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Coronavirus - 14th December


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Post by Kitkat Mon Dec 14 2020, 12:26

Summary for Monday, 14th December

  • Health Secretary Matt Hancock says new variant of Covid-19 found in parts of UK
  • Mr Hancock says it's thought the variant is contributing to faster spread in southern England
  • But he says there's no indication it causes worse illness or will not respond to vaccine
  • London will move into the highest level of virus restrictions, tier 3, Hancock confirms
  • Parts of Essex and Hertfordshire will also move to tier 3 from 00:01 on Wednesday
  • GP surgeries in more than 100 locations in England will receive their first deliveries of the Pfizer jab
  • Care home residents in Scotland will also start receiving the jab
  • The US begins massive task of rolling out the vaccine, with first doses distributed to dozens of locations
  • President Trump reverses a plan for White House officials to receive the vaccine in the coming days
  • All schools in Greenwich, London, have been asked to move to online learning from Tuesday
  • London mayor Sadiq Khan calls for more help if London moves to Tier 3 of restrictions this week
  • Health Secretary Matt Hancock will make a statement to the House of Commons at 15:30
  • New Zealand agrees to a quarantine-free travel bubble with Australia “in principle”
  • Germany is to go into a hard lockdown over the Christmas period
  • Eswatini Prime Minister dies with Covid-19 - believed to be the first world leader in office to do so

What’s happening in the UK?

Good morning and welcome to our Covid-19 live page. Here are your main coronavirus headlines in the UK this Monday morning:

Latest world news

Here are the latest developments around the world:

  • The US is beginning the massive logistical task of rolling out the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine nationwide. The first three million doses are expected to arrive at 145 facilities across the country on Monday, and at additional sites later in the week
  • US President Donald Trump has reversed a plan for White House officials to receive the coronavirus vaccine in the coming days , saying they should receive it “later in the programme, unless specifically necessary" he said
  • New Zealand and Australia have agreed on a quarantine-free travel bubble . Trips could begin early next year, conditional on the Covid-19 situation in both countries remaining as it is now
  • Japan reported more than 3,000 new cases on Saturday, another record increase as winter sets in, Reuters news agency reports. Infections are worsening in the capital, Tokyo, the northern island of Hokkaido and the city of Osaka
  • A broad lifting of anti-pandemic measures in Germany early next year is unlikely, Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff, Helge Braun, is quoted as saying by Reuters. Germany goes into full lockdown on Wednesday to tackle high infection rates

GPs in England to begin offering Pfizer jab

Some GPs (family doctors) in England will start vaccinating patients on Monday, with the majority beginning on Tuesday, in the next stage of the rollout of the programme.
The NHS said practices in more than 100 locations will receive their first deliveries of the vaccine later.
Like last week, GP practices will prioritise over-80s, along with health and care staff.
Tens of thousands of people in the UK received the Pfizer-BioNTech jab last week in hospitals.

Sharma: Steady flow of vaccine to UK

BBC Breakfast
Business Secretary Alok Sharma tells BBC Breakfast the government is confident that supplies of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine would not be disrupted if there was a no-deal Brexit.
Mr Sharma said there will be a "steady flow" of the vaccine to the UK from Belgium, where it is made.
"We have put in place arrangements to make sure that the distribution of vaccines is not in any way disrupted," he said, adding that he would not go into the detail of the plan.
He said he was "confident" the vaccines "will continue to flow into the UK" after the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December.
He said "tens of thousands" of people have already had their first of two jabs in the UK - and the government will look at having mass vaccination centres next year.

Analysis: How will the GP vaccination plan work in England?

Nick Triggle - Health Correspondent
Once the vaccine is delivered, there will be no messing around. GP practices will receive batches containing 975 doses.
These will have been thawed out - they are kept in ultra-cold storage in hospital - which means practices only have three-and-a-half days to use them up.
It will be all hands on deck therefore with GPs, practice nurses and health care assistants working together to vaccinate the over-80s.
The 100 or so practices getting the vaccine on Monday will be followed by another 100 to 200 over the course of the week.
The rest of the network of 1,200 designated practices - each local area has been asked to nominate one practice to deliver the vaccine - are expected to follow in the coming weeks.
But that will depend on supply. There's thought to be fewer than one million doses of the Pfizer vaccine in the country - although more is due to arrive from Belgium soon.
What could change the whole speed of rollout is approval of a second vaccine made by Oxford University and AstraZeneca.
Regulators are currently assessing the safety and effectiveness of that vaccine, of which there are already over five million doses available.

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Post by Kitkat Mon Dec 14 2020, 12:30

US rolls out vaccines

The first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are being sent out to distribution centres in the US in the next few hours, marking the start of the biggest inoculation programme in the country’s history.
The US is the worst affected country in the world, with close to 300,000 deaths from the coronavirus and more than 2,000 cases a day.
The government is aiming to vaccinate about three-quarters of its population within the next five to six months.
The initial priority will be 21 million front-line healthcare workers, followed by the roughly three million elderly people in long-term care facilities.

Trump rejects early White House vaccinations

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump has reversed a plan for White House officials to receive the coronavirus vaccine in the coming days.
Officials had said senior members of the Trump administration would be among the first people to be given the Pfizer-BioNTech jab.
But Mr Trump said he had asked for an "adjustment" to be made to the plans.
In a tweet, the president said that White House staff should receive the vaccine later - and added he was not currently scheduled to take it himself:
Tweet  Donald J. Trump:

:Left Quotes: People working in the White House should receive the vaccine somewhat later in the program, unless specifically necessary. I have asked that this adjustment be made. I am not scheduled to take the vaccine, but look forward to doing so at the appropriate time. Thank you!

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Post by Kitkat Mon Dec 14 2020, 12:33

London mayor calls for schools to close early

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London Mayor Sadiq Khan is calling for the government to ask all secondary schools and colleges in the capital to shut early before Christmas .
In a statement posted on Twitter , Khan also says he wants them to reopen later in January because of "significant" coronavirus outbreaks among 10 to 19-year-olds.
Testing should be "urgently expanded" to students, he says.
London is currently in tier two, but the capital may be put into tier three restrictions this week - the highest level - following a rise in Covid-19 cases.
Calling for more support for businesses if London is moved to tier three, Khan said: "If the government does decide to introduce further restrictions in London this week, the economic impact on business could be catastrophic with hundreds of thousands of livelihoods at stake."
It comes as schools in Greenwich became the first in England to move fully to online learning from Tuesday .
Last week, the government announced mass testing for schools in the worst-hit areas of London and Essex, which are in tier two, and Kent, which is in tier three.

Starmer 'reluctant' to close schools early

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We reported earlier on London mayor Sadiq Khan's comments that schools in the capital should close early to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
But during his LBC radio phone-in, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer urged leaders to try to keep schools open.
"I'm very reluctant to close our schools down," Starmer said.
Asked what he would say to Khan, who is also a Labour politician, Starmer said: "Talk to the health secretary about what we can do this week to keep schools open, try to keep them open this week."
The borough of Greenwich in south-east London is asking all schools to move online only from Tuesday.

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Post by Kitkat Mon Dec 14 2020, 12:36

GP: 'Sense of great excitement' among patients

Today Programme - BBC Radio 4
Dr Simon Hodes, a GP at one of 100 surgeries in England taking part in the vaccine rollout on Monday, says there is a "sense of great excitement" among his patients.
He tells BBC Radio 4 Today his surgery in Watford will start by vaccinating the over 80s, saying : "These people have really seen coronavirus affect their lives greatly."
He says "very few" have any concerns about having the vaccine.
Dr Nikita Kanani, director of primary care at NHS England, tells the programme that those waiting to be vaccinated should wait to be contacted by their doctors, rather than ringing their GP themselves.
"You can imagine that general practices are very busy, particularly on a Monday morning," she says.
"There's a huge range of things that general practices are already doing so if we can ask for people to just wait a moment and wait to be contacted that would be very appreciated."

Singapore approves Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine

Singapore has approved Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine for pandemic use and expects delivery of the first shots by the end of December, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said.
Mr Lee says the first shipment should arrive by the end of this month, making Singapore one of the first countries to obtain the vaccine.
The city-state expects to have enough vaccines for everyone by the third quarter of 2021, Mr Lee added, and will make it free for all Singaporeans and long-term residents.
Mr Lee said he and other government officials would be among the early recipients, after healthcare workers, frontline workers, the elderly and the vulnerable.
"My colleagues and I, including the older ones, will be getting ourselves vaccinated early. This is to show you, especially seniors like me, that we believe the vaccines are safe," he said in a national broadcast.
Other countries to have approved use of the vaccine also include the US, the UK, Canada, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Mexico, reports say.

NZ and Australia agree Covid travel bubble

As we reported earlier, New Zealand and Australia have agreed to a quarantine-free travel bubble "in principle". Both countries have very few cases and will allow travellers to go back and forth without quarantine.
NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said trips under the agreement could begin early next year.
However, the much anticipated deal will depend on the Covid-19 situation in both counties remaining as it is now.
Travellers from New Zealand have been allowed to enter most Australian states without quarantine since October.
But this has been a one-way agreement so far - meaning New Zealanders must do 14 days of managed isolation on their return home. And Australians are not allowed into New Zealand at all, unless they have an exemption.
Read more here.

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Post by Kitkat Mon Dec 14 2020, 12:48

What changes if London goes into tier three?

As we've been hearing this morning, London could be put into tier three this week.
The government is expected to review England's restrictions by Wednesday.
Here's a reminder of the rules for tier three areas:

  • You can't mix indoors, in private gardens or in most outdoor venues, except with your household or bubble
  • You can meet in a group of up to six in other outdoor spaces, such as parks, beaches or countryside
  • Shops, gyms and personal care services (such as hairdressing) can open
  • Hospitality venues such as bars, pubs, cafes and restaurants must stay closed, except for delivery and takeaway

  • Indoor entertainment venues - such as bowling alleys and cinemas - must stay closed
  • People are advised not to travel to and from tier three areas

Read more about the rules in the UK

What is the virus situation in the UK?

As the vaccination roll-out widens, what are the virus trends in the UK?

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Post by Kitkat Mon Dec 14 2020, 12:51

Breaking News

London move to tier 3 'highly likely'

Hugh Pym - BBC News Health Editor
Health ministers and officials are understood to be “deeply concerned” about a sharp rise in virus cases across London.
MPs from the capital were briefed this morning on the latest data.
It’s understood that a move of London to tier three is highly likely - possibly today - though no final decision has yet been made.
Council leaders in London are understood to be alarmed at the projected rise in cases and some are pushing for a "tier three plus" regime - with tougher restrictions than tier three on its own.
Essex may also be moved up to tier three.

Germany prepares for harder lockdown

Germany is to go into a hard lockdown over the Christmas period as the number of deaths and infections from the coronavirus reaches record levels.
Non-essential shops will close across the country from Wednesday, as will schools, with children to be cared for at home wherever possible.
Chancellor Angela Merkel blamed Christmas shopping for a "considerable" rise in social contacts.
The latest figures showed 20,200 more infections and a further 321 deaths.
President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the stricter measures were unavoidable, as the virus was threatening to run out of control.
He said giving Christmas presents could wait, and that efforts to save lives and stop the health service from collapsing could only succeed if people radically restricted their contacts over the coming weeks.
The new lockdown will run from 16 December to 10 January.
A maximum of five people from no more than two households are allowed to gather in a home.
But this will be relaxed from 24 to 26 December when one household will be able to invite a maximum of four close family members from other households.

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Post by Kitkat Mon Dec 14 2020, 12:57

MPs for London and South East briefed by government

MPs for London and surrounding areas - including Kent, Essex and Hertfordshire - were briefed by the government this morning, ahead of a review of England's coronavirus restrictions this week.
One MP told our political correspondent Helen Catt they were presented with “an alarming set of data” about the rate of growth of coronavirus both in London and in those areas.
The MP said they were told Covid-19 cases were doubling every five to seven to days and in London high rates were no longer confined to certain areas, with infections spreading throughout all boroughs.
A "pretty alarming" picture was painted on the call, our correspondent said.
Following the call, Labour's Wes Streeting, MP for Ilford North, said they had not been "explicitly" told that London would go into tier three, "but the numbers don't lie".
Our health editor Hugh Pym says it's "highly likely" that London will move to tier 3. Health Secretary Matt Hancock will make a statement in the House of Commons at 15:30.

Tweet  Wes Street MP:
:Left Quotes:  London is showing exponential growth in #covid19 . Given the situation in Redbridge, I'd urge residents to exercise caution, follow the rules and prepare for tier three. We haven't been told explicitly that tier 3 is coming in words, but the numbers don't lie. #covid19

What are the virus figures in London?

Nick Triggle - Health Correspondent
The east of London and the bits of Essex and Kent that border it have now become the hotspots for Covid.
Cases are rising and there are several east London boroughs that have seen more than 350 cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days.
In Havering, there has been 470.
To put that in perspective, Manchester - which is in tier three - has seen 176 cases per 100,000 in the past seven days.
What has provided some protection for London is the fact hospitals have not been at immediate risk of being overwhelmed.
Latest data from London from a week ago showed one in nine beds were available.
But admissions have continued to go up since – causing real concern behind the scenes.
Other parts of the capital have lower rates, but there are signs they are rising too.
That’s why the government feels it has little option but to act.

London mayor warns of tier 3 impact

BBC News Channel

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London mayor Sadiq Khan has been speaking to the BBC News Channel about London's potential move to tier three - England's highest level of coronavirus restrictions.
In tier three , hospitality venues including pubs and restaurants will have to close and can only offer takeaways.
Khan says the government "has to realise" the consequences of a move to tier three to the hospitality and retail sectors, which have already had the "worst year in living memory".
The industries were hoping for a "decent December", he says, and the government must provide more support - otherwise businesses could "go bust" and "hundreds of thousands" of Londoners could lose their jobs.

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Post by Kitkat Mon Dec 14 2020, 13:01

US health official hails 'extraordinary' vaccine rollout

As we reported earlier, the US has begun the hugely complicated task of distributing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine nationwide.
One health official in Maine has told the BBC she was very excited about the rollout.
"I think it's been probably the darkest December on record here. As of this last week, Covid-19 is the leading cause of death in the US, even more than cancer and heart disease," said Dr Dora Mills, chief health improvement officer for MaineHealth - a network of 12 hospitals based in Portland which is about to receive the first delivery of nearly 2,000 vaccines.
"So it's a very dark season for us, but it's also extraordinary that we have a vaccine less than a year after this virus has emerged. If the efficacy and safety data hold up, this is likely [to be] the greatest public health and scientific achievement of our lifetime.
"We have several of those ultra-low temperature freezers to store it, but we also don't plan on storing it, we want to get it into shots in the arms, and we plan on doing so within several hours of it arriving here."

Breaking News 

Another London council tells schools to move online

We've just heard that Islington Council in north London has advised schools to move to online learning from the end of Tuesday, amid a rise in coronavirus cases.
The council has also asked schools to be open for onsite learning for children of key workers and vulnerable pupils.
Schools in Islington have also been advised to remain closed after the Christmas break and continue online learning until 11 January.
Council-run schools in Greenwich, south-east London, will move online tomorrow.

'Very worrying rise' in London coronavirus cases

Here's some more on the recommendation from Islington Council for schools in its borough to move to online learning.
Richard Watts, leader of Islington Council, says: "There is a serious and very worrying rise in coronavirus across London, with cases doubling every few days.
"We must all take action now to stop this deadly disease spreading serious illness and death to the people we love."
Tweet  Islington Council:

Islington Council has advised schools to close from the end of Tuesday (Dec 15) and move to online learning as London sees serious rise in coronavirus cases.
Read more:

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Post by Kitkat Mon Dec 14 2020, 13:04

Japan to suspend travel subsidies over holidays

The Japanese government is to suspend a travel subsidy programme across the country over concerns about its impact on the spread of coronavirus.
The Go To Travel campaign that subsidises domestic tourism is to be suspended from 28 December to 11 January.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said last week a halt to the programme was not being considered, citing economic considerations.
But critics say encouraging people to travel has helped spread infections. Mr Suga was expected to restrict the programme after weekend polls showed public support eroding over his handling of the pandemic, reports say.
As we reported earlier, Japan recorded more than 3,000 new cases on Saturday, with the number of infections getting worse in Tokyo, the northern island of Hokkaido and the city of Osaka.

Vaccine in care homes 'hugely important' step - Sturgeon

Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is holding her daily briefing.
She confirms a further 734 people have tested positive for Covid-19, taking the total number of positive cases in Scotland to 106,904.
No further deaths have been recorded with Covid in the past 24 hours - but she warns that weekend figures are often “artificially low”.
Sturgeon says that from today, any secondary school pupils will be able to download the Protect Scotland App.
She says this “will be particularly important” during the Christmas holidays.
Moving on to the next stage of the vaccine rollout, she says more than 18,000 people in Scotland have now received their first vaccination,
Today, the Pfizer vaccine has begun being given in care homes in Scotland which she describes as a “hugely important step in protecting many of the people who are most at risk”.
Read about the first care home resident in Scotland to get the jab here.

Care home vaccinations to begin in north Wales on Wednesday

Wales' health minister Vaughan Gething is holding a coronavirus briefing.
He says more than 6,000 people were vaccinated in Wales in the first few days of the vaccination programme.
Vaccinations in care homes will start in care homes on Wednesday, he says, starting in north Wales.
Gething says Wales is facing a "very serious situation" and they are continuing to see high numbers of cases.
Coronavirus cases are rising in all but one local authority area in Wales, he says.
The virus is "widespread in our communities", he says, adding: "We are asking people not to mix with people they don’t live with."

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Post by Kitkat Mon Dec 14 2020, 13:06

Wales health minister outlines school tests plan

Wales' health minister Vaughan Gething says new coronavirus testing arrangements will be available for schools from January.
All pupils and staff who are identified as a close contact of someone who has coronavirus will be either asked to self-isolate, or take a rapid result test at the start of a school day, Gething says.
If the test is negative they can attend school, he says, but those who test positive will have to isolate and book a confirmatory test.
Gething says the situation "looks and is very serious" but there are "great" new testing technologies - as well as the rollout of the vaccine.
"The best present we can give our families is a coronavirus free Christmas," he says, again urging people not to mix outside their own household.

You don't have to meet people over Christmas - Sturgeon

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stresses the ongoing danger that Covid-19 poses for all of us, saying: "We are not yet out of the woods."
She highlights Germany going into a very stringent lockdown and the speculation that London will go into England's highest tier of restrictions.
Looking ahead to the relaxation of rules across the UK over the Christmas period, Sturgeon says meeting up with people indoors is “not risk free” and says just because we can meet up with people over Christmas “it doesn’t mean that we have to”.
However, she says that if people do think it’s essential to meet up over Christmas, now is the time to “cut down on unnecessary contacts”.
She apologises for sounding like the “Christmas killjoy” but she asks people not to take risks by having office parties over the festive period, saying that those, especially ones involving alcohol, “present a real risk of transmission”.
She finishes by saying that hopefully by this time next year “all of this will be starting to feel like a really bad memory” - but says people need to keep to the rules to keep loved ones safe.

Breaking News 

Schools should stay open - No 10

Downing Street says it expects all schools and colleges in England to remain open until the end of term.
The prime minister's official spokesman said that not being in school had a detrimental impact on learning and other areas of pupils' development.
He added that regional school commissioner teams were working closely with local authorities to help them to keep schools open and keep pupils and staff safe.
Two councils in London, Islington and Greenwich, have already said they will move to online lessons this week.
Asked about the relaxation of some rules for five days over Christmas, the spokesman said the government "has no plans to review the Christmas guidelines."

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Post by Kitkat Mon Dec 14 2020, 13:23

Analysis: London infection rate up 40% in a week

Rob England - BBC England Data Unit
The latest figures for the week to 9 December show a rise in coronavirus cases across the board in London, with hotspots in some eastern boroughs.
Overall the infection rate across the capital has risen by 40% in a week to 241 cases per 100,000 people - the highest of any region of England.
A month ago nearly the opposite was true.
In the week to 12 November, Havering was the only area of London in the top 100 places with the highest infection rates, at 85th. It now has the fifth highest rate in England, at 506 cases per 100,000.
Back then London had the third lowest regional rate of about 187 cases per 100,000, while Yorkshire and the Humber recorded the highest at 443 per 100,000.
Now the two regions seemed to have swapped places, with Yorkshire now enjoying the third lowest rate of about 170 per 100,000.
This is testament to how much has changed in four weeks. The virus has gained momentum in areas such as London, Kent and Essex - while slowing across previous hotspots to the north.
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UAE begins vaccination programme

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has begun a public vaccination programme against Covid-19 using the injection made by Chinese drugs giant Sinopharm.
The scheme has been launched in the emirates' capital, Abu Dhabi, where at least 45 hospitals and clinics are participating, reports say.
The programme makes the UAE one of the first countries to start widespread immunisation.
Residents in the capital can book an appointment through the local health services free of charge.
The UAE has so far recorded more than 186,000 cases of the virus and 618 deaths, figures collated by Johns Hopkins University show.

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Post by Kitkat Mon Dec 14 2020, 16:27

Breaking News 

London to move to tier 3

London MPs have been told the city is moving to tier 3.

Looks like it's going to be from Wednesday!  (16th)

More to come on this ...

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Post by Kitkat Mon Dec 14 2020, 16:40

Tier 3 also extended to parts of Essex and Hertfordshire

It's understood that tier 3 will also be extended to parts of Essex and Hertfordshire.
BBC Newsnight's policy editor Lewis Goodall says he has been told this will be from 00:01 on Wednesday.
We expect to hear more from Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who will address the Commons at 15:30 GMT.

London MP confirms areas entering tier 3

Health Secretary Matt Hancock spoke to London MPs earlier about the plans to put the capital into tier three.
Rupa Huq, the MP for Ealing Central and Acton in west London, says the areas going into tier three will be London, Essex (except Tendring) and Watford, Hertsmere and Broxbourne in Hertfordshire.

Breaking News 

Next restrictions review in England on 23 December

MPs on the call with Health Secretary Matt Hancock have said the next review will be on 23 December. Labour MP for Ealing Central and Acton Rupa Huq says the MPs were told reviews will be weekly from now on.

  • We said in the first version of this post that reviews were being brought forward - our political experts have since advised that they had always been expected to be reviewed weekly after 16 December

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Post by Kitkat Mon Dec 14 2020, 16:45

What are the tier 3 rules in England?

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For the 23 million people already living in tier three areas in England, the rules might be pretty familiar by now.
But for people in London, Essex and parts of Hertfordshire who will enter tier three for the first time this week, the rules will be new. Here's what's different to tier two:

  • All hospitality venues like pubs, restaurants and cafes will shut. They can open for takeaway only
  • You can only mix with other households (in groups of up to six) in outdoor spaces like parks, beaches or countryside - not in private gardens
  • Sports fans cannot attend events in stadiums
  • Indoor entertainment venues - such as bowling alleys and cinemas - must close

Read more about the tiers here.

Breaking News 

Hancock: New fast-spreading variant of virus identified

Health Secretary Matt Hancock starts by telling MPs that the benefits of a vaccine, which is being rolled out further this week, will take time to show and “we must persevere”.
He says there has been a sharp rise of cases in south Wales, London and parts of the East and south-east of England.
Hancock tells MPs that a new variant of the virus has been identified which may be "growing faster" than existing variants, and they have identified more than 1,000 cases - predominantly in the south of England.
He says the numbers of cases with this variant have been increasing rapidly and the World Health Organization has been notified.
He adds that it is unlikely to cause more serious disease than other variants.

Can people travel to do their Christmas shopping in London?

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, is asked by the man who used to do his job - Jeremy Hunt - whether it would be against the rules for shoppers to travel into London to do their Christmas shopping?
Hancock replies: "It is recommended that people should minimise travel unless it's necessary in a tier three area.
"And [they] should minimise travel where it's necessary to a tier three area."

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Post by Kitkat Mon Dec 14 2020, 16:52

First vaccine dose given in the US

Moving our coverage away from the House of Commons - a nurse in New York has become the first person in the US to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
"I feel hopeful today. Relieved. I feel like healing is coming," said nurse Sandra Lindsay.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who live-streamed the historic inoculation, called the Pfizer jab "the weapon that will end the war".

Which areas will be in tier 3?

From Wednesday morning, London and parts of Essex and Hertfordshire will move into England's top tier of coronavirus restrictions known as tier three - or "very high".
Approximately 10 million people will join 23 million people who have been in that tier since the national lockdown ended on 2 December.

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New variant: 'Don't be unduly alarmed'

Fergus Walsh - Medical editor
There are lots of variants and at this stage, I wouldn't interpret too much into it because it's what viruses do, they mutate a bit.
Certainly I've heard virologists talking about 40 or more variants
What's interesting about this one is the suggestion that it may be associated with faster spread in the south east.
Now initially you would say that's a bit worrying if the virus is spreading faster and that could be concerning.
But sometimes the variants that come through spread quicker but they become less deadly, less effective.
So what we don't know is whether it's associated in any way with more serious disease. And Matt Hancock said that there was no evidence of that at the moment.
And also the vaccines we have (and there are three that we now know have efficacy) - there's nothing to suggest that a variant would make the vaccine less effective.
Nothing to panic about now but absolutely right that the geneticists at Porton Down and elsewhere do all the due diligence and look at this.
It sounds immediately very scary but I don't think there's anything to be unduly alarmed about.

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Post by Kitkat Mon Dec 14 2020, 16:54

Analysis: Ministers under pressure over Christmas relaxation

Vicki Young - Deputy Political Editor
Not much Christmas cheer from Matt Hancock - tighter restrictions for millions, thousands of businesses forced to close, and a new variant of the virus.
During previous reviews the Treasury and many MPs pushed back against moving millions more into tier 3. But this time they seem convinced by evidence that cases are rising very fast in London and parts of the South East.
But ministers are under pressure over the relaxation of rules over Christmas. Expect to hear a lot about personal responsibility in the coming days.

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Post by Kitkat Mon Dec 14 2020, 18:28

Russian Covid vaccine 'more than 90% effective'

Michelle Roberts - Health editor, BBC News online
Russian scientists say their Sputnik V vaccine has passed the final clinical trial point with flying colours.
Based on trial data from more than 22,000 participants, the jab - given as two doses - appears to be at least 91% effective at protecting against Covid-19 illness.
Of 78 cases of the disease, 62 occurred in the group that received placebo injections rather than the real vaccine. No severe cases were recorded in the vaccine group, which the researchers say is a “stunning result”.
They say the phase three study findings will soon be published in a medical journal. And they will submit the findings to regulators in various countries to seek approval of the vaccine for emergency use.
The news comes just days after it was announced that Russian scientists would team up to trial a combination of the Sputnik V vaccine with the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid jab .
Experts believe giving people two different types of Covid vaccine, one after the other, might give better protection than two doses of one jab.

Canada administers first vaccine jabs

Canada has begun administering doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Live TV pictures showed nursing home carer Anita Quidangen in Toronto receiving the first shot. She was one of five people to receive the country's first round of vaccinations.
It came after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted on Sunday night that the first batches had arrived, alongside an image of a cargo plane being used to transport the vaccines, which require ultra-cold storage.
The first 30,000 doses are being distributed at 14 sites across Canada, with the elderly and healthcare workers prioritised.
The initial batch was shipped from Belgium, where they were produced, on Friday.


Uplifting scenes of vaccinations are being shared from around the US today, as medical workers begin receiving their first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech drug.
Six workers in an Ohio hospital were the first in the state to receive the vaccine, which came after a countdown of "3...2...1...Vaccinate!"
In Colorado, the governor gave an excited news conference as he received the first shipment of the vaccine on Monday morning.
"Do we have to sign for it?" Gov Jared Polis asked the FedEx delivery man about the precious cargo.
"You betcha," came the carrier's reply.

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Post by Kitkat Mon Dec 14 2020, 18:32

Jump in US medical school applications 'due to Fauci effect'

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Dr Fauci, the top US government scientist, has become something of a celebrity during the pandemic

Even as applications to US universities fall, applications to medical schools are increasing significantly, college admissions officials say.
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the number of applicants has risen 18% over last year.
"It's unprecedented," the organisation's Geoffrey Young told National Public Radio, comparing the spike to the high number of applications to the US military in the days after 9/11.
Medical schools say the rise could be attributed to public health officials, such as top US disease expert Anthony Fauci, who have emerged as heroes during the pandemic.
They are even referring to the phenomenon as the "Fauci effect", according to US media.
Dr Fauci, who has led the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for generations and is on the White House coronavirus taskforce, told NPR that he finds the label "very flattering".
"If it works to get more young individuals into medical school, go ahead and use my name. Be my guest."

Stockholm schools switch to distance learning

As we reported earlier, an increasing number of London schools are switching to online learning as case numbers rise.
In the Swedish capital, Stockholm, this is also happening, with schools switching to distance learning for all pupils aged 13 to 15 for the first time since the start of the pandemic - a week after a nationwide decision to switch to remote learning for those over 16.
It’s part of efforts to reduce the spread of the virus in the city in the run-up to Christmas, reports the BBC's Maddy Savage.
Stockholm hospitals have warned they’re running out of intensive care beds, and public health authorities are calling on people to do more to limit their social contacts.
Sweden has never had a lockdown, and Covid-19 cases are continuing to climb despite recent tougher restrictions, including a ban on public events for more than eight people.

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Post by Kitkat Mon Dec 14 2020, 18:34

WHO 'aware of UK's new variant of Covid-19'

The World Health Organization is aware of the new variant of Covid-19 in Britain that Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed in a statement to the House of Commons earlier, Reuters news agency reports.
Mike Ryan, head of the WHO’s emergencies programme, told a news briefing in Geneva: “We are aware of this genetic variant reported in 1,000 individuals in England.
“Authorities are looking at its significance. We have seen many variants, this virus evolves and changes over time.”

Hancock news conference coming up

We are expecting Health Secretary Matt Hancock to hold a news conference at 18:00.
Here is the latest in the UK right now:

Almost 11 million more people in Tier 3 from Wednesday

After today's announcement, here's how many people will be in each of England's tiers from Wednesday:

  • Tier 1: 713,573
  • Tier 2: 21,457,979
  • Tier 3: 34,115,409

The numbers are currently:

  • Tier 1: 713,573
  • Tier 2: 32,226,170
  • Tier 3: 23,347,218

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Post by Kitkat Mon Dec 14 2020, 18:38

Tier moves shows speed of change

Nick Triggle - Health Correspondent
The move to put London into tier three along with some of the surrounding areas shows how quickly the picture can change.
Just a few weeks ago, all the talk was of the surge of cases in the north of England and parts of the Midlands.
Now many of those areas are seeing cases falling, while the south east is seeing rises.
But it is not just the fact the overall rate is going up in the south east.
The rates in the over 60s are lower than younger age groups, but they are still going up.
As are hospital admissions. There are currently more than 2,000 patients with Covid in London’s hospitals, up from just over 1,000 a month ago.
That is still well below the peak seen in the spring when there were more than 5,000.
But then hospitals cutback wholesale on non-Covid care. Now they are trying to juggle the two.
It means hospitals are getting closer to full with less than 1,500 beds free.

Hancock: We do not rule out further action

Matt Hancock reiterates that areas in the south-east of England will be moving into tier 3 from 00:01 on Wednesday.
"I know this news is not what people want to hear," he says adding "it is a blow to so many people and businesses."
"But we know from experience that the best thing to do in the face of the virus is to act fast.
"We do not rule out further action."

Whitty: Case rates increasing 'very substantially'

It’s now the turn of England’s chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty, who is talking through the latest figures for the areas which are moving into tier three.
He says over the last few days the rate of increase has started to accelerate “very substantially “.

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Post by Kitkat Mon Dec 14 2020, 18:40

Will there be another lockdown after Christmas?

The first question comes from Ryan, a nurse in A&E. He wants to know if there will be a "firebreak" lockdown in January following the relaxation of rules over Christmas. He also asks how the government will support hospitals to deal with the extra pressure.
Matt Hancock urges people to be "careful and cautious, especially ahead of Christmas".
In terms of protecting hospitals, he says the government will be reviewing the tier system to determine "which areas should be in which tiers so we can keep this virus under control".
Prof Whitty repeats the call for people to be "very careful" and warns that the period after Christmas could be "extremely difficult for every area of A&E".

What is going on in London?

Reality Check
The latest regional data highlights the problems facing London.
After weeks of higher case rates, the north of England and the Midlands are now seeing sustained decreases.
But the capital – along with parts of the south east of England – is seeing coronavirus cases increase.
London now has the highest weekly case rates of any region in England - with 191 cases per 100,000 people, for the week ending 6 December.
And 10% of tests for Covid-19 are coming back positive – the highest rate in England.
This is still quite far below the peaks seen in the North West in October and lower than where London was when the national lockdown started in November.
Importantly, the spread of the virus has happened across all age groups, meaning that it isn’t confined to younger people (who are less vulnerable and less likely to be treated in hospital).
The rate amongst 10 to 19 year-olds is particularly high and, in the past, this has preceded increases in older groups.

Christmas 'is a period of greater risk'

The next question comes from the BBC's Vicki Young, who asks whether the government reckons it should be rethinking plans to relax rules over Christmas?
From 23-27 December rules are being relaxed to allow three households to mix.
Mr Hancock says it's "important" that all of us are cautious and "very careful" over Christmas.
But he says that "especially after a difficult year", he understands why people want to get together with their loved ones.
Prof Chris Whitty is also asked what he thinks of the Christmas rules, and says "it's no secret... Christmas is a period of greater risk".
But he says they have tried to strike the balance of doing what is "least damaging" while keeping the virus under control.
And he urged people to take the tiers seriously before Christmas to reduce the risk as much as possible. "Go no further than you have to," he said, of the relaxation in rules.
Prof Kevin Fenton, Public Health England's regional director for London, said "the actions we take now" will affect our ability to have a safe Christmas.
"The restrictions in the tiers will still be in place. But the Christmas period allows us to meet those who are nearest and dearest to us but also taking care to prevent the transmission to them as well."

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Post by Kitkat Mon Dec 14 2020, 18:43

Should London have been in tier 3 weeks ago?

Sky's Sam Coates asks if there are any circumstances under which the government would reverse its planned relaxation of rules over Christmas.
He also asks if London should have been put into tier three weeks ago.
Matt Hancock says he understands why people want to se their loved ones at Christmas, but that must be done in a way that is "careful and responsible".
On the question about London, Prof Whitty says going into tier 3 reduces transmission but also does economic damage and that the government has to balance the two.
He says it isn't possible to achieve perfection when "choosing between two bad situations".
Prof Fenton says Londoners have been "fantastic" at responding to the pandemic. He says today's measures are aimed at helping "us get ahead of the curve".

All eyes on Christmas rules

Nick Triggle - Health Correspondent
Attention is naturally turning to the wisdom of the relaxation of rules over Christmas. A week after London and some surrounding areas enter tier three, which prohibits mixing both indoors and outdoors except in public open spaces such as parks, people will be free to get together in groups of three households.
Ministers and their advisers are warning people to exercise caution. But there are no plans to re-think the guidance.
Chief medical adviser Prof Chris Whitty accepts there is risk, but says the government is trying to strike a “really difficult balance”. Meeting up with loved ones was seen as an important choice to give people after such a difficult year – and there was also concern people would ignore any restrictions if they tried to prevent mixing.
While the rules will relax, a tier system of sorts still remains in place. For example, in tier three areas hospitality will not be able to open beyond offering takeaways.
That should mitigate some of the risk, but clearly not all. The hope had been that after the second national lockdown and the introduction of a tougher system of tiers, that would have been enough to keep the rates of infections coming down.
That has not happened in the south east, but is happening elsewhere, across large parts of the north of England, the south west and some parts of the Midlands. The message is clear – it will be up to the public to weigh up the risks for themselves.

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Post by Kitkat Mon Dec 14 2020, 19:46

Going home for Christmas 'not worth the risk'

We've been hearing a lot today about the debate around Christmas in the UK - when coronavirus restrictions will be eased to allow people to mix with a slightly wider circle of family and friends.
Health experts have urged people to think carefully about who they mix with.
This means many families are now having awkward conversations about what they are and aren't prepared to do.
It's that extra risk which means not everyone will be taking up the option of meeting their loved ones.
BBC Newsbeat reporter Manish Pandey spoke to a couple of people who have decided not to go home for Christmas this year .

Uganda arrests two Nigerian singers for 'Covid spreader' show

Away from the drama leaving stages in the UK, two Nigerian singers have been arrested and charged in Uganda for putting on a show that officials say was likely to spread the coronavirus.
Omah Lay and Tems, along with Tems’ manager and four Ugandans, have been charged with “negligently doing acts likely to spread an infectious diseases” (sic), Uganda police said in a tweet .
They will remain in custody until their appearance in court on Wednesday, the statement added.
Omah Lay, whose show was staged in the Ugandan capital on Saturday, tweeted he was “just a singer trying to entertain” . He has called on the Nigerian authorities to intervene.
Uganda has suspended all social gatherings to limit the spread of the virus.

Dutch PM announces lockdown until 19 January

Anna Holligan - BBC News Hague correspondent
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has announced a five-week lockdown which will last until 19 January.
From Wednesday morning all non-essential shops, including garden centres, DIY and clothing stores will close. Supermarkets and other food shops, banks and pharmacies will remain open.
Hairdressers, tattooists, beauticians and sex workers must stop seeing clients. Museums, zoos, theatres, Christmas markets, casinos and amusement parks will close their doors, along with gyms, swimming pools and saunas.
The rule of two applies at home, except for a few days over Christmas when three house guests are allowed a day.
From Wednesday, both primary and secondary schools are closing - something that Rutte had been determined to avoid.
Hotels will stay open, but they are no longer allowed to serve food and drink to their guests. Room service is also off the menu.
Cafes and restaurants, including cannabis cafes, can keep serving takeaways.
The Eredivisie league and other top sports competitions will continue, but without an audience - as is the case now.

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Kinkerstraat in Amsterdam, pictured on Monday ahead of Rutte's announcement

Schiphol airport remains open to passengers. The travel advice remains to stay at home as much as possible this winter and not to book trips abroad until mid-March.
No curfew will be imposed. On Monday the Netherlands recorded 8,496 new daily infections, slightly up on the weekly average.
Most people see the additional restrictions as completely justified. Many believe they should have happened weeks ago, and for some, it's going to mean a lonely Christmas.
As the prime minister addressed the nation, anti-lockdown protesters could be heard outside parliament.

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Post by Kitkat Mon Dec 14 2020, 19:50

What we learned at tonight's No 10 press conference

  • Tier three: The main news from the briefing was reiterating the news that London, parts of Essex and Hertfordshire will be moving to tier three on Wednesday at 00:01. "We do not rule out further action," Mr Hancock added
  • London: Infections are rising in a number of boroughs across the city, said Public Health England's Prof Kevin Fenton
  • The new variant: There's no evidence it's more dangerous or is invisible to coronavirus tests, said Prof Chris Whitty. He also said it would be "pretty surprising" if the vaccine didn't work on it. And Mr Whitty said the variant is not the reason behind putting more areas into tier three
  • Christmas: It's a period of greater risk, said Prof Whitty, as he urged people to be responsible. Matt Hancock also urged people to be "careful and responsible"
  • The vaccine: They were asked by a member of the public who is trying to conceive whether the vaccine affects fertility, Prof Chris Whitty said there was “no current evidence” of an impact on fertility from any of the vaccines. It would be “quite surprising” if they did so, he said

What happened in the UK today?

We will shortly be pausing the live page, so here's a reminder of the main headlines in the UK today:

Breaking News 

More than 20,000 new UK cases

There were 20,263 new cases of Covid-19 in the UK on Monday, latest figures show, taking the total figure over the past seven days to 131,708.
That's up 21.6% compared with the previous seven-day number.
There were 232 new deaths from the disease reported within 28 days of a positive test, with the seven-day total rising to 2,984, almost unchanged from the previous seven days.
Since the start of the pandemic, the UK has recorded 1.87 million cases of Covid-19 and 64,402 deaths.

Join us again tomorrow

Many thanks for joining us for news on the coronavirus pandemic today.

Updates were brought to you by Owen Amos, Alexandra Fouche, Francesca Gillett, Robert Greenall, Emma Harrison, Claire Heald, Max Matza, Penny Spiller, Kate Whannel and Katie Wright.

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