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Coronavirus - 17th December


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Post by Kitkat Thu Dec 17 2020, 09:47

Summary for Thursday, 17th December

  • Towns and cities in England will find out later whether they will be moved to a different tier of Covid restrictions
  • In Wales, 11,000 positive coronavirus test results are missing from official figures due to an IT issue
  • It comes after PM Boris Johnson told the UK a "shorter Christmas is a safer Christmas"
  • A study of vitamin D suggests there is not enough evidence to say it protects people against Covid-19
  • The US Federal Reserve says it hopes the Covid vaccine will enable the US economy to rebound in late 2021
  • Worldwide, there have been 74 million Covid-19 cases and 1.6 million deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University

Good morning and welcome to our coronavirus live page. Here are your main UK coronavirus headlines this morning.

What are the coronavirus rules in England?

All areas have been placed in one of three tiers: medium, high and very high.
About 99% of England is currently in tiers two and three, with more than 34 million people are now living under tier three rules.
In tier three you can't mix indoors, in private gardens or in most outdoor venues, except with your household or bubble. Groups of up to six can meet in outdoor spaces such as parks.
We will hear from the health secretary later on whether towns and cities will move down - or up - a tier.
The placing of areas in each tier is reviewed every 14 days.
Read more on the rules around the UK here
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England's towns and cities to find out if virus rules will change

Health Secretary Matt Hancock is due to announce the outcomes of the latest review of the three-tier system of Covid restrictions in England later.
He is due to make a statement in the Commons at about 11:30 GMT.
Leaders in several areas of northern England say they have met the criteria to move from tier three to tier two, after a drop in infection rates.
But NHS bosses have warned against easing restrictions "prematurely".
More than 34 million people - or 61% of England's population - are living under tier three rules, the highest level of restrictions, including large parts of the Midlands, Yorkshire, the North East and the North West.
On Wednesday, London and parts of Essex and Hertfordshire moved to tier three amid a rise in infection rates.
Read more here

US sets new grim record - today's world headlines

Here's a roundup of Covid headlines from around the world:

  • In the US, coronavirus figures have set new grim records, with more than 3,700 deaths and 250,000 new cases recorded in a single day. The US has seen a sustained spike in infections for more than a month.
  • More than a dozen US states are being battered by a powerful snowstorm but officials have said it should not disrupt vaccine distribution
  • Also in the US, President-elect Joe Biden's transition team have said he will receive the vaccine as early as next week. Mr Biden said he did not want to jump the queue but he wanted to demonstrate that the vaccine was safe. Mr Biden is in a high-risk category for the virus because of his age - he is 78
  • Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf has issued a blunt nationwide message that the country has failed to save lives during the pandemic. Sweden did not initially go into lockdown and has seen 7,802 deaths in a population of about 10 million
  • New Zealand says it will buy enough vaccines to cover its Pacific Island neighbours. Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said there would be enough doses to cover New Zealand Realm countries Niue, Tokelau, and the Cook Islands as well as neighbours Tonga, Samoa, and Tuvalu if those countries accepted the offer.
  • Brazil's government says it will begin a mass vaccination programme in February, as the country reports a record number of daily cases. The health ministry said about 70,000 people had tested positive for the virus in the past day. Brazil has the second highest number of deaths caused by the coronavirus in the world, after the US

Latest around Europe

  • King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden has given a blunt TV message telling Swedes the country has failed to save lives during the pandemic. ”We have a large number who have died and that is terrible”. Sweden did not initially go into lockdown and has seen 7,802 deaths in a population of 10 million.
  • Spain says infections have climbed above 200 per 100,000 people because of recent public holidays and health officials are worried that Christmas will make things worse.
  • German health officials are planning for a vaccination campaign to start on 27 December, beginning in nursing homes. Europe’s EMA medicines agency will meet on Monday to decide whether to approve the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine. The EU aims to have vaccinations starting on the same day across all 27 member states but has not yet named the day.
  • A French opinion poll for news channel BFMTV suggests strong opposition to being vaccinated against Covid-19 – 49% of those surveyed saying they would not have it. Prime Minister Jean Castex has promised to explain and reassure French people in the face of “fear, doubt and suspicion”.
  • Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has called on Danes to have a very different New Year’s Eve than usual. She’s worried big parties will increase the spread of coronavirus. As of today all department stores will have to close and from Christmas Day to 3 January Denmark will effectively be under lockdown.
  • New Covid rules have come into force in Austria with overnight curfews from 20:00 to 06:00 apart from over the holiday period. During the day up to two households can meet up and masks are required in enclosed public spaces including most workplaces.
  • Santa Claus has resigned in the French town of Blois because of repeated insults from passers-by. Locals apparently got angry that for hygiene reasons he couldn’t take the children in his arms or give them treats.

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Post by Kitkat Thu Dec 17 2020, 09:56

Breaking News 

Macron tests positive for Covid

Coronavirus - 17th December 664ca210

French President Emmanuel Macron has tested positive for Covid-19, officials say. He will isolate for seven days and work remotely.
A statement from the Elysée Palace said the president took a test after showing symptoms.

Melbourne towers lockdown 'breached human rights'

A rushed lockdown of nine tower blocks in Melbourne, Australia, due to an outbreak of coronavirus breached human rights laws, an ombudsman has found.
About 3,000 people were confined - under police guard - to their public housing units from 4 July for up to two weeks, after a state government order.
The residents were given no notice, meaning many people were left without food or medicine, the ombudsman found.
The Victorian government denies that the detention broke human rights laws.
The Victorian Ombudsman - who has no legal power but is the official investigator into government complaints - called on the government to apologise to residents for the "harm and distress caused by the immediacy of their lockdown".
Housing Minister Richard Wynne has rejected that recommendation, saying: "We make no apology for saving people's lives."
Read more here

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Post by Kitkat Thu Dec 17 2020, 09:59

Macron cancels trips after positive test

More now on France's President Emmanuel Macron who has tested positive for Covid-19.
The Elysée Palace says he has cancelled all trips, including a forthcoming visit to Lebanon.
He is "still in charge" of running the country, a statement said, and will take part in meetings via videoconference. It is not known at this stage how the president contracted the virus.
"The President of the Republic has been diagnosed positive for Covid-19 today," the statement read. "This diagnosis was made following a PCR test [a standard coronavirus test] performed at the onset of the first symptoms."
Meanwhile Prime Minister Jean Castex is also isolating as a precaution following Macron's positive test, French media report.

11,000 positive Covid tests missing from Welsh figures

An extra 11,000 positive Covid tests are missing from official figures in Wales, meaning cases in the last week could be twice as high as thought.
Public Health Wales (PHW) said planned IT maintenance meant there was a "significant under-reporting" but anyone who tested positive had been contacted in the usual way.
The problem relates to tests processed in "lighthouse labs".
The Conservatives - who are in opposition in the Welsh parlliament - said the news was "staggering".

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Post by Kitkat Thu Dec 17 2020, 17:39

London hospitals worst affected by cancer scan backlog

Paul Lynch - BBC Shared Data Unit

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Millions of people missed out on potentially life-saving scans when non-Covid-19 NHS services ground to a halt during the pandemic with those living in London most affected, analysis shows.
The BBC Shared Data Unit analysed the number of scans carried out by 103 hospital trusts across England as well as the waiting times for diagnostics across the home nations.
While scans, including MRI, CT and ultrasound, dropped by a third overall in England during the six-month period between April and September - the largest reductions were felt in London.
Trusts in the capital carried out 39% less scans than the previous year.
Across England overall, at least 4.4 million fewer scans were performed between April and September this year compared to the same period in 2019.
NHS England says some services are now back to the same levels as last year.
Read more here.

Breaking News 

Lancashire remains in tier 3

Lancashire will remain in England's toughest tier of coronavirus restrictions, local leaders have been told.
The county will continue to be under tier three - which limits household contacts indoors and sees hospitality largely limited to takeaway and delivery services.
The decision was expected, the BBC's Mike Stevens reports.

EU to start vaccinations from 27 December - German minister

All EU states plan to start vaccinating against the coronavirus from 27 December, German health minister Jens Spahn has said.
"In Germany we will start, if the approval comes as planned, on December 27. The other countries in the EU want to be able to start and want to start from December 27," he said.
Mr Spahn was speaking ahead of a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and executives of vaccine maker BioNTech.
On Wednesday, a senior EU official said the bloc could give its final approval for the vaccine - developed by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech - on 23 December.

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Post by Kitkat Thu Dec 17 2020, 17:49

Spanish PM Sánchez quarantines after Macron diagnosis

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President Macron (r) and Pedro Sánchez held a working lunch in Paris on Monday

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is self isolating following President Emmanuel Macron's positive test for Covid-19, officials say.
Mr Sánchez's office said he had lunch with the French president on Monday. Like Mr Macron, he has also cancelled all trips.
Several people in Macron's circle in France are also isolating, including Prime Minister Jean Castex.
Mr Castex has shown no symptoms, his office said, but he had been in contact with Mr Macron over the past few days.
President Macron's wife, Brigitte, is also self-isolating but shows no symptoms so far, her office said on Thursday.
Also self-isolating is French parliament speaker Richard Ferrand, officials added.

Analysis: Cases fall in the North but rise in the South East

The Visual and Data Journalism Team
The picture couldn’t be clearer.
Almost all the growth in confirmed cases in England since the new tiers were set has been in the south east quarter.
London now has the highest rate of confirmed cases of any region in England followed by the East and South East.
Some areas have seen the weekly number of cases more than double since 19 November.

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We’ve been used to seeing northern regions worst hit.
But in the week to 11 December, the North West saw 141 cases per 100,000 people, less than half of London’s 298.
Of course there are exceptions: Lancaster in Lancashire and West Lindsey in Lincolnshire have seen cases rise too.
But the majority of new case growth since the decisions were made for the last set of tiers has been in London, the East and the South East.

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Post by Kitkat Thu Dec 17 2020, 17:55

More than half of surveyed schools in England had Covid last month

More than half of a small sample of schools surveyed in England had at least one Covid-19 infection last month, new figures suggest.
Of the 105 schools in the survey, 1.24% of pupils and 1.29% of staff tested positive for Covid-19 between November 3 and 19, according to the Office for National Statistics.
The survey also found that 27.6% of the schools had one current infection, 27.6% had between two and five current infections, and 44.8% had no current infections.

Putin: I'm waiting my turn to receive vaccine

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Russian President Vladimir Putin says he has not yet received the Russian-made coronavirus vaccine but would do so when it was approved for his age group.
Mr Putin, 68, speaking at his annual end-of-year press conference, hailed the Sputnik V vaccine as safe and effective and said other age groups were receiving it first.
"I am a fairly law-abiding person," he said. "I listen to the recommendations of our specialists. So I haven't had the shot yet. But I will absolutely do it as soon as that becomes possible."
Sputnik V was approved by Russian regulators in August after less than two months of human testing. According to its developers, the latest data from Phase 3 clinical trials shows it to be 91.4% effective.

Breaking News 

Tees Valley to remain in tier 3

The Tees Valley region in north-east England will remain in the highest tier of coronavirus restrictions, the BBC understands.
One local MP tells the BBC's Lee Johnson the region - home to 600,000 people - will stay in tier three.

EU chief confirms vaccine rollout

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has confirmed that coronavirus vaccinations with start across the EU on 27 December.
"It's Europe's moment," she said in a post on Twitter.
As we reported earlier, German health minister Jens Spahn told reporters that Germany and other EU states hoped to start vaccinations "if the approval comes as planned" on 27 December.
Meanwhile European Council President Charles Michel is the latest person to announce he is isolating after French President Emmanuel Macron tested positive for Covid-19.
The two men met on Monday, officials said. Mr Michel's spokesperson said he was informed by French authorities that he was not considered to be a close contact.

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Post by Kitkat Thu Dec 17 2020, 17:57

Breaking News

More English areas go into tier three

Hancock says that in the UK, and across the world, coronavirus cases are rising once more.
"No one wants tougher restrictions any longer than neccesary," he says, adding that where they are neccessary they will be put in place to help ease pressure on the National Health Service.
He says cases are up 46% in the past week in the south-east of England and up by two-thirds in the east of England.
He confirms that from 00:01 Saturday 19 December - the following areas will be placed into tier three:

  • Bedfordshire
  • Buckinghamshire
  • Berkshire
  • Peterborough
  • The whole of Hertfordshire
  • Surrey, except Waverley
  • Hastings and Rother
  • Portsmouth, Gosport and Havant

Breaking News 

Just two areas move down a tier

Hancock says two areas are now able to move down a tier as a result of falling infection rates.
He confirms that from 00:01 Saturday 19 December Bristol and North Somerset will move into tier two.
Meanwhile, Herefordshire will move from tier two to tier one.

Which areas stay in tier 3?

Matt Hancock has announced that only Bristol and North Somerset will be moved from England's highest tier of restrictions to tier two.
As several more areas join tier three (see our post at 11:51 GMT), a total of 38 million people will be living in tier three of the government's Covid-19 restrictions from this Saturday - 68% of the population of England.
Some 30% of the population will be in tier two while 2% will be in tier one.
Almost all the areas currently in tier three will remain there over Christmas. The following areas will continue to be in tier three:
East Midlands

  • Derby and Derbyshire
  • Leicester and Leicestershire
  • Lincolnshire
  • Nottingham and Nottinghamshire

North East

  • North East Combined Authority
  • North of Tyne Combined Authority
  • Tees Valley Combined Authority

North West

  • Blackburn with Darwen
  • Blackpool
  • Greater Manchester
  • Lancashire

South East

  • Kent and Medway
  • Slough

South West

  • South Gloucestershire

West Midlands

  • Birmingham, Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton
  • Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent
  • Warwickshire, Coventry and Solihull

Yorkshire and The Humber

  • East Riding of Yorkshire
  • Kingston upon Hull/Hull
  • North East Lincolnshire
  • North Lincolnshire
  • South Yorkshire
  • West Yorkshire

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Post by Kitkat Thu Dec 17 2020, 18:14

A further 30 Covid deaths recorded in Scotland

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has delivered an update to the Scottish parliament ahead of First Minister's Questions.
She said there were 858 coronavirus cases reported yesterday - 4.4% of all tests reported - with the total number of reported infections standing at 109,296.
There are 1,012 people are in hospital with Covid - 19 fewer than yesterday. And 50 people are being treated in intensive care - one more than yesterday.
Another 30 people have died within 28 days of a positive Covid test, Ms Sturgeon added, bringing the total number of deaths under that daily measure to 4,203.
She says the Scottish government will publish its estimate of the R number - the reproduction rate of the virus - which she says is expected to rise to around 1 again, "as opposed to just below 1"

Analysis: Much depends on Christmas impact

Nick Triggle - Health Correspondent
With the majority of the country in the highest tier, many will be wondering how long it will be before the rules are relaxed.
Many parts of the country - particularly in the north of the country - are seeing rates fall.
So they could normally expect to move down a tier soon. But much of course will depend on what impact Christmas will have.
A spike could see tier three become the norm for months - maybe accompanied by a third lockdown.
That would leave the government and public pinning everything on the vaccine programme.
Earlier this week ministers said a good start had been made, with more than 137,000 vaccinated in the first week.
But there are more than 25m in the priority groups.
In theory 2m could be vaccinated every week, but that depends on multiple things going right.
The fear is these higher tiers could become the status quo for many until the spring.

'Safest' Christmas is at home with your own household - Sturgeon

Back in the Scottish Parliament, Nicola Sturgeon re-emphasises the Scottish government's Christmas guidance .
She says the safest way to spend the festive period is "within your own household and in your own home" - adding that people should do this if possible, and limit any other household mixing to outdoors.
She adds that if people consider it "essential" to meet someone from another household indoors, they should limit the duration and numbers as much as possible.
"The five-day period over Christmas is a limited window and not a period of time we think it is safe to meet for," she adds.
Ms Sturgeon recommends that anyone who needs to form a bubble with another household should not meet up with the people in it for any more than one day over the Christmas period.

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Post by Kitkat Thu Dec 17 2020, 18:17

Staggered return for English secondary pupils post-Christmas

The return to school in January will be staggered for secondary pupils in England, with some starting term online rather than in class, the BBC understands.
It aims to allow head teachers to set up a Covid testing scheme announced this week - but with exam-year pupils going back to start term as usual.
The government insists this is not an extension to the school holidays and primary schools will not be affected by the move.

Dozens of train services cancelled after Covid outbreaks

Train operator GWR - which runs services between London and the South West - has said it will cancel at least 105 services between Thursday and Christmas Eve after coronavirus outbreaks at its depots.
"Due to a shortage of train crew between London Paddington and Plymouth fewer trains are able to run on all lines," GWR said in a service update .
In addition, there will be an amended timetable for services between 21-27 December.
Customers with bookings for affected services will be contacted, the company said, with alternative arrangements planned.

60% of England under strictest virus curbs for Christmas

A total of 38 million people will be living under England's toughest coronavirus restrictions this Christmas - equivalent to 68% of the population.
Some 30% of the population will be in tier two, while 2% will be in tier one, with the least strict level of curbs.
In case you missed the announcement earlier, here is a re-cap of changes to the tier system in England.
From 00:01 Saturday 19 December - the following areas will be placed into tier three:

  • Bedfordshire
  • Buckinghamshire
  • Berkshire
  • Peterborough
  • The whole of Hertfordshire
  • Surrey, except Waverley
  • Hastings and Rother
  • Portsmouth, Gosport and Havant

At the same time, Bristol and North Somerset will move down to tier two.
And Herefordshire will join tier one.
Millions will continue to live under tier three curbs (see our post at 12:22 GMT) after the government resisted calls to loosen restrictions in the north of England.

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Post by Kitkat Thu Dec 17 2020, 18:21

Did Thanksgiving really lead to a US infections spike?

Reality Check
There have been warnings in the UK that family reunions over the Christmas holiday period will lead to a spike in coronavirus infections.
The example of the Thanksgiving holiday last month in America has been pointed to, with claims that it led to a surge in infections.
In Parliament today, the shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth said: “We saw in Canada and the US huge spikes in infections after Thanksgiving. We will see a spike here.”
But does the data support this assertion of “huge spikes” in the US?
The Thanksgiving holiday weekend was between Thursday 26 and Sunday 29 November.

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Prior to Thanksgiving, infection rates were already increasing across the US and this upward trend has continued following Thanksgiving.
There were reporting delays around the holiday period (indicated by the flattening of the curve followed by a catch up period) but overall, cases in the two weeks following Thanksgiving rose by around 20% - about the same increase as in the two weeks prior to 26 November.

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So there is no clear indication yet from the data that infection rates have accelerated following the Thanksgiving holiday. The rate of growth of infections has remained about the same as in the weeks before the holiday.
As for hospital admissions, the two weeks prior to Thanksgiving actually saw more people admitted to hospital with coronavirus, than the two weeks after – but you would expect any increase in hospital admissions to take longer to show up in the data.
It’s also too early to assess the impact on deaths as they can occur several weeks after infection. Experts say we may still be a week or so away from seeing the true impact – if any – of the Thanksgiving holiday.
The Covid Tracking Project, which monitors coronavirus statistics in the US, urged caution over drawing any conclusions from the recent data, saying: “Given the high rates of pre-holiday disease transmission, it'll be tricky to perfectly distinguish which events cause the spikes.”

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Post by Kitkat Thu Dec 17 2020, 18:25

Saudi Arabia and Bahrain begin vaccination programmes

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A woman gestures after receiving the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in Riyadh

Saudi Arabia has begun a large-scale vaccination programme.
Health Minister Tawfiq Rabiah was among the first people to receive a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which the Gulf kingdom authorised for use last week.
Afterwards, Mr Rabiah hailed what he called “the start of a breakthrough in the crisis”.
"For the past nine months, I anxiously monitored the number of registered cases," he said. "But today, I will happily monitor the numbers of those getting vaccinated."
Saudi Arabia has reported more than 360,300 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 6,080 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

On Wednesday, the king of neighbouring Bahrain was given a Covid-19 vaccine, as the country began its own national programme.
State media quoted King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa as praising the Bahraini people’s “high level of awareness and keenness to adhere to all precautionary measures and directives".
Bahrain, which has reported 89,600 cases of Covid-19 and 349 deaths, approved the registration of Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine on Sunday, having already given emergency use authorisation to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

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Post by Kitkat Thu Dec 17 2020, 18:29

Which other world leaders have caught Covid?

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French President Emmanuel Macron is just the latest world leader to test positive for Covid-19. Here are the others:

  • Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) died on Monday, four weeks after he tested positive
  • US President Donald Trump contracted the virus in October. He was given an experimental drugs cocktail and returned to the White House after three nights in hospital
  • Polish President Andrzej Duda contracted the virus in October and went into self-isolation
  • Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has spent two months in hospital in Germany after catching the disease in October - last week he appeared in video for the first time since testing positive, saying he hopes to return to Algeria soon
  • Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei tested positive in September - despite calling himself "high-risk" he did not appear to suffer a severe case
  • Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil tested positive in July and spent more than two weeks quarantining in his residence
  • In June, the outgoing president of Burundi Pierre Nkurunziza died of an illness suspected by many to be Covid-19
  • Russia's Prime Minster Mikhail Mishustin contracted the virus in April and was admitted to hospital with moderate to severe symptoms
  • UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tested positive in March - he spent three nights in intensive care in a London hospital, later saying he owed the health workers there his life

Read more: UK and US leaders' Covid experiences compared

Herefordshire official 'disappointed' by move to tier 1

The World at One - BBC Radio 4
Herefordshire's acting director of public health Rebecca Howell-Jones has raised concerns about the county's move from tier two to tier one.
It is the only part of the country to move into the lowest tier - Cornwall, the Isle of Wight, and the Isles of Scilly are already there.
Asked if she was pleased by the move, Ms Howell-Jones told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme: "From a public health perspective, I would have to say no, we are disappointed by this news.
"Our rates in Herefordshire have come down from the peak but we are still around 50 [positive cases] per 100,000 [people] and we are beginning to see that decrease has plateaued over the last couple of days."
Much of the decrease was probably due to England's lockdown rather than the county's tiered restrictions, she said.
She added the relaxation of the county's tier restrictions ahead of Christmas socialising and the further easing of the rules over the festive period, was "inevitably going to result in more infections, it feels like it is too soon".
"I would rather we weren't yo-yoing out of different tiers and the likely impact of increased infections occurring over the Christmas period is a concern."
The high rates in neighbouring Wales were also a concern, she added.

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Post by Kitkat Thu Dec 17 2020, 18:32

Irish PM to take Covid-19 test after Macron tests positive

Chris Page - BBC News Ireland correspondent

Coronavirus - 17th December 99330f10

The Irish Prime Minister or Taoiseach Micheál Martin is limiting his movements after French President Emmanuel Macron tested postive for Covid-19.
Martin attended the European Council meeting in Brussels last week when Mr Macron was also present.
A spokesperson for the Taoiseach said he would be tested for coronavirus and limit his contacts as a precaution.
He is postponing engagements this afternoon pending the outcome of the test.

EU plans co-ordinated vaccine rollout

More details are emerging about how the EU's vaccine rollout will work.
European Commission (EC) President Ursula von der Leyen confirmed on Thursday that the bloc's 27 member states should start vaccinations from 27 December, if the EU regulator approves the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is due to meet on Monday to evaluate the vaccine which is already being rolled out in the US and UK.
Assuming it is approved, deliveries will begin on 26 December from production sites in Germany and Belgium. The EU says it plans to carry out a co-ordinated vaccination campaign across all members states to ensure fair access to doses, but it will be up to each country to organise their own programmes.
German health minister Jens Spahn said on Thursday that in his country people over the age of 80 would be vaccinated first along with all those who live or work in care homes.
Italy said on Thursday that it was due to receive an initial 1.83 million shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and that health workers would be the first to be inoculated.
The Netherlands, however, said it might not be among the first EU states to distribute the vaccine. "We have always said we were on track to start vaccinations in January and that remains the case," said a health authority spokeswoman. "We will start when we feel it is safe to do so."
The EU has been under pressure to begin vaccinations after the UK and the US started their own programmes.
In another development, the EC also announced that preliminary talks had concluded with US biotech firm Novavax to secure up to 200 million doses of its vaccine currently undergoing phase three trials.

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Post by Kitkat Thu Dec 17 2020, 18:36

UK furlough scheme extended for extra month

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced the UK's furlough scheme will be extended for an extra month until the end of April.
Under the furlough scheme - or as it's officially known, the Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme - employees placed on leave receive 80% of their pay, up to a maximum of £2,500 a month.
Mr Sunak tweeted that the move would give "businesses and employees across the UK certainty into the New Year".
Tweet  Rishi Sunak:

We are extending furlough until the end of April 2021. We will continue to pay 80% towards wages of unworked hours - giving businesses and employees across the UK certainty into the New Year. Read more: #PlanForJobs

More EU leaders isolate after Macron diagnosis

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President Macron met Portugal's António Costa on Wednesday in Paris

Portugal's Prime Minister António Costa is the latest European leader to go into isolation after French President Emmanuel Macron tested positive for Covid-19.
Costa, who held a meeting with Macron on Wednesday, has shown no symptoms but has taken a coronavirus test, his office said. He is "in preventive prophylactic isolation" until health officials can determine "his level of risk".
Other senior figures isolating and getting tests after coming into contact with President Macron so far include:

  • Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez
  • French Prime Minister Jean Castex
  • European Council President Charles Michel
  • Irish Prime Minister or Taoiseach Micheál Martin
  • Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo
  • French parliament speaker Richard Ferrand

In a message on Twitter, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she was with President Macron "with all my heart".
Macron's wife, Brigitte Macron, 67, is also isolating but so far shows no symptoms, her office said.

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Post by Kitkat Thu Dec 17 2020, 18:39

College students 'need certainty over January exams'

A senior education leader has warned that around 130,000 college students are preparing for exams in the first week of January after the government said secondary schools would have a staggered return.
David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, also called for certainty from government over its pledge to test students and staff.
He said: "Based on the government advice, we estimate that colleges will need to have more than 5,000 people working full-time on testing to deliver the promises made to the public about students and staff.
"Meanwhile around 130,000 college students will be focused on their exams which start in the first week of January – they need urgent reassurance that the exams will go ahead and be safe."

Analysis: Cases are rising again across England

Robert Cuffe - BBC head of statistics
The rises in the case numbers in London and south-east England have been making the news.
But while the north of England, shown in purple below, saw the sharpest falls during and after lockdown, the last few days have started to see the figures there creep up again too.

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Post by Kitkat Thu Dec 17 2020, 18:42

Northern Ireland officials to propose six-week lockdown

Chris Page - BBC News Ireland correspondent
Health officials have proposed a six-week lockdown across NI in a bid to curb the spread of the virus , BBC News NI understands.
There is speculation ministers could approve it to take effect from 28 December, but the details will be discussed by the devolved government later this afternoon.
Health Minister Robin Swann has said he would put forward a number of "robust and extreme" recommendations at an executive meeting on Thursday.
The executive has expressed concerns that the spread of the virus has not reduced following a two-week limited lockdown, and that cases could spike further after the Christmas break unless more interventions are introduced.
Cases of the virus in Northern Ireland have not significantly reduced, despite several periods of restrictions since October.
On Wednesday, eight deaths linked to Covid-19 were recorded in Northern Ireland, taking the Department of Health's total to 1,143.
There were 510 more positive tests recorded, meaning there have been 59,631 cases overall.

US sets new record with over 3,600 deaths in one day

Over 3,600 Americans died from coronavirus complications on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The single-day death toll again broke a global record, even as vaccinations begin around the country.
Nearly 250,000 new infections were reported across the US on Wednesday.
California also shattered its previous record for new cases recorded in one day, with 53,000 new diagnoses posted on Wednesday.
Covid-related deaths have surpassed heart disease as the number one cause of early death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Meanwhile, available hospital beds across the country are plummeting as hospitals struggle to accommodate all the new patients.

Why has furlough been extended again?

by Eleanor Lawrie, BBC Explainers
The furlough scheme will be extended until the end of April 2021, the government announced today.
This means the state will carry on paying up to 80% of the wages of people who can't do their job due to coronavirus, up to a maximum of £2,500 a month.
That may appear to be a lot of notice, but the previous extension was unveiled at the very last minute.
This led to complaints employers had been forced to lay off people they might have been able to keep.
Letting employers know months in advance that furlough will be extended until the end of April rather than March could affect the business decisions they take for 2021.
This announcement comes at a crunch time for the hospitality sector, with pubs and restaurants told to close in many parts of the UK during the run-up to Christmas.
Read more here

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Post by Kitkat Thu Dec 17 2020, 18:45

Mike Pence and Joe Biden pledge public vaccinations

US Vice-president Mike Pence will be vaccinated alongside his wife Karen Pence at a White House event on Friday.
Pence, who leads the White House coronavirus task force, is hoping to "promote the safety and efficacy of the vaccine and build confidence among the American people," the White House said in a statement on Wednesday.
President-elect Joe Biden, who takes over the White House on 20 January, is expected to be vaccinated next week.
“I don’t want to get ahead of the line, but I want to make sure we demonstrate to the American people that it is safe to take,” he told reporters from his hometown in Delaware on Wednesday.
“When I do it, I’ll do it publicly so you can all witness my getting it done,” said the 78-year-old Democrat.
Former presidents Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Barack Obama have also pledged to be vaccinated on camera, in an effort to promote vaccines.
Recent polls have found that only around half of Americans say they plan to get the vaccine once it is available to them. Experts say at least 70% of the US population of 330 million will need to be vaccinated for social distancing measures to finally be relaxed.

Northern leaders say region treated 'differently' to South

Northern England is being treated differently to the South when it comes to coronavirus restrictions , according to leaders who are "disappointed" by the government's decision to keep all northern tier three areas under the toughest rules .

  • In Manchester, city council leader Sir Richard Leese said the news the city would stay in tier three was "bitterly disappointing" and warned that without "a Covid-safe hospitality offer during Christmas week", there was a risk people would find other ways to socialise "which could increase the number of infections"
  • In Leeds, council leader Judith Blake said she believed an earlier statement from Health Secretary Matt Hancock had given Leeds optimism it would be dropped from tier three to tier two. Ms Blake said: "It's the uncertainty, the sense that there is a changing of the rules and I think, quite honestly, a real sense of a lack of fairness in the way that some of the decisions are made."
  • In Sheffield, city region mayor Dan Jarvis said local leaders had been "cut out of the decision-making process not even afforded the basic courtesy of being consulted, or informed in advance" about the decision to keep the area in tier three. He said the decision was "absolutely the last thing our communities and businesses wanted to hear, another hammer blow to follow so many others".

Welsh schools plan phased return after Christmas

There will be a staggered return for schools after the Christmas break, the Welsh Local Government Association has said.
Online learning will continue at the beginning of term and schools will provide face-to-face learning for the majority of their pupils by 11 January.
A full return to the classroom is expected by 18 January at the latest.
A similar plan has been drawn up for secondary pupils in England .

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Post by Kitkat Thu Dec 17 2020, 18:49

Spain PM tests negative for Covid

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Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has tested negative for Covid-19, the Spanish government says.
Sánchez is in self-isolation because of his recent contact with French President Emmanuel Macron who had a positive test. The Spanish PM will remain in quarantine until 24 December, his office said.

Second vaccine inches closer to US approval

A panel of vaccine experts at the US Food and Drug Administration is meeting today to vote on whether to recommend approval to a second Covid-19 vaccine.
Unlike Pfizer's vaccine, the one produced by US company Moderna does not require ultra-cold storage and can instead be transported in regular freezers.
On Tuesday scientists at the FDA confirmed Moderna's data , which found the vaccine 94.1% effective in warding off coronavirus. It came after the new drug was tested on more than 30,000 volunteers.
If the FDA's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee determines that the benefits of Moderna's vaccine outweigh its risks, the FDA commissioner could issue full approval as soon as this weekend.
If that happens, doses of the latest vaccine would reach patients by Sunday.

Tory MP Tobias Ellwood broke Covid rules, says home secretary

Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood broke Covid rules by giving a speech at a dinner in London, the home secretary has said.
Mr Ellwood had defended his "well-intentioned attendance" at the event, saying it was "fully Covid compliant".
He said he was sorry coverage of it had "muddled the government's clear message as we head towards Christmas".
Read more here , or watch what Priti Patel had to say in the above clip.

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Post by Kitkat Thu Dec 17 2020, 18:53

Breaking News 

Another leap in cases recorded

A further 35,383 coronavirus cases have been recorded in the UK.
If that figure seems higher than in recent days, it's because the total includes some 11,000 cases from Wales over the past week that were missed due to a technical problem.
Another 532 deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid test were also reported on Thursday.

Infected Trump ally shares mask regrets in new advert

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who spent a week in hospital intensive care after contracting coronavirus, is out with a new national advert in which he says he regrets having not worn a mask at the White House.
Christie, a Republican who has occasionally served as a Trump adviser, begins the video saying: "This message isn’t for everyone. It’s for all those people who refuse to wear a mask.”
"You know, lying in isolation in ICU [Intensive Care Unit] for seven days I thought about how wrong I was to remove my mask at the White House,” he continues.
Tweet  Governer Christie:

I am very happy today for this ad to start to run on TV across America. I urge all Americans to learn from my experience and to, please, wear a mask and stay safe.

Analysis: What do today's UK figures tell us?

Robert Cuffe - BBC head of statistics
The extra 11,000 cases from Wales in today’s UK figures (see our post at 17:00 GMT) may catch the eye, but what are the longer term trends?
Cases are rising again, more people are going into hospital but deaths, always the last to follow those trends, are still falling.
In Wales, confirmed cases are doubling roughly every fortnight, the fastest of the nations and regions in the UK.
They’re rising quickly too in the south east of England, roughly doubling every three weeks.
Scotland and Northern Ireland are seeing cases rise too, but more slowly, and even northern England, which saw the steepest falls during and just after lockdown, is starting to see cases rise again.
On hospitalisations, the number of people going into hospital with Covid is still falling in Northern Ireland and Scotland.
But in England those figures are rising again - and are now back to levels last seen in late April.

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Post by Kitkat Thu Dec 17 2020, 18:57

Breaking News

A further three countries removed from UK safe travel list

Travellers arriving to the UK from three more countries will need to self-isolate from Saturday, the transport secretary has announced.
Grant Shapps said latest data means Uruguay, Namibia and the US Virgin Islands will be removed from the Travel Corridor list.
It means people arriving into the UK from those destinations after 04:00 GMT on Saturday 19 December will need to self-isolate for up to 10 days.

No changes to travel lists over Christmas break - Shapps

The transport secretary added that the UK's safe travel list - which allows people arriving from certain countries to avoid self-isolation - will now be unchanged except for any "emergency removals".
Shapps said the next regular update will be on 7 January 2021.

Key health workers to get first vaccines in Portugal

Alison Roberts - Portugal Correspondent, Lisbon
Portugal's Covid-19 vaccination programme is to start with a few thousand health professionals, the government has said.
It came after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced vaccination would begin across the EU between 27-29 December.
Speaking at a daily briefing, health minister Marta Temido said that Portugal expected to receive 9,750 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in time to get its programme under way in the period mentioned by Von der Leyen.
"Given the size of this batch it will be focused on health professionals, in that they are the ones on the frontline who can help us to protect the rest," the minister said.
Care home residents and staff, as well as people aged over 50 with certain serious health conditions, are still to be inoculated in the first phase of the programme, but a "subgroup" of frontline health workers will receive the first few thousand doses, she said.
A further 300,000 doses of vaccine are expected to arrive from 4 January, she added.

Covid means snow days in the US just aren't the same

Silvia Martelli - BBC News, Washington DC
For Nick Licata, an English teacher from New Jersey, snow storms are usually a cause for celebration as they come with days off work.
But this year “there is no celebration,” says the 51-year-old. Because of Covid-19, he has been teaching remotely from his basement and will keep doing so during the storm.
The first major winter storm of the season made its way up the East Coast on Wednesday, affecting as many as 60 million people across 14 states. Some areas in Pennsylvania and New York could see two feet (60cm) of snow.
Snow storms happen every year in the US - but like everything in 2020, the snow storm feels different this year.
"They usually close everything down and the traffic gets so bad... but this storm feels different," says Olga Zhukov, 30, a dog-walker and barista.
"The city was already slower paced because of Covid - sometimes it doesn't feel like New York City because the usual hustle and bustle is just not happening."
And working from home in the pandemic has one benefit in a snow storm - no commuting.
Licata says his drive home in November 2018 took 12 hours "when an unexpected storm left the city unprepared". While this year the snow storm does not mean a day off, at least it also means no commuting, he adds.

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Post by Kitkat Thu Dec 17 2020, 19:00

Canada PM denies 'vaccine hoarding' but admits mistakes

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has responded to critics who claim his country has ordered enough doses of Covid vaccine to inoculate the country's population five times over and is depriving poorer countries of the life-saving drug.
In his first admission of mistakes he made during the pandemic, he told a local TV station that he had wished he began ordering PPE as soon as reports began emerging from China of a new pandemic.
“At the beginning of the pandemic in March and April, where they were real concerns about frontline health workers who were reusing masks and having to bring them home and wash them, that was something that I would have loved to have been able to avoid,” he told City-TV on Wednesday.
"We’re fine now, but in those first months, I think we needed to be readier,” he said.

Coronavirus - 17th December 6cecb810

“There’s lots of things we’ve learned, but one of the things we learned through the scramble on PPE was to be early on vaccines.”
Canada has ordered more vaccine per capita than any other country in the world, according to a Reuters analysis. Already some 414 million doses have been ordered for the country's 38 million citizens.
Canada began vaccinations on Monday with the Pfizer-BioNTech drug. Officials are hoping the Moderna drug will be swiftly approved, as it is easier to transport to the more far-flung Arctic corners of the vast country.

US Congressman tests positive after speech to lawmakers

A US congressman announced that he tested positive for coronavirus hours after giving an address to fellow lawmakers on the floor of the US House of Representatives in Washington.
South Carolina Republican Joe Wilson spoke on Wednesday to praise President Donald Trump for his role in the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine rollout, which began this week.
“The life-saving Covid-19 vaccine that he promised to deliver has arrived in record time. Hallelujah,” he said.
He later said in a statement that he would be quarantining over Christmas. "Thankfully I feel fine and do not have any symptoms," he said. "It is so important that we all do our part to help prevent the spread of this virus."
US Interior Secretary David Bernhardt - who oversees US national parks and federal lands - also tested positive on Wednesday. He was tested before a cabinet meeting with President Trump, and did not attend the meeting as a result of his infection.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also skipped the meeting. He is currently isolating after he was exposed to someone who was infected.

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What made today's international headlines?

Before we end today's live coverage, here is a round-up of today's main international coronavirus stories.

  • The EU has announced that it plans to start vaccinations across its 27 member states from 27 December, if the EU regulator approves the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is due to meet on Monday to evaluate the vaccine which is already being rolled out in the US and UK
  • French President Emmanuel Macron has tested positive for Covid-19 and is self-isolating for seven days, his office said. Several other European politicians who have been in contact with him are now isolating as a result. His wife, Brigitte Macron, 67, is also isolating but so far shows no symptoms, her office said
  • Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf says the country has failed in its efforts to tackle the coronavirus. In excerpts from a TV programme to be broadcast on Monday, he said many people had died and the country hadn't been able to help them. Sweden is one of the few countries in Europe not to have imposed a full lockdown
  • US regulators are considering whether to grant emergency authorisation to a second coronavirus vaccine. Trials suggest the Moderna vaccine has a similar success rate - about 95% - as the Pfizer-BioNTech jab cleared for use last Friday

UK round-up: Today's headlines as we end our coverage

We're closing our live coverage of coronavirus developments today. Here are the latest UK headlines this Thursday evening:

Live coverage was produced by Mary O'Connor, George Bowden, David Walker, Max Matza, Thomas Spender and Owen Amos.

Thanks for reading.

    Current date/time is Sat Feb 27 2021, 20:48