The UK reported 109,133 new coronavirus cases and 335 deaths this afternoon, both of which are down on the last few days with infections in particular dropping by around 20,000.
It comes after Covid-related fatalities reached their highest number since last February, with 379 and 398, on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively.
Earlier, Sajid Javid announced the isolation period after testing positive for Covid in England will be cut to five full days from next Monday, to get staff back to work faster. People will still have to test negative on the final two days of isolation.
During the same Commons session, while paying tribute to England’s outgoing deputy chief medical officer, Professor Sir Jonathan Van-Tam, the shadow health secretary commended him not only for “providing outstanding public service” through Covid – but for “working with the PM” for as long as he had.
“JVT already has a knighthood, but working with the prime minister, he must have the patience of a saint,” Labour’s Wes Streeting said.
UK reports lowest daily vaccine figures in 10 days
A total of 126,632 booster and third doses of Covid-19 vaccine were reported across the UK on Wednesday, figures show.
It makes yesterday the worst turnout for jabs since 2 January.
Nearly 36.1 million booster and third doses have been delivered in the UK since the pandemic began. Some 1.2 million of those were in the last seven days.
An estimated 68 per cent of adults have received a booster or third dose, according to data published by the UK’s four health agencies.
Father loses right to see daughter due to being unvaccinated
Back to Canada, where a father in Quebec has temporarily lost the right to see his 12-year-old child because he isn’t vaccinated.
A judge in the province ruled that it wasn’t in the child’s “best interest” to see the parent after the father requested to extend his visiting time during the holiday season.
A family law expert told the Le Devoir paper that it’s the first case of a parent being banned from seeing their child because of their vaccination status, reports Gustaf Kilander in Washington, DC.
Not ‘in the child’s best interest to have contact with their father,’ judge rules
Under 50% of Covid hospital patients being treated for something else
Less than half of all patients with Covid currently in hospitals in England are being treated primarily for something else, new NHS England data shows.
Of the 15,026 patients reported as having the virus on 11 January, 6,647 (44 per cent) were not being treated principally for Covid-19 - the highest proportion since these figures were first published in June 2021.
All hospital patients who have tested positive for Covid-19 need to be treated separately from those who do not have the virus, regardless of whether they are in hospital primarily for Covid or not. But the growing proportion of patients who are in hospital “with” Covid rather than “for” Covid is another sign that the current wave of the virus is not causing the same sort of pressure on hospitals as previous waves.
The news comes as health secretary Sajid Javid said “there are already early signs that the rate of hospitalisation is starting to slow”.
He told the Commons on Thursday that Omicron “still has the potential to lead to significant numbers of people in hospital”. There’s already almost 17,000 Covid-19 patients in hospital in England, he said, adding that “due to the lag between infections and hospitalisations, the NHS will remain under significant pressure over the next few weeks”.
Separate figures, also published on Thursday, showed that 80 of the 135 acute trusts in England which submitted data had bed occupancy levels above 90 per cent every day in the week to January 9 - well above the recommended limit of 85 per cent.
Drop in UK daily Covid cases and deaths
Britain reported 109,133 new coronavirus cases and 335 deaths on Thursday, both of which are down on recent days with infections in particular dropping by around 20,000.
The previous two days saw the highest number of daily virus deaths since February with 379 and 398, writes Liam James.
Wednesday was the second worst day for the vaccine booster programme of the year so far, the same government data shows. More about that can be found in my post from 3.05pm.
The UK reported 109,133 new coronavirus cases and 335 deaths on Thursday.
Businesses welcome shorter isolation but call for supply of rapid tests
Let’s hear from business groups and unions now, who say they are “cautiously welcoming” the government’s decision to cut the number of self-isolation days from seven to five.
However, some warned ministers they must ensure there is a steady flow of lateral flow tests (LFTs) for the changes to work.
Hannah Essex, co-executive director of the British Chambers of Commerce, said businesses are continuing to say “they are struggling with high levels of absence due to Covid ... but too many say that staff are also finding it difficult to get the lateral flow tests they need to prove they can return to work”.
Emma McClarkin, CEO of the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), agreed the change is “very helpful” for the pub and brewing sector but echoed calls for good supplies of LFTs.
“The new guidance will go some way to alleviating the pressure on staff numbers that our members have been experiencing throughout the pandemic,” she said, adding: “For the new measures to truly have an impact it is important that availability of lateral flow tests remains consistent throughout the country.”
Meanwhile, the Royal College of Nursing called for its members to be exempt and to remain under seven-day isolation rules.
General secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen said: “Current and growing workforce pressures must not drive a reduction in isolation requirements in an unsafe way ... This change could increase the risk of transmission to other staff and patients. When providing close care, including to those with compromised immune systems, nursing staff must be confident that they are not putting patients at risk.”
Next cuts sick pay for unvaccinated staff in isolation
Clothing and homeware retailer Next has become one of the largest UK employers to cut sick pay for unvaccinated staff who are self-isolating after being exposed to Covid.
Next, which employs around 44,000 people, said unvaccinated staff must isolate after coming into close contact with someone carrying the virus will only receive statutory sick pay of £96.35 per week, writes our business reporter Ben Chapman.
It would mean a substantial reduction in pay for any full-time worker affected. Next sales staff earn between £6.55 and £9.21 an hour and warehouse operatives between £9.30 and £11.26.
Unjabbed employees who must isolate will receive statutory sick pay
Watch: PM says ‘everybody understands’ Covid rules – 9 days before party
Northern Ireland ‘hopeful’ it can relax Covid rules next week
Over to Northern Ireland now, where FM Paul Givan has said he is hopeful the country’s government will be able to relax current Covid restrictions when it meets next week.
The news comes after ministers received an update on Covid data from health officials at Thursday’s meeting of the Stormont executive.
Mr Givan described the most recent modelling information on the virus as “very encouraging”.
“We believe that we’re at the peak now in terms of the transmission rates within the community and we’re looking at the admission rates within our hospitals and they are starting to decline already and so the modelling that we’re following now is a very optimistic scenario,” he said.
“We don’t believe there will be a breach of over 500 people being admitted into our hospitals.”
On 22 December, Stormont ministers announced a series of restrictions on the hospitality sector, including the closure of nightclubs from Boxing Day onwards.
Could cannabis help fight Covid? Study reveals chemicals may block virus
Chemicals found in live cannabis plants could help protect human cells against coronavirus infections, new research suggests.
A study by scientists at Oregon State University (OSU) and Oregon Health and Science University found that two acids present in hemp, a type of cannabis plant used widely in cloth, paper and as a drug, were able to jam the gears of the virus that causes Covid-19.
The researchers said the two compounds can bind onto the Sars-Cov-2 virus’ spike protein, which it uses to invade and commandeer human cells and which gives the coronavirus family its name, writes Io Dodds. However, the compounds probably cannot be consumed via any of the traditional methods of taking cannabis as a drug, meaning they would have to be harvested separately to make a specific medicine.
A non-psychoactive compound found in live cannabis plants could help sabotage the spike protein on coronaviruses, scientists have found
52% of parents against second Cover jab for children - poll
More than half of parents say they don’t believe 12 to 15-year-olds should receive a second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, according to a new survey.
Some 52 per cent of parents disagree with the government’s vaccine recommendation for children, the poll by charity Parentkind found.
The survey of more than 2,000 parents across England suggests the majority also don’t support the idea of pupils wearing masks in school. Three in five (60 per cent) parents said they disagree pupils should wear face coverings in class “for the foreseeable future”.
The findings, seen by the PA news agency, come after pupils returned to class last week following the Christmas break, with new advice for secondary school and college students in England to wear face coverings in classrooms.
NHS trusts in England opened bookings for the age group to get their second jab in December - and experts urged parents last week to book vaccinations for youngsters as schools returned.
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