Pope Francis condemns people going on holiday to avoid lockdowns
Pope Francis has condemned people who had gone abroad on holiday to escape coronavirus lockdowns, saying they needed to show greater awareness of the suffering of others.
Speaking after his weekly noon blessing, Francis said he had read newspaper reports of people catching flights to flee government curbs and seek fun elsewhere.
“They didn’t think about those who were staying at home, of the economic problems of many people who have been hit hard by the lockdown, of the sick people. (They thought) only about going on holiday and having fun,” the pope said, according to Reuters.
“This really saddened me,” he said in a video address from the library of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.
“We don’t know what 2021 will reserve for us, but what all of us can do together is make a bit more of an effort to take care of each other. There is the temptation to take care only of our own interests,” he added.
The Peak District’s snow-capped hills have been busier this weekend than on summer bank holidays, with many people not only breaking Covid restrictions but putting pressure on the emergency services, local police have complained.
Derbyshire police’s rural crime team said there were more than 200 cars parked at the top of the Snake Pass, one of the trans-Pennine routes between Sheffield and Manchester, as snow fell on Saturday afternoon.
Calling on visitors to “not be stupid”, officers said: “It seems like many didn’t have the common sense to check the forecast, dress themselves suitably, check they had a capable vehicle and/or driving skills, never mind the fact that they perhaps shouldn’t have been stretching the advice given by the government so as not to overburden our NHS.”
“Never mind, though. Just ring the police and expect them to come along with their magical snowmobiles. Of course, with our superpowers we can simultaneously deal with similar situations in the Goyt Valley, Mam Nick, Curbar Gap and others. And we’re Covid-proof, didn’t you know?”
In a Facebook post on Saturday, the team wrote: “Joking aside, please don’t be stupid. It shouldn’t need a greater explanation than that. Hopefully the evening won’t deteriorate into a mass of emergencies. We’ll deal with what we can, but our underpants aren’t on the outside and we can only knock so much common sense back into society.”
Israel said on Sunday 2 million people will have received a two-dose Covid-19 vaccination by the end of January, a pace prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasts is the world’s fastest.
Starting on 19 December, when Netanyahu got his first jab, Israel launched an aggressive push to administer the vaccine made by US-German pharma alliance Pfizer-BioNTech.
Health ministry director general Hezi Levy said that because of the enthusiastic takeup, Israel would be easing the speed of vaccination to eke out stocks.
The vaccine must be given in two separate jabs, administered three weeks apart.
“We are slowing the pace of vaccinations of the first dose, so that we can keep reserved stock for a second dose for all those who got a first shot,” Levy told public broadcaster KAN in remarks reported by AFP.
He added that around a fifth of Israel’s people, starting with health workers and those over 60, would have had both shots by the end of this month. “By the end of January, we shall have inoculated 2 million residents, most of them elderly,” he said.
As of Friday, 1 million people had received their first injection.
“We are breaking all the records,” Netanyahu said Friday, during a visit to the Israeli Arab city of Umm Al-Fahm, where the millionth jab was reported administered.
“We are ahead of the entire world,” he said.
Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England, has spoken to the BBC News channel, saying: “The risk of school closures demands immediate action, and vaccination is part of that defence.”
Schools are facing more pressures because of local infection rates, the new variant and there is some doubt about whether the level of infection is growing in older children, she said.
The increase in vaccines available should potentially help the situation, she added.
On the suggestion that exams should be scrapped for 2021, she said: “This is a crucial time. Some of it will depend on what level of online learning children in exam years can get and whether schools are closed for a period of time.
“Some headteachers talk to me about the potential to move to centre-assessed grades and to have additional safeguards around the robustness of decisions.
“It needs to remain something that is considered as we see how January pans out for children.”
She said that children who have exams this year want “clarity” adding: “Most children I talk to want exams to continue, but clearly they need to be fair.”
Tony Blair calls for introduction of ‘vaccination stations’
Tony Blair has called for the introduction of “vaccination stations” modelled on polling stations as part of a massive effort to accelerate the rollout of the jab, along with cutting limits on pharmacy distribution and using unoccupied office space as places to administer the vaccine.
Among other measures he proposes, the former prime minister also says that a minimum of 30,000 additional vaccinators are needed and suggests a single platform should be adopted for a “Covid pass” that would allow any individual to quickly show their status on testing and whether they have been vaccinated.
“Though it is true that the NHS is doing a herculean effort in vaccinating as many as they have, it is simply not sufficient,” he said.
“We have to treble at least the number of vaccinations by end of January when enough supplies of the vaccine should be available to allow us to do that.”
In Egypt, the government has approved the use of a Covid-19 vaccine developed by the Chinese pharma giant Sinopharm with its rollout to start later in January, the health minister said.
“The Egyptian pharmaceutical authority approved on Saturday the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine,” Hala Zayed said late on Saturday in remarks on the local MBC Masr channel that were reported by AFP.
The first batch of the vaccine was delivered in December, with further doses expected this month.
“The second shipment of this vaccine is due to arrive in the second or third week of January, and as soon as it arrives, we will start vaccinations,” the minister said.
Each batch of the vaccine consists of 50,000 doses, and the ministry has announced that the first group to receive it will be medical workers.
Zayed said Egypt plans to purchase 40m doses of the Sinopharm jab.
Sinopharm announced on Wednesday that one of its vaccines, to be distributed in China, had 79% efficacy.
The jab’s efficacy is lower than that of vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna – which both have more than 90% efficacy.
Egypt will also receive the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine in the third or fourth week of January, according to Zayed, who added that a contract “was being finalised”.
Negotiations with Pfizer “are under way” as well, she added.
Marr uses one of Labour’s preferred criticisms of Johnson – that he has always done “the right thing a few weeks too late”.
“People have always argued that,” Johnson says. “The retro-specto-scope is a magnificent instrument … what we’re doing now is using the tiering system – alas, probably about to get tougher … and we have the prospect of vaccines coming down the track in their tens of millions offering people literally life and hope.”
On the prospect of a new Scottish independence referendum, he says: “Referendums in my experience are not particularly jolly events. They don’t have a notably unifying force in the national mood. They should be only once in a generation.” And that, bar a bit of Brexit chest-thumping, is it.
Marr now goes back into the decisions that led the UK to this point. “The government has taken every possible step that we reasonably could,” Johnson says. “What we could not have foreseen I think reasonably was the arrival of a new variant of the [virus] spreading between 50 and 70% faster … once we did understand that, we took … decisive action.”
Asked why he didn’t follow Sage advice for a circuit-breaker lockdown, Johnson says: “Scientific advisers have said all sorts of different things at different times and they’re by no means unanimous … you could have from March onwards closed down all transmission, the government could have basically pastoralised the British economy … however the damage to people’s mental health, the damage to the long-term prospects of young people growing up in this country, the exacerbation of the gap between rich and poor – that would have been colossal.”
Johnson sets target of tens of millions of vaccinations in next three months
Johnson says that health secretary Matt Hancock is taking steps to get rid of widely-criticised forms which have to be filled out by retired doctors before they can help with the vaccination effort. He describes the forms as “absurd” and “pointless bureaucracy”.
He says he wishes he could elaborate on how the government will reach 2m vaccinations a week but that he is unable to do so yet. He adds: “We do hope that we’ll be able to do tens of millions in the course of the next three months.”
Johnson says he is ‘reconciled’ to prospect of tighter restrictions soon
Marr asks if there may be a tier 5 set of restrictions in the near future. Johnson says that he still expects things to be better by Spring but says: “It may be that we need to do things in the next few weeks that will be tougher in many parts of the country, I’m fully fully reconciled to that.”
He declines to set out what kind of tougher measures might be part of that package and notes that ‘tier 5’ is Marr’s phrase not his.
Johnson points to lateral flow tests – rapid tests that give results in 30 minutes – as being an advantage in the battle to keep schools open as much as possible this time around.
He declines the invitation to guarantee that schools will open on January 18. “Obviously we’re going to continue to assess the impact of the tier four measures, the tier three measures,” he says.
Johnson encourages parents to send children to school where possible
Boris Johnson is now being interviewed by Andrew Marr. He begins by encouraging parents to send children to school tomorrow where schools are open. He adds that the threat to children and staff is “very small”.
On whether more closures will be necessary, he says “we’ve got to keep things under constant review, but we will be driven not by any political considerations but entirely by the public health question.” He also reflects on the effect of school closures on the most deprived families.
In the Japanese capital, Tokyo, officials reported 816 new daily coronavirus cases on Sunday, a day after governors from the capital and neighbouring prefectures called on the Japanese government to announce a state of emergency to combat a recent surge in cases.
Japan’s health ministry said there were 3,045 new confirmed cases of the new coronavirus across the country.
Prime minister Yoshihide Suga has resisted calls for a second national state of emergency; the government first introduced that measure in April during an earlier wave of the pandemic. Suga is scheduled to speak publicly on 4 January.
Japan’s economy minister told reporters on Saturday the government needed to consult with health experts before deciding on a new declaration.
As an interim measure, restaurants and karaoke parlors in the Tokyo area are being asked to close at 8pm, while businesses that serve alcohol should close at pm, he said.
The previous state of emergency relied on voluntary business closings and travel restrictions rather than the sort of rigid lockdown measures seen elsewhere in the world.
Tokyo raised its Covid-19 alert to its highest level on 17 December. New infections in the capital hit a record 1,337 on 31 December.
Since the start of the pandemic, Japan has reported more than 240,000 cases of the novel coronavirus and 3,548 deaths, according to the health ministry.
South Korea says it is containing third wave
In South Korea, a health official said on Sunday that a third wave of the novel coronavirus is being contained, as it reported the lowest number of new infections in nearly four weeks with the help of tougher restrictions during the New Year holiday season.
New cases for Saturday numbered 657, Reuters reported – much lower than 824 the day before, but bringing the country’s total cases to 63,244 with 962 deaths, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
“The latest third wave of coronavirus spread is being contained as a result of expanded Covid-19 testing (recently) and strengthened distancing measures,” Sohn Young-rae, a senior health official, told a briefing.
He said the worst for the country seems to be passing, though added it is premature to say the situation has definitely shifted to a decline, given the decreased testing during the New Year holiday and weekends.
The government decided on Saturday to expand a ban on private gatherings larger than four people to include the whole country, and extend unprecedented social distancing rules in Seoul and neighbouring areas until 17 January.
The mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has warned it could be a “chaotic situation” on Monday with the return to school of most primary children in England.
He told the BBC’s Breakfast programme: “There are many parents in Greater Manchester waking up quite anxious this morning, teachers as well of course and support staff in schools, and children.
“So there’s a lot of people who are worried about what’s happening and I think the really important thing is this doesn’t become a big political row today.
“What we need to find is a practical way through all of this. I would say that the current course is not going to work.”
He added: “It will be quite a chaotic situation tomorrow, I think, given all of the anxieties that people have.”
Thailand’s government held off from ordering new nationwide business shutdowns on Sunday amid a new wave of coronavirus cases, Reuters reported, but empowered some provincial governors to set their own restrictions and pleaded with the public not to travel.
Thailand, which had largely controlled the virus by mid-2020, saw a second wave of outbreaks beginning in December.
On Sunday, it confirmed 315 new coronavirus cases, the majority of which are from local transmission, bringing its total to 7,694 cases and 64 deaths since its first case last January.
The country also reported its first known case of a more contagious variant of the coronavirus called B.1.1.7 on Sunday, Yong Poovorawan, a senior virologist from Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, said in a post on his official Facebook page.
The variant was found in a family of four who were in quarantine after arriving in Thailand from the UK, and Yong said there is no risk of that variant being spread in Thailand.
The government Covid-19 taskforce had earlier designated 28 provinces, including Bangkok, as high risk zones and recommended suspension of some businesses and crowded activities in those area that pose infection risks to the public.
The measures, which still need final approval from prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, will empower provincial governors to suspend businesses and other activities if there is a risk of infection, Taweesin Wisanuyothin, a spokesman for Thailand’s Covid-19 taskforce said.
Good morning and welcome to the Guardian’s rolling coverage of coronavirus in the UK and around the world.
In Britain this morning, Boris Johnson is due to be interviewed by Andrew Marr for the BBC. He’ll face what is likely to be a testing encounter, his first one-to-one interview since the government changed its guidance over Christmas and as case numbers continue to rise.
The Sunday newspapers are leading on coverage of the vaccine rollout and the battle over reopening of schools, with my Observer colleagues Michael Savage and Donna Ferguson reporting:
Elsewhere, India authorized the AstraZeneca vaccine for use as well sa one developed by Indian company Bharat Biotech. Russia has just reported another 24,150 coronavirus cases and 504 deaths in the last 24 hours, slightly fewer cases but more deaths than yesterday. Germany, meanwhile, reported 10,315 new cases, and 312 deaths.
We’ll bring you all the developments as they happen.