Coronavirus latest as Boris Johnson announces Plan B rules including face masks in more settings, COVID passes in large venues and working from home guidance; SAGE warns Omicron wave could be bigger than January 2021 despite vaccine; Met says it won’t investigate Downing Street party.
Austria’s planned coronavirus vaccine mandate will have a minimum age of 14, health minister Wolfgang Mueckstein said on Thursday.
The mandate, which is due to come into force in February, will introduce fines of 3,600 euros ($4,072), Mr Mueckstein said.
Details of this plan must still be approved by parliament.
However, the government says it has the backing of two opposition parties, suggesting it should pass easily.
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill today said it is likely that Omicron will interrupt lives in Northern Ireland.
“We want to avoid introducing restrictions, we want to keep people open and safe,” she said.
“We want to take the pressure off the health service but, ultimately, I think it’s inevitable that at some point the Omicron variant is going to cause difficulties for our health service but also economically because I think it is going to interrupt lives if it spreads in the way in which it potentially can, and the evidence shows from elsewhere that it will spread rapidly.
“So that will have an impact in terms of services, I would imagine. But we’re working to try to avoid introducing restrictions. We don’t want to be in that space. But we do think that by early in the new year this strain will be the dominant strain.”
Afzal Khan’s mother died and he was not allowed to hold her hand, while it is alleged Downing Street and Whitehall held various “gatherings” in December 2020.
Watch his comments in the Commons earlier below.
The new variant of coronavirus appears to be causing “milder” cold-like symptoms, but the reported higher rate of transmission could still have “devastating” consequences, a top scientist has warned.
According to the Zoe COVID Study incidence figures, there are currently 83,658 new daily symptomatic cases in the UK on average, based on test data from up to five days ago.
This represents a small increase of 4% from 80,483 new daily cases last week. The UK government estimates that around 3% of these are likely to be Omicron.
Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London and lead scientist on the Zoe study, said: “Even with Omicron appearing to be more transmissible than Delta, early signs, including new reports from Zoe users, show that it is breaking through in vaccinated people, but it’s causing milder cold-like symptoms.
“However, this is not a reason to be relaxed about Omicron.
“COVID is unpredictable and, even if most only feel like they’ve got a cold, there are far more long-term risks than a cold carries.
“If numbers skyrocket, it doesn’t matter if the percentage of people being hospitalised or dying remain low – it’s about volume, not percentages.”
The World Health Organisation’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made the comments two years on from the start of the crisis.
He added he was disappointed that countries had imposed blanket travel bans on southern Africa and said transparency would help end the pandemic.
Earlier, the WHO confirmed that 46% of all global Omicron cases have been found in Africa.
Jacob Rees-Mogg has defended a joke he made about Christmas parties and COVID regulations.
The Commons leader also paid tribute to the PM’s former aide Allegra Stratton and said “she has left with great dignity”.
Responding to criticisms from the shadow Commons leader Thangam Debbonaire, Mr Rees-Mogg said: “As regards what I said at the IEA (Institute of Economic Affairs), what I was saying was how nice it was to be free of restrictions so that we can have parties this year.
“That was what I was being pleased about, as opposed, in comparison to last year.
“And this has got better because of what the government has done.”
According to the latest figures, the coronavirus infection rate for the UK is currently 488 cases per 100,000 people.
This is based on data provided by Public Health England, Public Health Scotland, Public Health Wales and the HSCNI.
Infections are significantly higher than average in Torridge, Devon, where 972 cases per 100,000 people are currently reported.
They are lowest in Dundee, Scotland, at 210 cases per 100,000.
When the Omicron COVID variant was first identified in South Africa, campaigners were quick to point the blame at the global West for failing to share vaccines with the world poorest countries.
On the Sky News Daily podcast with Dermot Murnaghan, we are joined by global health expert Dr Wafaa El-Sadr and Professor Salim Abdool Karim, an epidemiologist based in Durban, South Africa to discuss how Omicron evolved and if a lack of global vaccine equity is to blame.
First Minister Paul Givan has said Stormont officials are planning potential further restrictions that may be needed if the Omicron variant becomes dominant.
Mr Givan said the transmission rate of the variant is causing concern.
The DUP minister said Northern Ireland was “behind the curve” and should be able to “get through the next number of weeks” before Omicron becomes dominant in the country.
“We don’t need to be panicking but we do need to recognise that what we are being advised is that this new variant is going to become a challenge for us in Northern Ireland early in the new year and we need to be ready for that,” he said.
“So preparation is taking place. That’s what some of the discussion will be at the Executive today, so that we have all of this thought through in terms of what may be necessary.
“That’s why I’ve said ‘don’t panic’ but we, as leaders of the Executive, need to make sure that proper preparedness is in place and we look at a range of scenarios and… it is prudent for us to be considering these things.”
Boris Johnson’s former adviser has claimed an alleged gathering in November is a “red herring” after it was confirmed it will be among three investigated.
Mr Cummings said: “A staff member left their job. Walked to press office to say bye, PM bumbled in and started babbling, everyone embarrassed, dispersed.
“Focus should be actual party in PM’s flat on 13 November reported AT THE TIME but ignored by lobby!”
The allegation of a gathering at the earlier date is not being investigated at present.