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Britain’s daily Covid cases jump by 10% to highest level in a month

Daily Covid cases in the UK rose again today after a small blip yesterday but hospital admissions have fallen and deaths remain flat, as the epidemic becomes increasingly unpredictable.

There were 46,807 positive tests in the last 24 hours, according to the Department of Health, which is the highest number since October 22 and a 10 per cent increase on last Thursday. 

Infections have increased week-on-week on seven of the previous eight days, following the return of schools from half-term at the start of the month. 

There were also 199 coronavirus deaths registered today, marking a 2 per cent increase on last week’s toll. Latest hospital data shows there were 799 admissions on November 14, down 9 per cent in a week. 

The Government has not put a threshold on the number of daily hospital admissions it is willing to tolerate before rolling back restrictions. But one of its top scientific advisers, ‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson suggested last month that figure could be 1,200. 

It comes after Britain’s largest symptom-tracking study found the number of people falling ill with the virus every week fell by a tenth last week. 

Professor Tim Spector, the eminent King’s College London scientist who runs the study, said he was ‘cautiously optimistic’ restrictions will not be needed at Christmas

Fears of Christmas curbs were raised this week when Boris Johnson admitted the draconian action was not off the cards. 

The Prime Minister pointed to spiralling waves of infection across Europe, which have sent nations scuttling back into lockdowns, as a sign of what could happen here and urged people to get their booster vaccines.

Belgium’s Prime Minister today said Europe was on ‘red alert’ as he imposed tough restrictions, ordering people to work at home for at least four days a week. In Austria, all unvaccinated people were ordered to stay in their homes and both Germany and Italy are considering similar health apartheids.

Professor Spector said: ‘In terms of what it means for Christmas, I’m cautiously optimistic for the remainder of the year. It’s becoming clear that children and the school holidays play a key role in the waves of infection. 

‘I think it’s safe to say that we can expect to see another rise in the new year after the holidays.’ But he still called on all Britons to get fully vaccinated against the virus, as well as ensuring they have their booster doses.

And he urged everyone to start using face masks in crowded spaces such as public transport. This was a softening of his tone from barely three weeks ago when he warned ministers should consider Plan B.

Better than a vaccine? AstraZeneca’s antibody drug slashes risk of Covid by 83% for over 6 months

An antibody drug developed by AstraZeneca cuts the risk of falling ill with Covid by more than 80 per cent, according to trial data which suggests it could offer longer-lasting immunity than the drug giant’s jab. 

The cocktail, which is equally effective when given as a preventative or a treatment, offers hope to elderly and vulnerable people who respond less well to vaccines.

AstraZeneca today published results from a six-month study of its Evusheld therapy, delivered as two injections at the same time. 

A single course offered 83 per cent protection against symptomatic Covid after six months in unvaccinated vulnerable people.

This is much higher than current vaccines, which are given as two doses and wane significantly within months. 

AstraZeneca’s own jab falls to just 40 per cent protection against symptoms at six months, and Pfizer and Moderna’s drop to around 60 per cent.

The phase III study of Evusheld tested the cocktail on people with medical problems or conditions which put them at risk of not responding to vaccines. 

Professor Spector’s symptom study relies on daily reports from more than 750,000 Britons on whether they are feeling unwell and if they test positive for Covid.

It is based on self-reporting and dose not ask participants to give evidence of their symptoms. The latest estimates used 40,000 tests for the virus over the fortnight to November 13.  

Mr Johnson said earlier this week that it still was not possible to rule out some Covid restrictions being reimposed.

He told a Downing Street press conference: ‘Clearly we cannot rule anything out and the most important thing people can do to prevent further NPIs from being taken is to — non-pharmaceutical interventions that is, further restrictions — get the boosters.’

But he added there was still nothing in the data to suggest further restrictions were needed. Scientists fear further Covid measures may be needed if a new variant emerges that is more transmissible and better able to dodge vaccine-triggered immunity.

Last winter the Kent ‘Alpha’ variant triggered a spike in Covid cases, leading to Christmas day plans being thrust into chaos at the last minute.   

Professor Spector also warned officials would need to keep an eye on the virus for another five years, raising the possibility of more restrictions possibly being introduced for years to come. 

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) — which took over from the now defunct Public Health England — will publish its Covid surveillance report later today.

Meanwhile, AstraZeneca announced its new antibody drug cuts the risk of falling ill with Covid by more than 80 per cent, which suggests it could offer longer-lasting immunity than the drug giant’s jab.

The cocktail, which is equally effective when given as a preventative or a treatment, offers hope to elderly and vulnerable people who respond less well to vaccines.

AstraZeneca today published results from a six-month study of its Evusheld therapy, delivered as two injections at the same time. 

A single course offered 83 per cent protection against symptomatic Covid after six months in unvaccinated vulnerable people. 

King's College London scientists estimated 65,059 people were falling ill with the virus on any given day in the week to November 13, down from 72,546 previously. This was a dip of 10% and down for the third week in a row

King’s College London scientists estimated 65,059 people were falling ill with the virus on any given day in the week to November 13, down from 72,546 previously. This was a dip of 10% and down for the third week in a row 

This is much higher than current vaccines, which are given as two doses and wane significantly within months. 

AstraZeneca’s own jab falls to just 40 per cent protection against symptoms at six months, and Pfizer and Moderna’s drop to around 60 per cent.

The phase III study of Evusheld tested the cocktail on people with medical problems or conditions which put them at risk of not responding to vaccines.

Patients undergoing chemotherapy, which reduces the effectiveness of the body’s immune system, or taking immunosuppressive drugs following an organ transplant are among those who don’t always get the full protection from jabs. 

In a separate study, which gave the cocktail to people after they caught Covid, it was shown to reduce the risk of severe illness by 88 per cent. Experts hope it will protect against hospitalisations and deaths for up to 18 months.

Britain is believed to have a million doses of Evusheld on order. But it is unclear how much the therapy will cost.

The US has invested £350million in supporting the research and manufacturing of the drug and has secured 100,000 doses, with the option to purchase up to 1m. 

Europe on ‘red alert’ for Christmas lockdown: Austria sees record cases despite Covid apartheid, Germany braces for a ‘really terrible’ winter and Belgium enforces work from home as infections explode across continent

Europe is facing another Christmas under lockdown with cases soaring across the region amid warnings ‘all alarm signals are red’ across the continent.

The WHO warned Europe was the only region in the world where deaths had increased – with fatalities spiking by five percent on the Continent this week.

Belgium’s Prime Minister today said Europe was on ‘red alert’ as he imposed tough restrictions, ordering people to work at home for at least four days a week.

In Austria, Covid cases have continued rising after two million unvaccinated people were ordered to stay in their homes on Monday – with other European countries including Germany and Italy considering similar health apartheids. 

Germany has seen a record-breaking number of cases, with 68,366 new infections on Thursday – a colossal 40 percent rise on the same day last week.

Now the country is considering following Vienna by imposing a ‘lockdown for the unvaccinated’, with Italy and Greece also considering a similar health apartheid.

The Czech Republic has already followed Austria’s lead by announcing a lockdown of its 4.25 million citizens who have refused the jab. 

As Europe braced for Christmas under lockdown:

  • Germany’s hospitals are buckling under the strain, with patients transferred to Italy because the wards are full;
  • Russian Covid cases hit record highs for the second-day running amid poor vaccine uptake with just 43 percent of the population double-jabbed;
  • Ireland has ordered a midnight curfew for all nightclubs and pubs; 
  • Germany’s disease control agency warned of a ‘really terrible Christmas’;
  • Virologists in the Netherlands proposed extending Christmas holidays to slow surging cases among children amid the highest cases on record today;
  • Spain’s Benidorm beach resort, popular with British partygoers, has opened a Covid vaccine centre to counter surging cases.
Austria's Covid cases have continued to soar even after lockdown was imposed on 2million unvaccinated people earlier this week

Austria’s Covid cases have continued to soar even after lockdown was imposed on 2million unvaccinated people earlier this week

Eastern Europe is continent’s excess deaths capital because of lagging Covid vaccine rollouts 

Western Europe is no longer the continent’s capital for excess deaths, official data shows with Eastern European countries now taking up that mantle.

While countries like the UK, Spain, Italy and Belgium bore the brunt of fatalities early in the pandemic, the crisis has slowly shifted East, to nations like Poland, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic.

A major analysis by the Office for National Statistics looked at excess deaths — the number of fatalities from all causes above the five-year average — on the continent from the start of Covid to mid-2021.

It found that nearly every corner of Europe has suffered well above average excess deaths at some point, either due to coronavirus itself or the knock-on effects of lockdowns.

There are a few exceptions, namely the Scandinavian nations which have kept case rates and excess deaths low, excluding anti-lockdown Sweden.

In the UK, 120,000 more people have died than usual so far during the pandemic with a significant spike in non-Covid deaths in people’s homes. It has been referred to by experts as a ‘silent crisis’.

The ONS’ interactive map shows trends in excess deaths have followed the trajectory of Covid waves. Western countries were hit hardest early in the pandemic because of their close proximity to Italy, the continent’s original epicentre. Most of these were Covid, even if a lack of testing in the early days did not pick up on all of them.

But there has been a shift in the first half of 2021 after wealthy EU members stocked up on vaccine supplies and squashed Covid death rates.

It is no coincidence that Eastern European nations — where uptake of the jabs remain low — made up seven of the 10 countries with the highest excess death rates by June this year.

Austria reported 15,145 cases on Thursday, a new one-day record for the pandemic and well above the previous record of 9,586 that was logged a year ago.

The hardest-hit region has been Upper Austria, where the governor today called for restrictions on the un-jabbed to be scrapped – but only so that a full nationwide lockdown can be imposed instead.

Thomas Stelzer, speaking ahead of a government summit on Covid measures tomorrow, said that if no nationwide lockdown is ordered then he will lock down his province independently.  

Mr Stelzer said the lockdown would last ‘several weeks’ and would be coordinated with neighbouring Salzburg province, whose governor also confirmed a lockdown is being prepared.

‘This absolutely necessary measure… will hopefully help to significantly bring down the daily growth figures. This was not the case with the previous measures,’ he told local newspaper Kurier.

‘The measures from next week will certainly be very drastic. But we need them so that we can save our health and soon find a free life again.’

The Austrian government has drawn heavy criticism for its decision earlier this week to lock down just the two million people in the country who have opted not to have a Covid jab, confining them to their homes except for essential business.

It was quickly dubbed a ‘health apartheid’ by critics, who said it is ‘unenforceable’, disproportionate, and amounts to forcing people to undergo a medical procedure.

But it did appear to produce results, with hundreds of thousands of queuing up to get vaccines this week – with the highest number of jabs issued since the summer.

Austria’s booming infections comes amid a new wave of Covid across Europe that has seen infection rise sharply across the continent as government scramble to find the best way to respond.

Countries with low vaccination rates have been the hardest-hit, with Latvia – on 55 per cent of people fully jabbed – going into full lockdown last month.

The Czech Republic – 58 per cent fully vaccinated – followed Austria’s lead this week by announcing a lockdown on just those who had refused the jab.

Italy and Greece are considering similar measures, while France has pointed out that unvaccinated people are driving the new wave without saying what it will do.

Germany has also begun restricting life for unvaccinated people by expanding its use of Covid passports to almost all businesses and public spaces while tightening the evidence required to get a pass.

Previously, people could provide either evidence of vaccination, evidence of an infection, or a negative test to get a pass.

Deaths from Covid are not year at the levels they reached during the second wave, but are rising rapidly and driving fears over the winter wave

Deaths from Covid are not year at the levels they reached during the second wave, but are rising rapidly and driving fears over the winter wave

But under new rules being imposed in many states, only evidence of vaccination or a previous infection is being accepted.

On Thursday, German lawmakers approved new measures which would require employees to prove they are vaccinated, recently recovered from COVID-19 or have tested negative for the virus in order to access communal workplaces; a similar rule will apply to public transport.  

The measures passed in the Bundestag with votes from the center-left Social Democrats, the environmentalist Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats. The three parties are currently negotiating to form a new government. 

The measures need to be approved by Germany’s upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat, which could happen Friday. 

It comes as Lothar Wieler, director of German disease control agency the Robert Koch Institute, warned the country faces a ‘really terrible Christmas’ unless tough new rules are brought in now. 

‘We are currently heading toward a serious emergency,’ he said. ‘We are going to have a really terrible Christmas if we don’t take countermeasures now.’ 

In Belgium, all people in indoor venues such as cafes and restaurants will need to wear a mask unless seated and the rule will apply to those aged 10 or older. The previous age threshold was 12.

Nightclubs may have to test their guests if they want to let them dance mask-free. People wanting to eat in a restaurant or go to the theatre already must present a COVID pass, showing vaccination, a negative test or recent recovery.

Most Belgians will also have to work from home four days a week until mid-December, and for three days after that.

Belgium has one of the highest cases per capita rates in the European Union, behind only the Baltic and former Yugoslav nations and Austria, at around one per hundred people over the past 14 days, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

‘The alarm signals are all red,’ prime minister Alexander De Croo told a news conference. ‘We had all hoped to have a winter without coronavirus, but Belgium is not an island.’

The new restrictions are still milder than the lockdown imposed on the unvaccinated in Austria and the shortening of bar and restaurant opening hours in the Netherlands.

De Croo said Belgium planned to give booster jabs, currently limited mostly to the elderly, to the wider population.

Belgium’s infections spike has been sharpest in the northern region Flanders, where vaccination rates are higher, prompting eased restrictions in October.

The warning comes as a hospital in Bavaria’s Freising last week made the unprecedented decision to transfer a Covid-19 patient to northern Italy because it ‘had no more capacity to receive them, and the surrounding hospitals were also full.’ 

A fourth ferocious wave has sent infections to record highs in Europe’s biggest economy, putting hospitals also hit by the double whammy of a shortfall of personnel under immense strain.

German authorities have blamed the latest surge in infections on the unvaccinated, more than 30 per cent of the population, and pleaded with people to get the jab.   

It comes as Austria this week confined some 2million unvaccinated people to their homes amid soaring cases, a move the Czech Republic will introduce from Monday and both Italy and Germany have said they are considering.  

Cases are rapidly rising across the country and have hit record levels in recent weeks as a relatively low jab rate and slow booster drive combined to speed up infections

Cases are rapidly rising across the country and have hit record levels in recent weeks as a relatively low jab rate and slow booster drive combined to speed up infections

Deaths are nowhere near the levels seen during the first and second wave of Covid, but have started to climb rapidly amid fears they could soon top the previous peaks

Deaths are nowhere near the levels seen during the first and second wave of Covid, but have started to climb rapidly amid fears they could soon top the previous peaks

German lawmakers are debating measures Thursday that would replace the nationwide epidemic rules, which will expire at the end of the month.

The Robert Koch Institute today said 65,371 newly confirmed cases were reported in a single day, continuing the upward trend that experts have been warning about for weeks. 

Wieler warned that hospitals across Germany are struggling to find beds for Covid-19 patients and those with other illnesses. 

He also called for the closure of clubs and bars, an end to large-scale events and access to many parts of public life to be limited to those with vaccine or recovery certificates. 

Germany’s vaccination rate stands at 67.7 per cent but some regions have jab take-up as low as 57.6 per cent. Wieler said the country needs to increase its vaccination rates to significantly above 75 per cent.  

Chancellor Angela Merkel made a new plea on Wednesday for the unvaccinated to get jabbed, saying ‘when enough people are vaccinated, that is the way out of the pandemic’.

In a bid to get more to take the jab, Germany’s parliament is poised to vote through new regulations for more curbs on the unvaccinated.

Under proposals drafted by the three parties in talks to form Germany’s new government, unvaccinated people will soon have to produce a negative test to use public transport or go to the office. 

Through the highs and lows spanning 18 months of the pandemic, Germany had on many occasions taken in patients from neighbouring countries as hospitals elsewhere ran out of space.  

While the absolute number of patients in intensive care still lies below the peak a year ago, this time around, hospitals are also ailing from the double whammy of a shortfall in personnel that has seriously hampered their ability to cope. 

The medical director at the hospital in Freising, Thomas Marx, 43, said: ‘Last week, on Wednesday or Thursday, we had to transfer a patient by helicopter to Merano.

‘We had no more capacity to receive them, and the surrounding Bavarian hospitals were also full,’ he said.

The hospital also had to send another patient to another Bavarian town Regensburg over the weekend.

‘We are at the limits of our capacity, which is why we have to resort to these means,’ he said.

Marx’s service is handling 13 intensive care cases at the moment, three more than it has capacity for. Five of them are coronavirus patients, all of whom are unvaccinated.

At the intensive care unit of Munich Clinic Schwabing, senior doctor Niklas Schneider voiced frustration over vaccine resistance in some quarters.

‘I find it really astonishing that vaccination is not accepted by the masses even though we have the possibility to get it. It is not completely understandable to me that so many people are allowing themselves to be misled by some horror stories about vaccines,’ he said.

There were 7,815 new Covid-19 cases in Italy on Tuesday, an increase of 28 per cent on the same day last week

There were 7,815 new Covid-19 cases in Italy on Tuesday, an increase of 28 per cent on the same day last week

There were 74 new deaths in Italy on Tuesday, a rise of 9 per cent on the same day last week

There were 74 new deaths in Italy on Tuesday, a rise of 9 per cent on the same day last week 

Like the hospital in Freising, the Munich clinic is at full capacity.

‘The team is holding on, but we are incredibly frustrated… because at the end of the day we are the last resort for everything that is wrong with society as a whole,’ said Schneider.

‘The sick people who come to us, who are in mortal danger, we have to treat them, they need help. It doesn’t matter if they were previously anti-Corona, anti-vaccine or double-vaccinated, although we don’t have any of the latter in the ward.’

Besides the relatively low vaccine take-up compared to other parts of western Europe, health staff also complain that more should also have been done to bolster their capacity.

Only one in four German hospitals are able to maintain a regular intensive care service at the moment, said Spiegel magazine. Many others say that beyond demand, a major problem is an acute shortage of trained personnel.

Already a chronic problem before the pandemic, long hours, low pay and stress during the coronavirus crisis have only served to put even more people off a job in the healthcare sector.

Schneider noted that there are now far fewer health workers than in the first wave. Likewise, his colleague in Freising voiced ‘incomprehension’ over the latest crisis.

‘I admire the calmness with which the staff operate, with which we face this new challenge with such professionalism,’ Marx said. ‘But I also know that some people, inside, are boiling, even if they don’t let it spill out.’ 

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