New UK Covid variant may be 30% more deadly, says Johnson;
World’s poor need action, not Covid ‘vaccine nationalism’, say experts;
Germany’s Covid death toll exceeds 50,000
The new UK coronavirus variant may be 30% more deadly, Boris Johnson said on Friday as he warned of stricter travel curbs and continued lockdown measures while the infection rate remains “forbiddingly high”.
In findings that dampened hopes of the increasingly prevalent B117 variant becoming less lethal over time, researchers on the government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) concluded that it may increase the death rate by 30%-40%.
Scientists urged tighter controls, and one said the news could take the country “back to square one”. It is also likely to increase the concerns of EU leaders, who were already considering strengthening border measures against the “British mutation”.
Addressing a Downing Street press conference on Friday, the prime minister struck an extremely cautious note when asked about the prospects of any imminent return to normal life, despite the rapid pace of the vaccine programme. One in 10 adults in England had been vaccinated, he said.
“Currently, the rate of infection is forbiddingly high, and I think we have to be realistic about that,” he said. “I think we will have to live with coronavirus in one way or another for a long while to come. I think it is an open question as to when and in what way we can start to relax any of the measures. Obviously, we want to do everything we can to open up but only safely, only cautiously.”Nations outbidding each other creates an ‘immoral race towards the abyss’
Pharmaceutical companies should do more to transfer vaccine technology to prevent the poorest countries falling behind in the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, according to an expert.
The warning came from Dag-Inge Ulstein, the co-chair of the global council trying to speed up access to Covid vaccines for the world’s poor, known as the Act (Access to Covid-19 Tools) Accelerator. Ulstein, Norway’s international development minister, oversees the drive to ensure vaccines reach the poor – the Covax programme.
His remarks were amplified by his global health ambassador, John-Arne Røttingen, who told the Guardian that the battle to create equal access to vaccines was “at a very important turning point”. Other diplomats fear that if the issue of vaccine distribution is not resolved, it will result in years of resentment between rich and poor nations.
Virus fragments detected in Sydney sewage
NSW Health’s sewage surveillance program has recently detected fragments of the virus that causes Covid-19 at two more sewage treatment plants – Liverpool and Glenfield.
The Liverpool waste treatment plant takes in a catchment of close to 180,000 people from the suburbs of Bardia, Hinchinbrook, Hoxton Park, Abbotsbury, Ingleburn, Prestons, Holsworthy, Edmondson Park, Austral, Cecil Park, Cecil Hills, Elizabeth Hills, Bonnyrigg Heights, Edensor Park, Green Valley, Pleasure Point, Casula, Hammondville, Liverpool, Moorebank, Wattle Grove, Miller, Cartwright, Lurnea, Warwick Farm, Chipping Norton, Voyager Point, Macquarie Links, Glenfield, Catherine Field, Gledswood Hills, Varroville, Leppington, West Hoxton, Horningsea Park, Middleton Grange, Len Waters Estate, Carnes Hill, and Denham Court.
People in those areas are being urged to monitor for symptoms.
The state of New South Wales in Australia has recorded no new locally-acquired cases of Covid-19 for the sixth day in a row, and one case in a returned traveller currently in hotel quarantine.
Australia’s shadow health minister, Chris Bowen, has said the prime minister yesterday was “preparing the ground” for the shortage in the Pfizer vaccine, causing delays in the vaccine being delivered into Australia.
He says Australia is at the “back of the queue” when it comes to getting the vaccine, and the prime minister is “walking away” from delivering the vaccine at the end of February.
Bowen has called on the government to secure more vaccines, and ensure the 10m doses of the Pfizer vaccine ordered by the government are delivered.
He has also called on the federal government to take ownership of quarantine.
“It is Scott Morrison’s job. It is one of his key performance indicators, and he is failing on it.”
Bowen said given the more deadly UK variant of Covid-19, and the tens of thousands of Australians stuck overseas, the government should be picking up the slack from the state governments and bring Australians stranded overseas back home.
Germany hits grim milestone, France may need third lockdown and Belgium and Ireland say it is too early to ease restrictions
Germany has passed 50,000 Covid deaths, France was told it may soon need a third national lockdown and Belgium and Ireland warned that it was too early to think about easing restrictions as the pandemic continues to hold Europe in its grip.
The German health minister, Jens Spahn, said on Friday that, despite a slowdown in infections, an extension and intensification of lockdown until late February or early March was essential to prevent a “considerable worsening” of the situation.
The death toll in Germany, which handled the first wave of the pandemic better than most in Europe, has been increasing at an average of 1,000 deaths a day, and on Friday hit 50,642, but, although cases are now falling, Spahn said caution was crucial.
“The numbers of the last few days are encouraging,” he said. “They are going in the right direction. We are seeing the first easing on intensive care wards. But the numbers are still too high, and what we need is to collectively … suppress them.”