Our video team have this report just gone up on the dozens of people who have been killed, with scores more injured, in a fire probably caused by an oxygen tank explosion at a coronavirus hospital in Iraq’s southern city of Nassiriya.
One health worker told Reuters that many patients were trapped in the coronavirus ward, with rescue crews struggling to reach them. The hospital fire was a further blow to Iraq’s healthcare system, already struggling with an influx of patients and short supplies in the midst of the global health crisis.
Thailand has given the go-ahead for home isolation of coronavirus patients with mild symptoms and use of home self-test kits, as a coronavirus outbreak continues to puts pressure on its capital’s healthcare and testing capacity.
The rapid antigen test kits, the approval of which was announced in the official Royal Gazette on Tuesday, should be available in stores next week.
A Food and Drug Administration official said efforts were being made to keep the price of the kits, which are less accurate than RT-PCR tests, at around 100 baht (£2.20).
Reuters report that authorities also approved home and community isolation for asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic coronavirus cases, as daily infections of more than 9,000 stretch resources.
The outbreak was initially fueled by the Alpha variant but 57% of recent cases in Bangkok have been the highly contagious Delta variant, officials say. Thailand has also reported seven cases of suspected mixed infection with the two variants at a Bangkok construction site.
Bank of England lifts Covid restrictions on banks’ shareholder payouts
The Bank of England has lifted all Covid restrictions on dividends at the UK’s largest lenders, paving the way for a boom in payouts even as the pandemic continues.
Officials said banks were strong enough to weather the remainder of the Covid pandemic, and that interim results from the upcoming stress tests – due in December – showed the banking sector “remains resilient” despite continued uncertainty. “Extraordinary guardrails on shareholder distributions are no longer necessary,” the financial policy committee said.
The announcement will be welcomed by shareholders, who have had their payouts curbed for 16 months.
The regulator forced lenders to scrap roughly £8bn worth of dividends as well as share buybacks in March 2020 in the hope of giving banks an additional cushion to weather an economic downturn sparked by the Covid crisis.
Read more of Kalyeena Makortoff’s report here: Bank of England lifts Covid restrictions on banks’ shareholder payouts
‘Mixed advice’ driving Covid vaccine hesitancy in pregnant UK women
Pregnant women are being given dangerously mixed messaging from health professionals, with figures suggesting a “very high” vaccine hesitancy among the vulnerable group, according to campaigners.
Three-quarters of pregnant women in the UK feel anxious about the easing of coronavirus restrictions with many saying the move is like “another lockdown” for expectant mothers, according to a survey of about 9,000 pregnant women by campaigning group Pregnant Then Screwed.
Its founder, Joeli Brearley, who will give evidence on the impact of Covid-19 on new parents to the parliamentary petitions select committee on Wednesday, said pregnant women were the only vulnerable group not to have been prioritised for the vaccine, and misinformation had “spread like wildfire” with many women refusing to be vaccinated as a result. The survey found that 40% have not had a single dose and only 21% have had two doses.
“The idea of ‘freedom day’ is a complete nonsense for hundreds of thousands of pregnant women,” said Brearley. “As people cast off their masks in wild abandon, the majority of pregnant women are being forced into a lockdown of their own.”
The group said it had been inundated with stories of negative messaging given to pregnant women from healthcare professionals.
Read more of Alexandra Topping’s report: ‘Mixed advice’ driving Covid vaccine hesitancy in pregnant UK women
Talking of case numbers in the UK, the latest data on the government’s own dashboard is that in the last seven days:
- There have been 228,189 new cases, a week-on-week rise of 28%
- There have been 200 death, a week-on-week rise of 56%
- 3,081 people have been admitted to hospital, a week-on-week rise of 56%
As ever, depending on where you stand on the lifting of restrictions, it is likely you will either have an eye on cases or hospitalisations as the one true key metric.
In the UK it is chief secretary to the Treasury Stephen Barclay who has been wheeled out today for the media round. Given his brief, he has already stressed the need for businesses to “fire up” as he argued it is a good time to ease coronavirus restrictions, indicating that the government are firmly thinking of the economy rather than caution.
PA report the minister told Sky News: “There’s no perfect time to do this. What we’ve done is deploy the vaccine – an extra seven million – opening when the schools are shut is seen as the optimum time to do so.
“It’s about getting that balance right, people reaching their own judgments, being sensible, following the guidance.
“But we also need to get back to normal, businesses need to fire up, we need to get the economy going, and those are important as well because there are consequences to not doing that, both economically and in terms of people’s health.”
Also worth noting that he began to add some doubt on the government’s previous bullish announcements that any lifting of restrictions in England was irreversible, saying “one never knows” if changes might have to be made again in the future.
As I’ve noted previously in this blog, there’s a school of thought that one of the reasons for dropping the face mask mandate in England from 19 July is that it would be one of the easiest levers for the UK government to reach for if cases numbers continue to rise. “As we promised, we aren’t going back into lockdown but you need to put your masks on once everybody goes back to school for extra protection” is a very plausible future message.
Anne Davies brings us this analysis today of the increasingly difficult position that New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian finds her government in as they try to get to grips with the latest outbreak in Australia:
Only essential workers can leave their homes in greater Sydney to attend work. The rest of us are to remain indoors except for the four reasons to leave, including getting essential supplies.
On Tuesday the rules got tougher for some essential workers. Those living in the Fairfield LGA now should not go to work except “if really essential”. They must have a Covid test every three days. They should carry proof of those tests with them. Presumably the NSW police will be checking.
Other essential workers who live elsewhere and who are travelling outside greater Sydney should get a test every week. That’s after a removalist who later found out he had Covid travelled to Victoria and South Australia. Presumably that means truck-drivers and tradies.
But in a stunning commitment to ideology, the NSW is still stubbornly refusing to define an essential worker – even though there are now likely to be fines associated with breaches.
“To try and define essential work is really very challenging,” said health minister Brad Hazzard. “An employer and their employee would know whether the worker is really essential.”
Asked what an essential worker was, the chief medical officer, Kerry Chant, nominated health workers and aged care but many more are attending work in retail and hospitality venues.
While the Victorian government was prepared to say what it regarded as “essential providers” of services and essential workers, NSW has left a vacuum, with the result that NSW continues to see relatively high numbers of people who are out in the community while infectious.
Read more of Anne Davies’ analysis here: Words fail Berejiklian government as ‘essential’ NSW workers remain a mystery
I worry that if you are reading this blog from outside of England today, some of the political discourse is going to appear very strange indeed following the events that surrounded England’s doomed appearance in the Euro 2020 final at the weekend.
By the way always worth reminding ourselves that the announcements by prime minister Boris Johnson and health secretary Sajid Javid mostly only apply yo England. For the other nations in the UK:
First minister Nicola Sturgeon is expected to make an announcement today at 2pm on whether Scotland is still on track to lift its restrictions.
First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford said the Welsh government will be reviewing the situation on Wednesday.
Northern Ireland plans to further lift some restrictions on 26 July.
Delta surge in UK ‘could leave hundreds of thousands with long Covid’
The decision to lift England’s remaining Covid restrictions next Monday – even as cases of the Delta variant surge around the country – is expected to turbocharge the epidemic and push the nation into what one leading scientist called “uncharted territory” in terms of the numbers of people left suffering from long Covid.
Ministers have been told to expect at least one to two million coronavirus infections in the coming weeks. And while the mass rollout of vaccines – which started with elderly and vulnerable people – will dramatically reduce the proportion who are hospitalised and die, the wave may leave hundreds of thousands of younger people with long-term health problems, researchers have said.
Also known as post-Covid syndrome, long Covid describes more than a dozen symptoms that can endure for months after testing positive for the virus. Many patients experience debilitating fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pains, sleeping difficulties and problems with memory and concentration, often referred to as “brain fog”.
Danny Altmann, a professor of immunology at Imperial College, says evidence from multiple countries now suggests that a significant number of people who get Covid – whether they know they are infected or not – are at risk of developing longer-term illness.
“From every version of Covid we’ve ever seen on the planet, we’ve got a rule of thumb that any case of Covid, whether it’s asymptomatic, mild, severe, or hospitalised, incurs a 10 to 20% risk of developing long Covid, and we haven’t seen any exceptions to that,” he said.
Read more from our science editor Ian Sample: Delta surge ‘could leave hundreds of thousands with long Covid’
Good morning, it is Martin Belam here taking over this leg of the blog in London from my colleague Helen Sullivan. The chairwoman of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges has emphasised “caution is vital” ahead of England’s expected final relaxing of pandemic measures on 19 July.
Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard said the academy did not generally involve itself in public debate, but “we felt it necessary to say caution is vital”.
“We need everyone to think very carefully and responsibly about what they’re doing personally: Just because the law changes doesn’t mean that what we do as individuals has to change,” she told ITV’s Good Morning Britain programme.
“We are strongly encouraging everyone to continue to wear masks in crowded places, keep windows open and use the good weather to ensure good ventilation, and keep washing hands.
PA media report that the GP said the academy felt the standard of hygiene and personal protection needed to be even higher in hospital and social care settings.
“We want everyone to know if you come into a health and care setting you will be asked to wear a mask.”
Prof Stokes-Lampard added that vigilance was required to minimise the current surge in Covid-19 infections, saying: “Just because the law has changed, behaviour does not have to.”
Germany to re-evaluate basing restrictions on case numbers
With Covid cases again on the rise, German officials said on Monday said that authorities need a “broader focus” beyond the country’s infection rate to fully gauge the impact the pandemic is having on the health system and the kind of measures that should be taken.
AP: For much of the past year the incidence rate — how many cases are confirmed per 100,000 people each week — has been key to the government’s decisions over what restrictive measures to impose.
The relevance of that figure is increasingly being called into question by those who argue that a sharp rise in new cases — already seen in other European countries such as Britain and the Netherlands — doesn’t necessarily mean many more seriously ill patients.
“Because the at-risk groups are vaccinated, a high incidence doesn’t automatically mean an equally high burden on intensive care beds,” Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Twitter. “The incidence is increasingly losing significance, we now need more detailed information on the situation in clinics.”
His ministry said that as of Tuesday, hospitals will need to transmit more data on their Covid patients, including names, the type of treatment and their vaccination status.
The government says 58.5% of the population have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 42.6% are fully vaccinated. The number of shots administered daily has dipped slightly in recent days, raising concerns that “vaccine lethargy”.
Germany’s disease control agency said last week that the country should aim to vaccinate 85% of people ages 12-59 and 90% of people over 60 to prevent the delta variant causing a strong resurgence of coronavirus cases this autumn and winter.
South Korea cases top 1,000 for seventh day
South Korea reported 1,150 new coronavirus cases for Monday, the day it implemented the toughest curbs it can apply on residents and business activity in Seoul as the country battles its worst-ever outbreak, spurred by the highly contagious Delta variant.
Data from the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) on Tuesday showed the daily tally topped 1,000 for a seventh consecutive day, though it was below last week’s peak at 1,378.
The latest clusters have seen far fewer serious infections than earlier ones, with many older and more vulnerable South Koreans now vaccinated against the virus. The new cases brought South Korea’s total tally to 170,296, with 2,048 deaths, KDCA data showed.
A mass testing system has helped the country suffer lower Covid death rates than other developed countries so far without severe lockdowns.
But the new wave of infections prompted the government to impose the toughest restrictions yet in capital Seoul and neighbouring areas starting Monday, including a ban on gatherings of more than two people after 6pm.
About 11.6% of the country’s 52 million population has completed vaccination, including receiving both shots for products requiring two doses, while 30.4% have received one dose, according to the KDCA.
WHO appeals for rich countries to donate vaccines rather than using boosters
Top officials at the World Health Organization say there’s not enough evidence to show that third doses of coronavirus vaccines are needed, the Associated Press reports, as they appealed Monday for the scarce shots to be shared with poor countries who have yet to immunise their people instead of being used by rich countries as boosters.
At a press briefing, WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the world’s grotesque vaccine disparity was driven by “greed” as he called on drugmakers to prioritize supplying their Covid-19 vaccines to poor countries instead of lobbying rich countries to use even more doses. His plea comes just as pharmaceutical companies are seeking authorization for third doses to be used as boosters in some Western countries, including the US.
“We are making conscious choices right now not to protect those in need,” Tedros said, adding the immediate priority must be to vaccinate people who have yet to receive a single dose.
He called on Pfizer and Moderna to “go all out to supply Covax, the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team and low and middle-income countries with very little coverage,” referring to the UN-backed initiative to distribute vaccines globally.
After a 10-week drop in global coronavirus deaths, Tedros said the number of Covid patients dying daily is again beginning to climb and that the extremely infectious delta variant is “driving catastrophic waves of cases.”
Both Pfizer and Moderna have agreed to supply small amounts of their vaccines to Covax, but the vast majority of their doses have been reserved by rich countries.
The UN-backed effort has faltered badly in recent months, with nearly 60 poor countries stalled in their vaccination efforts and their biggest vaccine supplier unable to share any doses until the end of the year.
Hello and welcome to today’s live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.
Top officials at the World Health Organization say there’s not enough evidence to show that third doses of coronavirus vaccines are needed and appealed Monday for the scarce shots to be shared with poor countries who have yet to immunise their people instead of being used by rich countries as boosters.
More on that story shortly. In the meantime, here are the other key recent developments:
- France will not allow health workers to go to work and will not pay them if they are not vaccinated against Covid-19 by September 15, the health minister Olivier Veran said.
- Indonesia reported its highest daily number of infections on Monday, with 40,427 cases logged, data from the country’s Covid-19 task force showed.
- South African president Cyril Ramaphosa said that days of protests, looting and riots in the country led to the cancellation of coronavirus vaccination efforts in some parts of the country and could lead to further disruption of the programme just when the country was picking up the pace to inoculate its citizens.
- Vietnam has reported another new record in daily coronavirus infections, with 2,367 cases, its health ministry said.
- The reopening of schools cannot wait for all pupils and teachers to be vaccinated, or for the number of Covid cases to be reduced to zero, the chiefs of Unicef and Unesco have said in a joint statement.
- Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte apologised for relaxing coronavirus restrictions too soon as cases surge in the wake of reopening.
- The number of people who did not have enough food to eat rose steeply during the pandemic to include almost a third of the world, according to a new UN report published on Monday.
- Valencia’s regional government has succeeded in obtaining a court order to authorise lockdowns in more than 30 towns in eastern Spain as cases surge among unvaccinated young people.
- Healthcare workers and nursing home staff in Greece will be required to be vaccinated against Covid, prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has said as infections rapidly soar again after a sustained decline.