- Further talks between the four UK nations on plans to ease Covid rules over Christmas will take place later
- No decisions were made during a conversation on Tuesday, although travel over the festive period was discussed
- Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick says people should use their own judgement when it comes to Christmas plans
- The rules allowing three households to form a bubble, from 23 to 27 December, are expected to remain in place
- But sterner warnings about the dangers of mixing over the Christmas period are to be issued later
- London, most of Essex and parts of Hertfordshire have entered England's toughest tier of restrictions
- A review of which tiers other parts of England are in will take place later
- Meanwhile, Germany has entered a hard lockdown in an attempt to stop a sharp rise in infections
- Other European countries have also tightened rules ahead of Christmas, with France introducing a night-time curfew
- There have been 73 million Covid-19 cases and 1.6 million deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University
Welcome to our coverage of the coronavirus pandemic in the UK and around the world.
Here is a quick rundown of the main headlines in the UK this Wednesday morning.
- The UK’s four nations will later issue sterner warnings about the risks of socialising over Christmas , but the rules permitting three households to meet over a five-day period are expected to remain in place. Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove will resume talks with leaders of the devolved governments on Wednesday morning, as advice around celebrating Christmas is expected to be significantly strengthened. It follows calls for the rules to be toughened over Christmas, with two leading medical journals saying the “rash” decision to ease restrictions could “cost lives”. It comes as London, much of Essex and parts of Hertfordshire moved into tier three restrictions overnight
- Plans to recoup taxpayer losses on coronavirus loans are "woefully" behind and the government has yet to assess the extent of fraud , a Commons committee has said. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said the government has no counter-fraud strategy or clear plans to manage risks to the taxpayer. It has been estimated the taxpayer faces as much as £26bn of losses from fraud, organised crime or default. However, a government spokesman insisted it is cracking down on fraud. The PAC said the Treasury is yet to agree the process and protocols that lenders are expected to follow in recovering overdue loans
- The first care home residents in Wales will start receiving the coronavirus vaccine later . A pilot for the Pfizer/BioNtech jab will start at a care home in north Wales, with teams going to other health boards across Wales later in the week. Wales's health minister said "if all goes well" officials will roll out care home vaccination "ahead of Christmas". Care home owners said it was "early steps in a great journey" but warned the vaccination did not mean an open door policy for families of residents
- Rail travel has been badly hit during the coronavirus crisis, with a huge drop in passenger numbers and revenue. Fares were already set to rise, but it’s now been revealed they will go up more than expected - 2.6% rather than 1.6%. However, the new increase is being delayed until 1 March. The government said the rethink reflected the "unprecedented taxpayer support" pumped into the system this year
- Clinical trials of a coronavirus vaccine being manufactured in Scotland have begun in the UK. The Valnevacandidate vaccine will initially be tested on 150 volunteers at testing sites in Birmingham, Bristol, Newcastle and Southampton. It is being developed in Livingston, in West Lothian and the UK government has pre-ordered 60 million doses. Larger tests will be planned for April 2021 if these are successful, with more than 4,000 UK volunteers taking two doses. The vaccine could be available by the end of 2021
Covid headlines around the worldGermany responds to a surge in cases as Australia reports new infections. Here are the latest headlines from around the world:
- Germany has entered a hard lockdown as cases there surge ahead of the Christmas holidays. The country registered a record high of 952 deaths in 24 hours on Wednesday morning. Schools and non-essential businesses are closed until 10 January
- Other European countries are also tightening measures. Denmark has entered a full national lockdown while France has brought in a nightly curfew. You can read about all the rules across the continent here
- Australia has recorded three new cases, one of whom is a 45-year-old working at an airport in New South Wales. Contact tracing is under way
- Regulators in the US have said the Moderna vaccine is safe and 94% effective, clearing the way for its emergency authorisation. The US is the worst affected country in the world, and has now reported more than 300,000 deaths
What are England’s tier 3 rules?London, much of Essex and parts of Hertfordshire moved into tier three "very high" restrictions overnight , with roughly 61% of England's population now living under the strictest rules.
Watch the video above for a quick reminder of what you can and can’t do if you live in a tier three area – or read our handy list of bullet points below.
Tier three "very high" rules:
- 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
- Schools, shops, libraries, gyms and personal care services (such as hairdressing) can stay open, as can swimming pools
- Bars, pubs, cafes and restaurants must stay closed, except for delivery and takeaway
- Sports fans can’t attend events in stadiums
- Indoor entertainment venues - such as play centres and bowling alleys and cinemas - must stay closed
- Places of worship are still open and funerals and weddings can go ahead – but wedding receptions can’t
- People are advised not to travel to and from tier three areas
New lockdowns begin: Latest across Europe
- Germany has gone into a lockdown that will last until at least 10 January. Bavaria in the south-east is going even further with a night-time curfew from 21:00 to 05:00. Read more about Germany’s lockdown from our Berlin correspondent Jenny Hill.
- Lithuania has also gone into lockdown, with a ban on non-essential movement between towns. Contact between separate households is also banned.
- A Swedish commission into the high number of nursing home deaths in the pandemic has found that systemic shortcomings as well as inadequate government measures contributed to the death toll. Health agency head Anders Tegnell said this morning that it was clear from the start that everyone had to work very hard to ensure the elderly were not exposed to the spread.
- A goalkeeper in Belgium has lost his job amid reports that he organised a party for 10 people at his home in Ostend during lockdown conditions. Fabrice Ondoa’s club KV Oostende said it couldn’t tolerate such egotistical and irresponsible behaviour.
- Austria will set out its plans for Christmas today - and that includes extending rules on mask-wearing indoors. Private meetings are set to be limited to six people from two households but the rules will be relaxed for two days over Christmas.
- Dutch schools have closed and switched to online education as part of the tightest rules so far. Non-essential shops closed yesterday.