On Saturday, cases of the new Covid-19 variant virus were confirmed in several European countries, including Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Both were linked to individuals who had arrived from the UK.
Japan, meanwhile, has announced that it is banning all new entries from foreign nationals from Monday following the discovery of the variant in UK travelers.
The news came at the same time as tier 4 conditions, England’s strictest Covid standard, were imposed on them on Boxing Day by another six million people in east and south-east England. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, too, lockdowns were introduced. In England, about 24 million people, more than 40 percent of the population, are now living in Tier 4, as the pressure for the entire country to be classified in this group rises.
Scientists from the Independent Sage community have urged that tier 4 be imposed in all regions of England, suggesting that non-essential stores, hairdressers, and leisure and entertainment venues would close. Devolved nations have been urged to put forward national lockdowns of their own. Tier 4 should include increased travel controls, the group said, arguing that in January and February, an emergency plan must be implemented to allow for safe education.
This principle is backed by teaching unions, which have requested that schools be kept closed by the government as evidence has emerged that the latest form of the virus is especially contagious among children.
Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, has endorsed this argument.
“If the increase in this age group is behind this new variant, then that is a big concern,” he said.
This weekend, France announced that it had discovered the first case of the new variant: a French citizen who, according to health authorities, arrived in Tours after traveling from London a week ago.
In Madrid, three cases of the latest variant recently discovered in the country were confirmed by Spanish officials involving relatives of a man who had arrived from the UK on Christmas Eve, while the fourth case also involved a UK traveller. It was confirmed that none of the patients were critically ill.
On Saturday, in the UK, the NHS announced that a further 161 individuals who had tested positive for Covid-19 had died. The patients were between the ages of 44 and 100 and all, except for eight, had documented underlying health problems. The figure brings to 48,311 the total number of confirmed Covid recorded deaths in hospitals in England.
Numbers of cases are increasing across the world, particularly among young people, as the coronavirus variant continues to spread rapidly. At the end of last week, a daily rate of 32,725 cases was reported, a 46.6 percent increase on the previous week.
For the medical authorities to declare their approval of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, pressure is mounting. The United Kingdom has agreed to purchase 100 million doses, and last week Prof. Sir John Ball of Oxford University, a member of the government’s official Sage advisory committee, said he was anticipating “just after Christmas” approval from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency of the world.
The news would offer much needed hope that vaccines would be made available fast enough to avoid the recent dramatic increase in cases of Covid-19. Nevertheless, acceptance would also raise serious headaches concerning the distribution of doses. Since 8 December, more than 600,000 have been administered to date, but scientists have warned that more than a million individuals would have to be inoculated every week in order to get infections under control in the immediate future.
Tom Sasse, associate director at the Government Institute, called for a national discussion on the prioritization of citizens obtaining vaccines. “A lot of the really vulnerable will have been vaccinated by mid-January, but then you will have this very large group of 60- to 75-year-olds who will not have been vaccinated,” he told the Observer. “Many in the NHS say they are not the most likely to die, but our wards could still be filled up.”
Despite this, Helen Buckingham, director of policy at the Nuffield Trust, said the launch of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine would definitely be a game-changer. “The primary constraint will then become staffing,” she said.
At the moment, vaccination is carried out by primary care professionals, and they handle it alongside their other workloads. But you will need more staff when you start setting up mass vaccination centers, and NHS England has confirmed that they will do that.
Buckingham said the NHS was trying to ensure that staff were in position to deliver the vaccines and help those receiving them, with an aim of looking for around 40,000 workers. She said, “It’s not just a case of putting the needle in.” “People need to have proper vaccine information in advance, be observed afterwards, and so on.”
The abysmal public rating of Boris Johnson appears to have bottomed out against the backdrop of increasingly increasing infection rates. The prime minister’s approval rating is now -6 percent (38 percent support, 44 percent disapprove), compared to -8 percent two weeks earlier, according to the new Opinium survey for the Observer.
By comparison, the net rating of opposition leader Keir Starmer has sustained a steady positive rating, showing a rise of +12 percent from +9 percent since he was last ranked in a survey.
In terms of Covid results, only two other major politicians were given good ratings: Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham at +11 percent and Chancellor Rishi Sunak at +27 percent.
A net negative rating was given to any other major politician whose opinions were checked for the poll, with the home secretary, Priti Patel, coming down at -19%.