Covid news – live: Javid ‘optimistic’ rules will end next week, as variants predicted to become ‘less severe’

US yet to reach ‘national peak’ of Omicron wave, says Surgeon General

Health secretary Sajid Javid has said he is “cautiously optimistic” that the UK’s coronavirus restrictions will be eased from next week.

The Tory frontbencher told the Commons on Tuesday that the measures, imposed last year to combat the spread of the Omicron variant, will not be in force “a day longer than they are absolutely necessary”.

The comment comes amid a sharp decline in UK Covid-19 cases , with the World Health Organisation predicting that the end of Britain’s pandemic is “not far away”.

However, the global health body has warned that there will be “more variations and mutations” and “further challenges” ahead.

Meanwhile, Professor Andrew Hayward, an epidemiologist who advises the UK government on science, has expressed hope that future variants will be “less severe”, if more transmissible like Omicron.

On the other side of the world, Australia has recorded its deadliest day since the start of the pandemic, with 74 deaths recorded nationwide in the last 24 hours.


Pier Corbyn faces May trial over anti-lockdown protests

Piers Corbyn will face trial in May charged with breaching Covid-19 restrictions during a series of anti-lockdown protests in central London.

The 74-year-old appeared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday charged with five counts of holding a gathering and five counts of participating in a gathering of more people than restrictions allowed at the time.

The charges relate to five separate incidents in Trafalgar Square or within the City of Westminster between August 29 and December 31 2020.

Fellow protesters Vincent Dunmall, 55, and Louise Creffield, 35, also appeared in court charged with four counts of holding a gathering and four counts of participating in a gathering that breached restrictions on four occasions between August 29 and November 28 2020.

All three defendants’ lawyers argued that prosecutors made several failings during the evidence disclosure process.

They included failing to hand the defence teams video footage in a format that allowed them time to review it effectively before trial, the court heard.

Richard Parry, defending Corbyn, told the court it was “simply impossible” for proceedings to go ahead in the next few days.

Asked by District Judge Timothy Godfrey if any other evidence could be heard this week, prosecutor Flora Page agreed with the defence, saying: “Realistically I do not see how this trial can go ahead under these circumstances.”

District Judge Godfrey adjourned the trial until May 17.

Matt Mathers18 January 2022 13:18

Sweden scraps Covid test requirement for travellers

Travellers arriving in Sweden will no longer have to show proof of a recent negative coronavirus test, the government has said.

The policy was introduced on 28 December to halt the fast spread of the Omicron variant.

“Travelers are no longer considered to pose a particular risk of affecting the spread of Omicron in Sweden,” the government said on Tuesday.

Although Sweden has seen record numbers of daily infections recently, its vaccine rollout means the infections have not put as much strain on health services as earlier Covid-19 waves.

Rory Sullivan18 January 2022 13:00

Omicron measures set to be eased next week, says Javid

Coronavirus restrictions introduced to stem the spread of the Omicron variant could end next week, Sajid Javid has said.

The health secretary said he was “cautiously optimistic” that this could happen after it appeared infections and hospitalisations had peaked.

“I have always said that these restrictions should not stay in place a day longer than they are absolutely necessary,” Javid told MPs on Tuesday.

Rory Sullivan18 January 2022 12:39

Two of Pope’s closest aides contract coronavirus

Two of the Pope Francis’ closest aides have tested positive for Covid-19, the Vatican has said.

Secretary of state Cardinal Pietro Parolin and his deputy, Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra, are both quarantining in their residences.

It is unclear when they last had contact with the 85-year-old pontiff.

Rory Sullivan18 January 2022 12:31

Covid-19 variants could become less severe, say experts

Future Covid-19 variants could be less severe than previous ones, experts have predicted.

Professor Andrew Hayward, an epidemiologist at UCL who advises the UK government, said it “doesn’t do the virus any good” to increase its severity.

“In fact, it looks like the Omicron variant, by becoming more transmissible, that it’s also become less severe, and we would hope that’s the general direction of travel,” he told Times Radio.

His comment comes as health experts have said the end of Britain’s pandemic is not far away, with cases dropping by more than 40 per cent in a week.

“I think it is genuinely an optimistic picture, but we’re still not quite there yet,” Prof Hayward said.

Rory Sullivan18 January 2022 12:18

Sturgeon to reveal if restrictions will be relaxed further

Nicola Sturgeon will later reveal if coronavirus restrictions in Scotland are set to be relaxed further as she faces demands to lift almost all restrictions by the end of the month.

On Monday 60,000 football fans swarmed into Celtic Park to see the Hoops beat Hibs in the first match to be held with a large crowd in weeks, as Scotland continued to loosen restrictions introduced as the mutant Omicron variant swept the country, but pressure is mounting on the First Minister to go further in her statement to MSPs later on Tuesday.

A decision is expected to be made on current restrictions on hospitality and leisure venues later, but Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, called on the First Minister to scrap restrictions apart from mask rules.

Matt Mathers 18 January 2022 12:05

UK wins court appeal over contract linked to ex-PM aide Cummings

Britain’s government has won its bid to overturn a ruling that it acted unlawfully when it gave a contract to a public relations firm run by associates of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser, Dominic Cummings.

A Court of Appeal ruling published on Tuesday overturned a decision made in June which said the government had shown “apparent bias” in awarding more than 560,000 pounds ($794,000) to Public First to test public opinion on the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The appeal court ruling set out that a fair-minded and reasonably informed observer would not have concluded that failing to carry out comparative procurement exercises created a possibility that the decision-maker was biased.

Nor, the ruling said, would an observer have concluded, given the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, that the absence of any formal record of the decision-making process was indicative of apparent bias.

Public First is run by James Frayne and Rachel Wolf, both of whom previously worked with Cummings and senior minister Michael Gove. Cummings quit as Johnson’s chief adviser in Nov. 2020.

Matt Mathers18 January 2022 11:50

Watch live as Sajid Javid takes questions from MPs on Covid recovery

Watch live as Sajid Javid takes questions from MPs on Covid recovery
Matt Mathers18 January 2022 11:40

Russia records 1,682 Omicron cases, deputy PM says

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova said on Tuesday that Russia had so far recorded 1,682 cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant across 42 regions, as authorities brace for a significant rise in infections.

Omicron has pushed COVID-19 case figures to record highs in parts of western Europe and the United States but the variant has been slower to hit Russia, where daily COVID cases have fallen from a peak of 41,335 registered in early November.

Matt Mathers18 January 2022 11:37

Japan sees record 27,000 COVID-19 cases as government mulls curbs

Japan’s new COVID-19 cases jumped to a record on Tuesday, local media reported, as the government considered expanding measures to contain the infectious Omicron coronavirus variant.

The country had more than 27,000 new cases, broadcaster TBS said, exceeding the previous high seen in August shortly after Tokyo hosted the Summer Olympics.

The western prefecture of Osaka posted a record 5,396 new cases, while Tokyo had 5,185, the highest since Aug. 21.

Matt Mathers18 January 2022 11:20

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