Coronavirus

Covid live: UK reports 82,886 new cases in huge weekly jump; Omicron dominant in Ireland

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Here are those latest UK case numbers in context throughout the pandemic. This has been a record-breaking week with Omicron pushing daily figures above the record three days in a row.

This is the barometer scientists and ministers will be looking at very closely over the next week: the speed at which hospitlisations jump, and whether it’s in line with new cases. If admissions tick up significantly it may be difficult for policymakers to ignore implementing further restrictions, which UK health secretary Sajid Javid did not rule out on Sky News today.

This is Jem Bartholomew in London for the next few hours covering the international Covid blog. Do get in touch with stories or tips from around the world.

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UK records above 80,000 new daily cases for only fourth time since pandemic began

The UK detected 82,886 new Covid cases on Sunday, a 72% jump on the 48,071 new infections recorded last Sunday.

A further 45 people died from Covid-related reasons, down from 111 on Friday.

Sunday’s figures are slightly lower than recent record-breaking daily case rates – it was above 90,000 on Thursday. Reported figures tend to be lower at weekends.

It comes after the UK reported 12,133 new cases of the highly transmissable Omicron variant, taking the total tally to 37,101. (The majority of cases are not sequenced.)

Updated

Ben Quinn

Britain’s health secretary, Sajid Javid, has made clear that tougher Covid restrictions could be imposed in England before Christmas, after the government’s Sage committee warned that hospitalisations could peak at between 3,000 and 10,000 a day unless action is taken.

Javid acknowledged that data about the Omicron variant remained incomplete – but suggested it might be necessary to make decisions before a full picture is available.

Shops in the Netherlands were closed and people’s Christmas plans were in disarray as the country began a lockdown on Sunday aimed at limiting an expected Covid-19 surge caused by the rise of the Omicron variant.

Thousands of peaceful protesters demonstrated in central Brussels on Sunday for a third time against reinforced Covid-19 restrictions imposed by the Belgian government to counter a spike in infections and the emergence of the worrying omicron variant.

Ministers in Britain have been accused of failing to protect the most vulnerable people from rising Covid cases after it emerged that people with blood cancer now account for a higher proportion of coronavirus deaths than earlier in the pandemic.

With daily case numbers at record highs as a result of the Omicron variant, charities warn that people with suppressed immune systems who had been helped to shield at the start of the pandemic felt obliged to put themselves at risk at work, were confused about how to access treatments and less likely to have protection from vaccines.

Omicron is now the dominant strain of Covid-19 in the Republic of Ireland, according to authorities, who said that recent measures had slowed down the spread somewhat.

The deputy first minister of Northern Ireland’s power sharing executive, Michelle O’Neill, has warned that Omicron will hit the community there “like a ton of bricks”

Iran has detected its first case of infection by the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus, state TV has reported. The United Arab Emirates has moved to limit entry to government institutions to people who have been vaccinated.

The easily transmissible Omicron variant is “raging through the world, ”the US infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, has warned. He also cautioned that travelling will increase the risk of infection, even among vaccinated people, in an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press.

Updated

Concerns about a new impact on mental health are being expressed in the Netherlands, which has become the first European state to implement a nationwide lockdown.

“Because people have no view or feel control, they experience a ‘learned helplessness,’” the Dutch news channel, NOS, was told by Andrea Evers, a professor of health psychology at Leiden University.

She saw the announcement of the latest Dutch lockdown as a missed opportunity on the part of Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, to provide more perspective about future plans that might help people to make sense of the situation.

Unlike other lockdowns in the past, this one differed in that Covid-19 looked set to remain for the time being and there was not the same optimism around the arrival of vaccines.

Saturday’s announcement of the lockdown, which starts today, came as a shock to many Dutch people as they headed into the Christmas and New Year period. Many people rushed out on Saturday to stock up on presents and food and to get a last-minute haircut.

Updated

Entry to all government-run institutions in the United Arab Emirates will be restricted to people who have been vaccinated, according to the state news agency.

وكالة أنباء الإمارات (@wamnews)

#عاجل_وام : “الصحة” و”الطوارئ والأزمات” : اعتماد تطبيق نظام المرور الأخضر لدخول جميع الجهات الحكومية الاتحادية للموظفين والمراجعين في كافة إمارات الدولة والتي ستقتصر على المطعمين وأصحاب الفئات المستثناة من التطعيم، وذلك ابتداء من 3 يناير 2022.#يداً_بيد_نتعافى pic.twitter.com/5DoxaeSaSN

December 19, 2021

Sri Lanka will require the showing of a Covid-19 vaccination certificate compulsory for entry to public places starting from New Year’s Day, in a renewed attempt to prevent another spike in infections.

Tourism minister Prasanna Ranatunga made the announcement on Sunday in an abrupt switch from the gradual ending of restrictions put into place after the country was confronted with a third wave of infections in April caused by the Delta variant.

Ranatunga said health officials were drawing up arrangements on implementing the decisions, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Updated

Covid-19 related staff absences will affect all sectors in the UK including the health services, education, police, transport and key national infrastructure unless transmission is not reduced, a leading public health expert has warned.

Sir Jeremy Farrar, who resigned in November from a national advisory body in disagreement with the government’s approach, said on Twitter today that Covid-19 and the highly infectious new Omicron variant was not just health issue but also an “economic, education, national infrastructure issue even a security issue.”

Like other healthcare experts and practitioners, Farrar has been picking up on a report on Saturday in the Health Service Journal (HSJ) that the number of National Health Service (NHS) staff in London absent due to covid has more than doubled in four days.

One in three of the workforce would be absent by New Year’s Eve if the growth rate continues, it added.

Neil Stone (@DrNeilStone)

The biggest problem facing the #NHS right now is staff absence.

A hospital bed is no good without a team to look after the patient.

Staff absence forecasts reveal ‘bleak picture’ for coming weeks | News | Health Service Journal https://t.co/HHdofAT9MF

December 19, 2021

UK reports 12,000 cases of Omicron variant

The UK reported more than 12,000 further confirmed cases of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in the latest daily figures provided by health authorities on Sunday.

The UK Health Security Agency said on Twitter there had been an additional 12,133 confirmed cases of Omicron over the previous 24 hours, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 37,101.

UK Health Security Agency (@UKHSA)

#OmicronVariant latest information

12,133 additional confirmed cases of the #Omicron variant of COVID-19 have been reported across the UK.

Confirmed Omicron cases in the UK now total 37,101. pic.twitter.com/fKJ87MEkpM

December 19, 2021

The first case of Omicron was announced on 24 November by South Africa, with the first positive sample dating back to 9 November. Since then it has been found in multiple countries around the world, including the UK, where the first cases were reported on 27 November in two people in England with links to travel to southern Africa.

But the first known case is not the same as the first infection. Echoeing the views of other experts, Prof Oliver Pybus, the co-director of the Oxford Martin school’s programme on pandemic genomics, said that, in his reading, Omicron has likely been circulating for at least a month.

Updated

Thousands of peaceful protesters demonstrated in central Brussels on Sunday for a third time against reinforced Covid-19 restrictions imposed by the Belgian government to counter a spike infections and the emergence of the worrying omicron variant.

A strong police presence was deployed on the streets in anticipation of the crowds, given how previous protests had sometimes descended into violence, arrest and injury.

The marchers – some with placards reading “free zone”, “I’ve had my fair dose” and “enough is enough” – came to protest against the government’s strong advice to get vaccinated, and included Belgian healthcare workers who will have a three-month window in which to get vaccinated against coronavirus from 1 January or risk losing their jobs.

On Sunday, the Brussels-based European Commission agreed with Pfizer-BioNTech to accelerate the delivery of vaccines starting in a few weeks. The pharmaceutical giant will deliver an additional 20m doses from January to March to European Union member states.

The Belgian protest comes one day after similar protests in other European capitals, including Paris and London.

A Brussels demonstration last month spiralled into violence as several hundred people started pelting police, smashing cars and setting garbage bins ablaze. Police responded with teargas and water cannon.

Protestors carry a giant unicorn during a demonstration against Covid-19 measures in Brussels on Sunday
Protestors carry a giant unicorn during a demonstration against Covid-19 measures in Brussels on Sunday. Photograph: Olivier Matthys/AP

Updated

Omicron now dominant variant in Ireland

Omicron is now the dominant strain of Covid-19 in the Republic of Ireland, according to authorities, who said that recent measures had slowed down the spread somewhat.

As Ireland’s Department of Health confirmed that there had been 5,124 new cases of Covid-19, it said that it an estimated 52% of reported cases are as a result of the Omicron variant.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan told RTE News: “It has taken less than two weeks for Omicron to become the dominant strain of Covid-19 in Ireland, revealing just how transmissible this variant is.

The deputy first minister of Northern Ireland’s power sharing executive, Michelle O’Neill, has warned that Omicron will hit the community there “like a ton of bricks”.

She said that modelling presented to her and other officials suggested that, in a worst-case scenario, it could be facing 30,000 Omicron cases a day.

Updated

Americans have been urged to get their booster shots and continue to wear masks by the US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci.

Fauci said on Sunday that the easily transmissible Omicron variant is “raging through the world”.

According to Reuters, he also cautioned that travelling will increase the risk of infection, even among vaccinated people, in an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press.

Updated

Omicron will hit Northern Ireland “like a ton of bricks”, the deputy first minister, Michelle O’Neill has warned.

PA Media reports that O’Neill said modelling presented to Stormont ministers suggests that in a worst-case scenario, the region could be facing 30,000 cases a day.

Executive ministers are involved in discussions about the situation ahead of a formal meeting on Wednesday, when it is expected new restrictions to be applied after Christmas will be announced.

O’Neill told the BBC Sunday Politics programme that ministers will act before then if it is deemed necessary.

She said: “In terms of what we know, we know that this is going to hit us like a ton of bricks.

“We know that by the end of the year this will be the dominant strain of Covid, we know that we will peak in the middle of January, we know it is going to spread rapidly.

“What we don’t yet know is the impact in terms of our hospital situation, and we expect to understand that a bit more tomorrow and that is when we will engage again.

“Then we decide when to intervene and what is the appropriate intervention.”

Updated

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