Summary of key events
Below are the latest news stories on Covid-19 from around the world:
- The United Arab Emirates will ban unvaccinated citizens from travelling abroad from 10 January, the state news agency WAM reported on Saturday, citing the foreign ministry and the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority.
- In the UK the NHS Confederation’s chief executive, Matthew Taylor, agreed with the health secretary that the record-breaking Omicron wave of infection will “test the limits of finite NHS capacity even more than a typical winter”, with reports suggesting that a requirement to work from home in England could be in place for most of January.
- Leading figures of UK science and medicine during the coronavirus pandemic have been feted in the Queen’s new year honours list, including the chief medical officer for England, Prof Chris Whitty, who is to receive a knighthood for his role in battling Covid-19.
- The Omicron coronavirus variant dampened new year festivities around much of the world, with Paris cancelling its fireworks show, London relegating its show to television, and New York City scaling down its famous ball-drop celebration in Times Square.
- China ended its final week of 2021 with its biggest tally of local coronavirus cases for any seven-day period since subduing the country’s first epidemic nearly two years ago, despite an arsenal of some of the world’s toughest Covid-19 measures.
- India reported 22,775 new Covid-19 infections over the past 24 hours, health ministry data shows, adding to concerns among authorities around the country about the rising number of cases.
- Restrictions on freedom “must be an absolute last resort” and the UK must “live alongside” coronavirus in 2022, the health secretary, Sajid Javid, has said.
A health boss has said the “next few days are crucial” in the fight to reduce the impact of the Omicron variant, and that the government “must be ready to introduce new restrictions at pace if they’re needed”.
Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents health trusts in England, said staff were working “flat out” and that the NHS was under “arguably more pressure” compared with this time last year.
It came after Sajid Javid, the health secretary, warned restrictions on freedom “must be an absolute last resort”. Figures showed that hospital admissions in England have risen to their highest level since January 2021, while the number of NHS hospital staff absent as a result of the the virus nearly doubled in a month.
A further 189,846 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases were registered in the UK on Friday, another new daily record, as the British Medical Association called for further public health measures “urgently to prevent the health service being completely overwhelmed”.
Hopson wrote on Twitter: “NHS preparing for worst & hoping for best.
“Staff flat out, esp. given level of staff absences. We will need to ask them to perform flexible heroics again if hospital Covid numbers continue to rise. We can’t keep doing this. Long term NHS capacity issues must be addressed.”
Hopson said the latest infection data showed a “rapid increase in community infections” that is leading to rising hospital admissions.
He added that if growth rates go back up again after the socialising that will have taken place at Christmas, then hospital trusts will have to “start standing up extra surge capacity late next week”. Hopson said this would put pressure “on less-urgent elective activity”.
Hopson said there were fewer severely unwell elderly people needing intensive care treatment, so the problem was “less one of patient acuity” and more “one of sheer volume of patient numbers” needing general and acute beds.