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Coronavirus - 19th December


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Post by Kitkat Sat Dec 19 2020, 18:37

Summary for Saturday, 19th December

  • Relaxation of Christmas Covid rules scrapped for much of south-east England
  • PM says spread in cases 'being driven by the new variant of the virus'
  • The PM held a Covid briefing after a rise in cases in south-east England
  • Boris Johnson announces tier four restrictions for London and the South East
  • Wales brings forward lockdown to start from midnight
  • Relaxation of festive rules in Scotland and Wales also restricted to just Christmas Day
  • Nicola Sturgeon announces travel ban between Scotland and rest of UK
  • Northern Ireland has announced a post-Christmas lockdown
  • A second vaccine is being rolled out in the US after regulators approved a jab developed by Moderna
  • Italy has ordered a nationwide lockdown over much of the Christmas and New Year period



Good afternoon.
With just one week to go until a Christmas like no other, let's take a look at the main coronavirus headlines today.
In the UK:

  • Boris Johnson will host a press conference later amid a rising number of Covid infections in England.
  • Before that, cabinet ministers are holding talks on what action to take. Our political correspondent Nick Eardley says it feels like a "fast-moving situation".
  • Hospitals in Kent are postponing non-urgent procedures as coronavirus cases in the county rise beyond figures seen in the spring.
  • Government scientists are continuing to evaluate the spread of a new variant of Covid in south-east England as there are "growing concerns" about its transmission.
  • Fake "Covid-19 immunity boosters" are being sold over the counter in London shops, a BBC investigation has found .

Around the world:

Virus spreading at 'alarming rate' in London and South East

Jessica Parker - BBC political correspondent
The virus is spreading at "an alarming rate" in London and the south-east of England, a government source says.
It's understood there was also call with ministers last night, where the idea of travel restrictions was discussed.
New measures are said to be under discussion today - although what they may be hasn't been specified.

PM to hold press conference this afternoon

The prime minister will hold a press conference later this afternoon, Downing Street says, as cases continue to rise in England.
He'll be joined by the chief medical officer for England, Prof Chris Whitty, and the UK's chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.

US gives go-ahead for second Covid-19 vaccine

The US government has approved a second Covid-19 vaccine, clearing the way for millions of doses to be released.
Moderna was given authorisation by the Food and Drug Administration, a week after the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was approved.
The US has agreed to purchase 200 million doses of Moderna, and six million may be ready to ship now.
The country has been the worst hit by the virus, with more than 313,500 deaths and some 17.5 million infections, according to the Johns Hopkins University.
You can read more on this story here .

New virus variant 'can spread more rapidly', UK tells WHO

The UK has informed the World Health Organization that the new variant of coronavirus can spread more quickly, the chief medical officer for England says.
Prof Chris Whitty says the decision came as a result of preliminary modelling data and the rapidly rising incidence rates of the virus in the South East.
But he says: "There is no current evidence to suggest the new strain causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments, although urgent work is under way to confirm this."

Analysis: Why Covid-19 variant is causing concern

Nick Triggle - Health Correspondent
Viruses do mutate - so the development that there is a Covid-19 variant should not come as a complete surprise.
There is nothing to suggest it causes more serious illness or would impact the ability of the vaccines to work.
But preliminary investigation suggests it is leading to faster transmission.
That clearly is causing concern, especially ahead of Christmas when relaxing restrictions mean there is more opportunity for the virus to spread.
It may well explain why infection rates started increasing in London during lockdown - something that has baffled experts.
All indications are the prime minister will issue new advice on Christmas.
Hospital admissions are increasing - with the number of available beds in parts of the south-east England falling almost by the day.

Italy is latest European country to order Christmas lockdown

Italy has become the latest European country to announce tighter restrictions over the Christmas and New Year period in an effort to curb a rise in coronavirus cases.
‘Red zone’ restrictions will be in place over the public holidays, during which Italians will only be allowed to leave their homes for work, health and emergency reasons. Limited home visits will be allowed.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said it was "not an easy decision" but health experts were "seriously worried that there would be a jump in cases over Christmas".
Italy has recorded the highest Covid death toll in Europe, with close to 68,000 fatalities.
Both the Netherlands and Germany have also imposed lockdowns until January and Austria plans to enter its third lockdown after Christmas.
You can read more on the restrictions European countries are imposing over the Christmas period here .

Breaking News

PM expected to announce tier 4 and tighter Christmas rules

Laura Kuenssberg - Political editor
The prime minister is expected to announce a tightening of Covid restrictions and a tier four for London and the South East as well as several other counties, cabinet sources have told the BBC.
There is also expected to be a tightening of the plans to relax the rules around households gathering during the Christmas period.
The cabinet was also briefed on the risks from the new variant of the disease by the government’s top medics at lunchtime.

Kent hospitals postpone non-urgent treatment

Hospitals in Kent are postponing non-urgent procedures after coronavirus cases rose beyond figures seen in the spring.
East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust had 357 cases on Wednesday, almost twice its spring peak of 187 on 20 April.
The NHS in Kent confirmed urgent operations would go ahead as normal.
Average NHS bed occupancy in England reached almost 89% for the week ending 13 December , with 59 out of 126 NHS trusts reporting bed occupancy of higher than 90% - which is above the recommended safe level.

Macron 'stable and carrying out duties' after positive Covid test

French President Emmanuel Macron is in a stable condition and his tests results are reassuring, his office has said, a day after he announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus.
He was "still presenting the same symptoms", fatigue, coughing and stiffness, but was not prevented from carrying out his duties, the statement, signed by his doctor, said.
President Macron is self-isolating at an official residence outside Paris.
Other officials and foreign leaders have had to go into self-isolation after meeting him at a number of high-profile events in the past week. But his office strongly denies he acted recklessly.
Did Macron break his own Covid rules? You can more on this story here.

More action may be needed to stop virus variant - Sturgeon

More preventative action may be necessary to stop a faster spreading variant of coronavirus taking hold, Scottish First Nicola Sturgeon says.
Ms Sturgeon says the Scottish cabinet will meet on Saturday afternoon to discuss the new variant.
Scottish ministers will also consider Christmas arrangements and the first minister is expected to announce any changes in a press conference later this afternoon.
Earlier, representatives from the UK's four nations discussed the new strain and how to handle it.
After the meeting, Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster tweeted that it was "very concerning" and stressed how important it was to follow the guidelines to contain the virus.
Read more here .

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Post by Kitkat Sat Dec 19 2020, 18:50

Analysis: What would tier four restrictions involve?

Nick Eardley - Political correspondent
It was just 72 hours ago that Boris Johnson was resisting pressure to cancel relaxations of restrictions over Christmas. He told a press conference cancelling the festive plans would be "inhuman".
But concern has grown significantly in the last couple of days; both about the rising number of cases and the new variant of the virus disclosed earlier this week.
Ministers met with their scientific advisers yesterday evening - and again this morning. Things have moved quickly in the last 24 hours.
Sources have confirmed a new tier four will be introduced in London and the south-east England. That's likely to mean closure of non-essential shops and beauty salons.
The move would have a significant impact of Christmas plans and what people can do in and around the capital.
There are also conversations taking place in the devolved administrations about whether further restrictions are needed.

Welsh government meet to plan response to new virus variant

Welsh ministers are meeting to discuss "serious concerns" over the spread of a new variant of coronavirus.
It comes hours after Wales' First Minister Mark Drakeford attended a call with representatives of the UK's devolved nations following a surge in cases.
Mr Drakeford has already announced a Wales-wide lockdown which will come into force on 28 December when the Christmas relaxation of rules ends.
Read the full story here .

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Post by Kitkat Sat Dec 19 2020, 18:53

Sydney to Hobart yacht race cancelled over Covid outbreak

The gruelling Sydney to Hobart yacht race has been cancelled for the first time in its history following an outbreak of coronavirus cases in Sydney.
The 630 nautical mile (1,170km) race was due to start on 26 December and conclude in the Tasmanian capital on 31 December.
However, the decision to cancel the race came after a cluster of Covid-19 cases were detected in Sydney’s Northern Beaches area, where many of the sailors live, and Tasmania announced a 14-day quarantine requirement for anyone travelling from that area.
"We are bitterly disappointed to cancel the race this year especially considering the plans and preparations we had put in place to have a Covid safe race," said Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) commodore Noel Cornish.
"We were so well prepared to run the race and we’re only six days from the start. This is the first time in 76 years that the race will not be conducted."
The Sydney to Hobart race is considered one of the most challenging in the world, and is an annual highlight of Australian sport.
Mr Cornish ended his statement by saying: "This race has a long and proud history and we look forward to continuing this exciting tradition next year."

Ventilator explosion kills nine Covid patients in Turkey

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The explosion at the Sanko University Hospital caused a fire, which authorities said was quickly extinguished

Nine people have been killed after an oxygen ventilator exploded at a hospital treating coronavirus patients in southern Turkey, officials say.
The blast caused a fire in the intensive care unit of the private Sanko University Hospital in Gaziantep, the local governor's office said.
At least one of the patients died while being transferred to another hospital.
No injuries were reported in relation to the fire, which occurred in the early hours of Saturday morning and was quickly put out.
The victims were aged between 56 and 85, the hospital said in a statement.
An investigation is under way to determine the cause of the explosion.
Turkey has recorded nearly two million coronavirus cases and 17,610 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Read more on this story here .

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Post by Kitkat Sat Dec 19 2020, 18:59

Tier 4 restrictions in London and other parts of England from midnight tonight

London, the South East and East of England will enter a new tier four level of restrictions from tomorrow morning, the prime minister says.
These will be broadly equivalent to national restrictions which were introduced in England in November, Boris Johnson says.
Residents in those areas must stay at home, with limited exemptions. Non-essential retails and indoors gyms must close.
People should work from home when they can, and should not enter or leave tier four areas. Communal worship may continue.
The restrictions will last for two weeks and will be reviewed on 30 December.

Christmas cannot continue as planned - Johnson

"We cannot continue with Christmas as planned," Boris Johnson says.
People should not travel into a tier four area, though support bubbles remain unaffected as do the exemptions for separated parents and their children.
For those in tiers one, two and three, rules allowing up to three households to meet will now be limited to Christmas Day only.
Christmas bubbles for those in tiers one to three will not be able include anyone in tier four.
In tier four, people should not mix with anyone outside their own household, apart from support bubbles.

New variant now dominant in London

Sir Patrick says the new variant was first seen in mid-September in London and Kent. He says by December it had become the "dominant variant" in London - as this chart shows.
In the week beginning 18 November, the variant accounted for around one in four cases in London, the South East, and eastern England.
By the week beginning 9 December, that had risen to 62% in London, 59% in eastern England, and 43% in the South East.
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Post by Kitkat Sat Dec 19 2020, 19:04

Analysis: Significant change over 72 hours

Nick Eardley - Political correspondent
The government’s view on what is necessary over Christmas has changed considerably over the last 72 hours.
After emergency talks last night and this morning, minsters have concluded they need to introduce significant extra restrictions very quickly.
Boris Johnson has just announced measures will have a considerable impact on the festive period across England.
Tier four was something many ministers resisted. But the data has clearly changed minds.

Strong evidence new variant is driving transmission

The steep increase in the proportion of coronavirus cases linked to this new variant is strong evidence that it is driving transmission.
In London 28% of cases were as a result of this new mutation in mid-November, but that has now increased to more than 60%.
It explains why during the second lockdown cases started increase in London, while in Kent the tier three measures appear to have had little impact in recent weeks.
As chief medical adviser Prof Chris Whitty says this is a bad moment, but there is also some hope.
The prime minister announced 350,000 people had been vaccinated so far in the first two weeks of the programme.
In the coming weeks the number of GP-led vaccination clinics should increase six-fold, while approval of a second vaccine made by Oxford University could pave the way for mass vaccination centres to be set up in sports stadiums and conference centres.
That could see two million people a week being vaccinated.
With 12 million over-65s, in a matter of months this could become to feel very different.
But for now the slog of the pandemic continues - and for many it just got harder

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Post by Kitkat Sat Dec 19 2020, 19:06

Vallance: This variant may be abroad as well

During the press conference, Sir Patrick Vallance, the government's chief scientific adviser, was asked about the origins of the new fast-spreading variant.
He said "viruses mutate all the time, there are lots of mutations around the world, this one is a particular constellation of changes which we think is important".
We think it may be in other countries as well, he says, but there's a large outbreak in the UK - "it may have started here, we don't know for sure".
He says it's important that the "sequencing effort", to find out what is changing, is looked at at a global level.
"It's an important part of surveillance going forward," he says.
We will bring you a round-up of the press conference shortly.

Main takeaways from the PM's press conference

The prime minister held a Covid briefing at Downing Street a short time ago.
He was joined by England's chief medical officer, Prof Chris Whitty, and the UK's chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.
Here are the key announcements:

  • London, the South East and parts of eastern England are moving into a new tier four level of restrictions
  • From midnight, residents in tier four must stay at home, with limited exceptions. Non-essential retail, gyms and personal care centres must close. Hospitality venues are already closed under tier three rules
  • Household mixing indoors is banned - people can meet one other person from another household in an outdoor space only
  • Travel into and out of tier four is not allowed, unless essential
  • The "support bubbles" for adults living alone will continue
  • The planned relaxation of Covid rules for Christmas has been scrapped for tier four areas
  • For the rest of England, the rules allowing three households to meet will be reduced to Christmas Day only
  • The new rules follow evidence that a new variant of the virus is spreading fast in the areas moved into tier four
  • The new variant is responsible for an increase in hospitalisations, but there is no evidence to suggest it causes a more severe disease than the old variant or will be resistant to vaccines
  • Boris Johnson says he made the decision with a “heavy heart” but “when the virus changes its method of attack, we must change our method of defence”
  • Prof Whitty says it is important people in tier four areas don’t travel so they don’t spread the variant to other parts of the UK
  • Sir Patrick says that while this is a “horrible moment, it is controllable and there is light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccinations having started”
  • You can read more here

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Post by Kitkat Sat Dec 19 2020, 19:12

Scotland at a 'serious and dangerous juncture' - Sturgeon

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has taken to the podium for her press conference.
She says the new variant of the virus means "very firm preventative action is now necessary", adding that this is "probably the most serious and potentially most dangerous juncture" since the beginning of the pandemic.

Breaking News 

Cross-border travel banned in Scotland

Ms Sturgeon says there will be a strict travel ban from Scotland to the rest of the UK throughout the Christmas period.
"People from Scotland should not visit other parts of the UK, and vice versa," she says.
International travel advice will be issued next week - but Ms Sturgeon strongly advises against it.

Breaking News 

Christmas rules cut back for Scotland

The planned five-day relaxation of Covid restrictions over the festive period has been cut back to just Christmas Day for the whole of Scotland – with advice to avoid any social mixing.
Indoor mixing in a bubble in Scotland will be allowed to take place on Christmas Day only, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says.
"We will allow Christmas Day to go ahead, but as we have said from the start, only use this flexibility if you really, truly need to," she says.
"Our advice is still not to meet indoors even on Christmas Day with other households if you can possibly avoid it."
A maximum of eight people from three households will be allowed to meet on Christmas Day, "but again our advice will be to minimise those numbers as much as possible", Ms Sturgeon says.
Cross-border travel will no longer be permitted, but travelling within Scotland will be allowed on Christmas Day only.

NHS could be overwhelmed if new variant not contained - Sturgeon

Ms Sturgeon says if we don't act "firmly and decisively" to stop the new variant taking hold in Scotland, "by January our NHS could potentially be overwhelmed".

All of mainland Scotland moves to tightest restrictions

Ms Sturgeon says all of the Scottish mainland will move to level four restrictions from 26 December.
Level four is the highest of Scotland's five levels - it stops households mixing, shuts pubs and restaurants and closes non-essential retail.
Level four will last for at least three weeks. Schools will not resume until 11 January, with online only until 18 Janaury - apart from key workers' children and the most vulnerable.

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Post by Kitkat Sat Dec 19 2020, 19:16

No plans to change Christmas rules in Northern Ireland

Jayne McCormack - BBC News, NI political reporter
England, Scotland and Wales have all announced changes to their Christmas restrictions this afternoon, but at the moment there are no plans to change the rules in Northern Ireland.
However, the first and deputy first ministers as well as the health minister have been holding various meetings today to discuss their response to the new variant of the virus.

Which areas of England will be in tier 4?

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Tier four restrictions will come into force from midnight tonight and will apply in all tier three areas across the south and east of England.
In south-east England, the areas affected are:

  • Greater London (all 32 boroughs and the City of London)
  • Kent
  • Buckinghamshire (including Milton Keynes)
  • Berkshire
  • Surrey (excluding Waverley)
  • Gosport, Havant, Portsmouth
  • Rother and Hastings

In the east of England, the areas affected are:

  • Bedfordshire
  • Hertfordshire
  • Essex (excluding Colchester, Uttlesford and Tendring)
  • Peterborough

Read more about tier four and what it means here .
You can also check what the rules are in your area here .

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Post by Kitkat Sat Dec 19 2020, 19:19

What are the new Christmas rules?

There have been big changes announced to the Christmas rules for England, Wales and Scotland.

  • In the new tier four in London, South East, and eastern England, you cannot socialise with people outside your household or bubble, even on Christmas Day
  • In the rest of England, which are in tiers one to three, the five-day "mixing window" has been reduced to one day - Christmas Day
  • Christmas bubbles will also only be allowed for 25 December in Scotland and Wales

Read more details here

UK's coronavirus cases pass two million

As Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK's chief scientific adviser, explained in the press conference earlier, coronavirus infections and deaths have been rising rapidly since the start of December in the UK.
There was a dip in November, when England went into a four-week lockdown, and restrictions remained tight in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
But UK-wide infections have now gone back up to the levels seen in October, with more than 27,000 new Covid-19 cases confirmed on Saturday.

London's mayor: Government made 'irresponsible promises' about Christmas

London Mayor Sadiq Khan says moving the capital under tier four restrictions is "a bitter blow for Londoners who were hoping to spend time with loved ones safely this Christmas".
"This continued chaos and confusion could all have been avoided had the government not made irresponsible promises to the public and raised expectations about the Christmas period," he says.
"London faces its toughest Christmas since the war and the whole city will need to pull together to see us through this terrible period."
Mr Khan said implementing restrictions was not enough, and the government needed to increase testing capacity, provide greater financial support and make face coverings mandatory in all busy outdoor public spaces.

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Post by Kitkat Sat Dec 19 2020, 19:22

Day 283 of the pandemic - here are the headlines

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We’re wrapping up our live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic shortly. Before we do, here’s a reminder of the headlines on this, the 283rd day since the pandemic was confirmed by the World Health Organization (WHO).

In the UK:

Elsewhere in the world:

Thanks for joining us

We're going to wrap up our live coverage for the day.
To find out how today's announcement will affect you, put your postcode into our lockdown look-up here .
For more details on England's new tier four, including what it means and who will be in it, read this .

Today's live page was brought to you by Sarah Collerton, Dulcie Lee, Owen Amos, Penny Spiller, Joshua Nevett, Jasmine Taylor-Coleman and Emily Young.

Thanks for joining us.

    Current date/time is Sat Feb 27 2021, 21:39