Latest developments as Philippines reports record 26,458 cases and scientist says Omicron variant could become endemic in UK
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Brazil reported 49,303 fresh cases of Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, and 115 deaths from the virus, the health ministry said on Saturday.
The South American country has now registered 22,499,525 cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 619,937, according to ministry data.
Brazil’s Covid-19 death toll trails only that of the US and Russia, according to Reuters calculations.
Since a hacker attack on 10 December, some ministry databases have been offline, affecting monitoring of the pandemic, Reuters reports.
The US company Moderna donated 2.7m doses of coronavirus vaccine to Mexico on Saturday, after Mexico passed 300,000 test-confirmed coronavirus deaths this week.
The Associated Press reports:
[S]o little testing is done in the country that a government review of death certificates puts the real toll at almost 460,000.
Mexican officials welcomed the arrival of the shipment at the airport in Toluca, just west of Mexico City, and said the vaccines will be used to inoculate teachers.
Teachers in Mexico were second after only health care workers to be vaccinated in the spring.
In April and May, over 2.7 million teachers got initial shots. But most of them got the single-dose Chinese Cansino vaccine, whose effectiveness appears to decline over time.
Mexico has now obtained more than 200m doses of vaccines, and has been trying to reopen in-person learning at all levels.
Education secretary Delfina Gómez said: “We are grateful to recieve this donation, which will undoubtedly help more boys, girls and youths to come to classrooms with greater safety and confidence.”
Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has warned UK prime minister Boris Johnson that axing universal free lateral flow tests would be an “utterly wrongheaded” approach to dealing with coronavirus.
She urged Johnson against the move after it was reported they could be limited to high-risk settings – such as care homes, hospitals and schools – and to people with symptoms.
Sturgeon said the Scottish government had not signed up to the move, but if Johnson was “really considering this” it would be “utterly wrongheaded”.
“Hard to imagine much that would be less helpful to trying to ‘live with’ Covid,” she tweeted.
If UK government is really considering this (@scotgov certainly not signed up to it) it is utterly wrongheaded. Hard to imagine much that would be less helpful to trying to ‘live with’ Covid. https://t.co/CR72sm5bUI
Better question: What happens via Barnett Formula to @scotgov funding if UK government axes free tests?
Testing so vital, we’d have to consider continued funding but it would then come from existing budgets.
More evidence that current UK funding rules not fit for purpose https://t.co/PGowMTheaE
She questioned what would happen to funding for UK nations for testing under the Barnett formula if the British government went ahead with the move, adding: “Testing so vital, we’d have to consider continued funding but it would then come from existing budgets.”
The Department of Health and Social Care is yet to comment, but a government source disputed the report and said it was too early to say what the future holds for free lateral flows, PA reports.
The rapid tests were made available to everyone in England, including those without symptoms, in April.
The US has administered more than 518m doses of Covid-19 vaccine in the country as of Saturday morning and distributed 639.7 million doses, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
Those figures are up from the 516.6m vaccine doses the CDC said had gone into arms by Friday.
The agency said 246.4 million people had received at least one dose while 207.45 million people were fully vaccinated as of 6am EST on Saturday.
The CDC tally includes two-dose vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech , as well as Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine.
More than 74.6 million people received a booster dose since 13 August, when the United States authorised a third dose of the vaccines for people with compromised immune systems who are likely to have weaker protection from the two-dose regimens.
The UK Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Britain’s official coronavirus death toll passing 150,000 was a “dark milestone for our country”.
“Our thoughts are with all those who have lost someone, and we thank everyone supporting the vaccination effort,” he tweeted.
“We must ensure the public inquiry provides answers and that lessons are learned.”
The British government may stop giving out free lateral flow tests under plans for living with Covid, which prime minister Boris Johnson will announce within weeks, the Sunday Times reports.
After more than £6bn of public money has been spent on testing the population with lateral flow devices, the government could move to providing free tests only in high-risk settings such as care homes, hospitals and schools, and to people with symptoms, while the tracing of people who have come into contact with the infected by NHS Test and Trace is also likely to be scaled back.
A senior Whitehall source said:
I don’t think we are in a world where we can continue to hand out free lateral flow tests to everybody for evermore. It’s likely we will move to a scenario where there is less testing but where we have a capacity to ramp it up if necessary, such as in the winter.
Dissident Iranian poet and filmmaker Baktash Abtin, 48, has died after contracting Covid-19 in a hospital in the capital Tehran after being released on a furlough from prison where he was infected twice, Iranian news agencies said on Saturday.
“The poet and documentary filmmaker […], who had contracted Covid earlier also while serving his sentence, was transferred to a hospital in Tehran [but] the treatment did not succeed and he died today,” the semi-official ISNA news agency said.
Rights group PEN America said on Twitter: “Covid is a natural killer, but Abtin’s death was aided and abetted by the Iranian government every step of the way.”
Abtin was also hospitalised last year, when a picture showing him apparently shackled to a bed caused an uproar on social media, prompting the head of Iran’s prisons, Mohammad Mehdi Hajmohammadi, to tweet that those responsible had been “dealt with,” Reuters reports.
Abtin, who was serving a six-year sentence for “anti-government propaganda” and “actions against national security,” died shortly after PEN America and 18 other rights groups voiced concern over his treatment in a letter to Iran’s Supreme letter Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“Unfortunately, mistreatment of prisoners and denial of medical care is a systemic problem in Iranian prisons,” said the letter, posted on the website of Human Rights Watch.
Iran denies any mistreatment and its prisons directorate said Abtin was granted furlough 35 days ago to be moved to a private hospital by his relatives, state media reported.
The Philippines broke its own record for the highest single day tally of new Covid-19 cases, with 26,458 new infections reported by the health department as of 8 January 4pm local time.
102,017 people are currently reported as being sick with the virus, while the positivity rate also reached a new record high of 43.7%.
Acting presidential spokesperson Karlo Nograles on Saturday denied rumors that a “total lockdown” will be imposed in the country, CNN Philippines reports.
265 new deaths were logged, taking the death to toll to over 52,000, as well as 1,656 recoveries.
British prime minister Boris Johnson recognised the “terrible toll” on the UK after the total number of people to have died within 28 days of testing positive for coronavirus passed 150,000.
In a tweeted statement, Johnson said:
Coronavirus has taken a terrible toll on our country and today the number of deaths recorded has reached 150,000.
Each and every one of those is a profound loss to the families, friends and communities affected and my thoughts and condolences are with them.
Our way out of this pandemic is for everyone to get their booster or their first or second dose if they haven’t yet.
Prof Andrew Hayward, who advises the British government as part of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the statistic was “absolutely tragic”.
After hearing the testimony of a woman who lost two close relatives during the pandemic, the University College London academic told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme:
It is absolutely tragic and to think that’s been repeated so many times is awful.
I think we could have done better. I think some of the deaths are even more tragic for the fact that many of them were avoidable if we had acted earlier in the first and second wave.
Italy reported 197,552 Covid-19 related cases on Saturday, against 108,304 the day before, the health ministry said, while the number of deaths fell to 184 from 223.
A week ago, the country recorded 141,256 daily cases and 111 deaths.
Italy has registered 138,881 deaths linked to Covid-19 since the pandemic began, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the ninth highest in the world.
The country has logged 7.28 million cases to date.
The current explosion of infections with the Omicron variant in the US is causing a breakdown in basic functions and services across the country, with hospitals reaching capacity in Kansas, employee shortages in New York City causing delays in trash and subway services and diminishing the ranks of firefighters and emergency workers, and schools across the nation struggling to find enough teachers.
The Associated Press reports:
“This really does, I think, remind everyone of when Covid-19 first appeared and there were such major disruptions across every part of our normal life,” said Tom Cotter, director of emergency response and preparedness at the global health nonprofit Project HOPE.
“And the unfortunate reality is, there’s no way of predicting what will happen next until we get our vaccination numbers – globally – up.”
First responders, hospitals, schools and government agencies have employed an all-hands-on-deck approach to keep the public safe, but they are worried how much longer they can keep it up.
In Kansas’ Johnson County, paramedics are working 80 hours a week. Ambulances have frequently been forced to alter their course when the hospitals they’re heading to tell them they’re too overwhelmed to help, confusing the patients’ already anxious family members driving behind them.
[The Omicron variant’s] easy transmissibility has led to skyrocketing cases in the US, which is affecting businesses, government offices and public services alike.
In downtown Boise, Idaho, customers were queued up outside a pharmacy before it opened Friday morning and before long, the line wound throughout the large drugstore. Pharmacies have been slammed by staffing shortages, either because employees are out sick or have left altogether.
In Los Angeles, more than 800 police and fire personnel were sidelined because of the virus as of Thursday, causing slightly longer ambulance and fire response times.
In New York City, officials have had to delay or scale back trash and subway services because of a virus-fueled staffing hemorrhage. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said about one-fifth of subway operators and conductors – 1,300 people – have been absent in recent days. Almost one-fourth of the city sanitation department’s workers were out sick Thursday, Sanitation Commissioner Edward Grayson said.
“Everybody’s working ‘round the clock, 12-hour shifts,” Grayson said.
The city’s fire department also has adjusted for higher absences. Officials said Thursday that 28% of EMS workers were out sick, compared with about 8% to 10% on a normal day. Twice as many firefighters as usual were also absent.
At Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, two checkpoints at the airport’s busiest terminal were shut down because not enough Transportation Security Administration agents showed up for work, according to statements from airport and TSA officials.
Meanwhile, schools from coast to coast tried to maintain in-person instruction despite massive teacher absences.
In Chicago, a tense standoff between the school district and teachers union over remote learning and Covid-19 safety protocols led to classes being canceled over the past three days.
In San Francisco, nearly 900 educators and aides called in sick Thursday.
In Hawaii, where public schools are under one statewide district, 1,600 teachers and staff were absent Wednesday because of illness or pre-arranged vacation or leave.
The UK government said on Saturday a further 313 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, bringing the total number of deaths recorded in this way to 150,057.
The UK is the seventh country to pass 150,000 deaths, after the US, Brazil, India, Russia, Mexico and Peru.
Separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics show there have now been 174,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.
I’m Jedidajah Otte and will be taking over for the next few hours. If there’s anything you’d like to flag, feel free to get in touch via Twitter @JedySays or via email.
Here are the main developments in Covid-19 news from around the world so far on Saturday:
And that is it from me, Damien Gayle, for today. By for now!
Anti-vaccine protesters have rallied in cities across France, denouncing Emmanuel Macron’s intent to “piss off” people refusing COVID-19 shots by tightening curbs on their civil liberties.
The French president this week said he wanted to irritate unvaccinated people by making their lives so complicated they would end up getting jabbed. In Paris, protesters retorted by adopting his slangy wording, chanting “We’ll piss you off”.
Others carried signs saying “No to the vaccine pass”, a reference to Macron’s legislative push to require proof of vaccination to enter venues such as cafes, bars and museums.
TV images showed skirmishes between protesters and police at one site. Protesters also rallied through the streets in Marseille, Nantes and Le Mans among other cities.
“(Macron’s remarks) were the last straw. We are not irresponsible,” said hospital administrator Virginie Houget, who has avoided a mandatory vaccine order for health workers because she caught COVID-19 late last year.
The protesters accuse Macron of trampling on their freedoms and treating citizens unequally. He says freedoms carry responsibilities that include protecting the health of others.
France recorded more than 300,000 new coronavirus infections for the second time in a week on Friday. Hospitalisations, including COVID-19 patients in intensive care (ICU), are rising steadily, putting the healthcare system under strain.
Some hospitals have reported that some 85% of ICU patients are not vaccinated against COVID-19. Data shows that 90% of over-12s eligible for the COVID shot are fully vaccinated.
People in France already have to show either proof of vaccination or a negative test to enter restaurants and bars and use inter-regional trains. But with Omicron infections surging, the government wants to drop the test option.
Three months before a presidential election, Macron’s blunt language appeared to be calculated, tapping into a mounting frustration against the unvaccinated.
Conservative challenger Valerie Pecresse said Macron was driving a wedge through the country. Far-right candidate Eric Zemmour denounced what he called the president’s puerile remarks.
On the capital’s streets, protesters accused Macron of politicising the pandemic ahead of the election.
“I want him to piss off drug dealers and criminals, not the average person,” said one 55-year-old protester who requested anonymity because he runs a business.
Hundreds of people have rallied in Beirut to protest measures against the unvaccinated, saying individuals should have the right to decide whether to be inoculated or not.
Vaccination is not compulsory in Lebanon, but in recent days authorities have cracked down on people who are not vaccinated or who do not carry a negative PCR test result. Saturday’s protest by nearly 300 people in downtown Beirut came a day after the daily number of new coronavirus cases hit a record 7,974, the Associated Press reports.
The protest came days after authorities imposed fresh restrictions — including the requirement of a vaccination certificate or negative PCR test for entry into restaurants, hotels and similar venues.
“No to the dictatorship of vaccination,” read one banner carried by protesters.
The health minister, Firass Abiad, criticised the protesters, saying that over 20,000 people were vaccinated on Saturday alone as part of a government campaign focusing on students and teachers. Educational institutions are to resume classes on Monday.
“Vaccines are not mandatory, and are free. They are offered to everyone, including refugees and foreign migrant workers,” Abiad tweeted. “Finally, vaccines save lives, but for some, ignorance is bliss.”
“An Omicron wave that started three weeks ago in turning into a Tsunami. The situation in hospitals and ICUs remains stable, capacity is being boosted,” Abiad added.
Lebanon, with has a population of six million including a million Syrian refugees, has registered more than 760,000 cases and 9,250 deaths since discovering its first COVID-19 case in February 2020.
Daily COVID-19 epidemic situation in Iraq
8 January 2022 pic.twitter.com/YM4gJ2ZYjY
The crown princess of Sweden has tested positive for Covid-19 and is experiencing cold-like symptoms, the country’s royal court has announced.
Victoria’s parents, the king and queen of Sweden, both also tested positive this week, according to the Reuters news agency.
The royal court said in a statement that the crown princess, who has contracted the virus once before and has received a full course of coronavirus vaccines, was isolating at home with her family.