Covid news — live: Booster jabs now available at walk-in centres as global death toll tops five million – The Independent

UK encourages booster jabs, resists new virus restrictions

Anyone eligible for a Covid booster vaccination can now get their third jab without booking from an NHS walk-in centre, as the health service attempts to ramp up its booster programme ahead of the winter and the global death toll from the virus tops five million.

From today, instead of having to wait to be invited or book online, if you are eligible for a booster you can simply walk into your nearest centre without an appointment to have your immunity against coronavirus topped up.

NHS England said more than six million people had already had their booster jab, but health leaders and the government are keen to increase take-up ahead of a “winter like no other”.

The plea came as researchers at Johns Hopkins University reported the number of people who have died from coronavirus around the world had reached five million.

The total death toll is almost equivalent to the population of Scotland and rivals the number of people killed in war since 1950, according to estimates from the Peace Research Institute Oslo.

However, the five million figure is certainly less than the true Covid death toll because in many parts of the world people have died without first testing positive or being treated in hospital because of limited testing or healthcare capacity.

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South Korea eases restrictions to ‘live with’ the virus

The South Korean government has begun to lift its last remaining Covid restrictions and introduce vaccine passports as it begins to try and learn how to live with the virus.

From today capacity limits on large events will be increased, working from home guidelines eased and curfews for restaurants and cafes scrapped.

However, higher risk venues such as bars, nightclubs, indoor gyms and saunas will have to require proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid test for all guests.

Some other measures will remain in place until a planned abolition in February, such as mask-wearing, ventilating rooms and getting regularly tested.

More than 75 per cent of South Koreans have been vaccinated, and the health ministry said it was prepared to handle up to 5,000 new cases a day.

Currently, the rate is about 1,700 a day, although a spokesman for the ministry said if cases rose to 10,000 the easing of lockdown restrictions would stop and the government would instead bring back tougher measures.

Tim Wyatt1 November 2021 10:54

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China locks 34,000 visitors in Disneyland for snap testing

Nearly 34,000 people were locked into Shanghai’s Disneyland without warning and tested for Covid before being released, as part of a massive state-led effort to crush any coronavirus transmission.

The mass testing came on Sunday after one woman tested positive for Covid after travelling to Shanghai from nearby Huangzhou over the weekend.

Although it was not confirmed whether she even visited Disneyland, the Chinese authorities led an aggressive contact-tracing effort within hours to try and find and contain anyone else who she had infected before being quarantined.

All the 34,000 visitors tested negative and were later taken home on specially commissioned buses, although they must still self-isolate for for two days and be retested in two weeks’ time.

The effort underlines how aggressively China is attempting to prevent even a single Covid case from entering or spreading throughout the country, even as much of the rest of the world focuses on vaccinations rather than so-called Zero Covid strategies.

Led by the central government, many cities and provinces across China enact severe snap lockdowns lasting weeks after even one positive local case. One small county in Jiangxi province turned all its traffic lights to red in an attempt to stop people travelling around, after one positive case broke its 610-day streak of zero Covid.

Tim Wyatt1 November 2021 10:07

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Thailand starts to re-open to foreign tourists

Today, Thailand began to ease restrictions on tourists, allowing foreign visitors to enter the country without any quarantine requirement if they have been fully vaccinated.

Tourism accounts for about 20 per cent of the Thai economy, but the government has been cautious in reopening up its borders in an effort to prevent new Covid cases entering the country.

Although Thais have been allowed to travel internationally during the pandemic, tourists were forced to undergo a strict two week hotel quarantine, which had the effect of decimating the industry in Thailand.

In 2019, some 40m people visited Thailand, compared to just 100,000 so far in 2021. But starting today, if travellers are double jabbed and from one of 63 countries designated as “low risk” they are exempt from quarantine restrictions (apart from spending one night in a designated hotel and then having a negative test.

The UK is among the countries on the low risk list, which also includes America, China, Japan and most of Europe.

Tim Wyatt1 November 2021 09:56

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Covid death toll globally tops five million

On Monday, the number of people who have died from coronavirus around the world reached five million, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

The total death toll is almost equivalent to the population of Scotland and rivals the number of people killed in war since 1950, according to estimates from the Peace Research Institute Oslo.

Globally, COVID-19 is now the third leading cause of death, after heart disease and stroke.

However, the five million figure is certainly less than the true Covid death toll because in many parts of the world people have died without first testing positive or being treated in hospital because of limited testing or healthcare capacity.

Public health experts said the Covid pandemic was unique in how it had hit richer countries as badly or worse than poorer nations, which traditionally suffer the most from outbreaks of infectious diseases.

Together, the United States the European Union, Britain and Brazil — all upper-middle- or high-income countries — account for one-eighth of the world’s population but nearly half of all reported deaths.

Tim Wyatt1 November 2021 09:25

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Tonga goes into lockdown after first ever Covid case

The main island of Tonga will enter a one-week snap lockdown after the country’s first ever case of coronavirus was detected.

The Pacific archipelago nation reported a traveller who had flown in from New Zealand had tested positive for Covid. He is currently isolating in a quarantine hotel.

Tonga’s Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa said the lockdown would begin just after midnight on Tuesday and apply only to the island of Tongatapu, where a majority of the population live.

The lockdown will mean schools, bars and restaurants will be closed, and night-time curfews imposed. People will be required to isolate at home unless they are buying groceries or medicines, getting medical help, or accessing banking services.

Only about 31 per cent of Tongans are currently fully vaccinated, but news of the lockdown has prompted thousands more to line up at vaccinated centres across the country.

Partly due to its extreme isolation, Tonga was until now one of the few nations on Earth not to have recorded any Covid cases since the pandemic began.

Tim Wyatt1 November 2021 09:14

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Don’t mandate vaccines for NHS staff until the spring, NHS leader argues

Forcing all NHS staff to get the Covid vaccine could cripple the health service during the upcoming difficult winter months, a senior NHS leader has warned.

Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers which represents NHS trusts, said bringing in rules compelling doctors, nurses and other staff to get vaccinated could risk patient safety by forcing unvaccinated staffers to quit. About 100,000 NHS England staff are thought to have not yet been double jabbed.

“If we lose very large numbers of unvaccinated staff, particularly over the winter period, then that also constitutes a risk to patient safety and quality of care,” Mr Hopson told BBC Breakfast.

“We know – and the chief medical officer has said this really clearly – that we’ve got a very, very difficult winter coming up and we know the NHS is going to be absolutely at full stretch. So it makes sense to set the deadline once that winter period has passed.

“We know that January, February, often early March is very busy, so that’s why we’re saying today that we think an April 2022 deadline is a sensible time.”

Although the government has not yet announced if it will make it a legal requirement for NHS staff to be vaccinated, the health secretary Sajid Javid said last week he was “leaning towards” that decision.

“The people in the NHS care were rightly offered vaccines right at the start when we first had the vaccine,” he said. “So if they haven’t got vaccinated by now, then there is an issue about patient safety and that is something the government would take very seriously.”

Tim Wyatt1 November 2021 08:52

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White House spokesperson Jen Psaki tests positive for Covid

White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said she was diagnosed with Covid-19 after some members of her family also tested positive for the virus last week.

Ms Psaki, in a detailed statement, said she is experiencing mild symptoms only and will be working from home.

“Today, I tested positive for Covid, I have not had close contact in person with the President or senior members of the White House staff since Wednesday — and tested negative for four days after that last contact” Ms Psaki said in her statement, adding that she is disclosing the latest test result confirming the positive result “out of an abundance of transparency.”

Ms Psaki said she had skipped travelling with US president Joe Biden last week on a diplomatic trip to Europe after members of her family tested positive for the virus.

Tim Wyatt1 November 2021 08:27

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Australia loosens tough Covid border rules for first time

Australians who have been double-jabbed can now travel overseas and fly into the country without needing to endure a strict quarantine, as the government has eased its border lockdown for the first time since the pandemic began.

Airport terminals have been witnessing tearful reunions as Australians who have been locked out of their own country for 20 months by some of the world’s tightest border restrictions are finally allowed back home.

Prime minister Scott Morrison announced in October he would relax the rules as Australia’s vaccination programme had protected enough of its population to partially re-open up to the world.

There are about 47,000 people who are abroad and registered with the authorities waiting to return home.

Currently, only Australia’s permanent residents and citizens will be free to enter the country. Fully vaccinated foreigners traveling on skilled worker and student visas will be prioritised over international tourists. But the government said that it was working “towards welcoming tourists back to our shores” to some extent before the year ends.

Tim Wyatt1 November 2021 08:25

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Vax is 2021’s word of the year

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has declared “vax” as its word of the year for 2021, describing it as the standout choice to sum up the past 10 months.

Words derived from vax, including anti-vaxxer, unvaxxed, and double-vaxxed, have surged in use over the as mass Covid vaccination programmes have been rolled out across the world.

The Dictionary’s senior editor, Fiona McPherson, said vax had made “the most striking impact” of all the words her team considered this year.

“It goes back at least to the 1980s, but according to our corpus it was rarely used until this year,” she said.

“When you add to that its versatility in forming other words – vaxxie, vax-a-thon, vaxinista – it became clear that vax was the standout in the crowd.”

The OED defines vax as both a noun – meaning vaccine – and a verb, to be vaccinated.

The word vaccine, from where vax is derived, was first recorded in English in 1799, and followed English scientist Edward Jenner’s pioneering work in creating a smallpox vaccine earlier that decade.

Jenner called his new treatment a vaccine from the Latin vacca, meaning cow, as it was made from cowpox, a similar but milder infection which affects cows.

Tim Wyatt1 November 2021 08:18

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Nightclubs finally re-open in Northern Ireland

Clubbers in Northern Ireland were able to party on Halloween for the first time in 18 months as Covid rules which closed nightclubs were lifted.

All legal requirements for social distancing in the whole hospitality sector were also scrapped, along with rules requiring face masks be worn while dancing as it is designated a ‘strenuous activity’.

First Minister Paul Givan said: “We ask everyone to keep following the public health advice – the responsibility lies with each of us to protect ourselves, our families and the whole community.”

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “This latest set of relaxations must go hand in hand with the necessary mitigations and personal behaviours that will help to manage risks as people socialise together.”

Tim Wyatt1 November 2021 07:59