Covid live news: official cases in Africa pass 10m; UK minister says cutting self-isolation would be ‘helpful’

LIVE – Updated at 11:30

© Photograph: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters
A security officer stands guard at the Olembe stadium in Yaounde, Cameroon, which is to host the opening ceremony of the Africa Cup of Nations.

South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Ethiopia and Libya among countries hardest hit; Nadhim Zahawi says he supports reducing isolation to five days.


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Three people have been arrested for breaking India’s coronavirus measures after police raided a dog’s lavish birthday party.

The gathering in Gujarat’s Ahmedabad city was held to celebrate the second birthday of Abby, an Indian Spitz, and was attended by its owners as well as their family and friends. According to police, the birthday event cost 700,000 rupees (nearly £7,000) and featured an elaborate birthday cake, a performance by a popular folk singer and giant photo cutouts of the canine guest of honour.

Social media footage from the event showed a crowd of people dancing in front of an ornate stage in defiance of local social distancing rules and without masks. The video went viral and was seen by Gujarat police.

“We got information about a big party going on, so we raided the venue,” police inspector V.D. Zala told Agence-France-Presse. “As per Covid protocol, it is necessary to take permission before organising a party. The organisers are responsible for ensuring social distancing among guests.”

The three men arrested for their role in staging the event were later released on bail.


Covid should be treated as an endemic virus similar to flu, and ministers should end mass vaccination after the booster campaign, the former chairman of the UK’s vaccine taskforce has said.

With health chiefs and senior Tories also lobbying for a post-pandemic plan for a straining NHS, Dr Clive Dix called for a major rethink of the UK’s Covid strategy, in effect reversing the approach of the past two years and returning to a “new normality”.

“We need to analyse whether we use the current booster campaign to ensure the vulnerable are protected, if this is seen to be necessary,” he said. “Mass population-based vaccination in the UK should now end.”

He said ministers should urgently back research into Covid immunity beyond antibodies to include B-cells and T-cells (white blood cells). This could help create vaccines for vulnerable people specific to Covid variants, he said, adding: “We now need to manage disease, not virus spread. So stopping progression to severe disease in vulnerable groups is the future objective.”

Read the full article here:

Related: End mass jabs and live with Covid, says ex-head of vaccine taskforce


More on the Philippines, after the country set a record for new 28,707 Covid infections for a second consecutive day.

A senior government official confirmed an increase in hospital beds and medical resources in and around the capital Manila have been ordered, Reuters reports.

Nearly 60% of the cases recorded today came from the capital region, which has seen a steady increase in admissions in recent days, although government data showed hospital capacity still below critical levels.

Health authorities have also been instructed to push vaccination rates outside the region, acting presidential spokesperson Karlo Nograles said in a statement.

Total Covid cases in Africa top 10 million

According to figures from the African Union’s health watchdog and seen by Agence-France-Presse, Africa has registered a total of more than 10m cases since the start of the pandemic.

As of Saturday 10,028,508 cases have been reported by the African Union’s 55 member states, data by the Africa Centres for Disease Control shows.

South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Ethiopia and Libya are among the countries with the highest number of cases on the continent.

The total recorded Covid-19 death count in Africa stands at 231,157, the CDC said.


10:15 Edward Helmore

In the spring of 2020, Hart Island, a mile from City Island in the Bronx, was a focal point of grief in New York. It was here, at the city’s public cemetery or potter’s field, the final resting place of more than a million people, that officials ordered trenches dug to accommodate those the coronavirus was expected to kill.

The trenches were never filled. Many bodies were returned to funeral parlours or stored in mobile freezers on Randall’s Island, better known for music festivals and the Frieze art fair than cold storage of corpses.

Last week, as New York was once again in the grip of a pandemic spike, the ferry jetty was devoid of morbid feelings, even with infections running at a 35% positivity rate, close to five times the peak of last winter.

“We haven’t seen anyone here – or any of the trucks coming like they used to,” said one Hart Island worker.

The winter Covid wave has hit the Bronx hard. The borough has the city’s highest positivity rate, in some neighbourhoods near 50%. But for many this wave feels different, not least in the way leaders and health officials are treating it.

Read the full story here:

Related: Omicron drives Covid surge but New York a long way from pandemic’s early days


Wales may reach its peak of infections in around two weeks, the Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford has said.

Modelling shows there will be a “relatively rapid decline” after this point and the government should then be able to step down its coronavirus measures, he said.

Drakeford defended a recent comment that the UK government was the “outlier” in not introducing further restrictions, adding:

Wales is following the same path of putting protections in place that is being followed by Scotland, Northern Ireland, and not just devolved governments in the UK, but governments across Europe and across the world.

The questions as to why the UK government has decided not to follow that course of action are for them to answer, not for me.


Russia reported 16,246 new Covid cases in the latest 24 hour period, health officials said, bringing the country’s total number of cases to 10,650,849.

A further 763 deaths of patients with coronavirus were also confirmed, bringing the total death toll to 316,163.

Lateral flow tests to remain free in the UK, minister says

Lateral flow tests will remain free, the UK’s education secretary Nadhim Zahawi has insisted amid reports they could be scaled back despite soaring Covid cases.

The Sunday Times had reported that prime minister Boris Johnson would announce that free tests would be axed and limited to high-risk settings and for people with symptoms.

But speaking to Sky News’ Trevor Phillips this morning, Zahawi said he was “slightly puzzled” by the report and that tests would continue to be available for free. He said:

I saw that story this morning, which I was slightly puzzled by because I don’t recognise it at all. This is absolutely not where we are at.

For January alone 425 million lateral flow tests (are) coming in and they will continue to be available for free.

I don’t really recognise where that story is coming from.

Asked whether there are plans to stop lateral flow tests being free, Zahawi replied: “Absolutely not.”


London’s public health chief has said the Omicron variant “may have passed its peak” in the UK capital. Speaking to Sky News’ Trevor Phillips this morning, Prof Kevin Fenton said:

Data from the ONS (Office for National Statistics) suggests that the peak may have occurred at or just about the New Year period.

We’re seeing reductions in overall case rates across the city and the prevalence of infection within the community.

But he warned infection levels are still “very, very high” and that more than one in 10 Londoners are still infected with the disease.

It means we’re not yet out of this critical phase of the pandemic, although we may well be past its peak.

Philippines reports record daily infections

For the second day in a row, the Philippines has reported a record number of new Covid-19 cases. Health officials today confirmed 28,707 new infections, up from 26,458 cases the previous day.

The total number of active cases reached 128,114, the highest in more than three months. This comprises 4.3% of all confirmed cases.

Earlier this week, the country’s president Rodrigo Duterte ordered the arrest of unvaccinated people who violate stay-at-home orders aimed at curbing “galloping” cases driven by the Omicron variant.

Opening summary

Hello and welcome to The Guardian’s rolling coverage of the coronavirus pandemic with me, Léonie Chao-Fong. Here’s a rundown of all the most recent news from around the world:

  • Tianjin, a major Chinese port city near Beijing, has begun mass-testing its 14m residents after a cluster of 20 children and adults tested positive for Covid-19, including at least two with the Omicron variant. Residents have been told that they must obtain a negative test result in order to receive a “green” code on smartphone Covid-tracing apps in order to use public transport and in other situations.
  • The Philippines broke its own record for the highest single-day tally of new Covid-19 cases on Sunday, with 28,707 new infections reported by the health department. Acting presidential spokesperson Karlo Nograles has reportedly denied rumours that a “total lockdown” will be imposed in the country.
  • Cutting the self-isolation period to five days would be “helpful”, the UK’s former vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has said. Zahawi became the first government minister to publicly support the reduction of the Covid isolation period from seven to five days, amid staffing pressures across many private and public sectors.
  • The dissident Iranian poet and filmmaker Baktash Abtin, 48, has died after contracting Covid-19 in a hospital in Tehran after being released on a furlough from prison where he was infected twice, Iranian news agencies said on Saturday. Abtin was serving a six-year sentence for “anti-government propaganda” and “actions against national security”.
  • Moderna donated 2.7m doses of coronavirus vaccines to Mexico, after the country exceeded 300,000 test-confirmed coronavirus deaths this week. The Mexican government said the doses will go to teachers as the country tries to return to fully in-person learning.
  • More than 150,000 people have died in the UK from coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to government figures. Britain on Saturday became the seventh country to pass the milestone after the US, Brazil, India, Russia, Mexico and Peru.
  • Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has warned Boris Johnson that axing universal free lateral flow tests would be an “utterly wrongheaded” approach to dealing with coronavirus. Her warnings came after reports that tests could be limited to high-risk settings – such as care homes, hospitals and schools – and to people with symptoms.
  • More than 105,000 people took to the streets across France on Saturday in protest against the introduction of a new coronavirus pass that would in effect ban unvaccinated people from public life. Interior Ministry officials said 34 people were arrested and 10 police officers were injured after the protests turned violent in some places.
  • The US has administered more than 518m doses of coronavirus vaccines as of Saturday morning and distributed 639.7m doses, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Please do get in touch with me on Twitter or by email if you have anything to flag you think we should be covering.


Tianjin, a major Chinese port city near the capital Beijing, has begun mass-testing its 14 million residents after a cluster of 20 children and adults tested positive for Covid-19, including at least two with the Omicron variant.

The citywide testing, which began on Sunday, is to be completed over two days. Residents have been advised to stay at or near home to be available for the community-level nucleic-acid screening. They have been told that until they obtain a negative test result, they will not receive a “green” code on smartphone Covid-tracing apps that nearly all people in China are now required to present when using public transport and in other situations.

China has stepped up its zero-tolerance Covid-19 strategy in the run-up to the Winter Olympics, which open on 4 February in Beijing. The Chinese capital is 150km (90 miles) north-west of Tianjin and connected by a high-speed rail link that takes less than one hour.

Elsewhere in China, millions of people are being confined to their homes in Xi’an and Yuzhou, two other cities that are farther away but have larger outbreaks. The city of Zhengzhou, a provincial capital 70km (40 miles) north of Yuzhou, is also conducting mass testing and closing schools starting Monday.

China reported 165 confirmed coronavirus cases for 8 January, up from 159 a day earlier, its health authority said on Sunday.

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