Covid news – live: New ‘highly infectious’ XBB.1.5 subvariant ‘a wake-up’ call for UK – The Independent

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No signs yet new strain is more ‘virulent or causes more serious illness’
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The “highly infectious” XBB.1.5 Covid subvariant will drive the next wave of the virus in the UK and its rapid spread in other countries should be a “wake-up call”, experts have warned.
Professor Christina Pagel, a member of Independent Sage, a group of scientists working together to give advice to the government, told The Independent that the rapidly spreading variant was both immunosuppressive and highly transmissible – a combination that means it is prime to become dominant in the next wave this winter.
However, “there are no signs it’s [XBB.1.5] more virulent or that it causes more severe illness but it’s the most immunoevasive one so far and its also very transmissible,” Prof Pagel said.
We’re pausing our updates on the Covid pandemic for today.
Join us again soon for the latest news as travel restrictions return amid rising cases in China.
Thanks for reading and have a good rest of afternoon.
Covid travel restrictions are back. Every traveller flying from mainland China to England must provide a negative test result before being allowed on the plane.
In addition travellers flying direct from China to Heathrow may be invited to take a second test on arrival. The government says as many as 20 per cent of arriving passengers could be checked, though they are able to decline the invitation.
The government announced the measures a day after saying there were no plans to reintroduce Covid testing.
Simon Calder, our travel correspondent, reports:
All travellers from mainland China need a pre-departure test, and some will be tested for Covid on arrival
Fears have been raised as new offshoots of the highly-transmissible Omicron variant have caused cases to surge in countries around the world.
Omicron relatives XBB and XBB.1.5 have been reported in several nations, including the UK, leading British health officials to urge the take-up of Covid vaccines and other protections against the virus.
My colleague Emily Atkinson takes a look at some of the most common Covid symptoms.
Most common symptoms revealed as UKHSA warns Covid is currently ‘circulating at high levels’
Nearly a third of people with long Covid in the UK are likely to have been suffering the symptoms for two years or more, figures suggest.
Some 645,000 of those with long Covid are estimated to have first tested positive for the virus at least 24 months ago.
This is 30 per cent of everyone likely to have the symptoms at the start of December, according to new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS)
Ian Jones reports:
A total of 2.1 million people – around one in 30 – currently have symptoms.
The White House is expected to announce on Thursday that the country will extend a Covid pandemic-era program to include expelling people from Nicaragua, Cuba and Haiti who illegally cross into the country from Mexico.
The announcement could come in a border security speech from Joe Biden, the president, on Thursday, but the Democratic president could also announce new, higher quotas for migrants from these countries, sources said.
Mr Biden plans to give a border security-themed speech on Thursday morning, and intends to visit the US-Mexico border next week for the first time since he became president two years ago.
His visit will be in conjunction with a trip to Mexico City next week for talks with the leaders of Mexico and Canada.

Germans living in China began receiving the BioNTech Covid vaccine on Thursday, the first such rollout of a foreign coronavirus vaccine in a country that has not otherwise approved the use of non-Chinese vaccines even as infections soar.
Under an agreement reached during a visit to Beijing by chancellor Olaf Scholz in November, Germans aged 12 and older may receive their first dose or a booster of the BioNTech vaccine at a designated international hospital in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenyang, Guangzhou or Chengdu.
Marcus Wellendorf, 59, a documentary film maker, said he had received three doses of Chinese vaccines.
“Especially in the current situation, after China opened up very suddenly, I feel that an additional BioNTech booster is very comforting to have,” he told reporters at Beijing United Family Hospital, where 25 people had made bookings to be vaccinated.

China has defended its Covid policy following criticism from Joe Biden, the US president.
China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told a regular press briefing in Beijing that China had transparently and quickly shared Covid data with the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Mr Biden and other countries – as well as the WHO – have disputed this.
Mao said that China’s “epidemic situation is controllable” and that it hoped the WHO would “uphold a scientific, objective, and impartial position”.
“Facts have proved that China has always, in accordance with the principles of legality, timeliness, openness and transparency, maintained close communication and shared relevant information and data with the WHO in a timely manner,” Mao said.

Hong Kong’s government will lift a ban on the import of hamsters in mid-January, almost a year after more than 2,000 of the rodents were culled due to a cluster of Covid cases traced to a pet shop in the financial hub at the start of 2022.
Based on its latest risk assessment, the city’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said on Thursday the restrictions on the commercial importation of hamsters could be lifted.
The government aims to “resume commercial imports of hamsters around mid-January,” it said in a statement.
The Omicron subvariant, XBB.1.5, is causing concern among scientists after its rapid spread in the United States in December.
My colleague Emily Atkinson takes a closer look at everything we know so far about the new variant:
Germany is changing its entry rules for travellers from China and will in future require at least a rapid coronavirus test to enter the country, health minister Karl Lauterbach said on Thursday.
There will also be random checks upon entry for any coronavirus variants as well as expanded monitoring of wastewater, he said in a statement.
The steps are in line with recommendations by European Union government officials released on Wednesday evening.
“Europe has found a joint response to the pandemic situation in China. This is precisely what we as the federal government have been working towards,” said Mr Lauterbach.
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