

Sweden currently has the lowest number of patients with Covid in hospital and in intensive care in the European Union, relative to the size of the population, according to OurWorldinData, but has been hit hard by earlier waves.

Sweden has opted against lockdowns and relied mostly on voluntary measures aimed at social distancing.

It has seen several times higher deaths per capita than its Nordic neighbours but lower than most European countries that opted for strict lockdowns.

Several aspects of Sweden’s handling of the pandemic, such as poor testing, have been strongly criticised by a government-appointed Covid commission.

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