Covid live: France announces boosters for all adults and stricter mask rules; EU approves Pfizer jab for children aged five to 11

1 week ago

Travellers within EU should get Covid booster to avoid testing and quarantine, says executive

Jennifer Rankin

The European Union executive has proposed that travellers should get a booster jab nine months after their original vaccines, if they want to maintain ease of movement inside the bloc.

The European Commission said there should be a standard nine-month acceptance period for vaccines across the bloc, in a bid to avoid a confusing hodgepodge of rules across the 27 member states. Travellers moving within the EU should get a booster jab after nine months in order to avoid testing and quarantine.

The Commission is expected to propose similar measures for travellers coming into the EU later on Wednesday. The nine-month period reflects scientific advice that the first round of vaccines wanes after six months, adding three months to allow governments to get booster-shot programmes up and running.

Both draft laws would have to be approved by EU member states before entry into force, which is expected in 2022.

Didier Reynders, the EU commissioner for justice, described the policy as a move to a person-based approach, rather than classifying travellers purely by their country of departure.

Our main objective is to avoid diverging measures throughout the EU. This also applies to the question of boosters, which will be essential to fight the virus. Among other measures, we propose today that the council [of EU ministers] agrees on a standard validity period for vaccination certificates issued following the primary series. Agreeing on this proposal will be crucial for the months ahead and the protection of the safe free movement for citizens.

Under the plans, cross-border commuters, lorry drivers and children under 12 would continue to be exempt from travel rules, although the list of exempt groups has been reduced.

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, urged European citizens to get vaccinated, after EU health agencies recommended booster jabs earlier this week as part of a strategy to stem a surge in infections.

Von der Leyen, a trained medical doctor, said:

A quarter of EU adults are still not fully vaccinated. If you are unvaccinated, you are more at risk of having severe COVID-19 symptoms. Vaccination protects you, and the others.

Updated at 8.11am EST

What is driving Europe’s surge in Covid cases? Here’s a video to explain:

What is driving Europe's surge in Covid cases? – video explainer

Some hospitals in the Netherlands have stopped chemotherapy and organ transplants to make way for Covid patients in intensive care.

The Dutch Hospital Association for Critical Care said it had asked the health minister, Hugo de Jonge, to escalate the national Covid response plan so that regular care requiring an overnight stay would be cancelled, reports Reuters.

With the number of coronavirus patients in hospitals surging, experts have warned that hospitals will reach full capacity in just over a week if the virus is not contained. Earlier this week several Covid patients were transferred to hospitals in Germany.

“There are hospitals in several regions scaling back care,” a spokesperson for the hospital association said. “We are talking about care that requires a bed. That means a lot of appointments are being cancelled.”

The European Commission has said that by the end of the week the European Union will have delivered one billion doses of Covid vaccines to member states, reports Reuters.

Scientists in South Africa are working “overtime” to understand the new Covid variant, B.1.1.529, the Institute for Communicable Diseases has said.

South Africa has confirmed around 100 specimens as B.1.1.529, but the variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong, with the Hong Kong case a traveller from South Africa, reports Reuters. As many as 90% of new cases in Gauteng could be B.1.1.529, scientists believe.

South Africa’s Institute for Communicable Diseases said in a statement: “Although the data are limited, our experts are working overtime with all the established surveillance systems to understand the new variant and what the potential implications could be.”

The country has requested an urgent sitting of a World Health Organization (WHO) working group on virus evolution on Friday to talk about the new variant.

Updated at 7.49am EST

EU regulator approves Pfizer vaccine for children aged five to 11

The European Medicines Agency, the European Union’s drug regulator, has approved the use of Pfizer/BioNTech’s Covid vaccine on children aged five to 11.

The EMA said the dose would be lower than that used in those aged 12 and over, Reuters reports, and will be given as two injections in the upper arm three weeks apart.

The regulator said that it concluded that the benefits for children in the age group outweighed the risks, especially in those with conditions that increase their risk of getting severe Covid.

The EMA said it will now send its recommendation to the European Commission which will make a final decision.

A 10-year-old in Wisconsin in the US receiving the Pfizer vaccine yesterday.
A 10-year-old in Wisconsin in the US receiving the Pfizer vaccine yesterday. Photograph: Mark Hertzberg/ZUMA Press Wire/Rex/Shutterstock

Updated at 7.48am EST

Millions of Americans have got Covid boosters in recent days after the US expanded eligibility to all adults last week.

A total of about 37.5 million people have received booster shots so far. But health officials urged more people to get them amid fears of a rise in infections over the winter holiday season.

“I think it is a good start,” said Dr William Schaffner, a leading infectious disease expert from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, told Reuters. “I am hoping for much better. I would like to see all of that doubled very, very quickly.”

Updated at 7.47am EST

From tomorrow, face masks mandatory indoors and at Christmas markets in France

The French health minister, Olivier Véran, said face masks have been left behind, especially by the vaccinated who think they have nothing to fear. From tomorrow he said it will be mandatory to wear a mask inside. He said they will also be required at events, including Christmas markets.

He also said that starting in December there will be a new anti-viral drug on the market in France that they are “very hopeful” about.

Updated at 7.21am EST

More from France:

Véran says people are no longer being as responsible as they should be, so they need to “shape up”.

He says hospitals and ICUs are filling with people who decided not to be vaccinated.

He says people need to be “constantly vigilant” and go back to the good habits they might have lost.

Updated at 7.17am EST

France announces new Covid measures including booster shots for all

The French health minister, Olivier Véran, is speaking now.

He has confirmed that France will roll out Covid vaccine booster shots for all adults and that the gap between initial doses and boosters will be cut to five months.

He said it will be “quite a feat” to roll out millions of vaccine doses.

From 15 December, the health pass for people aged 65-plus will no longer be valid if they have not had a booster five months after the first jab.

From 15 January, the same rules will apply for all adults aged 18-plus.

Updated at 7.16am EST

France to announce booster shots for all adults and stricter face mask rules amid Covid surge

France is to announce booster shots for all adults, stricter face mask rules and health pass checks to tackle a surge of infections, Reuters reports.

Two parliamentary sources confirmed the plans to the news agency today, ahead of a press conference with the health minister, Olivier Véran.

It comes after the country reported more than 30,000 new infections yesterday for a second consecutive day. Meanwhile, the seven-day moving average of daily new cases is at a three-month high of 21,761 and nearly quadrupled in a month.

Updated at 6.55am EST

In the UK, relatives of a grandmother in her 50s who was left brain damaged and paralysed from the neck down after contracting Covid have won the latest stage of a legal fight to keep her on life support.

A judge in the court of protection ruled earlier this year that the woman should be allowed to die. But relatives challenged the decision at a court of appeal hearing a few weeks ago. Today appeal judges allowed their appeal and said the case should be heard again, reports PA Media.

Her daughter welcomed the news. “I almost cried when I found out. It’s like a ton of bricks has been lifted off me. We are now preparing for the next hearing – we are preparing for everything,” she said.

This is Miranda Bryant looking after the blog for the next few hours. Please get in touch with any tips or suggestions: [email protected]

Updated at 6.54am EST

Today so far

The World Health Organization has issued a warning in the lead-up to Christmas, saying social mixing is back at pre-pandemic levels and threatens to spread the virus in the run-up to the holidays. “We are concerned about a false sense of security that vaccines have ended the pandemic, and that people who are vaccinated do not need to take any other precautions,” the WHO director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu, said. “Vaccines save lives, but they do not fully prevent transmission.” Germany, which weathered earlier bouts of the pandemic better than many of its neighbours, has found itself back at the centre of Europe’s virus outbreak as the latest wave of the pandemic infects people at a record pace. Officials recorded 100,119 Covid deaths in Germany in total as of Wednesday. The head of the Robert Koch Institute has put the mortality rate in Germany at about 0.8%, meaning that at daily case numbers of around 50,000, some 400 people per day will end dying. Some hospitals in the Netherlands have halted chemotherapy treatments and organ transplants to free up intensive care beds for a surging number of Covid-19 patients. France is to announce new Covid measures as infections surge across the country. Reports claim that the European Union will recommend a nine-month time limit for the validity of Covid-19 vaccinations for travel into the bloc and also propose prioritising vaccinated travellers. Ministers are urging millions of Britons to get their Covid booster jab by 11 December to ensure they have “very high protection against Covid by Christmas Day” as new evidence shows the risk of infection increases with the time since the second dose. Novavax is expected to be approved as a fourth Covid vaccine in UK. Trials show the protein-based jab causes fewer side-effects. The British government has so far ordered 60m doses. Deaths of people being treated for substance misuse problems in England rose sharply during the pandemic, data shows, as charities put the rise down to treatment services closing their doors due to Coronavirus. Turkey’s domestically developed Covid-19 vaccine, Turkovac, has applied for emergency authorisation. Health minister Fahrettin Koca said he hoped the shot would be available for use by year-end. A little known sect led by a pastor who pokes eyes to heal is at the centre of a Covid outbreak in South Korea, as the country reported a new daily record of 4,116 cases and battles a rise in serious cases straining hospitals. Airline Cathay Pacific has said it is “cancelling a number of flights to Hong Kong” for December blaming “operational and travel restrictions that remain in place”. Hong Kong’s strict quarantine rules are increasingly out of step with rivals for international business like Singapore. Chief minister of Australia’s Northern Territory Michael Gunner has lambasted Covid conspiracy theorists as “tinfoil hat wearing tossers, sitting in their parents’ basements in Florida.” Protests against Covid measures turned to violence on France’s Caribbean island of Martinique overnight. Scientists say a new Covid variant that carries an “extremely high number” of mutations may drive further waves of disease by evading the body’s defences.

That is it from me, Martin Belam, today. I am now off to go and host our Thursday quiz. Andrew Sparrow has our UK politics live blog. Miranda Bryant will be here with you shortly to carry bringing you the latest coronavirus news from the UK and around the world.

Updated at 6.54am EST

Sarah Marsh

Deaths of people being treated for substance misuse problems in England rose sharply during the pandemic, data shows, as charities put the rise down to treatment services closing their doors due to coronavirus.

Official figures show that in 2020-21 3,726 people died while in contact with treatment services, a 27% increase compared with the year before when there were 2,929 deaths.

There were 275,896 adults in contact with drug and alcohol services between April 2020 and March 2021, up from 270,705 the year before. The number of adults entering treatment in 2020-21 remained relatively stable at 130,490, up from 132,124. Over half (51%) of the adults in treatment were there for problems with opiates, a medication or an illegal drug that is derived from the opium poppy including fentanyl and methadone.

Like other services, drug and alcohol treatment services were affected by the pandemic and had to restrict face-to-face contact, which affected the types of interventions that service users received.

For example, most patients whose opioid substitute consumption was supervised before the pandemic were given take-home doses from March 2020, after a risk assessment. Fewer service users were able to access inpatient detoxification for alcohol and drugs. Testing and treatment for blood-borne viruses and liver disease were also greatly reduced.

The government data release said it was likely that factors such as changes to alcohol and drug treatment, reduced access to other healthcare services, changes to lifestyle and social circumstances during lockdowns, and Covid-19 itself were likely to be behind the numbers.

Nuno Albuquerque, head of treatment for the UK Addiction Treatment Group, said: “The start of the coronavirus crisis was extremely frightening and uncertain. But drug and alcohol treatment is critical care intervention and cannot be simply put on pause. We know that a concerning number of facilities closed their doors to addicts who were already in the treatment process and although it was such a difficult time, it cannot be a coincidence that more people have subsequently lost their lives when they were in fact trying to save it.”

The figures show that people in treatment make up the second largest group (28%) after those in treatment for opiates. The number of people who started treatment for alcohol addiction in 2020 rose by 3% compared with the previous year – from 74,618 to 76,740.

Last year, all substance groups except opiate users recorded a decrease in deaths in treatment compared with the previous year. By contrast, there were increases in the proportion of people dying while in treatment in all substance groups this year. This includes 20% rise among opiate users and a 44% rise among those with alcohol misuse problems.

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of those who started treatment for all substance groups needed mental health treatment as well, but a quarter of them (25%) who had a mental health need were not receiving any treatment to meet this need.

Albuquerque said reports such as this one are “frightening” because each figure “is a person”. He added: “We have been lobbying for the government to reinforce ring-fenced, protected budgets for drug and alcohol treatment and prevention for some time.”

Updated at 6.36am EST

Russia’s Covid case numbers remain on a gradual downward trend overall, although today’s official figure of 33,796 is up slightly on yesterday’s 33,558. There were 1,238 deaths officially recorded.

The head of the Robert Koch Institute has put the mortality rate in Germany at about 0.8%, meaning that at daily case numbers of around 50,000, some 400 people per day will end dying.

Germany’s incoming three-party government has said it would create a team of experts who would assess the situation on a daily basis. Greens co-leader Annalena Baerbock said the new government had set itself 10 days to decide if further restrictions were needed.

Germany has already limited large parts of public life in areas where the situation is acute to people who have been vaccinated or have recovered.

Reuters reports that the chancellor-in-waiting, Olaf Scholz, has promised to ramp up vaccinations and did not rule out making them compulsory, a move undertaken already by Austria

“We must vaccinate and give booster shots to prevent the spread of the virus,” said Scholz. “Vaccination is the way out of this pandemic,” he said.

He said long queues for booster shots in some areas that are slowing things down had to be sorted out.

Updated at 5.03am EST

Some Dutch hospitals have halted chemotherapy treatments and organ transplants to free up intensive care beds for a surging number of Covid-19 patients, an official said on Thursday.

The number of coronavirus patients in hospital has hit levels not seen since early May, and experts have warned that hospitals will reach full capacity in little more than a week if the virus is not contained.

The Dutch Hospital Association for Critical Care said it had asked the health minister, Hugo de Jonge, to escalate the national Covid plan to a stage under which regular care requiring an overnight stay would be cancelled. Several Covid patients were transferred to German hospitals this week.

Responding to record high infection rates, the government’s leading outbreak management team convened an emergency meeting last night and new lockdown measures are expected to be announced on Friday.

Anthony Deutsch reports for Reuters that although 85% of the adult Dutch population has been fully vaccinated, new cases hit a record high of 23,709 in 24 hours on Wednesday and are up almost 40% on a weekly basis.

“There are hospitals in several regions scaling back care,” a spokesperson for the hospital association said. “We are talking about care that requires a bed. That means a lot of appointments are being cancelled.”

Updated at 4.29am EST

Turkey’s domestically developed Covid-19 vaccine, Turkovac, has applied for emergency authorisation, the health minister, Fahrettin Koca, has said, adding he hoped the shot would be available for use by year-end.

Speaking at his ministry’s budget debate in parliament, Koca said work on Turkovac was nearing completion, and added the shot would mark the first Phase III clinical research project to be fully carried out by Turkey.

“I would like to share a piece of good news for our people: our domestic inactive Covid-19 vaccine Turkovac has applied for emergency authorisation as of today,” Koca said.

Reuters reports that Turkey began developing Turkovac this year, but the launch date for the vaccine has been beset by delays. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has previously said Turkey would make the shot available globally.

Turkey has already administered nearly 120m doses of vaccines using China’s Sinovac and Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccines, with more than 50 million having received two doses of the vaccines. It has also begun administering boosters shots.

Turkey’s daily infection numbers have hovered around 30,000 since mid-September, while the daily death toll, which peaked at 290 in September, remains near 200. The government has called on people to take personal measures and get vaccinated, attributing the high infections to insufficient vaccination levels.

Updated at 4.32am EST

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