Coronavirus live: Vallance says UK has ‘pretty difficult winter ahead of us’; Moscow into partial lockdown amid record Russian cases, deaths

By Martin Belam (now) and Samantha Lock (earlier)


Hungary to mandate vaccines for employees at state institutions, masks on public transport


Slovakia cancels parliament session after positive Covid test for MP


Face mask row in Japan over cost of 80m left in storage unused

Wearing masks may be near-ubiquitous in Japan, but the government has come under fire after it was revealed that more than 80m face coverings it procured at the start of the coronavirus pandemic are still in storage, at a huge cost to taxpayers.

The government secured 260m washable cloth masks early last year to distribute to every household in Japan after public anxiety over the virus emptied stores of medical versions.

The government planned to send 120m coverings – nicknamed “Abenomasks” after the then-prime minister, Shinzō Abe – to households and an additional 140m to nursing and childcare facilities.

However, the Nikkei business newspaper reported this week that 82m masks intended for care homes had not been sent as of March this year. Instead, the items – worth ¥11.5bn (£74m) – remain in storage.

The Abenomasks – a play on the then leader’s economic policy, “Abenomics” – quickly invited ridicule on social media. Many people said they were too small, while others complained that they had been sent defective or dirty masks. Some said they had received theirs late or not at all. There were questions, too, over the decision to send just two masks to each household.

Read more of Justin McCurry’s report from Tokyo: Face mask row in Japan over cost of 80m left in storage unused


UK government scientific adviser: 'a pretty difficult winter ahead of us'


Russia again reports record daily rates for new Covid infections and deaths





David Smith in the US reports for us on a new artwork memorialising those who have died during the global pandemic from artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer:

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer caught the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic. The media artist became infected in March last year during a visit to New York, then unwittingly took the deadly virus back home to Canada.

“As far as I know, I am Patient Zero,” he says by phone from Toronto. “I may have been the one that caused Canada to catch it because I was very early.”

Lozano-Hemmer has an asthma condition “so it did get hairy for about five weeks”, he says, but he was able to avoid hospital with the help of steroids. However, two of his friends, in Mexico and Spain, died from the virus. “It’s been quite a time of loss and a time of mourning.”

The 53-year-old has turned mourning into art with a work that opens at the Brooklyn Museum in New York on Friday. A Crack in the Hourglass is an ephemeral, ever-evolving Covid-19 memorial that confronts the question of how to commemorate a tragedy that has killed 5 million people with no end in sight.

This is how it works. Members of the public anywhere in the world can submit photos of loved ones lost to Covid-19 at along with a personalised dedication. They can then watch via live stream or at the gallery as a modified robotic plotter deposits grains of hourglass sand on to a black stage to recreate the person’s image.

Once the portrait is finished, it is slowly erased by gravity. The entire process – which takes about 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the complexity of the picture – is archived on the website, then the same sand is recycled into the next portrait, forming an endless collection of online memorials.

Read more here: ‘It’s a closure’: the artist making an endless, erasing Covid-19 memorial






Hong Kong doubles down on Covid restrictions to appease China

It used to be an international business centre, the bustling, vibrant commercial gateway to China and the rest of Asia.

But after weeks of lobbying by Hong Kong’s global business community for the government to ease border restrictions and harsh mandatory quarantine to bring it into line with other trading hubs, the authorities have instead responded with even tougher measures.

At her regular press conference on Tuesday, Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, announced most exemptions from the city’s mandatory and self-funded quarantine periods of up to 21 days will soon be cancelled. The government followed it up on Wednesday by announcing that Covid patients would have to spend a further two weeks in hospital after they had recovered.

Hong Kong has reported just one local case since mid-August and, eager to have China reopen its borders to the city, Lam has made it clear she has prioritised Beijing’s demand for zero Covid over restarting international travel and “living with the virus”.

The changes push Hong Kong further into a life dictated by China’s strategy as the rest of the world is opening up, which according to business and expatriate groups is driving people out of the city. It adds to already record levels of population loss as Hongkongerss fled the national security crackdown.

Read the full story here.