- Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove is to discuss festive rules with leaders of devolved nations, amid pressure to scrap the easing of restrictions
- Two leading medical journals say the UK plan to ease Covid rules over Christmas is a "rash decision", which "will cost many lives"
- No 10 says Christmas plans are under constant review but it still intends to allow people to meet
- The Moderna vaccine has been found to be safe and 95% effective by regulators in the US
- London's Greenwich council faces legal action from the government if it pursues a plan to move classes online
- The council says changing plans that have already been put in place before Tuesday would be "impossible"
- It comes as London, Essex and South Hertfordshire prepare to enter the highest level of restrictions on Wednesday
- No 10 rejected suggestions it should review Christmas guidelines, but one minister said people should do "the minimum" they can
- A new strain of the virus has been identified which may be linked to rising cases in south-east England
- Meanwhile, redundancies in the UK rose to a record high of 370,000 in the three months to October amid the Covid crisis
- US death toll from Covid rises above 300,000, as the country begins its long-awaited vaccine programme
- And the Netherlands enters a strict five-week lockdown, with schools, non-essential shops and public venues closing
Welcome to our live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic in the UK and around the world - it's Mary, Alex, Helier and Holly with you this morning.
If you’re just joining us, here is a quick round-up of the top headlines in the UK:
- Millions more people in England will move into the toughest coronavirus restrictions after ministers warned that a new Covid-19 strain may be linked to a rise in infections. London, most of Essex and parts of Hertfordshire will join tier three at 00:01 GMT on Wednesday. Under tier three rules, pubs and restaurants must close, except for takeaway and delivery, and indoor entertainment venues such as theatres, bowling alleys and cinemas must remain shut
- The government has threatened legal action against Greenwich Council , in south-east London, after it wrote to head teachers asking all schools to move classes online amid a rise in coronavirus cases. The Department for Education said if the Labour-led council did not withdraw its advice by later this morning, the government would seek an injunction at the High Court to keep schools open
- Having to isolate because of Covid-19 is having a detrimental effect on children's education and well-being , England's chief inspector of schools has warned. Amanda Spielman says periods of repeated isolation have "chipped away" at progress since September's return. In a set of reports looking at the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on children, the Ofsted boss said: "Remote education is better than nothing, but it's no substitute for the classroom”
- Redundancies rose to a record high of 370,000 in the three months to October as coronavirus continued to batter the UK economy, official statistics show. The unemployment rate rose to 4.9% for the same period, up from 4.8%, the Office for National Statistics said. Firms laid off more staff in anticipation of the end of the furlough scheme, which was originally supposed to finish in October, but has since been extended until March
Lockdown in the Netherlands and first US vaccinationHere are the latest developments around the world.
- Dutch PM Mark Rutte has announced that the Netherlands will go into a strict lockdown for five weeks from 15 December until 19 January. All schools, non-essential shops and many other public venues and spaces will close. Citizens have been told to refrain from booking non-essential travel abroad until mid-March
- South Africa has announced new restrictions to try to contain a second wave of Covid-19. President Cyril Ramaphosa said a sharp rise in new infections was a cause for great concern as he announced plans to close some beaches and limit mass gatherings over the holiday period
- The first Covid-19 vaccination in the US has taken place , as the country gears up for its largest ever immunisation campaign
- Kenya has ordered 24 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines, reports say. The Kenyan government will spend 10bn Kenya shillings ($89m; £66m) for the vaccines
Latest in Europe: French lift lockdown as Dutch start theirs
- The Dutch go into their strictest lockdown yet with non-essential shops, theatres, gyms and hairdressers shutting today until 19 January and schools closing tomorrow. Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the 9,000 daily infections were like filling the Feyenoord football stadium in under six days.
- France’s lockdown has ended but strict restrictions are still in place – there’s a curfew from 20:00 to 06:00 which will be lifted for Christmas. Theatres and cinemas stay shut.
- The German government is pushing for Europe’s EMA medicines regulator to green-light the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine by 23 December, tabloid Bild reports. The DKG hospital association also wants it brought forward from the current 29 December deadline.
- Italy’s daily death toll is still close to 500, so the government and its scientific advisers are considering a further tightening of measures over Christmas. A type of lockdown could come into place between Christmas night and New Year which PM Giuseppe Conte describes as a “new squeeze”.
- Spain has seen a rebound in infections and top health official Fernando Simón has warned of a “delicate” situation ahead of Christmas.
- The lord mayor of Copenhagen has spoken of a frightening increase in infection rates – with 786 infections per 100,000 people. That’s a fourfold rise in the past four weeks.
- An outbreak at a Belgian care home is being blamed on a visit by a “superspreader” St Nicholas – 75 cases including staff and residents in Mol in Antwerp were reported after the man fell ill.
London council ordered to keep schools openAs we've reported, England's Department for Education has told the Labour-led council of Greenwich that it will seek an injunction at the High Court to enforce its powers to keep schools open - after the council told head teachers to switch to online learning from today given a surge in infections in London.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: "Using legal powers is a last resort but continuity of education is a national priority."
In Islington, north London, and Waltham Forest, east London, schools were also asked to move lessons online from the end of Tuesday.
It comes as London is due to move into tier three restrictions from Wednesday .
Under tier three rules, schools can remain open, but pubs and restaurants must close, except for takeaway and delivery, and indoor entertainment venues such as theatres, bowling alleys and cinemas must remain shut.
Keeping schools open ‘right thing to do’ – Ofsted bossKeeping schools open is the “right thing to do” to protect children’s long-term education and well-being, England’s chief inspector of schools has said.
Amanda Spielman told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that keeping schools open was preferable over taking "short term decisions to close”.
As we've been reporting, the government has given Greenwich council in south-east London until 10:00 GMT to withdraw its advice to schools to teach online for the rest of the week, before the Christmas break.
The Ofsted boss said it was a “really difficult situation” where people were having to “weigh up short term concerns about health risks and long term concerns about children’s education”.
Speaking as Ofsted unveiled a set of reports into the effects of the pandemic on children , Spielman said: “We’ve had children yo-yoing in and out of school throughout the autumn and really suffering as a result. We need clarity and consistency, not last minute decisions.”
People should do the 'minimum' over Christmas to stay safe - ministerChief Secretary to the Treasury Stephen Barclay says the relaxation in coronavirus restrictions over the Christmas period should not be "misinterpreted" and that people should do "the minimum" they can in order to stay safe.
He told BBC Breakfast: "It's not that the restrictions are being lifted in their entirety - we're not going from tier three to some sort of tier zero.
"What we're saying, in a limited sense, is that many families who have not been together all year, who will want to see each other, three households can come together for that Christmas period.
"It's not that all restrictions are being lifted."
Barclay acknowledged that it had been a "very difficult" year for families and that many would want to meet up to celebrate together.
He added: "We've got to trust the British people to act responsibly and do the minimum that is possible for them in their family situation."
The government has said that it "has no plans to review the Christmas guidelines" , while scientists warn the easing could cause a spike in infections.
New coronavirus 'variant' identifiedA new variant of coronavirus has been found - and it is growing faster in some parts of England.
Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said at least 60 different local authorities had recorded Covid infections caused by the new variant.
The World Health Organization has been notified and UK scientists are doing detailed studies - but Hancock said there was "nothing to suggest" it caused worse disease or that vaccines would no longer work.
Over the last week there have been sharp, exponential rises in coronavirus infections across London, Kent, parts of Essex and Hertfordshire.
"We've currently identified over 1,000 cases with this variant predominantly in the south of England although cases have been identified in nearly 60 different local authority areas," Hancock said.
Read more about the new variant here.