Covid news: more Omicron cases in UK amid 53,945 new infections; German ‘lockdown’ for unvaccinated – as it happened

Last modified: 12: 46 AM GMT+0

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

Thanks for following along – this blog is now closed. You can catch up with the latest coronavirus coverage by following our new blog here.

Summary

  • New York state has just recorded 5 cases of the Omicron variant, local news outlet WABC reports. The news comes after a man who attended an anime convention in New York City in late November tested positive for the Omicron variant when he returned home to Minnesota.
  • UK drugs watchdog approved new Covid treatment Xevudy.
  • US president Joe Biden announced a new nationwide coronavirus battle plan.
  • Scientists believe they may have found the trigger behind the extremely rare blood clot complications stemming from the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine.
  • South African officials say the Omicron variant is fuelling an “exponential” rise in Covid cases across the country. The variant was found to account for three-quarters of all the virus genomes sequenced last month.
  • Indonesia tightened border curbs, extended quarantine and will limit movement on strategic toll roads, in a preemptive move to limit the spread of the Omicron Covid variant.
  • Sweden warned it could impose new restrictions as soon as next week.
  • Germany imposes restrictions on unvaccinated and mandatory Covid vaccinations from February, outgoing chancellor, Angela Merkel, announced.
  • German health authorities reported the first confirmed case of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus in the capital Berlin.
  • India detected two cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant in the southern state of Karnataka.
  • Finland detected its first case of the Omicron variant in a person who had travelled from Sweden.
  • Greece detected its first case of the Omicron coronavirus variant on the island of Crete.
  • The European Union’s public health agency predicts the Omicron variant could be responsible for more than half of all Covid infections in Europe within a few months.
  • Omicron may cause more Covid reinfections, South African health experts say.
  • New US rules requiring international air travellers to obtain a negative Covid-19 test within one day of travel will take effect Monday.

Updated

New US rules requiring international air travellers to obtain a negative Covid-19 test within one day of travel will take effect Monday at 12:01am ET (0501 GMT), sources briefed on the matter said, Reuters reports.

Under current rules, vaccinated international air travellers can present a negative test result obtained within three days from their point of departure.

Unvaccinated travellers currently must get a negative Covid-19 test within one day of departure.

German health authorities reported the first confirmed case of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus in the capital Berlin, only days after several cases were detected in southern states.

Dilek Kalayci, health senator in the state government of Berlin, said there were also several more suspected cases of the new Omicron strain in the city of 3.6 million people.

So far, little is known about the new variant, but there is a risk of a further spike in infections due to a faster spread of the virus, Kalayci said in a tweet. “My plea: Reduce contacts! Keep distance! Wear a mask!”, she added.

On Wednesday, the public health office in the southern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg said four people had tested positive for the Omicron variant even though they were fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. They had only mild symptoms.

People, many wearing protective face masks, walk through a Christmas market in Berlin, Germany, as the city reports its first Omicron case.
People, many wearing protective face masks, walk through a Christmas market in Berlin, Germany, as the city reports its first Omicron case. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Updated

New York state has just recorded 5 cases of the Omicron variant, local news outlet WABC reports.

We’ll have more on this as the story develops.

The news comes after a man who attended an anime convention in New York City in late November tested positive for the Omicron variant when he returned home to Minnesota, marking the second case of the variant in the US and leading officials Thursday to urge thousands of convention attendees to get tested.

The Anime NYC 2021 convention Nov. 19-21 drew about 50,000 people, according to event organisers, and attendees were required to wear masks and show proof of having received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

Updated

Hi everyone, it’s Samantha Lock here, ready to take you through all the Covid news this Friday.

As usual, some numbers out of Australia for you.

The state of New South Wales has recorded 337 new locally acquired Covid cases today and no deaths.

Numbers are also out in Victoria, which has recorded 1,188 new locally acquired cases, a drop on yesterday’s numbers. The state also recorded 11 deaths overnight.

Federal health minister Greg Hunt has said all the Omicron cases in Australia have been “asymptomatic or very mild”.

Hunt was on the TV morning programme Sunrise, saying authorities were “cautiously optimistic”.

Senior NHS leaders have warned the only way to meet the UK government’s January booster vaccine deadline will be to reduce or cancel routine care, The Independent reports.

Plans to invite all adults for a booster jab by the end of January were announced on Monday, but healthcare providers have yet to be told how the NHS is expected to ramp up vaccination services.

One NHS trust leader said the only way to hit the deadline would be “to stop less essential and more routine work” at a time when waiting lists are already at records levels.

The National Audit Office (NAO) warned on Wednesday that the backlog for NHS care could reach anywhere between 7 million and 12 million by early 2025.

Another senior trust leader said: “We don’t have enough staff to manage the vaccination we have now, it will lead to a massive additional load of work. The chances are it will take staff away from the services we’re still struggling to get running.”

Ministers in the UK have clashed repeatedly over advice on festivities and mistletoe, with Home Office staff being urged to limit numbers attending Christmas parties in the office and the health secretary contradicting a cabinet colleague to insist “people can snog who they wish”.

Amid concerns over the Omicron variant, the government was accused of sending mixed messages about whether people should change their behaviour in the festive period despite no laws prohibiting social contact between healthy people.

Sajid Javid became the latest to weigh in, contradicting the work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey’s warning against kissing strangers under the mistletoe.

Meanwhile, guidance issued to civil servants in the Home Office on Wednesday, seen by the Guardian, said they could celebrate with colleagues, but urged people to “take sensible precautions”.

Read the full report here:

The Omicron variant appears to be reinfecting people at three times the rate of previous strains, experts in South Africa have said.

According to new evidence collected by the country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), the latest epidemiological evidence suggests that Omicron can evade immunity from infection with earlier variants and is causing reinfections at three times previous rates.

“We believe that previous infection does not provide protection from Omicron,” said Anne von Gottberg, an expert at the NICD.

Scientists from the same institute have said initial data suggests that Omicron may provoke less severe illness than previous variants although that may be skewed by the fact that many of the first Omicron cases have been identified in younger individuals or detected in very recently screened travellers.

In mid-November South Africa was reporting about 300 Covid cases a day. On Wednesday, it reported 8,561 new cases, up from 4,373 the day before and 2,273 on Monday.

Read the full story here:

Third Omicron case detected in the US

Health officials in the state of Colorado have identified a case in a woman who recently travelled to southern Africa, according to local media.

The Colorado department of public health and environment reported that the patient had been vaccinated, had mild symptoms and was recovering at home, KKTV reports.

Colorado is the third state in the US to identify an Omicron case, after California on Wednesday and Minnesota earlier today.

Updated

Here’s more on the second confirmed Omicron case in the United States, after the first was recorded in California on Wednesday.

Health officials said a case had also been found in an adult man who attended an anime convention in New York City in late November. The man, who had been vaccinated, tested positive after returning home to Minnesota and sought Covid testing after showing mild symptoms on 22 November.

Officials in New York said they were working to trace those who attended the Anime NYC 2021 convention, held from 19 to 21 November at the city’s Jacob K Javits convention centre. Vaccinations were required for the event.

Governor Kathy Hochul said there were no confirmed Omicron cases among New York residents, but mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement that “we should assume” there is community spread of Omicron in the city.

Updated

Brazil confirms two more Omicron cases

Two more cases of the Omicron variant have been recorded in Brazil, the ministry of health said, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to five.

The two new cases are two people who boarded in South Africa, passed through Ethiopia, landed in Guarulhos, and finally arrived in Brasilia.

One individual has mild symptoms of the disease and the other is asymptomatic.

There are still eight investigations in progress.

Google is pushing back its return-to-office date for offices in Europe, the Middle East and Africa because of concerns over the Omicron variant, Business Insider reports, citing a memo it obtained.

Employees were previously told they would be expected in offices on 10 January in a new hybrid work format, with offices in different countries and locations to determine for themselves when to return beyond that date depending on local conditions.

In the memo, Google’s president for the EMEA region, Matt Brittin, reportedly said the company would postpone that deadline beyond 10 January.

No guidance has yet been issued to US or North American employees regarding changes in the return-to-office plan.

Israel will halt the use of a controversial phone tracking technology to trace the phones of people who contracted the Omicron coronavirus variant, prime minister Naftali Bennett has said.

The move comes just days after ministers approved a package of emergency measures to contain the variant that included authorising the country’s internal security agency to use invasive phone monitoring technology for contact tracing.

But following intense public criticism, the PM’s office said the “cellular monitoring” would expire at midnight Thursday and not be extended, Associated Press reports.

The surveillance programme, which was first rolled out last year during the early months of the pandemic, has been criticised by civil liberties groups and challenged in court.

Israeli rights groups have decried the use of the technology as a violation of privacy rights, and the Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that its use be limited.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel welcomed today’s announced and expressed “hope that this is the last time the secret service will be used to monitor the citizens of the State of Israel.”

Good evening from London. I’m Léonie Chao-Fong, I’ll be bringing you all the latest global developments on the coronavirus pandemic for the next few hours.

And a lovely image to kick things off: UK health secretary Sajid Javid has confirmed he will be “snogging” his wife under the mistletoe this Christmas.

Javid has declared people should “snog who they wish” and that it was not up to the government to decide who people can kiss over the festive period.

Speaking to ITV News, he said:

People can snog who they wish. I’ll certainly be kissing my wife under the mistletoe, it’s a Javid family tradition and it’s got nothing to do with the government who you kiss, or anything like that.

There’s guidance already out there, just be cautious and enjoy yourselves.

His remarks came amid growing confusion over Covid guidance this Christmas, and just a day after another government minister warned against festive kissing this Christmas.

Speaking on ITV’s Peston, the work and pensions secretary, Thérèse Coffey, said people should be “trying to enjoy the Christmas ahead of us” but added:

I don’t think there should be much snogging under the mistletoe.

Updated

Summary

Here is a quick recap of some of the main developments from today so far:

  • Ten more cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant have been detected in the UK, according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), bringing the total to 42. Seven new cases in England were identified in Buckinghamshire, Chiltern, Lambeth, Oxford, South Northamptonshire, Spelthorne, and Three Rivers. Three further cases were found in Scotland.Officials said the individuals who had tested positive and their contacts are all isolating. Work is underway to identify any links to travel, although public health sources told the Guardian that community transmission was now “almost certainly” occurring in the UK.
  • A second case of the Omicron variant has been identified in the United States. The concerned Minnesota resident was an adult male, had a recent travel history to New York City, and had been fully vaccinated. He developed mild symptoms on 22 November and sought Covid testing on 24 November, the state’s health department said, adding that his symptoms have resolved. The first case was confirmed in California by US officials on Wednesday in a person who recently returned to San Francisco from a trip to South Africa.
  • The UK recorded 53,945 new Covid cases on Thursday, the highest daily figure since 17 July, government figures showed, and a further 141 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test.
  • Regional authorities in Madrid said they had detected Spain’s first domestic case of the Omicron variant in a vaccinated person without links to risk countries. They are investigating two other similar suspected cases.It was the fourth confirmed case of the variant in Spain, but the first proving that Omicron is already circulating in the country. The person affected in Madrid had received two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and had no history of travel or close contact with another person from countries where this variant has been detected, authorities said.
  • Norway is reimposing some restrictions in order to cope with the emergence of the Omicron coronavirus variant, the government said, including testing for all travellers arriving in Norway within 24 hours of arrival, whether vaccinated or not. Norway’s health minister, Ingvild Kjerkol, says face masks should be worn in public places in Oslo and other municipalities and has said adults should practise social distancing nationwide. Earlier, authorities said that as many as 50 people could have become infected with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus after a Christmas dinner party in Oslo.
  • Vaccination could become mandatory in Germany from February, with tough extra restrictions also applying to people who are unvaccinated, the country’s outgoing chancellor, Angela Merkel, announced. Merkel, who met Germany’s 16 state leaders on Thursday with her successor, Olaf Scholz, for emergency talks on tougher measures to stem rocketing Covid cases, said the situation was “very serious” and an “act of national solidarity” was required. Unvaccinated people will be barred from non-essential shops and events, unless they have recently recovered from Covid. Discos and clubs will have to shut if case numbers reach above a certain threshold. Merkel said the Bundestag would first vote on the proposed vaccine mandate, with the country’s ethics council due to issue formal guidance by the end of the year, and the rule – if passed – coming into force from February. The move would follow the example of neighbouring Austria, which is planning mandatory vaccinations from February. Greece has also announced mandatory jabs for the over-60s, with unvaccinated people facing fines if they fail to comply. Story here.
  • Children in Finland aged five and over that are at risk of severe Covid infection due to weak immune systems should be given vaccinations, the Finnish Health Institute recommended, opting not to recommend the shots for all children. The government is expected to accept the recommendation. The institute said the vaccinations could start as soon as Finland obtains approved shots.
  • The EU’s public health agency said the Omicron variant could be responsible for more than half of all Covid infections in Europe within a few months. The estimate could lend weight to preliminary information about the very high transmissibility of Omicron, above that of the Delta variant, which before Omicron was considered the most contagious of the main coronavirus variants. There is no conclusive evidence about Omicron’s transmissibility so far but the World Health Organization’s lead person on Covid-19, Maria van Kerkhove, said on Wednesday the agency expected to have data on this within days.
  • Republicans are preparing to shut down the US government on Friday, in the latest attempt by the party to thwart White House efforts to increase vaccine take-up, by undermining vaccine mandates across the country. Clamor is growing among some conservatives for Republican senators to oppose a stopgap funding bill, which would fund the government for the next few weeks, unless Democrats agree to not direct money towards enforcing a vaccine mandate for larger companies in the US. If the disgruntled Republicans, who reportedly include Senator Mike Lee, from Utah, are successful, the government would effectively run out of money on Friday and could be forced to furlough workers and shut down some federal services. Story here.
  • A number of countries including (mainland) France, Greece, India and Finland detected their first Omicron cases.

Ten more Omicron variant cases detected in UK

Ten more cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant have been detected in the UK, according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), bringing the total to 42.

Seven new cases in England were identified in Buckinghamshire, Chiltern, Lambeth, Oxford, South Northamptonshire, Spelthorne, and Three Rivers. Three further cases were found in Scotland.

Officials said the individuals who had tested positive and their contacts are all isolating. Work is underway to identify any links to travel, although public health sources told the Guardian that community transmission was now “almost certainly” occurring in the UK.

The UKHSA has now identified cases of the new variant in the east Midlands, east of England, London, south-east and north-west. None have yet been identified in Wales or Northern Ireland.

“It is very likely that we will find more cases over the coming days as we are seeing in other countries globally and as we increase case detection through focused contact tracing,” said Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UKHSA. “That’s why it’s critical that anyone with Covid-19 symptoms isolates and gets a PCR test immediately.”

Updated

Christmas parties and nativity plays may have been given the go-ahead by Boris Johnson, but a UK government minister had science on her side when she warned against festive kissing this Christmas.

Speaking on ITV’s Peston, the work and pensions secretary, Thérèse Coffey, said: “We should all be trying to enjoy the Christmas ahead of us” but, “for what it’s worth, I don’t think there should be much snogging under the mistletoe.”

Experts agree this would be a risky business – and not the only one.

“Kissing is likely to pose a risk as you are inevitably in very close contact with each other,” said Catherine Noakes, professor of environmental engineering for buildings at the University of Leeds, and a member of Sage.

“However, sharing the same air and interacting together in a poorly ventilated room with multiple people is probably a higher risk because in most events this happens far more frequently than very close contact,” she said.

“Inhaling the virus is a key risk, and so taking steps to reduce the number of people in a space and ensure that it is well ventilated are likely to be of greater benefit.”

Full story from Nicola Davis here: Covid: is it safe to kiss this Christmas? It’s a risk, say scientists

A case of the Omicron variant was identified in Minnesota on Thursday, the US state’s health department has said.

The concerned Minnesota resident was an adult male, had a recent travel history to New York City, and had been fully vaccinated. He developed mild symptoms on 22 November and sought Covid testing on 24 November, the state’s health department said, adding that his symptoms have resolved.

It appears to be the United States’s second confirmed Omicron case, after the first was confirmed in California by US officials on Wednesday in a person who recently returned to San Francisco from a trip to South Africa.

The Biden administration is urging all eligible Americans to get vaccines and boosters to fight Omicron, which is spreading quickly around the world, and will increase family vaccination sites and expand availability at pharmacies.

Just 58.9% of the total US population, or 196 million people, have been fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates among wealthy nations.

More than 786,000 people have died from coronavirus in the United States, including 37,000 in November alone.

Updated

UK records highest daily caseload since July

The UK recorded 53,945 new Covid cases on Thursday, the highest daily figure since 17 July, government figures showed, and a further 141 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test.

That is compared to 48,374 infections and 171 fatalities in the 24 hours prior.

For more live updates from the UK, here is Andrew Sparrow’s Covid live blog:

Updated

The number of people dining out across the UK has fallen to the lowest level since the reopening of indoor hospitality, according to restaurant industry figures covering the first few days since news broke about the Omicron variant.

The seven-day average estimate for UK seated diners fell six percentage points in the week to 29 November, reaching the lowest point since 17 May when indoor dining reopened in England, Scotland and Wales.

While the number of people eating out remained above levels recorded during the equivalent week in 2019 before the onset of the pandemic, at 111%, the figure was down from a level of 117% in the previous week, according to the figures from the booking platform OpenTable.

Numbers of people eating out continued to fall on Monday and Tuesday this week, according to daily figures from OpenTable. In a potential sign of consumer caution after the news of Omicron broke, seated diner numbers fell to 4% and 7% below pre-Covid levels on the first two days of this week compared to equivalent days in 2019.

Although the number of people eating out is typically lower at the start of the week, this was the weakest daily figure since July.

It comes as hospitality bosses report a wave of cancellations of bookings for Christmas parties and events following the emerging news, late last week, of the Omicron variant just as pub, restaurant and hotel operators were hoping to welcome many customers during the crucial festive season.

The snapshot from the ONS largely covers the week to Sunday, meaning only a handful of days since news of Omicron have been assessed so far.

Boris Johnson announced measures at the weekend to limit the spread of the Omicron variant, including compulsory face coverings from Tuesday in shops and on public transport in England, though he stopped short of including the hospitality sector. However, businesses fear tougher measures could soon follow.

Full story here: Dining out in UK at lowest level since May amid Omicron fears

Regional authorities in Madrid said on Thursday they had detected Spain’s first domestic case of the Covid Omicron variant in a vaccinated person without links to risk countries. Reuters reports that they are investigating two other similar suspected cases.

It was the fourth confirmed case of the variant in Spain, but the first proving that Omicron is already circulating in the country.

On Wednesday, the north-eastern region of Catalonia said it had detected potential traces of the Omicron coronavirus variant in sewage samples from late November.

The person affected in Madrid had received two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and had no history of travel or close contact with another person from countries where this variant has been detected, authorities said.

The 62-year-old man, who has shown mild symptoms since 29 November, is isolating at home, while his closest contacts are under quarantine, authorities said. The two other cases being investigated also presented only mild symptoms, and had no history of travels to risk countries.

Updated

Norway to re-impose some restrictions due to Omicron virus variant, says PM

Norway is reintroducing some restrictions in order to cope with the emergence of the Omicron coronavirus variant, the government said on Thursday, including testing for all travellers arriving in Norway within 24 hours of arrival, whether vaccinated or not.

Norway’s health minister, Ingvild Kjerkol, says face masks should be worn in public places in Oslo and other municipalities and has said adults should practise social distancing nationwide.

Norwegian authorities said earlier that as many as 50 people could have become infected with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus after a Christmas dinner party in Oslo. The country posted a daily record of 4,052 coronavirus cases on Monday, according to data from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

About 88% of adults in Norway, and 71% of all Norwegians, are fully vaccinated. Some 11% of Norwegians have received a booster shot

Updated

The UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, received his Covid-19 booster shot on Thursday and urged others to follow suit to help the country fend off the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

“Fantastic. Thank you so much,” he said to the nurse, before receiving a badge that said: “I’ve boosted my immunity.”

Boris Johnson receives his Covid-19 booster jab.
Boris Johnson receives his C0vid-19 booster jab. Photograph: WPA/Getty Images

For more on the Covid situation in the UK, please follow the UK live blog

Updated

Covid-19 case rates among the oldest age groups in England have fallen to their lowest level for nearly five months, figures show.

PA Media reports that a total of 51.8 new cases for every 100,000 people aged 80 and over were recorded in the week to 28 November, while 66.8 for every 100,000 were recorded for 70- to 79-year-olds.

For both age groups they are the lowest rates of new cases since the week to 11 July. It is the fifth week in a row that rates for these groups have fallen.

The figures, from the Health Security Agency, may reflect the impact of booster doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, which began to be rolled out to double-jabbed people in the oldest groups from the end of September.

Rates have also fallen among all other age groups, including schoolchildren. Among five- to nine-year-olds, 873.8 cases for every 100,000 people were recorded in the latest week, down from 949.8 a week earlier, while the figure for 10- to 19-year-olds has dropped from 830.4 to 758.3.

Rates for both these groups had risen in the previous two weeks, which coincided with the return of pupils to school following the half-term holiday. Across England, rates have dropped in all regions except London, where they have risen slightly from 325.9 to 331.3.

The south-east has the highest rate, at 517.7 cases for every 100,000 people, while Yorkshire and Humber has the lowest, at 308.9.

Updated

Here is more on that announcement from the Guardian’s Europe correspondent, Jon Henley.

Vaccination could become mandatory in Germany from February, with tough extra restrictions also applying to people who are unvaccinated, the country’s outgoing chancellor, Angela Merkel, has announced.

Merkel, who met Germany’s 16 state leaders on Thursday with her successor, Olaf Scholz, for emergency talks on tougher measures to stem rocketing Covid cases, said the situation was “very serious” and an “act of national solidarity” was required.

She said Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, would first vote on the proposed vaccine mandate, with the country’s ethics council due to issue formal guidance by the end of the year, and the rule – if passed – coming into force from February.

The move would follow the example of neighbouring Austria, which is planning mandatory vaccinations from February. Greece has also announced mandatory jabs for the over-60s, with unvaccinated people facing fines if they fail to comply.

New daily infections in Germany have broken records in recent weeks, with many hospitals operating at or over capacity and forced to send patients elsewhere for treatment. Authorities said 73,209 new cases were recorded in the past 24 hours.

Experts have blamed the fourth wave on the country’s relatively low vaccination rate of around 68% compared with several other EU countries such as Spain, which has fully vaccinated 79% of its population, and Portugal, which is 86% vaccinated.

Merkel’s outgoing government had previously ruled out mandatory vaccination, but the measure has since won broad political backing. “We don’t have enough vaccinated people,” Scholz said after the meeting. “We now know that this has consequences.”

Read the full report here: Germany could make Covid vaccination mandatory, says Merkel

Updated

I have just clarified in my post from 1.58pm that a nationwide vaccine mandate could come into effect in Germany from February. The measure first has to be debated in the Bundestag and approved by Germany’s Ethics Council. You may have to refresh the page in order to see the updated post.

Children in Finland aged five and over that are at risk of severe Covid infection due to weak immune systems should be given vaccinations, the Finnish Health Institute recommended on Thursday, opting not to recommend the shots for all children.

The government is expected to accept the recommendation. The institute said the vaccinations could start as soon as Finland obtains approved shots.

Germany imposes restrictions on unvaccinated and could make jabs obligatory from February

Vaccination could become mandatory in Germany from February, the outgoing chancellor, Angela Merkel, has announced.

Germany will also impose sweeping nationwide restrictions on social contact for unvaccinated people, in what local media is describing as a “lockdown for the unvaccinated”.

Unvaccinated people will be barred from non-essential shops and events, unless they have recently recovered from Covid. “Culture and leisure nationwide will be open only to those who have been vaccinated or recovered,” Merkel said.

Discos and clubs will have to shut if case numbers reach above a certain threshold, the chancellor also announced.

The Covid situationwas “very serious”, Merkel warned, with cases at very high levels and vaccine take-up still lower in Germany than in many other European countries.

“We have understood that the situation is very serious and that we want to take further measures in addition to those already taken,” Merkel told a news conference.

“To do this, the fourth wave must be broken and this has not yet been achieved,” she said, adding that a nationwide vaccination mandate could take effect from February 2022 after it is debated in the Bundestag and after guidance from Germany’s Ethics Council.

Austria became the first western country to make vaccines mandatory in recent days, while Greece said it would make jabs obligatory for over-60s.

Merkel and her successor, Olaf Scholz, met German regional leaders today to agree a path forward for the country.

Updated

This is from Sky News’s Europe correspondent Adam Parsons

BREAKING: Merkel says "obligatory vaccinations" from February

— Adam Parsons (@adamparsons) December 2, 2021

More on this as we get it.

Earlier, we reported here that Norwegian authorities were investigating a cluster of 50 cases possibly linked to the Omicron variant.

Reuters is now reporting that an outbreak of Omicron has been confirmed to have occurred in Oslo, the city’s authorities said on Thursday.

One person was confirmed positive for the Omicron variant, following a company Christmas party in the Norwegian capital.

“At the moment one person is confirmed as infected with Omicron but more cases are expected,” the city said in a statement.

“We are working actively with contact tracing to limit the spread and prevent bigger outbreaks.”

Norway detected its first two cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant on Wednesday.

The prime minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, is expected to hold a news conference later on Thursday.

For more on this please see 10.39am.

The European Union’s public health agency said on Thursday that the Omicron variant could be responsible for more than half of all Covid infections in Europe within a few months.

The estimate could lend weight to preliminary information about the very high transmissibility of Omicron, above that of the Delta variant, which before Omicron was considered the most contagious of the main coronavirus variants.

“Based on mathematical modelling conducted by ECDC, there are indications that Omicron could cause over half of all SARS-CoV-2 infections in the EU/EEA within the next few months,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said in a statement.

There is no conclusive evidence about Omicron’s transmissibility so far but the World Health Organization’s lead person on Covid-19, Maria van Kerkhove, said on Wednesday the agency expected to have data on this within days.

Europe has so far recorded a few dozen infections of people with the Omicron variant, which was first detected last month.

The European Union and European Economic Area (EEA) include the 27 EU member states plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

Earlier on Thursday, the French government’s top scientific adviser Jean-François Delfraissy said that Omicron could take Delta’s place already by the end of January.

Updated

US Republicans threaten government shutdown to undermine vaccine mandates

Republicans are preparing to shut down the American government on Friday, in the latest attempt by the party to thwart White House efforts to increase vaccine take-up, by undermining vaccine mandates across the country.

Clamor is growing among some conservatives for Republican senators to oppose a stopgap funding bill, which would fund the government for the next few weeks, unless Democrats agree to not direct money towards enforcing a vaccine mandate for larger companies in the US.

If the disgruntled Republicans, who reportedly include Senator Mike Lee, from Utah, are successful, the government would effectively run out of money on Friday and could be forced to furlough workers and shut down some federal services.

The need for vaccine mandates, which have been introduced by Joe Biden, has taken on additional importance as the US braces for the impact of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

The plot by the right comes after some Republican states have already sought to diminish mandates, by expanding unemployment benefits for employees who have been fired or quit over the requirement to get the vaccine.

Read more of Adam Gabbatt’s report here: Republicans threaten government shutdown to undermine vaccine mandates

Ukraine will bar the entry of foreigners travelling from several African countries where the Omicron variant has been detected, the prime minister, Denys Shmyhal, said at a televised government meeting on Thursday.

The health ministry earlier this week ordered mandatory 14-day self-isolation for Ukrainians returning from those countries. Similar rules will apply to foreigners with a permanent residence permit in Ukraine.

Ukraine has recorded 3.5 million coronavirus cases and 87,057 deaths. It has not registered a case of the Omicron variant yet.

Updated

Greece records first Omicron case

Greece has detected its first case of the Omicron coronavirus variant, in a Greek citizen on the island of Crete who had returned from South Africa last month, its health minister Thanos Plevris told reporters on Thursday.

The man has mild symptoms and all his contacts have been quarantined, the head of Greece’s public health agency EODY, Theoklis Zaoutis, said.

His contacts have tested negative so far and have been closely watched by Greek authorities, he added.

As we’ve been reporting here, increasing numbers of countries are reporting cases of the variant, including in the last couple of hours India and Finland. While experts are rushing to determine the level of protection afforded by vaccines, the World Health Organization has said Omicron carries a very high global risk of causing surges of infection.

*I’m grateful to reader George for flagging this to me.

Updated

Finland detects first Omicron case

The first case of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has been discovered in Finland, the Finnish Health Institute said on Thursday.

The variant was found in a person who had travelled to Finland from Sweden, the institute added and said it was still investigating samples from other people travelling in the same group that now were sick with Covid-19.

Updated

Tesco’s festive TV campaign featuring Santa Claus bearing a Covid vaccine passport has been cleared by the UK ad watchdog despite anti-vaccination campaigners making it the second most complained about advert of all time.

The advert, titled “This Christmas, Nothing’s Stopping Us”, prompted more than 5,000 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which determines whether marketing campaigns have broken the UK advertising code.

The ad shows the public determined to enjoy a proper Christmas with family and friends after lockdown restrictions prevented gatherings last year.

However, in one scene a reporter appears on TV with “breaking news” telling viewers that “Santa could be quarantined”. Father Christmas is then shown presenting his Covid pass at border control, proving he has been vaccinated to a customs official so he can enter the country without restriction.

“Having carefully assessed the 5,000 complaints we received about the Tesco Christmas ad campaign, we have concluded it doesn’t break our rules and there are no grounds for further action,” a spokesman for the ASA said.

“We consider that the depiction of Santa displaying a proof of vaccine status in an airport is likely to be seen as a humorous reference to international travel rules people have experienced this year. It is unlikely to be interpreted as a message about these rules or the Covid-19 vaccine more widely.”

The scene sparked controversy on social media, attracting criticism from those in the anti-vaccination movement.

The ASA received 5,009 complaints from members of the public who felt that the scene encouraged medical discrimination and the need to be vaccinated.

The full story is here: Tesco ad featuring Santa with Covid vaccine passport cleared by watchdog

A man currently in the coronavirus ward of Landspítali hospital in Reykjavík, Iceland, with the Omicron variant is fully vaccinated and had recently received a booster dose, Iceland’s national broadcaster RÚV reports.

Iceland reported the man’s diagnosis, the country’s first Omicron case, on Wednesday. It has not yet been determined whether his infection is linked to travel.

*I’m grateful to readers Lilja and Angela for flagging this.

As we reported earlier, the first two cases of Omicron have been detected in India, with two people in the southern state of Karnataka testing positive for the new variant.

The government confirmed that both were foreigners, aged 46 and 66, who had recently travelled from South Africa. Both were reporting only mild symptoms and the government said that all people they had come into contact with had been traced and tested.

The detection of Omicron triggered alarm in India, which suffered a devastating second wave of the virus driven by the Delta variant.

Covid-19 cases are currently at historic lows but there has also been a marked decline in testing. Just over 30% of people have had both their vaccine doses.

After news of the emergence of the Omicron variant broke this week, India introduced strict new rules for international travellers coming into the country, including testing on arrival and having to wait for the results before leaving the airport, and seven-day home quarantine.

In the state of Maharashtra, which was hit hard by previous waves of the virus, institutional quarantine has been mandated for travellers arriving from six countries in Africa deemed “high risk”.

Plans for India to resume all commercial flights in mid-December have also now been put on hold.

The Indian health ministry’s joint secretary Lav Agarwal said there was “no need to panic”.

“There will be no drastic curbs any time soon. The situation is well under control,” said Dr VK Paul, chief of the government’s Covid-19 task force.

Updated

England’s biggest theatres including the Royal Opera House, the National and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sites in the West End have implemented mandatory mask-wearing as owners respond to the threat of the spread of Omicron.

Theatre-goers have not been required to wear masks but owners are moving to make them a compulsory requirement after the government’s decision to make face coverings mandatory in shops and on public transport this week.

The Royal Shakespeare Company was the first to make the move, announcing on Monday that face coverings are now required at its theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, except for those under 12 years of age or who are medically exempt.

Other theatres followed, with announcements from the National, which requires masks to be worn in all areas of its building on London’s South Bank, the Royal Opera House, the English National Opera and the Old Vic.

Lloyd Webber’s West End theatres also moved to mandatory mask-wearing, having previously operated a policy of requesting, but not enforcing, that theatre-goers use face coverings.

Theatre owners are set to keep the policy in place until at least 19 December, the date the government has set for a review of its guidance on face masks.

People who are not wearing a face coverings in certain settings can potentially be fined in the form of a fixed penalty notice and ordered to pay £200.

More on this story here: England’s biggest theatres make mask-wearing mandatory

Updated

The Omicron variant has fuelled a “worrying” surge in coronavirus cases in South Africa and is rapidly becoming the dominant strain, local health officials have said, as more countries including the United States detected their first cases.

The United Arab Emirates and South Korea – which is already battling a worsening outbreak and record daily infections – also confirmed cases of the Omicron variant.

Dr Michelle Groome of South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said there had been an “exponential increase” in infections over the past two weeks, from a weekly average of around 300 new cases per day to 1,000 last week, and most recently 3,500.

On Wednesday, South Africa recorded 8,561 cases. A week earlier, the daily tally was 1,275.

“The degree of increase is worrying,” Groome said.

The NICD said 74% of all the virus genomes it had sequenced last month had been of the new variant, which was first found in a sample taken on 8 November in Gauteng, South Africa’s most populous province.

While key questions remain about how transmissible the Omicron variant is, which has been detected in at least two dozen countries around the world, experts are rushing to determine the level of protection afforded by vaccines. World Health Organization (WHO) epidemiologist Maria van Kerkhove told a briefing that data on how contagious Omicron was should be available “within days”.

The NICD said early epidemiological data showed Omicron was able to evade some immunity, but exisiting vaccines should still protect against severe disease and death. BioNTech’s chief executive, Uğur Şahin, said the vaccine it makes in a partnership with Pfizer was likely to offer strong protection against severe disease from Omicron.

Read the full story here: Omicron variant fuelling ‘exponential’ rise in Covid cases, say South Africa officials

India detects two cases of Omicron variant in southern state

India has detected its first two cases of the Omicron variant, both in the southern state of Karnataka, a health ministry official said on Thursday, as the government urged more widespread testing.

“All primary contacts and secondary contacts of both the cases have been traced and are being tested,” the health ministry’s joint secretary Lav Agarwal told a news briefing.

The two patients were displaying mild symptoms, officials said.

India was set to restart scheduled commercial international flights on 15 December, but scrapped that plan on Wednesday amid rising concerns over Omicron and said a resumption date would be announced in due course.

The government has advised states to ramp up testing, a week after the health ministry said a recent fall in testing could undermine the country’s efforts to contain the pandemic.

After battling a record surge in infections and deaths in April and May, coronavirus cases have come down substantially in India, where the Delta variant – as in other parts of the world – is the dominant strain.

The country reported 9,765 new cases on Thursday, taking its total to 34.61 million. Only the United States has reported more.

Updated

As we reported earlier, the first case of the coronavirus Omicron variant in mainland France has been confirmed in the Île-de-France region that includes Paris, authorities have said.

The regional health authority said a man aged between 50 and 60, showing no symptoms of infection, had been tested on 25 November on his return from a trip to Nigeria. Subsequent sequencing identified the mutation, it said.

The man’s wife, who accompanied him on the journey, has also tested positive for the virus but the sequencing that will determine if she is also infected with the variant has not yet been completed, the authority said.

A third member of the couple’s household was tested on Thursday and is awaiting the result. The health authority said none of the three had been vaccinated.

Updated

Good morning from London. I’m Lucy Campbell, I’ll be bringing you all the latest global developments on the coronavirus pandemic for the next eight hours. Please feel free to get in touch with me as I work if you have a story or tips to share! Your thoughts are always welcome.

Email: lucy.campbell@theguardian.com
Twitter: @lucy_campbell_

Today so far

  • Germany is expected later today to announce it will impose restrictions on the unvaccinated as it seeks to break a surge in daily coronavirus infections.
  • Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel and her successor, Olaf Scholz will discuss with leaders of Germany’s 16 states restricting the unvaccinated from access to all but the most essential businesses, such as grocery stores, pharmacies and bakeries.
  • Sweden’s Public Health Agency said it could impose new restrictions to fight the coronavirus pandemic and a rising tide of infections in the coming days. “We may have to take measures already next week,” Director General Karin Tegmark Wisell told a news conference.
  • The heavily mutated Omicron variant has propelled a sharp rise in Covid cases in South Africa as health experts describe the degree of increase as “worrying”. The variant now accounts for 74% of all the virus genomes sequenced in the nation last month.
  • A microbiologist from South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases has said the country is seeing an increase in Covid-19 reinfections in patients contracting Omicron in a way that it did not experience with previous variants.
  • A tenth case of the Omicron variant identified in Scotland has no direct link to the previous nine cases which were connected to one event, the Scottish Government has said.
  • The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the UK has approved a new Covid-19 treatment, known as Xevudy (sotrovimab).
  • Scientists believe they may have found the trigger behind the extremely rare blood clot complications stemming from the Oxford/AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine.
  • Authorities in Norway have said as many as 50 people could have become infected with the omicron variant of the coronavirus after a Christmas dinner party in Oslo.
  • Health authorities in the Netherlands say that more than 20 passengers who have been in quarantine since testing positive for Covid-19 after flying from South Africa on 26 November will be allowed to leave on Thursday. Due to privacy laws, they would not give details of whether this included those who had been identified with the Omicron variant.
  • The wave of coronavirus infections in Portugal is expected to worsen and new daily cases could double to around 9,000 during the Christmas period, the health authority DGS chief Graca Freitas told broadcaster RTP.
  • Pupils and parents in Northern Ireland have been warned to prepare for part-time education in the new year as schools try to cope with staff shortages due to Covid-related absences.
  • More than a third of pregnant women in the UK fear losing their jobs due to safety concerns about Covid in the workplace, according to a survey.
  • Joe Biden is set to announce new actions in the US to combat the coronavirus, including a nationwide campaign encouraging vaccine boosters, an expansion of at-home tests and tighter restrictions on international travel.
  • Authorities in Indonesia have tightened border curbs, extended quarantine and limited movement on strategic toll roads, in a preemptive move to limit the spread of the Omicron Covid variant.
  • South Korea has reported a new daily record in Covid cases with 5,266 cases recorded on Wednesday, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA)

It is no doubt going to continue to be a very busy day with Covid developments. Andrew Sparrow has our combined UK Covid and politics live blog.

Lucy Campbell will be here shortly to take over from me, and to carry on bringing you the latest global coronavirus news. And I am off to host the comments on the Thursday Quiz. I will see you here again tomorrow.

If you missed it earlier and fancy something to listen to, our Today in Focus podcast for Thursday is asking will the Omicron Covid variant cancel Christmas?

The Guardian’s science correspondent Nicola Davis tells Hannah Moore the variant is so new to scientists there is not enough data to predict how serious a threat it could pose, but the next two weeks will be crucial.

Norway investigating cluster of 50 cases possibly linked to Omicron

Norwegian authorities have said as many as 50 people could have become infected with the omicron variant of the coronavirus after a Christmas dinner party in Oslo.

National news agency NTB cited local media as saying 41 Oslo residents who attended the dinner last Friday had since tested positive for Covid-19, as well as nine guests living in neighbouring municipalities.

“We do not yet have full confirmation, but there are very strong indications that this outbreak involves the omicron variant,” Jorun Thaulow, head of the Oslo West test and trace team said.

Oslo city hall on Wednesday asked anyone who had been at the restaurant, Louise Louise in the central Aker Brygge district, between 10.30pm and 3am last Friday to get tested urgently.

People who were in an Irish pub in the city the following day are also being asked to take a test after one of the dinner guests who subsequently tested positive said they had been drinking there on Saturday evening.

Updated

Esperanza Martinez, the head of the Covid-19 crisis management team at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has issued a statement today warning the world of the consequences if there is not a concerted effort to distribute vaccines into conflict zones. She says

Vaccine inequity impacts us all. Omicron highlights how vulnerable we all are when large parts of the world aren’t vaccinated. Vaccinating the tens of millions of people living in conflict zones and other hard-to-reach areas is an absolute necessity if we are to resolve the Covid-19 pandemic.

Only a small sliver of vaccines has so far reached conflict zones, where families and entire communities often live without access to basic health care services. The ICRC estimates that more than 100 million people now live in areas under full or fluid control of non-state armed groups, often leaving communities out of reach of vaccination campaigns run by ministries of health.

The ICRC is calling for a “global, decisive and collective effort” to get vaccines into those conflict zones, warning that vaccination rates in countries experiencing conflict are disturbingly low – citing figures for Ethiopia, South Sudan, Yemen, Somalia and Syria. The latter has reached a 4% vaccination rate, with the others lower than that.

Updated

It is still going to take a few weeks for scientists to gather all the data they need to understand how the Omicron variant behaves. That means until then we will probably see conflicting reports about how transmissible and severe it is. Certainly Covid-lockdown sceptics have seized on reports that symptoms are very mild with this variant to suggest that the world has been over-reacting to its emergence.

However, a lot of people ill simultaneously – even with mild symptoms – would be incredibly disruptive to society, so the transmissibility of the variant is a metric scientists are interested in. As is whether it can reinfect people who have already contracted a different strain of Covid-19 previously.

Reuters report this morning that a microbiologist from South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases has said the country is seeing an increase in Covid-19 reinfections in patients contracting Omicron in a way that it did not experience with previous variants,

“Previous infection used to protect against Delta but now with Omicron that doesn’t seem to be the case,” said Professor Anne von Gottberg during an online briefing organised by the World Health Organization.

Joe Biden is set to announce new actions in the US to combat the coronavirus, including a nationwide campaign encouraging vaccine boosters, an expansion of at-home tests and tighter restrictions on international travel.

Buffeted by the emergence of the Omicron variant and a political backlash from Republicans, the US president will visit the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, on Thursday and lay out a pandemic battle plan for the winter months.

Biden will announce steps to ensure that the nearly 100 million eligible Americans who have not yet received their booster shot do so as soon as possible, the White House said. There is new urgency to the effort after the first US case of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 was identified in California on Wednesday.

The president will pledge to expand pharmacy availability during December while pharmacy partners send millions of texts, calls, and emails to eligible customers with information on how to schedule an appointment or walk in for a booster shot.

Updated

Germany expected to impose restrictions on the unvaccinated

Germany is expected later today to announce it will impose restrictions on the unvaccinated as it seeks to break a surge in daily coronavirus infections.

Reuters report that outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel and her successor, Olaf Scholz will discuss with leaders of Germany’s 16 states restricting the unvaccinated from access to all but the most essential businesses, such as grocery stores, pharmacies and bakeries.

Eager to avoid lockdowns, they are expected to keep businesses open to the almost 69% of the population that is fully vaccinated as well as those who have recovered from the coronavirus.

Germany’s vaccination rate at just under 70% is around the EU average but lower than countries such as Portugal and Ireland.

Making vaccination compulsory and restricting the number of people at large events such as soccer matches are among the measures to be discussed.

There have been signs the curve is starting to flatten in Germany. The seven-day incidence among 100,000 residents fell for the third consecutive day to 439.2.

Andrew Sparrow is up and running with our live blog for the day carrying UK Covid and politics news. He is leading with ministers getting tangled up in whether we should be having Christmas parties or not. You can find that here.

I will be carrying on with global coronavirus news on this live blog, so stay tuned.

The advertising boss Sir Martin Sorrell has said clients are cancelling Christmas events in response to Omicron, and criticised the UK government for failing to give sufficient guidance on masks.

Sorrell, the executive chairman of S4 Capital and founder and former chief executive of WPP, said event cancellations had gathered pace since the new Covid variant was identified.

“What we are seeing our clients doing and other people [doing], the answer is they are … cancelling,” Sorrell told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “There has been quite a sharp series of cancellations since this happened just three, four, five days ago.”

Read more of Mark Sweney’s report here: Ad boss Martin Sorrell criticises lack of masks guidance as events cancelled

The Belfast Telegraph this morning are reporting that pupils and parents have been warned to prepare for part-time education in the new year as schools try to cope with staff shortages due to Covid-related absences. Mark Bain writes:

St Malachy’s High School in Castlewellan has now written to parents informing them that their children will be facing some time out of class in from January unless the situation improves. The school is the latest to inform parents that a decision had been taken to plan for students to attend on a rotational basis after the Christmas holidays.

“All schools are under pressure with staff absent, including ourselves,” Principal Orla O’Neill informed parents. “We in St Malachy’s have reached a point where staff absence is becoming a health and safety concern as the number of staff absent is increasing day by day. Today we have 15 teachers off. That equates to a quarter of our teaching staff.”

While teaching union the NASUWT said that a circuit break closure before Christmas should be on the table, Helena Macormac, director of the National Association of Head Teachers said: “I think contingency plans need to be put in place, but we do not want to see a circuit breaker. We would prefer it if that could be avoided, but safety has to be paramount.

“Be prepared is what we’re saying, but we really don’t want this to happen,” she added.

If you were worried there hadn’t been enough Christmas party chatter on the live blog today, fret no more. On the BBC Radio 4 Today programme UK science minister George Freeman has suggested that large businesses might consider cancelling their party plans. PA Media quote him saying:

Individual businesses, in the end, have to make judgments on what is appropriate internally. It slightly depends on the nature of the business. For many small businesses, four or five staff, who are working together every day anyway, gathering to have a drink isn’t a big step up in risk.

But some companies might normally bring hundreds of people in from around the world to a big party, and they may decide, this year, is that sensible given the pandemic and given where we are?

In the end, I think business people know how to make those decisions. The Government has set out clear guidance.”

This adds to what the work and pensions secretary, Thérèse Coffey, told ITV’s Peston programme that Britons should avoid “snogging under the mistletoe” this Christmas.

She said “I think we should all be trying to enjoy the Christmas ahead of us, and that’s why we’re working so hard to get the deployment of as many vaccines as possible.”

Coffey said kissing should be avoided with “people you don’t already know”.

There’s some news – although not much to be honest – coming out of the Netherlands. Reuters report that Dutch health authorities say that more than 20 passengers who have been in quarantine since testing positive for Covid-19 after flying from South Africa on 26 November will be allowed to leave on Thursday.

A spokesman for the health authority for Kennemerland, in which Schiphol airport is situated, said authorities will not disclose whether any of the 14 passengers found to be infected with the Omicron variant of the virus are being released, citing privacy reasons.

They will also not disclose or discuss the seriousness of those patients’ symptoms, the spokesman added, also citing privacy reasons.

Results of follow-up tests mean that more than half of those who had been held at the hotel are now free to continue their travels, a GGD statement said. “Persons that tested positive will remain in isolation. Their situation varies. Some have symptoms, others don’t or barely,” GGD Kennemerland director Bert van Velden said in a statement.

Scientists find possible trigger for AstraZeneca jab blood clots

Scientists believe they may have found the trigger behind the extremely rare blood clot complications stemming from the Oxford/AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine.

According to a team of researchers from Cardiff and the US, the reaction can be traced to the way the adenovirus used by the vaccine to shuttle the coronavirus’s genetic material into cells binds with a specific protein in the blood, known as platelet factor 4 (PF4).

Researchers think this may spark a chain reaction in the immune system that can culminate in the development of blood clots – a condition known as vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT).

Prof Alan Parker, from Cardiff University’s School of Medicine, said: “We hope our findings can be used to better understand the rare side effects of these new vaccines and potentially to design new and improved vaccines to turn the tide on this global pandemic.”

Read more here: Scientists find possible trigger for AstraZeneca jab blood clots

Omicron variant case detected in Paris region of France

A very quick Reuters snap: A case of the Omicron variant has been found in the greater Paris/Ile-de-France region, reported BFM TV, citing the local health authority. The infected person had recently returned from Nigeria.

The wave of coronavirus infections in Portugal is expected to worsen and new daily cases could double to around 9,000 during the Christmas period, the health authority DGS chief Graca Freitas told broadcaster RTP.

Reuters note that the country of just over 10 million reported a total of 4,670 new infections on Wednesday, the highest daily jump since the beginning of February.

However, Freitas said vaccination levels - among the highest in the world at around 87% of the population - should mean hospitalisations and deaths remain far below levels seen during previous waves of the pandemic.

“It is very different to have new cases than to have lethal cases,” she said late on Wednesday.

Already in response to the rise in cases and the new Omicron variant, Portugal on Wednesday reimposed some restrictions, and Prime Minister Antonio Costa also said the government would increase restrictions further if needed to control cases.

In the UK, Prof Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), has been on BBC Breakfast, and there were three main points worth pulling out. On whether people will need continual booster shots, PA Media quote him saying:

It’s hard to say whether we’ll all need boosters indefinitely - it really does depend on how much further this virus can evolve. Just as with flu, the flu virus changes every year and we have to reformulate the vaccine and reimmunise people who are at risk. So, that could happen with coronavirus but whether it will require everybody to get boosters every year, well I think that’s really unclear at this point in time.

On vaccinations for children in the five to 11-year-old bracket, he said

The extent to which we can do that and protect adults by avoiding them being infected by children with the current vaccines is still quite uncertain.

So, that’s the balance - we clearly want to protect children as much as possible and we’ve got good evidence now that this vaccine, even at a low dose, produces a really good protective immune response in children and produces many fewer side effects because of the lower dose.

The question really is that should that be our focus right now or should we really be focusing on adults who are the ones that much more commonly get seriously ill.

On vaccine supply and vaccine equity, he said:

Increasingly, as time goes by, it’s not so much the supply of vaccine that is limiting vaccine equity, but the ability to actually deliver those vaccines, so during the course of next year we should expect the number of doses available to countries around the world to really go up really very rapidly. But that doesn’t mean that they’ll necessarily be able to provide those vaccines to people as quickly as we would like.

Agence France-Presse have this to tee-up expected events in Germany today. They write that Chancellor Angela Merkel and her designated successor Olaf Scholz will meet German regional leaders later today to finalise new measures to tackle surging Covid cases, with compulsory jabs among the options on the table.

Though the seven-day incidence rate in Germany has fallen slightly this week, it still stood at 442.9 new infections per 100,000 people on Wednesday, with 67,186 new cases recorded in the past 24 hours.

Restrictions were tightened just two weeks ago, but the leaders came together on Tuesday to discuss tougher measures and are now expected to fine tune the plans.

After Tuesday’s meeting, Scholz said he was in favour of compulsory vaccination for all Germans and wants parliament to vote on the matter before the end of the year. “Too many people have not got vaccinated,” he told Bild television. Making jabs compulsory is justified “to protect us all”, he said.

Compulsory jabs should be in force “in the beginning of February or March so we must move quickly now,” Scholz said, promising that lawmakers would be allowed to vote according to their conscience.

Germany already announced plans earlier this month to require health workers and soldiers to get inoculated against Covid-19. Expanding that to the general public would see the country follow the example of neighbouring Austria, which is planning mandatory vaccinations from February.

Just back to UK science minister George Freeman for a moment. On Sky News he was asked about plans to vaccinate children in the 5-to-11 age range. He didn’t really have an answer beyond saying that they are waiting for further scientific advice. He said:

We are looking at the science on that and the balance of the rollout. Patrick Vallance, our chief scientist, and Chris Whitty are advising on that. It is their advice that guides us.

The urgent priority now is to make sure that we roll out the jab programme through the population and, with Christmas coming, we want to make sure that as many people as possible are double jabbed.

In due course, we would like to make sure that all of those who are vulnerable have the right level of protection.

Data at the moment suggests that young children are much less vulnerable but, as and when that data changes, we are guided by the science and we stand ready, which is partly why we have procured the vaccines - to make sure we can deliver what our citizens and patients need.

Sweden's Public Health Agency warns it could impose new restrictions next week

A quick snap from Reuters here that the Swedish Public Health Agency said it could impose new restrictions to fight the coronavirus pandemic and a rising tide of infections in the coming days.

Sweden, which introduced vaccine passes for indoor events with more than 100 people at the beginning of this month, had flagged potential additional measures might be needed to curb the spread of the virus.

“We may have to take measures already next week,” Karin Tegmark Wisell, Director General at Sweden’s Public Health Agency, told a news conference.

Tenth Omicron case in Scotland has no known link to previous nine

A tenth case of the Omicron variant identified in Scotland has no direct link to the previous nine cases which were connected to one event, the Scottish Government has said.

Authorities have said the nine cases across Lanarkshire area and Greater Glasgow and Clyde identified earlier in the week were connected to an event on 20 November.

Public Health Scotland recorded an additional confirmed case of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 on Wednesday in the same area.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The individual affected is in the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board area and while there is no direct link with the event on the 20 November which connected the previous nine cases, investigations are ongoing.

“As First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told parliament on Tuesday, it was already suspected that some degree of community transmission of this variant was taking place in Scotland.

“However, there is no indication as yet that transmission of the new variant is either sustained or widespread.”

UK approves GSK/Vir Biotechnology Covid-19 treatment Xevudy (sotrovimab)

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the UK has approved a new Covid-19 treatment, known as Xevudy (sotrovimab). A statement this morning says that:

Another Covid-19 treatment, Xevudy (sotrovimab), has today been approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) after it was found to be safe and effective at reducing the risk of hospitalisation and death in people with mild to moderate Covid-19 infection who are at an increased risk of developing severe disease.

Developed by GSK and Vir Biotechnology, sotrovimab is a single monoclonal antibody. The drug works by binding to the spike protein on the outside of the Covid-19 virus. This in turn prevents the virus from attaching to and entering human cells, so that it cannot replicate in the body.

In a clinical trial, a single dose of the monoclonal antibody was found to reduce the risk of hospitalisation and death by 79% in high-risk adults with symptomatic COVID-19 infection.

UK minister defends procurement of 114m more vaccines for the UK

Science minister George Freeman has defended the UK government over criticism that it has procured more vaccines to the detriment of efforts to vaccinate globally. It was announced overnight that the UK has secured new contracts to buy 114m more Covid-19 vaccines for the next two years. Asked on Sky News about how many of the promised 100m vaccines the UK had delivered to the Covax vaccine-sharing programme, he said:

The problem with Covax actually has been the global manufacturing supply chains. One of the things we set out in our G7 summit in the summer, which is partly what we’re picking up today, is to make sure that we’ve got those global supply chains.

So Britain has put the funding in. We’ve procured the vaccines. The key is getting the roll out internationally into those hard to reach countries in Africa, in the Southern Pacific island states. And that is a global challenge. That’s why we’re one of the biggest contributors to Covax who are doing a brilliant job.

We’ve put the vaccines in. We’ve got to make sure that we support them in rolling them out internationally. Because as I say, we’re not safe. The global economy isn’t safe until we’ve defeated this pandemic across the whole world.

Questioned on how many of the promised 100m vaccines the UK had actually delivered to Covax, Freeman said “We’ve supported that 100 million. They’re in the pipeline. That isn’t the issue.”

Asked why the UK was ordering more vaccines, he defended the move saying:

It’s a balanced game. I mean, we’ve got another variant. I think the British public would expect us to make sure that we’re providing the supply here in the UK. This is a balance. We’ve got to make sure that our citizens are safe, and that the global vaccine rollout through Covax is supported, and that is what we’re committed doing.

George Freeman, science minister for the UK, has just endured a torrid time on Sky News being interviewed by Kay Burley. He was initially bullish on the performance of the UK’s vaccination booster jab rollout, saying:

This pandemic isn’t over and the UK is leading in both the science of defeating this virus, and in the rollout for vaccines here in the UK. We’re in a global race to make sure we defeat this pandemic.

This summer we led the charge on how we support rollout. Here in the UK, our vaccine rollout programme is setting the benchmark. And that’s why we’re able this year to not impose the very tough, quite draconian regulations we had to last year, in a way that other countries aren’t. So this is UK science leadership.

However, Burley repeatedly pressed him on when people in their twenties would be able book a booster jab. Freeman insisted the NHS and GP practices were rolling them out now.

Burley eventually said to him, rather exasperatedly “If you are in your twenties, you don’t know when you can have the jab. Just admit to that because that is fundamentally the case, isn’t it?”

Freeman replied “The case is that the NHS is rolling out the vaccine programme and if you contact your GP and book it, you will get your jab.”

To which Burley said: “It’s just not true. It’s just not true, minister.”

More than a third of pregnant women fear losing their jobs due to safety concerns about Covid in the workplace, according to a survey. Research from Maternity Action shows 36% are concerned about their work if they take time off or ask their employer to do more to protect them from Covid.

The charity is urging ministers to immediately overhaul health and safety rules for pregnant women in the workplace, which it says are “not fit for purpose”.

Ros Bragg, director of Maternity Action, said: “The situation for pregnant women is dire and is only getting worse as the pandemic progresses.

“They are frankly right to be worried – because the system that is supposed to protect them is not fit for purpose. There is a vast gap between what the law says and actual employer practice, leaving women under huge pressure to work in unsafe conditions.”

Bragg said officials and organisations given the responsibility of enforcing workplace health and safety had “shown themselves wholly inadequate to the task”. Women are being left with an “unenviable choice” of either taking their employer to a tribunal to get basic health and safety protections or “carrying on working in an unsafe environment”.

Read more from our health editor Andrew Gregory’s report here: Pregnant women fear losing jobs over Covid safety worries, survey finds

Hello, it is Martin Belam here, taking over from Samantha Lock. It is science minister George Freeman doing the media round for the government in the UK this morning. I’ll bring you any lines that emerge from that in due course.

Summary

Here’s a quick snapshot of developments from the past few hours:

  • Ukraine has recorded 13,531 new cases of Covid-19 for Wednesday.
  • Authorities in Indonesia have tightened border curbs, extended quarantine and limited movement on strategic toll roads, in a preemptive move to limit the spread of the Omicron Covid variant.
  • Thailand reported another 4,971 new Covid cases.
  • Hong Kong’s quarantine is pushing Cathay Pacific pilots to “breaking point” as many seek work elsewhere, AFP reports.
  • India has recorded another 9,765 daily Covid cases and 277 for Wednesday, according to an update from the health ministry.
  • Germany has reported another 73,209 new Covid cases for Wednesday and 388 deaths, according to data from the Robert Koch Institute.
  • China is reporting 73 new Covid cases for Wednesday, a decrease from the 113 reported Covid cases a day earlier, Reuters reports.
  • South Korea has reported a new daily record in Covid cases with 5,266 cases recorded on Wednesday, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
  • A large number of temporary and bridging Australian visa holders will be cut off from their families this Christmas despite the planned easing of border restrictions, causing further agony and uncertainty for those stuck in the country.
  • The heavily mutated Omicron variant has propelled a sharp rise in Covid cases in South Africa as health experts describe the degree of increase as “worrying”. The variant now accounts for 74% of all the virus genomes sequenced in the nation last month.

Updated

The pandemic has seen a shift towards recreational drug users taking tiny doses of psychedelics, such as LSD and magic mushrooms, to improve their wellbeing and mental health, a leading addiction expert has said.

People were microdosing to self-medicate rather than following the trend, popularised in Silicon Valley, of consuming small amounts of psychedelics to enhance creativity, Prof Adam Winstock, the founder and director of the Global Drug Survey, said.

The 2021 survey found that among those respondents who both microdosed and took psychiatric drugs almost half reported reducing or stopping their prescribed medication.

Winstock, a London-based consultant psychiatrist and addiction medicine specialist, said the findings suggested people had been experimenting with microdosing during the pandemic, perhaps due to increased waiting times for mental health services.

Our reporter, David Batty, has the full story here.

Pakistan has also released their Covid figures for the last 24 hours.

An additional 377 people are confirmed to have tested positive for Covid-19, the ministry of national health services said in an update today.

There were eight deaths also recorded and 904 patients in critical care.

Ukraine has just released their daily Covid numbers.

The European nation recorded 13,531 new cases of Covid-19 for Wednesday.

The figure included 1,346 children and 240 health workers, according to an update from the ministry of health.

Updated

Here’s a fun story from our reporter Amy Fleming on the ‘pandemic body’ and how the Covid era changed us.

From hair loss to weight gain, decaying teeth and sore eyes – the strange, difficult years of coronavirus have changed us physically.

Will we ever get back to our former selves?

Read the full story here.

Indonesia tightens travel curbs as it braces for Omicron arrival

Authorities in Indonesia have tightened border curbs, extended quarantine and limited movement on strategic toll roads, in a preemptive move to limit the spread of the Omicron Covid variant, Reuters report.

The southeast Asian nation has also extended mandatory quarantine for arrivals from seven days to ten.

“This policy... will be evaluated every now and then as we understand and continue digging more information about this new variant,” senior minister Luhut Pandjaitan said in a statement on Wednesday.

Travel to Indonesia from 11 countries, including South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Nigeria, will not be allowed, except for returning Indonesians, who will be subjected to 14 days of isolation.

New domestic travel measures include limiting the volume of traffic on toll roads to reduce people movement, according to the transport minister.

Official data in Indonesia shows a sharp reduction in new daily infections, with a daily average of about 400 last month compared to about 40,000 in July.

More than a third of its 270 million population are vaccinated.

A man walks past a coronavirus-themed mural in Jakarta, Indonesia, as the country tightens travel curbs in preparation for Omicron arrival.
A man walks past a coronavirus-themed mural in Jakarta, Indonesia, as the country tightens travel curbs in preparation for Omicron arrival. Photograph: Tatan Syuflana/AP

Updated

Canada has reported it’s first case of wildlife found infected with Covid-19 after three wild white-tailed deer were identified with the virus.

The National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease (CFIA) confirmed reports, saying the deer were sampled earlier in November in the Estrie region of Quebec.

However, the deer showed “no evidence of clinical signs of disease” and were all apparently healthy, according to a recent Environment and Climate Change Canada report.

Thailand has just released their daily Covid report.

The southeast Asian nation reported another 4,971 new Covid cases, bringing the cumulative total to 2,125,729.

Another 33 deaths were also reported for Wednesday, bringing the total tally to 20,847.

Summary

It’s been another busy few hours as the world scrambles to make sense of the Omicron variant.

Here are the most important developments so far.

  • Hong Kong’s quarantine is pushing Cathay Pacific pilots to “breaking point” as many seek work elsewhere, AFP reports.
  • India has recorded another 9,765 daily Covid cases and 277 for Wednesday, according to an update from the health ministry.
  • Germany has reported another 73,209 new Covid cases for Wednesday and 388 deaths, according to data from the Robert Koch Institute.
  • China is reporting 73 new Covid cases for Wednesday, a decrease from the 113 reported Covid cases a day earlier, Reuters reports.
  • South Korea has reported a new daily record in Covid cases with 5,266 cases recorded on Wednesday, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
  • A large number of temporary and bridging Australian visa holders will be cut off from their families this Christmas despite the planned easing of border restrictions, causing further agony and uncertainty for those stuck in the country.
  • The heavily mutated Omicron variant has propelled a sharp rise in Covid cases in South Africa as health experts describe the degree of increase as “worrying”. The variant now accounts for 74% of all the virus genomes sequenced in the nation last month.

Hong Kong’s quarantine is pushing Cathay Pacific pilots to “breaking point” as many seek work elsewhere, Agence France-Presse reports.

The airline has been hit by a wave of pilot resignations in recent weeks as resentment over Hong Kong’s strict quarantine regime boils over and crew scramble for emerging opportunities overseas.

Hong Kong’s leaders are closely following Beijing’s closed-border zero-Covid strategy and say normalising travel with China must come before the rest of the world.

“Things are horrible, resignations are through the roof,” one pilot, who has more than 20 years’ flying experience and has applied to two rival airlines, told AFP.

There are a lot of guys at their breaking point. It’s actually amazing that we haven’t had an accident yet.”

For much of the pandemic Hong Kong has restricted inbound travel with as much as three weeks mandatory quarantine.

Resentment built throughout the pandemic but exploded last month when more than 270 people - made up of some 120 crew plus their families - were ordered into a government quarantine camp after three pilots tested positive on return from Germany.

The trio were later fired when Cathay said they had left their hotel rooms during their layover.

In a recording obtained by AFP, Cathay’s director of flight operations Chris Kempis told employees this week that there was “a higher resignation rate among pilots right now”.

In a statement, Cathay Pacific said it had to abide by Hong Kong’s regulations.

A Cathay Pacific Airways plane arrives in Sydney from Hong Kong on 30 November.
A Cathay Pacific Airways plane arrives in Sydney from Hong Kong on 30 November. Photograph: Loren Elliott/Reuters

Updated

Western Australia is pitching itself to travellers as the “safest place” in the world from the Covid-19 pandemic, despite being a state almost no one can visit.

State premier Mark McGowan unveiled the $185m transition plan to reopen WA to the world at a state address on Wednesday. He said WA was now in the position to market itself internationally as the safest place from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The virtue of our careful and cautious approach, means Western Australia now has a new brand – of safety, stability and strength, and we will use that brand to market ourselves to the world,” he said.

The state has taken a hard-line stance to border control during the pandemic with the emergence of the Omicron variant prompting the federal government to reintroduce quarantine for some international travellers.

Read the full story here.

India has recorded another 9,765 daily Covid cases for Wednesday, bringing the cumulative total to 34.61m, according to an update from the health ministry.

Another 477 deaths were also recorded, bringing the total death toll to 469,724.

A primary school teacher instructs children on a street in Kolkata, India, on 30 November.
A primary school teacher instructs children on a street in Kolkata, India, on 30 November. Photograph: Dipa Chakraborty/Pacific Press/REX/Shutterstock

Updated

Will the Omicron Covid variant cancel Christmas?

The Guardian’s science correspondent Nicola Davis tells Hannah Moore the variant is so new to scientists there is not enough data to predict how serious a threat it could pose, but the next two weeks will be crucial.

Listen to our latest podcast episode below.

Here’s an analysis piece by our reporter Jo Chandler as to why Papua New Guinea’s Covid strategy went so wrong.

Public confusion and distrust over vaccination have been fuelled by what experts say are crippling failures in authorities’ response to the pandemic in the Pacific island nation.

Vaccine hesitancy has been a major issue and cause for concern in PNG, where just over 2% of the population has been fully vaccinated. Some health experts predict that Papua New Guinea will take five years to vaccinate just one-third of its population.

Other countries in the Pacific are also significantly lagging behind in vaccination rates with experts predicting a handful of nations will have less than a quarter of adults vaccinated by the end of the year.

Some Covid numbers from Germany are now in.

The European nation reported another 73,209 new Covid cases for Wednesday and 388 deaths, according to data from the Robert Koch Institute.

The figures bring the total confirmed cumulative coronavirus cases in the nation to 5,977,208 with 102,178 deaths.

A crowd of people enjoy the Christmas market in Dortmund, Germany, 1 December, as the country recorded another 388 deaths on Wednesday.
A crowd of people enjoy the Christmas market in Dortmund, Germany, 1 December, as the country recorded another 388 deaths on Wednesday. Photograph: Martin Meissner/AP

Updated

Japan is reportedly urging airlines to accommodate the needs of returning Japanese.

The country’s transport ministry has cancelled its blanket ban on accepting new reservations for inbound flights and asked airlines to accommodate the needs of returning Japanese, Reuters reports.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno added that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida had asked the transport ministry to be mindful of returning Japanese given the confusion a suspension of new bookings installed on Wednesday had caused.

Shares in Asia have seen mixed fortunes so far in Thursday’s session after a volatile day of trading in the US on Wednesday.

The Nikkei was down 0.6% in Tokyo and the ASX200 was off 0.1% in Sydney as investors waited for clearer signals about the economic impact of the Omicron variant.

However, Hong Kong was up 0.18% and the Kospi in Seoul was riding a surge of 0.9%.

Updated

American multinational pharmaceutical company, Bristol Myers Squibb Co, was sued on Wednesday by four employees who said the drugmaker refused to grant them religious exemptions from its Covid-19 vaccination requirement, and threatened to fire them on 6 December for remaining unvaccinated, Reuters reports.

The plaintiffs in the proposed class action filed in Manhattan federal court accused Bristol Myers of violating a federal civil rights law known as Title VII by “systematically manufacturing” reasons to refuse religious accommodations.

The plaintiffs - reported by Reuters to be Carrie Kefalas, a physician overseeing clinical trial risk management for drug development; biotechnologist John Lott; data integrity manager Jeremy Beer, and biologist Kamila Dubisz - allege that Bristol Myers is concluding their politics is the real reason they won’t be vaccinated, regardless of whether they have sincere religious beliefs that independently would justify exemptions.

They objected to the company requiring they fill out “inquisitorial” questionnaires about their reasons for religious exemptions.

Bristol Myers said its priority during the pandemic has been the health and safety of communities, employees and patients. “Our policy that all eligible employees in (the) US and Puerto Rico be vaccinated against Covid-19 is consistent with this safety priority,” the New York-based company said in a statement to Reuters.

The complaint said Bristol Myers rejected Kefalas’ request because it thought her beliefs were insincere and she might not accept mask-wearing or regular Covid-19 testing. The company offered no reasons for the other rejections, the complaint said.

Bristol Myers referred in Kefalas’ rejection letter to several statements it said she made publicly, including that its vaccine requirement was a “communist, unamerican practice.”

The lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction against Bristol Myers’ firing the plaintiffs or similarly situated employees.

A recent study out of the US has found that roughly one in every 100 patients hospitalised with Covid-19 will likely have central nervous system complications.

Researchers from the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) - an association of radiologists, radiation oncologists, medical physicists and related scientists - reported the findings on Tuesday.

“Much has been written about the overall pulmonary problems related to Covid-19, but we do not often talk about the other organs that can be affected,” said study lead author Scott H. Faro, M.D., FASFNR, professor of radiology and neurology and director of the Division of Neuroradiology/Head & Neck Imaging at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, said.

Our study shows that central nervous system complications represent a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in this devastating pandemic.”

Among nearly 38,000 patients hospitalised with Covid-19 in the United States and Europe, symptoms led doctors to suspect brain complications in about 11%.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) exams confirmed central nervous system abnormalities that were most likely associated with the virus in 10% of those patients, for an overall incidence of 1.2%.

The most common finding was stroke due to clogged arteries, but the researchers also saw bleeding in the brain, inflammation of the brain, and other potentially fatal complications.

China is reporting 73 new coronavirus cases for Wednesday, 1 December, Reuters reports.

This is a decrease from the 113 reported Covid cases a day earlier, its health authority said.

Of the new infections, 53 were locally transmitted, according to a statement by the National Health Commission, compared with 91 a day earlier. All of the new locally transmitted cases were in Inner Mongolia.

There were no new deaths, leaving the death toll at 4,636.

Residents line up for a Covid-19 test following new cases reported in Manzhouli, Inner Mongolia, China.
Residents line up for a Covid-19 test following new cases reported in Manzhouli, Inner Mongolia, China. Photograph: Reuters

Updated

South Korea hits new daily Covid record

South Korea has reported a new daily record in Covid cases on Thursday, amid concerns over a sharp rise in patients with severe symptoms.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 5,266 cases for Wednesday, a day after the daily tally rose above 5,000 for the first time.

Authorities will require a 10-day quarantine for all inbound travellers for two weeks starting Friday, halting exemptions given earlier to fully vaccinated people, the KDCA said.

The measure came after South Korea confirmed its first five cases of the Omicron variant late on Wednesday, including a fully vaccinated couple who arrived last week from Nigeria, followed by two of their family members and a friend.

The country has fully inoculated nearly 92% of adults and is now focusing on vaccinating children and a booster programme, but experts have warned that cases could continue to rise due in part to the spread of the potentially more transmissible variant.

Total infections rose to 457,612, with 3,705 deaths.

🔊#코로나19 국내 현황(12.2.)

일 1차접종 23,652명(누적 접종 42,593,798명/82.9%)
일 접종완료 65,436명(총 접종 완료 41,129,620명/80.1%)

일 사망자 47명(누적 사망자 3,705명)
일 재원 위중증 733명
일 신규입원 762명
일 확진환자 5,266명(누적 확진 457,612명) pic.twitter.com/1so9F6UVk8

— 대한민국 질병관리청 (@KoreaDCA) December 2, 2021
Two women wearing face masks walk in Seoul, South Korea, 29 November, as Covid-19 cases continue to grow.
Two women wearing face masks walk in Seoul, South Korea, 29 November, as Covid-19 cases continue to grow. Photograph: Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA

Updated

A large number of temporary and bridging Australian visa holders will be cut off from their families this Christmas despite the planned easing of border restrictions, causing further agony and uncertainty for those stuck in the country.

Restrictions are set to ease for some temporary visa holders in time for Christmas, including those on international skilled, student, humanitarian, working holiday and provisional family visas. This will allow them to leave and re-enter Australia without exemptions from 15 December.

But for holders of other types of temporary visas there is still no end in sight.

Read the full story here.

Omicron becomes dominant variant in South Africa

The heavily mutated Omicron variant has propelled a sharp rise in Covid cases in South Africa as health experts describe the degree of increase as “worrying”.

The variant now accounts for 74% of all the virus genomes sequenced in the nation last month after it was first found in a sample taken on 8 November in Gauteng, South Africa’s most populous province.

Covid cases have risen from a weekly average of around 300 new cases per day to 1,000 last week and most recently to 3,500. A total of 8,561 new cases were reported on Wednesday alone - double the number of new cases recorded the day before, according to data from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

Dr Michelle Groome, head of the NICD, said the increase was “exponential” adding that the “rapidly increasing number of new daily cases” was “fuelled by the variant” known as Omicron, Agence France-Presse reports.

South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said early epidemiological data suggested Omicron was able to evade some immunity, but existing vaccines should still protect against severe disease and death.

World Health Organization (WHO) epidemiologist Maria van Kerkhove told a briefing that data on how contagious Omicron was should be available “within days.”

A woman is vaccinated against Covid-19 at the Lenasia South Hospital, near Johannesburg on 1 December as South Africa records a surge in cases.
A woman is vaccinated against Covid-19 at the Lenasia South Hospital, near Johannesburg on 1 December as South Africa records a surge in cases. Photograph: Shiraaz Mohamed/AP

Updated

Hello everyone, it’s Samantha Lock here, ready to take you through all the Covid news this Thursday.

It’s been a very busy few days on the Covid front as countries swiftly respond to the emergence of the Omicron variant.

Let’s start with the news that the Omicron variant has propelled a sharp rise in Covid cases in South Africa as health experts describe the degree of increase as “worrying”.

Covid cases have risen from a weekly average of around 300 new cases per day to 1,000 last week and most recently to 3,500. A total of 8,561 new cases were reported on Wednesday alone, according to data from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

Dr Michelle Groome, head of the NICD, said the increase was “exponential” adding that the “rapidly increasing number of new daily cases” was “fuelled by the variant” known as Omicron.

Here’s a quick rundown of everything you might have missed over the past 24 hours.

  • The US reported its first Omicron case identified in California and discovered in a traveller who returned from South Africa on 22 November and tested positive on 29 November.
  • The World Health Organization has urged countries to prioritise getting the unvaccinated vaccinated, both nationally and globally, rather than boosters.
  • Ministers in the UK have secured new contracts to buy 114m more Covid-19 vaccines for the next two years.
  • The US will extend requirements for travellers to wear masks on aeroplanes, trains and buses and at airports and train stations through mid-March.
  • Greek lawmakers approved legislation making vaccination for Covid mandatory for all residents aged over 60. Some 17% of Greeks aged over 60 have not yet been vaccinated. They have until 16 January to get their first jabs, or will be fined 100 euros for every month they remain unvaccinated.
  • The United Arab Emirates announced its first known case of the new Covid variant Omicron.
  • Moderna could have a Covid booster shot targeting the Omicron variant tested and ready to file for US authorisation as soon as March, the company’s president said.
  • The EU must consider mandatory vaccination, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said. One-third of Europe’s 150-million population are not vaccinated.
  • The UN condemned the travel bans implemented in response to Omicron as “unfair, punitive and ineffective”.

Contributors

Léonie Chao-Fong (now); Lucy Campbell, Martin Belam and Samantha Lock (earlier)

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Covid live: Italy reports highest daily cases since March; Canada’s Omicron cases ‘could overwhelm Ontario ICUs’
Italy reports 26,109 new cases, its highest daily number since 12 March; experts warn Ontario hospitals could be overwhelmed

Samantha Lock (now) Tom Ambrose , Jem Bartholomew and Miranda Bryant (earlier)

17, Dec, 2021 @12:28 AM

Article image
Covid news: 75 more cases of Omicron variant found in England; Ireland announces new restrictions – as it happened
More than 100 cases of new variant have now been found in England; Strict social distancing will be required in Ireland’s bars and restaurants with mandatory table service and a maximum of six people per table

Harry Taylor (now) and Caroline Davies, Martin Belam and Samantha Lock (earlier)

03, Dec, 2021 @11:54 PM

Article image
Confirmed global cases pass 1.5m - as it happened
This blog is closed

Helen Sullivan (now and earlier) ; Nadeem Badshah , Damien Gayle, Gregory Robinson, and Amy Walker

09, Apr, 2020 @11:44 PM

Article image
Coronavirus live: US Covid deaths reach new high; Omicron poses threat – as it happened
Moderna chief cautions against assumptions Omicron is milder than Delta; Pfizer says pill cut hospitalisation and deaths in high-risk patients

Léonie Chao-Fong (now); Lucy Campbell, Martin Belam and Samantha Lock (earlier)

15, Dec, 2021 @2:15 AM

Article image
Confirmed cases pass 1 million – as it happened
This blog is now closed

Alison Rourke (now), Kevin Rawlinson Damien Gayle, Alexandra Topping , Aamna Mohdin and Helen Sullivan(earlier)

02, Apr, 2020 @10:55 PM

Article image
Global confirmed Covid-19 cases top 400,000 – as it happened
WHO says US could be next virus hotspot; EU urged to evacuate Greek refugee camps; Greta Thunberg says she believes she had Covid-19. This blog is now closed.

Helen Sullivan (now and earlier); Kevin Rawlinson, Ben Quinn and Alexandra Topping

25, Mar, 2020 @12:43 AM

Article image
UK reports another 691 Covid deaths – as it happened
Anthony Fauci ‘extremely confident’ in vaccine; BioNTech’s CEO says tests being run on mutant strain; Ireland to tighten restrictions from Christmas Eve

Jessica Murray (now) Matthew WeaverAlexandra Topping and Helen Sullivan (earlier)

22, Dec, 2020 @11:59 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

Article image
Covid news: Omicron detected in US; UK reports 48,374 new cases and 171 deaths – as it happened
Case identified in California; UK infections on rise amid fears over Omicron variant; non-EU travellers to France must have negative Covid test regardless of vaccination status

Tom Ambrose (now), Rachel Hall, Martin Belam and Samantha Lock (earlier)

02, Dec, 2021 @12:50 AM

Article image
Italy records lowest daily increase in Covid-19 deaths in a week – as it happened
This blog is now closed

Helen Sullivan (now and earlier); Kevin Rawlinson , Amy Walker, Damien Gayle and Simon Murphy

02, Apr, 2020 @12:05 AM