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Covid news – live: Omicron fears see booster jabs extended as WHO warns of variant spread at global level

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Related video: Everything we know so far about the omicron variant

The UK is set to unveil new guidance that will see its Covid booster jab programme extended and sped up amid fears over the spread of the omicron variant.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has been asked to look at boosters for under-40s as well as reducing the gap between second doses and boosters. Edward Argar, a health minister, told Sky News the British government was “awaiting that advice” later on Monday.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation has issued a fresh alert about the risk of omicron spreading globally. The stark warning in a note to its 194 member states said that there were “considerable uncertainties in the magnitude of immune escape potential of omicron” and that the variant was concerning because of the “potential impact on the trajectory of the pandemic”.

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UK to unveil booster jab plan

The UK is set to unveil new guidance on speeding up and extending the rollout of booster jabs, a health minister has said, adding he was braced for more cases of the variant of concern Omicron.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has been asked to look at boosters for under-40s as well as reducing the gap between second doses and boosters.

“We’re awaiting that advice. I hope it will come, hopefully later today,” Edward Argar told Sky News, adding he did not know their decision.

“I don’t think it’s been formally delivered but we’d expect that within the coming hours.”

Tom Batchelor29 November 2021 07:25

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Omicron variant won’t impact easing of restrictions in Auckland

The emergence of the omicron variant will not impact New Zealand’s plans to ease restrictions in Auckland, said prime minister Jacinda Ardern.

While the country on Sunday restricted travel from southern African countries following the concerns surrounding the spread of the virus, Ms Ardern said she did not anticipate further restrictions.

Bars, restaurants and gyms in Auckland are scheduled to reopen from Thursday, ending the lockdown observed in the city since August.

Ms Ardern said that the country will continue its contact tracing, isolating infectious people and requiring mask use in some settings, as the impact of the new variant is being studied more.

The country is also switching to a new “traffic light” system, indicating the areas where the outbreaks are putting a pressure on the health system. Under this system, a green designation imposes few restrictions, orange requires more mask wearing and distancing, while red limits gathering sizes.

Auckland and some other parts of the North Island would be placed under the red light, due to outbreaks and lower vaccination rates, said Ms Ardern, while other parts of the country will be placed under orange light.

A client scans in her vaccine passport at Luxe & Duke Hairdressing on 25 November 2021 in Auckland, New Zealand

(Getty Images)

Namita Singh29 November 2021 07:00

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Why the WHO skipped two Greek letters to name omicron

The WHO skipped two letters of the Greek alphabet — “Nu” and “Xi” — as it decided to call the new variant emerging from southern Africa omicron.

Explaining the decision, the global health agency said that Nu was too easily confused with “new”, while Xi is a common surname, also shared by China’s president Xi Jinping.

“Two letters were skipped —Nu and Xi — because Nu is too easily confounded with ‘new’ and XI was not used because it is a common surname and WHO best practices for naming new diseases (developed in conjunction with FAO and OIE back in 2015) suggest avoiding ‘causing offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups’,” the WHO said in a statement.

Namita Singh29 November 2021 06:38

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The Philippines to inoculate 9 million in next three days

The Philippines on Monday launched an ambitious drive that it hopes will vaccinate nine million people against Covid-19 in the next three days.

Though the vaccine drive was not specifically organised because of the spread of the Omicron variant, the government said it would help the country respond to it. “It is better to be prepared for the effects of Omicron,” Carlito Galvez, the country’s vaccination chief, told CNN Philippines on Monday.

Due to a combination of vaccine hesitancy and logistical limitations, only a third of the Philippines’ 110 million population is fully vaccinated. The country administered an average of 829,000 daily shots in November, against the ambitious target of 3 million per day that the government has set for itself.

A medical worker prepares a BioNtech-Pfizer Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine inside a mall in Manila City, on 29 November 2021

(AFP via Getty Images)

Namita Singh29 November 2021 05:58

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G7 health ministers to meet over Omicron

The G7 health ministers will hold an emergency meeting on Monday amid concerns surrounding the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant, which was first discovered in southern Africa and has now spread to 13 countries and territories.

The meeting was called by Britain, which currently chairs the G7 and is among the list of countries affected.

Passengers, many wearing face coverings to combat the spread of Covid-19, travel on the London underground in central London on 28 November 2021

(AFP via Getty Images)

Namita Singh29 November 2021 05:36

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Japan suspends entry of foreign visitors

Japan will bar the entry of foreign visitors from 30 November, announced prime minister Fumio Kishida on Monday. The country’s citizens returning from a list of specified nations will be allowed to return, but must quarantine themselves in designated facilities.

Namita Singh29 November 2021 04:59

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Swiss approve Covid restrictions as cases rise

A vote in Switzerland on Sunday gave the green light to new legislation, which bars unvaccinated people from attending public events and gatherings. People who have recovered from Covid or test negative will can attend such events, alongside those who are vaccinated.

The final count showed 62 per cent of voters supported the measure, which is already in force. The vote on the country’s “Covid-19 law,” which also has unlocked billions of Swiss francs in aid for workers and businesses hit by the pandemic, came as Switzerland — like many other nations in Europe — faces a steep rise in Covid cases.

Switzerland’s government, unlike others, hasn’t responded with new restrictions. Analysts said it didn’t want to stir up more opposition to its anti-Covid-19 policies before they faced Sunday’s test at the ballot box.

Swiss health minister Alain Berset

(Wikimedia Commons)

Health minister Alain Berset said, with the result now in, authorities “still have the necessary instruments to manage the crisis, and we can, if necessary, adjust the instruments to developments”.

“A decision has been made and we must come together now to get through this winter as well as possible,” Mr Berset said. “This is an appeal for unity but also for respect for decisions that have been taken.”

On Tuesday, Swiss health authorities warned of a rising “fifth wave” on infections in the rich Alpine country, where vaccination rates are roughly in line with those in hard-hit neighbours Austria and Germany at about two-thirds of the population.

Sam Hancock28 November 2021 22:17

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Secondary school children told to wear masks in communal areas

The Department for Education (DfE) has told children in Year 7 and above that they should wear face coverings in school communal areas – essentially all secondary school pupils.

It comes as part of measures to slow the spread of the omicron Covid variant.

An email update from the department to education and childcare providers said: “Face coverings should be worn in communal areas in all settings by staff, visitors and pupils or students in Year 7 and above, unless they are exempt.

“Pupils or students (in Year 7 or above) should continue to wear face coverings on public and dedicated school transport, unless they are exempt.”

In a statement, education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “We are working with education and childcare settings to enhance safety measures where needed, including introducing isolation for 10 days for close contacts of suspected omicron cases.”

Sam Hancock28 November 2021 17:57

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Christmas 2022 at risk from Covid due to ‘jab hoarding,’ Brown warns

Next year’s Christmas is at risk from Covid restrictions unless the UK and other rich nations stop hoarding vaccines desperately needed in Africa, Gordon Brown is warning.

The former PM has hit out at Boris Johnson for a false claim that low take-up of jabs – rather than a shortage – is to blame for a lack of protection in countries with the new Omicron variant, writes our deputy political editor Rob Merrick.

In an article for The Independent, Mr Brown calls on Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance, the chief medical and scientific officers, to “sit Johnson down” and make him understand “basic medical facts”.

Sam Hancock28 November 2021 17:37

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Watch: Everything we know so far about new Covid strain

Omicron variant: Everything we know so far about the new Covid strain

Sam Hancock28 November 2021 16:45

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