Coronavirus

Covid news live: Germany death toll passes 100,000; vaccines giving people ‘false sense of security’, WHO says

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Today so far

  • The World Health Organization has issued a warning in the lead-up to Christmas, saying social mixing is back at pre-pandemic levels and threatens to spread the virus in the run-up to the holidays.
  • “We are concerned about a false sense of security that vaccines have ended the pandemic, and that people who are vaccinated do not need to take any other precautions,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “Vaccines save lives, but they do not fully prevent transmission.”
  • Germany, who weathered earlier bouts of the pandemic better than many of its neighbours, has now found itself back at the centre of Europe’s virus outbreak as the latest wave of the pandemic infects people at a record pace.
  • Officials recorded 100,119 Covid deaths in Germany in total as of Wednesday. The head of the Robert Koch Institute has put the mortality rate in Germany at about 0.8%, meaning that at daily case numbers of around 50,000, some 400 people per day will end dying.
  • Some hospitals in the Netherlands have halted chemotherapy treatments and organ transplants to free up intensive care beds for a surging number of Covid-19 patients.
  • France is to announce new Covid measures as infections surge across the country.
  • Reports claim that the European Union will recommend a nine-month time limit for the validity of Covid-19 vaccinations for travel into the bloc and also propose prioritising vaccinated travellers.
  • Ministers are urging millions of Britons to get their Covid booster jab by 11 December to ensure they have “very high protection against Covid by Christmas Day” as new evidence shows the risk of infection increases with the time since the second dose.
  • Novavax is expected to be approved as a fourth Covid vaccine in UK. Trials show the protein-based jab causes fewer side-effects. The British government has so far ordered 60m doses.
  • Deaths of people being treated for substance misuse problems in England rose sharply during the pandemic, data shows, as charities put the rise down to treatment services closing their doors due to Coronavirus.
  • Turkey’s domestically developed Covid-19 vaccine, Turkovac, has applied for emergency authorisation. Health minister Fahrettin Koca said he hoped the shot would be available for use by year-end.
  • A little known sect led by a pastor who pokes eyes to heal is at the centre of a Covid outbreak in South Korea, as the country reported a new daily record of 4,116 cases and battles a rise in serious cases straining hospitals.
  • Airline Cathay Pacific has said it is “cancelling a number of flights to Hong Kong” for December blaming “operational and travel restrictions that remain in place”. Hong Kong’s strict quarantine rules are increasingly out of step with rivals for international business like Singapore.
  • Chief minister of Australia’s Northern Territory Michael Gunner has lambasted Covid conspiracy theorists as “tinfoil hat wearing tossers, sitting in their parents’ basements in Florida.”
  • Protests against Covid measures turned to violence on France’s Caribbean island of Martinique overnight.
  • Scientists say a new Covid variant that carries an “extremely high number” of mutations may drive further waves of disease by evading the body’s defences.

That is it from me, Martin Belam, today. I am now off to go and host our Thursday quiz. Andrew Sparrow has our UK politics live blog. Miranda Bryant will be here with you shortly to carry bringing you the latest coronavirus news from the UK and around the world.

Sarah Marsh

Deaths of people being treated for substance misuse problems in England rose sharply during the pandemic, data shows, as charities put the rise down to treatment services closing their doors due to Coronavirus.

Official figures show that in 2020 to 2021 3,726 people died while in contact with treatment services, a 27% increase compared to the year before when there were 2,929 deaths.

There were 275,896 adults in contact with drug and alcohol services between April 2020 and March 2021, up from 270,705 the year before. The number of adults entering treatment in 2020 to 2021 remained relatively stable at 130,490, up from 132,124. Over half (51%) of the adults in treatment were there for problems with opiates, a medication or an illegal drug that is derived from the opium poppy including fentanyl and methadone.

Like other services, drug and alcohol treatment services were affected by the pandemic and had to restrict face-to-face contact, which affected the types of interventions that service users received.

For example, most patients whose opioid substitute consumption was supervised before the pandemic were given take-home doses from March 2020, after a risk assessment. Fewer service users were able to access inpatient detoxification for alcohol and drugs. Testing and treatment for blood-borne viruses and liver disease were also greatly reduced.

The government data release said it’s likely that factors such as changes to alcohol and drug treatment, reduced access to other healthcare services, changes to lifestyle and social circumstances during lockdowns, and Covid-19 itself were likely to be behind the numbers.

Nuno Albuquerque, head of Treatment for the UK Addiction Treatment Group, said: “The start of the Coronavirus crisis was extremely frightening and uncertain. But drug and alcohol treatment is critical care intervention and cannot be simply put on pause. We know that a concerning number of facilities closed their doors to addicts who were already in the treatment process and although it was such a difficult time, it cannot be a coincidence that more people have subsequently lost their lives when they were in fact trying to save it.”

The figures show that people in treatment make up the second largest group (28%) after those in treatment for opiates. The number of people who started treatment for alcohol addiction in 2020 rose by 3% compared to the previous year- from 74,618 to 76,740.

Last year, all substance groups except opiate users saw a decrease in deaths in treatment compared to the previous year. By contrast, there were increases in the proportion of people dying while in treatment in all substance groups this year. This includes 20% rise among opiate users and a 44% rise among those with alcohol misuse problems.

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of those who started treatment for all substance groups needed mental health treatment as well, but a quarter of them (25%) who had a mental health need were not receiving any treatment to meet this need.

Albuquerque said that reports such as this one are “frightening” because each figure “is a person”. He added: “We have been lobbying for the Government to reinforce ring fenced, protected budgets for drug and alcohol treatment and prevention for some time.”

Updated

Russia’s Covid case numbers remain on a gradual downward trend overall, although today’s official figure of 33,796 is up slightly on yesterday’s 33,558. There were 1,238 deaths officially recorded.

The head of the Robert Koch Institute has put the mortality rate in Germany at about 0.8%, meaning that at daily case numbers of around 50,000, some 400 people per day will end dying.

Germany’s incoming three-party government has said it would create a team of experts who would assess the situation on a daily basis. Greens co-leader Annalena Baerbock said the new government had set itself 10 days to decide if further restrictions were needed.

Germany has already limited large parts of public life in areas where the situation is acute to people who have been vaccinated or have recovered.

Reuters reports that the chancellor-in-waiting, Olaf Scholz, has promised to ramp up vaccinations and did not rule out making them compulsory, a move undertaken already by Austria

“We must vaccinate and give booster shots to prevent the spread of the virus,” said Scholz. “Vaccination is the way out of this pandemic,” he said.

He said long queues for booster shots in some areas that are slowing things down had to be sorted out.

Updated

Some Dutch hospitals have halted chemotherapy treatments and organ transplants to free up intensive care beds for a surging number of Covid-19 patients, an official said on Thursday.

The number of coronavirus patients in hospital has hit levels not seen since early May, and experts have warned that hospitals will reach full capacity in little more than a week if the virus is not contained.

The Dutch Hospital Association for Critical Care said it had asked the health minister, Hugo de Jonge, to escalate the national Covid plan to a stage under which regular care requiring an overnight stay would be cancelled. Several Covid patients were transferred to German hospitals this week.

Responding to record high infection rates, the government’s leading outbreak management team convened an emergency meeting last night and new lockdown measures are expected to be announced on Friday.

Anthony Deutsch reports for Reuters that although 85% of the adult Dutch population has been fully vaccinated, new cases hit a record high of 23,709 in 24 hours on Wednesday and are up almost 40% on a weekly basis.

“There are hospitals in several regions scaling back care,” a spokesperson for the hospital association said. “We are talking about care that requires a bed. That means a lot of appointments are being cancelled.”

Updated

Turkey’s domestically developed Covid-19 vaccine, Turkovac, has applied for emergency authorisation, the health minister, Fahrettin Koca, has said, adding he hoped the shot would be available for use by year-end.

Speaking at his ministry’s budget debate in parliament, Koca said work on Turkovac was nearing completion, and added the shot would mark the first Phase III clinical research project to be fully carried out by Turkey.

“I would like to share a piece of good news for our people: our domestic inactive Covid-19 vaccine Turkovac has applied for emergency authorisation as of today,” Koca said.

Reuters reports that Turkey began developing Turkovac this year, but the launch date for the vaccine has been beset by delays. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has previously said Turkey would make the shot available globally.

Turkey has already administered nearly 120m doses of vaccines using China’s Sinovac and Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccines, with more than 50 million having received two doses of the vaccines. It has also begun administering boosters shots.

Turkey’s daily infection numbers have hovered around 30,000 since mid-September, while the daily death toll, which peaked at 290 in September, remains near 200. The government has called on people to take personal measures and get vaccinated, attributing the high infections to insufficient vaccination levels.

Updated

EU to recommend nine-month vaccine validity for travel – reports

Alberto Nardelli (formerly of this parish) and John Follain have a story leading the Bloomberg site at the moment, claiming that the EU is to propose a nine-month limit on Covid vaccine validity for travel. They write:

The European Union will recommend a nine-month time limit for the validity of Covid-19 vaccinations for travel into the bloc and also propose prioritising vaccinated travellers.

The European Commission will propose that member states should continue welcoming all travelers inoculated with shots approved by the bloc, according to a document seen by Bloomberg. It also calls for countries to reopen as of 10 January to all those who have used vaccines approved by the World Health Organization.

The proposed updates introduce the new time limit for the validity of Covid inoculations, suggesting that boosters will be needed beyond the 9-month period.

Lorena Allam

Aboriginal elders, health organisations and frontline workers in the Australia’s Northern Territory’s Covid outbreak have lashed out at false information about public health measures on social media, with the NT chief minister blaming the misinformation on “tinfoil hat wearing tossers, sitting in their parents’ basements in Florida”.

Over the past few days false claims have been circulating online that Aboriginal people from Binjari and Rockhole were being forcibly removed from their homes and taken to enforced quarantine in Howard Springs, and people including children were being forcibly vaccinated.

None of these claims are true, according to the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory (AMSANT), the local Aboriginal health services and community leaders.

On Thursday, the chief minister, Michael Gunner, laid into “conspiracy theorists” online, blaming overseas groups for the misinformation.

“Hello to all the conspiracy theorists overseas watching this. Please get a life,” Gunner told a media briefing on Thursday.

“There are ridiculous, untrue rumours about the ADF’s involvement. As we all know, they aren’t carrying weapons – they are carrying fresh food for people.

“Ninety-nine-point-nine-nine per cent of the BS that is flying around on the internet about the Territory is coming from flogs outside the Territory – mostly America, Canada and the UK, people who have nothing better to do than make up lies about us because their own lives are so small and so sad.

“If anybody thinks that we are going to be distracted or intimidated by tinfoil hat wearing tossers, sitting in their parents’ basements in Florida, then you do not know us Territorians,” he said.

Read more here from our Indigenous affairs editor Lorena Allam: ‘Tinfoil hat wearing tossers’: NT chief minister and Aboriginal elders hit back at Covid ‘false information’

Airline Cathay Pacific has said it is “cancelling a number of flights to Hong Kong” for December blaming “operational and travel restrictions that remain in place”.

The city’s strict travel curbs continue to keep international travellers away at a time when rivals are seeing their prospects improve. Hong Kong has maintained some of the world’s harshest quarantine measures and travel restrictions during the pandemic which has seen the business hub cut off internationally for the past 20 months.

Hong Kong’s government has followed China’s strict coronavirus strategy and said normalisation of travel with the mainland must come before any reopening to the rest of the world.

As the peak holiday season approaches, Agence France-Presse report the airline will convert around one-third of flights bound for Hong Kong to handle cargo.

A Cathay Pacific jet is seen in front of air traffic control tower at the Hong Kong International Airport.
A Cathay Pacific jet is seen in front of air traffic control tower at the Hong Kong International Airport. Photograph: Tyrone Siu/Reuters

Cathay is currently relying on volunteer staff to fly in and out of Hong Kong. Bosses have implemented a “closed loop” operation where cabin crew and pilots work three-week shifts, during which they are confined to hotel rooms between flights. When their shift has finished and they return home, they must quarantine for another two weeks.

Distribution and logistics firm FedEx has already announce it is closing its Hong Kong crew base and relocating pilots overseas. In contrast, Singapore Airlines is seeing flights and passenger numbers pick up as that city begins reopening to the outside world and switching to learning to live with the virus.

There have been another 628 deaths from Covid in Ukraine in the past 24 hours, according to figures released by the ministry of health. There were 16,943 new cases, which included 1,451 cases in children and 304 cases in healthcare workers.

The seven-day average for new cases stands at 16,025, comparing favourably with the level of over 20,000 a week ago.

Here is an updated map indicating incidence rates across Europe.

Protests against Covid measures turned to violence on France’s Caribbean island of Martinique overnight.

France Info published a video of protesters targeting a shopping centre and running away with goods, as well as videos of demonstrators setting up burning barricades on roads.

A man walks through debris blocking a road after riots in Fort-de-France, on the French Caribbean island of Martinique.
A man walks through debris blocking a road after riots in Fort-de-France, on the French Caribbean island of Martinique. Photograph: Loïc Venance/AFP/Getty Images

Reuters notes that France’s Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe have both been hit by unrest over the last week due to anger over Covid protocol measures, including moves to ramp COVID vaccination on the islands.

During the 20th century, many people on Guadeloupe were systematically exposed to toxic pesticides used in banana plantations, fuelling a distrust of medical interventions from the authorities.

People evacuate the wreckage of burnt cars that block a road in Fort-de-France, on the French Caribbean island of Martinique.
People evacuate the wreckage of burnt cars that block a road in Fort-de-France, on the French Caribbean island of Martinique. Photograph: Loïc Venance/AFP/Getty Images

The Caribbean region has been hit in recent weeks by a new wave of coronavirus infections that is causing lockdowns and flight cancellations and overwhelming hospitals, just as tourism was beginning to show signs of recovery.

Hello, it is Martin Belam, taking over here in London from Samantha Lock in Sydney. Here is a reminder of the current coronavirus figures from the UK.

There were 303,071 new cases in the last seven days, and that total is up 11.1% on the week before. Deaths are down 9.4% week-on-week and the number of people being admitted to hospital is down 11.6% week-on-week. The UK government’s dashboard states that there are 7,874 people in hospital, of whom 919 are in ventilation beds.

UK eligible public urged to get booster by 11 December

Ministers are urging millions of Britons to get their Covid booster jab by 11 December to ensure they have “very high protection against Covid by Christmas Day” as new evidence shows the risk of infection increases with the time since the second dose.

About 16 million people have had a booster vaccine or a third dose across the UK. Everyone aged 40 and over and the clinically extremely vulnerable are eligible to get a booster six months after their second jab.

“If you’re yet to get your first, second or booster dose, please do come forward for the jab as soon as possible,” said Maggie Throup, the vaccines minister.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson added: “People who have had their booster vaccine by 11 December will have very high protection against Covid by Christmas Day. Following a rise in cases and a return of lockdown restrictions in Europe, those eligible for a booster have been urged to take up the offer as soon as possible to protect themselves and their families, and help to reduce the pressure on the NHS.”

Read the full story here.

South Korean cult leader at centre of Covid outbreak

A little known sect led by a pastor who pokes eyes to heal is at the centre of a Covid outbreak in South Korea, as the country reported a new daily record of 4,116 cases and battles a rise in serious cases straining hospitals.

In a tiny, rural church in a town of 427 residents in Cheonan city, south of Seoul, at least 241 people linked to the religious community tested positive for coronavirus, a city official told Reuters on Wednesday.

“We believe the scale of the outbreak is large …” the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said in a statement.

Read the full story here.

Vaccines give people ‘false sense of security’, WHO says

The World Health Organization has issued a warning in the lead-up to Christmas, saying social mixing is back at pre-pandemic levels and threatens to spread the virus in the run-up to the holidays.

“We are concerned about a false sense of security that vaccines have ended the pandemic, and that people who are vaccinated do not need to take any other precautions,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

“Vaccines save lives, but they do not fully prevent transmission.”

Last week, more than 60% of all reported cases and deaths from Covid-19 globally were in Europe, Tedros told a news conference.

WHO emergency director Mike Ryan added: “We are back to pre-pandemic levels of social mixing (in Europe)… even in the midst of very strong resurgence in cases and even in the midst of some of those countries under high pressure in health systems.”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros)

We’re concerned about a false sense of security that vaccines have ended the #COVID19 pandemic. Vaccines save lives, but they do not fully prevent transmission. So please be careful and:

Wear a mask.

Keep distance.

Avoid crowds.

Open windows.

Clean hands. pic.twitter.com/p2crxQvGuu

November 24, 2021

Hello and thanks for joining us.

I’m Samantha Lock and I’ll be bringing you all the latest Covid developments from across the world this Thursday.

Germany, who weathered earlier bouts of the pandemic better than many of its neighbours, has now found itself back at the centre of Europe’s virus outbreak as the latest wave of the pandemic infects people at a record pace.

Officials recorded 100,119 Covid deaths as of Wednesday, according to the latest data from the RKI public health institute.

The World Health Organization has also issued a warning in the lead-up to Christmas, saying social mixing was back at pre-pandemic levels.

“We are concerned about a false sense of security that vaccines have ended the pandemic, and that people who are vaccinated do not need to take any other precautions,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

“We are back to pre-pandemic levels of social mixing (in Europe)… even in the midst of very strong resurgence in cases and even in the midst of some of those countries under high pressure in health systems,” WHO emergency director Mike Ryan added.

  • Novavax is expected to be approved as a fourth Covid vaccine in UK. Trials show the protein-based jab causes fewer side-effects. The British government has so far ordered 60m doses.
  • Covid cases surge 23% in Americas, mostly in North America, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said.
  • US air travel is set to be busiest since pandemic began due to Thanksgiving.

  • Germany’s next chancellor seeks targeted vaccine mandate. German Social Democrat Olaf Scholz called on Wednesday for vaccinations to be made compulsory for targeted groups.
  • Scientists say a new Covid variant that carries an “extremely high number” of mutations may drive further waves of disease by evading the body’s defences.
  • Italy unveiled new Covid measures banning the unvaccinated from numerous venues, extending compulsory vaccination and expanding booster shots to all adults.

  • Portugal’s health secretary pledged to give Covid booster shots to a quarter of the population by the end of January to tackle the “pandemic storm that has not yet passed”.
  • The World Health Organization director-general has declared that Europe is once again at the epicentre of the pandemic and warned that “no country or region is out of the woods”.
  • Countries should consider implementing mandatory Covid vaccination, the director of World Health Organization (WHO) Europe said today.
  • France is to announce new Covid measures as infections surge across the country.

Updated

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