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Coronavirus Australia: Victoria's lockdown lifted as Dan Andrews amends roadmap to freedom 

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Victorians holed up in their sixth lockdown are four days away from their first taste of freedom in months.

The state recorded 1,838 new Covid-19 cases and seven more deaths on Sunday as vaccination rates surge towards the 70 per cent double-dose milestone. 

Surging vaccination rates have prompted Premier Daniel Andrews to fast-track freedoms in the state’s roadmap out of lockdown and tweak previously announced eased restrictions.

Melbourne will be lifted from lockdown at 11.59pm Thursday, the day Victoria is expected to reach the 70 per cent double-dose target.

The dreaded night curfew and 15km travel limit will be abolished, hospitality outlets can reopen for dining at restricted capacity while the staggered return to the classroom begins this Friday.

Residents can have up to 10 visitors at their homes while outdoor gathering limits will increase from 10 to 15.

Melburnians will finally be lifted from lockdown at 11.59pm Friday

Fully vaccinated Melburnians will be able to able outdoors in groups up to 15 (pictured Victorians having a picnic in Princes Park)

Fully vaccinated Melburnians will be able to able outdoors in groups up to 15 (pictured Victorians having a picnic in Princes Park)

Visitors to homes don’t have to be fully vaccinated but is highly recommended by the state government and health officials. The same rule applies for outdoor gatherings.

The Premier praised Victorians on their ‘mighty’ effort to roll up their sleeves.

Melbourne’s current 73 day lockdown was due to end on October 26 but will now end four days earlier.

‘These are things we can bring forward because the Victorian community has done so well in getting vaccinated so fast and in such great numbers,’ Mr Andrews said on Sunday.

‘I could not be more proud of our community for coming forward and making these decisions to protect themselves, to protect the people they love, and to protect all of us against this global pandemic.’

‘To allow us to change the rules to open up, to normalise this, to get our friends back, to be focused on living our lives as close to normal as possible.’ 

Mr Andrews later tweeted: ‘Bring forward the haircut and tell Mum you’ll be round for dinner.’

Hospitality venues can reopen for up to 20 fully vaccinated customers indoors and 50 outdoors.

Non-essential retail can reopen for outdoor service only along with click and collect, while hairdressing will be open for up to five fully vaccinated people.

Entertainment venues and amusement parks can reopen for 50 fully vaccinated people outdoors.

Travelling to regional areas remains off limits for Melburnians until the state reaches 80 per cent double dose target.  

Melburnians will be able to have up to five fully vaccinated visitors per day at their homes

Melburnians will be able to have up to five fully vaccinated visitors per day at their homes

Melbourne schools' staggered reopening to students will begin this Friday

Melbourne schools’ staggered reopening to students will begin this Friday

Surging vaccination rates prompted Premier Daniel Andrews (pictured on Sunday) to amend the state's roadmap out of lockdown

Surging vaccination rates prompted Premier Daniel Andrews (pictured on Sunday) to amend the state’s roadmap out of lockdown

Large-scale construction sites can also increase to 100 per cent capacity but only if all workers are fully vaccinated.

Religious gatherings, weddings and funerals will allow up to 50 fully vaccinated guests outdoors and 20 people indoors. 

Masks are still required both indoors and outdoors.

The amendments to Victoria’s road map were announced a week after millions of fully vaccinated NSW residents enjoyed their taste of freedom in 106 days, where the 80 per cent double dose rate was hit on Saturday.

Mr Andrews said roadmap amendments were based on the latest Burnet Institute modelling, which is predicting much lower hospitalisation and death figures than originally forecasted.

‘We have more case numbers than we would like but they are not converting into hospitalisations,’ the Premier explained.

‘The length of the stay in hospital is substantially less than we thought it would be. 

‘Acuity of illness is substantially less than we thought it would be. All of these things are positive.’

‘The more people who get vaccinated, the more options we will have to get back to normal or at least COVID normal, to do things that we love the most and be with the people we love the most but to do so safely. 

‘Not putting more pressure on our nurses. Not overwhelming our health system.’ 

'Bring forward the haircut and tell Mum you'll be round for dinner,' Daniel Andrews captioned his state's revised roadmap out of lockdown (pictured)

‘Bring forward the haircut and tell Mum you’ll be round for dinner,’ Daniel Andrews captioned his state’s revised roadmap out of lockdown (pictured)

Melburnians will be travel beyond 15km of their homes for the first time in 78 days on Friday (pictured resident walking his dog at Williamstown Beach on Saturday)

Melburnians will be travel beyond 15km of their homes for the first time in 78 days on Friday (pictured resident walking his dog at Williamstown Beach on Saturday)

The Premier added that 90 per cent of cases currently in hospital were not fully vaccinated.

‘They are not numbers, they are people that are very, very unwell. Some of whom are gravely unwell, gasping for air, they are not vaccinated, not fully vaccinated, almost all of them,’ he said.

‘So there is every reason – every reason – to get vaccinated like so many Victorians already have. 

The state’s Chief Health Officer Professor Brett Sutton believes the health system will cope in the weeks ahead as Victoria reopens.

‘With the very high vaccination coverage, our health system – which will continue to have significant challenges – it will cope,’ he said.

Around 73,501 Victorians came forward for testing on Saturday as jabs administrated surge past five million.

‘Today is the day to congratulate and thank every single one of those five million Victorians who have at least got one dose. Of course there is more to do,’ Mr Andrews said.

‘We’ve got to get to that 70 per cent double dose threshold, we’ve got to push beyond that and get to 80 per cent pleasingly.’

Melbourne epidemiologist Catherine Bennett welcomed Sunday’s announcement.

I think one of the key bits of information that surfaced today was actually what is happening with our hospitalisations,’ she told ABC.

‘We have watched those rise, double, in the last couple of weeks, and so we have seen that blow through from the rising case numbers a fortnight ago, but in fact they are levelling out now already and importantly, the other bit of news today was those are ending up in hospital are therefore a shorter time so I think that is really important. 

Around 100,000 Victorians who have had their first jab will get a phone call this week to fast-track their second dose (pictured a pop up vaccination clinic in Melbourne on Saturday)

Around 100,000 Victorians who have had their first jab will get a phone call this week to fast-track their second dose (pictured a pop up vaccination clinic in Melbourne on Saturday)

Melburnians will be free to travel anywhere in the metropolitan area from Friday

Melburnians will be free to travel anywhere in the metropolitan area from Friday

Surging vaccination rates have resulted in the further easing of restrictions on the roadmap out of lockdown (pictured a pop up vaccination clinic in Melbourne)

Surging vaccination rates have resulted in the further easing of restrictions on the roadmap out of lockdown (pictured a pop up vaccination clinic in Melbourne)

‘We always knew that the shift in focus would be too serious illness and hospitalisation as an indicator of that and also about our capacity to give people the care that they need if they are seriously ill, but that looks like that is more contained than certainly the modelling predicted and that has a lot to do with our vaccination doses.’

‘I think that is the important news is we have now got a level of protection, we can take some extra steps sooner but we are also bringing those dates in the roadmap forward as we knew we could because they were linked to vaccination numbers, so that as a sign of great progress in terms of the vaccination rollout here in Victoria.’

The seven deaths takes the toll from the current COVID-19 outbreak to 145 and follows the death of a 15-year-old girl with underlying conditions announced on Saturday. 

The state’s tally of active cases has climbed to 23,376. 

The Victorian crisis cabinet met on Saturday night to finetune eased restrictions.

In regional Victoria, restaurants, cafes and gyms can now have up to 30 fully vaccinated patrons per venue while outdoor venues can increase their capacity from 20 to 100.

VICTORIA FAST-TRACKS ROADMAP

Victoria’s lockdown will end at 11.59pm Thursday with a raft of eased restrictions. 

* Reasons to leave home and curfew no longer in place

* 10 people including dependents can visit a home each day

* 15 people can gather outdoors

* Pubs, clubs and entertainment venues can open to 20 fully vaccinated people indoors and 50 fully vaccinated people outdoors

* Funerals and weddings allowed for 20 fully vaccinated indoors and 50 fully vaccinated outdoors

* All students to return to school at least part-time

* Hairdressing and beauty salons to open for up to five fully vaccinated people at a time. 

Government officials in Victoria are increasing efforts to get 80 per cent of the state to be fully vaccinated by the end of October.

To do so, health staff are contacting 100,000 Victorians to bring forward their second dose of the vaccine. 

Freedoms at 70 per cent for fully vaccinated Victorians so far include non-essential retail opening with density limits wile the limit on outdoor social gatherings rising to 10 fully-vaccinated people.

Pubs, clubs and entertainment venues will reopen with density limits as well as intrastate travel with the exception of metropolitan Melbourne.

Caps on funerals, weddings and religious ceremonies will also be increased.  

Victorian health officials are ringing those with second dose bookings asking them to bring their appointments forward to October 25 to help reach these targets sooner

Victorian health officials are ringing those with second dose bookings asking them to bring their appointments forward to October 25 to help reach these targets sooner

The state government has approved crowds at some large-scale events including Remembrance Day, with health officials confirming on Saturday night the state would be likely to hit 70 and 80 per cent targets within a week of each other if appointments for the second doses are brought forward.  

‘With regular supplies of Pfizer and Moderna now available, every eligible Victorian now has the opportunity to bring forward their Covid-19 vaccination and get protected sooner,’ a department statement said.

‘Up to 100,000 Victorians can expect to get a call from the Department of Health in coming days inviting them to bring forward their second doses of Pfizer.’

Hospitality outlets will welcome back fully vaccinated diners from Friday (pictured a restaurant in Melbourne)

Hospitality outlets will welcome back fully vaccinated diners from Friday (pictured a restaurant in Melbourne)

Freedoms at 70 per cent fully vaccinated targets include pubs, clubs and entertainment venues opening with density limits

Freedoms at 70 per cent fully vaccinated targets include pubs, clubs and entertainment venues opening with density limits

The coronavirus hotline is now ringing those with second dose bookings, asking them to move up their jabs to October 25 or earlier due to a serge in Pfizer and Moderna as one million doses arrive in Victoria next week. 

This campaign suggests Victoria will be able to reach 80 per cent by October 31 according to analyst Anthony Macali of Covidlive.com.au. 

Mr Macali said he was optimistic Victoria would achieve its vaccine targets before the proposed dates.  

‘There’s a small chance, a very best-case scenario that we get to 80 per cent by the 30th of October, but I’m calling the 31st of October,’ he said to The Herald Sun.

According to the department, Victoria needs 269,341 second doses to reach the 70 per cent target as the Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt says Australia is now ahead of the EU and US for first dose numbers.    

According to the Department of Health, Victoria needs 269,341 second doses to reach the 70 per cent target and be able to experience these freedoms

According to the Department of Health, Victoria needs 269,341 second doses to reach the 70 per cent target and be able to experience these freedoms 

Nation

Court adjusts IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu’s trial date

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1638449661 Nnamdi Kanu

The Federal High Court in Abuja, on Thursday, slightly adjusted the date earlier scheduled for the trial of Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).

Mr Kanu, who is being prosecuted on a seven-count charge bordering on terrorism and treasonable felony, had had his trial adjourned till January 19, 2022, after his defence team staged a walk-out on Binta Nyako, the trial judge, on November 10.

Court adjourns Nnamdi Kanu’s trial as defence lawyers walk out on judge

Ifeanyi Ejiofor, who led other defence lawyers on the walk-out on the judge in the previous proceedings, applied for an abridgement of time in the trial for an urgent hearing of his pending applications. One of such applications challenges the competence of the charges instituted against his client.

But, the prosecuting lawyer, Shuaibu Labaran, opposed the request for abridgement of time, informing the judge he had filed a counter-application.

“Two days ago, we received a call from the court registry informing us that following an application for abridgement of time by the defendant, today (Thursday) was fixed for hearing.

“However, we have filed a counter-application to the defendant’s motion,” Mr Labaran said.

With the prosecution’s objection to the hearing of Mr Kanu’s application, Mr Ejiofor made spirited efforts to sway the court in granting his request.

Judge explains decision

However, the judge said the court’s diary was already congested due to her busy schedule.

“I don’t have a free date to abridge the time for your pending applications,” Mrs Nyako told Mr Kanu’s defence team, reminding them of their “walk-out” on November 10.

“Your case truncated other cases and congests the court. I will take the pending applications at the appropriate time,” the judge said.

Mrs Nyako, who held out her potable diary to demonstrate the court’s crowded engagements, reeled out a number of activities that have taken over judicial time.

“On Friday (tomorrow) alone, I have three judgements to deliver. Then, we have a moot court trial for virtual court sitting. Also in this month, we have the new Legal Year activities as well as a valedictory court session for one of my former colleagues (the late former Chief Judge of Federal High Court, Abdu Kafarati),” the judge explained why Mr Kanu’s trial could not be heard this year.

‘Nnamdi Kanu is being subjected to psychological torture’

After the court grudgingly brought the case forward by one day, January 18, instead of January 19 earlier fixed for it, Mr Ejiofor drew the court’s attention to his client’s “squalid condition” in the SSS detention.

He said his client was being subjected to “psychological torture.”

“The defendant is being kept in a tiny cell and has not been eating well,” Mr Ejiofor told the court.

Mr Kanu’s lead counsel further said since his client’s “abduction” by the Nigerian government and subsequent “extraordinary rendition to Nigeria in June,” the defendant had been wearing the same clothes.

TEXEM

Addressing Mr Ejiofor’s complaints, the judge directed the prosecuting lawyer to impress it on the State Security Service (SSS), the agency keeping Mr Kanu in custody “to give the defendant possible maximum comfort.”

In a bid to de-escalate the visibly charged atmosphere in the courtroom, the judge said the spy agency should prepare “Ofe-Owerri,” a special delicacy in South-eastern Nigeria for Mr Kanu, a comment that elicited laughter from both legal teams.

Following a complaint by Mr Kanu’s lawyer, Mrs Nyako also advised the SSS to allow the IPOB leader to practise his Jewish faith.

Unlike previous sittings where journalists were either barred or had restricted access to the courtroom, Thursday’s proceedings were slightly different, probably due to the absence of Mr Kanu.

The IPOB leader was not brought to court because the application for abridgement of time was filed out of the court’s schedule.

Background

It will be recalled that the SSS barred journalists and lawyers from the court on November 10, when the last trial was held.

Mr Kanu is being tried on charges of treasonable felony regarding his separatist activities. The trial was scheduled to resume before Mrs Nyako, for arguments on an application challenging the court’s jurisdiction to hear the case.

The separatist, who was granted bail in April 2017, fled the country after the invasion of his home in Afara-Ukwu, near Umuahia, Abia State, by the military in September that year, a situation one of Mr Kanu’s lawyers, Alloy Ejimakor, described as the “rule of self-preservation.”

Mrs Nyako subsequently revoked his bail for ditching his trial, and ordered his trial to be separated from the rest of the co-defendants’.

While the trial of the rest of the defendants has made some progress, Mr Kanu’s has been stalled since 2017.

On June 29, 2021, the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, announced that Mr Kanu had been rearrested and brought back to Nigeria to continue facing his trial.

He said the IPOB leader was “intercepted” days earlier but did not give details.

Although there has been no official disclosure about where and how Mr Kanu was arrested, relatives and lawyers to the IPOB leader, have described how he was “kidnapped” in Kenya under controversial circumstances.

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Court adjusts IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu’s trial date

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on

1638449661 Nnamdi Kanu

The Federal High Court in Abuja, on Thursday, slightly adjusted the date earlier scheduled for the trial of Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).

Mr Kanu, who is being prosecuted on a seven-count charge bordering on terrorism and treasonable felony, had had his trial adjourned till January 19, 2022, after his defence team staged a walk-out on Binta Nyako, the trial judge, on November 10.

Court adjourns Nnamdi Kanu’s trial as defence lawyers walk out on judge

Ifeanyi Ejiofor, who led other defence lawyers on the walk-out on the judge in the previous proceedings, applied for an abridgement of time in the trial for an urgent hearing of his pending applications. One of such applications challenges the competence of the charges instituted against his client.

But, the prosecuting lawyer, Shuaibu Labaran, opposed the request for abridgement of time, informing the judge he had filed a counter-application.

“Two days ago, we received a call from the court registry informing us that following an application for abridgement of time by the defendant, today (Thursday) was fixed for hearing.

“However, we have filed a counter-application to the defendant’s motion,” Mr Labaran said.

With the prosecution’s objection to the hearing of Mr Kanu’s application, Mr Ejiofor made spirited efforts to sway the court in granting his request.

Judge explains decision

However, the judge said the court’s diary was already congested due to her busy schedule.

“I don’t have a free date to abridge the time for your pending applications,” Mrs Nyako told Mr Kanu’s defence team, reminding them of their “walk-out” on November 10.

“Your case truncated other cases and congests the court. I will take the pending applications at the appropriate time,” the judge said.

Mrs Nyako, who held out her potable diary to demonstrate the court’s crowded engagements, reeled out a number of activities that have taken over judicial time.

“On Friday (tomorrow) alone, I have three judgements to deliver. Then, we have a moot court trial for virtual court sitting. Also in this month, we have the new Legal Year activities as well as a valedictory court session for one of my former colleagues (the late former Chief Judge of Federal High Court, Abdu Kafarati),” the judge explained why Mr Kanu’s trial could not be heard this year.

‘Nnamdi Kanu is being subjected to psychological torture’

After the court grudgingly brought the case forward by one day, January 18, instead of January 19 earlier fixed for it, Mr Ejiofor drew the court’s attention to his client’s “squalid condition” in the SSS detention.

He said his client was being subjected to “psychological torture.”

“The defendant is being kept in a tiny cell and has not been eating well,” Mr Ejiofor told the court.

Mr Kanu’s lead counsel further said since his client’s “abduction” by the Nigerian government and subsequent “extraordinary rendition to Nigeria in June,” the defendant had been wearing the same clothes.

TEXEM

Addressing Mr Ejiofor’s complaints, the judge directed the prosecuting lawyer to impress it on the State Security Service (SSS), the agency keeping Mr Kanu in custody “to give the defendant possible maximum comfort.”

In a bid to de-escalate the visibly charged atmosphere in the courtroom, the judge said the spy agency should prepare “Ofe-Owerri,” a special delicacy in South-eastern Nigeria for Mr Kanu, a comment that elicited laughter from both legal teams.

Following a complaint by Mr Kanu’s lawyer, Mrs Nyako also advised the SSS to allow the IPOB leader to practise his Jewish faith.

Unlike previous sittings where journalists were either barred or had restricted access to the courtroom, Thursday’s proceedings were slightly different, probably due to the absence of Mr Kanu.

The IPOB leader was not brought to court because the application for abridgement of time was filed out of the court’s schedule.

Background

It will be recalled that the SSS barred journalists and lawyers from the court on November 10, when the last trial was held.

Mr Kanu is being tried on charges of treasonable felony regarding his separatist activities. The trial was scheduled to resume before Mrs Nyako, for arguments on an application challenging the court’s jurisdiction to hear the case.

The separatist, who was granted bail in April 2017, fled the country after the invasion of his home in Afara-Ukwu, near Umuahia, Abia State, by the military in September that year, a situation one of Mr Kanu’s lawyers, Alloy Ejimakor, described as the “rule of self-preservation.”

Mrs Nyako subsequently revoked his bail for ditching his trial, and ordered his trial to be separated from the rest of the co-defendants’.

While the trial of the rest of the defendants has made some progress, Mr Kanu’s has been stalled since 2017.

On June 29, 2021, the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, announced that Mr Kanu had been rearrested and brought back to Nigeria to continue facing his trial.

He said the IPOB leader was “intercepted” days earlier but did not give details.

Although there has been no official disclosure about where and how Mr Kanu was arrested, relatives and lawyers to the IPOB leader, have described how he was “kidnapped” in Kenya under controversial circumstances.

Support PREMIUM TIMES’ journalism of integrity and credibility

Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.

For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.

By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.

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Now don't invite more than FIVE guests to your Christmas party, says minister

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When will they make their minds up? Ministers and their muddled advice on Christmas parties

Prime Minister Boris Johnson: Don’t cancel your Christmas party

‘People should live their lives. We are not changing the guidance on how you should basically be living your life… Providing people continue to be cautious and sensible, we think that’s the right approach.

‘We continue to be in a strong position largely thanks to the speed of the vaccine rollout, another booster rollout and I think I’m going to stick with the formula I’ve used before, which is I’m pretty confident to absolutely confident this Christmas will be considerably better than last Christmas.’ 

Health Minister Gillian Keegan: Continue with your festive plans

‘Continue with your Christmas plans, continue with your nativity plays and your Christmas parties

‘Of course Christmas is on track, and actually what everybody wants for Christmas is if you haven’t had your first jab, come and get it, if you haven’t had your second jab, come and get it, and if you haven’t had your booster, come and get it when you’re asked.’ 

Health Secretary Sajid Javid: Take a test and wear a mask

‘If you are invited to a Christmas party, there’s quite a few people there, maybe you want to take an LFT (lateral flow test) test before you go. Go to the party, but just be cautious.’

Asked if he would wear a mask if he was at a party, Mr Javid said: ‘It depends if I am walking around or sitting down. It depends if I’m eating. People just need to make a decision based on the guidance

Therese Coffey: No snogging under the mistletoe

‘For what it’s worth, I don’t think there should be much snogging under the mistletoe.

‘(You) don’t need to do things like that. But I think we should all be trying to enjoy the Christmas ahead of us and that’s why we’re working so hard to get the deployment of as many vaccines as possible.’ 

‘Christmas we should continue to plan for and enjoy.’ But she said snogging should be avoided with ‘people you don’t already know’. 

George Freeman: Don’t invite more than five people 

Individual businesses, in the end, have to make judgments on what is appropriate internally.

‘It slightly depends on the nature of the business. For many small businesses, four or five staff, who are working together every day anyway, gathering to have a drink isn’t a big step up in risk.

‘But some companies might normally bring hundreds of people in from around the world to a big party, and they may decide, this year, is that sensible given the pandemic and given where we are?

‘In the end, I think business people know how to make those decisions. The Government has set out clear guidance.’   

A business minister today plunged Christmas party plans for millions of Britons into further chaos after declaring it would be ‘sensible’ to limit them to ‘four or five staff’ or axe them completely as hospitality bosses said the Government’s muddled and confusing advice had led to a ‘catastrophic’ 48 hours for the industry.

George Freeman, the Under Secretary of State for Science, revealed that he was cancelling his own department’s bash, changing it to drinks on Zoom instead amid concerns over the new Omicron variant, admitting: ‘It won’t be the best party in the world’.

Mr Freeman is the fifth minister to give different advice about festive parties with half of businesses cancelling this year costing UK hospitality ‘billions’. His boss Boris Johnson has insisted that there is no need to cancel this year and ‘people should live their lives’ because he is ‘confident this Christmas will be better than the last’.

Plunging party plans into further chaos this morning, Mr Freeman said larger companies might consider cancelling their staff Christmas parties. He said: ‘It slightly depends on the nature of the business. For many small businesses, four or five staff, who are working together every day anyway, gathering to have a drink isn’t a big step up in risk. 

‘But some companies might normally bring hundreds of people in from around the world to a big party, and they may decide, this year, is that sensible given the pandemic and given where we are? In the end, I think business people know how to make those decisions’.

He added: ‘I haven’t been kissed under the mistletoe for years. I can tell you that my parliamentary team and I normally have a Christmas party. We’ve decided this year that it is probably sensible to do it by Zoom and wait for the spring. It won’t be the best party in the world’. 

It came as a Christmas party at a seafood restaurant in Oslo, Norway left between 50 and 60 people infected with Covid-19, suspected to be the new super-mutant Omicron variant.  If confirmed, it would be the world’s biggest outbreak of the new strain so far. 

Sacha Lord, the night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, said the advice from UK Health Security Agency head Dr Jenny Harries on Tuesday that people should not socialise unnecessarily – which kicked off the row – had been ‘catastrophic for the industry’.  

He told Sky News: ‘In the last 48 hours it’s been catastrophic for the industry. We’ve seen office parties cancelled, flights are cancelling, it’s been a huge domino effect. This isn’t just restaurants, this is the whole ecology around it – it’s the supply chain, it’s the taxis, it’s hotel rooms, it’s everything that goes with it. 

‘December is a time when people can have a good time – they can take up to 25 per cent of their annual turnover in December. Sadly, at the eleventh hour, it’s been snatched away from them.’ 

He also said this week: ‘If the hospitality sector is not supported and closes in December, it will be the final nail in the coffin for many of our beloved venues.’  

It comes as major companies including NatWest, Aviva and Deutsche Bank said all staff would have to take a lateral flow test before attending their Christmas parties. The trio and several other big firms also said events would be limited to teams rather than full-staff.

Legal & General decided in October that Christmas celebrations should be kept small and team-based; Microsoft is holding a large ‘virtual’ party’; while Lloyd’s decided to hold its annual staff bash in the summer.

Advertising supremo Sir Martin Sorrell said there had been a ‘sharp series of cancellations’ in Christmas parties since the emergence of the Omicron variant. 

More than half (52 per cent) of UK workplaces have chosen not to hold a Christmas office party, according to a poll of 2,000 staff by Covid testing firm Prenetics. 

Yesterday Sajid Javid was the first to spark anger from hospitality bosses after he urged partygoers to take a Covid test. The Health Secretary even suggested they should consider wearing a face mask. Yet one of his health ministers, Gillian Keegan, urged: ‘Continue with your Christmas plans, continue with your nativity plays and your Christmas parties.’

Last night Therese Coffey sent more mixed messages on socialising after she warned people to avoid ‘snogging under the mistletoe’ over the holiday period.

And there was more chaos on Tuesday when Dr Harries said people should limit socialising in December. This sparked suspicion among Tory MPs that she was being set up as the fall guy by ministers who are too scared to admit further restrictions are likely.  

Despite Mr Freeman insisting ‘the Government has set out clear guidance’, there appears to be a 50-50 split between live and virtual Christmas parties. Some will wait until next year.

Richard Corrigan, chef and patron of Corrigan’s Mayfair, said: ‘This was the Christmas that was supposed to save us. Clearly, that’s not going to happen. We’ve had substantial enough corporate cancellations. It’s shown on the bookings as well. It’s not business as usual. By next April, there will be an absolute crisis in hospitality.’

Russell Norman of Bruto told the Telegraph: ‘If there’s one thing I’ve noticed from our customers it is absolute confusion. People don’t know if they should wear masks on arrival, as they move between the table and the bar, or to the loos. People are waiting for a solid, confident message. They are nervous and they want guidance’. 

Andrew Andrea, the boss of Marston’s, which runs 1,500 pubs and hotels across the UK, said the company had already been seeing bookings on a smaller scale this Christmas before the Omicron fears. He said: ‘We have seen a lot more bookings for 15 to 30 people, instead of the 60-plus bookings we saw more of before Covid.’

The row over Christmas parties and the new Covid-19 regulations, enshrined in law until March, came as: 

  • Ministers bought 114million more doses of coronavirus vaccines that can be tweaked to protect against new variants with fourth or even fifth boosters planned until 2023;    
  • No 10 insists its staff ‘followed the guidance’ amid reports that a Christmas party contravening social distancing rules was held there last December;
  • Businesses allow staff to work from home and bring back mask wearing and temperature checks in the office; 
  • Shamed Matt Hancock apologises again in first TV interview since losing his job and wife over office affair and declares: ‘I’ve blown up every part of my life’;

Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of the trade body UK Hospitality, said ministers’ comments would have a serious financial impact on their businesses. 

A Christmas party in Norway at the exclusive Louise Restaurant & Bar in Oslo has left between 50 and 60 people infected with Covid-19, suspected to be the new super-mutant Omicron variant

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Ministers and Boris Johnson’s top scientists have all given different advice about whether to hold a Christmas party

Prime Minister Boris Johnson switches on the Christmas tree lights outside 10 Downing Street in London yesterday evening amid confusion over the festive period

Prime Minister Boris Johnson switches on the Christmas tree lights outside 10 Downing Street in London yesterday evening amid confusion over the festive period

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Ms Nicholls said: ‘I think you are seeing once again a return of uncertainty. It’s quite clear the messaging over the weekend had a chilling effect on consumer confidence and we are starting to see a small number of cancellations.

Christmas party leaves 50-60 people infected with suspected Omicron Covid in Norway in what would be world’s biggest outbreak of the variant 

A Christmas party in Norway has left between 50 and 60 people infected with Covid-19, suspected to be the new super-mutant Omicron variant.

If confirmed, it would be the world’s biggest outbreak of the new strain so far.

Medics have ruled out the possibility the infections are Delta variant cases and said there was a ‘high probability’ it was the new strain.

Officials said 50 people tested positive on a PCR test following Norwegian renewable energy company Scatec’s Christmas dinner at Louise Restaurant & Bar in Oslo.

A further 10 people received positive results from lateral flow tests, NRK reported.

The Christmas party was held in a closed room but the guests reportedly mingled with other people in the restaurant after 10:30pm, when it turned into a nightclub.

At least two restaurant guests not involved in the Christmas party also later tested positive, though it is not yet clear if they were infected at the event or from a different contact.

Ten waiters who served the table were tested after the party, but none have tested positive.

One of the Scatec employees had recently returned from South Africa, where the company does some of its business.

It was not immediately clear if the employee was patient zero or if they had been travelling in South Africa for Scatec.

 

‘It’s a trickle at the moment… but we need that message to be reinforced more strongly to put an end to the uncertainty and the threat of a stop-start to the economy again in the run up to Christmas.’

What are major companies doing for this year’s Christmas parties? 

NatWest: Employees should to take a lateral flow test before attending team parties, but attendance is a personal choice.

Financial Conduct Authority: No centralised Christmas parties – it is up to each team to decide whether they wish to organise a small gathering, and colleagues can make a personal choice on whether they want to attend. 

Microsoft: One large ‘virtual’ party, but some smaller teams are having in person events, which was always the plan. There was never a scheduled in-person event. 

HSBC: Bosses have not asked staff to cancel Christmas events, although expect some may wish to have virtual or split team events for business continuity. 

Legal & General: Bosses decided in October that Christmas celebrations should be kept small and team-based due to Covid-19 

Deutsche Bank: The firm hasn’t held big Christmas parties ‘for some time’, but individual teams have them. There is a rule that staff need to take lateral flow test before or cannot go.

Google: Company has emailed UK staff urging them to ‘move any planned in-person social gatherings until 2022’ and limiting them to no more than 15 people

BBC: Holding off from staff Christmas parties

JP Morgan: Has not issued Christmas party guidance so far.  

Lloyd’s: Bosses decided to hold the annual staff party in the summer instead of having a Christmas one, to enjoy the warmer weather and following staff feedback 

Aviva: Staff should take a Covid test on the morning of their Christmas parties, which are also within teams – and should ‘wear face coverings as appropriate’.

Deloitte: Staff can make a personal choice on whether to attend, with parties taking place within teams. 

EY: Christmas parties within teams are still taking place.

PricewaterhouseCoopers: Firm-wide event is not planned, but smaller parties are taking place. 

KPMG: Christmas parties will take place within teams.

NHS Providers: Staff at some NHS trusts have been told ‘not to mix in big groups’ ahead of Christmas. 

She added: ‘I think there’s also a sense of trepidation that their plans might be disrupted again, and so that irrespective of whether there are government controls imposed on the economy, that is having a cooling effect undoubtedly on hospitality.

‘We already saw that bookings were subdued this year compared to pre-pandemic levels. And this will clearly have a further adverse impact on our businesses.’

Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, called for more clarity from government.

‘As we embark in earnest on this make-or-break festive season, clarity, consistency and proactive promotion of official advice is more important than ever,’ he said.

‘If that advice is to carry on with plans – with protective measures like hand sanitiser, screens, ventilation, masks and testing in place, which small firms have already been investing in these past 18 months – then that needs to be made crystal clear.’ 

There has been a ‘sharp series of cancellations’ in Christmas parties since the emergence of the Omicron variant, according to the executive chairman of a major ad agency.

Sir Martin Sorrell, of S4Capital, said there is ‘extreme’ uncertainty.

Asked if they were cancelling office parties, he told the BBC Radio Four Today programme: ‘It’s not so much what we’re doing as what we see our clients doing and other people.

‘The answer is they are doing that, they are cancelling, (there has) been quite a sharp series of cancellations since this happened just, what, three, four, five days ago.

‘So, the uncertainty is extreme and Government policy, understandably, I mean to be a little bit sympathetic to the Government, it is an extremely difficult situation.

‘We have been through this before with Delta and the previous variants, so you would have thought the Government would be a little bit more prepared for what may or may not happen in terms of scenario planning.’ 

The government has been accused of sending more mixed messages on socialising at Christmas after a minister last night said that people should avoid ‘snogging under the mistletoe’ over the holiday.

It comes after Boris Johnson yesterday contradicted deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries by saying that Christmas parties should go ahead, hours after she had said Britons should limit socialising over fears surrounding the new Omicron variant of cornavirus that has emerged. 

Thirty-two cases of the heavily-mutated variant have been found in the UK after it was first discovered in Africa, and it is feared that the strain may be able to evade the protection offered by vaccines and reinfect people who have previously been infected.   

Sajid Javid was the first to spark anger from hospitality bosses after he urged partygoers to take a Covid test. The Health Secretary even suggested they should consider wearing a face mask.

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey then went further, and told ITV’s Peston programme that ‘we should all be trying to enjoy the Christmas ahead of us’, adding: ‘For what it’s worth, I don’t think there should be much snogging under the mistletoe.’

‘(You) don’t need to do things like that. But I think we should all be trying to enjoy the Christmas ahead of us and that’s why we’re working so hard to get the deployment of as many vaccines as possible.’ Ms Coffey said kissing should be avoided with ‘people you don’t already know’.   

And it emerged last night that office Christmas parties were already being postponed by organisers who are afraid of the threat posed by Omicron.  Some employees have also been told to work from home amid fears over the new strain. Events company DesignMyNight has said that festive party cancellations jumped 15 per cent after the prime minister’s first press conference on Saturday – with more after he spoke on Tuesday. 

A string of hotels and restaurants revealed they faced losing thousands of pounds from lost bookings. 

Ministers have been accused of scaring businesses into sending staff home through December and cancelling Christmas parties because of the Omicron strain of Covid-19 as SAGE scientists called for all UK arrivals to be forced to quarantine for five days and take a pre-departure PCR test even if they are fully vaccinated. 

In rules now enshrined in law until March, Boris Johnson said that face coverings must now be worn in shops and on public transport to ‘buy us time in the face of this new variant’ while he pledged to ‘throw everything’ at the booster vaccination campaign and offer jabs to 40million over-18s by January 31 to tackle its spread.

But in the same Downing Street press conference on Tuesday evening the Prime Minister insisted another lockdown is ‘extremely unlikely’, urging people not to cancel their plans and to ‘keep living your life’.

Critics say the Government’s latest coronavirus rules on masks, blanket quarantine for Omicron contacts and gloomy language about the threat of the new variant is actually encouraging a semi-lockdown by stealth despite just 22 cases of the new strain detected so far.

While a World Health Organization official claimed today that most Omicron cases are ‘mild’ and there is no evidence the new variant has any impact on vaccine effectiveness against serious illness.

Amid accusations of mixed messages Sajid Javid also encouraged millions of people to be ‘sensible’ and ‘cautious’ about attending Christmas parties and to take a lateral flow test before going to slow the spread of the Omicron variant. There are also ‘no guarantees’ that there won’t be a lockdown this Christmas, the Health Secretary warned.

Google has emailed UK staff urging them to ‘move any planned in-person social gatherings until 2022’ and limiting them to no more than 15 people. Ronan Harris, Vice President and MD for Google UK & Ireland, also told workers that face-to-face business meetings and events must be approved by a company director. 

And despite Government guidance saying otherwise, many UK companies have scrambled to reinstate office restrictions including mask wearing in communal areas such as corridors and lifts. Insurance giant Aviva is introducing daily lateral flow tests for employees. EY is one of a number of big businesses asking staff to wear face coverings when not at their desks.

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Mr Johnson exits 10 Downing Street as a children's choir sings during the ceremony to switch on the Downing Street Christmas tree lights in London on Wednesday

Mr Johnson exits 10 Downing Street as a children’s choir sings during the ceremony to switch on the Downing Street Christmas tree lights in London on Wednesday

Therese Coffey

Sajid Javid

Ministers including Therese Coffey (pictured left) and Sajid Javid (right) were told not to be ‘ Christmas killjoys’ on Wednesday night after festive events were cancelled because of the Omicron variant

Boris Johnson listens to a children's choir during the ceremony to switch on the Downing Street Christmas tree lights today

Boris Johnson listens to a children’s choir during the ceremony to switch on the Downing Street Christmas tree lights today

The Prime Minister stands in front of a crowd after switching on the Downing Street Christmas tree lights this evening

The Prime Minister stands in front of a crowd after switching on the Downing Street Christmas tree lights this evening

Mr Johnson applauds and looks up at the Downing Street Christmas tree after turning on its lights on Wednesday

Mr Johnson applauds and looks up at the Downing Street Christmas tree after turning on its lights on Wednesday

Tory MP Sir Christopher Chope has claimed the Prime Minister’s regulations are ‘part of a scaremongering propaganda campaign that is really designed to restrict or stop interaction between social animals. They’re designed to suppress freedom of the individual and suppress social contact, and they’re doing that through unreasonable fear-mongering.’

Alec Shelbrooke, Conservative MP for Elmet and Rothwell, said: ‘I have received several emails from travel companies in my constituency whose potential bookings have dropped off a cliff because of the cost of PCR tests’, adding encouragement back towards working from home will be devastating for businesses relying on office workers.

Anyone in close contact with an Omicron case must now self-isolate for ten days, even if doubled jabbed.

The new rule is thought to have left bosses worried that an outbreak at an event could put multiple staff in quarantine.

Hospitality chiefs and Tory MPs believe the mixed messages – Boris Johnson has said people should ‘keep living your life’ – was having a ‘chilling effect on consumer confidence’.

Steve Baker, who spoke out against new coronavirus curbs in the Commons on Tuesday, said the public needed ‘clarity, not Christmas killjoys’.

The Tory former minister added: ‘People are sick and tired of this level of micromanagement of their lives. They want to be free and joyful, and they want to be free and joyful at Christmas – without the Christmas killjoys.’

World Health Organisation officials suggested yesterday that those diagnosed with Omicron so far mostly had no symptoms or only ‘very, very mild’ ones. 

None of the 32 confirmed cases in the UK has been hospitalised. However, ministers have already brought back face masks in shops and on public transport and toughened self-isolation rules. The booster rollout is also to be rapidly accelerated.  

Public health chief Jenny Harries sparked a row on Tuesday by advising against ‘unnecessary socialising’ in the run-up to Christmas. The Prime Minister later contradicted her, telling people not to cancel festive events.

But last night it was claimed that staff working for NHS trusts, for magazines and even Age UK were among those to have had their Christmas parties cancelled. Many large employers are either telling employees to return to working from home or advancing Covid security measures in the office.

Kate Nicholls, of the trade body UK Hospitality, said: ‘The messaging over the weekend had a chilling effect on consumer confidence and we are starting to see a small number of cancellations.’

Mike Cherry of the Federation of Small Businesses said: ‘As we embark in earnest on this make-or-break festive season, clarity, consistency and proactive promotion of official advice is more important than ever.’

But Professor Andrew Hayward, a member of the Sage advisory group, told Times Radio that people should consider avoiding Christmas parties or at least wearing masks.

Revealed: Triple-vaccinated Israeli doctor who believes he caught Omicron Covid variant in London at conference attended by 1,250 people on 23 November – just as new strain was discovered in Africa

By Katie Weston and Martin Robinson, Chief Reporter for the MailOnline

A triple-vaccinated Israeli doctor has raised fears over the Omicron variant having been in the UK for weeks after saying he believes he caught the strain at a conference in London attended by 1,250 people on November 23.

Elad Maor, 45, travelled to the capital on November 19 and stayed at a hotel in Islington while attending the three-day convention at ExCeL London in Newham, east London, before returning to Israel. 

The father-of-three, who is a cardiologist at Sheba Medical Centre near Tel Aviv, tested positive for the virus four days later, on November 27, and suffered mild symptoms including a sore throat, fever and muscle ache.

He took three PCR tests on November 20, 21 and 24 – all of which came back negative. After returning to work in Israel he later displayed symptoms and took a fourth PCR test which showed a positive result.

Dr Maor, who is now quarantining at home in Israel, appears to be certain that he picked up the variant while attending the conference, saying: ‘I got the Omicron in London, for sure.’ 

Elad Maor (pictured above), 45, travelled to London on November 19 and stayed at a hotel in Islington while attending the three-day convention at ExCeL London in Newham, east London, before returning to Israel

Elad Maor (pictured above), 45, travelled to London on November 19 and stayed at a hotel in Islington while attending the three-day convention at ExCeL London in Newham, east London, before returning to Israel

SAGE calls for compulsory five-day isolation and ‘fit to fly’ tests for all UK arrivals

All UK arrivals should be forced to quarantine for five days and take a pre-departure PCR test even if they are vaccinated, SAGE has advised.

The expert panel warned the current travel curbs were allowing ‘significant’ numbers of infected people to slip through the cracks.

Currently, fully vaccinated people coming into the UK need to take a PCR test within the first two days of returning to the UK.

There is nothing stopping them taking this as soon as they land and getting a result on the same day, releasing them from isolation in hours.

SAGE scientists said this might not give enough time for the virus to incubate. They also called for ministers to bring in day five and day eight tests.

Only unvaccinated people coming into the UK have to take ‘fit to fly’ tests before getting on a plane back to Britain.

SAGE’s new advice was leaked from minutes of an emergency meeting about the new Omicron variant held on Monday.

More than 30 scientists attended the video conference on November 29, led by chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and chief medical adviser Professor Chris Whitty.

He told The Guardian: ‘That is interesting because that was 10 days ago in London – really, really early.’  

Dr Maor also believes he infected a 69-year-old fellow worker, who has since tested positive for the Omicron variant after returning from London.

Pointing to a delay between the time of infection and when the PCR turns positive, he added: ‘The only reasonable explanation is that I got infected on the last day of the meeting – maybe at the airport, maybe at the meeting.’

The associate professor of cardiology at Tel Aviv University said he commuted to the conference via the tube and Docklands Light Railway (DLR) over the three-day period. 

His comments come as Dr. Anthony Fauci announces the first detected case of the Omicron variant in the US, saying it was identified by the San Francisco Departments of Public Health in California. 

Fauci said the individual had returned from South Africa on November 22 and tested positive a week later on November 29.

He or she was fully vaccinated, but had not received a booster, and is currently experiencing mild symptoms. 

Meanwhile in the UK, in rules now enshrined in law until March, Boris Johnson said that face coverings must be worn in shops and on public transport to ‘buy us time in the face of this new variant’.

The Prime Minister also pledged to ‘throw everything’ at the booster vaccination campaign and offer jabs to 40million over-18s by January 31 to tackle its spread.

But in the same Downing Street press conference last night Mr Johnson insisted another lockdown is ‘extremely unlikely’, urging people not to cancel their plans and to ‘keep living your life’.

Critics say the Government’s latest coronavirus rules on masks, blanket quarantine for Omicron contacts and gloomy language about the threat of the new variant is actually encouraging a semi-lockdown by stealth despite just 22 cases of the new strain detected so far. 

Deaths, infections and hospitalisations were all down in the UK on Tuesday while a World Health Organization official claimed on Wednesday that most Omicron cases are ‘mild’ and there is no evidence the new variant has any impact on vaccine effectiveness against serious illness. 

Sir Keir Starmer

Boris Johnson

Sir Keir Starmer and Boris Johnson clashed over new Covid rules at PMQs this lunchtime as the PM faced a revolt from Tory MPs

The Government has insisted the rules will be reviewed in three weeks' time but Tory MPs, including former chief whip Mark Harper, have expressed concerns about the expiry date

The Government has insisted the rules will be reviewed in three weeks’ time but Tory MPs, including former chief whip Mark Harper, have expressed concerns about the expiry date

Omicron Covid appeared in Nigeria in OCTOBER – weeks before South Africa announced discovery of variant, new tests reveal

Nigeria has confirmed its first cases of Omicron Covid and revealed it was in the country in October, weeks before South Africa alerted the world to its existence.

Three Omicron cases were detected in travellers who arrived in Nigeria from South Africa within the past week, the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control said today.

But Dr Ifedayo Adetifa, the agency’s director, added that retroactive testing of Covid samples collected in recent weeks had identified another case of Omicron dating back to October.

It means that Omicron – designated a ‘variant of concern’ by the WHO and believed to be the most-infectious form of Covid yet found – was likely circulating undetected for weeks before first being identified. 

The discovery comes just a day after after Dutch health authorities said they also found a case of Omicron in a sample collected on November 19, four days before South Africa sounded the alarm.

If confirmed, the Nigerian case would be the earliest-known Omicron infection – rewriting the timeline of the variant’s origins.

However, it does not necessarily mean the variant emerged in Nigeria because it is unclear how or why the sample was collected. Dr Adetifa did not give details.

Nigeria – in western Africa – extensively tests travellers into and out of the country, meaning it is possible the case was imported from overseas.

Until now, it had been assumed the variant first emerged in southern Africa where it was detected on November 23 by South African scientists in a sample collected from Botswana on November 9.

Nigeria’s three recent cases were all in travellers from South Africa who had taken a Day 2 PCR test, with samples collected within the last week.

It is unclear when exactly the samples were collected. Nigeria said efforts are underway to track and isolate the individuals.

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