Covid news: UK cases exceed 10 million as Botswana finds ‘horrific’ new variant

·21-min read
Covid news: UK cases exceed 10 million as Botswana finds ‘horrific’ new variant

The number of UK Covid cases exceeded 10 million on Thursday after official figures showed there were 47,240 new cases.

The total number of coronavirus infections in the UK – one of the worst-affected countries in Europe – now stands at 10,021,497.

Elsewhere, scientists have issued a warning over a Covid variant with an “incredibly high” number of mutations. It is feared that the B.1.1529, or Botswana variant – an off-shoot of the B.1.1 – could drive further transmission of the virus, although few cases have been confirmed and experts have said there is not yet any cause for concern.

The first cases found were three in Botswana, followed by another six cases in South Africa, and one in Hong Kong involving a traveller returning from South Africa.

Key Points

  • Slovakia enters two-week lockdown

  • France to announce booster shots for all adults

  • UK study: jab safe for pregnant women

  • Scientists warn of new Botswana variant of Covid with ‘horrific’ number of mutations

  • 47,240 new cases and 147 deaths

  • Total UK Covid cases exceeds 10 million

  • Portugal tightens Covid rules including travel test requirement

‘Real concern'

11:42 , Matt Mathers

Generally, spike mutations allow viruses to adapt and become more virulent, and more able to evade natural and vaccine immunity.

Dr Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, said the variant could be “of real concern” as its 32 mutations in its spike protein could enable it to more easily evade a person’s immune system and spread to more people.

My colleague Lamiat Sabin has more details below:

Scientists warn of new Botswana variant of Covid with ‘horrific’ number of mutations

Cases continue to rise in France

11:45 , Matt Mathers

On Wednesday, before reports of booster shots emerged, health authorities in France recorded over 30,000 new infections for a second day in a row, a sequence unseen since end-April.

The seven-day moving average of daily new cases - which evens out reporting irregularities - stands at a three-month high of 21,761 and has almost quadrupled in a month.

The number of people treated in intensive care for Covid is nearly 1,500, a figure last seen at the end of September.

President Emmanuel Macron's government said it would focus on tougher social distancing rules and a faster booster shot programme and that it wanted to avoid imposing lockdowns again as some other European countries have done.

Germany hits grim milestone of 100,000 deaths

12:00 , Matt Mathers

Official figures released Thursday show Germany has become the latest country to pass the grim milestone of 100,000 deaths from Covid since the pandemic began.Germany’s disease control agency says it recorded 351 additional deaths in connection with the coronavirus over the past 24 hours, taking the total toll to 100,119.In Europe, Germany is the fifth country to pass that mark, after Russia, the United Kingdom, Italy and France.

EU to propose nine-month limit on Covid travel certificates

12:20 , Matt Mathers

The EU will propose introducing a nine-month time limit on Covid vaccine certificates for travel, it has been reported.

According to Bloomberg, the bloc will urge countries to continue accepting tourists but prioritise those who have had a jab in the previous nine months.

The plan is expected to be announced later, Bloomberg said.

Russia records 1,238 deaths in 24 hours

12:40 , Matt Mathers

Russia has confirmed 33,796 new Covid cases and 1,238 deaths over the past 24 hours.

The cases have been confirmed in 85 regions in Russia, the federal response centre said on Thursday.

In the same 24 hours, 38,450 patients were discharged from hospitals across the country.

Turkey’s domestic vaccine applies for emergency authorisation

13:00 , Matt Mathers

Turkey's domestically developed vaccine, Turkovac, has applied for emergency authorisation, health minister Fahrettin Koca said on Thursday, 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 vaccine Turkovac has applied for emergency authorisation as of today," Koca said.

Cancer treatment and organ transplants postponed in Netherlands due to Covid surge

13:16 , Matt Mathers

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

The Dutch Hospital Association for Critical Care said it had asked health minister Hugo de Jonge to escalate the national plan to a stage under which regular care requiring an overnight stay would be cancelled.

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. Several patients were transferred to German hospitals this week.

France confirms extended booster programme but no lockdown

13:35 , Matt Mathers

France has launched a plan Thursday to give Covid booster shots to all adults, as it opted against a further lockdown or curfew to help combat a worrying uptick in infections in the country.

Health minister Olivier Veran laid out the plans during a press conference in which he announced a reduction in the time gap between second and third shots from six to five months. He said France already has enough vaccines to launch the nationwide booster campaign.

Oliver Veran announcing new Covid measures (AP)
Oliver Veran announcing new Covid measures (AP)

Veran also laid out a swathe of measures seen as tightening the use of masks in public areas and said that the country's COVID pass, which is required in many indoor places across the country, will become invalid if a person has not received a booster shot within seven months of a second dose.

He said that there are ten times more unvaccinated people currently hospitalized because of the virus than vaccinated ones, adding that without the vaccine the country would already be in a lockdown situation.

Slovakia locks down to curb highest infection rate in the world

13:54 , Matt Mathers

Slovakia went into a two-week lockdown on Thursday, as the country with one of the EU's lowest vaccination rates reported a critical situation in hospitals and new infections that topped global tables.

Slovakia, a country of 5.5 million, ordered all but essential shops and services closed and banned people from travelling outside their districts unless going to work, school, or a doctor. Gatherings of more than six people were banned.

The decision comes as coronavirus cases surge across Europe, making the continent the centre of the pandemic again, and follows neighbouring Austria which started a lockdown on Monday.

In the city of Trencin, 130 km (81 miles) north of Bratislava, musical instrument shop manager Roman Spatny said his income was tied to sales and would vanish with another lost Christmas season.

"For us this is a plain knife in the back. We have to be closed at a time that business-wise is the most important for us, same as last year," he said. "Important decisions are taken from one hour to the next. There is no way to properly react to this."

Student Natalia Paskova, 17, saw little choice: "The situation is getting worse so the decisions are justified," she said.

UK study: vaccines safe for pregnant women

14:27 , Matt Mathers

Vaccines are safe for pregnant women and not associated with higher rates of complications, data released by the UK Health Security Agency on Thursday showed as officials urged pregnant women to take up the offer of shots.

The real-world data from the rollout of Covid jabs in Britain support other studies around the world that the vaccines are safe to give at any stage of pregnancy, the UKHSA said.

It found that there were no substantial differences in rates of stillbirths, rates of births of babies with low birthweight and the proportion of premature births between vaccinated women and unvaccinated women.

 (PA)
(PA)

Officials said the data were especially reassuring given that the first pregnant women to be offered the vaccine were those with underlying health conditions who would be expected to be at a higher risk of complications.

"Every pregnant woman who has not yet been vaccinated should feel confident to go and get the jab, and that this will help to prevent the serious consequences of catching Covid in pregnancy," said Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at UKHSA.

Hungary ready to jab 5-11 year olds

14:35 , Matt Mathers

Hungary is ready to inoculate 5-11-year-old children after the European Medicines Agency approved the use of Pfizer-BioNTech's Covid vaccine for the age group, the government said in a statement on Thursday.

Like a raft of countries across Europe, Hungary is experiencing a surge in infections.

Some 12,000 cases were recorded on Wednesday and the country’s seven-day average stands at just under 10,000 - up from less than 1,000 at the beginning of October.

‘Heavy measures' to be introduced in the Netherlands

15:01 , Matt Mathers

The Dutch government plans a set of "heavy measures" to slow the current record wave of new Covid cases the country is facing, health minister Hugo de Jonge said on Thursday, but it has not made a final decision on what they will be.

"That heavy measures will be needed is beyond doubt," De Jonge told reporters in The Hague after health authorities reported more than 20,000 new cases in the past 24 hours. The government is expected to announce new restrictions on Friday.

‘Every day counts’ in tackling 5th wave, Merkel says

15:14 , Matt Mathers

Germany is in a phase of exponential growth in numbers of coronavirus cases, Chancellor Angela Merkel said, adding that every day counted when it came to enacting social distancing measures designed to slow its spread.

Some of outgoing conservative chancellor's allies have criticised Social Democrat Olaf Scholz's government-in-waiting for declining to extend some lockdown measures that were put in place by Merkel's government. Merkel said more social distancing measures were needed.

"The situation is so serious because we are seeing exponential growth," she said. "And the people who get ill today are the ones who will be in intensive care in 10 to 14 days' time...Every day counts."

Merkel: ‘Sad day’ as Germany marks 100,000 deaths

15:37 , Tom Batchelor

Angela Merkel has said Thursday is “a very sad day” after Germany surpassed 100,000 Covid deaths.

The national disease control agency said it recorded 351 deaths in connection with the coronavirus over the past 24 hours, taking the total toll to 100,119.

In Europe, Germany is the fifth country to pass that mark, after the UK, Russia, Italy and France.

“It is of course a very sad day that we have to mourn 100,000 victims of the coronavirus,” Ms Merkel said at a news conference in Berlin.

“And unfortunately, at the moment, more than 300 deaths are being added to that each day.

“(The deaths) correlate very clearly with the number of infections that are occurring. We know how many people on average do not survive this disease.”

Covid jabs safe in pregnancy, figures show

15:53 , Tom Batchelor

Experts are urging more mothers-to-be to have a Covid-19 vaccine as new data for England shows the jabs are safe in pregnancy.

Figures published by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) show women who have had a Covid vaccine are no more likely than the unvaccinated to suffer stillbirth, premature birth or have babies with low birthweight.

Experts described the findings as reassuring, with Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the UKHSA, saying: “Every pregnant woman who has not yet been vaccinated should feel confident to go and get the jab.”

The call was backed by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), which said women should not risk contracting Covid-19, which can have “serious consequences for both mother and baby”, particularly in the late stages of pregnancy.

47,240 new cases and 147 deaths

16:21 , Tom Batchelor

There have been 47,240 new cases and 147 deaths recorded on Thursday.

Total UK Covid cases exceeds 10 million

16:23 , Tom Batchelor

The number of UK Covid cases exceeded 10 million on Thursday after official figures showed there were 47,240 new cases.

The total number of coronavirus infections now stands at 10,021,497.

The UK has been one of the worst affected countries in Europe.

Lockdown fatigue ‘contributed to dwindling number of people adhering to rules'

16:50 , Tom Batchelor

Lockdown fatigue could have contributed to a dwindling number of people adhering to the rules, a new study suggests.

Researchers used anonymised mobile phone data to assess over one million people’s movements during the pandemic.

Their study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, looked at the visits people made to other homes from March 2020 to May this year.

They saw a significant drop-off in visits when the first lockdown was announced.

When the second and third lockdowns were announced, people reduced contacts but to a much lesser extent.

Just one in 10 Americans has had their Covid booster vaccine

17:06 , Tom Batchelor

Only one in 10 people in the US have had their booster shots, according to Our Word in Data.

More than 607,000 new coronavirus cases have been reported in the US in the past week, according to Johns Hopkins University, with 7,970 people dying from the disease in the last seven days.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that the seven-day daily average of new coronavirus cases has increased by around 30 per cent in the last two weeks.

Here is the story:

Just one in 10 Americans has had their Covid booster shot

Everything we know about the B.1.1529 variant

17:19 , Tom Batchelor

A new variant of Covid-19 has emerged, known as B.1.1529.

The World Health Organisation relies on the Greek alphabet to name new variants of concern, which means B.1.1529 could eventually be called Nu, as this is the next available letter.

Here is everything we know about it:

Everything we know about the B.1.1529 variant

Czech Republic orders bars to close at 10pm

17:36 , Tom Batchelor

The Czech government on Thursday ordered bars and clubs to close at 10pm and banned Christmas markets in an attempt to tackle one of the world’s highest coronavirus infection rates.

More than 25,000 new cases were registered on Tuesday, a new record, and an average of 1,516 daily Covid-19 cases per million population over the past week, the third highest in the world behind Slovakia and Austria, according to Our World in Data.

The Czech Republic has vaccinated 58.5% of the total population, below the EU average of 65.8%, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Health ministry data showed that 70% of patients in intensive care were unvaccinated. There were nearly 6,000 coronavirus patients in hospitals and around 850 in intensive care, the data showed.

470,000 lives saved among over 60s across Europe, says WHO

17:49 , Tom Batchelor

Some 470,000 lives have been saved among those aged 60 years and over since the start of the vaccination roll-out in 33 countries across Europe, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

A new study by the WHO Regional Office for Europe and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said the rapid development and administration of vaccines provided much-needed protection from severe disease and death for millions.

Dr Hans Henri Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe said: “Covid-19 has exacted a devastating death toll in our region, but we can now categorically say that without Covid-19 vaccines as a tool to contain this pandemic, many more people would have died.

“The Covid-19 vaccines are a marvel of modern science and what this research shows is that they’re doing what they promised, that is saving lives, offering very high protection against severe illness and death.

“In some countries, the death toll would have been double what it is now without the vaccines. It is therefore critically important that all member states in the European region achieve high coverage for people in the at-risk groups as soon as possible.

“Countries with lower vaccination uptake rates must continue to prioritise those who are at highest risk and protect the vulnerable groups as rapidly as possible.

“But vaccines must be accompanied by a range of preventive measures to keep transmission levels low and keep society open.”

More than 100 specimens of new Covid-19 variant in South Africa

18:04 , Tom Batchelor

South African scientists say they have detected around 100 specimens of a new Covid-19 variant and are working to understand its potential implications.

The variant - called B.1.1.529 - has a “very unusual constellation” of mutations, which are concerning because they could help it evade the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible, scientists told reporters at a news conference.

Early signs from diagnostic laboratories suggest the variant has rapidly increased in the most populated province of Gauteng and may already be present in the country’s other eight provinces, they said.

The variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong, with the Hong Kong case a traveller from South Africa. As many as 90 per cent of new cases in Gauteng could be B.1.1.529, scientists believe.

“Although the data are limited, our experts are working overtime with all the established surveillance systems to understand the new variant and what the potential implications could be,” the scientists said in a statement.

Portugal tightens Covid rules including travel test requirement

18:20 , Tom Batchelor

Portugal has reimposed some restrictions to stop a surge in Covid-19 cases, ordering all passengers flying into the country, even those fully vaccinated, to show a negative test on arrival.

“It doesn’t matter how successful the vaccination was, we must be aware we are entering a phase of greater risk,” Prime Minister Antonio Costa told a news conference on Thursday.

“We have seen significant growth (in cases) in the EU and Portugal is not an island.”

Mr Costa has also announced those fully vaccinated must also present a negative coronavirus test to enter nightclubs, bars, large events and care homes, and reimposed mandatory mask-wearing in indoor spaces.

Hertfordshire highest and London lowest for vaccine booster uptake

18:44 , Tom Batchelor

Nearly two-thirds of all people aged 50 and over in some local areas of England are likely to have received an extra dose of Covid-19 vaccine - though the figure is closer to one-third in a handful of places.

The differences in take-up have been revealed by figures that show for the first time the number of extra doses delivered by local authority area.

Hertsmere in Hertfordshire is estimated to have the highest proportion of people aged 50 and over to have received either a booster or third dose of vaccine, at 66.3%.

Stratford-on-Avon in Warwickshire is next on 65.9%, followed by Harrow in London (65.8%), Hart in Hampshire (65.4%) and Horsham in West Sussex (64.3%).

By contrast, the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets (29.4%), Newham (32.4%) and City of London/Hackney (32.8%) have the lowest proportion, followed by Hastings in East Sussex (36.3%), Westminster in London (36.5%) and Nottingham (36.6%).

France to expand booster jabs and tighten mask rules

19:01 , Tom Batchelor

France said on Thursday it would make Covid-19 booster shots available to all adults, toughen rules on wearing face masks and ramp up health pass checks as it seeks to curb a fifth wave of infections that risks undermining its economic recovery.

The number of infections is doubling every 11 days in France but officials said there was no need to follow Austria’s example of reimposing a lockdown.

Health Minister Olivier Veran said anyone aged 18 or over would be eligible for booster shots and that the period between full vaccination and the booster jabs would be shortened to five months from six.

“We still have our fate in our hands,” Mr Veran told a news conference, urging people to respect social distancing rules.

Booster shots are currently available only to over-65s and to those with underlying health issues.

Parachute in extra vaccine supplies to target new Covid variant, scientists suggest

19:20 , Tom Batchelor

Scientists have proposed parachuting in extra vaccine supplies to southern Africa to help prepare the region for an expected rise in cases driven by the new Covid-19 variant.

The variant - called B.1.1.529 - is feared to be highly transmissible and effective at evading the body’s immune response due to its “very unusual constellation” of mutations, 32 of which are located in the virus’ spike protein.

Here is the story:

Parachute in extra vaccine supplies to target new Covid variant, scientists suggest

Canada’s murder rate highest for 15 years amid lockdown pressure

19:40 , Tom Batchelor

The murder rate in Canada last year rose to its highest level since 2005, pushed up in part by the country’s worst-ever mass shooting, in which 22 people died, Statistics Canada said on Thursday.

Statscan noted societal stresses it said had been caused by lockdowns linked to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Canadian police reported 743 murders in 2020, up from 687 in 2019. The murder rate increased to 1.95 per 100,000 people, the highest in 15 years, from 1.83 per 100,000 people in 2019.

Severe disease from Covid reinfections very rare, study suggests

19:58 , Tom Batchelor

Reinfections of Covid-19 are 90 per cent less likely to result in hospitalisation or death than primary infection, a new study suggests.

Scientists from Qatar found that it is rare for people to be reinfected with the virus. And when an individual does catch Covid for a second time, the disease is generally mild in nature, the researchers said.

Out of 353,326 people who tested positive in Qatar between February 2020 and April 2021, a total of 1,304 reinfections were identified. The analysis excluded 87,547 people who were vaccinated.

Read the full story:

Severe disease from Covid reinfections very rare, study suggests

France to ‘reinforce’ border controls

20:05 , Tom Batchelor

France will increase controls at its borders to try to tackle a rise in coronavirus infections, Health Minister Olivier Veran said in a televised interview on Thursday.

“We will reinforce them with multiple means,” Mr Veran told broadcaster TF1, adding that “this will be specified in the next 24 to 48 hours.”

Slovakia enters two-week lockdown

20:30 , Tom Batchelor

Slovakia went into a two-week lockdown on Thursday, as the country with one of Europe’s lowest vaccination rates reported a critical situation in hospitals and surging infections.

Slovakia ordered all but essential shops and services closed and banned people from travelling outside their districts unless going to work, school, or a doctor. Gatherings of more than six people were banned.

The decision comes as coronavirus cases surge across Europe, making the continent the centre of the pandemic again, and follows neighbouring Austria which started a lockdown on Monday.

Only 45.7 per cent of Slovakia’s population is vaccinated, the third lowest rate in the EU, compared with 65.8 per cent across the bloc as a whole, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

With 1,929 average daily cases per million population over the past week, it has the world’s highest incidence rate according to Our World in Data.

Tomas Sulik, head of the intensive care unit at the Trencin University Hospital, said he had nine patients at the 10-bed unit, and expected the last to be filled within hours. All nine patients, with an average age of 63, were unvaccinated.

“There is a sense of frustration. These are conditions that could be averted by vaccination,” he told Reuters. “This wave is more intensive, the rise in patient numbers has been much steeper, and the age composition is moving toward younger patients.”

20:33 , Tom Batchelor

Cuban tourism operators have breathed a sigh of relief this week as the first tourists in months returned to sip mojitos and snap selfies in vintage cars in Havana.

The government has announced it will open up fully for tourism from 15 November 2021

Tourists from Spain take pictures at the Revolution square in Havana, Cuba, on Tuesday (REUTERS)
Tourists from Spain take pictures at the Revolution square in Havana, Cuba, on Tuesday (REUTERS)
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