Covid news live: Tory rebels up pressure on Johnson over parties scandal; Australia records deadliest day
LIVE – Updated at 07:03
Conservatives call on Boris Johnson to resign amid growing calls for a change of leadership; Australia reports deadliest day of pandemic so far with record number of 74 deaths.
Hello from London, it is Martin Belam here. I see everything in the news over the last couple of days appears to have some special operation codeword like “Operation Save Big Dog” or “Operation Red Meat” and now “Operation Rinka”, so welcome to “Operation Live Blog” I guess? I’ll bring you the key lines from the morning TV and radio interviews in the UK over the next couple of hours. Deputy prime minister Dominc Raab is on duty this morning. I’m fairly certain that the lines “I can’t comment because I wasn’t there” and “I can’t comment because we need to wait for Sue Gray’s investigation” will be quite prominent. London Mayer Sadiq Khan and Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Ashworth are also on media duties.
While we are in the European region, Germany is reporting another 74,405 confirmed coronavirus cases and 193 deaths, according to the Robert Koch Institute.
The figures are a significant jump on cases recorded at the end of the last week.
Summary of key developments
If you’ve just joined us on the blog – or you’re waking up over in the UK – here is a quick rundown of the latest developments.
- Downing Street has denied claims by Dominic Cummings that Boris Johnson was told in advance staff were holding a drinks party in the No 10 garden in the midst of the first Covid lockdown.
- Japan is also set to halt implementation of its so-called vaccine-and-testing package, a government system that checks whether people have been vaccinated twice or have proof of a negative test in order to access a range of public activities, sources told the Japan Times.
- China’s postal service has ordered workers to disinfect international deliveries and urged the public to reduce orders from overseas after authorities claimed mail could be the source of recent coronavirus outbreaks, Agence France-Press reports.
- Hong Kong police have arrested and charged two former Cathay Pacific flight attendants over allegations they broke the city’s coronavirus rules.
- Almost two-thirds of British adults feel the government should share coronavirus vaccines with the world rather than deliver additional boosters domestically, polling suggests.
- Poland is experiencing a fifth wave of Covid-19 infections, the health minister said on Monday, warning that the spread of the Omicron variant could send daily case numbers soaring to levels not yet seen in the country.
- Australia reported a record daily death toll on Tuesday with 74 deaths. It is the highest daily toll of the pandemic for Australia to date.
- Moderna is aiming to launch a single booster vaccination that will protect against both Covid-19 and flu within two years, its chief executive said, adding that data for Omicron-specific jab will likely be available in March.
Hello, it’s Samantha Lock with you on the blog for the next hour or so before my colleague Martin Belam brings you all the morning news rounds from London.
Boris Johnson’s fight to salvage his premiership continues to somewhat overshadow the Covid crisis unfolding in the UK.
Rebel Tories are upping pressure on the PM to quit over the Downing Street parties scandal, with one backbencher naming the plan “Operation Rinka” in reference to the dog killed in the Jeremy Thorpe affair in the 1970s.
Others are stepping up pressure on colleagues to submit letters of no confidence in the prime minister.
The fury comes after John Griffin, the taxi firm tycoon who has given £4m to the Tories since 2013 and one of the Conservatives’ most generous donors, called on Johnson to resign and stand again for the Tory party nomination.
Griffin is at least the fifth donor to publicly raise concerns over the Downing Street parties scandal.
And with all the commotion over Westminster parties and the future of the prime minister, you may have lost track of what is happening elsewhere in the world.
On the other side of the pond, Australia recorded its deadliest day of the pandemic on Tuesday, with 74 deaths across the country.
New South Wales reported a record 36 deaths along with 29,830 new cases; Victoria reported 22 deaths and 20,180 new cases, while Queensland reported 16 deaths and 15,962 cases.
NSW chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, warned on Monday that a higher death toll over the coming days was likely, while NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, lamented the new record, saying it was a “very difficult day”.
Four inmates at an Arkansas jail in the US have filed a lawsuit against the facility and its doctor after they said they were unknowingly prescribed ivermectin to treat Covid-19 as a form of “medical experimentation” despite US health officials warning that the anti-parasitic drug should not be used for that purpose.
The Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of the men last week against Washington county jail, Washington county sheriff Tim Helder and jail physician Dr Robert Karas. Last August, Helder revealed that the drug had been prescribed to patients with Covid-19.
“The lawsuit charges the defendants for administering ivermectin to incarcerated individuals without prior informed consent as to the nature, contents, or potential side effects of the drug,” the ACLU said in a statement last week.
Read the full story here.
Related: Inmates sue jail over ivermectin treatment for Covid as ‘medical experimentation’
Ukraine is reporting another 8,558 new confirmed coronavirus cases for Monday, according to a statement from its ministry of health.
Another 188 deaths were also recorded.
More than 15 million Ukrainians have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
Another curious story to emerge from Australia concerns a coffee roaster that has come under fire for offering free rapid antigen tests with purchase orders over $159.99 as the country battles a shortage of tests.
In a text message sent out to “special VIP customers,” St Ali in Melbourne offered two free rapid antigen tests if customers bought $159.99 worth of coffee or merchandise from their online store.
“We’ve been fortunate to secure a limited number of Rapid Antigen Tests for our staff, families and friends. As a special VIP customer, we’d like to extend these to you too,” they said in the text.
The coffee roasters were also offering pulse oximeters, hand sanitiser, and contactless thermometers for sale via their website, alongside bags of coffee, filters and Champagne.
The roasters faced a fierce backlash to the text message, amid national shortages of rapid antigen tests and reports of price gouging and exploitation by some businesses, and have since retracted the offer.
Here are some more details from Guardian reporter Mostafa Rachwani surrounding Australia’s deadliest day of the pandemic.
The country’s most populous state of New South Wales reported a record 36 deaths along with 29,830 new cases; Victoria reported 22 deaths and 20,180 new cases, while Queensland reported 16 deaths and 15,962 cases.
NSW chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, warned on Monday that a higher death toll over the coming days was likely while NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, lamented the new record, saying it was a “very difficult day”.
Related: Australia records highest daily Covid death toll since beginning of pandemic
Osaka, Japan, to report 6,000 cases in new daily record
Japan’s Osaka prefecture is set to record about 6,000 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, an official with knowledge of the matter told the Kyodo news agency earlier today.
The figure which would surpass the previous all-time high of 3,760 set on Sunday.
Japan is also set to halt implementation of its so-called vaccine-and-testing package, a government system that checks whether people have been vaccinated twice or have proof of a negative test in order to access a range of public activities, sources told the Japan Times.
Restrictions on activities such as dining and spectator attendance limits were to have been eased however the government is reportedly now considering placing Tokyo and 10 prefectures under a Covid quasi-state of emergency with plans to recommend a halt of the vaccine-and-testing package.
The decision will go to a government advisory panel as early as Wednesday, according to sources.
Japan’s daily case count totalled 20,991 on Monday, surpassing 20,000 for the fourth consecutive day. Of Monday’s figures, Tokyo accounted for 3,719 new cases, more than quadrupling the total from a week ago.
China orders overseas mail disinfection over Omicron fears
China’s postal service has ordered workers to disinfect international deliveries and urged the public to reduce orders from overseas after authorities claimed mail could be the source of recent coronavirus outbreaks, Agence France-Press reports.
In recent days, Chinese officials have suggested that some people could have been infected by packages from abroad, including a woman in Beijing whom authorities said had no contact with other infected people but tested positive for a variant similar to those found in North America.
China Post on Monday published a statement ordering workers to disinfect the outer packaging of all international mail “as soon as possible” and requiring employees handling foreign letters and packages to receive booster vaccine shots.
The postal service also asked the public to reduce purchases and deliveries from “countries and regions with a high overseas epidemic risk” and said domestic mail should be handled in different areas to prevent cross-contamination.
The coronavirus is spread through small liquid particles exhaled by infected people.
Both the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control have said the risk of being infected from contaminated surfaces is low and becomes less likely as time passes, while the CDC has said there is a 99% reduction in virus traces left on most surfaces within three days.
No 10 denies Cummings’ claim Boris Johnson knew about lockdown drinks
Downing Street has denied claims by Dominic Cummings that Boris Johnson was told in advance staff were holding a drinks party in the No 10 garden in the midst of the first Covid lockdown.
The prime minister’s former chief adviser said he was prepared to “swear under oath” that Johnson was lying when he told MPs he had not known beforehand about the “bring your own bottle” event on May 20 2020, PA Media reports.
In the Commons last week Johnson admitted spending 25 minutes at the gathering saying he had believed “implicitly” that it was a work event.
However, Cummings said both he and another senior official had challenged Martin Reynolds, the prime minister’s principal private secretary who sent out invitations to around 100 staff, as to whether it was within the rules.
He said he believed that Reynolds then checked with Johnson who had agreed the event should go ahead.
When he tried to raise the issue with the prime minister directly he said his objections were brushed aside. Cummings wrote in his blog:
I said to the PM something like: ‘Martin’s invited the building to a drinks party, this is what I’m talking about, you’ve got to grip this madhouse’. The PM waved it aside.
The events of May 20 alone, never mind the string of other events, mean the PM lied to Parliament about parties. Not only me but other eyewitnesses who discussed this at the time would swear under oath this is what happened.”
Hong Kong police arrest two Cathay flight attendants accused of Covid rule breach
Hong Kong police have arrested and charged two former Cathay Pacific flight attendants over allegations they broke the city’s coronavirus rules.
The statement did not name the airline but the two – reportedly men aged 44 and 45 – were later confirmed by leader Carrie Lam as being former staff of the airline. Lam alleged on Tuesday “there is evidence showing they have violated [epidemic regulations]”.
The announcement comes after Cathay Pacific said in January it had fired two aircrew who were suspected of breaching Covid-19 protocols.
Police said the pair had returned to Hong Kong from the US on 24 December and 25 December and then “conducted unnecessary activities” during their home isolation period. They both later tested positive for the fast-spreading Omicron strain.
They have been released on bail with their case to be heard in separate courts on 9 February. If convicted, they could face up to six months in prison and a fine of up to HK$5,000 ($642). They were discharged from hospital after treatment, according to local media.
Read the full story here.
Related: Hong Kong police arrest two Cathay flight attendants accused of Covid rule breach
Almost two thirds of British adults feel the government should share coronavirus vaccines with the world rather than deliver additional boosters domestically, polling suggests.
Most adults understand that “we need to vaccinate the world to end the pandemic at home”, according to a survey for the ONE Campaign, which works to end global poverty and disease.
They also feel that the disparity in vaccination levels between rich and poor countries is both “unwise and unfair”.
Some 2,186 UK adults were surveyed by Savanta ComRes online between January 7 and 9. The results, as reported by PA Media are below:
- 63% said that, if new variants were likely in countries with poor vaccine access, the UK should prioritise ensuring the vaccine is available everywhere over giving people a second booster.
- 65% said it is unfair that significantly fewer people in low-income countries are fully vaccinated than those in high-income countries.
- 53% said they would be willing to forgo a fourth dose so a vulnerable person or frontline worker in another country could receive their first.
- 72% say the UK should make ending the global pandemic its top priority, with a similar proportion agreeing that the UK economy will continue to suffer unless the virus is beaten everywhere.
Respondents also agreed that uneven access to the vaccine is a “moral failure” (66%); that the UK should rapidly speed up delivery of doses it has promised to share (70%); and that the UK should stop buying more doses than it needs (64%).
The UK delivered more than 30 million vaccines internationally last year. It has committed to donate 100 million doses around the world.
While we are in the Asia region, South Korea has confirmed another 4,072 coronavirus cases and 45 daily deaths in the past 24 hours, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There are 543 people in critical condition, with an average of 463 new admissions per day. The intensive care bed utilisation rate stands at 28%.
Thailand is reporting a daily rise of 6,397 confirmed coronavirus cases and 18 deaths, according to recently released government data.
The government is also considering reviving a scheme that allows tourists to visit with only minimal quarantine.
The “Test and Go” scheme, which was introduced late last year, was suspended when the Omicron variant emerged.
Omicron lays waste to India’s huge wedding season
With India’s Omicron-driven third wave firmly under way, the New Delhi government has, along with other restrictions, limited wedding guests to 20, dealing a huge blow to India’s traditional wedding season, which runs from November to March.
Thousands of families are in the agony of uncertainty, with most of the arrangements paid for, either in full or in part.
In pre-pandemic times, some December weekends could see more than 20,000 weddings taking place in the capital in a single day, choking the roads with traffic. It is in this November-March period that the industry makes the bulk of its money because the weather is more temperate.
Read the full story from our reporter in Delhi, Amrit Dhillon, here.
Related: ‘It’s a total disaster’: Omicron lays waste to India’s huge wedding season
China has reported another 171 new confirmed Covid-19 cases for Monday, 17 January, according to a recently released statement by the National Health Commission.
The figure is down from 223 a day earlier, according to government data.
Of the new infections, 127 were locally transmitted, down from 163 a day earlier. The other new cases were imported.
The new locally transmitted cases were in Henan, Tianjin, Guangdong, Beijing and Shaanxi, the NHC said.
The country also reported 33 new asymptomatic cases, which it classifies separately from confirmed cases, up from 28 infections a day earlier. There were no new deaths, leaving the death toll at 4,636.
Poland enters fifth Covid wave
Poland is experiencing a fifth wave of Covid-19 infections, the health minister said on Monday, warning that the spread of the Omicron variant could send daily case numbers soaring to levels not yet seen in the country.
While daily case numbers have fallen since early December, the European Union’s largest eastern member has had little respite since the fourth wave, regularly reporting over 10,000 new infections per day amid low vaccine take-up and limited restrictions on public life.
“We predict that the peak of infections will be in mid-February and that peak is about 60,000 cases a day,” Adam Niedzielski told a news conference.
The highest number of daily cases reported since the pandemic began was 35,251 on 1 April, 2021.
Niedzielski said that he expected figures released on Tuesday to show in excess of 20,000 daily cases.
On Friday, 13 of the 17 members of Poland’s Medical Council advising the prime minister on Covid-19 resigned, condemning what they said was a lack of scientific influence on policy.
One of the members who resigned, Dr Konstanty Szuldrzynski, told TVN24 on Monday that the death rate in countries where stricter restrictions had been enforced had been lower than in Poland, and that the fifth wave would put the health service under enormous strain.
“We are going into the next wave of Omicron completely unprepared,” he said. “Please remember that the huge death rate in Poland is not just related to the low percentage of vaccinated people but also to the fact that we have a very outdated health system.”
The country of around 38 million has so far reported 4,323,482 cases of the coronavirus and 102,309 deaths.
Hello it’s Samantha Lock with you on the blog today as we unpack all the latest Covid developments from across the world.
I’ll be reporting to you from Sydney and my colleagues from London will take over a little later in the day.
Case numbers are just coming in across Australia this morning, confirming the country has hit a new bleak pandemic milestone. A record 74 deaths have been reported from the country’s two most populous states of NSW and Victoria with 36 deaths and 22 deaths respectively. It’s the highest daily toll of the pandemic for Australia to date.
The Omicron outbreak has continued to push up hospitalisation rates to record levels with more people in hospitals and intensive care than at any other time during the pandemic even as daily infections eased slightly.
On the other side of the world in Poland, the European Union’s largest eastern member says it is currently battling a fifth wave of Covid-19 infections, with cases expected to hit record levels in coming weeks.
Health minister Adam Niedzielski warned that the spread of the Omicron variant could send daily case numbers soaring to levels not yet seen in the country.
“We predict that the peak of infections will be in mid-February and that peak is about 60,000 cases a day,” he told a news conference on Monday.
Here’s a comprehensive run-down of all the latest global developments:
- Covid booster shots will be offered to children in England aged 12 to 15 who are most at risk from coronavirus, NHS England has said. People in England are also now able to end their coronavirus isolation after five full days in the latest change to self-isolation guidance.
- Greece has imposed a vaccination mandate for people over age 60.
- The EU should continue to suspend strict fiscal rules to help debt-mired countries such as Italy until the pandemic is over, the new chairman of the German parliament’s powerful EU affairs committee has said.
- A return to global pre-pandemic employment levels could take years, a UN report revealed.
- French teachers’ unions have called for a second major strike this week to protest the government’s Covid testing and isolation protocols, which they say are severely disrupting classes.
- France’s parliament has given final approval to the government’s latest measures to tackle Covid-19, including a vaccine pass contested by anti-vaccine protesters.
- Uzbekistan has reported 1,037 new daily Covid cases, the highest number on record.
- Kazakhstan reported a record 13,523 cases on Sunday, and the Kazakh government has announced middle and high school students in the country’s three largest cities would study remotely until the end of March.
- The chairman of Credit Suisse, António Horta-Osório, has resigned after the Swiss bank reportedly found that he had broken Covid-19 quarantine laws.
- The number of Covid-19 cases across China reached the highest level since March 2020 on Monday, as the country reported a daily rise of 223 new infections.
- Several cities in China are now on a high Covid alert in preparation for the lunar new year holiday travel season when hundreds of millions of people are expected to travel around the country. Cities such as Luoyang in central China and Jieyang in the south now require residents to report details of their trips in advance.
- Chinese authorities are urging citizens not to order goods from overseas, claiming a recent Omicron infection detected in Beijing came from an international package sent from Canada. There is not a strong scientific basis to the claim, according to experts.
- Beijing Winter Olympics tickets will not be sold to general public in latest Covid setback.
- Japan will bring forward its Covid vaccination booster shots by as much as two months while also considering placing 11 prefectures, including Tokyo and its surrounding area, under a quasi-state of emergency to curb a rapidly accelerating sixth wave of infections.
- Hong Kong police have arrested and charged two Cathay Pacific flight attendants for allegedly contravening Covid regulations.
- Thailand is considering bringing back a quarantine waiver for vaccinated visitors, its health minister said on Monday, as part of a proposed easing of some Covid measures later this week.
- Travellers to Hawaii may soon need to have supplemented their vaccinations with a booster does in order to visit the islands without having to quarantine.
- Israel cuts Covid isolation to five days for asymptomatic people.
- The chief executive of Pfizer, Albert Bourla, has said that while the coronavirus will continue to circulate for many years to come, this current wave should be the last to have to lead to restrictions.
- Moderna is aiming to launch a single booster vaccination that will protect against both Covid-19 and flu within two years, its chief executive said.
- A fourth shot of Covid vaccine raises antibodies to even higher levels than the third jab but it is not enough to prevent Omicron infections, according to a preliminary study in Israel.
- Moderna CEO says data for Omicron-specific jab likely available in March.
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Source: Thanks msn.com