That’s it from me, Samantha Lock, for today.

Please join us later today when we launch our next Covid blog.

In the meantime you can follow along for all the coronavirus coverage here.

Updated

Thanks for joining us today. Before we close the blog here’s a quick run-down of the latest developments.

Updated

Hi I’m Samantha Lock and I’ll be taking over from Jane Clinton to bring you a summary of all the Covid news making headlines around the world.

Stay tuned and thanks for following along!

The United States has administered 415,012,026 doses of Covid-19 vaccines in the country as of Tuesday morning and distributed 504,584,715 doses, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Reuters reports:

Those figures are up from the 414,302,192 vaccine doses the CDC said had gone into arms by Oct. 25 out of 503,418,475 doses delivered.

The agency said 220,648,845 people had received at least one dose while 190,793,100 people were fully vaccinated as of 6:00 a.m. ET on Tuesday.

The CDC tally includes two-dose vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech , as well as Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine.

About 13.8 million people have received a booster dose of either Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine. Booster doses from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson were authorized by the U.S. health regulator on Oct. 20.

Australia’s drugs regulator has provisionally approved a booster dose of Pfizer Inc’s Covid-19 vaccine for people above 18 years old, reports Reuters.

First-dose vaccination levels in the country’s adult population are now nearing 90 per cent.

It adds:

The booster dose can be administered at least six months after the second shot, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) said in a statement.

Further advice on the use of booster shots will be provided to the federal government soon by the country’s vaccination technical advisory group, TGA said.

The Associated Press reports on a mask row that has erupted between Florida’s surgeon general Dr Joseph Ladapo and State Senator Tina Polsky.

Florida’s surgeon general said that conversations while wearing masks aren’t productive and that he offered to meet elsewhere when a state senator didn’t let him in her office without a mask, citing a serious health condition.

Dr Joseph Ladapo said in a statement released Tuesday that he offered to meet outside or in a hallway for his scheduled meeting last week with Democratic state Senator Tina Polsky. He said he doesn’t believe he can communicate clearly and effectively while wearing a mask. Polsky was not satisfied, he said.

“I attempted in good faith to find some way for us to communicate that would respect each of our preferences,” Ladapo said in a statement posted on Twitter. “Having a conversation with someone while wearing a mask is not something I find productive, especially when other options exist.”

The incident drew broad attention over the weekend after Polsky revealed that she had breast cancer, though at the time of the meeting last Wednesday she had told Lapado only that she had a serious health condition. Ladapo said in his statement that he’s “saddened” by that news and wished her “blessings and strength.”

Polsky did not comment on the statement, saying she had not read it as she had been in a meeting.

pic.twitter.com/mdDKEOA8H4

— Joseph A. Ladapo, MD, PhD (@FLSurgeonGen) October 26, 2021

Reuters reports that Brazil has registered 442 new Covid-19 deaths and 13,424 new cases of the virus. This compares to yesterday’s figures of 160 deaths and 5,797 new cases.

The country has now registered a total of 606,246 Covid-19 deaths and 21,748,984 total confirmed cases. The data is from the nation’s Health Ministry.

Brazil has the second highest Covid death toll in after the United States which has registered 738,531 (according to John Hopkins University data).

The PA News Agency reports on booster jabs data:

New figures show that a total of 6,442,000 people in the UK had a booster jab or third dose of a Covid vaccine as of Monday.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said it will publish this data daily, alongside the numbers for first and second jabs.

The figure does not differentiate between the number of people who have been given a third dose due to having a weakened immune system, and those who have had a booster jab.

On Monday, a total of 244,992 people were reported to have had a booster jab or third dose.

Of this number, 188,412 were given in England, 28,618 in Scotland, 22,390 in Wales and 5,572 in Northern Ireland.

United States FDA advisers back Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for children

Reuters reports that an expert panel has voted overwhelmingly to recommend the US Food and Drug Administration authorize the Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE Covid-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, saying the benefits of inoculation outweigh the risks.

It continues:

An authorization for that age group would be would be an important regulatory step toward reaching about 28 million children for inoculation, most of them back in school for in-person learning.

The vaccine could be available to the younger age group as soon as next week. The FDA is not obligated to follow the advice of its outside experts, but usually does.

If the FDA authorizes the shots for this age group, an advisory panel to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will meet next week to make a recommendation on the administration of the vaccine. The CDC director will make the final call.

“To me, the question is pretty clear,” said Dr. Amanda Cohn, a pediatric vaccine expert at the CDC and a voting member of the panel. “We don’t want children to be dying of COVID, even if it is far fewer children than adults, and we don’t want them in the ICU.”

Authorisation of the vaccine would mean 28 million children will be inoculated.
Authorisation of the vaccine would mean 28 million children will be inoculated. Photograph: Dado Ruvić/Reuters

Updated

Adrian Horton, writing about US TV, looks at whether audiences want shows to refer to the pandemic.

For most of 2020 and the first half of 2021, some part of me clung to the fantasy, despite diminishing evidence, that there would be a hard end date to the pandemic. That there would be a day, somewhat immediately post-vaccine, when masks (safely) disappeared from restaurants and airports and parties and street corners, that Covid-19 would fade from view, that some type of “return” would snap into place. This mental trick has obviously not come to pass – but it can be seen on TV, as a crop of streaming shows written and produced since 2020 have their timelines proceed beyond 2019, with gazes on the pandemic from direct to oblique to not at all.

In general, shows filmed and released over the past year and a half have revealed how difficult it is to fold a societal rupture as significant, inequitable and diffuse as Covid-19 into television. The pandemic has undoubtedly suffused streaming TV shows – in scheduling delays, in cancellations, in budgets swollen to accommodate testing and other safety protocols for the cast and crew. It remains an open question, however, how much of that reality should enter the frame.

The i’s chief political commentator, Paul Waugh, re-tweets some figures regarding the number of booster Covid doses administered. The original tweet is by Richard Clegg, a retired Office for National Statistics statistician who tweets daily updates on the UK Covid vaccination programme.

Some welcome good news. https://t.co/vTeGkcUC3E

— Paul Waugh (@paulwaugh) October 26, 2021

The Associated Press reports on the limits on the number of journalists who can sit in on court cases because of Covid restrictions.

Just two reporters were allowed inside a Georgia courtroom to serve as the eyes and ears of the public when jury selection began for the men charged with murdering Ahmaud Arbery.

Pandemic restrictions also kept reporters and the public out of the courtroom during the sex-trafficking trial of music star R Kelly.

[...]

“This is a fundamental constitutional right that the public has — to have open courts and to be able to see what’s happening in real time in a courtroom,” said David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, which has prodded California courts to improve public access during the pandemic.

Covid-19 space constraints have led judges across the US to exclude or limit public and media attendance at trials.

During Kelly’s trial, which concluded last month with his conviction, a federal judge in New York barred the press and public from the courtroom because jurors were sitting six feet apart in the gallery normally used by observers.

Onlookers could watch a live video feed in an overflow courtroom, but it offered no view of the jury and only limited images of the defendant, witnesses and exhibits. At one point, prosecutors played a recording that jurors listened to with headphones, with no audio available for the press and public.

The judge rejected a request by media groups, including The Associated Press, to allow pool reporters in the courtroom for much of the trial, letting six reporters in only when the verdict was announced.

Lawyers for R Kelly pictured on 27 September walking into a Brooklyn courthouse during the federal trial against the performer.
Lawyers for R Kelly pictured on 27 September walking into a Brooklyn courthouse during the federal trial against the performer. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Pregnant women turned away from Covid vaccine clinics, experts warn

Pregnant women are being turned away from Covid vaccine clinics despite clinical advice, experts have warned as they urged ministers to ramp up efforts to reach unvaccinated groups.

Members of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) told the Guardian that efforts to increase booster jab uptake will not be sufficient to prevent more deaths and hospitalisations, and that ministers must prioritise reaching those who have had no jabs. In particular they urged a focus on pregnant women as only about 15% in the UK have been fully vaccinated. Among all over-12s, the figure is 79%

More detail here on the House of Commons revised guidance to make face masks mandatory for all parliamentary staff - except MPs. (See 18.40).

Aubrey Allegretti writes:

Masks are being made mandatory again for all parliamentary staffers – but not MPs – amid concern over the recent rise in Covid cases and the safety of workers in the Palace of Westminster.

It is the first reintroduction of measures by the parliamentary authorities since restrictions were relaxed over the summer. Those who refuse to wear a face covering will be told they must leave the estate.

New guidance was issued on Tuesday in advance of Rishi Sunak’s budget speech on Wednesday. It said that “all face-to-face meetings with colleagues should be avoided, unless there is a business need” and people should “space out and avoid sitting directly opposite each other in working areas [to] avoid close contact at all times”.

Updated

Sarah Marsh reports on the need for clearer messaging on Covid vaccine safety for pregnant women.

She writes that:

As awareness about the illness and vaccine safety has grown, one group in particular remains confused and torn about the risk of immunisation: expectant mothers.

Latest figures from Public Health England show the numbers getting fully vaccinated within this group are still worryingly low: more than 84,000 have received their first dose, with about 67,000 receiving both doses.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) says just 15% of pregnant women have had two doses of the vaccine so far.

Updated

Here's a summary of the latest developments...

  • In the UK, the House of Commons has updated its guidance to make face masks mandatory for everybody - except for MPs. Staff, contractors, visitors and press must all now cover their faces, but it is up to individual MPs to decide whether or not they want to, reports the BBC.
  • The Covid-19 crisis is far “far from finished”, the World Health Organization’s emergency committee said today. The 19-member committee, which meets every three months to discuss the pandemic and make recommendations, also called for research into next-generation vaccines and long-term action to control the virus.
  • Coronavirus restrictions are to return to Belgium on Friday, just weeks after they were relaxed, amid rising cases and hospitalisations. The rules include wearing face masks in public places and mandatory masks for staff at bars, restaurants and fitness clubs. Covid passes will also be required to enter.
  • In the UK, the number of patients in hospital with Covid-19 has climbed to its highest level since early March. Government figures show that 8,693 patients were in hospital yesterday – an 11% rise on last week and the highest since 9 March, when 9,009 were recorded.
  • A Brazilian senate committee is to vote today on a report recommending President Jair Bolsonaro face criminal indictments over his handling of Covid-19.
  • The UK recorded 40,954 new Covid cases today and 263 more people have died, official figures show. Yesterday there were 8,693 patients in hospital with coronavirus – 913 of whom were on beds with mechanical ventilators.
  • Scotlands health service faces the toughest winter in its history because of the twin pressures of Covid and fears over an additional crisis with winter flu cases, ministers have warned.
  • Ukraine’s health minister has urged more citizens to get vaccinated after coronavirus deaths hit a daily record today. The country recorded an additional 734 deaths today and hospital admissions are up by more than a fifth on last week.
  • Human rights experts have raised concerns over vaccine mandates imposed in Cambodia, where authorities say proof of vaccination will be required to obtain a social security card and to enter many public and private spaces in the capital.
  • The director of the Oxford Vaccine Group has claimed it is unfair to “bash the UK” over high Covid case numbers and compare it with the rest of Europe because of high levels of testing. Prof Sir Andrew Pollard, who helped create the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, told MPs it was true the UK had high case rates but this was “very much related to the amount of testing”.

That’s it from me for today. Handing over now to my colleague Jane Clinton. Thanks for reading.

Updated

Face masks made compulsory for everybody working in UK's House of Commons except MPs

In the UK, the House of Commons has updated its guidance to make face masks mandatory for everybody – except for MPs.

Staff, contractors, visitors and press must all now cover their faces, but it is up to individual MPs to decide whether or not they want to, reports the BBC.

Many Conservatives have chosen not to wear them, but Sajid Javid, the health secretary, has said he will wear one for tomorrow’s budget speech, when the chamber will be full.

Several Conservative MPs wore masks in the House of Commons, in London, on Thursday.
Several Conservative MPs wore masks in the House of Commons, in London, on Thursday. Photograph: Parliament TV

The House of Commons has just updated its guidance on masks. Now mandatory for all staff, contractors, press and all other third parties while on the estate... but still not MPs. Begs the question, why not?

— Tom Newton Dunn (@tnewtondunn) October 26, 2021

Updated

Covid crisis 'far from finished' says WHO

The Covid-19 crisis is far “far from finished”, the World Health Organization’s emergency committee said today.

The 19-member committee, which meets every three months to discuss the pandemic and make recommendations, also called for research into next-generation vaccines and long-term action to control the virus.

“While progress has been made through increased uptake of Covid-19 vaccines and therapeutics, analysis of the present situation and forecasting models indicate that the pandemic is far from finished,” the WHO said in a statement.

It also said that mask use, social distancing, hand hygiene and improved indoor ventilation were “key to reducing transmission”.

The committee said that the pandemic was making other crises including humanitarian emergencies and mass migration more complex, reports AFP, and that states should revise their preparedness and response plans.

Statement on the 9th meeting of the International Health Regulations (2005) Emergency Committee on #COVID19.

👉 https://t.co/QdAmFixB5f pic.twitter.com/UmcNILG1x1

— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) October 26, 2021

Updated

Belgium brings back Covid restrictions, just weeks after relaxing rules

Coronavirus restrictions are to return to Belgium on Friday, just weeks after they were relaxed, amid rising cases and hospitalisations.

The rules include wearing face masks in public places and mandatory masks for staff at bars, restaurants and fitness clubs. Covid passes will also be required to enter.

“As of Friday, there will be face masks in public places and they will be mandatory for staff of bars, restaurants and fitness clubs,” the prime minister, Alexander De Croo, said. “We need to raise our walls of protection.”

Daily infections have increased by 75% in the last week to 5,299 cases. Meanwhile, hospitalisations have risen by 69% to 102 daily cases. Deaths have risen slightly to 13 a day, reports the Associated Press.

Belgian prime minister, Alexander De Croo, pictured at a press conference in Brussels today.
Belgian prime minister, Alexander De Croo, pictured at a press conference in Brussels today. Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

Updated

'Concerning' rise in people being sectioned in UK amid pandemic

Experts have called for more funding for mental health as new data revealed that the number of people being sectioned has risen by about 4.5% in England.

The mental health charity Mind said the rise was especially concerning amid the pandemic when they said “we know so many people have struggled with their mental health”.

According to the figures, 53,239 people were detained under the mental health act in 2020-21, reports the Press Association. But statisticians said the true figure was likely to be higher because some organisations did not submit data.

The figures also show that detentions were higher among men than women and generally declined with age. Detentions among adults from a Black background were four times higher than those from white backgrounds, according to NHS Digital data.

Vicki Nash, head of policy, campaigns and public affairs at Mind, said:

It would be concerning at any time to see an increase in the number of people detained for mental health treatment, but it is even more troubling off the back of the pandemic, when we know so many people have struggled with their mental health.

Crucially, people must be able to access mental health support early on so that they don’t reach crisis point.

This is particularly important as one way of tackling institutional racism in the mental health system, which means a hugely disproportionate number of black people are sectioned.

Equally important, when people do reach this point, they should be treated with dignity and respect, which current legislation used to detain people does not have at its heart.

We therefore expect the UK government to use tomorrow’s spending review to make sufficient investment in community mental health services, so people can get help when they need it, and in making its proposed reform of the mental health act a reality.

Updated

People in Spain who had the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be given either Pfizer or Moderna as a booster injection, the health ministry said today.

From 15 November, about 2 million people who had the single dose vaccine will be given a booster shot three months later, reports Reuters.

Spain has one of the highest vaccination rates in Europe, with 88.5% of its population fully vaccinated.

People wearing face masks in Madrid yesterday, when the country’s total Covid cases surpassed 5 million.
People wearing face masks in Madrid yesterday, when the country’s total Covid cases surpassed 5m. Photograph: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

Updated

Covid patients in UK hospitals at highest since March

In the UK, the number of patients in hospital with Covid-19 has climbed to its highest level since early March.

Government figures show that 8,693 patients were in hospital yesterday - an 11% rise on last week and the highest since 9 March when 9,009 were recorded.

At its peak, on 18 January, there were 39,254 patients in hospital with Covid.

But hospital numbers have been slowly rising since the start of the third wave in May. On 27 May there were 872 people in hospital - now it is around 10 times higher.

The national Covid memorial wall in London earlier this month.
The national Covid memorial wall in London earlier this month. Photograph: Maureen McLean/REX/Shutterstock

Updated

Brazilian Senate committee to vote on Bolsonaro criminal indictments

A Brazilian Senate committee is to vote today on a report recommending president Jair Bolsonaro face criminal indictments over his handling of Covid-19.

The report, by an 11 member committee, is the result of a six-month investigation into the government’s handling of the pandemic, reports the Associated Press.

It calls for Bolsonaro to face charges including charlatanism, inciting crime, misuse of public funds and crimes against humanity. It also calls for him to be held accountable for many of the country’s more than 600,000 Covid deaths, the second highest pandemic death toll in the world.

If it is approved, it would then be up to Brazil’s prosecutor-general, a Bolsonaro appointee, to decide whether to file charges.

Brazilian Senator Renan Calheiros, president and rapporteur of the parliamentary inquiry commission that is investigating the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, during the voting report session in Brasilia today.
Brazilian Senator Renan Calheiros, president and rapporteur of the parliamentary inquiry commission that is investigating the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, during the voting report session in Brasilia today. Photograph: Evaristo Sa/AFP/Getty Images

In the US, North Dakota’s health department today turned off the comments on its social media accounts in an attempt to combat the spread of Covid misinformation.

North Dakota has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the US. Little more than 60% of the state’s population are fully vaccinated, despite availability.

A health department spokesperson said people were trying to speak against vaccinations and advice on avoiding sudden infant death syndrome were among the reasons for the ban.

“People started discrediting information about everything we posted,” said Marie Moe. “Our comment section was no longer a constructive dialogue.”

A vaccination stop for truckers in Drayton, North Dakota in April.
A vaccination stop for truckers in Drayton, North Dakota in April. Photograph: Dan Koeck/Reuters

Updated

Estonia considering new Covid restrictions

Estonia is considering introducing new Covid restrictions - in addition to those that came into effect yesterday - but plans to avoid a general lockdown, reports the Associated Press.

Tanel Kiik, the health minister, told Estonian media that the government will discuss additional restrictions, especially those aimed at encouraging people to get vaccinated.

A decision on the issue is expected to be reached on Thursday.

“We have mapped out all the different kinds of ways the spread can move and infect. Certainly, the most important measure to improve the situation is getting vaccinated,” Kiik told Estonian public broadcaster ERR.

Around 57% of people in Estonia, which has a population of 1.9 million, are fully vaccinated and 1,190 new cases and eight deaths were recorded today.

Starting yesterday, only proof of vaccination or having recovered from Covid are now accepted for virus certificates to enter sporting events, theatres and indoor meetings. Masks are also mandatory in indoor public places until 10 January.

Singapore has reported 3,277 new Covid cases - a rise on 3,174 yesterday - and 10 deaths.

Italy recorded 48 new coronavirus deaths today and 4,054 new cases.

It marks an increase on yesterday, when 30 deaths and 2,535 new cases were recorded.

Overall Italy has reported 131,904 Covid deaths – the second highest toll in Europe after Britain – and 4.75m cases.

Updated

UK records 40,954 new Covid cases and 263 more people have died

The UK recorded 40,954 new Covid cases today and 263 more people have died, official figures show.

Yesterday there were 8,693 patients in hospital with coronavirus – 913 of whom were on beds with mechanical ventilators.

Authorities said there were technical issues with new case reporting in Wales, meaning that cases and deaths cover a three-day period.

Since the start of the pandemic, 8,853,227 people have tested positive with coronavirus in the UK and 163,515 people have died with Covid-19 on their death certificate.

Updated

Scotland faces toughest winter in its history, warn ministers

Scotland’s health service faces the toughest winter in its history because of the twin pressures of Covid and fears over an additional crisis with winter flu cases, ministers have warned.

Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s health secretary, told MSPs at Holyrood on Tuesday the country’s health system “is under extreme pressure. [We] expect this winter to be the most challenging facing the NHS.”

Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister, told MSPs during an update on Covid strategy the health and social care system was “arguably [under] more pressure than at any previous stage of the pandemic. Across the country, hospitals are at, or close to, capacity.”

There were 917 people in hospital with Covid, with 59 people in intensive care, and about 600 new admissions per week on average on Tuesday, she said.

Sturgeon and Yousaf announced nearly £500m in extra emergency funding for the NHS but opposition parties said that funding was too late.

Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader, said the government had failed again to plan in advance. “Every time we think things can’t get any worse, they do,” Ross told MSPs. “This government has dithered and delayed.”

Official data showed Scotland’s hospitals had reported their worst ever accident and emergency waiting times last week, due to Covid-related pressures on staffing and resources. Only 71% of patients were seen and admitted or discharged within four hours. Of those, 1,786 patients spent more than 8 hours in A&E and 515 patients waited in A&E for at least 12 hours.

Nearly 90 British army nurses, medics and general personnel were drafted in to support two Scottish health boards last week – NHS Lanarkshire and NHS Borders, after NHS Lanarkshire declared a code black capacity warning for its hospitals.

Updated

In the UK, cancer survival rates could stall over the next decade due to the impact of coronavirus, MPs have been warned.

PA Media reports that the health and social care committee was told that pausing a lot of major cancer surgery during the first wave of the pandemic had created huge delays and some radiotherapy services were now “on their knees”.

Here is more on the hearing:

Giving evidence to the committee on Tuesday, Action Radiotherapy chairwoman Prof Pat Price said that cancer treatment should have been prioritised and surgery should not have been stopped.

She added: “The main problem, obviously, is that cancer was not ring-fenced and prioritised as it should have been during the first wave.”

But Prof Price also said that just aiming to get back to pre-pandemic levels of care was not good enough and a radical plan was needed.

The consultant clinical oncologist added: “Back to normal is not OK, we went into this pandemic the lowest of the league in all the high-income countries, so our ambition is to get back to being the worst. We have got to do something, we have got to have a radical new plan.”

Prof Mike Griffin, the president of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, said that while the 15 years to 2019 had seen a 10% improvement in cancer survival, it was unlikely to continue over the next decade.

The committee was also told that there were doubts the health service would achieve an ambition to diagnose three-quarters of all cancers at stages 1 and 2 by 2029.

Prof Price added: “You don’t just diagnose the patients, you then have to treat them. Unless we get the treatment side, we are not going to make any improvement in survival.”

Updated

Here's a summary of the latest developments...

  • The world has squandered the opportunity to “build back better” from the Covid-19 pandemic, and faces disastrous temperature rises of at least 2.7C if countries fail to strengthen their climate pledges, according to a report from the UN.
  • Ukraine’s health minister has urged more citizens to get vaccinated after coronavirus deaths hit a daily record today. The country recorded an additional 734 deaths today and hospital admissions are up by more than a fifth on last week.
  • Human rights experts have raised concerns over vaccine mandates imposed in Cambodia, where authorities say proof of vaccination will be required to obtain a social security card and to enter many public and private spaces in the capital.
  • The director of the Oxford Vaccine Group has claimed it is unfair to “bash the UK” over high Covid case numbers and compare it with the rest of Europe because of high levels of testing. Prof Sir Andrew Pollard, who helped create the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, told MPs it was true the UK had high case rates but this was “very much related to the amount of testing”.
  • Covid infections in the Czech Republic are at their highest levels in more than half a year. The health ministry said the daily case number soared to 4,262 yesterday, a rise of 1,733 on a week ago and the highest daily increase since 13 April.
  • A total of 11,117 deaths were registered in England and Wales in the week ending 15 October, reports the Office for National Statistics. This was 370 more than the previous week and 13.9% higher than the five-year average.
  • Five months of “plan B” coronavirus measures could cost the UK economy up to £18bn, according to leaked government documents. So far, Boris Johnson has declined to take on the recommendations of health leaders to bring in the restrictions to reduce the spread and ease the pressure on the NHS this autumn and winter.

World wasted opportunity to 'build back better' from pandemic, says UN

The world has squandered the opportunity to “build back better” from the Covid-19 pandemic, and faces disastrous temperature rises of at least 2.7C if countries fail to strengthen their climate pledges, according to a report from the UN.

Tuesday’s publication warns that countries’ current pledges would reduce carbon by only about 7.5% by 2030, far less than the 45% cut scientists say is needed to limit global temperature rises to 1.5C, the aim of the Cop26 summit that opens in Glasgow this Sunday.

Although more than 100 countries have promised to reach net zero emissions around mid-century, this would not be enough to stave off climate disaster, according to the UN emissions report, which examines the shortfall between countries’ intentions and actions needed on the climate. Many of the net zero pledges were found to be vague, and unless accompanied by stringent cuts in emissions this decade would allow global heating of a potentially catastrophic extent.

Updated

The Russian government has ordered regional leaders to step up their Covid responses as the death toll hit a record for the sixth time in eight days.

The health minister, Mikhail Murashko, said infections have risen by more than 10% in the last week and that there were 268,500 people being treated in hospital, reports Reuters.

He named 13 regions where authorities needed to increase bed capacity and tighten movement restrictions including Vladimir and Chukotka.

It comes ahead of the start of a nationwide workplace shutdown from Saturday to 7 November.

Workers disinfect Savelovsky railway station in Moscow.
Workers disinfect Savelovsky railway station in Moscow. Photograph: Sergei Savostyanov/TASS

The head of the Oxford Vaccine Group has suggested that the UK should stop asymptomatic Covid testing in schools.

Prof Andrew Pollard told MPs on the Commons science and technology committee (see also 13:15) that it was “absolutely critical we keep children in school”.

Prof Lucy Chappell, the chief scientific adviser to the Department of Health, said the government had committed to testing until at least January.

Pollard said:

Clearly, the large amount of testing in schools is very disruptive to the system, whether that is the individual child who is then isolating because they tested positive but they’re completely well, or because of the concerns that that raises more widely in the school – we’re aware of families taking their children out because someone’s tested positive in a school.

So I think there is a huge impact of widespread testing in schools.

I think probably we need to move in the pandemic, over this winter, maybe towards the end of the winter, to a completely different system of clinically-driven testing.

In other words, testing people who are unwell rather than having regular testing of those people who are well, because that does drive a lot of these actions that happen, particularly in schools, if you have lots of asymptomatic testing.

Updated

Sweden’s coronavirus death toll surpassed 15,000 today.

Cases in the country, which today recorded nine new deaths and 2,275 new cases since Friday, have started to rise slightly since the summer. But they remain far below the peak levels recorded last winter, reports Reuters.

Approximately 85% of people in Sweden aged 16-plus have had one vaccine and 80% have had at least two.

Updated

Ukraine urges people to get vaccinated after hitting record deaths

Ukraine’s health minister has urged more citizens to get vaccinated after coronavirus deaths hit a daily record today (see also 07:32).

The country recorded an additional 734 deaths today and hospital admissions are up by more than a fifth on last week.

To date only about 7 million people in Ukraine, which has a population of 41 million, have been fully vaccinated.

Viktor Lyashko, the health minister, said at a briefing that 94% of patients requiring hospital treatment were not vaccinated and that two-thirds of beds with oxygen supplies were occupied.

“The situation with hospitalisations is getting rampant,” Lyashko said. “I call on all of you to get your vaccine. We can and must stop these sad statistics.”

Passengers having their temperatures checked at a train station in Kyiv, Ukraine today.
Passengers having their temperatures checked at a train station in Kyiv, Ukraine today. Photograph: Efrem Lukatsky/AP

Updated

Human rights fears over vaccine mandates in Cambodia

Human rights experts have raised concerns over vaccine mandates imposed in Cambodia, where authorities say proof of vaccination will be required to obtain a social security card and to enter many public and private spaces in the capital.

Earlier this month the Phnom Penh municipal authority said that anyone aged above six years must show proof of vaccination in order to enter markets, restaurants, factories and other public and private spaces. Institutions that fail to carry out checks could be closed down, according to local media reports.

Since then, the National Social Security Fund has also said it will only provide cards to people who can show a Covid vaccination card or certificate.

Cambodia, which has relied on China for vaccine supplies, has succeeded in quickly rolling out vaccinations. Mekong Strategic Partners, a Cambodia-based investment and risk management firm, praised the country for “dramatically outperforming many developed and developing nations”.

According to Our World in Data, Cambodia has vaccinated more than 76% of the population, one of the highest rates in the world.

However, human rights groups have criticised the compulsory nature of the vaccination campaign. Human Rights Watch said the latest rules risked violating people’s basic rights, and preventing them from accessing key services.

Earlier this year, UN experts urged the government to consider revoking rules that require all civil servants and military personnel to be vaccinated. It noted that, at the time, the majority of vaccines offered in the country had not at that point been approved by WHO.

Cambodia currently offers AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Sinopharm, and Sinovac vaccines.

In September, Cambodia began vaccinating children aged six to 12 in September, becoming one of the few countries globally to do so. While the Pfizer vaccine has been approved by WHO for children aged 12-17, no vaccine has been approved for under 12s.

Updated

Bahrain has approved the Sinopharm Covid vaccine for children aged 3-11.

Reuters reports that the state media office also said that the Pfizer vaccine would also soon be approved for children aged 5-11.

Oxford Vaccine Group boss claims it's unfair to 'bash the UK' over high Covid cases

The director of the Oxford Vaccine Group has claimed it is unfair to “bash the UK” over high Covid case numbers and compare it with the rest of Europe because of high levels of testing.

Prof Sir Andrew Pollard, who helped create the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, told MPs it was true the UK had high case rates but this was “very much related to the amount of testing”, reports PA.

Daily cases in the UK have been averaging at more than 40,000 for over a week.

He told the commons science and technology committee:

If you look across western Europe, we have about 10 times more tests done each day than some other countries, this is per head of population.

So we really have to always adjust by looking at the data ... we do have a lot of transmission at the moment, but it’s not right to say that those rates are really telling us something that we can compare internationally.

He added:

If you make the adjustment of cases in relation to the rates of testing, and look at test positivity, currently Germany has the highest test positivity rate in Europe.

So I think when we look at these data it’s really important not to sort of bash the UK with a very high case rate, because actually it’s partly related to very high testing.

I’m not trying to deny that there’s not plenty of transmission, because there is, but it’s the comparisons that are problematic.

Updated

Queues are forming outside Covid vaccination centres in Romania as hospitals fill up with coronavirus patients.

Romania has the second-lowest vaccination rates in the European Union. But this week, amid soaring death rates and newly enforced restrictions, record numbers of people are getting vaccinated, reports Reuters.

In Bucharest, the capital, Dumitru Banu, 55, who works as a driver, got vaccinated to get around new measures that restricted movement.

He said:

I got vaccinated because of the restrictions, like the night curfew and access to institutions. I would say everyone should get vaccinated so that we can get rid of this pandemic.

Around a fifth of all of Romania’s 45,503 Covid deaths were this month, amid record infection rates.

Just 38% of the population has had a first dose of the vaccine, nearly 1 million of whom had their first shot this month.

People queue for Covid vaccinations at “marathon of vaccination” at the National Library in Bucharest last weekend.
People queue for Covid vaccinations at “marathon of vaccination” at the National Library in Bucharest last weekend. Photograph: Daniel Mihăilescu/AFP/Getty Images

Updated

Ireland is expected to introduce tickets for nightclubs that must be booked at least an hour in advance under new coronavirus rules, according to reports.

Sky News reports that PA understands that pub and nighttime industry representatives met with government officials this morning and that the new regulations are expected to be published on Thursday when the new rules are introduced.

Covid cases in Czech Republic soar to highest levels in over half a year amid 'epidemic of the non-vaccinated'

Covid infections in the Czech Republic are at their highest levels in more than half a year.

The health ministry said the daily case number soared to 4,262 yesterday, a rise of 1,733 on a week ago and the highest daily increase since 13 April.

They predict numbers will further increase over coming days to over 300 people infected per 100,000 in a seven-day period (yesterday the figure was 217), reports the Associated Press.

A vaccination queue in Prague, Czech Republic, yesterday.
A vaccination queue in Prague, Czech Republic, yesterday. Photograph: Petr David Josek/AP

The health minister, Adam Vojtěch, blamed a low vaccination rate and urged more people to get the vaccine.

“It has become an epidemic of the non-vaccinated, it’s a fact,” he said today. “A majority of new cases are not vaccinated, and a majority of those who have to be hospitalised and are in serious condition have not been vaccinated.”

According to figures from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, about 67% of people in the Czech Republic are fully vaccinated. The EU average is 74.5%.

Updated

Death rate for England and Wales 13.9% higher than five-year average

A total of 11,117 deaths were registered in England and Wales in the week ending 15 October, reports the Office for National Statistics.

This was 370 more than the previous week and 13.9% higher than the five-year average.

11,117 deaths were registered in England and Wales in the week ending 15 October 2021 (Week 41).

This was
▪ 370 more than the previous week
▪️ 1,366 (13.9%) more than the five-year average.

➡️https://t.co/ERr5bNs8SN pic.twitter.com/N3BsNHY9ta

— Office for National Statistics (ONS) (@ONS) October 26, 2021

In England, the number of deaths relating to coronavirus rose to 640, from 582 the previous week. And in Wales, coronavirus deaths decreased to 71, from 81 the week before.

In England, deaths involving #COVID19 increased to 640 in the week ending 15 October (from 582 the previous week).

In Wales, deaths involving COVID-19 decreased to 71 (down from 81 the previous week) https://t.co/7D8IVzpB06

— Office for National Statistics (ONS) (@ONS) October 26, 2021

Across the UK, a total of 890 deaths in that week involved Covid-19 – a 7.9% rise on the week before.

Northern Ireland had the highest proportion of coronavirus deaths, with 11.3% of total deaths.

Of all deaths in the UK in week ending 15 October, 890 involved #COVID19, up 7.9% from the previous week.

Northern Ireland had the highest proportion of deaths involving COVID-19 at 11.3%, followed by Scotland (10.4%), Wales (9.9%) and England (6.1%) https://t.co/XjwnHh2460 pic.twitter.com/hDhZeuBHZN

— Office for National Statistics (ONS) (@ONS) October 26, 2021

Updated

Also in the UK, the University of Northampton has made face masks compulsory in an attempt to “preserve face-to-face contact”.

The BBC reports that the university brought back the measure yesterday amid a national surge in Covid cases, hospital admissions and deaths.

The rule will apply to all buildings except for halls of residence and sport and activity venues.

Becky Bradshaw, a university spokeswoman, said the response had been “overwhelmingly positive”.

Updated

'Plan B' Covid restrictions could cost UK economy £18bn, leaked documents show

Five months of “plan B” coronavirus measures could cost the UK economy up to £18bn, according to leaked government documents.

So far, Boris Johnson has declined to take on the recommendations of health leaders to bring in the restrictions to reduce the spread and ease the pressure on the NHS this autumn and winter.

The papers, drawn up by the cabinet office’s coronavirus task force and the treasury and obtained by Politico, calculate the potential cost of introducing compulsory mask-wearing, vaccine passports and guidance to work from home.

The analysis suggests that bringing in the measures for the winter until March would cost the economy £11-18bn.

A government spokesperson said:

We knew the coming months would be challenging, which is why we set out our autumn and winter plan last month. Plan b ensures we are ready, should we need to act, to avoid an unsustainable rise in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.

The presumptions put forward here do not reflect government policy. The data does not currently show that plan b is necessary – and there is no planned five month timeline.

Hi, I’m looking after the global coronavirus blog for the next few hours. Please get in touch with any tips or suggestions: miranda.bryant@guardian.co.uk

Updated

Today so far

  • Eastern Europe continues to record a surge in Covid cases and deaths. Russia on Tuesday reported 1,106 Covid-19 deaths in the past 24 hours, its highest figure since the start of the pandemic. The daily toll has reached new records in six of the past eight days.
  • Ukraine’s health ministry registered a record 734 coronavirus-related deaths over 24 hours. The previous daily high of 614 deaths was on 22 October. The US added Ukraine to its list of “very high” risk travel destinations this week.
  • Bulgaria reported record numbers of daily coronavirus deaths and infections as a fourth wave of the disease stretches the health system in the EU’s least-vaccinated member state.
  • Coronavirus indicators are also rising in Belgium, pushing the government to consider re-imposing some pandemic measures that it relaxed only a few weeks ago.
  • Dr David Nabarro, the WHO’s special envoy for Covid-19, said that “everybody” should be wearing masks in close confinement with other people, “including our leaders”. Asked whether UK MPs should wear masks during the budget in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Dr Nabarro told Sky News: “This virus, it is absolutely unstoppable, it gets everywhere, and so we have to do everything we possibly can to stop it.”
  • By contrast, the UK business minister Paul Scully said of the government message on face masks: “I think the message is to make your decisions for yourself. It depends where you want to go to. If you want the government to be dictating to you every minute of the day. It’s a message that you can use your own initiative and make your own decisions.”
  • Heathrow airport has warned that air travel may not recover to pre-Covid levels until 2026 despite improving passenger numbers in the past three months, as it reported that losses since the start of the pandemic had reached £3.4bn.
  • Headteachers have described the “sinister” intimidation tactics being used by protesters against the vaccination of teenagers in UK schools.
  • China reported 35 new domestic cases on Monday, as authorities continue to battle an outbreak of the Delta variant primarily centred around Inner Mongolia but which has spread to at least 11 provinces. China is one of the few countries still pursuing a zero-Covid strategy, and has again responded to the latest outbreak with travel restrictions, stay-inside orders and other measures.
  • After weeks of sustained calls for Hong Kong to relax its quarantine and border restrictions, its leader has instead announced rules are getting tougher. At her regular press conference, Carrie Lam announced “most” quarantine exemptions to visitors coming from both overseas and the mainland would soon be cancelled. She said only essential workers, such as truck drivers carrying goods between Hong Kong and China, would be allowed to travel without quarantining.
  • The African Union is set to buy 110m doses of the Moderna vaccine. The White House will defer delivery of 33m doses intended for the US to facilitate the deal.
  • New Zealand is announcing sweeping vaccine mandates for workers in cafes, bars, hairdressers and gyms, as the country aims for some of the world’s highest vaccination rates. Prime minister Jacinda Ardern said the government would also require businesses to provide paid time off to allow workers to get vaccinated.

That is your lot from me, Martin Belam, today. Andrew Sparrow has our politics live blog for today, which has a focus very much on preparations for the budget. Miranda Bryant will be here shortly to continue bringing you the latest coronavirus developments from the UK and the rest of the world.

Updated

Coronavirus indicators are shooting upward in Belgium, pushing the government on Tuesday to consider re-imposing some pandemic measures that it relaxed only a few weeks ago.

Associated Press report daily infections in the nation of 11 million people increased 75% to reach 5,299 case on a daily basis last week. Hospitalisations have increased by 69% to reach 102 daily cases. Deaths have increased slightly, with an average of 13 a day.

To turn around this trend, the government and regional officials are expected to decide later today to boost measures again, although stopping well short of a going into a lockdown. Indications are that authorities are looking at increased mandatory use of face masks and virus passports. The urgency is such that the meeting has been brought forward three days.

The health minister, Frank Vandenbroucke, however, said that drastic restrictions were still out of the question. “Bars and restaurants will remain open. Kids must go to school – it’s important. But maybe we will be going back to more face masks,” he told VRT network late on Monday.

Updated

Every month since July, when the legal requirement to wear face masks – along with other restrictions – ended in England, the number of mask-wearers has dropped.

In figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) last week, 82% of adults reported they had worn a mask outside their home in the previous seven days – a drop from 86% the previous month. But that seems high to me.

In my own highly unscientific survey of people coming out of a shopping centre in a south coast town centre last week, only about one in 25 were wearing a mask and overwhelmingly they tended to be older people – the most vulnerable social group.

“When everyone else stopped, I stopped,” says Holly. Her friend Chantelle works in a supermarket and also hasn’t worn a mask since July. Does she mind customers not wearing masks? “Not really,” she says, “because I’m not wearing one. Doing an eight-hour shift in it was horrible.”

Would they go back to wearing masks? “If we had to, then yeah, I would,” says Holly, but neither would by choice.

Read more of Emine Saner’s article here: The psychology of masks – why have so many people stopped covering their faces?

Updated

Russia reports record 1,106 Covid daily death toll – sixth record in eight days

Russia on Tuesday reported 1,106 Covid-19 deaths in the past 24 hours, the highest figure since the start of the pandemic, amid a surge in new cases that has prompted authorities to reimpose partial lockdown measures.

The daily toll has reached new records in six of the past eight days. The state Covid-19 taskforce also reported 36,446 new infections, compared with 37,930 a day earlier.

Reuters remind us that Russia will go into a nationwide workplace shutdown in the first week of November, and the capital, Moscow, will reimpose a partial lockdown from 28 October, with only essential shops such as pharmacies and supermarkets allowed to remain open.

The Moscow Times reports:

That brings the official death toll to 232,775 – Europe’s highest – though authorities are accused of dramatically downplaying that figure.

A Moscow Times analysis of excess deaths published by the federal statistics agency Rosstat puts Russia’s total excess fatality count since the start of the pandemic at 660,000.

Russia has the world’s fifth-highest total caseload of more than 8.3 million infections since the start of the pandemic, with the more infectious Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates fuelling the virus’s spread since the summer.

Only around 36% of Russians have been fully vaccinated despite the availability of four homegrown vaccines and several regions mandating shots for certain categories of workers.

Updated

This is a post that could probably equally go on this blog or Andrew Sparrow’s, but UK MPs have been urged to wear masks during the chancellor’s budget speech by a Covid-19 expert from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Dr David Nabarro, the WHO’s special envoy for Covid-19, said that “everybody” should be wearing masks in close confinement with other people, “including our leaders”.

Asked whether MPs should wear masks during the budget in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Dr Nabarro told Sky News: “This virus, it is absolutely unstoppable, it gets everywhere, and so we have to do everything we possibly can to stop it.”

PA Media quote him saying:

And one of the best ways to stop it is a well-fitting surgical mask properly over your face, pushed in over your nose, covering everything, and that reduces the risk to others and the risk to you.

If it works, why on earth don’t people use it? It’s not a party political issue - this virus doesn’t vote. And indeed, there’s no difference in how you deal with the virus when you vote for this party or that party.

So everybody, wear masks when you are in close confinement, it’s the right, sensible, proper thing to do, and everybody should be doing it, including our leaders.

Updated

Andrew Sparrow has launched our UK politics live blog for the day. He’s going to be preoccupied with the run-up to the Budget I’d imagine, so I’ll be keeping on with lead UK Covid lines here.

Heathrow says travel may not return to pre-Covid levels until 2026

Heathrow airport has warned that air travel may not recover to pre-Covid levels until 2026 despite improving passenger numbers in the past three months, as it reported that losses since the start of the pandemic had reached £3.4bn.

The airport said international travel could be “on the cusp of a recovery” but it faced a “long road ahead”. Heathrow reported its first quarter of passenger growth since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic as the loosening of restrictions begins to unleash pent-up demand.

Passenger numbers in the three months to the end of September recovered to 28% of pre-pandemic levels, while cargo climbed to 90% of its levels in the equivalent period in 2019.

Read more of Jillian Ambrose’s report here: Heathrow says travel may not return to pre-Covid levels until 2026

Updated

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has added Ukraine to its list of “very high” risk travel destinations this week. It is the only change made this week. Last week Singapore was added to the list. There are 77 locations on the list in total, including the UK.

China is demanding faster and more accessible Covid-19 testing services in its latest effort to reinforce a zero-tolerance policy against the virus, even as cities scrambled to test millions in just a few days amid outbreaks.

Frequent testing, and sometimes mass testing, is standard practice in China’s containment of domestically transmitted outbreaks in the past year, but health authorities say testing services remain unsatisfactory in parts of China amid flare-ups, reports Reuters.

“Small clusters and sporadic infections have occurred in some areas, exposing problems such as the unreasonable locations of nucleic acid testing agencies, inconvenient services and delays in the returning of results,” state media reported today, citing the National Health Commission (NHC).

China is facing a new wave of infections, involving nearly 200 locally transmitted symptomatic cases in 12 provincial areas since 17 October. Many of those infected were from remote parts of north-west China without as much health resources as major cities.

NHC said testing agencies should provide 24-hour services to the public and strive to have results within six hours for those who volunteered to be tested, according to state media reports. It previously said in September that cities with more than 5 million people should have the capacity to test everyone within three days.

While China is yet to approve self-testing kits for diagnosing Covid-19, swab tests that require professional labs to process samples are widely available.

Updated

We’ve got an interesting little interactive today from my colleagues Anna Leach and Miles Probyn which sets out to ask why people believe Covid conspiracy theories, and wonders if folklore could hold the answer?

Researchers have mapped the web of connections underpinning coronavirus conspiracy theories, opening a new way of understanding and challenging them.

Using Danish witchcraft folklore as a model, the researchers from UCLA and Berkeley analysed thousands of social media posts with an artificial intelligence tool and extracted the key people, things and relationships.

The tool enabled them to piece together the underlying stories in coronavirus conspiracy theories from fragments in online posts. One discovery from the research identifies Bill Gates as the reason why conspiracy theorists connect 5G with the virus.

Folklore isn’t just a model for the AI. Tangherlini, whose specialism is Danish folklore, is interested in how conspiratorial witchcraft folklore took hold in the 16th and 17th centuries and what lessons it has for today.

View the interactive here: Why people believe Covid conspiracy theories: could folklore hold the answer?

Heathrow passenger traffic at about 45% of pre-pandemic levels

Just a quick note from PA here, that Heathrow chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, has said the London airport is still only seeing post-lockdown passenger traffic at about 45% of 2019 levels.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s definitely been a tough 18 months but we are starting to see the recovery coming through. Now all we need to see is stability in the travel rules, so people are confident of what we need to do and the airlines can build it into their systems.

“We are hiring people right now to make sure that across the airport we can meet the demand that is starting to come through. We’re still at around 40 to 45% of the levels even on the busiest days of where we were back in 2019.”

Updated

UK headteachers describe ‘sinister’ tactics of anti-vaxx protesters

Headteachers have described the “sinister” intimidation tactics being used by protesters against the vaccination against Covid of teenagers in schools.

“It started with a few emails from a group calling itself Lawyers for Freedom,” the Guardian was told by the headteacher of one of a number of Liverpool schools that have come under pressure from anti-vaccine activists. “An email is relatively easy to ignore.”

The protests soon escalated, however, with “aggressive” leafleting of pupils by five or six protesters as they left school. The head dialled 999, but the police did not come. “It felt disproportionate,” said the head. “We know there was at least one student who came back into school and was quite upset by what was going on.”

That was followed by a visit from a small group of protesters who gained access to the school, demanded to meet the head, then served quasi-legal documents warning that they would be held legally responsible if any child suffered death or harm from these “experimental vaccines”.

The same has happened at a number of Liverpool secondary schools. The encounters were typically filmed on a mobile phone then posted on the social media app Telegram by a group calling itself Liverpool’s People’s Resistance UK, naming schools and in some cases teachers, declaring, “Notice served”.

“It was pretty aggressive,” the head said. “They came up to reception asking to speak to the headteacher about a legal matter. They insist on reading from a script and they film the whole process on a mobile.

“Once they’ve handed the papers over, they tend to disappear. They’ve got the footage they want. It almost feels like it’s a trophy. There are Trumpian undertones to what these groups are doing. If they started describing themselves as patriots, I wouldn’t be surprised.”

Read more of Sally Weale’s report here: UK headteachers describe ‘sinister’ tactics of anti-vaxx protesters

Updated

Ukraine registers new record high for daily deaths with 734 fatalities

A quick snap from Reuters here on the Covid surge that is hitting the east of Europe, with today Ukraine’s health ministry confirming it registered a record daily high of 734 coronavirus-related deaths over the past 24 hours. The previous high of 614 deaths was on 22 October.

The ministry’s data also showed 19,120 new infections were reported over the past 24 hours. That compares with a total of 14,634 new coronavirus cases on 24 October in Ukraine.

Updated

UK minister: 'Use your own initiative' on face masks

The UK business minister, Paul Scully, has been on Sky News this morning, and as expected much of the interview was taken up with budget details. The only really Covid-adjacent section of the interview was when he was asked if he would be wearing a face mask in the House of Commons on budget day, to which he didn’t really give an answer, preferring to say that he might not be in the chamber on the day, and only if it is “rammed”.

Asked about whether one political party wearing face masks in parliament and one political party not wearing face masks was sending mixed messages to the public at a time when the trend is for rising case numbers in the UK, he said:

I think the message is to make your decisions for yourself. It depends where you want to go to. If you want the government to be dictating to you every minute of the day. It’s a message that you can use your own initiative and make your own decisions.

Here are the latest Covid numbers in the UK, by the way.

Updated

Bulgaria sets new records for cases and deaths amid protests over restrictions

Bulgaria reported record numbers of daily coronavirus deaths and infections as a fourth wave of the disease is stretching the health system in the European Union’s least vaccinated member state.

New infections in the previous 24 hours topped 5,863 while 243 people died of the virus, official data showed. The pandemic has killed 23,316 people in Bulgaria.

Faced with surging infections and frustrated by the slow take-up of vaccines, the Balkan country of 7 million people has made health passes mandatory for most indoor public venues.

People walk through a metro station in Sofia this week.
People walk through a metro station in Sofia this week. Photograph: Hristo Rusev/Getty Images

Tsvetelia Tsolova reports for Reuters from Sofia that the new restrictions have prompted protests and some political parties have accused the interim government of failing to manage the pandemic ahead of parliamentary elections on 14 November.

Health authorities have warned that failure to slow the new wave of the disease may trigger tougher restrictions as hospitals struggle to deal with more Covid-19 patients.

On Tuesday, more than 7,100 people were in Covid wards, including 608 of them in intensive care. More than 90% of the patients were not vaccinated, data showed.

Vaccinations have picked up since last Thursday, when authorities limited access to restaurants, cinemas and gyms, among other venues, to those who are vaccinated, have recovered from the virus or have a negative Covid-19 test.

Still, Bulgaria, where vaccine scepticism runs high amid entrenched mistrust of state authorities and contradictory messages from politicians and experts, has managed to fully inoculate only 24% of its adult population compared with an EU average of 74%.

Updated

Hong Kong tightens its border restrictions

After weeks of sustained calls for Hong Kong to relax its quarantine and border restrictions, the city’s leader has just announced they’re getting tougher.

Currently Hong Kong’s border rules are a labyrinthine range of entry requirements depending on the traveller’s point of origin, vaccination status, visa status, and quarantine hotel bookings.

The city mostly bans non-residents, and requires entrants to undergo up to 21 days of quarantine. There are some exemptions to that, which include allowing some resident travellers to undergo shorter periods of quarantine or for other individuals like diplomats and business figures – recently including Nicole Kidman who was filming a movie – to bypass it altogether or to isolate at home.

At a regular press conference on Tuesday, Lam announced “most” quarantine exemptions to visitors coming from both overseas and the mainland will soon be cancelled. She said only essential workers, like truck drivers carrying goods between Hong Kong and China, would be allowed to travel without quarantining.

Hong Kong has gone about two months without a domestic case of Covid-19 but its leader, Carrie Lam, has made it clear she is prioritising reopening travel with mainland China over lifting international border restrictions. China is pursuing a zero Covid strategy, and expects Hong Kong to have similar situation and response measures in place in order to ease cross-border travel.

Lam conceded this posed a “dilemma”, but a mainland bubble remained the priority.
“So if Hong Kong were to loosen border controls for people arriving from overseas or adopt what other countries have done – so-called [living] with the Covid-19 virus – then the chances to travel with the mainland will be reduced.”

The decision walks Hong Kong even further away from what international business groups, companies and expats, as well as residents with overseas family ties had been lobbying for.

Faced with the uncertainty of the border closures on top of a worsening security and political environment, foreign chambers of commerce have warned many existing companies are leaving, downsizing or moving staff to other Asian cities.

“What we do not see is a massive outflow of companies out of Hong Kong,” Frederik Gollob, the chairman of the European Chamber, recently told Bloomberg. “But we do see the tendency to restructure either functions, parts of your teams, teams, or in some cases, entire companies to other locations in Asia.”

A survey by the US chamber of commerce earlier this year found more than 40% of its members were considering leaving Hong Kong, but its president, Tara Joseph, said the government was not responding to their concerns. “We’re at the point where it just feels like we’re talking to a wall,” Joseph told Bloomberg. “So we’ve stopped writing letters at this point.”

A general view shows the city skyline from a star ferry in Hong Kong.
A general view shows the city skyline from a star ferry in Hong Kong. Photograph: Isaac Lawrence/AFP/Getty Images

Updated

Hello, it is Martin Belam here in London. I’ll be taking over from Samantha Lock and here for the next few hours. Business minister Paul Scully is doing the UK media round for the government this morning. I suspect it will mostly be about pre-announcing elements of this week’s budget, but I will bring you any Covid-related lines that emerge in due course.

Updated

African Union to buy up to 110m Moderna vaccines

An exclusive story from Reuters today reports an arrangement struck between the African Union (AU) and the White House to secure up to 110 million Covid-19 vaccine doses.

The AU is set to buy the vaccine from manufacturer and vaccine developer Moderna Inc. The White House will defer delivery of 33 million doses intended for the United States to facilitate the deal, officials told the news agency.

The AU’s doses will be delivered over the coming months, with 15 million arriving before the end of 2021, 35 million in the first quarter of next year and up to 60 million in the second quarter.

“This is important as it allows us to increase the number of vaccines available immediately,” the AU coronavirus envoy, Strive Masiyiwa, said. “We urge other vaccine producing countries to follow the lead of the (US government) and give us similar access to buy this and other vaccines.”

Masiyiwa said the Moderna purchase represented the first time the 55-member AU had secured vaccines that were not fully produced in Africa.

The new shipments of vaccine are well below what Africa needs to vaccinate its 1.3 billion people, who have had far less access to the life-saving vaccines than more prosperous parts of the world. Getting access to Moderna vaccines adds diversity to the AU’s vaccine supply with different storage requirements.

“We are grateful to have helped negotiate this encouraging step forward between Moderna and the African Union that will significantly expand access to vaccines on the continent in the near-term,” said Natalie Quillian, the White House’s deputy coordinator for Covid-19 response.

Updated

China Covid outbreak continues to spread

China reported 35 new domestic cases on Monday, as authorities continue to battle an outbreak of the Delta variant primarily centred around Inner Mongolia but which has spread to at least 11 provinces.

China is one of the few remaining countries still pursuing a zero Covid strategy, and has again responded to the latest outbreak with travel restrictions, stay-inside orders and other measures.

At least four people are under investigation for breaching pandemic measures, and several officials in Inner Mongolia have been punished, including the local health commission’s deputy director who has been removed from her post, according to Caixin.

The outbreak of more than 150 cases so far has spread through tour groups travelling between provinces, health authorities have said. This morning local government officials in Gansu revealed dozens of tour groups are stranded in the province, comprising more than 420 tourists.

Beijing, which has recorded several cases linked to Inner Mongolia tourists, has barred from entry anyone who has been to an affected area, and postponed its upcoming annual marathon.

Updated

New Zealand announces vaccine mandates for 40% of workforce

New Zealand is announcing sweeping vaccine mandates for workers in cafes, bars, hairdressers and gyms, as the country aims for some of the world’s highest vaccination rates.

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern said the government would also require businesses to provide paid time off to allow workers to get vaccinated.

Under the new rules, vaccination will be required for all workers at businesses where customers need to show Covid-19 vaccination certificates - under New Zealand’s new framework, that includes hospitality and close-contact businesses like hairdressers and gyms whenever there is a “red” or “orange” level of traffic light restrictions. The changes are expected to affect about 40% of New Zealand’s workforce. Those who do not comply with vaccination mandates can be given 4 weeks notice by employers. Unemployment benefits and support will not be affected in any way if people are dismissed as a result of refusal to get vaccinated.

The measures won’t come into force until New Zealand moves to its new epidemic management model, which happens when the country passes 90% vaccination.

Asked if the changes were “government overreach,” Ardern said “absolutely not”.

“We’ve been very careful here to make an assessment of those areas that throughout this outbreak and throughout COVID-19 have always been assessed as high risk,” she said.

“We are trying to be very careful to ensure that everything we’re doing has a public health basis to it, and also balances out the rights of those who are both workers [and] also the rights of those who may be clients or customers.”

Hello and thanks for joining us.

I’m Samantha Lock reporting to you from Sydney, Australia, and I’ll be with you for the next short while while we go through all the key Covid developments.

As the disparity in vaccination rates widens between the world’s wealthiest and poorest nations, some good news has finally arrived.

The African Union (AU) has brokered a deal to buy up to 110 million vaccine doses from Moderna Inc, Reuters reports.

Under the negotiations delivery of some doses intended for the United States will be deferred to facilitate the deal, officials told the news agency. The deal was brokered in part by the White House.

The AU’s doses will be delivered over the coming months, with 15 million arriving before the end of 2021, 35 million in the first quarter of next year and up to 60 million in the second quarter.

Here’s a round-up of the day’s leading Covid stories:

  • European Medical Agency approves Moderna booster. The medical body approved doses for all adults, saying the Spikevax booster can be given out and administered, after it gave the green light to the Pfizer/BioNTech’s Comirnaty jab earlier in October.
  • US introduces new guidelines on non-US citizens’ entry into the country and testing for travellers. Foreign nationals will have to be fully vaccinated before entering the country, with some exemptions in place for under-18s. Those coming from countries with low vaccination rates will have to justify their visit.
  • UK reports 38 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid as of Monday, bringing the UK total to 139,571.
  • Moderna moves towards expanding shots to children, saying a low dose of its Covid vaccine is safe and appears to work in six- to 11-year-olds.
  • Children as young as three will start receiving Covid vaccines in China, where 76% of the population has been fully vaccinated. It comes as authorities continue to maintain a zero-tolerance policy towards outbreaks.
  • Worst of US pandemic likely behind us but we can’t drop our guard, experts say. The number of new Covid cases and deaths in the US has been in a steady decline since early September but experts also caution that it’s not yet safe to abandon safeguards against the virus. That’s because parts of the US population and much of the world remain unvaccinated, which could allow for outbreaks and dangerous new variants of the virus to emerge.
  • People in Tokyo can eat and drink in bars and restaurants later in the evening from today as Japan eases social distancing rules.
  • Russia reports 37,930 new Covid-19 infections in the last 24 hours, its highest single-day case tally since the start of the pandemic.
  • Spain reached the grim milestone of 5 million COVID-19 cases during the pandemic.
  • Mexico reports more than 1,000 new Covid-19 cases, health ministry says.
  • Facebook deleted a video of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro in which he warned of a link between Covid-19 vaccines and Aids.

Contributors

Jane Clinton (now) Miranda Bryant, Martin Belam and Samantha Lock (earlier)

The GuardianTramp

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