Covid news – live: Omicron data expected ‘in days’ as PM urged to apologise for No 10 lockdown Christmas party

Follow the latest updates below

Arpan Rai,Rory Sullivan,Sam Hancock
Wednesday 01 December 2021 19:35
Boris Johnson denies breaking Covid rules with No 10 Christmas party

Scientists expect to have data relating to how transmissible omicron, the new variant of Covid, is “within days,” according the World Health Organisation.

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the agency’s Covid-19 technical lead, told a press briefing on Wednesday it is still “very early days” in terms of understanding the new variant, but insisted information is coming in all the time.

“We expect to [know] more on transmission within days, not necessarily weeks, but in days,” she said, while stressing the need for “all countries” around the world – of which 23 have so far reported cases of omicron – to continue encouraging their residents to get vaccinated. “They are saving lives,” Dr Kerkhove said.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson is being urged to apologise following allegations that a Christmas party was held in Downing Street last year, when a large number of the British public had only recently been put back into strict coronavirus restrictions.

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy on Wednesday became the latest politician to warn the PM over his failure to say sorry, while No 10 insisted “all Covid guidelines” were adhered to at the event on 18 December 2020.


Opinion: ‘PM can’t afford for mixed messaging over Covid’

Our political columnist Andrew Grice writes about the worsening Covid situation at an already-turbulent time for Boris Johnson.

A new Covid-19 variant was the last thing the PM wanted for Christmas but could omicron provide the firebreak that ends his terrible run in recent weeks?

Mr Johnson would much rather take ownership of the booster campaign than answer questions about his Peppa Pig speech, “Tory sleaze” or people crossing the Channel in small boats – on which he refused to speak at his press conference last night.

Some allies hope the huge booster jab effort could literally boost the prime minister who loves boosterism, while denying a revived Labour opposition media space. Ministers point out that the UK is ahead of Europe on boosters, as it was during the initial vaccine rollout. Yet Johnson cannot be sure he will get another “vaccine bounce,” which helped the Tories open a 10-point opinion poll lead by May.

Read Andrew’s thinking in full here:

Johnson can’t afford for mixed messaging over Covid to take hold again | Andrew Grice

The poor communications that have previously sowed confusion over wearing masks and working from home will not help public support for the latest measures

Sam Hancock1 December 2021 19:35

Watch: Dr Fauci confirms first US omicron case

211201 Fauci 1st Us Case
Sam Hancock1 December 2021 19:25

First US case of omicron found in California

Over to the US now, where the first case of the omicron Covid variant has been identified in California.

“The individual was a traveller who returned from South Africa on 22 November,” the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a statement.

“The individual, who was fully vaccinated and had mild symptoms that are improving, is self-isolating and has been since testing positive. All close contacts have been contacted and have tested negative.”

CDC identifies first case of omicron Covid variant in US

Dr Anthony Fauci said officials knew it was ‘just a matter of time’ before that variant arrived in the US

Sam Hancock1 December 2021 19:15

Focus should be on first vaccines - not boosters, says WHO

More from the WHO now, after the agency’s chief scientist suggested this evening the focus around the world should be on encouraging people to take up their first Covid vaccine - not on giving booster jabs, as is the case in the UK.

She told a press briefing: “I just want to reiterate what was just said, that our goal should be really to protect those who have not yet received their primary cause of vaccination.

“And this is true in all countries.”

She added: “Some countries are doing, as a precautionary principle, providing additional doses to people because they have adequate supplies, and they’re just doing it.

“There isn’t a whole lot of evidence that everybody over the age of 18, or for that matter above any age, is going to benefit from this.”

It comes after the UK government announced it would be inviting all adults, 18 and over, to get a third so-called booster jab amid concerns over the new Covid variant, omicron.

Sam Hancock1 December 2021 19:04

Further 48,374 Covid cases and 171 deaths in UK

The latest government data shows that, in the last 24-hour period, 48,374 more Covid cases were detected across the UK.

There were also 171 deaths recorded within 28 days of someone testing positive for the virus.

Sam Hancock1 December 2021 18:41

‘Cancellation after cancellation’: Hospitality bosses fear another ruined Christmas

Every day, Richard Hibbert does something which, as a restaurateur, he never imagined he would have to do: he gets on his phone and checks local hospital admission figures.

Having had a year struggling through lockdowns and restrictions, he is desperate to glean any clue about potential future disruption at his three Retreat venues in Bolton and Lancashire.

“They’ve been steady since the summer,” he says of those figures. “And they’re still steady now but…”

The ‘but’ is omicron, write Thomas Kingsley and Colin Drury.

‘It’s cancellation after cancellation’: hospitality leaders face omicron fears

Pub and restaurant owners warn they may not see 2022 without a good Christmas season. By Thomas Kingsley and Colin Drury

Sam Hancock1 December 2021 18:26

‘Plenty of reason’ to think omicron ‘worst variant yet,’ says Sage member

A professor has acknowledged the “timing” of omicron’s emergence “couldn’t be worse” but warned “we can’t change that”, while advising the government to do its bit to help already-struggling businesses.

“We have plenty of reason to think this could be the worst variant yet,” Professor Christina Pagel, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), told Sky News this evening.

“So yes, I think the government should be footing the bill to help those in the hospitality sector.”

Sam Hancock1 December 2021 18:17

PM should apologise for No 10 Christmas party – Lammy

Boris Johnson is being urged to apologise following allegations that a Christmas party was held in Downing Street last year, when the rest of Britain was under strict coronavirus restrictions.

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy became the latest senior politician to warn the PM over his failure to say sorry as No 10 continues to insist “all Covid guidance” was adhered to.

The Daily Mirror said in its exclusive report that the PM gave a speech at a “packed leaving do” for a senior aide last November when the country was in the midst of the second lockdown.

The newspaper claims members of his Downing Street team then held their own festive party days before Christmas, while London was under Tier 3 restrictions.

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme about the reports, Mr Lammy said: “He should at the very least apologise. I didn’t spend last Christmas with my family because the lockdown came, I was here in the UK and my family had already left to go abroad.

“Many, many families have suffered sacrifices over this time because they’ve stuck to the rules. And time and time again with this government, it’s one rule for them, and that’s particularly government ministers, and another rule for everybody else.”

Mr Johnson has not denied that a “boozy” Christmas party was held, but claimed no rules were broken.

The PM visits a bread stall at a Christmas market outside No 10 earlier today

Sam Hancock1 December 2021 18:05

Austria extends Covid lockdown by 10 days

Austria’s national lockdown has been extended until at least 11 December, amid early data signalling the current restrictions are working to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The only significant change to the measures – which will take effect from Thursday – are that essential shops will now have to close by 7pm, instead of 9pm, and that the sale of Christmas trees will be permitted.

It comes after a parliamentary committee voted on Wednesday to extend the lockdown, which started on 22 November as a result of rising deaths and hospitalisations – pushing some of the country’s hospitals to the brink.

Read our full report:

Austria extends Covid lockdown by 10 days – but permits sale of Christmas trees

Country’s infection rate declining under current restrictions

Sam Hancock1 December 2021 17:47

Watch: Couple stranded in South Africa facing £3,700 quarantine bill

Couple stranded in South Africa facing £3,700 quarantine bill to return home
Sam Hancock1 December 2021 17:33

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