Carnival Cruise Line, Costa Cruises cancel additional sailings as COVID-19 surge continues


Carnival Cruise Line and its sister line Costa Cruises both announced Friday that they would cancel more cruises into spring.

Carnival Cruise Line said in a statement shared by spokesperson Vance Gulliksen that all U.S. departures through April 30 have been canceled.

“Unfortunately, we have determined it’s going to take a while longer, and the situation in Europe will also impact Mardi Gras’ departure to the U.S., and Carnival Legend’s itineraries in Europe,” Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line, said in the statement.

Carnival is also canceling Australian sailings through May 19 and European itineraries for Carnival Legend that had been scheduled to start in May and continue through Oct. 31. The cruise line has also delayed the start date for sailings on its new ship, Mardi Gras. Its maiden voyage is now scheduled for May 29.

Costa Cruises said in a statement that following a careful evaluation of Italian government measures that they have decided to continue its operational pause, which started with the cancellation of holiday sailings, until March 13.

“The company believes that the current set of restrictive measures does not allow its guests to enjoy an adequate on-shore experience and the ability to fully explore the itinerary’s destinations,” Costa said, noting it supports the “collective effort” Italy is making to face the pandemic.

All sailings scheduled on Costa Deliziosa, Costa Firenze and Costa Luminosa between Feb. 1 and March 12 are canceled.

CDC raises warning: Against cruise travel to highest level, strengthens international flight guidelines

Norwegian cancels cruises until May

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. announced Tuesday that it would cancel sailings on all three of its cruise lines until May.

“The suspension now includes all voyages on Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises embarking through April 30, 2021,” Norwegian said in a news release. “The Company will continue to work in tandem with global government and public health authorities and its Healthy Sail Panel expert advisors to take all necessary measures to protect its guests, crew and the communities visited.”

Norwegian continues to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention toward a return to cruising.

And it’s not the only cruise company to have canceled cruises into spring.

Royal Caribbean Group cancels cruises

Royal Caribbean Group announced earlier in January that it would cancel more cruises on its cruise lines into the spring, including on subsidiary Azamara, which was sold to a private equity firm, the company announced Tuesday.

The company, which is also parent to flagship Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Silversea Cruises, said the cancellations were necessary as Royal Caribbean Group continues to focus on a safe return to cruising.

“As we work closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and government authorities around the world toward this shared goal, we are extending the suspension of certain sailings for our cruise lines,” Royal Caribbean said in an announcement posted to its website.

The schedule changes for each Royal Caribbean Group cruise line are as follows:

Royal Caribbean International

  • All sailings canceled through April 30, including Spectrum of the Seas from Feb. 16-28

  • Quantum of the Seas, which sails shorter itineraries in Singapore, is excluded from the cancellations

Celebrity Cruises

  • All sailings canceled through April 30

  • Celebrity Apex’s transatlantic cruise, scheduled to depart on May 1, is also canceled.

  • All European and transatlantic cruises on Celebrity Edge and Celebrity Constellation scheduled to sail from May through October are also canceled.

Silversea Cruises

Azamara

Royal Caribbean Group added that it continues to work with its Healthy Sail Panel as they plan to welcome passengers back on board.

New cruise ships set to launch in 2021: Celebrity Apex, Odyssey of the Seas

Other Carnival Corp. lines cancel more cruises

Carnival Cruise Line isn’t the only Carnival Corp. Line to have canceled more cruises.

Princess Cruises has announced it will cancel all cruises from U.S. ports through May 14 — more than a year after the industry came to a standstill in the middle of March last year.

Princess itself was impacted by the pandemic early on: two of its ships, the Diamond Princess and the Grand Princess, were among the first vessels to quarantine passengers because of coronavirus infections.

Late in 2020, Princess Cruises canceled all itineraries through March 31. The additional cancellations come as the cruise line works on restart plans that will satisfy the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Framework For Conditional Sailing” announced in October.

The further suspension also applies to European cruises scheduled prior to May 15, Negin Kamali, spokesperson for Princess Cruises, told USA TODAY.

Holland America Line has also canceled all of its departures through April 30 as it prepares to meet the CDC’s guidelines, according to a statement provided by Roger Frizzell, Carnival Corp. spokesperson.

“The line also will cancel all Alaska cruises through mid-May, Alaska departures on three ships through early June, any Land+Sea Journeys connected with canceled Alaska sailings, Mediterranean cruises through early June and Zaandam’s Canada/New England itineraries through August,” Holland America said in the statement.

Another Carnival Corp. subsidiary, P&O Cruises Australia, also announced Wednesday cancellations of its New Zealand cruises into April.

“P&O Cruises Australia is extending its rolling pause in operations in New Zealand to departures on and before 25 April, 2021, as the cruise line and the wider industry continue to work with government and public health authorities on the appropriate time to restart sailing,” the company said in a statement provided by spokesperson Lindy Lamme.

The cruise line plans to return to New Zealand in July 2022 for a 150-day season in the area.

“We know that much better days lie ahead and we remain positive about the resumption of cruising. While we’ve paused operations, P&O Cruises together with the wider industry has been using the time wisely to plan for cruising’s return,” Sture Myrmell, president of the cruise line, said in the statement.

Carnival Corp.’s German line, AIDA Cruises, also canceled more sailings, extending their pause in operations through the end of February after Germany extended its lockdown through the end of January, the cruise line said in a release provided by Lamme.

AIDA hopes to resume cruising in multiple locations after February concludes with several voyage departure dates set for March 6.

‘I am ecstatic’: COVID-19 vaccine inspires confidence among cruise passengers, industry

Contributing: Adrianna Rodriguez and Jessica Flores

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Carnival Cruise Line, Costa Cruises cancel additional sailings

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Mount Gambier tourism leader hopes to see visitor surge on the radar as Qantas arrival looms


The long-awaited arrival of a second passenger airline in Mount Gambier is expected to provide a welcome boost to regional tourism with more destinations for travellers on the horizon.

Qantas will begin operation from the Mount Gambier Regional Airport terminal on March 28 with five weekly return flights to both Adelaide and Melbourne.

While the region will be buoyed by a second service to those cities, it is the potential for expansion to more destinations that could provide the most significant boost.

Even though a Qantas plane is yet to land on the Mount Gambier tarmac, QantasLink chief executive officer John Gissing says it is already exploring that potential.

“We’re focused on adding new routes to regions that we think have genuine growth potential,” a spokesperson said.

‘Absolutely fabulous’

Limestone Coast Local Government Association (LCLGA) destination development manager Biddie Shearing said it would be a huge coup to connect with other airports in the country.

“It would be great to support our South Australian regional airports, like up to the Barossa, Kangaroo Island, Port Lincoln and even the Flinders Ranges,” she said.

“The ability to be more connected and to bunny hop around our state would be just absolutely fabulous.

“And for us, as a region right on the border, to be able to bring people across from Melbourne and introduce them to SA and then sort of send them off.”

Ms Shearing said the LCLGA would embrace any opportunity to link with destinations even further afield.

Ms Shearing says a second carrier could unlock new opportunities for the region.(ABC South East: Todd Lewis)

“We will work closely with the SA Tourism Commission to leverage those opportunities when they arise.”

Ms Shearing said the increase in fly-in services would help put the Limestone Coast on the map.

“Now we have the drop-down box that says MTG for both Rex Airlines and Qantas and while it is a little thing, that digital visibility can’t be understated,” she said.

More services to drive opportunities

A large uptake of air travel services in recent history has been from those travelling for business.

Ms Shearing believed an increase in services should drive opportunities in the region.

“We now have the flexibility to be able to go to a tradeshow and talk to potential conference organisers and say, ‘It’s smooth running, there’s two options to fly in and out of our region and we’ve got a fabulous new facility.'”

Rex holds ‘grave concerns’ about Qantas impact

Rex Airlines remains concerned about the arrival of Qantas carriers to regional centres such as Mount Gambier.

It believes QantasLink will have devastating impacts on long-term regional aviation.

A Regional Express passenger aircraft at Mount Gambier Regional Airport after touching down from Melbourne
Regional Express has called Qantas’s move an “attack”.(ABC South East SA: Sandra Morello)

“Qantas is trying to weaken Rex by attacking its profitable regional operations, even at the cost of heavy losses for itself,” said a spokesperson in a statement late last year.

“History has shown that once regional airlines are squeezed out, the loss is permanent and regional and rural communities suffer the consequences.”

However, Ms Shearing expected people to continue to support the airline and believed this would just create another option for consumers.

“We will now just have that choice for consumers at a time where domestic travel will increase.”

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Telegram records surge in new users


Technology

Telegram records surge in new users


According to Pavel Durov, Telegram’s Russian founder, the platform now has more than 500 million monthly users. PHOTO | POOL

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Summary

  • The platform now has more than 500 million monthly users and has received 25 million new users in the last 72 hours.
  • WhatsApp’s privacy update has also seen a surge in users to messaging app Signal.

Instant messaging service provider Telegram says it has recorded a surge in the number of new users to its platform, coming less than a week after WhatsApp announced changes to its policies.

According to Pavel Durov, Telegram’s Russian founder, the platform now has more than 500 million monthly users and has received 25 million new users in the last 72 hours.

“In the first week of January, Telegram surpassed 500 million monthly active users. After that it kept growing: 25 million new users joined Telegram in the last 72 hours alone,” said Mr Durov, adding that new users came from across the globe. 

Thirty eight per cent came from Asia, 27 per cent from Europe, 21 per cent from Latin America and 8 per cent from the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa).

In an indirect swipe at Facebook-owned Whatsapp over its recent update of privacy policy, Mr Durov attributed the increase in users to subscribers’ need for more privacy. 

“People no longer want to exchange their privacy for free services. They no longer want to be held hostage by tech monopolies that seem to think they can get away with anything as long as their apps have a critical mass of users,” he said.

Privacy update

As a rival platform for WhatsApp, which has been facing backlash from users over its updated policy due to take effect on February 8, Telegram seems determined to capitalise on this disgruntlement. 

“With half a billion active users and accelerating growth, Telegram has become the largest refuge for those seeking a communication platform committed to privacy and security. We take this responsibility very seriously. We won’t let you down,” he added.

WhatsApp’s privacy update has also seen a surge in users to messaging app Signal, with the company reporting delays in phone number verifications of new accounts across multiple cell providers. 

“Verification codes are currently delayed across several providers because so many new people are trying to join Signal right now (we can barely register our excitement),” said Signal in a tweet last Thursday.

In response, WhatsApp issued a clarification saying that the policy update does not affect the privacy of messages. 

“We want to be clear that the policy update does not affect the privacy of your messages with friends or family in any way. Instead, this update includes changes related to messaging a business on WhatsApp, which is optional, and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data,” said WhatsApp on its blog.

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Ukraine's hospitals grapple with COVID-19 surge


A medical college in western Ukraine has been transformed into a temporary hospital as the coronavirus inundates the Eastern European country.

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Spectre of lockdown looms again in Malaysia after record coronavirus surge



Surging Covid-19 numbers in Malaysia have alarmed public health experts, who are urging the government to take swift action amid speculation another nationwide lockdown will be instituted to throttle the spread of the disease.The country on Thursday recorded 3,027 new cases, its highest ever daily total and a sharp uptick from the single-digit increases marked in July after Malaysia emerged from a months-long movement control order.Noor Hisham Abdullah, the nation’s top health official, told a…

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Grammy Awards 2021 Rescheduled Amid The Surge Of COVID-19 Cases In Los Angeles

Here’s What You Need To Know

The 2021 Grammy Awards is set to take place this month in Los Angeles, however, due to the pandemic, it will be broadcasted in March instead. This announcement came amid the recent uncontrollable surge in coronavirus deaths.

In a joint statement from the Recording Academy and CBS, an announcement last Tuesday was broadcasted saying that from the originally planned date of January 31st, the broadcast is moved to March 14. The statement added the decision was reached “after thoughtful conversations with health experts, our host and artists scheduled to appear”.

“The deteriorating COVID situation in Los Angeles, with hospital services being overwhelmed, ICUs having reached capacity, and new guidance from state and local governments have all led us to conclude that postponing our show was the right thing to do,” it said.

They emphasized that they are prioritising the health and safety of all those in the music industry and the hundreds of people who work tirelessly on producing.

The statement concluded, “We want to thank all of the talented artists, the staff, our vendors and especially this year’s nominees for their understanding, patience and willingness to work with us as we navigate these unprecedented times.”

The Grammys will be held at the same location, in Los Angeles at the Staples Center.

On record, the Los Angeles County is considered as the epicentre of the crisis in California. They had surpassed 10,000 COVID-19 deaths and have had 40 per cent of deaths in California. It was the third US state to record 25,000 COVID-19 deaths.

Sadly, an average of six people dies every hour from COVID-19 in Los Angeles County, which has a quarter of the state’s 40 million residents.

The announced new Grammys date, which is going to be hosted by The Daily Show host and comedian Trevor Noah, accords with the scheduled hosting of the Screen Actors Guild Awards, which is typically held at another downtown Los Angeles venue, the Shrine Auditorium. The show, in contrary to the Grammys, honours the best performances in film and television.

Beyoncé is the leading contender with nine nominations. Her daughter Blue Ivy Carter sings on Brown Skin Girl and also earned a Grammy nomination. Taylor Swift, Dua Lipa, Roddy Ricch, Jhene Aiko, Post Malone, Renee Zellweger, Billie Eilish and her producer-brother Finneas are also amongst who scored nominations.

Rescheduling of awards shows is, of course, not new. Since the pandemic, a number of awards shows have been postponed and later revamped.

The BET Awards, for instance, was the first major awards show during the pandemic and was a success thanks to its artsy, highly produced, well-crafted pre-taped performances. The MTV Video Music Awards featured Lady Gaga winning awards and performing onsite in a mask, and the Latin Grammys pre-taped several performances the week of the show, handing out some of its awards to the winners who attended the show.

Amid backlash from award show fans, the excitement is still despite the postponement of the most prestigious music award show.

(Image source: BBC News)

57,000 postal votes rejected amid pandemic-era surge


About 709,000 postal ballots were returned and accepted into the count, the data tabled on Monday shows. A further 100,000 who applied for a postal vote ended up voting by other means.

But Paul Williams, a senior lecturer in politics and journalism at Griffith University, said based on the raw figure alone the rejected postal ballots equated to “more than a whole seat” and was “unacceptably high”.

With a federal election looming and the pandemic shifting public reliance on postal voting, Dr Williams added it was important for all electoral bodies nationwide to ensure education was “up to scratch” for people who may be voting by mail for the first time, similar to what would be needed for a shift to online voting.

“This has to be addressed,” he said. “This is the new norm.”

The electoral commission, which has been contacted for comment, had planned for a spike in those voting by mail after large numbers turned to the method for the statewide local government elections earlier in the year.

In its 2020 State General Election Service Plan, the commission noted it had redesigned postal voting material using advice from behavioural economists to ensure voters better understood how to fill out both the ballot paper and voting declaration.

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“This is aimed at increasing the proportion of postal votes that are completed correctly, received by the ECQ before the cut-off date and, following scrutiny, [are] accepted for inclusion in the final count,” the plan stated.

Further data provided by Ms Fentiman’s office said the rate of total informal ballots had decreased from 4.34 per cent in 2017 to 3.4 per cent in 2020.

Electorate-specific data provided with the tabled answer shows Toowoomba South had the largest number of rejected postal votes, with 1075.

Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast followed on 1010 reject ballots, with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s own southern Brisbane seat of Inala scoring third with 1008.

Nearby Woodridge recorded the lowest figure, with only 21 postal votes rejected by the ECQ.

Theodore voters in the Gold Coast hinterland also had fewer than 100 ballots rejected.

Fewer than 200 were dismissed in the regional north Queensland electorates of Traeger, Hill and Cook.

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US passes 20 million coronavirus cases as experts brace for holiday surge in cases and deaths


The United States has recorded more than 20 million cases of COVID-19, Johns Hopkins University said Friday in its real-time tally, as the New Year brought another grim milestone underlining the country’s struggle to quell the virus.

The US has so far registered 20,007,149 cases and 346,408 deaths in the pandemic, the Baltimore-based university said, making it the country with by far the highest official number of cases and the highest death toll.

On Wednesday alone, more than 3,900 people died of COVID-19 in the US, a new daily record, and experts believe the worst is yet to come as health care workers brace for a surge in cases and deaths after holiday gatherings.

More than 125,000 people are currently hospitalised with coronavirus – another record – according to the COVID Tracking Project.

The country has begun a mass campaign of vaccinations and nearly 2.8 million people have already received their first jabs, a figure well behind the 20 million inoculations that the administration of President Donald Trump promised by the end of the year.

More than 12 million doses have been distributed nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but efforts to vaccinate health workers and vulnerable people have been hampered by logistical problems and overstretched hospitals and clinics.

President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office on 20 January, has criticised the troubled vaccine rollout, and this week confirmed that he would invoke the Korean War-era Defense Production Act to force private industry to step up production for the government.

He has implored Americans to wear masks to slow the spread of COVID-19 and said he would impose a mandate on face coverings in areas where the federal government has jurisdiction, such as airplanes.

‘We owe them’

Paying tribute to US health care workers on New Year’s Eve, Mr Biden said “they stepped up and they are brave. They have done so much for us, and we owe them.”

Under Mr Trump, US authorities have given often mixed messages on mask-wearing, social distancing and shutdowns, and the outgoing president has repeatedly downplayed the risks while cases have rocketed across the country.

US President-elect Joe Biden speaks about the COVID-19 crisis from the Queen Theatre in Wilmington, Delaware on Tuesday, 29 December.

AAP

In his New Year’s Eve message, Mr Trump hailed the “medical miracle” of coronavirus inoculations, adding “our most vulnerable citizens are already receiving the vaccine, and millions of doses are quickly being shipped all across our country.”

According to Johns Hopkins, the US took several months to reach 10 million cases on 9 November, before accelerating to 20 million cases on Friday.

After the US, the hardest-hit countries are Brazil with 194,949 deaths from 7,675,973 cases, and India with 148,994 deaths from 10,286,709 cases.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your jurisdiction’s restrictions on gathering limits. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus. Please check the relevant guidelines for your state or territory: NSW, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, Northern Territory, ACT, Tasmania.



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U.K. Coronavirus Surge Surpasses Spring Peak as Lockdown Choices Loom


LONDON — About half of England is under the nation’s strictest lockdown measures, and people have been ordered to stay at home, but the coronavirus is still spreading at an alarming rate. Hospitals are treating more patients than at any time during the pandemic, the number of new infections has set a daily record, and there is a growing debate about allowing tens of thousands of students to return to classrooms after the holiday break.

The nation’s scientists have said that an apparently more contagious variant of the virus is driving the rise in cases and, with severe restrictions already imposed on more than 48 million people, it remains unclear what other tools the government has at its disposal to get the outbreak under control.

There were 53,135 new lab-confirmed cases reported on Tuesday, the highest figure yet on a single day. The National Health Service said there were now over 20,000 people in English hospitals, more than at the peak of the pandemic in April.

With the government scheduled to meet to evaluate its restrictions on Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is under pressure to impose another national lockdown and move students — especially older ones in colleges and secondary schools, who may be more easily infected by the new virus variant — to remote learning.

Some hope to see the daily caseload drop as the restrictions imposed on London and southern and eastern England around Christmas begin to have an effect.

But a potent combination of a new strain of the virus, an imminent return to schools and a measure that allowed people in lower-risk areas to meet indoors on Christmas Day has raised fears that worse could come in the new year.

“We are entering a very dangerous new phase of the pandemic, and we’re going to need decisive early national action to prevent a catastrophe in January and February,” Andrew Hayward, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at University College London, told the BBC.

A growing body of research supports the concern that the new virus variant may be more than 50 percent more contagious than the already rapidly spreading ones in widespread circulation.

And the variant continued to pop up in countries around the world despite bans on British travelers put in place by dozens of nations.

The British government has turned to a now familiar arsenal of tools to keep the variant in check, increasing restrictions on movement, shuttering businesses and limiting the number of people allowed to gather.

While officials blame the variant for the rise in cases, many of the rules are difficult to enforce on a large scale and it is hard to know what role individual behavior may be playing.

Mr. Johnson’s handling of the pandemic has been marked by last-minute decisions and reversals, fueling public skepticism and anger, but the government has tried to hold the line on keeping schools open.

Since the summer, the government has prioritized keeping students in classrooms, even in areas that saw major outbreaks and during the country’s second national lockdown in November. After students spent the early months of the pandemic in online classes from home, Mr. Johnson in August called the reopening of schools a “moral duty” and promised that in the event of a resurgence of the virus, “the last thing we want to do is to close schools.”

Britain’s approach was similar to that of many European countries where leaders feared that closing schools once again would accentuate inequalities and would irreparably damage children’s academic and emotional development.

But as the number of coronavirus cases skyrocketed, Germany and the Netherlands have reverted to school closures and many of Britain’s teachers are clamoring for the same.

The government had promised a staggered return for schools in January and said that it would rely on mass testing to keep the virus from spreading in schools, using the military to help.

Though some 1,500 soldiers have been put on standby to provide schools with “guidance, materials and funding they need to offer rapid testing to their staff and students from the start of term,” according to Britain’s education secretary, Gavin Williamson, most of the support will be provided remotely, through online sessions and over the phone.

Most schoolchildren will be required to swab themselves, under the supervision of a school employee or a volunteer.

“1,500 troops doing webinars probably isn’t the government response we were looking for,” Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, a union, told the BBC.

The country’s two largest teaching unions — the National Education Union and the NASUWT — also criticized the last-minute nature of the mass testing plan and wrote to Mr. Johnson on Monday, asking for additional safety measures and for more time to put them in place.

The country’s scientific advisory group, known as SAGE, has recommended against allowing classrooms to reopen, according to British news reports.

The scientists said Britain’s coronavirus cases would spiral out of control unless schools closed in the new year. The scientific advisory group believes shutting schools in January would allow infection numbers to shrink.

Even as the country’s health workers find themselves under growing pressure to treat the influx of patients, they are also being asked to speed up the most ambitious mass vaccination program in the nation’s history.

Around 200,000 people are getting their first shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine every week. With the approval of a vaccine from AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford expected in coming days, the number of doses available is likely to expand drastically.

There is no evidence that the vaccines are any less effective against the variant of the virus spreading in Britain, and they remain the best chance for the country to break the back of the current wave of infection.

But to meet the government’s promise to vaccinate all those over the age of 50 by spring, the speed of delivery would have to be 10 times as fast as it is now.

Nick Davies, an assistant professor of mathematical modeling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said rapid vaccination should blunt the impact of the new variant.

“Achieving 2 million vaccinations/week could substantially reduce the burden,” he wrote on Twitter. The current level of 200,000 a week “does not have much impact.”

That will require not just supply, but the work force to deliver the vaccines. And that means even more pressure on health workers.

Dr. Rebecca Lewis, a surgeon working in a London hospital and the secretary of the Doctors’ Association, described how health care workers are exhausted, with little time to recuperate. Staff sickness, she said, has reached critical levels. The requirements on the use of protective gear have not yet been reviewed in light of the new strain, she said, and may be playing a part in frontline workers contracting the virus.

The country’s vaccination rollout needs to be stepped up, Dr. Lewis said on Tuesday, adding that in addition to the elderly and the vulnerable, vaccinating doctors must be a priority.

Dr. Lewis said she expects worse days ahead.

“We know that mid-January is going to be awful,” she said.

Marc Santora reported from London and Anna Schaverien from Brighton, England.





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