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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

UK reports 33,074 new cases and 94 deaths as it happened

This blog is now closed. You can find all of our coverage of the pandemic here.

This blog is closing now but thanks very much for reading. We’ll be back in a few hours with more rolling coverage of the pandemic from all around the world.

In the meantime you can catch up with all our coverage of the pandemic here.

Israeli Health Ministry experts recommended on Thursday dropping from 60 to 50 the minimum age of eligibility for a Covid-19 vaccine booster, hoping to curb a rise in Delta variant infections.

The advisory panel’s move, which followed a call by the prime minister Naftali Bennett to expand Israel’s booster campaign, still has to be approved by the Health Ministry’s director.

But at least two major health providers have already said they would begin on Friday to schedule appointments for people in the 50-59 age group to get a third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

After a successful vaccination campaign launched in late 2020 in which around 60% of the population have received two shots of the Pfizer vaccine, new daily cases dropped from more than 10,000 in January to single digits in June.

But with the spread of the Delta variant across the globe, new infections jumped in Israel, reaching 5,946 on Monday, and serious illnesses have been increasing as well.

Israelis aged 60 and up began receiving the booster two weeks ago, effectively turning Israel into a testing ground before any third-dose approval by the US Food and Drug Administration.

More than 700,000 seniors in Israel have received their third shot.

“I commend the team of experts on treating pandemics for making the right decision for the health of the citizens of Israel,” Bennett said in a statement late on Thursday. “I call on everyone over 50 to get in line tomorrow morning. Go get vaccinated.”

An initial survey has shown that most people who received a third vaccine dose felt similar or fewer side effects than they did after receiving the second shot.

British Columbia is mandating Covid vaccines for all staff working in long-term care homes and assisted living facilities, officials announced on Thursday, becoming one of the first Canadian provinces to do so, to fight a rapid rise in cases.

Canadian provinces have resisted mandating vaccines for any population thus far, but a burgeoning fourth wave is causing many business groups and professional associations to push for mandatory vaccinations as a way to avoid further lockdowns.

The prime minister Justin Trudeau said last week that the government was considering mandating vaccines for federal employees.

Staff must be fully vaccinated by 12 October as a condition of employment, British Columbia’s health minister Adrian Dix said at a briefing on Thursday, pointing to an increase in the number of outbreaks in the long-term care system in recent weeks.

“Those outbreaks are not qualitatively the same as they were in the months of January and February,” Dix said. “Nonetheless they are disruptive. … This is a necessary step to protect residents and to protect staff in long-term care.”

Canada’s westernmost province currently has one of the highest rates of Covid cases per capita in the country, according to government data. The province reported 536 new cases on Wednesday.

The province currently has eight outbreaks in long-term care homes that were caused by unvaccinated people, health officer Bonnie Henry said.

The province of Quebec announced on Tuesday that it would bar unvaccinated people from nonessential public spaces, including bars, restaurants and gyms, as of 1 September, making it the first province to implement vaccine passports.

The UK’s competition watchdog said it is ready to help the government take rapid action against Covid testing companies if it finds they are breaching consumer law, amid rising concerns about rip-off pricing and unreturned or delayed results.

In a statement published on Thursday afternoon, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) set out the details of its previously announced investigation into the market, and said it was also looking at whether the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) could take any action to improve matters in the short term.

“This is a particularly pressing issue just now for families hoping to enjoy a well-earned holiday after such a difficult year, and for those reuniting with friends and relatives overseas,” the CMA’s senior director of consumer protection, George Lusty, said.

“That is why we are also providing ongoing support to DHSC, including on steps that could be considered in the interim, before the rest of our work on the PCR testing market is concluded.”

The CMA said at the weekend it would provide advice and intelligence on the market in PCR tests within the next month to the health secretary, Sajid Javid, to enable the government to act.

Thursday’s statement set out three areas the watchdog is exploring: whether individual providers may be breaching consumer law and should be subject to enforcement action; whether there are structural problems in the market affecting price and reliability; and whether there are immediate actions the government can take.

It has opted for a rapid review because a formal investigation, which could lead to criminal action, would take months to complete, so that its impact would come long after the key holiday season.

San Francisco announced on Thursday that proof of full vaccination would be required for entry to restaurants, gyms and other indoor venues, aiming to curb a new wave of Covid infections that has prompted public health mandates across the US.

San Francisco, which launches its mandate on 20 August, is the second major US city to pass a sweeping vaccine requirement for indoor businesses after New York, which only requires proof of one vaccination dose.

The vaccine mandates in two liberal cities have come as schools in some conservative states are fighting to require masks, going against their Republicans governors’ orders.

Houston’s public schools were expected on Thursday to defy a state ban on mask mandates, joining other districts in Texas and Florida requiring face coverings in classrooms to fight a surge of infections, despite threats from state leadership.

The board of the Houston Independent School District was due to vote on a mask mandate on Thursday, flouting Republican governor Greg Abbott’s ban on such rules.

“The health and safety of our students and staff continues to be our guiding compass in all of our decisions,” wrote the district’s superintendent, Millard House II, in a statement.

The measure is likely to pass, with a majority of board members expressing support for the mandate, the Houston Chronicle reported.

With the start of the academic year coinciding with a dire new wave of cases, schools have quickly become the focal point of the nation’s political fight over masking and vaccine mandates.

The threat by Florida to withhold the salaries of school officials who require masks has escalated tension between the governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, and the administration of the US president Joe Biden, a Democrat.

The White House is considering reimbursing Florida school officials if DeSantis, who is widely seen as weighing a potential 2024 challenge for the presidency, follows through on his threat.

The worst of the Covid outbreak is concentrated in the South, including Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana and Texas, where intensive care units have been stretched to capacity.

While flouting federal recommendations on masks, Florida has asked Washington to help by sending ventilators.

Every adult in the world could get a Covid-19 vaccine if the wealth billionaires collected during the pandemic was taxed 99% once, according to an analysis published on Thursday by several groups that advocate for economic equity.

This one-time tax on the world’s 2,690 billionaires could also cover $20,000 in cash paid to all unemployed workers, according to the analysis by Oxfam, the Fight Inequality Alliance, the Institute for Policy Studies and the Patriotic Millionaires.

That tax would still leave the billionaires with $55bn more than they had before the pandemic, the analysis said.

Morris Pearl, the former managing director of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, said in a statement countries could no longer bear “the surge in global billionaire wealth as millions of people have lost their lives and livelihoods”.

Pearl, now the chair of Patriotic Millionaires, a group of wealthy people who support higher taxes on the wealthy, said governments have historically used wealth taxes after crises to help communities rebuild.

“Our economies are choking on this hoarded resource that could be serving a much greater purpose,” Pearl said. “Billionaires need to cough up that cash ball – and governments need to make them do it by taxing their wealth.

  • US regulators are reportedly set to recommend a third shot for people with certain immune-compromising conditionsfollowing pressure from Pfizer. Dr Anthony Fauci said for other vaccinated groups, such as elderly people, data is being collected to determine if or when their protection goes “below a critical level” and “that’s when you’re going to be hearing about the implementation of boosters” for others.
  • The Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, is planning a snap election for 20 September ostensibly to seek voter approval for the government’s costly plans to respond to the pandemic, according to sources cited by Reuters. The Liberals plan to inject an extra C$100 billion – between 3% and 4% of GDP – into the economy over the next three years.
  • Israel is to require Covid tests from next week for children as young as three to enter schools, swimming pools, hotels or gyms as infections rise despite extensive adult vaccinations. The country already required children aged 12 and over to show a green pass after they were reintroduced late last month, showing a person’s vaccination and testing status and whether they had recovered from Covid.
  • French police were urged to step up security around Covid vaccination and testing centres after a spate of attacks and vandalism. As France prepares for a fifth weekend of demonstrations against the health pass, the interior minister wrote to police chiefs calling for greater vigilance. A number of health sites have been sprayed with swastikas or graffiti reading “collabos” (collaborators), “Nazi” or “genocide”, or yellow stars.
  • A 99% emergency tax on the startling levels of profit made by billionaires during the pandemic could pay for everyone to get vaccinated and provide a £14,000 cash grant to all unemployed workersaccording to a new analysis. Anti-inequality groups said a one-time levy could raise £4tn and still collectively leave the world’s 2,690 billionaires £40bn richer than before March 2020.
  • Air passengers to the UK have spent at least £500m on PCR Covid-19 tests from private companies since mid-May, only for the NHS to be saddled with extra costs when firms fail to deliver them. Travellers have reported having to call the NHS testing hotline on 119 for free taxpayer-funded kits after PCR tests they had paid for did not arrive.
  • The England and Wales Cricket Board warned that the integrity of the upcoming Ashes series was at stake unless the Australian authorities softened the nation’s hard-line stance over its strict quarantine rules, with around 38,000 Australian nationals remaining stranded abroad and unable to return home.
  • Jacinda Ardern said that New Zealand would continue to pursue its ambitious Covid-19 elimination strategy indefinitely, even though a leading expert said this week that reaching herd immunity is “not a possibility” since the vaccines do not stop the spread of Covid.
  • Symptoms of depression and anxiety symptoms among children and adolescents during the pandemic may have doubled, compared with pre-2020 estimates, a meta-analysis of 29 studies including 80,879 younger people around the world suggested.
  • A McDonald’s franchise in California settled with a group of workers who sued after they were allegedly provided dog nappies to wear as masks, before a Covid outbreak among staff and subsequently their families. [SOURCE]

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