The Omicron variant could make Covid endemic in the UK, a senior government advisor has said.
Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M), told Times Radio that the latest mutation of the virus was more contagious but less severe than previous iterations.
“The thing that might happen in the future is you may see the emergence of a new variant that is less severe, and ultimately, in the long term, what happens is Covid becomes endemic and you have a less severe version. It’s very similar to the common cold that we’ve lived with for many years,” he said.
“We’re not quite there yet but possibly Omicron is the first ray of light there that suggests that may happen in the longer term. It is, of course, much more transmissible than Delta was, which is concerning, but much less severe.
“Hopefully, as we move more towards the spring and we see the back of Omicron, we can get more inter-relationship of living with Covid as an endemic disease and protecting the vulnerable.
“Any variant that does emerge which is less severe, ultimately, in the longer term, is where we want to be.”
Djokovic court filing confirms he had Covid in December
Novak Djokovic has told a court in Melbourne that he had immigration clearance to enter Australia after contracting Covid-19 in December.
On his third day in immigration detention in Melbourne, the tennis world number one’s court filing has escalated a row over Australia’s handling of a medical exemption from vaccination rules that has become a flashpoint for opponents of vaccine mandates around the world.
Djokovic, a vocal opponent of vaccine mandates hoping to win his 21st Grand Slam at the Australian Open, has been detained since Thursday in a Melbourne hotel after his visa was cancelled. He is hoping to win his 21st Grand Slam at the Australian Open.
Djokovic had received the exemption from tournament organiser Tennis Australia, with a follow-up letter from Australia’s department of home affairs saying he was allowed into the country.
“I explained that I had been recently infected with COVID in December 2021 and on this basis I was entitled to a medical exemption in accordance with Australian Government rules and guidance,” Djokovic says in the filing, according to Reuters.
Djokovic says he told Australian Border Force “officers that I had correctly made my Australian Travel Declaration and otherwise satisfied all necessary requirements in order to lawfully enter Australia on my visa.”
The filing confirms rumours that Djokovic had Covid last month. It said he returned his first positive test on 16 December, but by 30 December “had not had a fever or respiratory symptoms of COVID-19 in the last 72 hours”.
On 1 January, it says, he received a document from Home Affairs telling him his responses indicated he met “the requirements for a quarantine-free arrival into Australia”.
Video of an NHS doctor challenging the UK health secretary over vaccine mandates for healthcare workers has gone viral on social media.
The scene, which was caught by Sky News cameras, was first broadcast on Friday after Javid visited Kings College Hospital in south London.
While on a walkabout in the hospital, Javid had asked doctors and nurses there what they thought about government plans to require vaccination for all NHS staff. After an brief but uncomfortable silence, Steve James, a consultant anaesthetist who has been working throughout the pandemic, replied: “I’m not happy about that.”
James told Javid: “I’ve had Covid at some point, I’ve got antibodies, and I’ve been working on Covid ITUs since the beginning; I have not had a vaccination, I do not want to have a vaccination. The vaccine is reducing transmission only for about eight weeks with delta. With Omicron it’s probably less. And for that I would be dismissed if I don’t have a vaccine? The science isn’t strong enough.”
“That’s your view,” Javid replied. Turning to a group of nurses he added: “And you views?” However, they did not respond.
Turning back to James, Javid continued: “I respect that but there is also many different views.”
Javid added: “I understand that but obviously we have to weigh all that up for both health and social care and there will always be a debate about it …”
James replied: “Maybe there is an opportunity to reconsider with Omicron and the changing picture, or at least the nuance that will allow doctors who have had antibody exposure, who’ve got antibodies, who haven’t had the vaccination, to not have it, because the protection I’ve got is probably equivalent to someone who is vaccinated.”
“Yes, but at some point that will wane,” Javid said.
James said: “But if you want to provide protection with a booster you’d have to inject everybody every month. If the protection has worn off for transmission after two months then after a month you’ve still got a bit of protection. But if you want to maintain protection you’re going to need to boost all staff members every single months, which you’re not going to do.”
Javid answered his challenge by saying: “We take the very best advice that we can, from vaccine experts.”
Half a day after the video was published on Twitter, it had been watched about 1.2m times.
Vaccine experts have advised the UK government to prioritise distributing the first booster jab.
Figures from the UK Health Security Agency show that the vaccine booster is 90% effective against admission to hospital from the Omicron variant for the over-65s after three months. Meanwhile, protection for those with two doses dropped to about 70% after three months and to 50% after six months.
Taking this data into account, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has advised the government against giving a second booster dose, or fourth jab, to care home residents and those aged over 80, the PA Media news agency reports.
It added that priority should continue to be given to rolling out the first booster dose, and that unvaccinated people should come forward for their first two doses as soon as possible.
The UK government is planning for Covid-related absences from up to one in four teachers when all schools finally go back after the Christmas holidays.
Term has already begun at many schools across the country, but others are yet to welcome children back after the festive break.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast on Saturday morning, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said there is a “mixed picture” of how Covid is affecting absences in schools so far this term.
He said: “Not all schools and colleges are open yet and won’t be until Monday so we’re not going to get a proper picture of staff absence until next week.
“There’s a snatched snapshot taken from a small number of primary schools earlier in the week that suggested that might be around 10% of the staff absent. The government itself is planning potentially for 25% of staff.”
Djokovic had written clearance to enter Australia – court filing
Novak Djokovic had written clearance from Australia’s immigration department before travelling to the country with a medical exemption from its vaccination rules, his lawyers said in a court filing on Saturday.
According to the filing, the world No 1 tennis player contracted Covid-19 last month but was not experiencing symptoms. He returned his first positive coronavirus test on 16 December, 2021, but 14 days later “had not had a fever or respiratory symptoms of Covid-19 in the last 72 hours”, the filing said.
On 1 January, the Serbian sports star received a “a document from the Department of Home Affairs (which) told Mr Djokovic that his ‘responses indicate(d) that (he met) the requirements for a quarantine-free arrival into Australia”, the documents added. Djokovic is in immigration detention in Australia after having his visa cancelled on arrival on Thursday
Djokovic, an outspoken critic of mandatory vaccination, has never disclosed his own vaccination status. He is challenging his visa cancellation in Australia’s federal court in hopes of winning his 21st grand slam at the Australian Open which starts on 17 January.
A record 26,458 confirmed new coronavirus cases were recorded in the Philippines on Saturday, according to the latest official data.
A health ministry official said confirmed cases have exceeded 2.93m. Deaths have reached over 52,000, after 265 new fatalities were recorded on Saturday.
The previous daily record in Covid-19 cases was 26,303 on 11 September 2021.
Good morning and welcome to the coronavirus news blog. I’m Damien Gayle and I’ll be your guide through the day’s latest covid-related headlines and breaking news.