UK reports 205 new coronavirus-related deaths and 41,130 cases; Ireland to drop most curbs – as it happened – The Guardian

Ireland will drop most restrictions, including mandatory face masks, on Monday
The UK has reported 205 daily Covid-19 deaths within 28 days of a positive test compared with 15 deaths on Monday. A further 41,130 new cases were reported compared with 38,409 cases the previous day.
We are now closing today’s live blog. Here is a round-up of developments:
Scotland Yard said there will be no further action following an assessment of allegations made about the UK’s Covid-19 vaccine programme, PA Media reports.
The Metropolitan Police said a number of documents were submitted at a west London police station on 20 December in support of claims alleging people in the UK Parliament and other organisations had suppressed information about the severity of health implications for those taking the vaccine.
Police said it was suggested by the complainants that offences including gross negligent manslaughter and misconduct in a public office may have taken place.
Following an assessment of all the available evidence, the Met said:

it is clear that no criminal offences are apparent.
The force said it will not be launching a criminal investigation and no further action will be taken in relation to the allegations.
Deputy assistant commissioner Jane Connors said:

The vaccines in use against Covid-19 have been approved by all the relevant national and international regulatory bodies.
They underwent multiple trials and were subject to stringent approval processes. They are in use in more than 100 countries.
We have found no evidence to support any claims that information about adverse health implications is being suppressed or withheld from the public in the manner that was alleged.
The BA.2 variant of the Omicron coronavirus strain is not more severe than the original, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

Maria Van Kerkhove, a senior WHO official, said that based on a sample of people from various countries “we are not seeing a difference in severity of BA.1 compared to BA.2”, Agence France-Presse reported.

Have questions about Omicron and its sub-lineages like BA.2? Dr @mvankerkhove and Dr @AnuragAgrawalMD explain ⬇️https://t.co/5V6HmtU6zp #COVID19 pic.twitter.com/HURWmoeleq
Van Kerkhove added:

So this is a similar level of severity as it relates to risk of hospitalisation. And this is really important, because in many countries they’ve had a substantial amount of circulation, both of BA.1 and BA.2.
Van Kerkhove, who leads the technical side of the WHO’s Covid-19 response team, was reporting the findings of a committee of experts tracking the evolution of the virus.

The WHO said in a statement that initial data suggests the new BA.2 variant “appears inherently more transmissible than BA.1,” and that further studies are ongoing to discover why this is the case.

“However the global circulation of all variants is reportedly declining,” it added.
Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, the country’s fifth-largest lender, said it plans to bring its local staff back to office starting on 21 March as Omicron-related infections ebb.
The Canadian employees, who had been asked to work remotely in December as infections resurged, would return to office on a hybrid basis, Sandy Sharman, group head of people, culture and brand at CIBC, said in a memo seen by Reuters.
Meanwhile, the bank’s US-based staff started to return on a voluntary basis on 28 January.
A GP in England has warned patient care will be impacted if NHS staff are unable to access free coronavirus tests from April.
Dr Nishant Joshi, a 33-year-old GP based in Bedfordshire, south east England, told PA Media:

We’re going out to see patients every day at care homes, residential homes, their own homes. These are very vulnerable patients.
I just worry that we’re going back to treating some of our most vulnerable patients like sitting ducks once again.
Dr Joshi also warned the cost for staff to get tests for themselves could be problematic, adding:

We talk about the cost of a loaf of bread (and) a pint of milk. Are we going to have to start adding in the price of Covid tests as well into our weekly budget? It just seems completely unreasonable at a time when things have never been more expensive.
Nurses at food banks: how can you look these nurses in the eye and say ‘we know you’re struggling but also we’re going to ask you to pay more?’
It’s just a very unreasonable thing to do at a time when NHS staff have enough to worry about.
Brazil has had 816 Covid-19 deaths and 105,776 new cases were reported in the past 24 hours, the health ministry said.
Yesterday there were 318 deaths and 37,339 new cases.
The number of new coronavirus cases around the world fell 21% in the past week, marking the third consecutive week that cases have dropped, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.
The Associated Press reports:

In the UN health agency’s weekly pandemic report, WHO said there were more than 12 million new coronavirus infections last week. The number of new Covid-19 deaths fell 8% to about 67,000 worldwide, the first time that weekly deaths have fallen since early January.
The Western Pacific was the only region that saw an increase in Covid-19 cases, with a 29% jump, while the number of infections elsewhere dropped significantly.
The number of new deaths also rose in the Western Pacific and Africa while they fell everywhere else.
The highest number of new Covid-19 cases were in Russia, Germany, Brazil, the US and South Korea.
WHO said Omicron remains the overwhelmingly dominant variant worldwide, accounting for more than 99% of sequences shared with the world’s biggest virus database. It said Delta was the only other variant of significance, which comprised fewer than 1% of shared sequences.
WHO’s Europe chief Dr Hans Kluge says the region is now entering a “plausible endgame” for the virus and said there is now a “singular opportunity” for authorities to end the acute phase of the pandemic.
Boots is to offer individual lateral flow tests for as much as £5.99, including delivery, from Wednesday as retailers gear up for the end of widely available free tests.
The UK’s biggest pharmacy business said customers would be able to order one test online from Wednesday or pay £17 for a pack of four, including delivery within two days. These tests will include the option to send results to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) but they cannot be used for travel requiring a negative antigen test certificate.
From early March, Boots said it would be possible to pick up lateral flow tests in more than 400 of its stores for £2.50 for one or £12 for a pack of five. These cheaper tests will also be available online with four tests priced at £9.50. These tests don’t have the UKHSA reporting function.

Read more here.
People have struggled to order lateral flow tests online as there is a scramble for free kits while they are still available in England.
The number of free tests available each day will be capped to “manage demand” as the government scales back free testing for people in England.
Tests ordered online are only available every three days, when previously people could order a new pack every 24 hours, PA Media reports.
The public has been encouraged not to stockpile test packs but since the changes were announced the system has been overwhelmed with people trying to order the kits.
A message on the government testing portal states:

Sorry, there are no home delivery slots left for rapid lateral flow tests right now.
The UK Health Security Agency said that test availability is refreshed regularly so people are encouraged to re-visit the site every few hours as more will become available.
The first glimpse of a Partygate questionnaire confirms that Downing Street insiders are being questioned under police caution – and asked if they have a “reasonable excuse” for attending lockdown-busting gatherings.
Boris Johnson has already returned his replies to the Metropolitan police’s questions, and is believed to have argued that he attended social events in No 10 in a work capacity.
A copy of one of the official questionnaires, obtained by ITV, shows it includes the police caution: “You do not have to say anything but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you subsequently rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.”

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said: “This is an embarrassment that for the first time in UK history we have a PM interviewed under police caution.”
Read the full story here.
More discussion on the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions in England.
PA Media reports on reaction from the Lords.
Labour peer Baroness Smith of Basildon said:

Most people want to do the right thing, but will struggle with on one hand guidance about the need to self-isolate if possible but on the other pressures either financial or through an employer forcing them to work.
What about those working with the most vulnerable people? In the statement Mr Johnson merely offered the Government was working with retailers to supply tests. So can the she (Baroness Evans of Bowes) shed further light on this? Including whether reports of £3 per each individual test is accurate and whether the price will be fixed?
Liberal Democrat Lords leader Lord Newby criticised the prime minister’s “lack of self-awareness” in easing Covid rules after allegedly breaking them by attending parties at Downing Street.
He added:

If faced with eating or heating or paying for a Covid test, it is pretty obvious what is going to be the lowest priority.
So we have real concerns about getting rid of free testing, especially for those who are either vulnerable or have family who are vulnerable.
Scotland’s first minister has said scrapping Covid-19 testing capacity would be “inexcusable negligence”, PA Media reports.
Nicola Sturgeon said Scotland would “retain a robust testing system” over the coming months, as she announced that all legal restrictions in response to Covid-19 could end on 21 March if the downward trajectory of the virus continues.
She added that the system would move away from mass testing of those without symptoms to a more targeted approach which will be laid out next month.
She said in her statement of Covid-19 tests:

We consider it important – in line with the principle of healthcare free at the point of use – that they should remain free of charge for any circumstance in which government recommends testing.
Asked by Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross why she was “creating a fight” with the UK Government over testing, Ms Sturgeon said:

I’ve had many discussions with UK government representatives in the past days on this issue and we all agree that, I think, in time we should move to a more targeted system of testing.
The difference between the Scottish government and the UK government is that we should do that in a careful, phased basis and that we should give great care and thought to the testing infrastructure built up in the past two years that we retain for the future.
To dismantle that in any significant way, I think, would be inexcusable negligence given the threats that Covid still presents to us.
The first minister said it was “deeply regrettable” there had been no clarity on the long-term funding for testing, but added that the Scottish government would “continue to work with” the UK government on the matter.
Northern Ireland’s health minister has warned he will not be rushed into making decisions around Covid tests.
Robin Swann was speaking after prime minister Boris Johnson announced an end to free universal symptomatic and asymptomatic testing for the general public in England from 1 April.
DUP MP Sammy Wilson said that Northern Ireland follow England’s lead however Sinn Fein, Alliance and the SDLP have urged caution.
On Tuesday evening Mr Swann emphasised said:

I will not be rushed into making decisions on Covid testing based on timetables set elsewhere.
I have asked officials to draw up policy options based on an appropriate, proportionate approach to testing in NI.
In the meantime, there will be no changes to the current approach.
Looking ahead, testing will continue to have a role, especially in protecting the most vulnerable.
Further discussions on funding will be required with the UK Government and NI Ministerial colleagues.
I will not be rushed into making decisions on COVID testing based on timetables set elsewhere. I have asked officials to draw up policy options based on an appropriate, proportionate approach to testing in NI. In the meantime, there will be no changes to the current approach. 1/2
Looking ahead, testing will continue to have a role, especially in protecting the most vulnerable.

Further discussions on funding will be required with the UK Government and NI Ministerial colleagues. 2/2
Northern Ireland is currently without a fully functioning Executive following the resignation of first minister Paul Givan earlier this month which also forced deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill from the joint office.
However other Executive ministers, who remain in post, have indicated their preference to keep free Covid testing, PA Media reports.
Finance minister Conor Murphy said he wants to see free testing continue, but warned that Stormont will have tough choices to make without funding from Westminster for free testing.
A judge has denied bail to one of the leading organisers behind the protests in Canada against Covid-19 restrictions and prime minister Justin Trudeau, the Associated Press reports.
Ontario court justice Julie Bourgeois said Tuesday she believed there was a substantial likelihood Tamara Lich would re-offend if released.
Lich has been a key organiser of the protest that paralysed the streets around Parliament Hill for more than three weeks. The trucker protest, dubbed the ‘Freedom Convoy’, also grew until it closed a handful of Canada-US border posts. They have since ended.
Lich was arrested last Thursday and charged with counselling to commit mischief and promised during a bail hearing on Saturday to give up her advocacy of the protest and return to Alberta.
A separate bail hearing is scheduled on Tuesday for fellow protest organiser Pat King.
King was arrested on Friday and faces charges of mischief, counselling to commit mischief, counselling to commit the offence of disobeying a court order and counselling to obstruct police.
Lich’s bail decision came the day after Canadian lawmakers voted to support the government’s use of measures under the Emergencies Act.
Ottawa police have made 196 arrests, with 110 facing a variety of charges. Police also said 115 vehicles connected to the protest have been towed.
The UK has reported 205 daily Covid-19 deaths within 28 days of a positive test compared with 15 deaths on Monday. A further 41,130 new cases were reported compared with 38,409 cases the previous day.
Italy has reported 322 coronavirus-related deaths up from 201. There were a further 60,029 daily Covid-19 cases against 24,408 the day before, the health ministry said.
France has reported 97,382 new daily coronavirus cases compared with 17,195 yesterday. A further 2,842 are in intensive care units for Covid-19, this is down by 63.
There have been 109,240 Coronavirus deaths in hospital, up by 286.

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