Hello it’s Samantha Lock with you on the blog as we unravel all the latest coronavirus developments.
Let’s jump in with some news straight from the UK with the Downing Street crisis continuing to reach new lows.
Boris Johnson is facing renewed anger from MPs and bereaved families after the disclosure that his fiancee threw him a surprise lockdown birthday party, as sources said an official inquiry had uncovered “appalling evidence of mismanagement” at the heart of Downing Street.
Sue Gray, the senior civil servant leading the inquiry into Downing Street parties, is expected to make deeply critical recommendations on overhauling No 10’s operation after hearing of repeated failures of leadership, according to a Whitehall source who spoke to the inquiry.
In the latest alleged breach of rules, No 10 admitted that Carrie Johnson held a party for the prime minister and up to 30 staff on 19 June 2020 despite Covid rules banning indoor social gatherings. Outdoor gatherings were limited to groups of six.
Meanwhile, in Japan an advisory panel is set to approve the expansion of tougher measures against Covid-19 to 18 additional regions on Tuesday, putting more than 70% of the country under restrictions.
The western prefectures of Osaka and Kyoto are among the areas covered by the measures, taken in response to a surge of infections and hospitalisation driven by the Omicron variant, Reuters reports.
The curbs will be enforced from Thursday through 20 February, and governors in those regions can request restaurants and bars to shorten business hours and stop serving alcohol.
Here is a comprehensive rundown of all the latest international Covid developments:
- Italy said that the Omicron wave had peaked in the country as case numbers begin to fall.
- The UK announced plans to end testing rules for all doubly vaccinated travellers from 11 February.
- Rules requiring a vaccine passport to enter hospitality businesses and take public transport came into force in France.
- The European Union’s drug regulator is set to decide whether to approve Pfizer’s Covid-19 pill at the end of this month, before doing a final review of Merck’s similar but less effective drug in February, a source with knowledge of the matter said.
- Fully vaccinated travellers arriving in Britain will no longer have to take a Covid-19 test, while Germany extended its current pandemic measures.
- Norway will end its system of mandatory quarantines for non-vaccinated travellers and close contacts of infected persons, replacing it instead with a daily test regime.
- Covid-related deaths surged in Australia and authorities warned numbers could rise further when schools return from holidays next week.
- Japan announced plans to extend coronavirus restrictions beyond the current 9pm curfew in a bid to tackle the spread of Omicron. The country is poised to double the number of regions subject to restrictions such as shortened restaurant opening hours in order to rein in a record surge in cases.
- Organisers of next month’s Beijing Winter Olympics slightly eased the strict Covid-19 requirements for participants.
- One of China’s longest lockdowns in the northern city of X’ian comes to an end after its 13 million residents were confined to their homes on December 22.
- Israel’s health minister said he did not think Israel will offer a fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to most people after the government made it available to over 60s and other high-risk groups.
- The US advised against travel to 15 countries and territories.
- A third booster dose of a Covid-19 vaccine made by AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech or Johnson & Johnson increases antibody levels significantly in those who have previously received two doses of Sinovac’s CoronaVac shot, a study has found.
- Omicron can survive longer than earlier versions of the coronavirus on plastic surfaces and human skin, Japanese researchers found in laboratory tests.
- British scientists will begin testing Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics’ antiviral pill molnupiravir as a possible treatment for patients hospitalised with Covid-19.
- The US Food and Drug Administration is likely to restrict the use of Covid-19 antibody treatments from Regeneron and Eli Lilly as they are ineffective against Omicron, the Washington Post reported.
- World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus gave a press conference in which he warned that conditions remain ideal for more coronavirus variants to emerge and said it was dangerous to assume Omicron was the last one, but added that the acute phase of the pandemic could end this year if some key targets were met.