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Coronavirus - 16th December


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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 16 2020, 09:52

Summary for Wednesday, 16th December

  • 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 world

Germany 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.

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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 16 2020, 10:00

Public should use own judgement over Christmas gatherings - Jenrick

Housing and Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has said the public should "use their own judgement" when it comes to making arrangements for spending time with family and others this Christmas.
Mr Jenrick told BBC Breakfast that the government "can't legislate for every eventuality, so it's very important that people reach their own informed judgements about what's right for them and their family".
He said the government had put in "a legal framework" to allow three households to socialise over a five-day period - but said "you don't have to go that far", and "you can choose to do less".
His comments follow calls for a rethink of the easing of coronavirus restrictions over Christmas with two leading medical journals saying the relaxation of the rules was a “rash” decision that would “cost lives” .
Mr Jenrick added: "The very clear guidance from the government today is you exercise good judgment, think about the particular vulnerabilities of your own family and friends who might be coming together and what's right for you."
He revealed that he had decided not to spend time with his elderly parents who are in their 80s and would catch up with them in a video call, citing the vaccine roll out as a reason for waiting to visit them.
Mr Jenrick's expectation was that his parents were likely to be vaccinated early in the New Year so he was happy to wait.
The UK’s four nations will later issue sterner warnings about the risks of socialising over Christmas, but the rules are expected to remain in place.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove will resume talks with leaders of the devolved governments this morning over the Christmas rules.

Spread of virus over Christmas 'depends on what people do'

Prof Graham Medley, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the "major driver" for how much coronavirus spreads over the five-day Christmas period was the infection prevalence - and that the current prevalence had started to rise "really quite rapidly in some places".
"When the rules were made about Christmas, we didn't know what that prevalence was going to be," Prof Medley told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
As for the risk of the NHS becoming overwhelmed, he said: "We don't have much headroom."
He said the spread of coronavirus under the planned Christmas mixing plans was "really uncertain".
He said that while mixing posed a risk, the closure of schools and workplaces could mitigate this. He added: "There are two things happening over the period: one is that most workplaces and schools are closed, so that will result in reduced contact.
"On the other hand, if we all mix together and have a normal Christmas then we know that in a normal year most respiratory diseases and hospital admissions increase after Christmas anyway in a non-Covid year, so there's clearly a risk, but it really very much depends on what people do.
"It's very hard to predict and say 'oh yes, this is going to be a disaster' or 'nothing is going to happen' because it really does depend on what people decide to do."

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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 16 2020, 10:03

Sweden failed to protect elderly - official report

An independent commission in Sweden has delivered a scathing report on the lack of protection for care home residents during the pandemic.
The report published on Tuesday said that authorities were unprepared to handle the pandemic, and that it had revealed structural failings in the care system for the elderly.
Commission head Mats Melin said that while several authorities were culpable, "ultimate responsibility" lies with the government.
Sweden has long stood out for not imposing a lockdown in March like nearly all other European countries when the pandemic hit.
Although its authorities have repeatedly defended their plan, saying it would work out best in the long run, state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell has admitted that too many people died due to the policies.
Recently, the country has brought in more restrictions to tackle a sharp rise in cases.

Germans prepare for Christmas lockdown

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Drinking outside is banned under the new rules, which means Germans will not be able to enjoy their glühwein

BBC Berlin correspondent Jenny Hill has travelled to Dresden to speak to people preparing for Germany's new restrictions.
"It hurts," Astrid Rademacher told her as she rearranged silver decorations and antique glassware in her shop.
Although the government has promised more financial aid to affected businesses, Astrid was unsure her shop could survive.
"I hope, I hope. We will see. If we get some help, we will see."
You can read Jenny's full piece here

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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 16 2020, 10:09

'Nearly half' of Singapore's migrant workers had Covid

Case numbers have dropped to virtually zero in Singapore over the past few months, allowing authorities to ease tight measures brought in to tackle the pandemic.
But new data has shown that almost half the city state's foreign workers - about 152,000 people - had been infected with coronavirus.
Hundreds of thousands of people travel from across the region to work in Singapore, many living in large, cramped dormitories. Since cases began to rise in April, these people have been essentially quarantined from the rest of the population.
They have seemingly borne the brunt of the outbreak in the city. Without counting these migrant workers, fewer than 4,000 people have tested positive in Singapore.
You can read the full story here .

Breaking News 

Almost 140,000 people have had Covid-19 jab - UK vaccines minister

Vaccines roll-out minister Nadhim Zahawi says 137,897 people had received the Covid-19 jab so far .
It has been a "really good start to the vaccination programme", he says.
The figures include 108,000 people in England, 7,897 in Wales, 4,000 in Northern Ireland and 18,000 in Scotland.
He adds the number will "increase as we have operationalised hundreds of PCN (primary care networks)".

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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 16 2020, 10:36

French culture takes centre stage in Covid protest

Mathieu Pollet - BBC News, Paris
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"I'm non-essential" declares one of the protesters in the Place de la Bastille in central Paris

Hundreds of actors, theatre directors, musicians, film technicians and critics, and many others from the world of French culture gathered in the heart of Paris and other cities on Tuesday to protest against the government's shutdown of culture venues because of Covid-19.
Cinemas, theatres, museums and concert halls had been set to reopen, but days in advance Prime Minister Jean Castex announced a change of heart in response to France's stubbornly high infection rate.
No reopening will take place now until at least 7 January - a decision Mr Castex said was "particularly painful for us".
Holding slogans like "we're going to die, and not even on stage", some of the demonstrators told the BBC of their anger and distress at the lockdown.
You can read more from Mathieu's report here .

Cigarette maker's vaccine approved for human trials

A potential vaccine developed by British American Tobacco (BAT) has been approved for human trials in the US.
BAT - the company behind cigarette brands including Lucky Strike, Dunhill and Rothmans - first started to develop it in April . According to a press release put out on Wednesday, BAT's bio-tech arm in the US, Kentucky BioProcessing (KBP), created the candidate vaccine "using innovative plant-based technology".
KBP previously developed a potential treatment for Ebola known as ZMapp during the epidemic in West Africa in 2014.
BAT's head of scientific research, David O'Reilly, called the human trials announcement a "significant milestone".
It comes as government agencies around the world have begun to approve vaccines against coronavirus. The UK became the first country to approve the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine earlier this month, followed by the US. Regulators are also looking at the Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines.

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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 16 2020, 10:52

Recap: What can I do and who can I see at Christmas?

As we know, the planned easing of coronavirus restrictions over Christmas is the subject of talks today between Cabinet minister Michael Gove and the leaders of the UK's devolved nations, following calls for a strengthening, rather a relaxation of the rules.
The UK's four nations are expected to issue sterner warnings about the dangers of mixing over the festive period, but sources have said that the rules themselves are "unlikely to change".

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With that in mind, here's a quick rundown of the what you can and can't do over Christmas:

  • People will be able to travel anywhere in the UK - no matter what tier they are in - to socialise in "Christmas bubbles" of three households over a five-day period between 23 and 27 December
  • Bubbles can meet each other in each other's homes, at a place of worship or in an outdoor public space or garden
  • You can't mix with your Christmas bubble in hospitality settings, such as pubs and restaurants, or at entertainment venues

You can read more about the Christmas rules here .

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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 16 2020, 11:23

Italy's death toll 'rising to WWII levels'

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There have been calls for a total lockdown in Italy over Christmas

Italy's death toll in recent days has surpassed the UK's as the highest in Europe and puts it in fifth place worldwide. It has recorded 65,857 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University in the US.
Officials from the national statistics bureau ISTAT said total deaths for the year could top 700,000 - something that the organisation's head, Gian Carlo Blangiardo, said had not happened since "1944 when we were at the height of the Second World War".
An adviser to the health ministry has now called for a total national lockdown to avoid a "national tragedy". Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has banned travel between regions but there are calls for stricter measures.
"We are in a war situation, people don’t realise it but the last time we had this many deaths, bombs were dropping on our cities during the war," public health expert Professor Walter Ricciardi said in a broadcast on Tuesday.
"We have the highest number of deaths in Europe," he said. "What more does it take to make people understand what needs to be done?"

UK and India announce vaccine hub partnership

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Mr Raab is currently on a three day visit to India

India and the UK have announced a plan to develop a vaccine hub, allowing them to co-operate more closely in fighting future pandemics.
UK Foreign Secertary Dominic Raab made the announcement after a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi. Mr Raab is currently on a three day trip to India.
More than half the world's vaccines are supplied by Indian pharmaceutical companies. The country's Serum Institute is expected to make over a billion doses of the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine, currently under development in the UK.

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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 16 2020, 13:36

Passengers stranded overnight on ferry after crew catch Covid-19

Coronavirus - 16th December Cedf4910

More than 300 passengers were stranded on a ferry overnight after crew members tested positive for Covid-19 .
Port Health Authorities said the Belfast-bound Stena Line ferry could not leave Birkenhead after six members of staff were found to have coronavirus.
The 322 passengers and 53 crew have been told by public health authorities to disembark in Birkenhead.
Stena Line said it was helping passengers find alternative travel and the six crew members who were found to have the virus were "doing well" and showing mild symptoms.
The company said an additional 15 people were isolating after being identified as "close contacts".

Breaking News 

Four UK nations agree to continue Christmas rule relaxation

Nick Eardley - Political correspondent
The four nations of the UK have agreed to allow the relaxation of Covid rules around Christmas, despite calls for them to be toughened.It’s understood there’s broad agreement not to change the legal regulations, although the final wording of the agreement is being worked on. A statement is expected soon, confirming details.Much stronger advice urging people to be cautious around Christmas is likely later today.It’s understood some parts of the UK may toughen advice on household mixing over the festive period too.

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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 16 2020, 13:41

'Stay local if you can' urges government Christmas travel tsar

The UK government's Christmas travel adviser, Sir Peter Hendy, said ministers' message to the public would be "stay local if you can".
He told MPs on the transport committee he was confident there would be no overcrowding on trains during the festive period, but urged passengers to book tickets early.
He explained that "76% of people are not intending to travel - of those that are, 80% are planning to travel by car", which he said meant the nation was "quite well placed for the public transport modes to operate - so far as long distance travel is concerned - entirely within social distancing".
He added he did not anticipate the usual levels of demand for public transport on Boxing Day because the normal retail sales would be cancelled and sporting events would not have spectators.

Wear masks at Christmas family gatherings, WHO advises

The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged people to wear masks at Christmas family gatherings as it warns of a new surge in coronavirus cases.
In a press release about advice for the Christmas holidays , the body said celebrations posed a "significant risk" of spreading the virus. It offered advice on how best to navigate the upcoming holiday season.
"Gatherings should be held outside if possible, and participants should wear masks and maintain physical distancing," one suggestion reads.
Indoor gatherings are "especially risky", it said, as old and young people from different households can mix.
"It may feel awkward to wear masks and practise physical distancing when around friends and family, but doing so contributes significantly to ensuring that everyone remains safe and healthy."
The WHO says that everyone must "play our part" to stop another resurgence in Europe, and asked people to remember that individual decisions this winter "will also impact your communities".
"Despite some fragile progress, Covid-19 transmission across the European region remains widespread and intense," it says. "There is a high risk of further resurgence in the first weeks and months of 2021, and we will need to work together if we are to succeed in preventing it."

Breaking News 

Covid rules tighten in Wales over Christmas and beyond

While Boris Johnson has been speaking in the Commons, Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has said that all non-essential retail in Wales and close contact services like hairdressers and nail bars, leisure and fitness centres must close at the end of trading on Christmas Eve.
Outlining new rules because of the "extremely serious" Covid situation in Wales, he said pubs, restaurants and cafes must also close from 1800 GMT on Christmas Day onwards.
After the relaxation period for household mixing between 23-27 December, Wales will go into a level four lockdown on 28 December where "tighter restrictions for household mixing, staying at home, holiday accommodation and travel will apply".
You can read more about the plans for Wales here .

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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 16 2020, 13:46

Breaking News

Four UK nations 'unanimously' agree to keep relaxed Christmas rules - PM

Boris Johnson has confirmed that the four nations of the UK "unanimously" agreed to keep the relaxed restrictions over Christmas.
But he said some of the advice to celebrate safely will change.
The government has come under pressure to reconsider over concerns that household mixing will cause further transmission of the virus at a time when cases are rising in much of the UK.
"We don't want to criminalise people's long made plans," Johnson told the House of Commons, while urging the public to exercise "a high degree of responsibility".

Scottish government to issue stronger Christmas Covid guidance later

James Shaw - BBC Scotland reporter
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said the Scottish Government will be issuing stronger guidance about how to avoid spreading coronavirus during the easing of restrictions over Christmas.
She said discussions with the other three UK nations were continuing but she hoped that they would be able to adopt a common approach.
Ms Sturgeon said meetings indoors should be limited as much as possible, including their duration and the numbers getting together.
She said the Scottish Government would be recommending that people should meet other households for only one day during the five-day Christmas period and should not stay in someone else's home overnight unless it couldn't be avoided.
She also said they would be recommending that people didn't travel from high-risk to low-risk areas and that those who did plan to spend time with other households at Christmas should limit contact with other people as much as possible in the meantime.

'A smaller Christmas is a safer Christmas' - Wales First Minister

In Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford has given some more detail about the tougher guidance expected to be issued over Christmas celebrations.
He said that joint advice across the UK will be published, "explaining that a smaller Christmas is a safer Christmas" and “a shorter Christmas is a safer Christmas".
People in Wales will be told that it is only recommended to have two households mixing over Christmas, the first minister said.
“The fewer people we mix with in our homes, the less chance we have of catching or spreading the virus," Drakeford said.
“None of us wants to be ill this Christmas. And we don’t want to give coronavirus to our close family or friends."
But he did not say that the legal regulations, which will permit three households to mix between 23 and 28 December, will be changed in Wales.

What are the Christmas lockdown rules across Europe?

As the UK government resists pressure to change lockdown measures over Christmas, other European countries are bringing in tough new restrictions to combat the renewed spread of the virus.
Germany entered a nationwide lockdown on Wednesday, in force until 10 January, which will shut all schools and non-essential shops. Up to five people from a maximum of two households are allowed to gather in a home, although this will be relaxed from 24-26 December.
France relaxed its measures on Tuesday, although bars and restaurants remain shut and a nightly curfew has come into force from 21:00-07:00 until at least 20 January.
Greece, similarly, has a nightly curfew, although its lockdown rules are far stricter. Under these restrictions, in place until 7 January, people must text a government number asking permission to leave their home.
We have a full roundup on all the different measures across Europe here .

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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 16 2020, 13:51

Tom Cruise yells at crew over Covid safety - The Sun

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Tom Cruise is currently filming the next instalment in the Mission Impossible series

People standing too close to you on the bus? Wearing their face mask over their mouth but not their nose? Taking off their face covering to do their make up?
Many have grown frustrated by those who forget or flaunt the coronavirus restrictions brought in to help tackle the pandemic.
According to one report, that includes Hollywood star Tom Cruise. The Sun newspaper has published audio it says is the actor yelling at production staff on the upcoming Mission Impossible film.
"They're back there in Hollywood making movies right now because of us. We are creating thousands of jobs," he said in an expletive-ridden rant.
"We are not shutting this... movie down. Is it understood? If I see it again, you're... gone."
The BBC has asked the studio for comment. You can read our write up of the story here

Mr and Mrs Santa Claus test positive after mingling with children

A small town in the US state of Georgia has revealed that Santa and Mrs Claus have tested positive for coronavirus, after mingling with dozens of children at a traditional event.
Robert Parker, chairman of the Long County Commission, said in a press statement that "both 'Santa' and 'Mrs. Claus' were tested for the Covid-19 virus and both received positive test results" after the Long County Chamber of Commerce parade. Mr Parker said his children were among those present.
However, he said it was not a "cause for panic", saying that neither had had symptoms at the time.
"I have personally known both 'Santa' and 'Mrs Claus' my entire life and I can assure everyone that they would have never knowingly done anything to place any children in danger," Mr Parker said.

Breaking News 

PM and chief medical officer to hold briefing this afternoon

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and England's Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty will hold a news conference this afternoon.
It comes after the four nations agreed to go ahead with the relaxation of rules over Christmas, but to issue stricter guidelines to the public.

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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 16 2020, 15:49

California orders body bags as cases soar

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A stay at home order is currently in place across California

The US state of California has ordered 5,000 body bags to deal with the growing death toll from the coronavirus pandemic.
Governor Gavin Newsom said they had also ordered 60 refrigerated units for hospitals to use.
Mr Newsom said vaccines represented "light at the end of the tunnel, but we're still in the tunnel".
"And that means we're going through perhaps the most intense and urgent moment since the beginning of this pandemic." A stay at home order is in place across the state.
California is recording about 30,000 new cases every day and has a death toll of more than 21,000 from 1.6 million confirmed infections.
It is the most populous state in the US, which has been hit harder by the coronavirus than any other nation on earth. Some 300,000 people have died there, and close to 17 million have tested positive.

Wales to go into lockdown after Christmas

Wales will move to Covid alert level four from 28 December, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said.
Speaking at the Welsh Government's news conference he also announced non-essential shops must shut from Christmas Eve.
All hospitality businesses will have to close from 18:00 on Christmas Day.
Level four rules are those which most resemble lockdown or a firebreak, but schools and childcare settings remain open.

'Long Covid' impact estimated

"Long Covid" describes a range of different symptoms suffered by people weeks or months after being infected with coronavirus, some of whom weren't particularly ill with Covid-19 in the first place.
Pinning down exactly how many people are suffering with it has proved elusive, but experimental data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) today has put the number at more than 150,000 people.
Fatigue, coughs and headaches are the most common complaints - with Covid patients who were treated in hospital more likely to suffer serious complications like heart attacks.
This marks the start of the ONS's work in estimating the prevalence of long Covid.
The ONS said one in 10 people it surveyed who tested positive for the virus, still had symptoms 12 weeks later; while one in five had symptoms for five weeks or more.
It looked at a group of people taking part in the Infection Survey, used to estimate how many people in the population have Covid.
But the analysis did not account for people dropping out of the study - potentially more likely to be those who are free from symptoms.
That means the survey is not necessarily representative of the whole population - it might over-represent certain groups of people who - for whatever reason - are more likely to stay in the study.
The ONS said the analysis was "very much a work in progress".

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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 16 2020, 16:18

Who has the highest number of Covid deaths in Europe?

Reality Check
During Prime Minister's Questions Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer asked Boris Johnson: "Why does he think that Britain, the sixth richest country in the world, with all our brilliant scientists and amazing NHS end the year with one of the highest numbers of Covid deaths in Europe?"
You can compare coronavirus figures from across the World in this piece from BBC News.
It shows the UK second in Europe behind Italy in the number of Covid deaths.
In deaths per 100,000 people, the UK comes ninth in Europe, behind countries such as Belgium, Italy and Spain.

US 'needs to counter scepticism' amid vaccine rollout

Dr Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious diseases expert, says the country's main challenge now is getting “acceptance” of the coronavirus vaccine in society.
He told the BBC's sister network CBS that in some minority groups there was “understandably, somewhat of a scepticism".
The US has several million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that was authorised for emergency use a few days ago by regulators.
Dr Fauci said he had been engaged in outreach programmes that included explaining the speed of the vaccine’s arrival. He said he thought the general US population would begin getting vaccinated by the end of March and beginning of April but acknowledged it would take “a few months" before the “umbrella” of herd immunity arrived.
He described the approval of the first vaccine as “a bittersweet moment” because it coincided with the US death toll passing 300,000.
He urged Americans to keep following public health measures as “a bridge” to the vaccine.

WHO research team to go to Wuhan next month

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Cases of Covid-19 were first detected in Wuhan in December last year

The World Health Organization (WHO) says it is sending a team of international experts to Wuhan in China next month to help investigate the origins of Covid-19.
"I can confirm that this will take place in January," WHO spokesperson Hedinn Halldorsson told AFP.
The 10-strong team will investigate how the virus jumped from animals to humans, and where it first came from.
Fabian Leendertz, a biologist at Germany's Robert Koch Institute who will be travelling to China, told Associated Press they would be working with Chinese scientists for four to five weeks.
Scientists initially believed the virus jumped from animals, probably bats, to humans at a market selling exotic animals for meat in the city of Wuhan at the end of last year.
You can read more about Wuhan's links to the virus here

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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 16 2020, 16:21

Russian companies swap Christmas parties for weeks-long online cheer

Anna Rynda - BBC Russian, Moscow
Corporate Christmas and New Year parties are a big deal for Russians: during a normal December many companies are prepared to splash out on a hired venue with festive catering and a special entertainment programme, such as a band or at least a karaoke machine.
But nothing is normal about December 2020, so the Russian corporate world is making adjustments.
New Year parties are not completely banned: gatherings have to be socially-distanced, be limited to 50 and everyone has to leave by 23:30. However, many Russian companies are choosing to swap in-person, and potentially risky, parties for inventive online alternatives.
X5 Retail group, which owns a chain of popular supermarkets, is having a 23-day-long online event. Thousands of employees will be offered cookery master-classes, video tutorials from an internal decoration designer and a multitude of quizzes. The organisers are calling this year’s party “Home Not Alone” in a nod to the 1990 US comedy.
Another company, Gazprombank, is also holding a month-long online celebration lasting until mid-January, well after Orthodox Christmas.
And Russia’s largest steel company, Severstal, is replacing an office-based New Year party - which normally would take place in its Moscow office and hold about 600 people - with a whopping 50,000-strong online event, aimed to include every member of staff.

What are the rules for Christmas?

We're expecting to hear from Boris Johnson and Chief Medical Officer Prof Chris Whitty at 15:30 GMT to discuss gatherings at Christmas.
Earlier the PM said the four nations had agreed that the relaxation of the rules could stay in place, despite rising cases. So what are the rules over the festive period?
Between 23 and 27 December, three households in a "Christmas bubble" can mix indoors and stay overnight .
Northern Ireland has a window of 22 to 28 December, to allow time to travel between the nations.
Bubbles can meet each other:

  • In each other's homes
  • At a place of worship
  • In an outdoor public space or garden

The bubbles are fixed, so you cannot mix with two households on Christmas Day and two different ones on Boxing Day. Households in your Christmas bubble can't bubble with anyone else.

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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 16 2020, 16:25

What does science say about mixing households at Christmas?

David Shukman - Science editor, BBC News
Scientists at the University of Bristol have been modelling the potential impact on the spread of the virus from households mixing over the Christmas break.
Early results, yet to be formally published, indicate the fewer people take up the option of forming a bubble with others, the better , from the point of view of containing the disease.
If a single-person household joins another household of any size, the impact on infection rates would be marginal, they suggest.
But if all households in the UK paired up with one other, each bubble would contain an average of 4.7 people.
That would lead to a reproduction (R) number within households of between 1.9-2.4. An R number is above one means the disease is escalating.
If only half the UK's households join a bubble, that could still raise the R number by 30%.
Under the worst case scenario, in which everyone forms a bubble with two other households, the R number would jump to 2.84-3.55, suggesting a rapid surge in infections.
The scientists say that "has the potential to make transmission extremely hard to control".

What have Scotland and Wales said about Christmas gatherings?

In about five minutes Boris Johnson and Prof Chris Whitty will lead a news conference setting out the latest position on households mixing at Christmas.
Although all four UK nations have agreed that rules allowing up to three households to gather between 23 and 27 December will remain in place, some of the nations have already issued advice to try to limit social contact.
Full guidance for Scotland will be published later today, but people are being urged to:

  • Spend Christmas in your own home and with your own household
  • Meet other households outdoors if possible
  • Only meet indoors with another household if it is essential
  • Limit the duration and number of people in any indoor meetings as much as possible
  • If you do form a bubble, only meet people in it for one day, if possible
  • Do not stay overnight in another home unless it is unavoidable

And in Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford said only two households should meet during the festive period.
He said "a smaller Christmas is a safer Christmas".

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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 16 2020, 16:40


News conference ends as Wales announces new Christmas law

The news conference has ended.
Boris Johnson used the briefing to repeatedly urge people to exercise "personal responsibility" over Christmas.
While Chris Whitty urges people to keep gatherings small, not to travel too far and to avoid travelling from high prevalence areas to low prevalence areas.
But as the briefing was ending, the Welsh government announced it would change its regulations so that people will now only be able to meet two households over the festive period by law.
This comes despite earlier reports that the four UK nations had agreed to allow three households to meet.

Breaking News 

Two household limit at Christmas in Wales to be made law

People will only be able to meet two households plus an additional single person household in Wales over the festive period by law.
The Welsh government has clarified that guidance set by the first minister on Wednesday will be set out in regulations.
It comes despite earlier reports that the four UK nations had agreed to allow three households to meet.
The relaxation in the rules have been planned for 23-27 December. You can read more about the change here .

PM and Whitty leave no doubt about the message

Vicki Young - Deputy Political Editor
There's no doubt what the message is from Boris Johnson and Chris Whitty.
The law allows you to meet up with elderly relatives for Christmas - but we’d rather you didn’t.

How worrying is the rise in cases in Kent?

Ben Butcher - BBC Reality Check
The prime minister highlighted Kent as one of the areas seeing “worrying rises” in coronavirus infection.
The case rate hit a high on 10 December - the latest day we have official figures for.
There are currently 452 cases per 100,000 people and in Medway the rate reached 640 cases per 100,000 , the highest for a county or metropolitan area in England.
The cases rate is the number of people testing positive relative to the size of the area’s population.
What’s concerning is that the national lockdown – from 5 November to 2 December - only appears to have had a small, very short-term impact. The rate fell for four consecutive days up to 23 November and then started increasing again.
Being placed in tier three, when the national lockdown ended, has not affected the rise in cases either.
As ever, we need to look at other data; case rates can be impacted by mass testing which is often deployed in areas with high coronavirus infection and that means more cases are found, driving up the rate.
Looking at hospital cases, these show the same pattern: a small, short-lived dip midway through the lockdown before the cases in Kent and Medway hospitals reached their peak on 6 December – the latest day we have data for.
In fact, their daily admissions are now four times higher than they were on 5 November.

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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 16 2020, 17:51

US secretary of state in quarantine

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Mike Pompeo has tested negative

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will go into quarantine after coming in close contact with someone who has tested positive.
Mr Pompeo tested negative for the virus. A spokesperson for the state department said he was being monitored closely by their medical team.
The name of the person close to Mr Pompeo who tested positive was not revealed. But dozens of staffer, politicians and aides close to US President Donald Trump have tested positive in the last few months - including, memorably, the president himself in October.
Most recently, Mr Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani was hospitalised after contracting the virus. The 76-year-old told listeners on his radio show this month he was treated with the same experimental drug cocktail as the president.

US mayor quits after backing mask order

A mayor in the US state of Kansas has resigned after receiving threats for backing an order to wear face masks.
Joyce Warshaw, the Republican mayor of Dodge City, stepped down after she was quoted in a news article supporting a city commission decision to impose a mask mandate. Commissioners voted 4-1 last month in favour of the move.
"I don't feel safe anymore due to some people's actions and words," she wrote in a Facebook post, adding that she has "no regrets" over any decisions she took as mayor.
"I wish all of Dodge City the very best and understand that 2020 has been challenging for all of us and perhaps is the source of some of the hate," she concluded. "So let's put it behind us and bring on a better year in 2021."
Joyce Dunbar Warshaw:  (on Facebook)

:Left Quotes: I am sure many people already know but I want to let everyone know that I have officially resigned from the Mayorship and the City Commission. I don't feel safe anymore due to some people's actions and words...BUT that does not take away from the fact that I truly love Dodge City and will always call it home. I have no regrets with any of my decisions for Dodge City or any of my actions. Dodge is a fabulous place to live, work, play and raise a family. It has been the source of my many wonderful memories and no one can take that away from me. I wish all of Dodge City the very best and understand that 2020 has been challenging for all of us and perhaps is the source of some of the let's put it behind us and bring on a better year in 2021!!!!!! Thank you!

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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 16 2020, 17:56

US vaccine rollout is bittersweet, says Fauci

Top US infectious diseases expert Dr Anthony Fauci has spoken about the "bittersweet" rollout of a vaccine against the coronavirus, as the US passed 300,000 deaths from the pandemic.
Speaking to CBS This Morning, Dr Fauci said it's "extraordinary" that science has rapidly delivered a vaccine, but urged Americans to continue following public health measures.

Whitty warns virus is like 'icy and treacherous' road

Prof Chris Whitty, England's chief medical officer, said that people should do the minimum possible amount of social mixing over Christmas, even if the regulations allowed them to do more.
"You wouldn't drive at 70mph if there was a very icy road," he said, even though the law allows it.
"People have got to take a lot of care on this. This is the equivalent of us saying, these are icy and treacherous conditions."

Listen to health workers on Christmas gatherings, says NI minister

Northern Ireland's health minister Robin Swann has joined in urging people to have a smaller and safer Christmas.
He told a Northern Ireland Executive press conference that it was "a big ask" for people to limit their social contacts over the festive period.
But with some hospitals under severe pressure, Swann said: "Listen to the message that comes from our frontline workers who really need you to do what we are asking at this moment in time."
He urged the public to "simply walk away" from gatherings if something "makes you feel uncomfortable" in terms of the risk of spreading the virus.

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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 16 2020, 18:00

Slovakia to return to lockdown after mass testing failure

Rob Cameron - BBC Prague Correspondent
The Slovak government has decided the country will return to lockdown from Saturday, amidst a sharp rise in new Covid cases. Most shops will be closed, and there will again be a daytime curfew, with exceptions for going to work. The lockdown will last until the new year. A maximum of two households will be able to meet over Christmas.
Slovak Health Minister Marek Krajci told reporters that the virus was spreading uncontrollably and harsh action was needed. The decision was taken on the day the authorities reported 7,962 new cases for Tuesday and 58 deaths - a sharp rise.
It comes after Slovakia was feted around the world for its mass antigen testing in late October and early November. Prime Minister Igor Matovic said at the time that the antigen testing would remove the need for lockdowns, and that Slovakia was showing the way forward.
However, there have been problems in sourcing enough antigen tests to keep the scheme going in the pre-Christmas period. Matovic has blamed his coalition partner Richard Sulik, who is economy minister. President Zuzana Caputova has called on Matovic to hand the Covid response over to someone else in government - he has accused her of seeking to "sabotage" the mass antigen tests back in the autumn.

Tanzania chooses ‘local herbs’ over vaccine

Alistair Coleman - BBC Monitoring

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President John Magufuli claimed in June that Tanzania was ‘coronavirus-free’

Tanzania has reportedly said it has no plans to import Covid-19 vaccines, instead pinning its hopes on research into “local herbs”.
In an interview with The East African newspaper, health ministry spokesman Gerald Chami went on to cast doubt on the safety and efficacy of imported vaccines. He claimed that development has been too rapid for effective testing.
But Covid-19 vaccine tests meet rigorous international standards – and we’ve looked into questions around safety .
There are long-running suspicions that African countries are used as a testing ground for vaccines, along with concerns that developing countries are at the back of the queue for deliveries.
Tanzania’s approach to Covid-19 has been at odds with its east African neighbours, who have seen a recent surge in cases.
The country stopped reporting new cases at the end of April, and President John Magufuli claimed that the country is virus-free.
It was also one of the first countries to order Madagascar's self-proclaimed plant-based Covid-19 remedy in May, despite warnings that its efficacy was unproven.

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Post by Kitkat Wed Dec 16 2020, 18:03

Covid headlines from around the world

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called for the UK to celebrate a “little Christmas”. But the UK isn’t the only country grappling with surging cases as the year nears its end. Here’s a round up of the headlines from around the world:

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) is urging Europeans to wear face masks during family gatherings this Christmas as it warns of a further rise in infections early next year. "It may feel awkward,” WHO advice said, “but doing so contributes significantly to ensuring that everyone remains safe and healthy”
  • It comes amid a rise in cases in several European countries. Germany entered a lockdown on Wednesday after reporting a record daily rise in deaths, while Italian officials fear the country is headed for its worst annual death toll since World War Two. You can read about European Christmas lockdown rules here
  • The US has begun rolling out the vaccine, but the pandemic continues to rage. Top infectious diseases expert Dr Anthony Fauci called the vaccine rollout “bittersweet” as it came the same day the US recorded more than 300,000 deaths from the pandemic
  • And South Korea is considering a first national lockdown as a third wave of cases threatens to overwhelm authorities. The capital Seoul has just three critical care beds remaining

Nations divided on Christmas gatherings - UK summary

We're bringing our live coverage to a close today. But here's a look back at the main stories this afternoon:

Thanks for joining us

Thanks for following our live coverage of the pandemic today.
Today's live page was edited by Sarah Fowler and Chris Clayton. The writers were Mary O'Connor, David Walker, Toby Luckhurst, Emma Harrison, Kate Whannel and Joseph Lee.

We'll be back with all the latest updates tomorrow morning.

    Current date/time is Sat Feb 27 2021, 21:51