Coronavirus latest as UK reports 102,292 new COVID cases and 346 deaths; Sainsbury’s asks customers to continue wearing face masks; new variant could prolong current wave, experts warn; Foreign Office issues warning over Spain’s travel rules as holiday bookings surge.
Another 164,000 infections have been reported in Germany – a daily record.
It comes as politicians there are holding a parliamentary debate on whether to bring in compulsory vaccination.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz backs the idea but has told lawmakers to vote according to conscience.
The three key proposals include requiring all adults to be vaccinated, or just over-50s, or merely requiring the unvaccinated to get counselling.
A draft law should be ready for a vote by March.
Protesters in Berlin gathered near the Reichstag to oppose mandatory vaccination.
They say it’s against the second article of the constitution, which guarantees citizens control over their own bodies.
Meanwhile, as cases surge in Germany, France also reported very high case numbers – with 428,008 new infections announced on Wednesday.
Yesterday, it posted a record 501,635 – the first time it had topped half a million.
There is a warning that the return to school is driving up Omicron infections in children and could lead to another surge in adults.
Read more from our science correspondent below.
The country recorded 77,434 new cases today – just shy of the record 77,722 of two weeks ago, according to government data.
Daily cases in Turkey hovered around 20,000 a month ago, before Omicron became dominant and pushed up infections.
There have been over 86,000 COVID-related deaths and more than 11 million cases there since the start of the pandemic, according to the World Health Organisation.
We reported earlier that Sainsbury’s will ask shoppers to continue wearing masks when Plan B measures end tomorrow. John Lewis has now said it will also suggest people carry on wearing a face covering.
A spokeswoman for John Lewis and Partners, which includes Waitrose, said: “We value the safety of our customers and partners and continue to follow the latest Government guidelines.
“From Thursday January 27, we’ll be suggesting people wear masks in our stores, although it will be down to individuals to make a personal choice.”
Tomorrow’s law change also means COVID passes won’t be needed any more to get into large venues such as nightclubs.
America has so far given away 400 million vaccine doses to poorer countries, says the White House.
It’s part of a high-profile pledge to donate about 1.2 billion doses.
“Today, we will hit a major milestone in our global effort: 400 million vaccine doses shipped to 112 countries… for free, no strings attached,” said White House COVID coordinator Jeff Zients.
At least 5 to 6 billion doses are estimated to be needed to help protect poorer nations.
Overall, more than a billion doses have been given away by the COVAX scheme, which is backed by the World Health Organisation.
It aims to achieve 70% immunisation coverage by mid-2022.
China’s capital is starting a third round of mass testing in its Fengtai district as the start of the Winter Olympics draws near.
Some of Fengtai’s two millions residents complained about having to line up again in the cold – for the third time in a week – as China persists in its “zero COVID” approach ahead of the showpiece event.
Beijing also announced this week that anyone buying headache medicine, and two other types of medicine, must get a coronavirus test within 72 hours.
Testing is also taking place across the city, with China reporting only 24 local cases in latest daily figures, 14 of those in the capital.
Competitors and officials for the Olympics will also be kept isolated from the public at large when it gets under way next week.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has defended his handling of COVID support fraud as he vowed to go after those “who took advantage” of the scheme.
He said people are “absolutely right” to be concerned but tweeted: “No, I’m not ignoring it and I’m definitely not ‘writing it off’.
“Clearly criminals have sought to exploit our support schemes.”
Read the full story here…
A total of 52,265,883 first doses of COVID vaccines have been delivered in the UK as of yesterday, government figures show.
This is a daily rise of 13,304.
Some 48,252,782 second doses have been delivered, an increase of 27,804.
A combined total of 37,048,033 booster and third doses have been given, a day-on-day rise of 51,097.
Separate totals for booster and third doses are not available.
However, the latest figures do not include vaccination figures for Wales, which have not been published due to a technical issue.
The UK has reported 102,292 daily COVID cases.
A further 346 people have died within 28 days of testing positive for COVID-19, bringing the total to 154,702.
Separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics show there have been 177,000 deaths registered in the UK where COVID-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.
Today’s daily figures compare to last Wednesday’s 108,069 new cases and 359 deaths.
Earlier, in our 9.38am post, it was suggested by Professor Paul Elliott (director of the React programme from Imperial’s School of Public Health) that the decline in UK COVID cases seems to be stalling, and today’s figures do little to dispel that idea.
Richard Macvicar, who lost his mum, dad and sister to COVID in the space of three weeks in 2020, has a message for Boris Johnson that will cut through far more than the words of political opponents.
Following allegations a birthday party was held in Number 10 for the PM during the first lockdown, and Mr Johnson’s claim he only spent 10 minutes at the gathering, Mr Macvicar told Sky News: “I would have loved 10 minutes with my family members to say goodbye.”
Mr Macvicar shared his tragic story, of following the guidance in the hardest of circumstances, during an interview this afternoon.
His words are transcribed below or you can watch the interview here…
“Prior to the official lockdown on 23 March, my father was admitted to hospital on the Saturday, I spoke to my mum on the Sunday, which was Mother’s Day, and she was tired, distraught and was looking after my dad.
“She took a turn for the worse on the Monday, not knowing about COVID, we just knew there was some kind of virus going on.
“We made the decision not to drive over to their house to visit my mum, then my sister moved in on the night to look after her and on the Tuesday, my Mum was taken to hospital, and by the Saturday she had died.
“So we obviously couldn’t go to see her that week. I, and the rest of my family that are left of us, have probably not grieved properly. We decided not to have any official funerals because there was a rule of six and there were four of children left with out partners, so that meant eight.
“We said we couldn’t turn up at the crematorium with eight of us, standing far apart, not being able to hug each other and give the send off to our parents. I just feel we haven’t grieved properly, we haven’t had the official send-off and every time I see the reports on television, it just brings it all back, to think I’d have loved 10 minutes with any of them just to say ta-ra.
“It doesn’t matter how long it is, it just breaks my heart to see it going on and on and on, all these stories coming out.”