That’s it from me, Samantha Lock, reporting to you from Sydney, Australia.

I’ll be back a little later today but in the meantime you can catch up with all the latest Covid headlines here.

Join us then!

Summary

Here’s a rundown of all the top headlines today.

  • Russia sets more Covid restrictions amid record deaths and vaccine hesitancy. Recent rampant outbreaks in the countries have been driven by low vaccination rates.
  • Britain has reported 39,842 new cases of Covid, government data showed on Thursday. A further 165 people were reported as having died within 28 days of a positive test for Covid, meaning the seven-day total was up 16.2% from the previous week.
  • More than 100 million Indians have not turned up for their second coronavirus vaccine dose, official data showed, raising concerns of a resurgence in the disease despite a relatively low infection rate.
  • Only five African countries will meet the target of fully vaccinating 40% of their populations against Covid unless the pace of inoculations increases, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.
  • Singapore reported 3,432 new cases of Covid on Thursday, a day after recording its highest single-day rise in cases which the city-state’s healthy ministry described as an “unusual surge”.
  • Pfizer and BioNTech have announced that they expect to deliver 50m more doses of their Covid vaccine to the United States by the end of April.
  • Airlines cast doubt on flying unvaccinated passengers to Australia.
  • England set to remove final countries from Covid travel ‘red list’. At least 12 more countries’ vaccines also expected to be recognised in significant opening up of borders.
  • Face mask row in Japan over cost of 80m left in storage unused. Wearing masks may be near-ubiquitous in Japan, but the government has come under fire after it was revealed that more than 80m face coverings it procured at the start of the coronavirus pandemic are still in storage, at a huge cost to taxpayers.

Updated

Russia sets more Covid restrictions amid record deaths and vaccine hesitancy

Russia and Ukraine are enforcing new coronavirus restrictions at the regional level and pleading with their citizens to get vaccinated, in a sign that both countries have failed to get to grips with rampant outbreaks driven by low vaccination rates.

The restrictions are a grudging effort that authorities say will save lives, as both countries search for an answer to vaccine hesitancy. About 30% of Russians and just 16% of Ukrainians have been fully vaccinated.

Amid a “worst-case scenario” surge of cases, authorities in Moscow shut down non-essential services for 11 days on Thursday, two days before the start of a week-long nationwide paid holiday announced by President Vladimir Putin last weekend. Schools and many offices have been closed in the capital, and restaurants told to offer a takeaway service only.

The Russian army announced plans to set up a coronavirus hospital in the Moscow region. The “specialised hospital” would be staffed by “brigades of doctors and nurses,” the Ministry of Defence said in a statement quoted by state media.

The latest wave of infections in Russia has put the Kremlin in a difficult position. It has had to admit to a failure at the national level at halting the spread of the virus but also wants to distance itself from new lockdown measures, which are extremely unpopular among ordinary Russians.

Read the full story here.

Brazil registered on Thursday 389 new Covid-19 deaths and 15,268 additional confirmed cases, according to data released by the country’s health ministry.

Brazil has registered 607,068 deaths due to the coronavirus, Reuters reports.

Ugandan schools, closed since March last year owing to the pandemic, will reopen in January regardless of currently low vaccination uptake, the country’s president said.

“Be informed that the schools will be opened in January and the rest of the economy will be opened in the same month,” said Yoweri Museveni, AFP reports.

“Vaccination is key to the reopening of the economy,” he said, even though fewer than three million jabs have been doled out for a population of roughly 45 million.

Ugandans have shown reticence to get jabbed so far despite Museveni stating that “right now 4.7 million vaccines” are available with a further 23 million doses expected by the end of the year.

“By the end of December 2021, 12 million people should have been vaccinated,” forecast the head of state, including vulnerable people and health and education workers.

Museveni urged Ugandans to “walk to the health centres or be carried there ... go by motorcycle taxi, go by bicycle or go by vehicle and be immunised”.

Updated

View of decorations in homage of people who died from Covid-19 at a store of wedding dresses in downtown Mexico City.
View of decorations in homage of people who died from Covid-19 at a store of wedding dresses in downtown Mexico City. Photograph: Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images

The US administered 417,795,537 doses of Covid-19 vaccines in the country as of Thursday morning and distributed 510,735,525 doses, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Those figures are up from the 416,154,424 vaccine doses the CDC said had gone into arms by 27 October out of 507,637,305 doses delivered.

The agency said 221,348,530 people had received at least one dose while 191,242,432 people were fully vaccinated as of 6am ET on Thursday, Reuters reports.

Updated

Zookeepers at Cuba’s National Zoo say several species of exotic and endangered animals took advantage of the peace and quiet brought on by the coronavirus pandemic for romantic encounters that resulted in a bumper crop of baby animals.

The newborns include leopards, bengal tigers, zebras, giraffes, antelopes and oxen, a rarity officials attribute to the many months the zoo was closed during the pandemic, said zoo veterinarian Rachel Ortiz.

“Although the pandemic has been negative for humans, in the case of zoos it was beneficial,” Ortiz told Reuters. “In particular our park has had more than 10 births of high-value species, in danger of extinction and that may at some point restore biological diversity.”

Citigroup Inc said it will require all US employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19 as a condition of their employment.

The bank will comply with the Biden administration policy requiring all workers supporting government contracts to be fully vaccinated, as the government remains a “large and important” client of Citi, said Sarah Wechter, head of human resources, in a LinkedIn post.

However, the bank said it will assess exemptions on religious or medical grounds, or any other accommodation by state or local law, on a case-to-case basis, Reuters reports.

Updated

Referrals about vulnerable children made by schools fell by almost a third as coronavirus swept through England and disrupted education, figures show.

Referrals from schools to social services fell 31% in the year ending 31 March 2021, a fall of just under 36,000 referrals, according to data from the Department for Education (Dfe).

It said this reflects the restrictions on school attendance in place for parts of the year, with the majority of pupils being home-schooled during national lockdowns.

By 31 March, there were 388,490 children in need – the lowest number since 2013.

This was a slight fall compared with the previous year, which the Dfe said was driven by the drop in school referrals.

Updated

A total of 49,838,202 first doses of Covid-19 vaccine had been delivered in the UK by 27 October, a rise of 44,082 on the previous day, government figures show.

Some 45,627,499 second doses have been delivered, an increase of 21,577.

A combined total of 6,995,982 booster and third doses have also been delivered, a day-on-day rise of 289,514.

Updated

New York City Fire Department (FDNY) union members, municipal workers and others demonstrate during a protest against the city’s Covid-19 vaccine mandates on Manhattan’s Upper East Side in New York City.
New York City Fire Department (FDNY) union members, municipal workers and others demonstrate during a protest against the city’s Covid-19 vaccine mandates on Manhattan’s Upper East Side in New York City. Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters

Summary

Here is a summary of today’s top Covid stories:

  • Britain has reported 39,842 new cases of Covid, government data showed on Thursday. A further 165 people were reported as having died within 28 days of a positive test for Covid, meaning the seven-day total was up 16.2% from the previous week.
  • All remaining countries on England’s travel “red list” will be removed and vaccines from at least a dozen more countries are to be recognised, ministers are expected to announce in a significant opening up of borders.
  • The UK government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance has said the country as “a pretty difficult winter ahead of us” due to a high level of case numbers which he said “remains a concern”.
  • People who are fully vaccinated against Covid yet catch the virus are just as infectious to others in their household as infected unvaccinated people, research suggests.
  • Travellers carrying an NHS Covid pass will be able to use it to prove that they are fully vaccinated when seeking entry at borders, bars and restaurants in the EU and 18 other countries.
  • Rates of new cases of Covid among schoolchildren in England have fallen slightly, new figures show.A total of 1,201.2 cases per 100,000 people aged 10 to 19 were recorded in the seven days to October 24, down week on week from 1,388.0.
  • Russia set a new daily record for coronavirus cases, recording 40,096 in the past 24 hours. There were 1,159 deaths officially recorded. Moscow brought in its strictest lockdown measures since June 2020 today.
  • More than 100 million Indians have not turned up for their second coronavirus vaccine dose, official data showed, raising concerns of a resurgence in the disease despite a relatively low infection rate.
  • Only five African countries will meet the target of fully vaccinating 40% of their populations against Covid unless the pace of inoculations increases, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.
  • Singapore reported 3,432 new cases of Covid on Thursday, a day after recording its highest single-day rise in cases which the city-state’s healthy ministry described as an “unusual surge”.
  • Thousands of restaurant owners, chefs, waiters and bartenders took to the streets in cities across Bulgaria today to protest the government’s decision to impose a mandatory Covid health pass.
  • The Ukrainian capital Kyiv will tighten lockdown restrictions due to a spike in coronavirus cases, mayor Vitali Klitschko said at a televised briefing on Thursday.
  • Pfizer and BioNTech have announced that they expect to deliver 50 million more doses of their Covid vaccine to the United States by the end of April.
  • Japan’s health ministry has said it has decided to offer Covid booster shots to anyone who has already received two vaccine doses, news agency Jiji reported today.
  • A few border cities in northeastern China started to tighten Covid-19 measures, restricting travel and limiting gatherings in public spaces, and some declared a “pre-war” mode of vigilance and monitoring, as China combats an outbreak hitting mainly the north.

That’s it from me, Tom Ambrose, for today. I’ll be back tomorrow morning but my colleague Nadeem Badshah will see you through the rest of the evening on the Covid blog. Goodbye.

UK records 39,842 new Covid cases and 165 more deaths

Britain has reported 39,842 new cases of Covid, government data showed on Thursday.

It means cases reported between 22 and 28 October were down 9.8% compared with the previous seven days.

A further 165 people were reported as having died within 28 days of a positive test for Covid, meaning the seven-day total was up 16.2% from the previous week.

A total of 49.84 million people had received a first dose of a vaccine against coronavirus by the end of Oct. 27 and 45.63 million people had received a second dose.

Singapore experiencing 'unusual surge' of Covid cases

Singapore reported 3,432 new cases of Covid on Thursday, a day after recording its highest single-day rise in cases which the city-state’s healthy ministry described as an “unusual surge”.

It also reported 15 new deaths, five more than the previous day. The deceased, aged between 62 and 98 years, had various underlying medical conditions, the ministry said.

A recent spike in infections after the relaxation of some restrictions has prompted Singapore to pause further reopening, Reuters reported.

Last week, the city-state extended its social curbs for around a month in order to contain the spread of Covid and ease the pressure on the healthcare system.

Singapore’s health ministry said it was closely monitoring the trends for the next few days after the “unusual surge” of 5,324 new infection cases reported on Wednesday.

Thousands of restaurant owners, chefs, waiters and bartenders took to the streets in cities across Bulgaria today to protest the government’s decision to impose a mandatory Covid health pass.

Restaurant and hospitality associations organised the protest, calling the health certificates “inadequate” and “discriminatory”.

Restaurant associations claimed that in the first two days of the new requirement, restaurant attendance dropped 80% nationwide.

Critics say the government introduced the requirement too quickly for people to prepare for it.

Bulgaria is facing a surge in Covid infections and deaths amid one of the lowest vaccination rates in the 27-nation European Union.

It has had the highest Covid mortality rate in the bloc in the past two weeks and 94% of those deaths were unvaccinated people.

A protester a posters read ‘Stop media psychosis’ during a nationwide protest over ‘green certificate’ COVID-19 pass in Sofia, Bulgaria.
A protester a posters read ‘Stop media psychosis’ during a nationwide protest over ‘green certificate’ COVID-19 pass in Sofia, Bulgaria. Photograph: Vassil Donev/EPA

Airlines cast doubt on flying unvaccinated passengers to Australia

Most international airlines who fly into Australia are likely to accept only vaccinated passengers, with larger carriers now considering whether it is logistically and commercially viable to sell tickets to unvaccinated travellers.

Some carriers have had their allocation of unvaccinated passengers capped at zero.

From Monday, when New South Wales and Victoria reopen for international travel and quarantine-free arrival for fully vaccinated Australians, the states will drastically scale back their hotel quarantine capacities for unvaccinated passengers.

NSW will accept 210 unvaccinated passengers a week, and Victoria 250.

Airlines have announced tens of thousands of extra seats on new services into Australia since the states announced an end to quarantine, but many carriers are yet to decide how or if they will comply with the new rules for unvaccinated passengers.

It is understood that the new unvaccinated passenger caps will be managed in a similar way to the broader passenger cap system that has been in place since July 2020, in which states set their own hotel quarantine limits, and the commonwealth – which is responsible for international border management – communicates passenger allowances to individual airlines for each service.

Some airlines have been given unvaccinated passenger caps of zero.

The Irish government is considering rolling out rapid antigen test kits more generally, the Taoiseach has said.

Micheal Martin said he wants to develop a culture of self-testing.

The Irish government is to launch a communications campaign around the proper use of antigen tests and when they should be used, PA Media reported.

It comes as close contacts of a confirmed Covid case who are fully vaccinated and asymptomatic will receive a box of antigen tests.

Health minister Stephen Donnelly confirmed that the new initiative has begun and that close contacts who are vaccinated and do not have symptoms of the virus will now be able to test themselves at home using the free tests.

Speaking on Thursday, Mr Martin said:

We are now dealing close contacts as of today. We should develop a culture of self-testing and that would be regular and that would be something that people would do in the right circumstances, with the right advice.

There will be a communications campaign around the proper use of antigen tests because the expert review group did ascertain there is a need for proper advice for the utilisation of such tests as a supplement to PCR.

Ireland’s Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Micheal Martin speaks to media on the second day of a European Union (EU) summit.
Ireland’s Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Micheal Martin speaks to media on the second day of a European Union (EU) summit. Photograph: Johanna Geron/AFP/Getty Images

Vaccinated as likely as unjabbed to infect cohabiters, study suggests

People who are fully vaccinated against Covid yet catch the virus are just as infectious to others in their household as infected unvaccinated people, research suggests.

Households are a key setting for the transmission of Covid infections, with frequent prolonged daily contact with an infected person linked to an increased risk of catching the virus.

However, questions have remained including the true proportion of household contacts who become infected from an initial case, the duration of their infection, and the impact of vaccination on the risk of transmitting the virus and the chance of catching it.

Now a study has revealed that while vaccination against Covid is crucial to preventing severe disease and death, even fully jabbed individuals catch the virus – and pass it on.

The Centre For Life in Newcastle vaccinated key workers.
The Centre For Life in Newcastle vaccinated key workers. Photograph: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

Writing in the journal the Lancet, researchers from a number of institutions including Imperial College London and the UK Health Security Agency (HSA) report how they analysed data from 204 household contacts of 138 people infected with the Delta variant.

Of these contacts, who were recruited within five days of their household member showing symptoms and were tested daily for 14 days, 53 went on to become infected, 31 of whom were fully vaccinated and 15 were unvaccinated.

While we wait for statistics for the rest of the UK, nine further deaths of patients who had previously tested positive for Covid have been reported in Northern Ireland today.

The country’s Department of Health also reported another 1,122 cases of the virus.

To date, 2,643,224 vaccines have been administered, according to PA Media.

Rates of new cases of Covid among schoolchildren in England have fallen slightly, new figures show.

A total of 1,201.2 cases per 100,000 people aged 10 to 19 were recorded in the seven days to October 24, down week on week from 1,388.0.

The rate for five to nine-year-olds is 669.7, down from 732.1, PA Media reported.

For both age groups, rates are down from what had been the highest level since data was first collected in October 2020, according to the UK Health Security Agency (HSA).

The figures coincide with the start of the school half-term holiday in some parts of the country. Case rates are continuing to rise in all age groups over 19, however.

For 40 to 49-year-olds, the latest rate is 592.7, the highest since the start of January. Rates for age groups between 50 and 79 are now at their highest since mid-January.

There is a rough east-west split in regional case rates, the figures also show.

No update on the number of people testing positive for Covid in England will be reported by Test and Trace this week due to a “data quality issue”, the UK Health Security Agency said.

Last week’s report said 257,196 people had tested positive at least once in the seven days to October 13 - the highest number since the seven days to July 21.

All remaining countries on England’s travel “red list” will be removed and vaccines from at least a dozen more countries are to be recognised, ministers are expected to announce in a significant opening up of borders.

The move, which the Guardian understands was signed off at a meeting on Thursday afternoon, means no passengers arriving in England will have to quarantine in a hotel at a cost of more than £2,000.

However, the red list system will not be abandoned entirely, and countries may be added again in future if concerning new variants emerge.

The red list was slimmed down significantly at the last review, and only included South and Central American countries. The final ones to be removed will be Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Venezuela.

The government is also preparing to recognise at least 12 more countries’ vaccines, meaning travellers from them can avoid needing to stay at home for up to 10 days if fully inoculated with an approved jab.

It came as the European Commission announced that UK certificates will be recognised as being equivalent in status to the bloc’s own digital Covid certificate from Friday.

Only five African countries will meet the target of fully vaccinating 40% of their populations against Covid unless the pace of inoculations increases, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.

The vaccine rollout may be slowed by an “imminent shortfall” of up to 2.2 billion auto-disposable syringes globally needed to administer the jab and routine immunisations barring an increase in their manufacturing, WHO Africa said.

At present there is no global stockpile of the specialised syringes which are in high demand, and they will remain in short supply at least through the first quarter of 2022, Reuters reported.

WHO Africa said in a statement that Kenya, Rwanda and South Africa have already experienced delays in receiving syringes.

A Maasai woman receives the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine at a clinic in Kimana, southern Kenya.
A Maasai woman receives the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine at a clinic in Kimana, southern Kenya. Photograph: Brian Inganga/AP

“Early next year Covid-19 vaccines will start pouring into Africa, but a scarcity of syringes could paralyse progress. Drastic measures must be taken to boost syringe production, fast,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Africa’s director.

So far, the continent has fully vaccinated 77 million people, just 6% of its population.

Ryanair has promised to start refunding customers for cancelled flights within five working days, after criticism of its reimbursements policy during the pandemic.

The Dublin-based carrier, which has previously described itself as a “no-refunds airline”, has also announced significant improvements to the way it treats customers whose flights are delayed or cancelled.

At the start of the pandemic, when tourist travel was more or less banned, Ryanair, along with a number of other airlines, refused to refund customers who were unable to travel, if the flight went ahead.

It prompted a wave of criticism and led to an investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority into whether consumers had been treated fairly.

The CMA later dropped the action, but a few days later it emerged that the airline was barring passengers who had pursued chargeback refunds for the flights via their credit card company, unless they returned the money.

The Ukrainian capital Kyiv will tighten lockdown restrictions due to a spike in coronavirus cases, mayor Vitali Klitschko said at a televised briefing on Thursday.

From Monday, cafes, restaurants, gyms, shopping and entertainment facilities will only be allowed to operate if all staff are vaccinated, he said.

At the same time, these institutions are prohibited from accepting visitors who do not have vaccination certificates or negative Covid tests, Reuters reported.

A negative Covid test or vaccine certificate will also be mandatory to use public transport.

Travellers carrying an NHS Covid pass will be able to use it to prove that they are fully vaccinated when seeking entry at borders, bars and restaurants in the EU and 18 other countries.

The European Commission has announced that UK certificates will be recognised as being equivalent in status to the bloc’s own digital Covid certificate from Friday.

While many EU member states have already unilaterally recognised the NHS Covid pass, the long-awaited decision ensures it will be automatically accepted across Europe. Travellers to countries such as the Netherlands will no longer have to take daily Covid tests just to enter bars, restaurants and museums.

Didier Reynders, the EU commissioner for justice, said:

Safer travel is a reality thanks to the EU digital Covid certificate, which is now the leading global standard: 45 countries in four continents are connected to the system and more will follow in the coming weeks and months. We are open to other countries to join our system.

NHS Covid Pass.
NHS Covid Pass. Photograph: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

The commission took three months to assess the UK’s application for equivalence status, which will cover passes issued in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Switzerland, Ukraine, Turkey and North Macedonia all secured the status within a period of five to eight weeks after applying. Vaccination certificates issued in Armenia will also be recognised from Friday, the commission said.

Britain has no plans to scrap a travel red list country system that requires arrivals to stay in a hotel to quarantine, a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday.

The comments follow a report in The Telegraph on Wednesday that the government planned to remove restrictions, including the travel red list of seven countries and hotel quarantine due to a declining Covid threat from abroad.

UK ministers reportedly met today to consider removing the final seven countries, including Colombia and Venezuela, from the red list but the system will remain in place for the time being, according to No 10.

Updated

Over 100 million people fail to turn up for second Covid jab in India

More than 100 million Indians have not turned up for their second coronavirus vaccine dose, official data showed, raising concerns of a resurgence in the disease despite a relatively low infection rate.

Apart from leaving these people at risk of catching Covid-19, their “vaccine truancy” endangers India’s target of inoculating all adults by 31 December, a target that is in any case unlikely to be met owing to the earlier shortage of vaccines at the start of the inoculation campaign.

Bhavna Dewan, a health worker in Nainital, said:

We have seen this complacency with Tuberculosis patients. They start taking the drugs and after a few weeks, they feel better so they stop even though they have to take them for six months.

It’s a similar mentality with the vaccine. I’m sure they feel one dose is enough because no one is falling ill.

Mansukh Mandaviya, India’s Health Minister, is urging states to address the issue. From next month, he said, health workers will make door-to-door visits to find the truants.

The figure of 103.4m missed doses comes just a week after India celebrated administering 1bn doses thanks to the efforts of health workers who trekked over mountains, picked their way through landslide rubble, crossed turbulent rivers, and braved jungles to reach the remotest hamlets.

India has administered first doses to 725 million people, or to 77% of its’ 944 million adults, and second doses to 316 million, or 34%.

The European Union (EU) will produce more than 3.5 billion doses of Covid vaccines next year, the head of the bloc’s executive, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, said today.

She added that the majority of these vaccines will be shipped abroad.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen arrives for a meeting of the College of Commissioners at EU headquarters in Brussels.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen arrives for a meeting of the College of Commissioners at EU headquarters in Brussels. Photograph: Kenzo Tribouillard/AP

Pfizer and BioNTech have announced that they expect to deliver 50 million more doses of their Covid vaccine to the United States by the end of April.

It comes as the US prepares to vaccinate children, the Reuters news agency reported on Thursday.

Meanwhile, yesterday Moderna’s chief executive said its Covid vaccine could start to be used on American children and teens within weeks.

Moderna CEO Staphane Bancel said based on discussions with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), he believes the jab will be authorised for 12- to 17-year-olds in the next few weeks.

Moderna plans to apply for separate US regulatory clearance in children ages 6 through 11 “very soon,” Bancel said, adding that he is hopeful that age group could start receiving Moderna’s shots by the end of this year.

“It’s entirely possible that this side of Christmas, 6 to 11 years of age would have access to Moderna’s vaccine,” Bancel told Reuters.

Good morning, I’m Tom Ambrose and I will be bringing you all the latest Covid news from the UK and around the world throughout the day.

We start with some breaking news from Japan.

The country’s health ministry has said it has decided to offer Covid booster shots to anyone who has already received two vaccine doses, news agency Jiji reported today.

Japan had initially considered giving booster shots to frontline health workers and others who required priority first.

A man receives a jab of COVID-19 vaccine at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government office in Tokyo, Japan.
A man receives a jab of COVID-19 vaccine at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government office in Tokyo, Japan. Photograph: Yoshikazu Tsuno/EPA

Today so far

  • The UK government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance has said the country as “a pretty difficult winter ahead of us” due to a high level of case numbers which he said “remains a concern”.
  • Stephen Reicher, a member of the Sage subcommittee in the UK advising on behavioural science, has said today that to deal with the current caseload, he would bring in a system whereby all public spaces were required to indicate their “clean air” status, return to a “work from home if possible” mandate, and believes the government should provide comprehensive support for people to stay at home.
  • Russia set a new daily record for coronavirus cases, recording 40,096 in the past 24 hours. There were 1,159 deaths officially recorded. Moscow brought in its strictest lockdown measures since June 2020 today. The partial lockdown, in which only essential shops like pharmacies and supermarkets are allowed to remain open, while schools and state kindergartens are shut, comes ahead of a nationwide week-long workplace shutdown from 30 October.
  • Hungary’s government will require employees at state institutions to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Private companies will also be empowered to require Covid-19 vaccinations for employees if they believe that is necessary, and mask wearing will be mandatory on public transport from 1 November.
  • Slovakia’s parliament cancelled its session on Thursday after one lawmaker tested positive for Covid-19 as the country struggles with elevated case numbers.
  • Promising results of a clinical trial looking at the potential therapeutic role of antidepressant fluvoxamine in treating people with Covid-19 have been published overnight in the Lancet.
  • Wearing masks may be near-ubiquitous in Japan, but the government has come under fire after it was revealed that more than 80m face coverings it procured at the start of the coronavirus pandemic are still in storage, at a huge cost to taxpayers.
  • Thailand’s aviation industry is gearing up for reopening on Monday when the tourism-reliant country will welcome vaccinated arrivals without quarantine, ending nearly 19 months of strict entry rules.
  • A few border cities in northeastern China started to tighten Covid-19 measures, restricting travel and limiting gatherings in public spaces, and some declared a “pre-war” mode of vigilance and monitoring, as China combats an outbreak hitting mainly the north.
  • Covid-19 is slowly retreating across most of North, Central and South America, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on, reporting that last week the continent’s death and infection figures were the lowest in more than a year.

That is it from me, Martin Belam for today. Tom Ambrose will be here shortly to continue bringing you the latest news from the UK and around the world on coronavirus. Kevin Rawlinson has a post-Budget politics live blog if that is more to your taste. Enjoy the rest of your day, I am off to host the Guardian’s Thursday quiz. Maybe I will see you there.

The results of a clinical trial looking at the potential therapeutic role of fluvoxamine in treating people with Covid-19 have been published overnight in the Lancet. The New York Times has written it up as follows:

A large clinical trial has found that a common and inexpensive antidepressant lowered the odds that high-risk Covid-19 patients would be hospitalised. The results could open the door to new guidelines for the drug’s use both in the US and globally.

The drug, fluvoxamine, has been safely prescribed for nearly 30 years as a treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder. But when the coronavirus started spreading, researchers were drawn to the medication because of its ability to reduce inflammation, potentially allowing it to quell the body’s overwhelming response to a coronavirus infection.

Several smaller studies of fluvoxamine earlier in the pandemic showed promising results, but none was as large or persuasive as the one published on Wednesday by a group of researchers in Canada, the United States and Brazil, outside scientists said. Among nearly 1,500 Covid patients in Brazil given either fluvoxamine or a placebo, the drug reduced the need for hospitalisation or prolonged medical observation by one-third, the study found.

Hungary to mandate vaccines for employees at state institutions, masks on public transport

Hungary’s government has generally been quite reluctant to bring in any Covid-related restrictions, but there is a slight change of tone this morning in the face of rising case numbers.

Reuters have a snap that Hungary’s government will require employees at state institutions to be vaccinated against Covid-19, prime minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff told a briefing this morning.

Gergely Gulyas said that private companies will also be empowered to require Covid-19 vaccinations for employees if they believe that is necessary and mask wearing will be mandatory on public transport from 1 November.

Here’s a reminder of how the rising case levels across Europe are distributed at the moment:

Slovakia cancels parliament session after positive Covid test for MP

Slovakia’s parliament cancelled its session on Thursday after one lawmaker tested positive for Covid-19, local media reported, as the country struggles with elevated case numbers.

Reuters note that the 150-seat National Council adjourned the session until 2 November after the member from the ruling coalition tested positive, TA3 television reported.

Most of the 150 lawmakers are fully vaccinated, and many of them went for a test after the case was reported, TA3 said.

Slovakia has one of the lower rates of vaccination in Europe – as of Wednesday, around 43% of the population were fully vaccinated.

On 27 October, there were 4,981 new cases reported, the highest daily tally since December 2020. There were 1,384 people hospitalised, almost 80% of them not fully vaccinated, data from the Health Ministry showed.

Face mask row in Japan over cost of 80m left in storage unused

Wearing masks may be near-ubiquitous in Japan, but the government has come under fire after it was revealed that more than 80m face coverings it procured at the start of the coronavirus pandemic are still in storage, at a huge cost to taxpayers.

The government secured 260m washable cloth masks early last year to distribute to every household in Japan after public anxiety over the virus emptied stores of medical versions.

The government planned to send 120m coverings – nicknamed “Abenomasks” after the then-prime minister, Shinzō Abe – to households and an additional 140m to nursing and childcare facilities.

However, the Nikkei business newspaper reported this week that 82m masks intended for care homes had not been sent as of March this year. Instead, the items – worth ¥11.5bn (£74m) – remain in storage.

The Abenomasks – a play on the then leader’s economic policy, “Abenomics” – quickly invited ridicule on social media. Many people said they were too small, while others complained that they had been sent defective or dirty masks. Some said they had received theirs late or not at all. There were questions, too, over the decision to send just two masks to each household.

Read more of Justin McCurry’s report from Tokyo: Face mask row in Japan over cost of 80m left in storage unused

UK government scientific adviser: 'a pretty difficult winter ahead of us'

There are some more quotes from the UK government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance in the media this morning, following his appearance on the BBC Breakfast television programme. PA Media quote him saying:

Nobody is really clear which direction this is going in, but they are clear about the two big variables that could change that.

One is waning immunity, so if immunity wanes faster than expected, you’ll see a bigger increase, and that’s why it’s so important to get booster shots going in the vulnerable and the elderly in particular.

The second is the behavioural change, how quickly we return to pre-pandemic behaviours. if you aggregate the models, most are saying ‘Actually, it looks fairly flat, don’t expect the very big peaks we’ve had in the past, it looks fairly flat, but at a very high level at the moment.’

So the high level remains a concern and from a high level you can go up quite quickly.

In a separate appearance on Sky News, he said:

I think the vaccines have made an absolutely massive difference and now we also have antiviral medicines coming along. We’ve definitely got the armamentarium we need to tackle this now. Keeping immunity high is really, really important.

We’re a bit uncertain as to which direction the levels go at at the moment, so I think we’ve got a pretty difficult winter ahead of us.

Russia again reports record daily rates for new Covid infections and deaths

Russia set a new daily record for coronavirus cases, recording 40,096 in the past 24 hours. There were 1,159 deaths officially recorded.

The Russian capital Moscow brought in its strictest lockdown measures since June 2020 today. The partial lockdown, in which only essential shops like pharmacies and supermarkets are allowed to remain open, while schools and state kindergartens are shut, comes ahead of a nationwide week-long workplace shutdown from 30 October.

Moscow’s residents are allowed to leave their homes freely unlike the lockdown of summer 2020, but the new measures point to rising concern among officials over record numbers of deaths that the Kremlin has blamed on the slow vaccination rate.

A woman crosses a road in Moscow’s city’s centre as new restrictions come into force.
A woman crosses a road in Moscow’s city’s centre as new restrictions come into force. Photograph: Sergei Bobylev/TASS

Tom Balmforth and Lev Sergeev report for Reuters that there were mixed feelings about the lockdown on the streets of Moscow. Some residents like Lyubov Machekhina said they thought it would obviously help slow infections.

Others like Mikhail, a Muscovite who did not give his surname, voiced doubts that there would be any real impact without a larger chunk of the population being vaccinated or having other immunity.

“In my opinion, it will change nothing. Perhaps, it will slow down (the spread of cases) a bit, but in fact, without herd immunity - it’s nonsense. I don’t believe it’ll work.”

Thailand’s aviation industry is gearing up for reopening on Monday when the tourism-reliant country will welcome vaccinated arrivals without quarantine, ending nearly 19 months of strict entry rules.

“It’s something everybody’s waiting for,” said Puttipong Prasarttong-Osoth, president of the Thai airline association, which has seven members.

Airlines have responded quickly, bringing back jets from hibernation, or long-term parking, where they have been kept with their engines covered for protection and systems wound down.

A Thai AirAsia aircraft engine mothballed.
A Thai AirAsia aircraft engine mothballed. Photograph: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

Chayut Setboonsarng and Juarawee Kittisilpa report for Reuters from Bangkok that already, Thai AirAsia had been using 10 jets from its fleet of 60, while Bangkok Airways was flying 13 planes of a total 38, mostly for domestic travel after a pilot project that reopened Phuket and Samui islands in July.

Both airlines expect to use more planes in the months ahead anticipating greater travel with passengers from neighbouring Cambodia, Singapore and Malaysia as restrictions ease. Flag carrier Thai Airways International has rolled out a winter schedule with Bangkok routes to London, Munich, Sydney and Tokyo.

Thai AirAsia pilots wearing masks study their domestic route ahead of their flight inside Bangkok’s Don Muang International Airport, Thailand.
Thai AirAsia pilots wearing masks study their domestic route ahead of their flight inside Bangkok’s Don Muang International Airport, Thailand. Photograph: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

Though optimism about initial tourist arrival numbers is tempered, with other countries still observing quarantine measures, Thai AirAsia pilot Wirote Teerawattananon, 30, said he was content.

“I’m happy to go back to flying again, tourists are coming back, so we get to come back to work,” he said.

Sir Patrick Vallance – chief scientific adviser to the government – has told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that the UK was still in a “very uncertain phase” of the pandemic.

“There is considerable uncertainty into which direction this goes,” PA Media quote him saying.

“It’s wrong to think that the build up of immunity is an all or nothing - it’s a sort of protective barrier that will reduce the spread of the virus so we need to monitor this carefully over the next weeks and months.

He added: “You need to absolutely be prepared (for plan B) and as soon as you start thinking ‘am I, or am I not going to do this? It looks close’ is the time you need to push beyond your natural reluctance to do it and do it.

“This is obviously something the government will have to consider carefully but we need to be ready to move fast if that occurs.”

Stephen Reicher is a member of the Sage subcommittee in the UK advising on behavioural science, and he writes for us this morning saying that Covid measures give us choice – they are not restrictions on British life:

Regarding ventilation, I would institute a system whereby all public spaces were required to indicate their “clean air” status, just as kitchens in restaurants are required to indicate their hygiene status. I would also improve the messaging so that people know how important it is and how to know when they are safe. This wouldn’t amount to a restriction. It’s a protection. It doesn’t limit choice. On the contrary, in increasing the number of spaces that are safe, it gives us more choice.

In order to limit social contacts, I would give people the choice to work from home where possible. Studies of mixing show that we had on average 11 or 12 contacts a day pre-pandemic. In the spring of this year, that went as low as three. It then crept up to four in the summer, and now stands at about five. But this isn’t because of people socialising more. It’s largely down to people mixing at work, whether they want to or not. Obviously, working from home isn’t possible for everyone. But give people the option. Once again, this is not a matter of restriction but of protection; and it increases, rather than limits, choice.

Finally, in order to increase self-isolation – without which all the money spent testing and tracing is largely squandered – I would do the obvious thing. It’s the thing that has been called for since the start of the pandemic, and which government has consistently ignored. I would provide comprehensive support for people to stay at home: adequate financial support, support with hotel accommodation for those in crowded, multi-generational households, practical support (if one has caring responsibilities for instance, or needs the dog walked), and emotional support.

Read more here: Stephen Reicher – Covid measures give us choice. They are not restrictions on British life

Bulgaria is experiencing a new wave of coronavirus infection amid government attempts to impose a “green certificate” vaccine passport on indoor activities, which has sparked a wave of protest on the streets of Sofia.

The latest numbers are out from the National Information Portal. In the last 24 hours there were 5,643 new cases, bringing the total number of active cases to 90,543.

There were 154 Covid-19 related deaths, taking the total death toll to date is 23,594. There were 902 new hospitalisations, and the statistics say that nearly 90% of those were unvaccinated people. Bulgaria has so far administered 2.8m doses of vaccine to its 6.9 million population.

David Smith in the US reports for us on a new artwork memorialising those who have died during the global pandemic from artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer:

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer caught the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic. The media artist became infected in March last year during a visit to New York, then unwittingly took the deadly virus back home to Canada.

“As far as I know, I am Patient Zero,” he says by phone from Toronto. “I may have been the one that caused Canada to catch it because I was very early.”

Lozano-Hemmer has an asthma condition “so it did get hairy for about five weeks”, he says, but he was able to avoid hospital with the help of steroids. However, two of his friends, in Mexico and Spain, died from the virus. “It’s been quite a time of loss and a time of mourning.”

The 53-year-old has turned mourning into art with a work that opens at the Brooklyn Museum in New York on Friday. A Crack in the Hourglass is an ephemeral, ever-evolving Covid-19 memorial that confronts the question of how to commemorate a tragedy that has killed 5 million people with no end in sight.

This is how it works. Members of the public anywhere in the world can submit photos of loved ones lost to Covid-19 at acrackinthehourglass.net along with a personalised dedication. They can then watch via live stream or at the gallery as a modified robotic plotter deposits grains of hourglass sand on to a black stage to recreate the person’s image.

Once the portrait is finished, it is slowly erased by gravity. The entire process – which takes about 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the complexity of the picture – is archived on the website, then the same sand is recycled into the next portrait, forming an endless collection of online memorials.

Read more here: ‘It’s a closure’: the artist making an endless, erasing Covid-19 memorial

As I somewhat expected, Rishi Sunak’s opening media round appearance on Sky News in the UK this morning was 100% devoted to talking about the Budget, and with not one mention of Covid. Here’s a reminder of the latest coronavirus figures from the UK.

A few border cities in northeastern China started to tighten Covid-19 measures, restricting travel and limiting gatherings in public spaces, and some declared a “pre-war” mode of vigilance and monitoring, as China combats an outbreak hitting mainly the north.

China reported 23 locally transmitted symptomatic cases for yesterday, official data showed this morning, down from 50 a day earlier, bringing the total number to 270 since 17 October, when the current outbreak began.

Ryan Woo and Roxanne Liu report for Reuters that in northeastern Heilongjiang province, which shares a border with Russia, Heihe city detected one local confirmed case, plus three asymptomatic cases, for 27 October.

The city of 1.3 million suspended manufacturing activities and business operations in urban areas, except for essential ones. It banned people and vehicles in those urban areas from leaving and suspended entry into the areas for non-essential reasons via public roads, while halting bus and taxi services.

Flights from the city and some train services were cut, local media said. It remains unclear how the Heihe cluster started, or whether any of the infected were linked to outbreaks in other regions.

China remains one of the few countries attempting to pursue an absolute zero-Covid policy as it approaches hosting the Winter Olympics and Winter Paralympics early next year.

It is Martin Belam here in London, taking over from Samantha Lock in London. The UK post-Budget media round is being handled by the chancellor Rishi Sunak for the government this morning. I’ll bring you any Covid lines that emerge from that shortly.

Covid-19 is slowly retreating across most of North, Central and South America, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday, reporting that last week the continent’s death and infection figures were the lowest in more than a year.

“Over the last week, the Americas reported over 800,000 new Covid infections and 18,000 Covid-related deaths – the lowest Covid figures in over a year,” the PAHO said.

“We have reason to be optimistic, but we must remain vigilant,” the agency added.

Over the last week, the Americas 🌎 reported over 800,000 new COVID infections 🦠 and 18,000 COVID-related deaths – the lowest COVID figures in over a year.

We have reason to be optimistic, but we must remain vigilant.@Jarbas_Barbosa #COVID19

— PAHO/WHO (@pahowho) October 27, 2021

Ukraine has reported a record daily high of 26,071 new coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours, the health ministry said earlier today.

The figures exceed the previous high of 23,785 on 22 October, Reuters reports. Ministry data also showed 576 new coronavirus-related deaths.

Ukraine’s pandemic tally of infections stands at 2.85 million, with 66,204 deaths.

Updated

Hong Kong doubles down on Covid restrictions to appease China

It used to be an international business centre, the bustling, vibrant commercial gateway to China and the rest of Asia.

But after weeks of lobbying by Hong Kong’s global business community for the government to ease border restrictions and harsh mandatory quarantine to bring it into line with other trading hubs, the authorities have instead responded with even tougher measures.

At her regular press conference on Tuesday, Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, announced most exemptions from the city’s mandatory and self-funded quarantine periods of up to 21 days will soon be cancelled. The government followed it up on Wednesday by announcing that Covid patients would have to spend a further two weeks in hospital after they had recovered.

Hong Kong has reported just one local case since mid-August and, eager to have China reopen its borders to the city, Lam has made it clear she has prioritised Beijing’s demand for zero Covid over restarting international travel and “living with the virus”.

The changes push Hong Kong further into a life dictated by China’s strategy as the rest of the world is opening up, which according to business and expatriate groups is driving people out of the city. It adds to already record levels of population loss as Hongkongerss fled the national security crackdown.

Read the full story here.

Summary

Welcome back to our rolling coverage of all things coronavirus from around the world.

I’m Samantha Lock reporting to you from sunny Sydney, Australia, and I’ll be with you for the next short while delivering all the Covid headlines.

First up, Singapore’s health ministry is stumped as to why the city-state reported 5,324 new cases of Covid on Wednesday, the most since the beginning of the pandemic.

A report out of the World Health Organization found the European region recorded an 18% increase in Covid cases over the last week — a fourth straight weekly increase for the area.

Here’s a round-up of all the top stories.

  • Thousands of AstraZeneca Covid vaccine doses are going to waste in Australia despite near-record production and calls for increased donations to lower-income neighbouring countries. Almost 1,000 Covid vaccination providers are destroying expired AstraZeneca supplies, wasting 31,833 doses, data shows. About 7m doses of AstraZeneca remain unused.
  • Bangkok, Paris and London were the three most visited most visited international destinations in the year before the pandemic hit, according to a recent report.
  • Israel will welcome vaccinated tourists from 1 November.
  • Australia destroys thousands of expired AstraZeneca Covid vaccine doses despite near-record production. A total of 31,833 doses were reported to have been binned despite Australian production of the vaccine continuing at near-record rates.
  • Australia confirms Covid booster shots will be available from 8 November after Atagi approval.
  • The CDC says the seven day average of Covid cases in the U.S is down 16% to 765,900 per day.
  • The UK recorded 43,941 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday and 207 more people have died within 28 days of a positive test, official figures show.
  • Europe was the only region in the world to report an increase in both Covid-19 cases and deaths this week, according to the WHO’s latest epidemiological update.
  • Covid-19 infections continue to surge across Eastern Europe in particular, with reported cases rising in Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
  • Novavax Inc. has filed for authorisation of its Covid-19 vaccine candidate in the UK.
  • A landmark licensing deal between Merck and the UN-backed Medicines Patent Pool could expand access to the company’s antiviral Covid-19 pill throughout the developing world.
  • New Zealand’s South Island records first Covid cases in major city in over a year.

Updated

Contributors

Nadeem Badshah (now); Tom Ambrose, Martin Belam and Samantha Lock (earlier)

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Covid live: warning drastic action needed to combat Poland case spike; record daily deaths in Singapore
Polish health minister says explosion in cases needs to be urgently addressed; Singapore records 18 deaths and 3,862 new cases

Nadeem Badshah (now); Miranda Bryant, Martin Belam and Samantha Lock (earlier)

20, Oct, 2021 @10:48 PM

Article image
Coronavirus live: UK sees daily cases rise to over 50,000; WHO warns indoor socialising driving infections
Indoor socialising in winter behind rise in cases, WHO warns; AY.4.2 subvariant may be around 10% more infectious than the original Delta

Harry Taylor (now); Tom Ambrose, Martin Belam and Samantha Lock (earlier)

21, Oct, 2021 @11:20 PM

Article image
Brazil records 287 new Covid deaths – as it happened
This blog is now closed. We’ve launched a new blog at the link below:

Harry Taylor (now), Jessica Murray, Haroon Siddique and Helen Sullivan (earlier)

30, Nov, 2020 @11:58 PM

Article image
UK records 3,899 new infections as French cases rise by 10,000 – as it happened
UK figures show further 18 people have died; France records more than 10,000 new infections

Clea Skopeliti (now); Kevin Rawlinson, Caroline Davies and Helen Davidson (earlier)

20, Sep, 2020 @10:58 PM

Article image
Covid live: UK records 217 deaths and 41,299 new infections; US to begin vaccinating children aged 5-11
UK reports latest Covid data; US to begin giving Pfizer vaccines to children aged five to 11

Nadeem Badshah (now); Lucy Campbell, Martin Belam and Samantha Lock (earlier)

04, Nov, 2021 @12:06 AM

Article image
Brazil records 1,340 deaths – as it happened
This blog is now closed. We’ve launched a new blog at the link below:

Jessica Murray (now) ; Yohannes Lowe, Lucy Campbell ; Helen Sullivan (earlier)

20, Jan, 2021 @11:52 PM

Article image
UK records 1,248 deaths – as it happened
This blog is now closed. We’ve launched a new blog at the link below:

Jessica Murray (now); Alexandra Topping, Lucy Campbell, Damien Gayle and Helen Sullivan (earlier)

14, Jan, 2021 @11:58 PM

Article image
Covid live news: cases increase in 75% of UK local authorities; France reports sharp rise in cases
Latest updates: Torridge in Devon had the highest rate in UK followed by Mid Ulster in Northern Ireland; France reports over 30,000 cases

Streisand Neto (now); Miranda Bryant, Rachel Hall , Martin Belam and Samantha Lock (earlier)

24, Nov, 2021 @12:42 AM

Article image
Global confirmed Covid-19 cases pass 2.5m but Italy sees first significant fall in infections – as it happened
This blog is now closed.

Helen Sullivan (now and earlier); Kevin Rawlinson, Damien Gayle and Frances Perraudin

21, Apr, 2020 @11:54 PM

Article image
Covid live: Germany reports record 50,000 new cases; Dutch experts recommend lockdown amid record cases
Robert Koch Institute records 50,196 new cases of coronavirus in Germany; Netherlands would have western Europe’s first lockdown since the summer

Tom Ambrose (now); Lucy Campbell, Martin Belam and Samantha Lock (earlier)

12, Nov, 2021 @12:43 AM