The Irish government has been given the green light to lift the majority of the state’s Covid restrictions.
It is understood that the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) has recommended restrictions around hospitality can be lifted, including the 8pm curfew, PA Media reported.
The recommendations also say that live venues and sport venues can return to full capacity and that Covid passes only be required for international travel. The wearing of face masks is recommended to continue on public transport and in retail settings.
The Restaurants Association of Ireland has urged the Government in light of the recommendations to allow all hospitality businesses to trade as normal from Friday. Government ministers will meet on Friday to assess the advice before Taoiseach Micheal Martin will make an announcement.
Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe told RTE it is reasonable to expect that the state will be able to exit regulations at a faster pace than would have looked likely a number of weeks ago. He said:
What we have done at all points in this pandemic is been guided by public health advice.
We have looked to deploy timings that get the balance right between the needs to our economy and society and that of public health, and that is what we will continue to do.
In the United States, Kentucky congressman who has been critical of pandemic mask and vaccine mandates said he has tested positive for Covid.
Thomas Massie, a Republican from northern Kentucky, tweeted on Thursday that he is not vaccinated but his symptoms have been mild and he believes he is “over it.” Massie said on Twitter he would not be voting, meeting anyone in person or making public appearances until next week.
Massie added that people who find themselves sick with the virus should seek a doctor’s advice, “because every case is unique and some cases are very serious.”
The five-term congressman has been outspoken about his opposition to mandates for masking and vaccinations since early in the pandemic. Last week, he wrote on social media that his congressional office would “not comply” with Washington DC’s vaccine mandate for restaurants.
“We will get our food from Virginia or we will bring it to work,” he tweeted. “Shame has befallen our nation’s capital.” Earlier this year he called the House’s mask rule “unscientific and unconstitutional.”
He has asserted that he has an immunity to the disease because he also tested positive for it in 2020.
Brazil registers 168,495 new Covid cases, 350 more deaths
Brazil has had 168,495 new cases of the novel coronavirus reported in the past 24 hours, and 350 deaths from Covid, the health ministry said on Thursday.
The South American country has now registered 23,585,243 cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 622,205, according to ministry data.
Brazil’s Covid toll is the world’s third deadliest after the United States and Russia, according to a Reuters tally.
The state of Western Australia has cancelled plans to reopen its borders on 5 February, citing health risks from a surge in Omicron cases elsewhere in the country, as the tally of coronavirus cases since the pandemic began topped two million.
WA Premier Mark McGowan made the shock announcement late Thursday saying it would be “reckless and irresponsible” to open up now given the rapid spread of the variant.
Instead, re-opening would be delayed indefinitely or at least until the percentage of triple dose vaccinations reached 80%. It is currently around 26%.
“If we proceeded with the original plan, we would be deliberately seeding thousands upon thousands of Covid cases into WA and at this point in time that is not what I am going to do,” McGowan told reporters.
The state of 2.7 million has for months been effectively closed off to the rest of the country and the outside world, taking advantage of its natural isolation to keep cases low.
Fraud and errors in Scottish Covid business support schemes cost the public purse at least £16 million, auditors have told MSPs.
Between 1% and 2% of the two main schemes – which paid out a total of £1.6 billion – are thought to have been lost to fraud and error, the Press Association reported.
Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee heard from Audit Scotland officials on Thursday, following their analysis of the Scottish Government’s yearly consolidated accounts.
Auditor General Stephen Boyle said the Government had accepted a higher level of risk than usual given the urgent need to deliver support during the pandemic. He said:
Headline level, the Government’s own assessment is that between 1% and 2% of that spending will be attributable to fraud and error. So somewhere between £16 million and £32 million of that is likely to have been spent not in accordance with the associated laws.
In our judgement, £16 million to £32 million of course is a hugely significant amount of public spending that hasn’t been spent properly. But in the overall materiality of the Government’s accounts, we’ve already mentioned this morning of £50 billion, we’re satisfied that the accounts are fairly stated.
Committee member Willie Coffey asked about efforts to recover money which was distributed due to fraud or error.
Audit Scotland audit director Michael Oliphant said between 14% and 30% of business support applications had been rejected, which suggested there was a “good control framework” in place.
Also in Canada, the province of Ontario has blunted transmission of the Omicron coronavirus variant and will gradually relax restrictions on businesses from late January, premier Doug Ford said.
The health care system is starting to stabilise in the wake of limitations imposed on 5 January, Ford told a news conference, saying Omicron cases should peak later this month.
“We can be confident that the worst is behind us and that we are now in a position to cautiously and gradually ease public health measures,” Ford said.
The province will allow restaurants, malls, and cinemas to operate with a 50% capacity limit from 31 January, before removing more curbs in February and March, Reuters reported.
“While February will continue to present its own challenges, given current trends these are challenges we are confident we can manage,” Ford said.
In neighbouring Quebec, premier Francois Legault said he would maintain restrictions to help protect the health care system even though Omicron cases had peaked.
“I understand we are all tired, but lives are at stake. I’m currently under a lot of pressure to remove measures, but my duty is to be responsible to protect the lives of Quebecers,” he told a news conference.
Ontario and Quebec together account for around 61% of Canada’s population of 38.2 million people.
Canadian consumers should soon see higher prices and some empty shelves in supermarkets and other retail outlets because of disruptions stemming from a Covid vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers, top trucking executives warned this week.
The mandate, imposed by Ottawa to help curb the spread of the virus, has cost six Canadian trucking companies about 10% of their international drivers, and many are hiking wages to lure new operators during what they said is the worst labour shortage they have experienced.
Within the next two weeks, consumers will see “there’s not as many choices on the shelves,” said Dan Einwechter, chairman and chief executive officer of Challenger Motor Freight Inc in Cambridge, Ontario.
“Eventually the prices will be passed on from the sellers of those products, because we’re passing on our increases to them,” he said.
Hello. Tom Ambrose here to bring you all the latest Covid news and headlines over the next four hours or so.
Let’s start with the news that it could be a slow return to business across the UK as chilly weather and ongoing fears about the spread of Omicron keep many workers, shoppers and diners at home, despite the change in guidance.
The many workplaces who have told staff to work from home until a review in late January are also unlikely to make a swift change in plan.
See the full story here.