Summary

I’ll now be closing off our live coverage of the coronavirus outbreak.

Thanks for joining us and here is a quick rundown of all the headlines you may have missed.

You can also keep up to date by following along here.

  • Covid origins: The first known Covid case originated with a vendor at a Wuhan wet market, a leading virus expert has claimed in a report published on Thursday.
  • France will not impose Covid lockdowns on unvaccinated people because of the success of its health pass in curbing the virus’s spread, president Emmanuel Macron said.
  • Germany will limit large parts of public life in areas where hospitals are becoming dangerously full of coronavirus patients to those who have either been vaccinated or have recovered from the illness, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday.
  • Saxony, the German region hardest hit by the country’s fourth wave of coronavirus, is considering a partial lockdown.
  • Austria may impose a full Covid lockdown as infections are still rising despite the current lockdown for the unvaccinated.
  • Greece expands restrictions for the unvaccinated, prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis warned during a televised address urging citizens to get vaccinated against Covid-19.
  • The UK reported another 46,807 Covid cases and a further 199 deaths within 28 days of a positive test.
  • Hungary will make a booster shot mandatory for all healthcare workers and will require protective mask wearing in most enclosed places from Saturday, Viktor Orbán’s chief of staff said.
  • Slovakia will impose stricter measures for people who have not been vaccinated against coronavirus amid a surge in infections and hospital admissions, prime minister Eduard Heger said.
  • Brazil has recorded 12,301 new cases of coronavirus reported in the past 24 hours, and 293 deaths from Covid, the health ministry said on Thursday.
  • The US state of Florida has banned schools and businesses from requiring vaccination against Covid. Republican governor Ron DeSantis signed the new laws.
  • Canada will announce on Friday it is authorising the use of Pfizer’s Covid vaccine in children aged between 5 and 11, a government source said on Thursday.
  • India has approved the export of 20m doses of the Novavax Covid vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India (SII) to Indonesia, according to a government document seen by Reuters and a government source.

Cathay Pacific sacks three pilots for getting infected with Covid on layover

Cathay Pacific Airways has sacked three cargo pilots for becoming infected with Covid-19 during a layover in Frankfurt, citing an unspecified “serious breach” of crew rules while overseas.

“The individuals concerned are no longer employed by Cathay Pacific,” the company said in a statement issued on Thursday.

The pilots were suspected of leaving their hotel rooms in Germany, according to the South China Morning Post.

The discovery of the infections led to more than 150 other Cathay employees, including pilots and flight attendants, as well as many household members and community contacts, being sent to a government quarantine facility for three weeks.

Read the full story here.

Researchers say one of the symptoms of long-term Covid-19 is the chronic loss of smell, otherwise known as olfactory dysfunction (COD), and has been described by researchers as an “emerging public health concern”.

The research published in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery estimated that between 700,000 and 1.6 million people in the US who had Covid-19 have lost or had a change in their sense of smell that has lasted for more than 6 months.

The loss of smell has been associated with “decreased general quality of life, impaired food intake, inability to detect harmful gas and smoke, enhanced worries about personal hygiene, diminished social well-being, and the initiation of depressive symptoms” researchers with the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis said.

Updated

First known Covid case was vendor at Wuhan wet market, scientist claims

The first known patient to become ill with Covid-19 was a vendor in a Wuhan animal market, a scientist has claimed in a report published on Thursday.

Dr Michael Worobey, a leading expert in tracing the evolution of viruses at the University of Arizona, believes the World Health Organization inquiry was incorrect in its early chronology of the pandemic.

Worobey came upon timeline discrepancies by combing through what had already been made public in medical journals, as well as video interviews in a Chinese news outlet with people believed to have the first two documented infections, the New York Times reports.

He argues that the vendor’s ties to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, as well as a new analysis of the earliest hospitalised patients’ connections to the market, strongly suggest that the pandemic began there and not with an accountant who lived many miles away.

The report has been published in the prestigious journal Science.

Updated

A woman with Covid-19 in Portland, Oregon, in the US, has woken up after weeks on a ventilator on the day she was due to be taken off life support.

Bettina Lerman had been in a coma at Maine Medical Center in Portland since contracting the virus in September.

Her family made the difficult decision to take her off of life support, making funeral arrangements and picking out her casket and headstone as they prepared to say goodbye, her son Andrew Lerman told CNN.

Lerman started showing Covid-19 symptoms in early September, was diagnosed when she went into the hospital September 12 and went on the ventilator on the 21st, her son told the outlet.

He described speaking with the doctor: “He’s like, ‘Well, I need you to come here right away.’ I was like, ‘OK, what’s wrong?’” Lerman said. “He goes, ‘Well, there’s nothing wrong. Your mother woke up.’”

Hello from a drizzly morning over here in Sydney, Australia.

I’m Samantha Lock and I’ll be taking over from my colleague Tom Ambrose to bring you all the latest Covid headlines.

First up, some numbers out of Australia for you.

The nation’s most populous state of NSW has recorded 216 new Covid-19 cases in the latest reporting period. Sadly three people infected with Covid-19 have died.

The state of Victoria is once again in excess of 1,000 daily cases with 1,273 new infections recorded overnight. Sadly eight people with Covid-19 have died in the latest reporting period.

In other news, most remaining Covid restrictions in Victoria have now been removed for those who are fully vaccinated, with the state about to hit its 90% vaccinated target.

Brazil reports 12,301 cases of coronavirus and 293 new deaths

Brazil has recorded 12,301 new cases of coronavirus reported in the past 24 hours, and 293 deaths from Covid, the health ministry said on Thursday.

The South American country has now registered 21,989,962 cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 612,144, according to ministry data, in the world’s third worst outbreak outside the United States and India and its second-deadliest.

As vaccination advances, the rolling 14-day average of Covid deaths has fallen to 258, compared with the toll of almost 3,000 a day at the peak of the pandemic in April.

Updated

Florida has banned schools and businesses from requiring vaccination against Covid.

Governor Ron DeSantis, a rightwing Republican widely believed to be planning a run for the US presidency, signed the new laws.

“We’re making sure that people have a right to earn a living, people have a right to have protections at their place of employment and that parents have protections to be able to direct the upbringing of their kids,” said DeSantis.

In a later announcement of the bills’ signing on Twitter, DeSantis referred to “the free state of Florida”.

Echoing anti-vaccine rhetoric, DeSantis repeated a misleading claim that vaccines do not protect against coronavirus infections, and said “natural immunities” should qualify people to return to in-person work.

Updated

France will not follow those European neighbours imposing Covid lockdowns on unvaccinated people because of the success of its health pass in curbing the virus’s spread, President Emmanuel Macron said.

Europe has again become the centre of the pandemic, prompting some countries including Germany and Austria to reintroduce restrictions in the run-up to Christmas and causing debate over whether vaccines alone are enough to tame Covid.

“Those countries locking down the non-vaccinated are those which have not put in place the [health] pass. Therefore this step is not necessary in France,” Macron told La Voix du Nord newspaper in an interview published on Thursday.

Updated

Canada will announce on Friday it is authorising the use of Pfizer’s Covid vaccine in children aged between 5 and 11, a government source said on Thursday.

The announcement will be made at 10am Eastern time (3pm GMT), said the source, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, Reuters reported.

India has approved the export of 20m doses of the Novavax Covid vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India (SII) to Indonesia, according to a government document seen by Reuters and a government source.

The government has also decided to allow the export of 10m doses of a licensed version of the AstraZeneca shot made by SII, which it calls Covishield, to the global vaccine-sharing programme Covax, two sources said.

The shipment is likely to happen towards the end of next month, one of the sources said.

Updated

Good evening, I’m Tom Ambrose and will be bringing you all the latest Covid news over the next couple of hours.

We start with the news that Germany will limit large parts of public life in areas where hospitals are becoming dangerously full of coronavirus patients to those who have either been vaccinated or have recovered from the illness, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday.

The move is necessary to tackle a very worrying fourth wave of the pandemic that is overburdening hospitals, she said.

“Many of the measures that are now needed would not have been needed if more people were vaccinated. And it isn’t too late to get vaccinated now,” Merkel said.

In places where hospitalisation rates exceed a certain threshold, access to public, cultural and sports events and to restaurants will be restricted to those who have been vaccinated or who have recovered, Reuters reported.

Merkel said the federal government would also consider a request by regional governments for legislation allowing them to require that care and hospital workers be vaccinated.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, puts on her face mask after addressing a press conference following a video meeting with the heads of government of Germany’s federal states at the Chancellery in Berlin on 18 November 2021.
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, puts on her face mask after addressing a press conference following a video meeting with the heads of government of Germany’s federal states on 18 November 2021. Photograph: Michael Kappeler/AFP/Getty

Updated

Summary

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

  • The Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, made a televised address urging citizens to get vaccinated against Covid-19, as he warned restrictions for the unvaccinated would be expanded. As of Monday, in addition to restaurants, curbs will also go into effect in other “enclosed spaces” including cinemas, theatres, museums and gyms. The government had decided to also limit Covid passes to seven months for those aged over 60 to encourage people to get a third dose, he said, vowing that inspections would also intensify. In the coming days, Greek hospitals now under intolerable pressure will also be reinforced with private sector doctors being mobilised to assist the national health system. “Greece is mourning unnecessary deaths because very simply it does not have the vaccination percentages of other European countries,” Mitsotakis said.
  • AstraZeneca’s antibody cocktail offered 83% protection against Covid over six months, the pharmaceutical firm said. Evusheld has shown promise in preventing severe disease when given early as a treatment to those infected with Covid-19. Explainer here.
  • The UK reported another 46,807 Covid cases and a further 199 deaths within 28 days of a positive test.
  • Hungary will make a booster shot mandatory for all healthcare workers and will require protective mask wearing in most enclosed places from Saturday, Viktor Orbán’s chief of staff said. Gergely Gulyás also told a government briefing that only vaccines can provide protection against coronavirus as case numbers are rising. Hungary has hardly any restrictions in place and the vaccination rate is below the EU average. The steady rise in new Covid infections prompted the Hungarian Medical Chamber on Wednesday to call for strict measures. The chamber called for a ban on mass events and mandatory mask-wearing in enclosed spaces and said that entry to restaurants, theatres and cinemas should be conditional on a Covid immunity certificate.
  • Slovakia will impose stricter measures for people who have not been vaccinated against coronavirus amid a surge in infections and hospital admissions that is stretching the health system, the prime minister, Eduard Heger, said. “It is a lockdown for the unvaccinated,” Heger told a news conference shown live on television. Slovakia has one of the EU’s lowest vaccination rates at 45%. Under the new rules, taking effect from Monday and foreseen for three weeks, only people who have been vaccinated or who have had Covid in the past six months will be allowed to enter restaurants, shopping malls, shops with non-essential goods, sports activities and public events. Some services will face further restrictions in most-affected regions even for those vaccinated, with restaurants only being able to serve takeaway. The new rules include the requirement to test unvaccinated people in workplaces in all but the least-affected regions. Heger said vaccinated people would be the first to benefit from an ease in restrictions.
  • Saxony, the German region hardest hit by the country’s fourth wave of coronavirus, is considering a partial lockdown. The eastern region, which has Germany’s lowest vaccination rate and highest infection rate, is considering measures such as closing theatres, concerts and soccer games to the public and shutting bars and discos, local media reported.
  • Pressure on Austria’s government to impose a full Covid lockdown is growing as its hardest-hit provinces said they would adopt the measure for themselves as infections are still rising despite the current lockdown for the unvaccinated. “If no national lockdown is ordered tomorrow, there will definitely have to be a lockdown of several weeks in Upper Austria together with our neighbouring province Salzburg as of next week,” the governor of Upper Austria, Thomas Stelzer, told the province’s parliament. The conservative-led provincial government of Salzburg confirmed in a statement that it is planning a joint lockdown with Upper Austria. Austria’s governors are holding a meeting on Friday with the conservative chancellor, Alexander Schallenberg, and the health minister, Wolfgang Mückstein.

Updated

Greece imposes more Covid restrictions for unvaccinated

The Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has made a televised address urging unvaccinated citizens to get the jab against Covid-19. He said the Mediterranean nation lagged behind other European countries in inoculation rates and was suffering unwarranted deaths as a result.

Although seven million Greeks – three out of four – have received the shot, there was a sizeable number who had not, he said, pointing out that nine out of 10 patients in ICU wards were unvaccinated.

“575,000 citizens above the age of 60 remain unprotected. One and a half million of the same age group have completed six months since their vaccination. Older people should get the first dose and those who have been vaccinated the third dose,” he told the nation. “Greece is mourning unnecessary deaths because very simply it does not have the vaccination percentages of other European countries.”

As of Monday he warned, restrictions for those who remained unprotected would be expanded. In addition to restaurants, curbs will also go into effect in other “enclosed spaces”, including cinemas, theatres, museums and gyms.

The government had decided to also limit Covid passes to seven months for those aged over 60 to encourage people to get a third dose, he said, vowing that inspections would also intensify.

In the coming days, Greek hospitals now under intolerable pressure will also be reinforced with private-sector doctors being mobilised to assist the national health system.

Calling on Greeks to turn their backs on fear and charlatans preying on ignorance, he implored: “Get vaccinated, get vaccinated, get vaccinated.”

Updated

Responding to the 46,807 new Covid cases in the UK reported on Thursday, Prof Christina Pagel, director of UCL’s Clinical Operational Research Unit and a member of the Independent Sage group of experts said cases are rising fastest in five- to nine-year-olds – a group not yet eligible for vaccinations.

The only age group without a rise in the most recent week of data, she added, is the over-65s, most likely reflecting the impact of boosters.

Pagel added the lack of vaccination in younger children, together with many of their parents unlikely to be eligible for a booster until Christmas or later, means cases may be expected to rise for a few weeks yet.

“Following on from that will be new hospital admissions and cases of long Covid in both children and adults,” she said.

Pagel suggested the UK appears to be out of step with other countries.

“Many countries in Europe with similar vaccination rates to ours are acting to reduce rising cases. So far, England has chosen to live with high cases instead even though modest measures such as indoor mask wearing, working from home where possible and investing in CO2 monitors and hepa filters in schools could be enough to bring cases down again,” she said.

“With most adults now several months out from their second dose, I believe the decision to exempt doubly vaccinated adults from self-isolation if a household member tests positive should be urgently revisited.”

Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton agreed.

“The highest case rates are seen in school-age children and adults in their 40s, many of whom will be parents of school children,” he said, adding there are numerous school outbreaks. Head added the lower rates in older populations are good news.

“Given the success of the booster campaign, it is also likely we may see further policy revisions to include all eligible adults. This would help to create that ‘wall of immunity, and drive transmission and burden of disease much lower. In the longer-term it’s entirely possible that the vaccine schedule will move from 2 doses plus a booster, to a three-dose schedule,” he said.

Updated

A staff member disinfects Xining railway station in Xining, north-west China’s Qinghai province. Xining on Thursday eased its Covid restrictions as the city continued to record zero locally transmitted cases in the past 14 days. Public transport, shops and restaurants resumed operations with prevention measures in an orderly manner.
A staff member disinfects Xining railway station in Xining, north-west China’s Qinghai province. Xining on Thursday eased its Covid restrictions as the city continued to record zero locally transmitted cases in the past 14 days. Public transport, shops and restaurants resumed operations with prevention measures in an orderly manner. Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock

Updated

Europe must “close the gap” on vaccinations to stop its Covid-19 surge, with the un-vaccinated driving a rise in hospitalisations, the EU’s drug watchdog said Thursday.

AFP reports that the warning from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) comes as the continent battles a fresh wave of the pandemic with record cases in several countries.

“We are seeing an excessive number of cases of Covid – including severe Covid and hospitalisation or admission in the intensive care unit – particularly in the unvaccinated,” the EMA’s vaccine strategy chief, Marco Cavaleri, told a news conference.

Some European countries still had “unacceptably low” vaccination rates with a large part of the population unprotected, including at-risk over-50s, he said. “We should not forget that we should close this gap and make sure that as many people as possible will get vaccinated.”

But the EMA official warned it was “well known that there is no vaccine that is 100% effective” so countries should take other measures to stop the virus circulating during the risky winter season.

Several EU countries have taken or are considering steps to target the unvaccinated, with Austria imposing a lockdown on those who have not received a Covid jab. But efforts are also underway to boost vaccine uptake, and to look for new treatments.

With cases among children surging, the EMA said it expected to decide as early as next week on whether to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for the five to 11 age group.

The regulator will also start looking at Pfizer’s new anti-Covid pill from Friday “in view of the critical situation in many member states”, Cavaleri said. That would allow it to give scientific advice to countries to use it before formal approval. A full review for approval of the drug, which could take months, is expected to start next week.

“This medicine is showing some promising preliminary results,” Cavaleri said.

The pharma giant MSD’s rival pill, meanwhile, could get approval by the end of the year.

Covid pills are seen as potentially groundbreaking because they can be easily and relatively cheaply given to protect at-risk people, such as the elderly or those with immune system problems.

Meanwhile, the drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline had on Thursday sought approval for its monoclonal antibody treatment, an intravenous treatment also for those at risk of severe Covid. It would be the third such drug after two new treatments using the lab-made antibodies were approved last week.

Updated

Further to my last post, my colleague Melissa Davey has written this explainer on AstraZeneca’s new Covid treatment, outlining what it is, how it works and who it will benefit:

Australia’s drugs regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), has granted “provisional determination” to the long-acting antibody cocktail which has shown promise in preventing Covid-19 in adults.

Provisional determination is an early step in the drugs approval process and means AstraZeneca can now submit further data to the TGA from human trials about how the treatment works and its safety.

Once the TGA has scrutinised the data, and if it is satisfied, it may grant Evusheld “provisional approval” for use in Australia in limited circumstances. Further data must be collected and given to the TGA even if this occurs.

Updated

AstraZeneca has cemented its lead in bringing a preventative Covid shot to market, saying its antibody cocktail offered 83% protection over six months, providing another possible weapon in the fight against the pandemic, Reuters reports.

The therapy, called AZD7442 or Evusheld, had previously been shown to confer 77% protection against symptomatic illness after three months, in an earlier readout of the late-stage Provent trial in August.

The data gives hope of additional protection for people who do not respond well to vaccines, such as cancer patients.

The Anglo-Swedish company also said a separate study in patients with mild-to-moderate Covid showed a higher dose of AZD7442 cut the risk of symptoms worsening by 88% when given within three days of the first symptoms.

The antibody treatment, enhanced to remain intact in the body for months, is given in one go, as two sequential shots in the arm.

The latest results from the longer-term follow-ups potentially position AstraZeneca, like its rival Pfizer as a future supplier of both Covid vaccines and treatments, with AstraZeneca having said the therapy’s “real advantage” was as a preventative shot.

The full results will be submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
Pfizer has presented promising efficacy data on its oral Covid treatment candidate, which can be more easily distributed than injections, and is also a leading vaccine supplier with partner BioNTech.

“These new data add to the growing body of evidence supporting AZD7442’s potential ... We are progressing regulatory filings around the world and look forward to providing an important new option against Sars-CoV-2 as quickly as possible,” AstraZeneca’s executive vice-president Mene Pangalos said in a statement, referring to the coronavirus that causes Covid.

The group last month sought approval for the medicine from US and European authorities. Monoclonal antibodies from Regeneron, Lilly and GSK-Vir have been approved by US regulators for treating non-hospitalised patients with Covid.

Earlier this month, Regeneron said a single dose of its antibody cocktail reduced the risk of contracting Covid by 81.6% in a late-stage trial.

“This is an important addition to the therapeutic armamentarium for Covid” if the published study confirms the data released on Thursday, said Penny Ward, visiting professor in pharmaceutical medicine at King’s College London.

While the injection may be seen as a potential alternative to vaccines, antibody drugs cost significantly more, which may limit their use to particularly high-risk groups. Antibody cocktails typically cost above $1,000 per dose, while Covid shots have on average sold for between $3 and $30 per dose.

AstraZeneca’s executive vice-president for vaccines and immune therapies, Iskra Reic, said that unlike its vaccine, the drug would be priced commercially as it negotiates supply contracts with governments around the globe. The drug company’s chief executive, Pascal Soriot, said the treatment was more complicated to produce than a vaccine but that there would be enough production capacity around the world to meet demand.

Monoclonal antibody drugs deliver lab-made versions of the body’s natural antibodies to fight off infection, while vaccines spur the body to make its own antibodies and build its own immunity.

AstraZeneca has said the shot is primarily meant to help immunocompromised and at-risk individuals but at some point a wider group could benefit, such as military personnel on tours of duty or cruise ship passengers.

It would be administered in addition to vaccines, the company has said. It added that about 2% of the global population was considered to respond inadequately to a Covid vaccine.

For AstraZeneca’s Provent trial, close to 5,200 participants without an infection were randomly split into two groups, with one volunteer receiving an ineffective placebo without knowing for every two receiving Evusheld.

Participants were at risk of suffering severe Covid if infected or were immunocompromised, meaning they were in cancer care, or receiving drugs due to an autoimmune disease or an organ transplant.

The trial volunteers were not vaccinated, even though high-risk groups have been prioritised in global vaccination campaigns. Anyone opting to get vaccinated during the trial was excluded from the analysis.

Trial volunteers will be followed up for 15 months to provide evidence of longer-lasting protection.

Updated

Switzerland’s health minister insisted on Thursday new Covid-19 restrictions were not necessary despite daily new cases quadrupling in a month to an all-year high, AFP reports.

“We are clearly facing the fifth wave,” Alain Berset told a news conference, adding that the course of the pandemic “will depend on the behaviour of all of us”.

Though the virus is spreading particularly among younger people less likely to suffer severe illness from the disease, Berset said the surge in cases was more worrying as “the number of adults who have no immunity is too big”.

A vaccination drive last week lifted the sluggish jab uptake of recent months and ministers hope the increased pace can be sustained.

Switzerland had 10% of the population fully vaccinated by 23 April, racing to 50% three months later on 29 July. But in the subsequent months that progress has tailed off drastically. About 65% of the Swiss population are now fully vaccinated, while a further 2% have had the first dose of a two-jab course.

With case rates having shot up since mid-October, the Swiss authorities fear an overload of hospital cases as the winter kicks in.

Last week, Covid-19 hospitalisations increased by a quarter, while deaths were up more than 80% to 53 fatalities.

Intensive care units are 77% full, with 17% of the overall capacity taken up by patients with Covid.

Bern University epidemiologist Christian Althaus called for a return to working from home, free tests and greater mask-wearing indoors, given the surge in cases. Any restrictions on the freedoms of vaccinated people must be justified, he told the Neue Zurcher Zeitung newspaper, adding:

We must not let unvaccinated people take society hostage.

Althaus said that given the creeping vaccination rate – neighbours Germany, France and Italy all have higher rates – Switzerland could be in for a rough winter. “We are not out of the danger zone yet. Given the current situation, we could find ourselves once again in a critical situation by Christmas,” he said.

As part of its famous direct democracy system, Switzerland will vote on 28 November on its Covid-19 laws, including the Covid certificate for fully vaccinated, recovered or tested-negative people.

The pass facilitates international travel and entry to public events and indoor spaces such as restaurants and concert venues.

The landlocked European country, population 8.6 million, has recorded nearly 931,000 positive tests – with nearly 6,000 more added on Thursday – and 10,926 deaths during the pandemic.

Updated

UK reports another 46,807 infections and 199 deaths

The UK has reported another 46,807 Covid cases and a further 199 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, according to the latest data from the government’s coronavirus dashboard.

That is compared to 38,263 infections and 201 fatalities reported in the 24 hours prior.

The Spanish beach resort of Benidorm, famous for its nightlife and especially popular with British partygoers, has opened a Covid vaccination centre for tourists as cases rise along with arrival numbers.

The clinic close to the hotel district was drawing queues of tourists this week and further mobile vaccination points will be set up in areas where big crowds gather.

“I think this sends a message of safety,” Benidorm’s mayor, Antonio Pérez, told Reuters. “This is a public service we want to extend to our tourists.”

Spain requires all visitors entering the country to present either a vaccination certificate or a negative PCR test. Bars and restaurants do not require vaccine passports, as is the case in many European cities.

Benidorm’s Covid cases are significantly higher than the national average, with 249 cases per 100,000 confirmed over a rolling 14-day period, compared to 96 cases nationally, or the 101 cases for the Valencian region in which Benidorm lies.

Rosa Louis, manager of the health district that includes Benidorm, said the return of tourists had played a part. “We don’t have proper data on the rise of the infections (in Benidorm), but we have noticed that as soon as tourists came back, infections rose too, that is without question,” she said.

Toni Mayor, head of Valencia’s Hosbec hotel association, said while most hotel guests were vaccinated, some people were lax in wearing masks. “We have to keep reminding the British to put their masks back on,” he told Reuters. “Some of them get confused because in Britain you don’t have to wear one.”

Spain’s crucial tourism industry has been getting to its feet in recent months, with visitor numbers increasing more than four-fold in September from the previous year.

The government hopes Spain will recover two-thirds of its pre-pandemic levels in the fourth quarter of this year.

Updated

Hungary to make booster jab mandatory for healthcare workers

Hungary will make a third Covid shot mandatory for all healthcare workers and will require protective mask wearing in most enclosed places from Saturday, Viktor Orbán’s chief of staff said on Thursday.

Gergely Gulyás also told a government briefing that only vaccines can provide protection against coronavirus as case numbers are rising.

“The government’s advice is that everyone should get a booster shot, which is possible to get four months after the second dose,” Gulyás said.

Hungary reported 10,767 new Covid infections on Thursday, its highest daily tally since the end of March, and 131 people died of the virus the previous day.

The daily number of new infections is getting close to the peak of 11,265 reached during the third wave of the pandemic.

Hungary has hardly any restrictions in place and the vaccination rate is below the European Union average.

The steady rise in new Covid infections prompted the Hungarian Medical Chamber to call on Wednesday for strict measures.

The chamber called for a ban on mass events and mandatory mask wearing in enclosed spaces and said that entry to restaurants, theatres and cinemas should be conditional on a Covid immunity certificate.

Updated

One of the most peculiar monuments in the UK is to be spectacularly lit up to be seen from as far as 20 miles away and accompanied by a blasting soundtrack including music by the 12th-century mystic Hildegard of Bingen.

Penshaw Monument is a 20-metre replica of the ancient Greek temple of Hephaestus built by the Victorians on a hill near Sunderland. It was intended to commemorate John Lambton, the first earl of Durham, a Whig politician whose nickname was Radical Jack. This weekend it elegantly commemorates the victims of Covid-19 as part of Lumiere in Durham, the UK’s largest light festival.

The work, A Telling of Light by the artists Elaine Buckholtz and Ian Winters, is a huge technical challenge involving about 140,000 separate points of light in tribute to the UK death toll from coronavirus.

The installation has been commissioned to commemorate the huge number of lives lost to Covid in the UK and is visible from up to 20 miles away.
The installation has been commissioned to commemorate the huge number of lives lost to Covid in the UK and is visible from up to 20 miles away. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Buckholtz said they were offering visitors a place to mourn but also to be inspired. “Sometimes it looks like a chariot in the sky. It feels like it’s not reachable, but it’s there. For me it speaks to the relationship between life and death.”

She said the intention had been to create a sublime, communal experience.

No one has been able to mourn together. Everyone has been separate. A lot of people haven’t even had a funeral so we wanted to create a place for people to be together and honour their losses.

Get the full story here:

Updated

Slovakia to impose lockdown for the unvaccinated

Slovakia will impose stricter measures for people who have not been vaccinated against coronavirus amid a surge in infections and hospital admissions that is stretching the health system, the prime minister Eduard Heger said on Thursday.

The country of 5.5 million has seen a record number of cases in the past few days, topping 8,000 on Tuesday, and said earlier this week that it had few intensive care beds available for coronavirus patients.

“It is a lockdown for the unvaccinated,” Heger told a news conference shown live on television.

Under the new rules, only people who have been vaccinated or who have had Covid in the past six months will be allowed to enter restaurants, shopping malls, shops with non-essential goods, sports activities and public events.

The measures, taking effect on Monday and foreseen for three weeks, echo those adopted in neighbouring Austria from this week. Tighter rules will exempt those vaccinated and those who have overcome Covid in the past six months.

Slovakia has one of the European Union’s lowest vaccination rates, with 45% of the total population vaccinated versus the EU average of 65%. It has reported 13,725 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Some services will face further restrictions in most-affected regions even for those vaccinated, with restaurants only being able to serve takeaway.

The new rules include the requirement to test unvaccinated people in workplaces in all but the least-affected regions. Heger said vaccinated people would be the first to benefit from an ease in restrictions.

Updated

The German region hardest hit by the country’s fourth wave of coronavirus is considering a partial lockdown, local media reported on Thursday as regional and federal leaders discussed tighter rules nationwide.

Saxony, which has Germany’s lowest vaccination rate and highest infection rate, is considering measures such as closing theatres, concerts and soccer games to the public and shutting bars and discos, according to Bild newspaper.

The eastern region, where daily infections have risen 14-fold in the past month, is a stronghold of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which harbours many vaccine sceptics who have joined anti-lockdown protests.

A Forsa poll published earlier this month found that half of unvaccinated respondents in Germany had voted for the rightwing populist AfD in the recent federal election.

“This coalition is ready to now impose a hard and clear wave breaker,” Saxony’s leader, Michael Kretschmer, told the national parliament, according to Bild. The specifics would be hammered out this week, he said.

The announcement comes the same week Austria imposed a lockdown for the unvaccinated. Kretschmer said he did not believe targeting only the unvaccinated was enough.

German federal and regional leaders will later on Thursday discuss nationwide measures to tackle the pandemic as cases continue to touch new record highs although the rate of increase is slowing down slightly.

Europe’s latest coronavirus wave comes at an awkward time in Germany with the chancellor, Angela Merkel, acting in a caretaker capacity while three other parties negotiate to form a new government after an inconclusive September election.

Those three parties shepherded a law authorising a package of measures to tackle the pandemic through the Bundestag earlier on Thursday. On Friday, the law, which is designed to come into effect as emergency powers expire, goes to the Bundesrat.

The law will tighten some measures currently in place, forcing people to show proof of vaccination or recovery or a negative Covid test on public transport and at work, in addition to wearing face masks. It will also provide states with a toolbox of other measures depending on the severity of their outbreak, with infection rates currently much higher in eastern and southern Germany.

But some, especially among Merkel’s conservatives who are likely heading into the opposition after 16 years in power, feel it does not go far enough. They would prefer to see the state of emergency, which allows the government to impose school closures and blanket lockdowns without consulting the parliament, to be extended. Merkel described Germany’s Covid situation as “dramatic” on Wednesday.

Separately, Germany’s vaccine advisory committee on Thursday recommended Covid-19 vaccine booster shots for all people aged over 18.

Vaccinations have picked up lately in Germany, which has a history of vaccine resistance, although largely due to the uptake of booster shots as more indoor gatherings due to colder weather raises the risk of spreading the virus.

Updated

Pfizer Inc has signed a $5.29bn deal with the US government to deliver 10m courses of its Covid-19 oral antiviral drug starting this year, the drugmaker said on Thursday.

The oral drug could be a promising new weapon in the fight against the pandemic, as it can be taken as an early at-home treatment to help prevent hospitalisations and deaths.

Pfizer on Tuesday filed for US authorisation of the drug, Paxlovid, and said it expects to manufacture 180,000 treatment courses by the end of next month and at least 50m courses by the end of 2022.

“This promising treatment could help accelerate our path out of this pandemic by offering another life-saving tool for people who get sick with Covid-19,” said Xavier Becerra, secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services.

The company earlier this month said the drug cut by 89% the chance of hospitalisation or death for adults at risk of severe disease.

The trial’s results suggest that Pfizer’s drug surpasses Merck & Co Inc’s pill, molnupiravir, which was shown last month to halve the chance of dying or being hospitalised for patients with Covid at high risk of serious illness.

The US government has also signed a contract worth $2.2bn for courses of the Merck drug.

Updated

A “shambolic” rollout of third Covid vaccinations in England has left an unknown number of immunocompromised people still without proper protection going into winter, and in other cases even given the wrong type of injection, a leading charity has said.

Blood Cancer UK said a combination of poor planning and confusing messaging meant “many thousands” of people with weakened immune systems might have missed out, leaving them at greater risk of serious consequences if they catch Covid.

In a lengthy statement, the charity said NHS England had repeatedly failed to acknowledge the problem, while Sajid Javid, the health secretary, incorrectly said more than six weeks ago that the “vast, vast majority” of eligible people had already been invited for a third jab.

People were still coming forward to say they were struggling to get a third dose, said Gemma Peters, the chief executive of Blood Cancer UK. “The rollout of the third doses has been shambolic, causing yet more anxiety for immunocompromised people.”

The full story is here:

Only 63% of people in England believe information from the government about coronavirus can be trusted, official figures suggest, with a similar proportion reporting that they have taken additional measures, beyond those in in government guidelines and recommendations, to keep themselves and others safe.

The experimental statistics come from the first bulletin of a new survey, published by the Office for National Statistics, looking at the behaviour of fully-vaccinated people who have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid.

Since 16 August, such contacts no longer have to self-isolate. Instead, advice of testing and guidance on preventing the spread of Covid is provided by Test and Trace.

“Even if you do not have symptoms, you will be advised to have a PCR test as soon as possible,” the guidance states.

The results of the survey, conducted between 25 and 30 October, involved 1,100 adults, with percentages weighted to be representative of the fully-vaccinated “contacts” population in England, reveals 90% of respondents reported wearing a face mask in shops before being alerted to being a contact of a Covid case.

And 91% of respondents reported taking either a lateral flow or PCR test after being contacted by NHS Test and Trace or the app – 13% of which tested positive.

However, only about 60% of all respondents said they trusted government information around Covid. A similar proportion revealed they went above and beyond government guidelines and recommendations to keep themselves and their families safe.

The survey has limitations, including that it is based on a limited sample and behaviours were self-reported.

But Dr Simon Williams, senior lecturer in people and organisation at Swansea University, said the data was important.

“This report again shows how much individual responsibility most people are taking to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. However, it also suggests that government should be providing more or clearer guidance on what additional measures could be taken,” he said, adding that a third of respondents felt guidance on self-isolation for double-vaccinated people was inadequate.

Williams added the data also show the importance of the booster: of those who had received two doses of the vaccine, 82% did not develop symptoms, compared with 96% of those who had also had a booster dose.

“This is a reminder of how essential it is that people accept their booster jab when offered and how authorities need to roll it out as quickly as possible,” he said.

Updated

Austrian Covid cases keep rising as provinces prepare full lockdown

Pressure on Austria’s government to impose a full Covid lockdown is growing as its worst-hit provinces said on Thursday they would adopt the measure for themselves since infections are still rising despite the current lockdown for the unvaccinated.

Roughly 66% of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in western Europe. Its infections are among the highest on the continent, with a seven-day incidence of 971.5 per 100,000 people.

As winter approaches, cases have surged across Europe, prompting governments to consider reimposing unpopular lockdowns. The Netherlands has imposed a partial lockdown that applies to all, but Austria has sought not to impose extra restrictions on the fully vaccinated.

“We have very, very little room for manoeuvre,” the conservative governor of Upper Austria, Thomas Stelzer, told the province’s parliament, referring to its strained intensive-care units.

Upper Austria, a stronghold of the far-right and vaccine-criticising Freedom Party, has the country’s highest infection rate and its lowest vaccination rate.

It and neighbouring Salzburg are the hardest-hit of Austria’s nine provinces. Both border Germany.

“If no national lockdown is ordered tomorrow, there will definitely have to be a lockdown of several weeks in Upper Austria together with our neighbouring province Salzburg as of next week,” Stelzer said.

The conservative-led provincial government of Salzburg, which this week said it was preparing for a possible triage situation in which the number of people needing intensive-care beds exceeds supply, confirmed in a statement that it is planning a joint lockdown with Upper Austria.

Austria’s governors are holding a meeting on Friday with the conservative chancellor Alexander Schallenberg and the health minister Wolfgang Mückstein.

Daily infections on Thursday reached a new record of 15,145. The biggest wave before this peaked at 9,586 a year ago, when Austria went into full lockdown.

Updated

Greece has ordered private sector doctors in five regions in the north of the country to assist its health system as it grapples with a rise in Covid infections, Reuters reports.

The government had called on private sector doctors to help out earlier this month, as Greece’s public hospitals and intensive care wards have been overwhelmed by rising infections in recent weeks.

The requisition order, published in the official government gazette on Thursday, is effective for a month.

Greece reported 6,682 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday and 87 deaths, bringing total infections to 853,841 since the pandemic began last year, while 17,012 people have died.

Earlier in November, the government imposed restrictions to unvaccinated citizens in an effort to curb soaring infections.

The prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, is expected to address the nation later on Thursday, calling for more Greeks to get vaccinated.

About 61.8% of a population of about 11 million are fully vaccinated, while authorities had hoped for a rate of about 70% by autumn.

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_

  • The head of Germany’s disease control agency has warned that the country faces a “really terrible Christmas” unless steps are taken to counter the sharp rise in coronavirus infections.
  • The Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s disease control agency, said on Thursday that 65,371 newly confirmed cases had been reported in a single day, continuing the upward trend that experts have been warning about for weeks. It is another new daily record.
  • “We are currently heading toward a serious emergency,” the agency’s director, Lothar Wieler, said. “We are going to have a really terrible Christmas if we don’t take countermeasures now.”
  • Russia has had a remarkably consistent set of official Covid death figures. Since first rising above 1,000 on 20 October, they have gradually crept up to hover around the 1,200 mark. The country today has set a new highest official record for deaths at 1,251. There were 37,374 nationwide infections recorded. This is down slightly from the peak daily caseload of 41,335 recorded on 6 November.
  • Virologists in the Netherlands have proposed extending holidays over Christmas to slow a surge in Covid-19 cases among children that has forced half of schools nationwide to send classes home.
  • Sweden is introducing a digital Covid-19 vaccination certificate for public gatherings and events with more than 100 people indoors, authorities said Wednesday.
  • Children aged 12 and over who have had a Covid-19 infection should not get a vaccine until 12 weeks later, UK officials have said.
  • A rise in coronavirus cases in the UK is likely in the new year when schools return after the festive break, an expert has warned, adding that he is “cautiously optimistic” for Christmas. Prof Tim Spector, lead scientist on the Zoe Covid Study app, has reiterated his belief that people could have to deal with Covid-19 for the next five years and insisted it is important to look “much further ahead and not just to save Christmas”.
  • Scientists studying an offshoot of the Covid Delta variant on the rise in England and known as AY.4.2, found it is less likely to cause symptoms than the dominant Delta variant, AY.4.
  • A steep rise in Covid-19 cases in Europe should serve as a warning that the US could also see significant increases in coronavirus cases this winter, particularly in the nation’s colder regions, scientists say. “I do expect to see cases increasing – we’ve started to see this in the last week or so,” said Dr David Dowdy, an associate professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University.
  • South Korea has reported its biggest daily jump in coronavirus infections since the start of the pandemic. The 3,292 new cases reported by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Thursday marked the second straight day of over 3,000 cases
  • China has reported a third Covid-19 case among foreign athletes at preparatory events ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. A foreign athlete participating in the Luge World Cup in Beijing was confirmed on Tuesday as being an asymptomatic case after a routine Covid test.
  • The detention of Zhang Zhan, the Chinese journalist jailed after reporting on the Covid pandemic in Wuhan, is intended as a “warning to others”, her former lawyer has said, as calls grow for her emergency release on medical grounds.
  • Indigenous health workers in the Northern Territory town of Katherine in Australia say they fear for vulnerable community members – including many living on the streets or in severely overcrowded homes – as authorities scramble to contain a Covid outbreak.

Andrew Sparrow has our UK politics live blog. Lucy Campbell will be here shortly to carry on bringing you the latest coronavirus developments from the UK and around the world. I will be back tomorrow, but right now I am off to go and host the comments on our regular Thursday quiz. I will maybe see you there.

Virologists in the Netherlands have proposed extending holidays over Christmas to slow a surge in Covid-19 cases among children that has forced half of schools nationwide to send classes home.

The National Institute for Health (RIVM) this week reported a record of over 110,000 weekly cases through 16 November, an increase of 44% from the week before. The strongest rise was among children aged between four and 12.

Anthony Deutsch and Bart Meijer report for Reuters that infections among children of primary school age, five to nine, jumped almost 85% and rose 76% among children aged 10-14.

“Keeping primary schools closed for longer is an effective way to keep the virus under control,” the immunologist Ger Rijkers told the Algemeen Dagblad newspaper. “Children are virus factories and infect adults as well as each other.”

Not all experts say closing schools is the best option, but Marion Koopmans, a virologist and member of the country’s leading Covid-19 advisory board, told the paper “we need to consider other measures” if rates don’t fall.

The latest wave began after the government ended social distancing and other measures in September, a decision that has since been reversed.

Caretaker prime minister Mark Rutte’s proposal to exclude the non-vaccinated from a pass for indoor events has faced opposition in parliament. Rutte’s government has reintroduced protective mask-wearing in stores and reimposed a partial lockdown.

Updated

Here’s the chart showing the latest Covid incidence rates across Europe. Germany has again set a daily record for new cases, as part of wave of infection that appears to be gradually moving westwards across the continent. [See 9.16am]

A rise in coronavirus cases in the UK is likely in the new year when schools return after the festive break, an expert has warned, adding that he is “cautiously optimistic” for Christmas.

It is clear that children and school holidays play “a key role in the waves of infection”, said Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London.

PA Media report that the lead scientist on the Zoe Covid Study app reiterated his belief that people could have to deal with Covid-19 for the next five years and insisted it is important to look “much further ahead and not just to save Christmas”.

He stressed the importance of “healthy behaviours such as working more from home when possible and self-isolation with all symptoms”, as well as wearing face coverings in high-risk areas.

But Prof Spector said the most important thing is to get fully vaccinated, a term he said must be redefined to having three doses “to protect us all from Delta and the inevitable new variants of Covid yet to come”.

Andrew Sparrow has launched our UK politics live blog. He will be no doubt absorbed with rail announcements and the ongoing Tory sleaze allegations, so I will be continuing here with UK Covid lines, as well as the latest coronavirus news from around the world.

RKI director: Germany is 'heading toward a serious emergency' and 'a really terrible Christmas'

The head of Germany’s disease control agency has warned that the country faces a “really terrible Christmas” unless steps are taken to counter the sharp rise in coronavirus infections.

German lawmakers are debating measures today that would replace the nationwide epidemic rules, which will expire at the end of the month.

The Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s disease control agency, said on Thursday that 65,371 newly confirmed cases had been reported in a single day, continuing the upward trend that experts have been warning about for weeks. It is another new daily record.

“We are currently heading toward a serious emergency,” the agency’s director, Lothar Wieler, said. “We are going to have a really terrible Christmas if we don’t take countermeasures now.”

Wieler said Germany needs to increase its vaccination rates to significantly above 75%, from 67.7% at present. Some regions in Germany have vaccination rates as low as 57.6%.

He warned that hospitals across Germany were struggling to find beds for Covid-19 patients and those with other illnesses.

Associated Press reports that he also called for the closure of clubs and bars, an end to large-scale events and access to many parts of public life to be limited to those with vaccine or recovery certificates.

Updated

China making example of jailed Wuhan Covid journalist, says lawyer

The detention of Zhang Zhan, the Chinese journalist jailed after reporting on the Covid pandemic in Wuhan, is intended as a “warning to others”, her former lawyer has said, as calls grow for her emergency release on medical grounds.

Hundreds of Chinese human rights lawyers and citizens have put their names to an open letter calling for immediate medical care for Zhang, who her family fear is close to death. Zhang has been on a hunger strike for more than a year in protest at her persecution for reporting on the Wuhan lockdown in early 2020.

Her reports challenged official claims about the Wuhan lockdown and the outbreak, which authorities had attempted to cover-up. On Thursday she was awarded the Reporters Without Borders’ 2021 Press Freedom award for courage.

Zhang, a 38-year-old former lawyer, was sentenced in December last year to four years in jail on charges of disseminating false information in her video and blog reports from Wuhan and in interviews with foreign press. She was first arrested in May of that year, accused of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” – an accusation commonly used against dissidents, activists and journalists.

Read more of Helen Davidson’s report from Taipei: China making example of jailed Wuhan Covid journalist, says lawyer

From Washington, David Smith brings us this report about hard-hitting Covid-19 documentary The First Wave:

It is tempting to suggest that the Covid deniers, the hoaxers, the hucksters, the anti-vaxxers, the flat earthers, the merchants of disinformation and the crackpot conspiracy theorists be strapped into a chair and force fed The First Wave, a harrowing documentary about the early toll of the coronavirus pandemic.

Covid-19 has never been a “media-friendly” story: death and suffering happen in intimate spaces behind closed doors, where few cameras or reporters are permitted. It is therefore less spectacular news than the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, even though the current loss of life in the US is still equivalent to a 9/11 every three days.

This relative invisibility was surely a factor in allowing disinformation to thrive in Donald Trump’s White House and rightwing media and social media. But The First Wave offers the kind of vivid, visceral, gut-wrenching account of tragedy up close that is as undeniable as a plane crash.

Read more of David Smith’s piece about the documentary here: ‘We were in a war’: behind 2021’s most devastating Covid-19 documentary

Russia sets new record for official Covid daily deaths at 1,251

Russia has had a remarkably consistent set of official Covid death figures. Since first rising above 1,000 on 20 October, they have gradually crept up to hover around the 1,200 mark. The country today has set a new highest official record for deaths at 1,251.

There were 37,374 nationwide infections recorded. This is down slightly from the peak daily caseload of 41,335 recorded on 6 November. At the beginning of the month there was a mandated paid week’s holiday for non-essential workers in Russia, which authorities hoped would break the transmission chain.

UK under-18s with Covid advised to wait 12 weeks for vaccine dose

Children aged 12 and over who have had a Covid-19 infection should not get a vaccine until 12 weeks later, UK officials have said.

Deferring could help to reduce even further the “very, very small” risk of heart inflammation after vaccination, experts from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said.

Current case rates of myocarditis after vaccination among under-18s are suspected to be around nine per million vaccinations, and cases have been “relatively mild”, officials said.

The advice for older people and for people at high risk from Covid-19 – including those aged 12 and over – is that they should wait four weeks between Covid infection and having a dose of vaccine. But officials said this should be extended to 12 weeks in lower-risk children between 12 and 17.

Read more here: UK under-18s with Covid advised to wait 12 weeks for vaccine dose

HSBC CEO Noel Quinn has made an intervention in the debate about Hong Kong’s Covid measures by suggesting that he backs them.

In an interview with Bloomberg, bank chief Quinn said “It’s important for Hong Kong to establish what they need to establish with China on reopening. I don’t want to do anything that may jeopardise that. I would love to get back to Hong Kong as soon as I can and when the authorities feel it’s right for me to go back, I will.”

The mood isn’t shared among the business community, amid accusations that the strict approach to Covid from the city is hampering its position as an international business hub. Earlier this week delivery and logistics company FedEx said it was closing its Hong Kong operations in part because of the long quarantine periods needed for staff arriving into the city from abroad.

Third athlete tests positive at Beijing Winter Olympics test event

China has reported a third Covid-19 case among foreign athletes at preparatory events ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. A foreign athlete participating in the Luge World Cup in Beijing was confirmed on Tuesday as being an asymptomatic case after a routine Covid test.

The athlete has been transferred to an isolation facility for observation, state media reported, quoting Zhao Weidong, an official of the Beijing 2022 Winter Games.

The Luge World Cup is serving as a test event for the 4 February-20 February Beijing Winter Olympics. The Winter Paralympics follow in March.

A maintenance worker wearing a face mask walks through an empty section of spectator stands near a logo for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics at a test event.
A maintenance worker wearing a face mask walks through an empty section of spectator stands near a logo for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics at a test event. Photograph: Mark Schiefelbein/AP

Reuters remind us that all participants at the Games will be tested daily and spectators from abroad are not being allowed in. Athletes and other Games personnel will also be isolated in “closed loop” bubbles

Updated

A steep rise in Covid-19 cases in Europe should serve as a warning that the US could also see significant increases in coronavirus cases this winter, particularly in the nation’s colder regions, scientists say.

“I do expect to see cases increasing – we’ve started to see this in the last week or so,” said Dr David Dowdy, an associate professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University. “I don’t think what we’re seeing in Europe means we’re in for a huge surge of serious illness and death as we [saw] here in the US,” last winter.

In the last three weeks, new cases have increased in several cold weather states across New England and the midwest. However, vaccines remain roughly 85% effective at preventing hospitalization and death.

“Even if cases go up this winter, we’re very unlikely to see the overcrowded [intensive care units] and morgues of a year ago,” said Dowdy.

Vaccine-conferred immunity against infection may allow cases to rise, he said, but far fewer people will need hospitalization. The vast majority of people who were hospitalized or died from Covid-19 this summer, more than 90% in one CDC study, were not fully vaccinated.

“People can still get Covid, there can still be breakthrough infections, but the great news is if you have been vaccinated you are very much less likely to be hospitalized or have severe infection,” said Rupali Limaye, an associate scientist at Johns Hopkins University and an expert in vaccine communication.

Read more of Jessica Glenza’s report here: ‘Zero-Covid is not going to happen’: experts predict a steep rise in US cases this winter

Hello, it is Martin Belam here in London, taking over from Samantha Lock in Sydney. Here are the most recent Covid numbers in the UK. The seven-day cumulative total of cases according to the UK government’s own dashboard is 272,862. That is 15.1% higher than a week ago. There were 1,022 deaths in the last seven days, which is down 11.7% on the week before, and hospitalisations are down 3.8% on a week ago.

Fears for Australia's Indigenous communities amid NT Covid outbreak

Indigenous health workers in the Northern Territory town of Katherine say they fear for vulnerable community members – including many living on the streets or in severely overcrowded homes – as authorities scramble to contain a Covid outbreak.

The Northern Territory recorded no new Covid cases on Thursday, but the chief minister, Michael Gunner, says concern remains for “large vulnerable households” in Katherine and the tiny remote community of Robinson River.

Our reporter Ben Smee has the latest.

South Korea sees record jump in infections

South Korea has reported its biggest daily jump in coronavirus infections since the start of the pandemic.

The 3,292 new cases reported by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Thursday marked the second straight day of over 3,000 cases and brought the national caseload to 406,065.

The agency said 29 people with the virus died in the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 3,187, while 506 others were in serious or critical condition.

The jump comes as hundreds of thousands of masked students flocked to schools on Thursday for the country’s highly competitive college entrance exam, AP reports.

Hi it’s Samantha Lock back again to bring you all the latest Covid headlines.

Sweden is introducing a digital Covid-19 vaccination certificate for public gatherings and events with more than 100 people indoors, authorities said Wednesday.

Health Minister Lena Hallengren said the country expected to see a rise in cases during the winter and was “not isolated from the rest of the world”.

The vaccination pass will be required for those over the age of either 16 or 18 - the government has yet to decide - at events like concerts, theatres and sporting events, but not at restaurants and bars.

Scientists studying an offshoot of the Covid Delta variant on the rise in England and known as AY.4.2, found it is less likely to cause symptoms than the dominant Delta variant, AY.4.

Here’s a quick summary of the latest headlines:

  • The US is set to boost vaccine manufacturing and produce at least a billion doses a year. The Biden administration is planning to dedicate billions of dollars to build up vaccine manufacturing in the US to produce at least a billion doses each year, in an effort to shore up global Covid-19 supply for poorer countries while also pre-empting future pandemics.
  • The Australian state of Victoria is set to ditch restrictions for fully vaccinated people from midnight on Thursday.
  • The Covid Delta variant offshoot is ‘less likely’ to cause symptoms, researchers have revealed – although experts say the finding requires further scrutiny.
  • Europe is the only region with increasing Covid deaths, the World Health Organization reports. Covid deaths rose 5% in the last week as deaths in all regions other than Europe remained stable or declined, and totalled 50,000 worldwide last week. Of the 3.3 million new infections reported, 2.1 million came from Europe.
  • Spain has approved the use of a Covid-19 booster shot for people between 60-69 years old and for health workers, as part of an effort to combat an uptick in infections.
  • The Czech Republic and Slovakia both reported record daily new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, a day before the two European Union countries plan to approve new restrictions for unvaccinated people in response to rising infections.
  • A fourth Covid wave is hitting Germany with ‘full force’, Merkel says. Germany reported 52,826 new infections on Wednesday - up by a third from a week ago and another daily record, while 294 people died.
  • Belgium tightened its coronavirus restrictions, mandating wider use of masks in indoor settings and enforcing work from home, as cases rose in the country’s fourth Covid wave. The country has one of the highest cases per capita rates in the EU.
  • The UK reported another 38,263 Covid infections and a further 201 deaths within 28 days of a positive test.
  • Mandatory vaccine passports are set to be introduced in Northern Ireland.
  • Covid deaths have decreased 17% in the Americas over the past week, but the most populous countries like the US, Brazil and Colombia are seeing a levelling of new infections after weeks of declining trends, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday.
  • Hungary reported 10,265 new Covid-19 infections, its highest daily tally since the end of March.

Updated

Contributors

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

The GuardianTramp

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