Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world Oct. 19

Many scientists are pressing the British government to reimpose social restrictions and speed up booster vaccinations as coronavirus infection rates rise still further.

New infections in U.K. have averaged more than 44,000 a day over past week, a 16% increase on week before

U.K. COVID-19 cases surge, hospitals strained

3 months ago
Duration 3:45
The U.K. reported more than 49,000 new cases of the coronavirus Monday, raising fears of a difficult autumn and winter for health services. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters) 3:45

The latest:

Many scientists are pressing the British government to reimpose social restrictions and speed up booster vaccinations as coronavirus infection rates rise still further.

The U.K. recorded 43,738 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, slightly down from the 49,156 reported Monday, which was the largest number since mid-July. New infections have averaged more than 44,000 a day over the past week, a 16 per cent increase on the week before.

Britain has Europe's highest rate of infection, but that can misleading: Britain has had free rapid testing available consistently since April, unlike most other European countries. Andrew Pollard, the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, told British MPs later in October: "We do have a lot of transmission at the moment but it's not right to say that those rates are really telling us something that we can compare internationally." 

In July, Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government lifted all the legal restrictions that had been imposed more than a year earlier to slow the spread of the virus, including face coverings indoors and social distancing rules. Nightclubs and other crowded venues were allowed to open at full capacity, and people were no longer advised to work from home if they could.

Some modellers feared a big spike in cases after the re-opening. That didn't occur, but infections remained high, and recently have begun to increase — especially among children, who remain largely unvaccinated.

Also rising are hospitalizations and deaths, which have averaged 130 a day over the past week, with 223 reported Tuesday alone. This is far lower than when cases were last this high, before much of the population was vaccinated, but still too high, critics of the government say.

A man receives a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine last winter at the mass vaccination program in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England. COVID-19 cases are again on the rise in the U.K., raising questions about what's behind the increase. (Scott Heppell/The Associated Press)

Some say Britons have been too quick to return to pre-pandemic behaviour. Masks and social distancing have all but vanished in most settings in England, including schools, though Scotland and other parts of the U.K. remain a bit more strict. Even in shops, where masks are recommended, and on the London transit network, where they are mandatory, adherence is patchy.

A plan to require proof of vaccination to attend nightclubs, concerts and other mass events in England was dropped by the Conservative government amid opposition from lawmakers, though Scotland introduced a vaccine pass program this month.

Some scientists say a bigger factor is waning immunity. Britain's vaccination program got off to a quick start, with shots given to the elderly and vulnerable starting last December, and so far almost 80 per cent of eligible people have received two doses. The early start means millions of people have been vaccinated for more than six months, and studies have suggested vaccines' protection gradually wanes over time.

Millions of people in Britain are being offered booster shots, but critics say the program is moving too slowly, at about 180,000 doses a day. More than half of the people eligible for a booster dose haven't yet received one.

The U.K. also waited longer than the U.S. and many European countries to vaccinate children ages 12-15, and only about 15 per cent in that age group in England have had a shot since they became eligible last month.

"It's critical we accelerate the booster program," said epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, a member of the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.

Ferguson said one factor influencing the U.K.'s high case numbers was that it has relied heavily on the AstraZeneca vaccine, "and, while that protects very well against very severe outcomes of COVID, it protects slightly less well than Pfizer against infection and transmission, particularly in the face of the delta variant."

He also noted that "most Western European countries have kept in place more control measures, vaccine mandates, mask-wearing mandates, and tend to have lower case numbers and certainly not case numbers which are going up as fast as we've got."

"But at the end of the day this is a policy decision for government to make," he told the BBC.

'Plan B' on hold

A report by lawmakers released last week concluded that the British government waited too long to impose a lockdown in the early days of the pandemic, missing a chance to contain the disease and leading to thousands of unnecessary deaths. Critics say it is repeating that mistake.

Last month, the prime minister said the country might need to move to a "Plan B" — reintroducing measures such as mandatory masks and bringing in vaccine passes — if cases rose so high in the fall and winter that the health system came under "unsustainable" strain.

For now, the government says it won't change course, but will try to boost vaccination rates with a new ad campaign and an increased number of sites outside of schools where kids can receive their shots.

Johnson's spokesperson, Max Blain, said "we always knew the next few months would be challenging." But he said the government was trying to protect "both lives and livelihoods."

"Clearly we are keeping a very close eye on rising case rates," Blain said. "The most important message for the public to understand is the vital importance of the booster program.

But, he added: "There are no plans to move to Plan B."

— From The Associated Press, last updated at 1:45 p.m. ET

What's happening across Canada

WATCH | Saskatchewan COVID-19 situation 'beyond dire,' says specialist: 

Saskatchewan COVID-19 situation 'beyond dire,' says specialist

3 months ago
Duration 8:32
Province needs tough public health measures immediately to drive down transmission of the coronavirus and 'minimize any further death and suffering,' says infectious diseases specialist Dr. Alexander Wong. 8:32

What's happening around the world

WATCH | Vaccine inequity 'driving up transmissions' in some hot spots, WHO official says: 

Vaccine inequity 'driving up transmissions' despite declining caseloads, WHO official says

3 months ago
Duration 9:02
Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization's COVID-19 technical lead, tells Power & Politics that despite the weekly decline in cases and deaths around the world, the lack of vaccine equity is still driving up infections in COVID-19 hotspots globally. 9:02

As of Tuesday evening, more than 241.5 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported around the world, according to a case-tracking site maintained by U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.9 million.

In Africa, the South African drug regulator has rejected the Russian-made coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V, citing some safety concerns the manufacturer wasn't able to answer.

Burundi is booking appointments for people who want COVID-19 vaccines, months after most African countries embarked on vaccination campaigns.

In Europe, Latvia announced a lockdown from Oct. 21 until Nov. 15 to try to slow a spike in infections in one of the least vaccinated European Union countries.

In the Americas, Mexico's capital returned to the lowest level on its COVID-19 pandemic warning system Monday for the first time since June.

People walk through the streets of the historic centre of Mexico City on Oct. 16, a day after the Mexican capital mayor's office announced it will reduce restrictions put in place to fight COVID-19. (Claudio Cruz/AFP/Getty Images)

In practice, the shift from the yellow to green category changes meant only small changes to daily life. Mask wearing is still common on streets of the city of 9 million, but the rhythm of life in the capital has long since regained a high degree of normalcy.

Massive outdoor events, which had been operating at 75 per cent capacity, now face no capacity restrictions, though attendees will still be required to wear masks. The move comes just weeks ahead of Mexico City hosting a Formula 1 race.

Meanwhile, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee said its decision to make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for those competing at next year's Beijing Olympics has been met with some resistance.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Singapore reported 3,994 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, its highest since the beginning of the pandemic, as well as seven new deaths. A recent spike in infections after the relaxation of some restrictions has prompted the country to pause further reopening and tighten curbs that limit gatherings.

India's vaccination campaign has slowed despite amassing record stockpiles of vaccine, health ministry data showed.

A health worker administers a dose of the Covishield vaccine against COVID-19 during a door-to-door vaccination campaign at a residential area in Chennai, India, on Tuesday. (Arun Sankar/AFP/Getty Images)

In Europe, Bulgaria will make a COVID-19 "green certificate" mandatory for indoor access to restaurants, cinemas, gyms and shopping malls, the health minister said on Tuesday, as the country struggles with a rising number of coronavirus infections.

The health pass a digital or paper certificate showing someone has been vaccinated, tested negative or recently recovered from the virus was originally conceived to ease travel among European Union states.

Meanwhile, new coronavirus infections in the Netherlands jumped 44 per cent in the week through Tuesday, forcing several hospitals in the country to cut back on regular care to deal with a rising number of COVID-19 cases.

In the Middle East, Iran on Monday reported 181 additional deaths linked to COVID-19 and 11,844 additional cases. The country, which has struggled to contain the virus, is seeing cases trend downward after hitting record highs over the summer.

— From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 7:45 p.m. ET


  • A previous version of this article said infection rates in Britain are among Europe's highest. It has been amended to note that the rate should not be compared internationally because of different testing protocols.
    Nov 12, 2021 3:55 PM ET

With files from Reuters and CBC News

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