Cases of the new variant of the Covid-19 virus were confirmed on Saturday in several European countries, including Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. They were all linked to people who had come from the UK.
Meanwhile, Japan has announced that it will ban all new entries by foreign nationals from Monday following the discovery of the variant in travelers from the UK.
The news came at the same time that another six million people in the east and southeast of England had level 4 conditions, the strictest Covid level in England, imposed on Boxing Day. Closures were also introduced in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Around 24 million people in England, more than 40% of the population, now live at level 4, as pressure increases for the entire country to be included in this category.
Scientists from the Independent Sage group have urged that all regions of England be placed at level 4, which means that non-essential shops, barber shops and places of entertainment must close. Decentralized nations were advised to advance their own national closures. Tier 4 should include enhanced travel restrictions, the group said, while arguing that an emergency plan would be introduced to allow for safe education in January and February.
This idea is supported by teacher unions, who have demanded that the government keep schools closed as evidence grows that the new variant of the virus is proving particularly infectious among children.
This point was supported by Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia. “If this new variant is behind the increase in this age group, then that is a big concern,” he said.
France announced this weekend that it has discovered its first case of the new variant: a French national who arrived in Tours after traveling from London a week ago, according to health officials.
In Madrid, Spanish officials said that three cases of the new variant recently discovered in the country involved relatives of a man who had arrived from the UK on Christmas Eve, while the fourth case also involved a traveler from the UK. None of the patients were reported to be seriously ill.
In the UK, the NHS revealed on Saturday that another 161 people who tested positive for Covid-19 have died. The patients were between 44 and 100 years old, and all but eight had known underlying health conditions. The figure brings the total number of Covid-confirmed deaths reported in UK hospitals to 48,311.
The number of cases is skyrocketing across the country as the coronavirus variant continues to spread rapidly, particularly among young people. A daily rate of 32,725 cases was reported at the end of last week, an increase of 46.6% over the previous week.
Pressure is mounting for medical authorities to announce their approval of the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine. The UK agreed to buy 100 million doses, and last week Oxford University Professor Sir John Ball, a member of the government’s official Sage advisory group, said he hoped the country’s Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Agency approve Christmas. “
The news would give much-needed hope that vaccines will be available quickly enough to stop the recent rapid increase in Covid-19 cases. However, approval will also create major headaches over dose distribution. To date, more than 600,000 have been administered since December 8, but scientists have warned that more than a million people will need to be vaccinated each week to control infections in the near future.
Tom Sasse, associate director of the Institute of Government, called for a public debate on prioritizing people who receive vaccines. “By mid-January, many of the really vulnerable will have been vaccinated, but then there will be a fairly large group of people aged 60 to 75 who will not have been vaccinated,” he told the Observer. “A lot of people in the NHS say that it is not more likely to die, but it could still fill our rooms.”
Despite this, the arrival of the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine would undoubtedly be a game changer, said Helen Buckingham, chief strategy officer for the Nuffield Trust. “Then staffing will become the main constraint,” he added.
“At the moment, vaccination is done by primary care staff, and they are managing it alongside their other workloads. But when it starts setting up mass vaccination centers, and England’s NHS has indicated that they will, it will need more staff. “
Buckingham said the NHS was working to make sure there were people on site to administer the vaccines and support those who receive them, with a target of around 40,000 employees. “It’s not just about sticking the needle in,” he said. “People must have the proper information about the vaccine beforehand, be observed later, and so on.”
Against the backdrop of rapidly rising infection rates, Boris Johnson’s dismal public rating appears to have bottomed out. According to the latest Opinium survey for the Observer, the prime minister’s approval rating is now -6% (38% approve, 44% disapprove), compared to -8% two weeks ago.
By contrast, opposition leader Keir Starmer’s net rating has been consistently positive, showing + 12%, an increase of + 9% since he was last rated in a survey.
Only two other top politicians were given positive ratings regarding their Covid performances: Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham with + 11% and Chancellor Rishi Sunak with + 27%.
All the other top politicians from whom opinions were sought for the survey received a net negative rating, with Home Secretary Priti Patel bottoming out at -19%.
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