In the UK a sharp fall in cash machine usage last year has prompted a warning that more ATMs could end up being closed or imposing fees.

Link, the UK’s largest cash machine network, said its latest data showed there was a 38% decline in ATM transactions in 2020, caused in large part by the coronavirus crisis.

John Howells, Link’s chief executive, said this sharp decline in ATM usage “brings significant problems” and “places enormous strain on the cash infrastructure”.

He told the Guardian: “ATMs are run by commercial operators and as we use less cash, if they aren’t making money on those cash machines, they will either close or become charging. We welcomed the government’s promise of legislation after it was announced in the last budget, and this is now needed urgently.”

The coronavirus outbreak has rapidly accelerated the adoption of contactless payment, and many people prefer not to handle physical money at the moment because of the potential health risks:



















Summary










Private rents in some of the UK’s biggest city centres have fallen by up to 12% in a year but have risen sharply in parts of northern England as some tenants swapped an urban life for the suburbs, smaller towns and villages.

Property website Rightmove’s latest rental trends report said the pandemic had led to falling asking rents and a “flood” of properties coming on to the market in many areas.

Central London has been “hardest hit”, said the website, with average asking rents down by 12.4% on a year ago, followed by Edinburgh city centre, which was down 10%, and Manchester city centre, down 5.3%:










More on the cases in New Zealand now:

Two more returnees who stayed at the same New Zealand hotel at the same time as Sunday’s coronavirus case have tested positive after finishing their quarantine.

The two people are asymptomatic and had already completed their managed isolation at Auckland’s Pullman hotel and returned two negative tests, the Department of Health said.

It is yet to be confirmed if they are recent or historic infections and further testing is urgently being carried out.

The cases are now in isolation at home while investigators track how they contracted the disease – and their activities since their release:










More than half of people with Covid-19 experience the loss of smell or taste and while two-thirds recover within six to eight weeks, many are left without much improvement months down the line. Chrissi Kelly, the founder of UK smell loss charity AbScent, said there are over 200,000 cases of long-term anosmia in the UK, and smell loss had the potential to make people feel isolated and depressed.

With so much still to be learned about coronavirus, the potential lasting effects are yet to be fully realised. For professions that rely heavily on taste and smell, particularly in the hard-hit food and drinks industry, it could spell the end of careers.

Prof Barry Smith, the UK lead for the Global Consortium of Chemosensory Research (GCCR) examining smell loss as a Covid-19 symptom, said many people affected in the food and drinks industry are afraid to publicly discuss what they’re going through for fear for their livelihoods.

Recovery is a waiting game, but smell training can help hasten natural recovery. “It’s known that parosmia that follows complete smell loss is a sign of recovery where olfactory neurons are regenerating,” Smith said. “Finding more and more ‘safe’ food ingredients, without a distorted smell, and repeatedly sniffing them will improve discrimination and may help to reset and regularise one’s sense of smell”:










Two more cases of South African Covid variant in New Zealand

Updated










Peru orders total lockdown across 10 states as second wave bites










Australia records 10th day of no local cases










It is too early to say whether there will be age limitations placed on who receives the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in Australia, the chair of the country’s advisory committee on vaccines has said.

The European Medicines Agency has suggested the vaccine may only be authorised for younger people in Europe but Prof Allen Cheng on Wednesday said Australia’s drug regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), was still evaluating the AstraZeneca data:




























More on Japan’s coronavirus response:

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshide Suga has also been criticised for persisting with a government-subsidised travel scheme until the end of last year even after health experts raised concern that it could fuel transmission of the virus. Go To Travel, launched last July, was suspended in late December amid a surge in cases.

While the government has denied the programme – which was intended to support regional economies during the pandemic – had allowed the virus to spread, a new study said the number of infections associated with domestic tourism had risen nearly seven times since July.

“Although the second epidemic wave in Japan had begun to decline by mid-August, enhanced domestic tourism may have contributed to increasing travel-associated Covid-19 cases,” Hiroshi Nishiura and Asami Anzai, researchers at Kyoto University, said in the study, published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine.

“It is natural that enhancing human mobility across wider geographic areas would facilitate additional contact” and spread the virus, the study said.

While the state of emergency appears to be slowing new cases, there is concern over increases in the number of patients with serious symptoms and older people who are testing positive.

Kyodo reported that calls were growing inside Suga’s administration for the state of emergency – which encourages bars and restaurants to close early and people to avoid non-essential outings – to be extended in parts of the country until the end of next month. It is currently due to end in Tokyo and 10 other prefectures on 7 February.










Japan’s prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, has conceded that his government failed to relieve the pressure on the country’s health service, amid reports that people with symptoms of Covid-19 had died at home after being turned away by overstretched hospitals.

About 200 people who contracted the virus since March last year have died at home and in places other than hospitals after their condition suddenly worsened, the public broadcaster NHK said. Seventy-five of those deaths came over a three-week period from 1 January, it added, citing the national police agency figures.

Hospitals say they are struggling to admit patients following a surge in Covid cases at the end of last year, although the seven-day average for infections in Tokyo – the worst-hit region in Japan – has started to fall after a state of emergencywas declared in the capital almost three weeks ago.




Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Photograph: Yoshio Tsunoda/AFLO/REX/Shutterstock

Japan has reported more than 370,000 casessince the start of the pandemic, and over 5,300 deaths, according to NHK.

Suga, whose approval rating has plummeted over his response to the pandemic, told a parliamentary committee this week that more lives could have been saved had hospitals been better prepared.

Asked by an opposition MP if he felt responsible for the deaths of people who had been refused hospital treatment, he said: “As the person in charge I feel terribly sorry,” according to the Kyodo news agency.

“We have not been able to provide the necessary care, and I recognise that because of this the Japanese people are feeling anxious.”



















Papua New Guinea’s low testing rates for Covid-19 – and flawed testing procedures – are hampering efforts to properly trace and treat the disease.

The country’s pandemic response controller, police commissioner David Manning, said improperly handled swabs were reaching laboratories compromised and unable to be tested.

Fewer than 42,000 tests have been done across the country of nearly nine million people, over the course of the entire pandemic.

“We can only find out the extent of the outbreak in the country if we proactively test people,” Manning said.

There have been 850 confirmed cases in PNG, and nine known deaths. But the real impact of the virus is likely many times greater.




A nurse sits at a table set up as a Covid-19 screening station at Warangoin Clinic in East New Britain Province.

A nurse sits at a table set up as a Covid-19 screening station at Warangoin Clinic in East New Britain Province. Photograph: Kalo Fainu/The Guardian

Australia has announced US$111-million in funding for Covid-19 vaccination across PNG over three years.

Manning urged PNG citizens to adopt a ‘Niupela Pasin’ – ‘new normal’ – for living with the risk of Covid-19.

“Please wear a face mask in public places, avoid shaking hands or physical contact, avoid crowds, maintain physical distancing and regularly wash hands or sanitise your hands.

“God has spared us from the wrath of Covid-19 but let us not take this for granted. We must do our part to protect ourselves and our loved ones. More than two million people have died globally from Covid-19 so please be proactive in preventing its spread in PNG.”










In recent nights, rioters have poured on to the streets of 10 Dutch cities in what has been the closest Europe has come to open revolt against the coronavirus restrictions imposed across the continent.

The violence, the worst in four decades, might be put down to the liberty-loving culture of the country but, perhaps not coincidentally, the Netherlands is also the very last EU member state to start vaccinating the public and offer some hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

The reality is, however, that the Dutch are not standout stragglers among the pack of 27 member states. The EU as a whole has been lethargic in getting the vaccines they have purchased into the arms of the citizens whose taxes have paid for it:










New Zealand hopes for Covid all-clear after no new cases reported

New Zealand’s Northland region has edged closer to containing the latest outbreak of coronavirus after all 16 close contacts of a woman infected with the disease returned negative tests.

Around 10,000 New Zealanders took Covid-19 tests this week, 8,000 of them in Northland, where the infected woman lives, making it one of the highest testing rates in the world

No one else in the community has tested positive.

“We are still investigating but this is an encouraging response and does provide us some reassurance,” , said the Covid response minister, Chris Hipkins.

The infected woman, a 56-year-old New Zealander, remains in self-isolation, as do all her close contacts:





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