Russia reports record high of daily cases
South Korea was seen as a model of how to clamp down on the coronavirus through measures such as aggressive contact tracing. But a third wave is under way in the country and it is being driven by people who do not have any symptoms, making the disease much more difficult to track.
South Korea reported 569 new cases in the 24 hours ending Thursday midnight, a level unseen in nearly nine months, Reuters reports.
Young people are at the centre of the surge and health authorities estimate that asymptomatic patients – those who do not show any of the typical Covid symptoms such as a persistent cough, high temperature or loss of taste and smell – now account for 40% of total infections, up sharply from 20-30% in June.
That compares with research suggesting about one in five infected people in general will experience no symptoms.
Authorities introduced tougher social distancing measures this week to contain transmission and encouraged people to get tested, yet cold weather is driving more people to meet inside.
There is only one story on the front pages of England’s newspapers today. The new lockdown regime that will see 55 million people – 99% of the country – in the two toughest restrictions until at least mid-December.
Like many papers, we lead with the reaction to the news that most of the country faces tough rules for months to come. You can read Heather Stewart’s story here.
The Daily Telegraph reports that 34 million people will leave the national lockdown next Wednesday in tougher regulations than before it was imposed on 5 November.
The Mirror uses a picture of a grimacing Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, to illustrate what it calls “Tiers of despair”.
And the Sun says it’s “all Wight for some” – a pun on the fact that only the 715,573 residents of Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly and Isle of Wight have escaped the top two tiers, meaning they can mix with up to six people indoors – unlike the rest of the population.
Covid grief is worse than other types of grief, according to the first findings of UK-wide research into how people have coped with the deaths of loved ones during the pandemic.
Family and friends bereaved by coronavirus experienced “greatly increased negative experiences” and showed higher grief and support needs compared to people suffering the loss of loved ones from other illnesses, including cancer, researchers at Cardiff and Bristol universities found.
Lots of weddings in the liveblog today, see earlier post on nuptials in Gaza...
Gibraltar was never on Bruno Miani’s list of places to visit - but that all changed when the pandemic upended his plans to marry his girlfriend in Dublin where they live.
With government offices closed due to virus restrictions, the 40-year-old photographer and his partner struggled to get the documents they needed for a wedding licence and faced a long wait for an available time slot for the ceremony.
So the Brazilian couple took a low-cost flight to Malaga and then travelled by bus to Gibraltar, a tiny British territory at the southernmost tip of Spain where on Tuesday they tied the knot at the local registry office before a portrait of Queen Elizabeth.
“The fastest way to get married now is to go to Gibraltar,” said Miani, whose eyes welled with tears when the registrar declared that he and Natalia Senna Alves de Lima were now legally husband and wife.
“We love each other a lot. We already live together as a married couple. This makes it official.”
Gibraltar requires minimum bureaucracy to get married and there are no virus border restrictions, which has helped turn it into a wedding hotspot during the pandemic.
Couples just need to present their passports and birth certificates, and stay in the territory overnight either before or after their wedding.
They then just need to have their marriage registered by the authorities in their home country.
Wedding planners report huge demand from couples from outside the territory.
“It is absolutely insane. We just can’t get enough slots and spaces,” said Leanne Hindle, the director of wedding events company Marry Abroad Simply.
Many marriages being celebrated in Gibraltar involve couples of different nationalities in long-distance relationships who could not travel to each other’s country to get married and start their lives together because of virus travel restrictions.
Often there is a pressing need to wed, such as the case of a couple whose insurance would not cover the expensive fertility treatment they needed to have a child unless they were married, said Hindle.
Another common scenario involves a person being offered a job in another country and they can only bring their partner with them if they are legally married, she added.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Hindle. “It is not just because they fancy getting married during Covid because it is a story for the grandkids.”
Gibraltar is also drawing many couples from neighbouring Spanish regions because its rules on the use of face masks in public and the size of social gatherings are less strict, said Resham Mahtani, a wedding planner at Rock Occasions.
Spain’s southern Andalusia region which surrounds the British territory limits private gatherings to a maximum of six people indoors, compared to a limit of 16 people in Gibraltar which only recorded its first Covid-19 death earlier this month.
Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo told AFP he was “delighted that Gibraltar has become known as a place of love rather than a place of division.”
For anyone who needs to “make that bond of love official and legal, Gibraltar is the place for you,” he added.
To Australia, the continent from where your correspondent pens these words, and which is bracing for a scorching weekend, with temperatures approaching 50 degrees in some places...
Australia’s second-largest state, Victoria, once the country’s Covid-19 hotspot, said on Friday it has gone 28 days without detecting any new infections, a benchmark widely cited as eliminating the virus from the community.
The state also has zero active cases after the last COVID-19 patient was discharged from hospital this week, a far cry from August when Victoria recorded more than 700 cases in one day and active infections totalled nearly 8,000.
The spread of the virus was only contained after a lockdown lasting more than 100 days, leaving some 5 million people in Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city, largely confined to their homes.
While the lockdown has seen infections wane, it slowed Australia’s economic recovery from its first recession in three decades after large swathes of the country’s economy were shut down in March.
Australia’s economy shrank 7% in the three months to the end of June, the biggest quarterly decline since records began in 1959. The unemployment rate hit a 22-year high of 7.5% in July as businesses and borders closed to deal with the coronavirus.
The slowdown in cases, however, has seen Australian states and territories remove social distancing restrictions.
Australia’s southern island state, Tasmania, on Friday became the latest to open its border to Victoria, reuniting families who had been apart for months.
Victoria is the last state to gain access to Tasmania, which closed its borders in March.
While Australia is removing restrictions in contrast to other countries in Europe, which are imposing curbs to counter a surge of infections, local lawmakers have said only an effective vaccine will restore longstanding normalcy.
Australia has secured access to four vaccine candidates, but its best hope for a quick vaccination programme lies with the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is already being manufactured locally.
The Australian government has committed to buying 33.8 million doses of the vaccine.
A speedy roll-out of the AstraZeneca came under the microscope, however, when the company said it will likely run an additional global trial to assess the efficacy of its Covid-19 vaccine.
Still, Australia’s minister for health Greg Hunt said this would not delay Canberra’s expected timetable to begin vaccinations from March.
Australia’s nearly 28,000 Covid-19 infections recorded to date, according to health ministry data, are far fewer than many other developed countries. Victoria accounts for more than 90% of the country’s 905 deaths.
Apropos not of Covid, but it’s gonna be hot here...
More on the AstraZeneca vaccine trial:
AstraZeneca is likely to run an additional global trial to assess the efficacy of its Covid-19 vaccine using a lower dosage, its chief executive was quoted as saying on Thursday amid questions over the results of its late-stage study.
Instead of adding the trial to an ongoing US process, AstraZeneca might launch a fresh study to evaluate a lower dosage of its vaccine that performed better than a full dosage, Pascal Soriot told Bloomberg News.
“Now that we’ve found what looks like a better efficacy we have to validate this, so we need to do an additional study,” he said, adding that the new, likely global, study could be faster because it would need fewer subjects as the efficacy was already known to be high.
The news comes as AstraZeneca faces questions about its success rate that some experts say could hinder its chances of getting speedy US and EU regulatory approval.
Several scientists have raised doubts about the robustness of results released on Monday showing the experimental vaccine was 90% effective in a sub-group of trial participants who, by error initially, received a half dose followed by a full dose.
Soriot said he did not expect the additional trial to delay British and European regulatory approvals.
Asked about the Bloomberg report, an AstraZeneca spokesman said there was strong merit in continuing to investigate the half-dose/full dose regimen. Any further insights from the data would be added to those from existing trials that are being prepared for regulatory submission, he said.
Germany passes 1 million cases
The Pakistan cricket team’s behaviour in their bio-secure facility in Christchurch had “significantly improved”, New Zealand’s ministry of Health said on Friday, 24 hours after the tourists had been warned about breaching Covid-19 protocols.
The ministry had confirmed on Thursday that six of the 53 touring party members had tested positive for the novel coronavirus upon arrival, while there was also evidence there had been breaches of bio-security rules.
“Since the team was issued with a warning, compliance with MIQ (managed isolation and quarantine) rules in the facility has significantly improved,” it said in a statement on Friday. “We thank members of the team for their co-operation.”
Earlier, New Zealand’s director of health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, said the government took a “dim view” of the squad’s behaviour.
“Rather than being in their own rooms, which is a requirement for the first three days, there was some mingling in the hallways, chatting, sharing food and not wearing masks,” he told RNZ, New Zealand’s public-service radio broadcaster.
The positive results had come from tests administered upon the team’s entry to New Zealand, where all arrivals have to undergo 14 days of isolation. The ministry added that the squad had undergone a second round of testing on Friday.
The team had been given an exemption to train together in small bubbles after the second round of testing but that has been temporarily rescinded after the positive results. Health officials were still conducting interviews with the squad.