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Coronavirus live: two more Tokyo athletes test positive; South Korea reports record daily Covid cases

The Guardian - Thu Jul 22 08:44


Russia has reported 24,471 new Covid cases and 796 deaths in the last 24 hours. It marks a rise on yesterday’s figures, which were 23,704 and 783 respectively.

A coronavirus vaccination at Grinvich shopping mall in Yekaterinburg, Russia today.
A coronavirus vaccination at Grinvich shopping mall in Yekaterinburg, Russia today. Photograph: Donat Sorokin/TASS

The UK blog is now up and running, so for UK-specific Covid news, Andrew Sparrow will be covering that, while this blog will be shifting to global coronavirus news.



Tokyo Covid cases at six-month high on eve of Olympics

Tokyo has reported coronavirus cases at a six-month high on the eve of the opening of the Olympic Games.

The city reported 1,979 new cases on Thursday - the highest figure since January and a rise of more than 600 compared with a week ago.

So far, 87 Olympics personnel - including athletes - have tested positive and the US gymnastics team has relocated to a hotel.

The figures come amid numerous controversies, including the firing of the opening ceremony director after reports emerged of him making a joke about the Holocaust and anti-Olympics protests by residents.

The Olympic rings at Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo.
The Olympic rings at Odaiba marine park in Tokyo. Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters



'Very narrow' list of UK sectors to be exempt from self-isolation rules

The UK business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, has said a “very narrow” list of sectors whose workers will be exempt from self-isolation rules will be published on Thursday as “pingdemic” shortages grow across the country.

“We’re looking at different sectors and we will be publishing today the sectors that will be affected,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

The list would be “very narrow, simply because we don’t want to get into a huge debate about who is exempt”, he said.



Brexit and 'pingdemic' have created 'recipe for chaos' for hauliers

In the UK, the Road Haulage Association has said the combination of Brexit and the “pingdemic” has created a “recipe for chaos” for lorry driver numbers.

Rod McKenzie, the association’s managing director of policy, said there was already a shortage of 100,000 drivers and with so many being required to self-isolate, it would get even worse.

He told PA Media:

We don’t know how many drivers are affected in terms of the pingdemic on a daily basis, but the effects are clear.

We started off with a shortage of 100,000 drivers, UK lorry drivers, and that’s because we’ve always had a shortage of 60,000 and we’ve lost an additional 20,000 European drivers, add to that 30,000 cancelled lorry driving tests in the past year which haven’t been made up.

That’s a shortage of 100,000, and when you’re that short on staff to begin with, and you have the pingdemic on top of that, you’ve got a recipe for chaos, and chaos is what we’re now seeing unfolding in front of our eyes.

What we’re able to see is the effect in terms of our shops, our supermarkets and everything else. There are fewer drivers than there were last week - and there were shortages last week.

Since the pingdemic has peaked we’re seeing this critical shortage get even worse.

A lorry entering a Department of Agricultural, Environment and Rural Affairs facility near Belfast Harbour yesterday.
A lorry entering a Defra facility near Belfast Harbour. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA



In the latest developments from the UK, the business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, has said he is “very confident” that the government would win a vote on vaccine passports legislation.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:

You can never predict parliamentary votes but we’ve got a majority of 80 and I’m very confident we can pass the legislation we require.

I don’t know what the proposed vote will be, you can never tell what the actual vote in the House of Commons in terms of the wording and what the position is.

It might just be a general vote on the concept, even, of vaccine passports, these votes can take any form that you can imagine.

If the vote does occur, I’m confident the Government will preserve a majority.



Also in Indonesia, a man with coronavirus was removed from a plane after boarding a domestic flight disguised as his wife.

The man, who the Associated Press reports was wearing a niqab and carrying fake ID and a negative PCR test, was spotted after an attendant on the flight from Jakarta to Ternate noticed him changing clothes in the toilet. He was subsequently arrested when the plane landed.

“He bought the plane ticket with his wife’s name and brought the identity card, the PCR test result and the vaccination card with his wife’s name. All documents are under his wife’s name,” Ternate police chief, Aditya Laksimada, said.



South Korea reports another day of record cases

South Korea today reported another day of record cases amid one of its worst coronavirus outbreaks to date.

There were 1,842 new cases - including at least 270 sailors who were on an anti-piracy navy destroyer - breaking the previous record set on Wednesday.

Authorities are considering expanding restrictions that were implemented in Seoul and neighbouring areas last week, reports Reuters, as clusters develop across the country.

Overall, total infections in South Korea now stand at 184,103 cases and 2,063 deaths. Only around 13% of the population has been fully vaccinated.

US deputy secretary of state, Wendy Sherman, and South Korea’s foreign minister, Chung Eui-yong, bump elbows at the foreign ministry in Seoul today.
US deputy secretary of state, Wendy Sherman, and South Korea’s foreign minister, Chung Eui-yong, bump elbows at the foreign ministry in Seoul today. Photograph: Song Kyung-Seok/AFP/Getty Images


WHO urges Indonesia to introduce stricter lockdown amid surging Covid cases

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged Indonesia to bring in stricter and wider lockdown measures in a bid to tackle surging Covid infections and deaths in the country.

It comes days after the country’s president said the government will start lifting restrictions on July 26 if cases continue to decline.

But this week daily deaths hit record highs of more than 1,300 and positive cases have risen fivefold in the past five weeks.

The WHO has warned in its latest situation report that restrictions are crucial and called for additional “urgent action” to fight rising cases in 13 provinces:

Indonesia is currently facing a very high transmission level, and it is indicative of the utmost importance of implementing stringent public health and social measures, especially movement restrictions, throughout the country.


UK shadow home secretary warns: "We can't afford to have a summer of chaos"

The UK shadow home secretary has warned “we can’t afford to have a summer of chaos” as he urged the government to “take responsibility” for rising infections and ensuring that essential supplies and services can continue.

Speaking to Sky News, Nick Thomas-Symonds, shadow Home Secretary and Welsh Labour MP for Torfaen, refused to be drawn on exactly who should be on a self-isolation exemption list for those “pinged” by the NHS app, but that food workers and lorry drivers could be considered.

He said he is concerned about the growing infections because of the way the government has “recklessly” removed Covid restrictions, but added: “Of course we cant have a country where essential supplies have actually been cut off”.


UK food stores could be forced to close due to Covid self-isolation rules, the British Retail Consortium warns

The chief executive of the British Retail Consortium has warned that some food retailers will be forced to close shops due to the numbers of staff having to self-isolate after being “pinged” by the NHS app.

But Helen Dickinson urged people not to panic, adding: “There’s plenty of food in the country.”

She said some parts of the country are worse hit than others but that fear is growing among business owners. Self-isolation rules are currently not planned to change until August 16.

“Right now that feels a long time away given the rises that we’re seeing in case numbers,” Dickinson told BBC breakfast.

“There will be many smaller businesses where if they only have one or two staff and they need to self-isolate, then that’s them needing to close their doors completely.
“What is the most important thing is that people don’t panic because there’s no need to panic, because there’s plenty of food in the country.”


More from the UK, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has elaborated slightly on the plans for a fully-vaccinated critical workers exemption list, saying it will be “very narrow”.

He told BBC Breakfast: “The list, I think, will be quite narrow, it will be very narrow, simply because we don’t want to get into a huge debate about who is exempt.”

But, he added: “The rule is very clear, we should self-isolate. It’s as simple as that. If you are pinged, you should self-isolate.

“I’m not going to countenance people breaking the rules or anything like that. I think they should just follow them.”


In the UK, a doctor and member of the British Medical Association has said that people deleting the NHS app is “very unfortunate” and compares blaming the app for “pings” to blaming a fire alarm for a fire.

Dr Tom Dolphin, an anaesthetist, told Sky that hospitals don’t have very much spare capacity at the moment and that the number of people being pinged reflects the numbers being infected.

He said the proposed NHS pay rise is probably going to turn out to be a “below inflation pay rise” at a time when exhausted doctors are leaving the NHS.


More from UK business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng who has said that the government’s offer of a 3% pay rise for NHS staff in England and Wales as they are faced with the huge repercussions of the pandemic is “fair”.

He told Sky News: “The independent review has recommended a 3% increase and the Government has decided that we’ll go with the independent review.

“I think that’s entirely fair. Obviously we’d like it to be more but you’ve got to remember we spent 350 billion to deal with the pandemic.

“I think 3%, which, after all, was what the independent review came up with, is a fair number.”

The Royal College of Nursing, meanwhile, has told the BBC that staff are “angry” about the planned increase and may consider industrial action.