Here is a round-up of today’s top coronavirus news stories from the UK and around the world:
- The UK recorded a further 44,932 coronavirus cases and 145 new deaths from the virus today.
- The US will lift restrictions for international travellers who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 on 8 November, a White House official said on Friday, allowing people from dozens of countries to reunite with their families and take leisure trips to the US for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.
- Ministers are facing questions about the Covid testing company linked to suspected wrong PCR results, as it emerged its sister company in the UK is being investigated over travel testing failures and a related US firm sent out used DNA test kits filled with other customers’ saliva.
- Pfizer and BioNTech have requested their coronavirus vaccine be licensed for children aged five to 11 across the European Union.
- A panel of advisers to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have voted to recommend the authorisation of a second dose of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid vaccine for people aged 18 and older at least two months after the first dose.
- Australia’s capital Canberra has come out of lockdown with authorities reporting more than 99% of the population aged 12 and older having at least one dose of a Covid vaccine.
- Two of the three largest hospitals in Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius, stopped accepting non-urgent patients due to an influx of Covid cases, a hospital executive director said on Friday.
- European Union (EU) agencies are launching a year-long operation to crack down on fraud targeting the bloc’s multibillion-euro Covid pandemic recovery fund, EU police agency Europol announced today.
- Russia has again set a new record for the number of coronavirus-related deaths, with 999 fatalities recorded in the last 24 hours. There was also a record number of new cases recorded – 32,196. This is only the second time that Russia has officially recorded more than 30,000 new cases in a single day.
- In France, coronavirus tests are no longer free for unvaccinated adults unless they are prescribed by a doctor.
- The prevalence of Covid infections in England increased to about one in 60 people in the week ending 9 October, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said today.
- European Union (EU) countries have sent Covid drugs and equipment to treat patients in Romania, which is facing a surge in infections among unvaccinated people.
- South Africa will start vaccinating children between the ages of 12 and 17 next week using the Pfizer vaccine, the country’s health minister said today.
- Australia’s outbound travel ban will be lifted from 1 November in a move triggered by New South Wales announcing an end to quarantine for fully vaccinated arrivals.
- Saudi Arabia will ease Covid curbs from 17 October in response to a sharp drop in daily infections, State News Agency said, quoting an interior ministry official.
- South Korea said it would lift stringent anti-coronavirus curbs on social gatherings next week, as the country prepares to switch to a “living with Covid-19” strategy amid rising vaccination levels.
Well, that’s it from me, Tom Ambrose, and indeed the blog for today. Thanks for following along and have a good evening.
Remember you can catch up with the latest coronavirus coverage here.
US FDA advisers vote in favour of J&J vaccine booster
A panel of advisers to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have voted to recommend the authorisation of a second dose of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid vaccine for people aged 18 and older at least two months after the first dose.
After hearing presentations on booster options from J&J and FDA scientists, members of the advisory panel had asked if the company’s vaccine should actually be considered a two-dose shot for everyone, like the other Covid vaccines authorised for use in the United States.
They pointed to lower levels of virus neutralising antibodies the single shot provokes compared to two-shot vaccines using messenger RNA technology from Moderna and Pfizer Inc with partner BioNTech SE .
Also in the US, the Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot has taken her fight with the head of the city’s police officers union to court.
She is arguing that his call for officers to ignore the order to report their Covid vaccination status is illegal, the Associated Press reported.
The mayor said in a statement that the city’s law department filed a complaint in Cook County Circuit Court for injunctive relief against Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara, who she accused of “engaging in, supporting and encouraging work stoppage or strike.”
Lightfoot asked the court to prohibit the union and its officers from “engaging in any concerted refusal to submit vaccination status information” to the city’s portal.
She also asked it to order Catanzara to stop urging members to refuse to provide their vaccination status information and to “issue a retraction and disavowal of his … directives to FOP members that they refuse to submit vaccination status information.”
Lightfoot said that by urging union members to not report their Covid by Friday’s deadline, Catanzara put the public in danger.
A New Mexico judge has denied a request by dozens of scientists and others at Los Alamos National Laboratory who sought to block a vaccine mandate.
Workers risk being fired if they don’t comply with the lab’s Friday afternoon deadline, the Associated Press reported.
The case comes as New Mexico extends its mask mandate for indoor spaces.
While the vaccination rate among adults in New Mexico hovers around 71.5%, the rate among lab employees is much higher.
Still, 114 workers sued, saying the mandate violates their constitutional rights and that lab management has created a hostile work environment.
Attorneys for the lab argued that being vaccinated is a condition of working there.
The US will lift restrictions for international travellers who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 on 8 November, a White House official said on Friday, allowing people from dozens of countries to reunite with their families and take leisure trips to the US for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.
White House assistant press secretary Kevin Munoz said international air and land travel would be permitted for vaccinated travellers on 8 November.
“This policy is guided by public health, stringent and consistent,” Munoz said in a tweet.
Early last year, the US banned visitors from more than 30 countries, including China, the UK and most of the EU, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
On 20 September, the White House said it would lift these restrictions in November, but had not said what date it would lift them.
Countries affected by the restrictions and the travel industry have been lobbying the US for months to make it easier for people to travel between the countries.
US travel industry stocks rose on Friday morning in response to the news, with air carrier American Airlines up 1.9%, hotel group Marriott International up 2.2% and the cruise line company Carnival Corp up 1.3%, according to the Reuters news agency.
Under current policy, only US citizens, their immediate families, green card holders and those with national interest exemptions (NIE) can travel into the US if they have been in the restricted countries in the past two weeks.
After the restrictions are lifted on 8 November, foreign travellers entering the US by air will have to provide a recent negative Covid-19 test and proof of vaccination before boarding the flight.
Italy reported 42 coronavirus-related deaths on Friday, up from 40 the previous day, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections fell to 2,732 from 2,668.
Italy has registered 131,503 deaths linked to Covid since the outbreak in February last year.
It has the second highest toll in Europe behind Britain and the ninth highest in the world. The country has reported 4.71 million cases to date.
Patients in hospital with Covid – not including those in intensive care – stood at 2,445 on Friday, down from 2,479 a day earlier.
There were 20 new admissions to intensive care units, decreasing from 22 on Thursday. The total number of patients in intensive care with Covid fell to 357 from a previous 359.
Some 506,043 tests for Covid were carried out in the past day, compared with a previous 324,614, the health ministry said.
The US Embassy in Pakistan has announced Washington is sending an additional 9.6 million doses of Pfizer vaccines to Islamabad in partnership with the COVAX global vaccine initiative.
According to an embassy statement, the latest donation brings the total number of Covid vaccines donated by the US government to Pakistan to more than 25 million. It said:
These Pfizer vaccines are part of the 500 million Pfizer doses the United States purchased this summer to deliver to 92 countries worldwide, including Pakistan.
It added that the United States is the single largest contributor supporting COVAX efforts toward global Covid vaccines access, the Associated Press reported.
The latest development comes amid a steady decline in the fourth wave of coronavirus in Pakistan which has reported 28,228 fatalities from coronavirus among 12,62,771 cases since last year.
Pfizer and BioNTech have requested their coronavirus vaccine be licensed for children aged five to 11 across the European Union.
If authorised, it would be the first opportunity for younger children in Europe to be get immunised against Covid, the Associated Press reported.
In a statement on Friday, Pfizer and BioNTech said they had submitted data to the European Medicines Agency, including late-stage results from a study testing their Covid vaccine in more than 2,200 children aged six months to 11 years, using a lower dose than what’s normally given to adults.
The companies said those results showed a “strong immune response” in the children and that the vaccine was also found to be safe.
There are currently no Covid vaccines licensed for use in children younger than 12 in Europe or North America. The shots made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are authorised for children 12 and older in the European Union.
Earlier this month, Pfizer and BioNTech asked the US Food and Drug Administration to green light their vaccine for kids aged five to 11.
Ministers are facing questions about the Covid testing company linked to suspected wrong PCR results, as it emerged its sister company in the UK is being investigated over travel testing failures and a related US firm sent out used DNA test kits filled with other customers’ saliva.
Immensa Health Clinic is under scrutiny after the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) found at least 43,000 people may have been wrongly given a negative Covid test result, leading to the suspension of operations at its privately run laboratory in Wolverhampton.
It followed an investigation into reports of people receiving negative PCR test results after previously testing positive on a lateral flow device, many of them in the south-west and Wales.
Immensa was founded in May 2020 by Andrea Riposati, a former management consultant and owner of a DNA testing company, just three months before it was awarded a £119m PCR testing contract by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). He is the sole listed owner and board director.
Riposati is also the founder of Dante Labs, which is under investigation in the UK by the Competition and Markets Authority over its PCR travel tests.
The watchdog said it would look into concerns that Dante Labs may be treating customers unfairly by not delivering PCR tests or results on time or at all, failing to respond to complaints or provide proper customer service, refusing or delaying refunds when requested and using terms and conditions that may unfairly limit consumers’ rights.
UK records 44,932 new Covid cases and 145 deaths today
The UK recorded a further 44,932 coronavirus cases and 145 new deaths from the virus today.
The data released by the government on Friday represents a slight decline when compared to yesterday’s figures.
On Thursday, there were 45,066 new infections registered, as well as 157 new deaths.
Australia’s capital Canberra has come out of lockdown with authorities reporting more than 99% of the population aged 12 and older having at least one dose of a Covid vaccine.
Sydney came out of lockdown on Monday, with only 73.5% of the population aged 16 and older who were fully vaccinated allowed to enjoy the new freedoms including going to restaurants, hairdressers and non-essential shopping.
But the new freedoms in Canberra from Friday apply to all because of the extraordinarily high vaccination rate, Reuters reported.
By Friday, 76% of the population aged 12 and older were fully vaccinated.
New South Wales state, which includes Sydney, has announced it will end hotel quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated international travellers from 1 November in a major relaxation in pandemic restrictions.
About one in 60 people in England had Covid-19 last week, according to estimates published on Friday.
The prevalence of infection was up for a third straight week, having been at about one in 70 the previous week, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
At the peak of the second wave in early January, about one in 50 people were estimated to have coronavirus. The latest estimate of one in 60 equates to about 890,000 people.
While the government has continued to insist it will rely on vaccines rather than lockdowns to navigate a difficult winter, some experts have expressed concern about the rise.
Prevalence was highest once again in secondary school pupils, prompting Prof Christina Pagel, the director of University College London’s clinical operational research unit, to reiterate criticism of preparations for the return of children to schools. An estimated 8.1% of all secondary pupils were infected, up from 6.93% the previous week.
“When are we going to say enough is enough and protect kids?” tweeted Pagel, who co-authored a piece in the Guardian last week that noted countries such as France and Germany were using extra measures as part of a “vaccine-plus strategy” designed to keep cases and deaths low.
Cases have also increased among people in England over 50, who were among the first to receive vaccines and are now being given booster shots.
Saudi Arabia will ease Covid curbs from 17 October in response to a sharp drop in daily infections, State News Agency said, quoting an interior ministry official.
The government will lift social distancing measures and allow full-capacity attendance at the country’s two Holy Mosques in Mecca and Medina, the agency added.