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Covid latest news: Wales finally sets date to lift restrictions as omicron wave passes peak –

The Welsh government will lift Covid restrictions on large events and businesses as the country has “passed the peak” of the omicron wave.

Mark Drakeford, the Welsh First Minister, defended the decision to ease the alert level 2 measures implemented on Boxing Day as the “opposite” of a U-turn, adding that the Welsh government has “prepared to do the difficult things when they are necessary to protect public health”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:  “The data and the science is saying to us…that we appear to have passed the peak of omicron and are coming down very rapidly on the other side.”

He denied the measures had come at a huge cost to Welsh commerce and hospitality, blaming the impact of the omicron wave instead.

The move to alert level 0 is expected to be phased, with restrictions on outdoor activities being removed first.

Alert level 2 measures included a limit of 50 people at outdoor events and a maximum of 30 indoors, the closure of all nightclubs and the rule of six in place for pubs and restaurants.

Mr Drakeford said that “it’s because of those protections that we’re in the more benign position we’re in today”.

The details of the plan, following the latest review of Covid rules, will be announced at a press conference at Friday lunchtime.

​​Follow the latest updates below.

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Wales ‘may be turning a corner’, First Minister says

Wales “may be turning a corner” in the Covid-19 wave, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said, as he said that “some early positive signs of improvement” have been seen over the course of this week.

In a Covid-19 update for Wales, Mr Drakeford said that it remains a “fast-moving situation”.


Omicron variant now dominant in Italy, health body says

The highly contagious omicron coronavirus variant is now predominant in Italy, the National Health Institute (ISS) said on Friday, accounting for 81 per cent of cases in a flash survey on January 3.

The previous survey showed omicron at just 28 per cent of cases on December 20.

“In Italy on January 3, the Omicron variant was predominant, with an estimated prevalence of 81 per cent, while Delta was at 19 per cent of the sample tested”, ISS said in statement.

The analysis is based on 2,632 swabs tested in 120 laboratories and collected in all 21 Italian regions and autonomous provinces, the Institute said.

Italy, the first Western country to be hit by the Covid-19 pandemic early in 2020, has seen new infections and deaths rising in recent weeks.


Sue Gray report will look at leaving events on eve of Duke’s funeral

The Telegraph understands that Sue Gray, the civil servant overseeing the probe into alleged lockdown-breaking Government parties, is investigating the two leaving events held in Downing Street the night before Prince Philip’s funeral, writes Ben Riley-Smith.

It means those present could be called in by Ms Gray to describe the events, which were revealed in the Telegraph yesterday. 

In recent weeks Ms Gray has asked for some Downing Street staff to hand in their phones as she looks at WhatsApp messages, according to Government sources. 

The event on April 16 2021 is the latest in a string of claims of alcohol-fuelled gatherings in Downing Street that allegedly broke lockdown rules. 

Her conclusions may be published late next week at the earliest, though the timings are unclear as fresh allegations continue reach the public domain. 

Dominic Penna has all the latest on our politics live blog.


Italy lifts Covid entry ban on eight southern African states

Italy has lifted an entry ban on people who had visited any of eight southern African states which it imposed in November as the omicron variant of Covid-19 began to spread.

“Health Minister Roberto Speranza has signed a new order lifting the special restrictive measures for South Africa and neighbouring countries,” a ministry spokesman said.

Italy banned entry for travellers from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini on November 26.


Was the Russian flu a ‘coronavirus’? What the 1890s pandemic tells us about how Covid might end

There are some striking similarities between this virus and its 19th century ancestor – perhaps lessons from the past can show us our future, writes Mark Honigsbaum.

The fourth wave of the pandemic, like the three that preceded it, was marked by a dry cough, an intense headache and what one medical correspondent described as “a feverish malaise”. Soon, both the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition were confined to their sickbeds and London hospitals were struggling to cope. 

The disease felled burly policemen and Bank of England clerks. At a wedding party attended by 100 guests, it was reported that all but three had fallen ill. 

You could be forgiven for thinking this is a description of the latest omicron strain of Covid-19. In fact, it details the severe wave of illness that swept London during the “Russian influenza” pandemic of the 1890s. 

Read more here.


Jeremy Warner: ‘China’s Zero Covid tyranny is backfiring badly’

President Xi’s inability to back down on a failing strategy threatens the country’s growth miracle, writes Jeremy Warner.

How quickly the tables turn. And how quickly they are turning against China, where President Xi Jinping’s power grab is being won at a now all too evident cost to economic momentum.

Only a fool would say with any conviction that the Chinese economic miracle is over. Stall speed has been called many times before, only to be proved comprehensively wrong all over again.

But China’s long march to global hegemony is not as inevitable as it is often portrayed, and it may be that Covid comes to mark the first significant wrong turn.

Read his latest piece here.


New Dutch government expected to ease month-long Covid-19 lockdown

The new government of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is expected to ease a month-long Covid-19 lockdown on Friday, as popular support for it is evaporating despite strain on hospitals and record new infections.

Most stores, hairdressers and gyms will be allowed to reopen, national broadcaster NOS reported, citing government sources. Restaurants are expected to remain closed except for takeaway service.

Mr Rutte, whose cabinet was installed on Monday, is due to make a televised address to the nation at 1800 GMT.

His caretaker government ordered the lockdown in mid-December as a wave of the delta variant forced the health system to cancel all but the most urgent care and it appeared rising omicron cases would overwhelm it.

Infections have continued to rise despite the lockdown, which bans all public gatherings, with a record of more than 200,000 in the week through January 11, according to the Netherlands Institute for Health (RIVM). But hospitalisations declined slightly.


South Korean court exempts teens and supermarkets from vaccine passes

A South Korean court on Friday ruled that large shops and teenagers should be temporarily excluded from Covid-19 vaccine pass mandates in the capital Seoul, amid an intensifying legal fight over one of Asia’s strictest vaccination policies.

A group of more than 1,000 doctors, professors and ordinary citizens filed for an injunction last week against Seoul’s mayor to suspend the mandates, which require vaccination passes or testing for entry to most public facilities except for schools.

An administrative court in the capital said department stores, supermarkets and shops in Seoul that have 3,000 square meters (32,300 square feet) or more of space should be exempted.

The court said the mandate should not apply to teenagers using any Seoul-based facilities.

The health ministry said it regretted the decision and would provide a formal response after an intra-agency meeting on Monday. Officials have said the policy was intended to protect unimmunised people, not force vaccination or discriminate against them.


In pictures: Covid-19 around the world


Leeds, UK: Workers construct a Nightingale Covid-19 surge hub in a car park at St James’s University Hospital on January 14, 2022.

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images Europe


Washington DC, US: People walk past electric candles from a vigil in Lafayette Park for nurses who died during the Covid-19 pandemic on January 13, 2022.



Baja California State, Mexico: A girl runs as people queue to get vaccinated against Covid-19.



Hong Kong to extend strict Covid-19 restrictions until February 3

Hong Kong will extend its stringent coronavirus restrictions until after the Lunar New Year celebrations at the start of February as it aims to stop the spreading of Covid-19 within the community, the city’s leader Carrie Lam said on Friday.

The move comes as the city has seen around 50 cases of the fast spreading omicron variant since the end of last year.


Schools in Philippines capital stop classes as omicron cases surge

Schools in the Philippine capital Manila were ordered Friday to suspend online classes for a week, as an omicron-driven record surge in infections ravages the metropolis of 13 million.

Covid-19 is ripping through the national capital region and surrounding provinces, causing widespread disruption to businesses, services and healthcare providers.

The order for schools in the capital to suspend online lessons until January 22 was to “ease the health burden” for teachers and students, the regional Department of Education said in a memorandum.

Thousands of teachers and students have been infected with Covid-19, according to the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, which has welcomed the “health break”.

In an apparent effort to limit the havoc caused by omicron and get people back to work faster, the government has also shortened the isolation period for people with mild symptoms of the disease from 10 to seven days.


Italian police red-faced over pink Covid masks

Italian police have protested to the interior ministry after being sent pink health masks to wear on duty, saying the colour risked damaging their reputation.

“We do not understand the reason behind the purchase of masks in a colour that would appear at first sight to be unsuitable for our administration,” the police union wrote in a letter to the interior ministry.

“This purchase is puzzling,” the letter said, adding that two years into the Covid-19 health crisis it should be easy to purchase appropriate face masks.

In future, masks should only be black, white or blue, they said.

There was no immediate comment from the interior ministry.


Hong Kong airport bans transit passengers from most of world

Hong Kong announced a ban on passengers from most of the world transiting its airport on Friday as China ramps up strict anti-virus travel measures ahead of the Winter Olympics.

The move deepens Hong Kong’s global isolation and comes as Beijing battles to stamp out a flurry of Delta and omicron outbreaks in the only major economy still pursuing a staunch zero-Covid strategy.

Like mainland China, Hong Kong has maintained some of the world’s harshest measures throughout the pandemic – including weeks-long quarantines, targeted lockdowns and mass testing.

The Chinese business hub ranks territories into categories based on how widespread their Covid-19 infections are, with 153 countries currently classified as Group A – from which arrivals must spend 21 days in quarantine.

Hong Kong’s airport, in normal times one of the world’s busiest aviation hubs, said anyone who has spent time in the last three weeks in any of those 153 countries would be banned from transiting from Sunday.


Cambodia launches fourth round of Covid-19 vaccinations

Cambodia on Friday began a fourth round of vaccinations against the coronavirus in response to the omicron variant, with high-risk groups among the first to receive the additional boosters.

Front-line medical staff and members of the armed forces were among those lining up at hospitals and clinics. Government ministers, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, also received booster doses on Friday.

Mr Hun Sen has appealed to all Cambodian people to get fully vaccinated, including a booster, saying on his Facebook page that it is the only way to keep their families and communities safe from Covid-19.

A campaign to have people get their third jabs is still ongoing.

Almost 90 per cent of Cambodia’s 16 million people have had at least one dose, over 85 per cent have had a second shot and more than 27 per cent have had a third, according to the government.


Economy climbs back above pre-pandemic levels

The UK economy recovered to above pre-pandemic levels in November as activity picked up before the omicron variant struck.

GDP grew 0.9 per cent in November, meaning it is now 0.7 per cent above its pre-Covid peak, according to the Office for National Statistics.

There was an increase in activity across all industries over the month, though the dominant service sector was the main driver of growth.

However, the figures cover the period before the rapid spread of omicron, which is likely to have dented economic growth over Christmas.

James Warrington has all the latest on our business live blog.


From prison threats to fines: How the world is turning up the heat on the unvaccinated

As the Novak Djokovic saga has shown, politicians across the world are losing patience with the unvaccinated. 

Governments are wielding increasingly bigger sticks in an effort to push vaccination rates skyward – from the threat of prison time to withholding free Covid healthcare and the rise of  ‘no jab, no job’ policies. 

“Governments are frustrated,” said Prof Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh. “If all adults were vaccinated who were offered it, [the] pandemic would be over. 

“ICUs are full of people who chose not to get vaccinated, then regret it later,” she told the Telegraph. “Is that fair to doctors and nurses? And to those who need care for heart attacks and other life-threatening conditions?”

Whether such strategies work is hotly contested. Some argue they amplify mistrust of science and governments, exacerbate inequities and create martyrs of those – like Djokovic – who refuse shots. Others point to real world data showing dual rules have an impact, and are especially effective at convincing the ambivalent. 

Sarah Newey, Nicola Smith, and Dan Olanday take a look at some of the strictest strategies adopted across the globe.


Google buys London HQ in $1bn vote of confidence for the office

Google has paid $1bn (£730m) to buy its central London building in what it said demonstrated a long-term commitment to the value of having workers in the office.

The search giant, which has 6,400 staff in the UK, said buying the Central St Giles building reflected its “continued confidence in the office as a place for in-person collaboration”.

The company plans to refit the 15-storey complex, where it occupies about 40pc of the space, for a new era of hybrid working that include video calls and outdoor meetings.

The deal will allow Google to accommodate up to 10,000 staff in the UK.

A deal to buy the office near Tottenham Court Road from owners Legal & General and Mitsubishi Estate fell through in 2020 amid uncertainty over the future of the office when almost all staff were working from home.

James Titcomb has the full story.


Police will only investigate Downing Street parties if report finds criminal wrongdoing 

Police will only launch an investigation into Downing Street party allegations if the Cabinet Office unearths evidence of criminal wrongdoing, Scotland Yard said last night.

The Metropolitan Police said that rather than carry out its own inquiries into the allegations it would allow the Cabinet Office to complete its work before deciding whether to take matters further.

Pressure has been building on Scotland Yard to launch a full-blown criminal investigation into claims that Downing Street and Whitehall staff breached Covid regulations by attending parties during lockdown.

On Wednesday, Boris Johnson told the Commons he had attended a party in the garden of Number 10 on May 20, 2020, but was under the impression it was a “work event”.

Martin Evans has all the details.

You can also follow all the latest Westminster developments over on our politics live blog.


Swedish PM tests positive for Covid-19

Swedish Social Democratic Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson has tested positive for Covid-19, her spokesperson told news agency TT, as a growing wave of infections swept the country, driven by the more contagious omicron variant.

“The prime minister has tested positive for Covid-19 in a rapid test.

“She is following current recommendations and will carry out her work from home,” the spokesperson was quoted as saying.


Intensive care numbers ‘far lower’ than this time last year, says Spi-M expert

Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M), has said that “even with relatively high hospital admissions, we need to recognise that actually the number of people in intensive care units is far lower than it was in January last year.”

Speaking on talkRADIO in a personal capacity, Dr Tildesley said: “My hope is that in the next month or two we’re very much in the position to know what we need to think about living with Covid and developing more of a flu-like relationship with it.”

However, he added that “a high level of unvaccinated people” in the population represents “a risk”.


World No 1 facing deportation after Australian visa cancelled 

Novak Djokovic has once again been banned from Australia after Immigration Minister Alex Hawke decided to use his “personal power of cancellation” to revoke the tennis star’s visa.

In a stunning move Mr Hawke overruled a decision by a judge earlier this week.

On Monday a judge in Melbourne had overturned the initial cancellation of Djokovic’s visa on Covid-19 health grounds, and ended the unvaccinated player’s detention in an immigration facility.

His family had called that decision the biggest victory of his career, “bigger than all his grand slams”.

But Mr Hawke had retained the right to use his discretionary powers to again cancel the visa, and had been considering the matter for several days.

Follow the latest updates on our dedicated live blog.


Keir Starmer branded an ‘absolute hypocrite’ for drinking with staff during lockdown

Labour is facing its own “booze row” after Conservative figures pointed out that Sir Keir Starmer had been pictured drinking a beer when the country was still under Covid restrictions.

With Boris Johnson under mounting pressure over a series of gatherings in Downing Street, the Labour leader on Wednesday claimed that the public could see he was “lying through his teeth”. 

Hitting back on Thursday, a senior Tory pointed out that Sir Keir had himself been photographed drinking with a number of party staff in a constituency office in Durham last May. 

The image, which was taken several days before the Hartlepool by-election, was captured through the window of the building and showed Sir Keir standing close to two other people while another pair congregated in the background. 

Harry Yorke has the full story.


Hundreds of thousands of Indians gather for holy dip, defying Covid surge

Hundreds of thousands of Hindu worshippers gathered on the banks of India’s Ganges river on Friday for a holy bathe despite a 30-fold rise in coronavirus cases in the past month.

Hindus believe a bathe in the holy river on the Jan. 14 Makarsankranti festival washes away sins.

In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, thousands of devotees, few wearing masks, thronged the river’s banks in the holy city of Prayagraj.

“I can’t breathe with a mask,” Ram Phal Tripathi, who came with his family from a village in Uttar Pradesh state, said after emerging from the river.

“Every year I come for a holy dip. How could I have missed it this year?”


Coronavirus around the world, in pictures

Doctors from the "Juntos contra el Dolor" association visit people infected with Covid in Jalisco, Mexico

Doctors from the “Juntos contra el Dolor” association visit people infected with Covid in Jalisco, Mexico


Drivers wait to undergo a free PCR Covid test at a drive-thru testing site on a racetrack in Capiata, Paraguay

Drivers wait to undergo a free PCR Covid test at a drive-thru testing site on a racetrack in Capiata, Paraguay

Jorge Saenz/AP

Aerial view showing people queueing to get vaccinated against Covid in Tijuana, Baja California State, Mexico

Aerial view showing people queueing to get vaccinated against Covid in Tijuana, Baja California State, Mexico



Ex-No 10 Communications Chief apologises for ‘anger and hurt’ caused by party

The Prime Minister’s former director of communications has apologised for the “anger and hurt” caused by a leaving party held in Downing Street the night before the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral.

James Slack, who last year left No 10 to become deputy editor-in-chief at The Sun, said the party on April 16 2021, “should not have happened at the time that it did”.

Mr Slack said in an emailed statement issued by The Sun’s publisher News UK: “I wish to apologise unreservedly for the anger and hurt caused. This event should not have happened at the time that it did. I am deeply sorry, and take full responsibility.”

But he said he could not comment further as the issue had been referred to senior official Sue Gray as part of her investigation.

The Telegraph cited a No 10 spokesperson as saying Mr Johnson was not in Downing Street that day. He is said to have been at Chequers.


Two parties held in Downing Street as Queen and country mourned death of Prince Philip

Downing Street staff drank alcohol into the early hours at two leaving events the night before Prince Philip’s socially distanced funeral, The Telegraph can reveal.

On the evening of Friday April 16 2021, Britain was in a period of public mourning. Union flags on Government buildings across Westminster hung at half mast to mark the passing of Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth II’s husband, the previous week.

With the country in step two of a strict lockdown roadmap, which barred indoor mixing, mourners were told not to leave flowers due to the Covid threat. A book of condolence was set up online to “reduce the risk of transmission” from physical signings.

In a private chapel in Windsor Castle the Prince’s coffin lay overnight. The next day the Queen, her face covered by a black mask, would say farewell to her husband of 73 years. With social distancing rules in force, she sat alone.

The atmosphere in Downing Street that Friday evening, however, was quite different. Advisers and civil servants gathered after work for two separate events to mark the departure of two colleagues.

Read the exclusive from Tony Diver and Ben Riley-Smith here.

Queen Elizabeth II after taking her seat for the funeral of her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh

Queen Elizabeth II after taking her seat for the funeral of her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh

Jonathan Brady/PA


State school teachers ‘report higher staff absences than private school peers’

State school teachers are nearly twice as likely as private school colleagues to report high staff absences due to Covid, a survey suggests.

Staff absences are more pronounced in the most deprived state schools across England, according to a Sutton Trust report.

Around a quarter of all teachers said they have prepared materials to support remote learning in the last week amid disruption, the poll found.

Many children who need to learn at home because they are isolating are still struggling to access laptops or tablets for learning, the report suggests.

The social mobility charity is calling on the Government to urgently ensure that all pupils have access to a device for remote learning – and that schools have adequate funding to pay for cover for absent staff.

The survey, of nearly 7,000 teachers in schools across England, suggests that state school teachers are more likely to report that at least 10 pc of their colleagues were currently off due to Covid.


Health leader warns against ‘wishful thinking’ about how soon omicron will subside

The quality of care given by the NHS is at times being compromised, according to a health leader who has warned against “wishful thinking” about how soon the omicron threat will subside.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the country is “far from out of the woods” as he called for “honesty” and “realism”.

The health service has been under intense pressure because of high Covid rates, leading to both hospital admissions and staff absences increasing.

Mr Taylor said: “The national data on reported cases offers some hope, but we should be under no illusions that this pressure has evaporated, including in London.

“One leader of an NHS trust in the north told me that they felt they were at least a week away from their peak, while more than one in 10 of their staff were absent.

“We may be at the end of the beginning of this wave but we are far from out of the woods.”

Major Emma Allen at Bracknell Ambulance Station, where several members of the military are stationed to help during the pandemic

Major Emma Allen at Bracknell Ambulance Station, where several members of the military are stationed to help during the omicron wave

Heathcliff O’Malley


Good morning

Here is your Daily Telegraph for Friday, January 14.

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UK: Injured Zim International gets new Plymouth Argyle deal – New

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Defender Brendan Galloway will be doing all that he can to be fit again for pre-season this summer, according to Plymouth Argyle manager Steven Schumacher.

Galloway, 25, is setting out on a rehabilitation programme after an operation to repair a torn patellar tendon in one of his knees.

The Zimbabwe international has been boosted by signing a new contract with the Pilgrims this week which will take him through until June 2023.

Now, with his future settled, Galloway can concentrate on recovering from the injury he suffered in the 3-0 League One defeat by Wycombe Wanderers at Home Park in late November.

Galloway had previously been on a short-term deal with Argyle after joining them in pre-season as a free agent.

However, his impressive performances before his injury clearly warranted a longer contract and the club were ready to do that even though he will not play again this season.

Schumacher said: “It had been agreed for a couple of weeks, it’s just that he has been up north with his family in the early part of his rehab.

“He came back early on this week and the contract was there ready for him to sign. I’m pleased he has done it and made up for him, and now he can fully focus on getting himself fit again.”

With Galloway sidelined, Argyle have brought in 22-year-old Romoney Crichlow on loan from Huddersfield Town until the end of the season to compete for the place on the left side of defence with Macaulay Gillesphey.

All being well, Galloway will be ready for the start of the 2022/23 EFL campaign.

Schumacher said: “Speaking to the medical team, that’s their plan. They have got a rehab programme in place for Brendan that he will follow.

“Brendan is a good professional and he has been in this situation before where he knows how to get back to full fitness.

“It’s not something that’s new to him. I know he will be doing everything he can to get himself right for pre-season, and if he gets back in pre-season then we have got another real good player for our squad, ready to go.”

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Taiwan on COVID alert as domestic Omicron cases spike – NewsDay

Taiwan’s government ordered a tightening of controls on Saturday after a rare spike in domestic transmission of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, saying it needed to act now to prevent being overwhelmed even though overall numbers remain quite low.

After months of no or few community infections, Taiwan has seen a small rise in local COVID-19 cases since the start of the month, almost all Omicron, mainly linked to workers at the main international airport in the northern city of Taoyuan who were infected by arriving passengers.

The infections have gradually spread although numbers remain comparatively low with a dozen or so new cases a day, but on Friday evening the government announced 60 new cases at a factory near the airport after testing 1,000 workers.

There have been no deaths and most of the cases have had only mild or no symptoms.

Speaking to reporters, officials announced a series of new steps, including a ban on eating and drinking on public transport and limits on the number of people visiting temples, ahead of the week-long Lunar New Year holiday which starts at the end of this month.

Testing will be expanded to reach the largest number of possible contacts, said Health Minister Chen Shih-chung.

“Of course we think this pandemic is threatening, so we must raise our vigilance,” he said.

In a statement, Premier Su Tseng-chang said even though this outbreak has brought no serious illness, steps needed to be taken now.

“If the pandemic cannot be contained, it will still cause a burden on the medical system,” he said.

Taiwan has been highly successful at controlling the pandemic due to early and strict border checks and a well-oiled tracing system.

Current new daily cases are well below the middle of last year when thousands were infected during a three-month domestic outbreak, and life has carried on as normal for most people.

More than 70% of people in Taiwan have received two vaccine doses and booster shots are currently being rolled out, though only around 15% of residents have had their third shot so far.- Reuters

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Be brave, I was once an orphan too, little one! – Daily Mail

Be brave, I was once an orphan too, little one! Poignant image shows Kadiki the elephant wrapping her trunk around baby Beatrix to reassure her as she meets the rest of the herd in Zimbabwe

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