Coronavirus latest as US Omicron deaths are rising above last autumn’s Delta peak; Kanye West could be blocked from entering Australia; Moderna working on single booster vaccine to protect against Omicron and Delta; lung abnormalities discovered in some long COVID patients.
Jacinda Ardern has revealed she is self-isolating after coming into contact with a positive COVID case.
The New Zealand prime minister has taken a strict approach to the pandemic, implementing harsh border controls and enforcing lockdowns when a small number of cases have been found.
The country has recorded 52 COVID deaths in total.
The country will move to ease COVID measures next Saturday, with restaurants and shops allowed to open until midnight.
The number of people able to gather will also increase from 25 to 50.
From 12 February, shops will not have to bar people who are not vaccinated or recovered from COVID.
The unvaccinated will also be able to enter restaurants from 19 February as long as they can provide a negative coronavirus test.
After days of confusion, you’d be forgiven for being unsure of what exactly is happening with the investigations into Downing Street parties.
Top civil servant Sue Gray is leading a Cabinet Office investigation into a series of allegedly rule-breaking parties. At the same time, the Met Police announced this week it would be launching its own investigation.
But the opening of the Met’s investigation has led to confusing and conflicting reports of when the Cabinet Office report will be published.
Sky News understands that Boris Johnson will receive the report “in the coming hours or days”.
However, it is not expected to be made public until next week – when MPs will return to the Commons and the prime minister will likely make a statement.
The published report will also be redacted after the Met Police requested it to have “minimal reference” to the events it is investigating, saying it did not want its own investigation to be prejudiced.
However, some legal experts have questioned this.
Nazir Afzal, a former chief prosecutor for the North West, tweeted: “This is absolute nonsense from the Met Police. A purely factual report by Sue Gray cannot possibly prejudice a police investigation. They just have to follow the evidence, of which the Sue Gray report will be a part.”
Former Supreme Court Justice Lord Sumption told BBC Newsnight there was “something very strange going on” and that there was “no legal rule” stating that a factual report cannot be published ahead of the police investigation.
Other legal experts suggested that redacting the report may be to ensure witnesses are not alerted to what the content of their police interviews will be.
As we mentioned earlier, Joni Mitchell has removed her music from Spotify following controversy over COVID misinformation on the platform.
And now You’re Beautiful singer James Blunt has joined the discussion – jokingly threatening to unleash more of his music onto the streaming giant.
Those looking for a last-minute winter holiday could be pleasantly surprised by prices for ski resorts this year.
The overall cost of ski school, equipment hire, lift passes, meals and drinks are lower than last year in two-thirds of resorts analysed by Post Office Travel Money.
Out of the 28 resorts surveyed, Bankso in Bulgaria had the lowest prices. Hiring skis and boots for six days typically cost a family of four £228, down 12% on a year ago.
Meanwhile, Bardonecchia in the Italian Alps had a year-on-year price cut of more than 20%.
One of the most expensive destinations, Switzerland’s Saas Fee, has had a 3% drop in prices since last year.
Lung abnormalities have been discovered in long COVID patients suffering from breathlessness.
Researchers used the colourless, odourless, tasteless and chemically non-reactive gas xenon to investigate possible lung damage in patients who have not been admitted to hospital but still experience the symptom.
Read more on this in our article below…
The Grammy award-winning singer has accused the streaming giant of allowing “irresponsible people” to spread lies that are “costing people their lives”.
Neil Young also removed his catalogue from Spotify, reportedly due to its hosting of The Joe Rogan Experience podcast.
The podcast has been known to air vaccine-sceptical views and medics have previously hit out at its content.
In a statement, Mitchell said she decided to remove her music from Spotify because she wants to “stand in solidarity with Neil Young and the global scientific and medical communities on this issue”.
Following the concerns, Spotify said it aimed to balance “both safety for listeners and freedom for creators” and had removed over 20,000 podcast episodes related to COVID since the start of the pandemic.
Despite being milder than previous variants, the Omicron wave in the US is still pushing death rates to very high levels.
Daily COVID deaths reached 2,267 on Thursday – surpassing a September peak of 2,100 when Delta was the dominant variant.
Omicron is estimated to account for nearly all infections in the US now, and it has been found to cause milder disease in most people but its ability to infect much more easily means more people are falling ill and dying.
Andrew Noymer, a public health professor at the University of California, said Omicron will push the US over a million deaths.
“That will cause a lot of soul searching. There will be a lot of discussion about what we could have done differently, how many of the deaths were preventable,” he said.
While cases appear to have largely “decoupled” from deaths in the UK and parts of Europe with high vaccine coverage, the same cannot be said for America.
Experts believe this is partly due to poor vaccine coverage in the US. Currently, only 63.9% of the population is fully vaccinated.
You will likely remember the debacle when tennis star Novak Djokovic was deported after arriving to play in the Australian Open.
The Australian government has made clear it will not be making exceptions for any celebrities – and it has now singled out Kanye West.
Media reports said the rapper was planning an Australian tour in March, but there are doubts as to whether he is fully vaccinated.
Speaking at a news conference, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said: “The rules are you have to be fully vaccinated.
“They apply to everybody, as people have seen most recently. It doesn’t matter who you are, they are the rules. Follow the rules – you can come. You don’t follow the rules, you can’t.”
While West’s vaccination status is unknown, last year he said he had received one vaccine dose.
However, in a 2020 interview with Forbes, he suggested getting vaccinated was “the mark of the beast”.
Australia is one of the world’s most heavily vaccinated countries after suffering harsh lockdowns, and has taken stringent measures against COVID.
We’ll be bringing you all the latest coronavirus news here.