Covid briefing as huge protests are held across Europe over new restrictions

Here are the coronavirus morning headlines for Monday, November 22, as a leading health expert has said that the UK is able to avoid the measures being introduced in parts of Europe because of the vaccination programme here.

Professor Peter Openshaw, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said the situation in some parts of Europe where cases were soaring because of “misinformation, particularly about vaccines”.

“I think, in the UK, we had a very successful early vaccination campaign and we got very high vaccination rates, particularly amongst those who are vulnerable, but obviously that means that many people have now been vaccinated some time ago and they do need the boosters in order to raise their level of immunity back up again and make sure that, as we go into the winter season and towards Christmas, that we have very high levels of immunity again within society,” he told BBC Breakfast on Monday.

Read more : Masks needed again in the UK to control Covid, expert says

He added: “I am concerned that we do have really quite high levels of transmission in the UK. My personal preference would be that we should really try to get these rates down – we know that masks do work… because there are people who are unvaccinated for various reasons, and we do need to try and reduce the level of circulation of the virus, as well as getting up vaccination rates.

“No single measure by itself is going to be successful; we need the combination of measures, which includes re-vaccination, third doses, but also wearing masks and being very careful not to transmit the virus.”

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Prof Openshaw said he was “against mandatory vaccination”, adding that he thought the “answer is education and making sure that the correct messages get out”.

Meanwhile, UK Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said he believed the UK could be the first major economy to demonstrate how to transition from pandemic to endemic using Covid-19 vaccines.

He told LBC: “Our four-step plan meant that we were able to open up the economy in the summer. Some said it was a mistake – I think it was absolutely the right thing to do.

“We will probably, I hope, without being complacent, be the first major economy in the world to demonstrate how you transition (from) pandemic to endemic using vaccines.”

Austria enters national lockdown after coronavirus cases skyrocket

The measures require people to stay home apart from basic reasons like getting groceries, going to the doctor and exercising.

Restaurants and most shops in Austria must close and larger events will be cancelled. Schools and day care centres can remain open, but parents are encouraged to keep their children home.

It is expected that the rules will last for a maximum of 20 days – until December 13 – but will be re-evaluated after 10. It comes after the nation reported 15,297 new infections, a week after the number of daily cases topped 10,000, on Saturday.

Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg also announced Friday that Austria would also introduce a vaccine mandate as of February 1. The details of how the mandate will work are not yet clear.

In an interview on Sunday in the Kurier newspaper, Mr Schallenberg said it was “sad” the Austrian government had to resort to a mandate to ensure enough people got vaccinated. Just under 66% of Austria’s 8.9 million people are fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in western Europe.

Hospitals, especially those in the hardest hit regions of Salzburg and upper Austria, are overwhelmed as the number of coronavirus patients rises in intensive care units.

Mr Schallenberg said he and other officials had hoped this summer that a new lockdown would not be necessary and it was a tough decision to impose one that affected vaccinated people.

“That people’s freedoms need to be restricted again is, believe me, also difficult for me to bear,” he said.

The new measures, especially the vaccine mandate, have been met with fierce opposition among some Austrians and vaccine sceptics.

A protest on Saturday in the capital of Vienna drew 40,000 people, according to police, including members of far-right parties and groups.

Huge protests against Covid measures

Tens of thousands of people have been marching in European countries against Covid measures.

Dutch police have arrested more than 30 people during unrest in The Hague and other towns in the Netherlands that followed an ” orgy of violence ” the previous night at a protest against coronavirus restrictions.

Police said they arrested 19 people in The Hague and used a water cannon to extinguish a fire on a street.

Two football matches in the country’s top professional league were briefly halted when fans, banned from matches under a partial lockdown in force in the Netherlands for a week, broke into stadiums in the towns of Alkmaar and Almelo.

In The Hague, police said five officers were injured as they tried to break up unrest by youths who set at least two fires on streets and threw fireworks.

Tens of thousands of protesters also took to the streets of Vienna on Saturday after the Austrian government announced a nationwide lockdown beginning on Monday to contain skyrocketing coronavirus infections.

There were also demonstrations in Italy, Switzerland, Croatia and Northern Ireland, and thousands demonstrated in central Brussels before the protest descended into violence as several hundred people started pelting police, smashing cars and setting rubbish bins on fire.

Police in Rotterdam said that three rioters were hit by bullets and investigations were underway to establish if they were shot by police on Friday. The condition of the injured rioters was not disclosed.

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Rotterdam mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb called the rioting in his city an “orgy of violence” and said that “on a number of occasions the police felt it necessary to draw their weapons to defend themselves”.

The World Health Organisation said last week that Europe was a pandemic hotspot, the only region in which Covid-19 deaths were rising.

The autumn surge of infections is overwhelming hospitals in many Central and Eastern European nations, including Ukraine, Russia, Romania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Hospital numbers in Wales falls

A further seven people have died with coronavirus in Wales according to the latest figures from Public Health Wales.

New figures published on Sunday, November 21, which cover the 24-hour period up to 9am on November 19, show the total number of Covid-related deaths in Wales now stands at 6,349.

There were also 2,408 new positive cases recorded in the latest update bringing the total number since the pandemic began to 487,152.

The latest seven-day infection rate across Wales, based on the cases for every 100,000 people (for the seven days up to November 15) now stands at 521.2 – a rise from the 512.5 reported on Friday. With the seven-day infection rate having previously fallen below 500 for the first time since early October it’s now climbing beyond this number again. For more health-related content please go here

But the number of patients in hospital with coronavirus has seemingly peaked.

The local authority with the highest infection rate in Wales is Gwynedd with 772.3 cases per 100,000 population over seven days followed by Vale of Glamorgan with 695.4 and Torfaen with 567.3. Cases for your area.

As of November 18 there were 722 people in general and acute hospital beds with coronavirus (confirmed, suspected, and recovering), a fall on the 744 reported on November 17. There were 59 people in a ventilated intensive care bed with Covid-19 on November 18, a drop on the 60 reported the day before.

Covid booster jabs could be extended to all adults

Covid booster jabs are likely to be offered to all adults eventually, with the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation already considering the issue, the health secretary has suggested.

Sajid Javid urged people aged 40 to 49 to come forward for their third dose of vaccine from Monday, as the offer of a booster is extended to them.

“If it makes sense to go further, we will. The latest data shows that the boosters are immensely effective,” he told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show, stressing that he would follow JCVI advice.

The UK reported 40,004 new cases of Covid on Sunday and 61 deaths within 28 days of a positive test. Just over 450,000 booster jabs were administered, meaning there have been 15m third doses delivered.

The latest data for Wales shows that 2,461,876 people had received one dose of the coronavirus vaccine and 2,255,461 had been given both doses.

To date 685,249 people have received their Covid booster vaccine according to PHW, including three-quarters of care home residents (77.3%) and over 80s (76.2%), over two-thirds of healthcare workers (70.4%) and over half of all care home workers (60.9%).

Big Issue warns of ‘mass homelessness’ amid rising bills and rent arrears

Failing to tackle the £360 million in rent arrears accrued during the pandemic could cost the Government over £2.6 billion because of the danger of “mass homelessness”, ministers are being warned.

The Big Issue said it cost the Government £9,266 for every person made homeless, whereas the price of preventing homelessness was £2,263.

Research from Citizens Advice showed that half a million renters went into arrears during the coronavirus crisis, while a study by the StepChange charity revealed that more than 200,000 people feared losing their homes, the Big Issue said.

The magazine has launched a Stop Mass Homelessness campaign, warning of a pending crisis amid rising energy prices and the impact of ending the £20 uplift in Universal Credit.

Many people are now faced with the choice between keeping warm and putting food on the table, said The Big Issue.

Lord John Bird, founder of The Big Issue, said: “The cost of mass homelessness is too much to pay both financially and societally.

“These figures are astonishing but go to show it is critical we act now to prevent this crisis. Not only can we save the Government and taxpayer over £2 billion, but we would also be preventing 225,000 people from potentially experiencing the awful mental and physical cost that homelessness brings with it.

“For Covid-19’s legacy to be a mass homelessness crisis would be unforgivable. Now is the time to ensure that doesn’t happen. We urge the Government to stop mass homelessness and address the £360 million in rent arrears now, or face a homelessness crisis worse than any in living memory.”

Jon Sparkes, chief executive at the charity Crisis, said: “These figures must act as a wake-up call for the Government. Across the country, households continue to feel the financial pressures of the pandemic and are facing the very real possibility of losing their homes and being left with nowhere to go.

“While the £65 million package of support for renters announced in recent months is welcome, it falls well short of what is desperately needed to prevent further homelessness. If the Government is serious about rebuilding the country after the pandemic, a priority must be ensuring that people can remain in their homes, without fear of eviction.”

A Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokesperson said: “Our action since the start of the pandemic has helped keep people in their homes and we are building on this success by providing over £2 billion in the next three years – including over £800 million this year – to tackle rough sleeping and homelessness.

“Our multi-year funding delivers the certainty our local partners need, while also ensuring those at risk of homelessness can access support. We recently announced a support package worth £65 million, which will be given to councils in England to support people in rent arrears.

“We continue to support those most in need and are projected to spend almost £30 billion supporting people with their housing costs in 2021-22.”

Australia to allow vaccinated students and workers to return

Vaccinated students and skilled workers can come into Australia next week without quarantining as the country relaxes its pandemic restrictions.

From December 1, skilled workers and travellers on working vacations will be allowed to land at Sydney and Melbourne airports without needing to seek exemptions from a travel ban, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday.

The Government expects 200,000 arrivals in the two categories by January, he added.

Mr Morrison said: “The return of skilled workers and students to Australia is a major milestone in our pathway back, it’s a major milestone about what Australians have been able to achieve and enable us to do.”

Vaccinated citizens of Japan and South Korea will also be allowed in without quarantining as well as people on humanitarian visas.

But the government has yet to decide when general tourists will be allowed to return.

“I think Australians are very keen to see us take this step-by-step approach,” Mr Morrison said.

“They’ve been through a lot and they’ve sacrificed a lot to ensure that we can open safely so we can stay safely open,” he added.

While vaccinated travellers will be able to arrive without quarantining in New South Wales and Victoria, Australia’s most populous states, parts of the country with lower vaccination rates still impose pandemic restrictions at state lines.

After a troubled start, Australia’s vaccine rollout has gathered pace. More than 85% of the population aged 16 and older is now fully vaccinated.

Australia first reopened its border to quarantine-free travellers on November 1 – 20 months after some of the most draconian pandemic restrictions adopted by any democratic country.

The first arrivals were restricted to Australian citizens and permanent residents.

The latest change comes as some Australian farmers left fruit and vegetables to rot in fields because the backpackers who provide the seasonal workforce of pickers were absent over the past year.

Universities Australia chief executive Catrina Jackson said her sector lost 1.8 billion Australian dollars (£971,007,00) last year because foreign students were locked out.

“We’ve got 130,000 students waiting to get back into this country. They’ve been so patient and they’ve been so resolute. They’ve been studying online for … almost two years now,” Ms Jackson told Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“Some of them have just got a year left of their degree. It really is time to get them back into the country so they can finish their degree and get on with their lives.”

New Zealand set to ease Covid restrictions

The country is set to adopt a new system of living with coronavirus from December 3, ending tough coronavirus measures and allowing businesses to operate in its biggest city, prime minister Jacinda Ardern has said.

New Zealand has been unable to beat an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant of Covid-19 centred in Auckland, forcing Ardern to abandon her acclaimed elimination strategy and switch to a system of treating the virus as endemic. The country’s biggest city, Auckland, has been in lockdown for more than 90 days.

“Delta is here,” Ardern said on Monday. “I know that there will be some who may have some anxiety about these changes, but I can assure you we will continue to operate in the cautious and careful way that has served us so well … we are fast approaching the next phase in our Covid response that delivers more freedoms.”

“The number one thing every New Zealander can do to prepare for the new system is to get vaccinated,” she said.

Under the new rules, most freedoms will be available to those who are vaccinated – including visiting restaurants, bars, hairdressers and gyms, even at the highest alert levels.

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Source: Einnews

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