Austria has ended lockdown restrictions for vaccinated people across most of the country, three weeks after it was imposed.
Rules vary by region but generally the change means theatres, museums and other cultural and entertainment venues will be allowed to reopen today and shops will follow tomorrow.
Here’s footage from UK Labour leader Keir Starmer’s comments this morning (see also 09:51):
Vaccinated people who are identified as a contact of somebody who has tested positive for Covid-19 should take an NHS rapid lateral flow test every day for a week, the UK government announced today.
The new guidance, which starts on Tuesday, aims to identify asymptomatic cases among the vaccinated without forcing them to isolate. One in three people do not show symptoms, the department of health said.
They said anyone whose rapid test comes back positive or develops symptoms should self-isolate and take a PCR test to verify the result. If the PCR test comes back positive, they must self-isolate for 10 days. If it comes back negative, contacts can stop self-isolating but should continue to take rapid tests for the remainder of the seven days.
However, unvaccinated adults will not be eligible for the new daily testing policy. Instead they must self-isolate for 10 days if they are a contact of somebody who tests positive, unless they are eligible for existing workplace daily contact testing.
Sajid Javid, the health secretary, said:
The Omicron variant is quickly gaining ground in the UK and is expected to become the dominant strain by mid-December.
We are taking this proportionate and more practical measure to limit the impact on people’s day to day lives while helping to reduce the spread of Omicron.
Vaccines remain our best defence and I urge anyone yet to get a first and second jab to come forward and those eligible for a booster to get boosted as soon as possible.
Dr Jenny Harries, CEO of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said:
If you are identified as a contact of someone with Covid-19, taking a rapid daily test – and only needing to isolate if it is positive – will help reduce the spread of the virus and minimise its impact on our everyday lives over the coming weeks and months.
Rapid tests are freely available in pharmacies and online. Our latest analysis shows that boosters provide the best protection against the Omicron variant, please go forward when you are called. If you haven’t had any vaccine, a first and second dose still gives you protection against becoming seriously unwell. Don’t worry about stepping forwards now – you will be warmly welcomed by our vaccination staff and I would strongly advise you to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
New “plan b” Covid restrictions are expected to become law in England after Labour leader Keir Starmer confirmed that his party will be supporting Boris Johnson’s government in Tuesday’s vote.
But the prime minister could face the largest rebellion of his premiership, with more than 60 Conservative MPs expected to be against the new restrictions.
Among them is Matt Vickers, the Conservative MP for Stockton South, who today said he will be voting against the government.
Vickers, who is one of the 2019 intake representing a so-called former Labour “red wall” constituency, told Times Radio:
I do not believe we should be going down the plan b route. We talked about learning to live with it, we promised people they will get these boosters in their arms and the world will come back to normal, kids will be able to go to school properly without masks on, we promised them the economy would be free, we’d be free to get things going, and that’s exactly what we need to do.
Asked whether he would be voting for plan b measures, he said: “I am not, no. You’ve heard it here first.”
Asked how many might be joining him, he said: “I wouldn’t like to guess the number. In real terms, it is not a vote we’re probably likely to overturn the Government on anyway, so I think the numbers might be irrelevant – it is about people doing what they think is right.”
Starmer told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show earlier today that he will vote with the government, but that he will do so in support of the NHS rather than the prime minister.
He said: “If you look at the science in relation to Omicron, the new variant, there is a real concern that we could be in a situation where the number of cases is doubling in a shorter period of two days. Now, I understand people say that that hasn’t led to higher hospitalisations and deaths yet, but the sheer volume of cases is very, very worrying.”
He added: “So, I’m not supporting the prime minister on Tuesday, I’m supporting our NHS, and I’m supporting the public in relation to this pandemic.”
NHS doctors working on the pandemic frontline are furious at being treated as “Covid cannon fodder” rather than heroes, according to new research.
In a first of its kind study, researchers from the universities of Bath and Bristol, UWE and the Royal College of Emergency Medicine collected the views of more than 1,300 doctors in the UK and Ireland since early 2020.
It found that doctors lacked the support they needed – including not having enough places to rest, food to eat or sufficient psychological support amid relentless shift patterns.
They said they were also frustrated at those not following public health advice and a lack of support from the government.
One senior doctor said:
I feel, at times, that I am considered totally expendable and that, if I die or become ill, not only will it have been preventable with political will, I will simply be an inconvenient statistic. I’m not a Covid hero, I’m Covid cannon fodder.
A junior doctor said:
Knowing the government was failing in so many ways to support us… failed Test and Trace, failed PPE procurement, weak messaging, permitted non-compliance with mask-wearing and distancing, set a poor example (Barnard Castle, etc).
We as healthcare providers were alone and utterly unsupported, apart from the weekly round of applause that was a pointless gesture and felt like a kick in the teeth.
Dr Jo Daniels, the study’s lead researcher and a clinical psychologist at the University of Bath, said some of the stories were “truly devastating”.
Last moments spent trying to set up an iPad in time for a young mother to say goodbye to her children; wrestling to intubate agitated patients; family members watching loved ones die remotely via video-link.
Added to this is the scale – the sheer number of frontline workers for whom these experiences have just become normalised – these results are truly shocking.
We are seeing increasing levels of staff attrition, absenteeism, poor psychological health, and loss of life, yet frontline doctors are expected to just carry on.
Here’s more on UK Omicron hospitalisations from science correspondent Hannah Devlin:
Russia’s registered Covid cases passed the 10 million mark today, after nearly 30,000 cases were reported in the last 24 hours.
It comes as Russia recorded 29,929 new cases today – its lowest single-day case total since 13 October – bringing the official total since the start of the pandemic to 10,016,896.
The country also reported 1,132 deaths today, its lowest count since late October, reports Reuters.
UK prime minister Boris Johnson is facing the most testing week of his troubled premiership as a mounting Tory rebellion over new Covid-19 restrictions threatens his authority in parliament and a supposedly safe Conservative seat appears on a knife-edge ahead of a byelection on Thursday, writes the Observer’s political editor Toby Helm.
Prof Hayward (see also 11:20) also said that the UK’s hospital system is already “on its knees” and faces a “big problem” ahead.
It was put to Prof Hayward that people may think ministers feel they have to put extra restrictions in place “based on modelling and theories”.
He told LBC:
We’re talking about a hospital system that is already pretty much on its knees with the current level of activity, and that level of activity is going to go up dramatically and much worse than a normal winter.
So you know, there is going to be a big problem. The question is how much we’re prepared to do to stop that as a society.
Prof Andrew Hayward, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) from University College London, said Omicron is “much more infectious” than Delta and all previous Covid strains.
“Maybe somewhere between twice and possibly three times as infectious,” he told LBC. “What we can also see is that the vaccine, two doses of the vaccine, has relatively little impact on stopping that transmission.
“So putting those two together, and the fact that it’s already increasing, doubling every two or three days, what we can be pretty sure of is a very, very large wave of infections, bigger than the waves of infections that we’ve had before, so really the uncertainty is in how that’s going to translate into hospitalisations and deaths.”
Dr Susan Hopkins, the chief medical adviser for the UK Health Security Agency has said that the UK is facing an “inevitable” large wave of infections caused by Omicron, with more Covid measures likely to be needed (see also 10am).
Hopkins confirmed that the UK has seen its first Omicron hospitalisations in recent days and that she expects those numbers to rise.
She told BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show:
We’re also seeing hospitals diagnose more and more people coming through their emergency departments, and we expect to see increases in that number. I have not had a report of death yet.
But it’s really important to remember it is just over two weeks since we first detected the cases in the United Kingdom, and that hospitalisations start to be seen in about two weeks and deaths usually at three to four weeks.
I think it’s too early to make any assumptions at this point in time.
It’s inevitable that we’re going to see a big wave of infections. What we are not yet clear on, and which is what we are basically making sure people go out and get their vaccination for, is how much that will affect hospitals.
In the UK, Conservative voters share their doubts about the prime minister in pro-Brexit Thanet. James Tapper reports:
Questioned about “mutinous MPs” and “disarray” in Downing Street at a G7 summit in Liverpool, UK foreign secretary Liz Truss said:
On the first subject, the cabinet secretary is conducting a thorough investigation of those events that took place. You will appreciate that my focus has been on the very serious issues that we face globally.
Namely, the specific issue that you raise of Russian aggression. And how that is countered.
In terms of this government, we have delivered Brexit.
We were one of the most successful vaccine rollouts. We’re rolling out a booster programme and we’re working to make sure we deliver for people across Britain.
ITV’s UK editor, Paul Brand, writes on Twitter:
Prof Barry Schoub, a Covid-19 adviser to the South African government, has advised against the UK “trivialising” Omicron’s impact and said it should be treated as seriously as Delta.
He told Sky News’ Trevor Phillips On Sunday programme: “I think we need to. I think we must avoid trivialising it. At this stage, we’re still gathering information.”
He added: “So at the moment, we do need to treat it as seriously as Delta, with all the kind of precautions that we took for Delta. We can’t let up on that at the moment.”
Nadhim Zahawi, the UK education secretary, also told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show that “99%” of schools are open and that nativities should continue to take place.
When asked whether he could guarantee that schools would be open in January, he said: “I will do everything in my power”.
Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary, has insisted the government is not introducing a “vaccine passport”.
He told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show:
People talk about vaccine passports. This is not a vaccine passport. These are high-risk events where we ask people either to take a free lateral flow test or to be vaccinated to attend.
Asked whether people are coming forward in sufficient numbers for booster vaccines, he said:
We saw some queues yesterday at walk-in centres, and I have to say people on the whole have been behaving well.
We’ve had a couple of incidents that were in the East Midlands, one incident specifically where someone was very aggressive and that should not happen to anybody who is administering a life-saving vaccine, but we’ve seen some amazing examples. A school in east London vaccinating students and teachers and parents who have never had a vaccine.
Nadhim Zahawi, the UK education secretary and former vaccines minister, has again defended the prime minister’s alleged Christmas quiz (see also 8:58), saying there’s no rule against “recognising Christmas with tinsel or a hat”.
He told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show that his inbox is full of people thinking Boris Johnson is having parties with guests, but that now the public can “make their mind up when they see this picture of the prime minister on a virtual screen, on a Zoom, thanking his team who are in the building because they have to respond to a national emergency.”
He said they were colleagues, there was no drink and that there is no rule against “recognising Christmas with tinsel or a hat”.