Coronavirus latest news: Virus 'back under control' after lockdown, Matt Hancock says

Georgina Hayes

Lockdown has brought the virus "back under control," Health Secretary Matt Hancock said today, as he announced a wider community testing programme.

Mr Hancock told the Downing Street press conference that cases have dropped by 30 per cent in England in the last week.

"This is clearly good news. It shows that the national restrictions have been successful," he said.

"And what this means in practice is that through everyone's actions in respecting the national lockdown, and through everything that people have sacrificed, we've reduced pressures on the NHS, we've brought down the number of coronavirus cases, we've got this virus back under control."

The Health Secretary also confirmed that community testing will be expanded because of the "problem of asymptomatic transmission".

Using Liverpool as an example, where over 300,000 people with and without symptoms got tested and case rates decreased by over three quarters, Mr Hancock said he wants "to see this sort of success right across the board so we're rolling out community testing much more widely."

Mr Hancock urged anyone offered a test to take it, telling them "you might just save a life".

He told the Downing Street press conference: "If you have Covid without symptoms and still infect others that is, of course, a silent danger.

"You wouldn't know that you're risking lives around you.

"So to everybody: if you are offered a test please take it, you might just save a life."

Follow the latest updates below.

06:52 PM

Watch: 'Salvation for humanity': Boris Johnson says vaccine could be available in weeks

06:52 PM

French use €50 subsidy to get bikes repaired and get moving after lockdown

More than a million French cyclists have used a €50 ($60) subsidy to get their old bikes repaired as part of measures to fight the coronavirus and now the government wants more people to start riding them.

Following France’s first lockdown in the spring, the government offered subsidies to get old bikes fixed. That programme will now be extended until the end of March following the relaxation of a second lockdown last weekend.

“After this second lockdown, the government wants to encourage French people to use bicycles to move around,” environment minister Barbara Pompili said during a visit to a training centre for bicycle mechanics in Paris on Monday.

She said about half of the people who got their bikes repaired under the scheme had rarely cycled before.

“This has put 500,000 people back in the saddle,” she said. But only three per cent of French people use their bikes every day and the government wants to triple that number.

06:48 PM

Pubs being 'singled out' while retailers enjoy festive bonanza

Hospitality chiefs have accused ministers of singling out pubs with harsh restrictions as the Government said retailers will be allowed to open 24 hours in the run-up to Christmas.

Marks and Spencer and Primark were among retailers to welcome the relaxed trading rules which are intended to make festive shopping "more pleasant and safer" for consumers. 

Primark said 11 of its stores will open for 24 hours from 7am on 2 December, while stores located in retail parks and major shopping centres will trade until at least 10pm, with some stores trading as late as midnight. 

M&S said its opening hours will gradually increase in the run up to Christmas, with around 400 shops open until midnight between December 21 and 23. 

Hannah Uttley has more here. 

06:45 PM

Virus-hit Mexico 'in bad shape', says WHO

Mexico is in "bad shape" and needs to get serious in tackling the coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organization's director-general said today.

"Mexico is in bad shape," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual press conference. "The number of cases doubled and the number of deaths doubled... we would like to ask Mexico to be very serious."

06:39 PM

Croatia's PM Plenković tests positive for Covid-19

Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenković has tested positive for Covid-19, the government’s spokesman has said.

Plenković has already been at home in isolation because his wife tested positive for Covid-19 over the weekend. Plenković’s test over the weekend was negative.

“Prime Minister Plenković will remain at home in isolation for ten days. He feels well and he will continue with his duties from his home following all the recommendations of doctors and epidemiologists,” the spokesman said. 

06:33 PM

Coronavirus restrictions could be in force for two months, proposed law suggests

Laws setting out coronavirus restrictions for England after lockdown ends could be in force until February, according to legal documents.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020 were published today and come into effect on Wednesday.

Under the latest legislation, only the Isle of Wight, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly will be under the lightest Tier 1 controls.

Large swathes of the Midlands, North East and North West will be in the most restrictive Tier 3. This means household mixing will be banned except in limited circumstances such as in parks, bars and restaurants will be limited to takeaway or delivery services and people will be advised to avoid travelling outside their area.

The majority of England will face Tier 2 restrictions, meaning a ban on households mixing indoors, and pubs and restaurants only able to sell alcohol with a "substantial meal".

Ministers must review whether areas need to remain under Tier 2 or 3 restrictions at least once every 14 days, with the first having to take place by December 16.

06:29 PM

'More cancellations than bookings': No travel boom for Tier 1 Cornwall

Despite some residents' fears – and many business owners' hopes – there has been no last-minute surge of bookings for holidays to Cornwall, according to many of the region's travel and hospitality companies.

"There have, in fact, been more cancellations than bookings," says Malcolm Bell, chief executive of local tourism authority Visit Cornwall.

"They're coming in from people in Tier 3 as they should not travel, and others from Tier 2 as multiple households cannot share cottages, apartments or dine together in hotels and restaurants."

Residents who've expressed concerns about an influx of tourists have very little to fear, it seems – but in contrast, many tourism businesses do. 

"This feels like a phoney relief from restrictions," says Bell. "We have a lot of bookings already for next summer, but I think a lot of people will wait until after Christmas to see if a lockdown happens in January, and what happens with tiers. Until then, new bookings will remain very low." 

Hazel Plush has more here. 

06:22 PM

Sao Paulo imposes stricter virus measures as cases rise

The state of Sao Paulo, home to Brazil’s biggest city, has imposed stricter social distancing measures as it wrestles to contain a fresh rise in Covid-19 cases.

Opening hours and capacities for bars, restaurants and shopping malls will be restricted in Brazil’s most populous state which has been the centre of the country’s coronavirus outbreak.

Governor João Doria, speaking at a news conference to announce the measures, said the restrictions would not impact the reopening of schools.

Covid-19 has killed more than 170,000 people in Brazil, the world’s second-highest death toll behind only the US. Cases are rising across the country again after a brief hiatus.

The World Health Organization today urged Brazil to be “very, very serious” about its rising coronavirus infection numbers, which director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described as “very, very worrisome.”

06:20 PM

Turkey's death roll hits record high for eighth day in a row

Turkey’s daily Covid-19 death toll hit a record high for an eighth consecutive day on Monday, with 188 fatalities in the last 24 hours.

The number of new coronavirus cases, including asymptomatic ones, over the past 24 hours also reached a record high of 31,219.

For four months, Turkey only reported symptomatic cases, but since Wednesday it has reported all cases. Historical data for the total number of cases is still not available.

The total number of deaths since the start of the pandemic in March stood at 13,746.

06:19 PM

Independence essential to help Scotland rebuild after Covid, Sturgeon insists

Nicola Sturgeon has claimed independence is "essential" to help with the task of rebuilding Scotland after coronavirus.

Scotland's First Minister said she will use next May's Holyrood election to try to win a mandate to hold an independence referendum "in the early part of the new Parliament".

She also announced the Scottish Government will give all health and social care workers a "thank-you" payment for their efforts during the pandemic.

While her opponents have criticised her for speaking about the issue during the pandemic, the SNP leader said in her closing speech to her party's conference on Monday: "Independence is not a distraction from the task of post-Covid reconstruction.

"It is essential to getting it right."

She said this is important "if we want to make sure the country we rebuild is the one we want it to be, with kindness, compassion, fairness, equality and enterprise at its heart, and not one built in the image of Boris Johnson and his band of Brexiteers".

06:17 PM

Turkey announces weekday, weekend lockdown against coronavirus

Turkey will impose curfews on weekdays and full lockdowns over weekends to combat the spread of the coronavirus, President Tayyip Erdogan said today, after new cases and deaths hit records highs in recent weeks.

Citizens will not be allowed to leave home between 9pm and 5am on weekdays, and over the whole weekend from 9pm on Fridays to 5am on Mondays, Erdogan said.

Some sectors, including supply chain and production, will be exempt from the measures which will begin on Tuesday, he added.

06:16 PM

We're likely to experience 'same or worse' in our lifetimes if we don't learn from Covid, says WHO

If the world fails to renegotiate this stance, it could have further deadly consequences, Dr Mike Ryan added.

"I have to say this quite honestly to you... I have seen the amnesia that it seems to descend upon the world after a traumatic event. 

"And that's understandable we all want to forget pain and suffering we all want to move on. 

"But if we do this again – like we did after SARS, like we did after the H1N1 pandemic – if we continue to ignore the realities of what's emerging and what dangerous pathogens can do to our civilization, then we're likely to experience the same or worse, again, and within our lifetimes."

06:15 PM

Political 'amnesia' and healthcare cuts have worsened deadly disease outbreaks, warns WHO

Underfunded healthcare systems and aggressive cost cutting measures put immense pressure on essential services and now we're all paying the price for it, the World Health Organization's Mike Ryan has said.

"We are paying a price, all of us, for lack of investment in preparedness and in readiness and in health system resilience," the WHO's director of emergencies programme told a press briefing.

"We have designed our health systems to be delivered at 95 per cent, 98 per cent, 100 per cent efficiency. They're almost like a low cost airline model for health service delivery. 

"But we're paying a price for that now – not having that extra surge capacity built into the system, seeing health as a cost, seeing health as a drain on development, as dragging back the economy. 

"We need to readdress what that means: health should be at the centre of investment for any government."

06:13 PM

Covid Recovery Group to read impact assessment ahead of crunch vote on tiers tomorrow

Covid Recovery Group chairman Mark Harper said members would read the impact assessments overnight before deciding whether to support the Government during the crunch vote in the Commons on Tuesday.

Issuing a statement, the Tory MP said: "As I have said before, I and a number of colleagues are particularly keen to understand the likely impact of the restrictions on Covid and the full extent of some of the non-Covid health implications they have, as well as the undoubted impact on livelihoods.

"So, we will read and analyse this data tonight and report back on our findings later tomorrow."

Mr Harper said he was "disappointed" the impact assessment of the Government's tiered approach to dealing with coronavirus arrived so late on Monday.

06:11 PM

Covid impact assessment: 'Severe loss of life' would be 'intolerable for our society'

The impact assessment of the new tiers arrangement for England, published today, has acknowledged the "knock-on implications" of restrictions on other health services, mental health and physical wellbeing as well as the economic impact.

"The challenge of balancing the different health and societal impacts, and taking a long-term perspective on these, is not straightforward but the Government has and will continue to pursue the best overall outcomes, continually reviewing the evidence and seeking the best health, scientific and economic advice," the document said.

The official document also pointed to the Office for Budget Responsibility's forecast of an 11.3 per cent slump in gross domestic product - a key measure of the economy's size and health.

But the document said the alternative of allowing Covid-19 to grow exponentially "is much worse for public health" and stressed the importance of keeping the R number - the reproduction rate of the virus - below 1.

"At the outset of the most difficult time of year for the NHS, and with hospital admissions already high, a sustained period with R above 1 would result in hospitals rapidly becoming overwhelmed," it warned.

"This could lead to many more Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 deaths that would have been preventable were the NHS to remain within its bed capacity.

"Cancellations to non-emergency and elective care would also result in loss of lives and years of healthy life."

The Government's view is that the "severe loss of life and other health impacts" would be "intolerable for our society".

06:08 PM

Ski holidays are not without risk, warns WHO

Ski holidays present a multitude of risks when it comes to the spread of Covid-19, the World Health Organization's Mike Ryan has said. 

When asked about the up-coming ski season in Europe, the WHO's director of emergencies programme said the risk is not necessarily with activity itself but the "multiple pinch points" which take place across resorts and airports.

"Many people will be unaffected after barreling down the slopes.

"The real issues are going to come at airports, on tour buses taking people to and from ski resorts, on ski lifts and places where people come together in large numbers."

"It's not just about skiing, it's a much broader issue," he said, adding that the epidemic may not only increase within ski resorts but in the home countries of tourists who go skiing and who may then return with an infection.

06:05 PM

'Let's not politicise this', says WHO, ahead of Covid origin trip

The World Health Organization have urged people not to politicise its investigation into the origins of Sars-Cov-2.

Last week the WHO unveiled the names of 10 scientists set to travel to China to trace which animals at the Wuhan wet market may have carried the virus that causes Covid-19 - and where they came from. 

Previously the organization came under fire after its preliminary “scouting mission” to China, which took place over the summer, failed to visit Wuhan.

However, addressing a press conference, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for the world to step back and let the experts do their job.

"Let's not politicise this, we're doing everything we can based on science," he said. But "the politicisation of the study of the origin of the virus from some quarters" has made this job much harder.

"We will not stop from knowing the truth on the origin of the virus.

"And we call upon everybody actually to cooperate on this. And from our side, we will be as transparent as possible. There is nothing to hide. We want to know the origin. That's it."

06:04 PM

People's lives are in the balance, WHO warns ahead of the Christmas period

The number of newly reported coronavirus cases has dipped for the first time since September but countries should guard against complacency in the run up to Christmas, the World Health Organization chief has warned. 

Addressing a press conference, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the slight decline in new cases was "welcome news, but it must be interpreted with extreme caution as gains can easily be lost."

"There was still an increase in cases in most other regions of the world... This is no time for complacency, especially with the holiday season approaching in many cultures and countries," he said.

"We all want to be together with the people we love during festive periods. But we all need to consider whose life we might be gambling with in the decisions we make," Dr Tedros added.

05:55 PM

Ministers 'looking' at whether hospitality could refuse those who haven't had vaccine

Matt Hancock said ministers were "looking" at whether the hospitality sector could refuse access to those who have not taken up a Covid vaccine once it becomes available.

Health minister Nadhim Zahawi, in charge of the vaccine roll-out, has said hospitality and entertainment venues may insist on seeing proof that people have had one.

Mr Hancock told the press briefing: "For a long time now we've been looking at the questions that minister Zahawi was talking about and the question of what's the impact on the individual in terms of what they can do. That's what minister Zahawi was referring to."

But he added: "Firstly we do not plan to mandate the vaccine.

"We think that by encouraging the uptake of the vaccine we will get a very high proportion of people in this country to take up the the vaccine, because of course it protects you but it also helps to protect your loved ones and your community."

05:54 PM

Extra funding for local authorities to do testing

Mr Hancock said there would be extra funding for local authorities to do testing "up to a figure of £14 per test done".

"That's quite significant extra funding that's available across the UK for the councils that want to make this work on the model of Liverpool," Mr Hancock said.

05:53 PM

Military support must be targeted to where it's needed most, says Sir Gordon Messenger

General Sir Gordon Messenger, head of operations for the Community Testing Programme, said they are trying to move away from the term "mass testing".

He said: "I think this is about community testing. It's about tailoring to the needs, as I said, of the local area, and that might be geographically specific, or it might be ethnic community specific."

Sir Gordon said that while the programme in Liverpool was delivered by a primarily military workforce, that same set-up will not be repeated.

"I can say with confidence that cannot be replicated around the country, and therefore the military support, along with all other types of central support, has to be targeted where it's needed most and where it can have the greatest effect.

"I have absolutely no doubt that the military will continue to play a really important part in the community testing programme but the baseline assumption in terms of workforce generation is that that will be delivered locally with considerable support from the centre.

"And from what I've seen, of a number of local communities, there's great ingenuity already underway in delivering that workforce. They're accessing the volunteer force, they're working very innovatively with the private sector, and yes, of course, they've got good liaison with local leadership in the military."

05:44 PM

Some areas could move into lower tier when rules are reviewed, says Hancock

Matt Hancock said that some areas could be moved into a lower tier when the rules are reviewed after 14 days.

"We will look at the data on December 16 and will announce the results of that review on December 17," he said.

"Of course you've got to take into account that Christmas is coming up, but, nevertheless, with the case rates coming down as they are - coming down by almost third in the last week - then we will be absolutely looking at each area and seeing what is the right tier for that area.

"I want to see areas that have pulled together, followed the rules, got the case rate down - like Liverpool has over the last month, which has led to it going into Tier 2 - I want to see that happening more broadly."

05:41 PM

It's 'crucial' to have Covid under control going into New Year

NHS England national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said it was "crucial" to have Covid-19 infection rates under control going into the New Year.

"Unlike the spring, when we were heading out of winter into the summer, we are now heading into the winter," he said.

"The NHS is always at its busiest in January, February and into March. We see more infections, chest infections from other viruses and bugs, we see more slips, trips and falls.

"So, the pressure on the NHS builds. It's crucial going into that period that we have this under control."  

Clearly Christmas is a special time, he said, and we're "confident" people will "act sensibly". 

05:38 PM

It's best students are tested on a voluntary basis, says Hancock

Matt Hancock said that coronavirus testing for students had not been made mandatory because it "brings in all sorts of other considerations".

Asked about making testing mandatory for students, the Health Secretary said: "Of course, our goal is to get this testing made available to as many students as possible.

"It is a huge logistical exercise, I'm very grateful to the universities right across the UK who have engaged with us to help to make this happen."

He said anyone who had concerns about testing should speak to their university, adding: "I think it will make a good difference, a good, positive difference.

"But as I say we haven't made it mandatory because that brings in all sorts of other considerations.

"And we think that it is therefore best done on a voluntary basis."

05:36 PM

Hancock explains mass testing for university students

Matt Hancock said mass testing of university students was taking place across the country.

Answering a question from the public, he said: "Today is the first day that we're rolling out the widespread testing of people who are about to return from university and we want to make sure that people can come home from university, but do that in the safest possible way.

"There's a programme right across universities, right across the UK to ensure that as many people as possible can get a test before they travel.

"This is a really helpful contribution in example of how the expansion in testing capacity that we've built up over these past nine months or so can have a real-world impact.

"Then, of course, there are arrangements in place if you're at university for those who test positive who then need to isolate, along with their contacts." 

05:34 PM

Couples living in Tier 2 should only see each other outside, Hancock says

Matt Hancock said couples living apart in Tier 2 would only be able to see each other outside - but stressed those impacted should read the guidance for their area.

Addressing a question from the public at the Downing Street press conference, Mr Hancock said: "The rules about exactly what is permitted in each of the tiers is on the Gov.uk website.

"I start my answer with that because for everybody watching if you're in a specific situation, then the best thing to do is to go and look precisely at the rules.

"Now of course I understand the impact on people who are in a long-term relationship and we have made specific provision.

"But the general rule for those who are in Tier 2 is that the rule of six applies outdoors, including for instance in a private garden, but indoors you should only be mixing with people who are in your own household."

05:32 PM

It will be another week or two before impact of lockdown on hospital admissions is known

Prof Stephen Powis is now going through the slides.

As the national lockdown was introduced at the beginning of November, it would be expected that it is a couple of weeks before the effect of that on hospitalisations is known, he said.

However we are now "just beginning" to see a decrease in transmission translate into hospital admissions.

In recent days it has "started to turn the corner and is now falling".

Hospital inpatients in England - Telegraph
Hospital inpatients in England - Telegraph

05:27 PM

Take a test and save a life, urges Hancock

Matt Hancock urged anyone offered a test to take it, telling them "you might just save a life".

He said: "If you have Covid without symptoms and still infect others that is, of course, a silent danger.

"You wouldn't know that you're risking lives around you.

"So to everybody: if you are offered a test please take it, you might just save a life."

He added: "The light of dawn is on the horizon, it's the moment to stand firm until the morning so we can look back and see clearly that everything we gave and everything we did, it was not for nothing but so we could save lives and build back better for everyone."

05:25 PM

Hancock: 'We're rolling out community testing much more widely'

In addition to symptomatic testing programme, we have the capacity to do more, Mr Hancock said.

Today we begin the rollout of our university student testing programme and expanding community testing, he said, adding, "We won't just test people with symptoms."

Because of this problem of asymptomatic transmission, we're going to test people who don't have symptoms as well, he said. This really matters because by finding the positives we can "break the chain of transmission and stop other people catching Covid".

In Liverpool where over 300,000 people with and without symptoms got tested, it managed to bring case rate down by over three quarters, Mr Hancock said.

"I want to see this sort of success right across the board so we're rolling out community testing much more widely."

This will be a way out of the toughest restrictions, he said.

05:21 PM

UK has access to 357m doses of seven different vaccines

Hope is on the horizon, the Health Secretary said, and in the past fortnight there has been some "really significant progress on vaccines".

The NHS now stands ready to deploy a vaccine should one be approved by the UK's independent regulator, he said.

Moderna, which filed for approval for its vaccine in the US today, has been submitting data to the UK regulator for some time, he said.

Overall, the UK now has access to 357 million doses of seven different vaccines, Mr Hancock said.

05:17 PM

Hancock: We can let up a little, but can't afford to let up a lot

The effect of the action that we take brings with it huge challenges too, especially for the hospitality sector, Matt Hancock said.

As the analysis of health, economic and social efffects of Covid-19 and the approach to tiering shows, which was published today, it clearly demonstrates this action is necessary to avoid a much worse outcome and we must be vigilant, he added.

There are still 460 reported deaths on average each day, he said. "This is far too many, but there is light at the end of the tunnel."

"In technical terms the R rate is back below one but only just," Mr Hancock added.

When R is below one the number of infections falls over time because on average each infected person infects fewer than one other. For that to happen it's important that lots of infected people infect no one else at all, he said.

This is the central challenge of this pandemic, he said, which is made more difficult by the fact that around one in three people with the virus have no symptoms at all.

"That is why, even as we ease restrictions, we've got to keep some in place. While we can let up a little, we can't afford to let up a lot."

05:11 PM

Virus is 'back under control', says Hancock

Running through the numbers, Matt Hancock said that a cited the study from Imperial College London which shows that the natioanl restrictions have brought down cases by a third.

Over the last week the average number of positive tests is now 14,778, down from a pea of 25,331 on November 16.

Today there are 15,712 patients in hospitals across the UK with Covid. That is down from 16,612 on November 23.

In England, in the week before the peak, the number of cases grew by 11 per cent but in the last week cases have dropped by 30 per cent.

"This is clearly good news," MR Hancock said.

"It shows that the national restrictions have been successful, and what this means in practice is that through everyone's actions in respecting the national lockdown and through everything that people have sacrificed we have reduced pressures on the NHS, brought down the number of cases and got this virus back under control."

Hospital inpatients in England - Telegraph
Hospital inpatients in England - Telegraph

05:07 PM

The national restrictions have been working, says Hancock

Matt Hancock has begun today's Downing Street press conference.

The Health Secretary in joined by Professor Stephen Powis, the national medical director for NHS England, and General Sir Gordon Messenger , the head of operations for the community testing programme.

Tomorrow night our national restrictions in England will come to an end, Mr Hancock said, and subject to a vote in Parliament will be replaced by a tiered system on Wednesday morning.

I know that the national restrictions have been really tough for some people, he said, but the good news is that they've been working. 

04:58 PM

Matt Hancock to begin Downing Street press conference shortly

The Health Secretary will lead a Downing Street press conference shortly.

We'll give you all the key updates here.

04:46 PM

UK: 205 further deaths and cases up by 12,330

The Government said a further 205 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of today, bringing the UK total to 58,448.

Separate figures published by the UK's statistics agencies for deaths where Covid-19 has been mentioned on the death certificate, together with additional data on deaths that have occurred in recent days, show there have now been 74,000 deaths involving Covid-19 in the UK.

The Government said that, as of 9am this morning, there had been a further 12,330 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK.

It brings the total number of cases in the UK to 1,629,657.

04:44 PM

Experts react to vaccine minister's comments

Professor Ilan Kelman, professor of disasters and health at University College London, said: “Vaccine passports or similar are not a new idea. One of the many initiatives which successfully eradicated smallpox was the requirement for a vaccination in order to travel.

"Today, when travelling from and to places at risk of yellow fever, proof of vaccination is sometimes required. To enter some countries, proof of a polio vaccination is still needed.

“One difference here is proof of vaccination for daily, local activities--a debate which is long-standing such as mandatory MMR vaccinations to attend school. This issue was reinvigorated last year after a measles outbreak at London schools and some places do have mandatory measles vaccinations for children attending school.

“A proviso is if it turns out that there might be some certified medical reasons for being unable to take the vaccine. A system of verifiable exceptions would be needed. As the minister indicates, for people who choose not to take a vaccine, then they can also choose not to participate in activities which demand it.”

Dr Alexander Edwards, associate professor in biomedical technology at the University of Reading, said:

 “Evidence of vaccination is already required for certain diseases and situations. Proof of yellow fever vaccination is essential to travel from certain parts of the world where this virus is present, to places without yellow fever. In workplaces where human blood is handled (e.g. hospitals, labs) staff usually need proof of hepatitis B vaccination for their own safety- this is normal occupational health.

 “However we have a lot more evidence about these other diseases, and so it is hard to see how we could bring in something similar for Covid-19 any time soon. For example, although we now have some exciting data showing that people can be protected from infection, we don’t have enough data yet to know exactly how well the new vaccines prevent spread. Nor can we yet know how long protection lasts - the clinical trials simply haven’t had enough time to measure this."

04:29 PM

Botswana to launch gender violence courts amid rise in cases during pandemic

Botswana will launch 25 gender violence courts this week following a rise in cases during the coronavirus pandemic - a measure women’s campaigners hope will bring swifter justice to victims of sexual and domestic abuse.

The government of the southern African country moved to establish the courts after women’s rights advocates warned lockdown curbs were exacerbating high rates of gender-based violence by trapping many women at home with abusers.

“(Bringing a case to court) can be a long, tedious process, and this frustrates many victims,” said Kgomotso Kelaotswe, a counsellor supervisor from the Botswana Gender Based Violence Prevention and Support Centre, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Hopefully, with specialised courts, cases will be addressed timeously.”

Nearly 70 per cent of women in Botswana have experienced physical or sexual abuse - more than double the global average, according to the United Nations Population Fund, and police statistics indicate a rise in cases this year.

Police have recorded 2,789 rapes since January compared with 2,265 during all of 2019, said police spokesman Dipheko Motube. Activists think the true lockdown figures are likely far higher, however.

04:26 PM

Mass testing and vaccine rollout could offer areas a way out of harshest restrictions, says PM

Boris Johnson said mass testing and the rollout of any approved vaccines would offer areas a way out of the harshest coronavirus restrictions.

Asked by broadcasters whether areas due to be placed into Tier 2 and Tier 3 could expect further support, the Prime Minister said: "We want to make sure that we give everybody the most generous support, as we have done throughout the pandemic, and particularly for the hospitality sector.

"I'd just reminded everybody that, in addition to the furlough scheme, for businesses that are forced to close there is a £3,000 grant per month, £2,100 extra for hospitality, plus also the cuts to business rates and VAT.

"But the best thing for hospitality, and indeed every sector, is if we can keep the virus under control, use mass testing, roll that out in ever greater numbers, plus the vaccine if, as I hope, we can start to distribute them.

"Then we can use those two scientific tools to push the virus down and to open up the economy to allow areas to come down in the tiers that they are in, steadily making progress that way - that is the plan through to Easter.

04:25 PM

PM urges country not to 'abandon all the gains we have made'

Boris Johnson has said it is important to strike the "right balance" when deciding on coronavirus restrictions.

"Everything is a judgment, everything is a balance. Over Christmas families traditionally want to get together. That is going to happen to some extent whatever you do," he said.

"It is very important to set out the rules to give people a clear understanding of what will work and the right balance to strike."

He added: "The scientific cavalry are almost here. It is, potentially, a real, real game-changer.

"What we can't do is forsake, abandon, all the gains we have made now just when we are starting to see real progress in the science."

04:23 PM

Vaccine could be available 'in a few weeks', says PM

Boris Johnson has said "if we're lucky" a coronavirus vaccine could be available "in a few weeks".

The Prime Minister visited pharmaceutical company Wockhardt's facility in Wrexham, Wales, today where he said it is hoped the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine will be produced.

He told reporters: "This could - could, if we're lucky, if everything goes right - be available just in a few weeks.

"This could - and I stress could - really be the salvation for humanity, these vaccines, not just this one but obviously all the vaccines that are currently being developed."

He said the Government is announcing "extra cash" so the nation is ready to create vaccines for the next pandemic.

"What we need now is the approvals. It must be stressed that no vaccine has yet got MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) approval but we're obviously hoping that both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca will get approved in the course of the next few days and weeks," he added.

04:21 PM

Past nine months 'have been the hardest of my life', says Sturgeon

The past nine months have been the hardest of Nicola Sturgeon's life, the First Minister told SNP members.

Speaking in her conference address, Ms Sturgeon said politicians "usually run a mile from admitting human frailty".

"I don't mind saying that these last nine months have been the hardest of my life," she said.

"I've had many dark days and sleepless nights, struggling with the horrendous choices the pandemic has forced upon us.

"At times I've felt completely overwhelmed - as I'm sure many of you have.

"I feel a deep sadness for the lives that have been lost. Not a single day passes that I don't think of families who are grieving."

04:18 PM

Sturgeon questions whether Scots would have trusted UK Government to guide Scotland through pandemic

Each person in Scotland should ask themselves who should govern them, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said.

Addressing SNP members at the annual party conference, the First Minister asked if Scots will "place our trust in ourselves" by supporting independence.

"Or will we leave our future in the hands of a Westminster system that is so clearly taking us in the wrong direction," she asked.

Ms Sturgeon also said she doubted how many people in Scotland would have trusted the UK Government to govern Scotland through the coronavirus pandemic.

She added: "In the depth of crisis, we have looked to and trusted our own government and Parliament to steer us through."

04:16 PM

NHS staff in Scotland to receive one-off £500 'thank you' payment

NHS staff and social care workers will receive a one-off £500 payment from the Scottish Government as a "thank you".

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the move during her address to the SNP conference.

She said applause and recognition shown to frontline workers earlier in the pandemic "was never enough".

Negotiations are currently under way to increase pay for NHS staff, but they "deserve recognition now", Ms Sturgeon said.

"I can announce today that, on behalf of us all, the Scottish Government will give every full-time NHS and adult social care worker £500 as a one-off thank-you payment for their extraordinary service in this toughest of years."

The First Minister added there were "no strings attached" to the payment.

However, the First Minister said the Scottish Government did not have the power to make the payment tax-free and she called on Boris Johnson to ensure "NHS heroes" are not taxed on their payment.

04:13 PM

Boris Johnson defends new tier system in England

Boris Johnson has defended the introduction of the tier system for England, saying it would be wrong to "take our foot off the throat of the beast".

On a visit to pharmaceutical firm Wockhardt at their facility in North Wales, the Prime Minister said England's lockdown had got the disease under control with the R number - a measure of how quickly the virus is spreading - below 1.

He said: "We can't afford to take our foot off the throat of the beast, to take our foot off the gas, we can't afford to let it out of control again.

"The tiering system is tough, but it's designed to be tough and to keep it under control.

"I know that lots of people think that they are in the wrong tier and I understand people's frustration.

"I particularly understand the frustration of the hospitality sector that has borne so much and been through so much in the last few months, and we will do everything we can, as we have been doing, to protect and to encourage that sector throughout the weeks and months ahead."

04:07 PM

Covid rates continuing to rise in most areas of Wales

Covid-19 case rates are continuing to rise in most parts of Wales, latest figures show.

The biggest jumps are in Torfaen, Newport and Ceredigion.

Rates have increased in 16 of the 22 local authority areas.The figures, for the seven days to November 26, are based on tests carried out in NHS Wales laboratories and those conducted on Welsh residents processed in commercial laboratories.

They show that the number of new cases per 100,000 people in Torfaen has risen sharply week-on-week from 213.9 to 456.6 - the highest in Wales - while in Newport the rate has increased from 233.4 to 336.8.

In Ceredigion, the rate is up from 100.4 to 170.6.

Tough restrictions imposed in various areas of Wales during September and October, followed by a 17-day nationwide "firebreak" lockdown that ended on November 7, had some impact in driving down case rates.

In the last two weeks, the numbers have started to climb again, however.

Only six areas have recorded a week-on-week fall, the biggest drop being in Flintshire, where the rate is down from 158.9 to 101.2.

03:59 PM

Celebrities including Rita Ora and Laurence Fox must follow restrictions, PM warns

Celebrities have been told they must follow coronavirus restrictions after Rita Ora attended a birthday party at a restaurant and actor Laurence Fox boasted of having a "large group over to lunch".

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "It's important that everybody in society sets an example by following the rules – that is for every member of the public including celebrities."

Talking about Ora, the spokesman said: "Throughout the pandemic we've been clear that it's vital for everyone to abide by the rules in order to suppress the virus and reduce the transmission, but enforcement matter is for the police."

Asked about Fox, he said: "The Prime Minister has been clear of the need for everybody across the country to continue to abide by the rules in order to reduce the transmission of the virus, but it's up to police to decide what action to take."

Read more here. 

03:51 PM

EasyJet to offer discounted tests to encourage travel

The UK budget airline EasyJet says it plans to offer passengers discounted tests to try to encourage more travel.

Travel rules in England will change from December 15 so that if a traveller receives a negative test result from a self-funded test, they can reduce their quarantine from 14 to five days.

Desperate to stimulate the travel market after months of restrictions, airlines and airports are teaming up with testing firms to make it easier and cheaper to get a test.

EasyJet, whose finances have come under severe pressure during the pandemic, said that passengers will receive a reduced rate of £75 per home test with Confirm Testing or with CityDoc, £100 per home test or £150 pounds per in clinic test.

The £75 rate is cheaper than the £85 rate available to Wizz Air passengers. Both are more expensive than Gatwick Airport’s offer of £60 per test for passengers who use its drive-through testing facility.

EasyJet said that the two companies it was working with aimed to provide results within 48 hours.

03:38 PM

Coronavirus around the world, in pictures

Filipinos take part in an anti-government protest in Quezon city, Metro Manila, Philippines. Left-wing groups marked Bonifacio Day with protests condemning the Anti-Terrorism Law, labor issues, and the inadequate response of the government in the Covid-19 pandemic and recent disasters - Getty Images Europe
Filipinos take part in an anti-government protest in Quezon city, Metro Manila, Philippines. Left-wing groups marked Bonifacio Day with protests condemning the Anti-Terrorism Law, labor issues, and the inadequate response of the government in the Covid-19 pandemic and recent disasters - Getty Images Europe
Workers in protective gear lower a coffin of a person who died with Covid-19 during a funeral at Pondok Ranggon Cemetery in Jakarta, Indonesia, a country that has recorded over half a million cases of the virus - Shutterstock
Workers in protective gear lower a coffin of a person who died with Covid-19 during a funeral at Pondok Ranggon Cemetery in Jakarta, Indonesia, a country that has recorded over half a million cases of the virus - Shutterstock
Andrew Lewis, collections manager, warms up a 1934 Railton Terraplane at Brooklands Museum in Weybridge, Surrey this morning as they prepare to reopen on Thursday following the lockdown  - Oliver Dixon
Andrew Lewis, collections manager, warms up a 1934 Railton Terraplane at Brooklands Museum in Weybridge, Surrey this morning as they prepare to reopen on Thursday following the lockdown - Oliver Dixon
Mass testing of students begins so they can get home for Christmas in England - PA
Mass testing of students begins so they can get home for Christmas in England - PA
People go Christmas shopping during the first Advent weekend amid the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, in Madrid, Spain - Shutterstock
People go Christmas shopping during the first Advent weekend amid the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, in Madrid, Spain - Shutterstock

03:31 PM

Italy's northern regions have a proposal to allow the partial reopening of ski resorts

Italy's northern regions have come up with a proposal that would allow the partial opening of ski resorts at Christmas, as the national government deliberates on whether skiing will be allowed. 

Reporting from Rome, Nick Squires reports that the regions have suggested that the pistes be opened to people who have holiday homes in ski resorts and those who are staying in hotels. That would exclude large numbers of day-trippers, reducing the danger of overcrowding, they say.

The suggestion has been put forward by the regions of Veneto, Piedmont, Val d'Aosta, Lombardy, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Trentino-Sud Tirol, where most of Italy's ski resorts are located. 

The government is due to issue a new decree containing anti-Covid 19 measures this week. Ski resorts say they face financial ruin if they are not allowed to open at Christmas and New Year but the government fears a third wave of infections.

03:27 PM

Lib Dems not prepared to back Government's new tier system to replace lockdown

Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey has said the party's MPs are prepared to not back the Government's plans for a tiered system of coronavirus restrictions to replace England's national lockdown.

Increasing pressure amid a potentially large Tory rebellion, Sir Ed wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to say the eleven Lib Dem MPs would withhold their support unless a series of demands were met, including the Government publishing the scientific evidence underpinning the plans, detailing a clearer exit strategy and providing extra financial support for pubs.

In a statement, the MP added: "As it stands, we cannot in all conscience vote for this unsafe plan. The Government has failed once again to put together a plan to bring the virus under control and keep people safe.

"The new tier system is arbitrary, confused and chaotic, and the Government has failed yet again to deliver the test, trace and isolate strategy to beat this virus and end this pandemic."

03:24 PM

People who don't get vaccinated could be banned from restaurants, cinemas and sports venues, minister suggests

Asked whether people who get the Covid-19 jab will receive some kind of "immunity passport" to show they have been vaccinated, Mr Zahawi said: "We are looking at the technology.

"And, of course, a way of people being able to inform their GP that they have been vaccinated.

"But, also, I think you'll probably find that restaurants and bars and cinemas and other venues, sports venues, will probably also use that system - as they have done with the app.

"I think that in many ways the pressure will come from both ways, from service providers who'll say 'look, demonstrate to us that you have been vaccinated'.

"But, also, we will make the technology as easy and accessible as possible."

Asked if that meant people who did not have a vaccination would be severely restricted in what they could do, the minister said: "I think people have to make a decision.

"But, I think you'll probably find many service providers will want to engage with this in the way they did with the app."

03:22 PM

Coronavirus vaccine will not be compulsory, says minister

The minister responsible for the rollout of coronavirus vaccines has said the jabs will not be compulsory.

Health minister Nadhim Zahawi told BBC Radio 4's the World At One: "I think it is right that it is voluntary.

"People have to be allowed to decide for themselves whether they want to be vaccinated or otherwise.

"But, I think the very strong message that you will see, this is the way we return the whole country, and so it's good for your family, it's good for your community, it's good for your country to be vaccinated.

"And, ultimately people will have to make a decision."

03:10 PM

Students will struggle to 'comply fully' with self-isolation before Christmas

Students will struggle to "comply fully" with self-isolation rules if they test positive for Covid-19 before Christmas due to a lack of financial support from the Government, a union has warned.

Universities across the UK are rolling out mass asymptomatic coronavirus testing this week in a bid to get students home safely for the festive break.

Temporary testing centres are being set up on campuses ahead of the seven-day "travel window" in England - where students who test negative can return to families from Thursday.

If they test positive as part of the scheme - which has to be completed by December 9 - students will be required to self-isolate at their university for a period of 10 days.

But the National Union of Students (NUS) has warned that students may struggle to self-isolate fully if they test positive because of inadequate support from universities and the Government.

And many students who do want to take a rapid coronavirus test may not have access to one before travelling home to their families due to "capacity issues," the organisation has said.

03:08 PM

Further 183 hospital deaths in England

A further 183 people who tested positive for coronavirus have died in hospital in England, bringing the total number of confirmed deaths reported in hospitals to 40,588, NHS England said today.

Patients were aged between 52 and 95. All except three, aged between 84 and 93, had known underlying health conditions.

The deaths were between November 5 and November 29, with the majority on or after November 23.

Four other deaths were reported with no positive Covid-19 test result.

02:58 PM

New Prime Minister of Belize tests positive for Covid

02:44 PM

Closure order for hair salon 'causing distress to public' by opening during lockdown

Magistrates have ordered the closure of a hair salon and said its owner has caused "distress to the public" by repeatedly opening to customers during the current lockdown.

Sinead Quinn, owner of Quinn Blakey Hairdressing in Oakenshaw, near Bradford, did not appear at Bradford Magistrates' Court for the hearing today.

The closure application went ahead in her absence, with magistrates making the order to close the salon until just after midnight on Wednesday "to prevent nuisance to members of the public and to safeguard public health".

Kirklees Council has issued Ms Quinn with fixed penalty notices totalling £17,000 for trading during lockdown and served the closure notice on Saturday.

The court heard that she had been observed serving customers on six days during the current national lockdown in England, and numerous complaints had been made to the council by members of the public.

Tahir Hanif, representing the council at toda's half-hour hearing, said Ms Quinn had refused to open the door to engage with enforcement officers.

He said she had mentioned Magna Carta, telling council officers that coronavirus legislation "does not apply to her and she does not consent to abide by these particular regulations".

02:40 PM

Wales: Cases up by 802 and deaths rise by 3

There have been a further 802 cases of coronavirus in Wales, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 80,342.

Public Health Wales reported another three deaths, taking the total in Wales since the start of the pandemic to 2,540.

02:28 PM

Belgium invested in coronavirus treatment that isn't effective

Belgium has invested heavily in a coronavirus treatment that lacks a recommendation from the World Health Organisation, according to the latest reports from francophone media.

James Crisp reports that Belgian Health Minister, Frank Vandenbroucke signed a €4.3 million agreement with the pharmaceutical company Gilead for the drug Remdesivir, which has no significant effect on the chances of survival of Covid-19 patients, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

02:21 PM

Vaccine announcements have lifted nation's spirits, polling finds

New research by Ipsos MORI has found an increase in the number of Britons thinking that life will return to normal within a year, following announcements about results from the trials of vaccines to combat Covid-19.

Almost half now say that life will return to normal within a year (46 per cent compared with 40 per cent the week before).

The biggest change has been seen amongst those aged 18-34, with a nine percentage point increase to 57 per cent, compared with 48 per cent before the announcements.

This is despite the fact that this age group is the least likely to say they have heard much about the development of vaccines in the last week. Just over three in four (77 per cent) of 18-34 year olds say they have heard at least a fair amount about it, compared with 80 per cent of 35-54 year olds and 92% of 55-75 year olds.

The results also show that the news has given people a reason to be optimistic. Over half (53 per cent) say it has made a positive difference to how optimistic they feel. However, this is much lower than seen back in May when 83 per cent said that an announcement about successful tests of a vaccine would make a positive difference to their feelings of optimism.

Further, while the news has certainly given some people hope, there are still significant numbers of people who are unsure whether they will take the vaccine if it is made available to them. Almost two in five (37 per cent) say they definitely would take it, with a further 31 per cent saying they would probably take it.  

Those in the oldest age groups are the most likely to get vaccinated: 45 per cent of those aged 55-75 say they would definitely take it, compared with 37 per cent of those aged 35-54 and 28 per cent of those aged 18-34.

02:17 PM

Latest updates on Oxford, Moderna and Pfizer vaccine breakthroughs - and who will get it first?

The UK has secured 2 million more doses of the US Moderna vaccine, which trials suggest is 95 per cent effective in preventing Covid-19. 

Moderna's vaccine is in the earlier stages of development, but interim analysis suggests it is highly effective in preventing people getting ill among all age groups, including the elderly.

The US biotech firm's vaccine has yet to be approved by regulators, but doses could begin being delivered next spring if it meets the standards.

The Oxford vaccine, developed with AstraZeneca, can prevent on average 70.4 per cent of people from getting Covid-19, according to new data from late-stage trials in Britain and Brazil.

AstraZeneca said they will immediately prepare a submission for regulatory authorities and seek an Emergency Use Listing from the World Health Organisation.

The news comes after Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Friday, Nov 20, asked British regulators to start assessing the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, as the company filed for emergency authorisation in the US.

Pfizer said their vaccine is 95 per cent effective in preventing Covid-19 and has passed its safety checks.

We have all you need to know about the latest vaccine developments here. 

02:11 PM

More Covid fines handed out by police during lockdown

The number of Covid-19 fines handed out by police has begun to rise amid tighter lockdown rules.

Figures published by the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) showed that in total, 24,933 fixed penalty notices were handed out by forces in England and Wales between March 27 and November 16.

Weekly figures showed that 1,137 were issued between November 6 and 12, compared to 947 the previous week.

In general terms, the number of fines handed out peaked in April and May, stayed low between June and September and then gradually began to rise again, in particular since October 23.

This is despite the fact that around half of the fixed penalty notices have gone unpaid, with more than 60 per cent not paid within the 28-day period in some areas of England up to September 21.

For face coverings, the NPCC figures showed a total of 641 fines were issued between June 15 and November 16, including 169 on public transport, an average of eight per week.

The remaining 472 were handed out in relevant places such as shops. The weekly number rose sharply to 78 between October 2 and 8, and has ranged between 43 and 91 since then.

02:01 PM

Scotland: Asymptomatic Covid tests to be carried out 'much more routinely' in New Year

Pilot mass testing schemes in coronavirus hotspots across Scotland will inform plans to carry out asymptomatic checks "much more routinely" in the new year, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

The First Minister said asymptomatic testing is being offered in communities where the levels of Covid-19 "continue to be of concern and are higher than the national average".

The scheme is being piloted in five locations in west and central Scotland and is operating for between three and 13 days, depending on the site.

Speaking at the Scottish Government's coronavirus briefing today, Ms Sturgeon said: "The lessons that we learn from these trials will then inform our plans to expand community testing much more extensively and much more routinely early in the new year."

Georgina Hayes has more on this here. 

01:48 PM

Drakeford defends last month's 17-day firebreak lockdown

First Minister Mark Drakeford has defended Wales's 17-day firebreak lockdown but said new restrictions on the hospitality industry have to be imposed as numbers have risen faster than "anticipated or hoped".

"I don't think that we took the wrong decision in relation to the lockdown itself," Mr Drakeford said.

"The advice to us was that by going early - and we had our period of firebreak earlier than any other part of the United Kingdom - that the earlier we went, the more effective it would be and that providing it was early and it was deep, that 17 days was adequate and the firebreak has delivered everything we hoped of it.

"The difficulties we face today are not, I believe, rooted in the firebreak decision itself.

"Could we have come out of the firebreak with even more restriction than we put in place? I think that is a more open question."

He said ministers "made a judgment at the time" on the best evidence they had but numbers had since gone up faster than had been anticipated or hoped.

01:46 PM

Rita Ora apologises for 'spur of the moment' decision to break Covid rules

Pop star Rita Ora has apologised for her "spur of the moment" decision to attend a birthday party which broke coronavirus rules.

The singer admitted she had been at a "small gathering" with friends to celebrate her 30th birthday and said it was an "inexcusable error of judgment".

Scotland Yard confirmed that officers had been called to an address in Notting Hill, west London, on Saturday night amid a breach of Covid regulations.

It follows reports of other gatherings organised by celebrities, prompting a reminder from Downing Street that coronavirus rules apply to everyone.

01:37 PM

Schools 'very much' on list of sectors that could be prioritised for lateral flow testing, says Drakeford

First Minister Mark Drakeford has said that schools in Wales are "very much on the list of sectors" that the Welsh Government is hoping to prioritise for lateral flow testing.

"I think there is a strong case for trying to commit lateral flow devices in schools," Mr Drakeford said.

"We are at the moment using the lateral flow devices in our mass testing in Merthyr, in the care home pilot that begins this week and with some frontline staff in health and social care.

"As the volumes of those tests grow, then we will look to use them in other settings as well.

"We'll never have enough to do everything we would like to do but schools is very much on the list of sectors that we are hoping to prioritise.

"It would mean that asymptomatic children would then be identified, they would be able to be looked after, and they wouldn't have the effect of spreading the virus to other young people, so it is very much on our list of target sectors for the use of those lateral flow devices as more become available to us."

01:30 PM

Tier restrictions for pubs: the Covid rules in your area and what a substantial meal means

From Wednesday December 2, restrictions on pubs and restaurants will be subject to a revised tier system that will replace the current national lockdown. This means rules for hospitality businesses will change depending on what tier they are in. 

Pubs and restaurants in Tier 3 (very high level) – which includes Manchester, Hull, Newcastle, Bristol and Kent – will only be allowed to offer takeaways from Wednesday. Those in Tier 2 (high level) regions can reopen but only if they offer a 'substantial meal'. The 10pm hospitality curfew will be extended to 11pm for the lower tiers. 

Until December 2, all pubs and restaurants across the country will remain closed, apart from those able to offer takeaways, click-and-collect, drive-through and delivery.

The tier system will be reviewed every fortnight with the first review on December 16.

Here's everything you need to know about pubs, restaurants and the new tier system.

01:27 PM

Covid vaccine boosts China's 'soft power' around the world

As cases of coronavirus once again soar in Pakistan, volunteers are accepting shots of an experimental Chinese vaccine.

Thousands of participants are being recruited to trial a vaccine from Chinese manufacturer CanSinoBio as part of an agreement that will reportedly see Pakistan receive millions of doses of any successful shots.

Pakistan and other countries in Asia and Africa are used to receiving huge Chinese investment to build highways, ports, railways and powerplants. Now the Covid-19 pandemic has provided Beijing with a new soft power tool, as it uses its medical expertise to bolster global ambitions.

Under this vaccine diplomacy, countries are helping Chinese scientists host vaccine trials in return for sharing the finished drugs when they are available.

China has also joined a United Nations-backed global scheme for the distribution of Covid-19 vaccine, which has been shunned by US president Donald Trump - it is not clear yet whether President Elect Joe Biden will change tact and sign up.

Ben Farmer has more here. 

01:22 PM

Downing St refuses to be drawn on whether a Scotch egg is enough to get a drink

Downing Street has not ruled out drinkers being able to order a Scotch egg with their pints in order to still enjoy pubs under Tier 2 restrictions in England.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said buying alcohol will be permitted with a "substantial meal" but would not set out the line between a snack and a dinner.

"It's a principle that's well established in the hospitality industry and it's something they've been applying for some time," he said.

"We introduced the rule that you can only provide alcohol along with a substantial meal along with the first set of tiering. That remains the case under this set of tiering.

Pressed on whether the rules permit pints being served alongside sausage rolls, pork pies, or a ploughman's lunch, he said: "I'm obviously not going to get into the detail of every possible meal.

"But we've been clear: bar snacks do not count as a substantial meal but it's well established practice in the hospitality industry what does."

01:13 PM

Coronavirus rules must also apply to celebrities, says Downing St

Downing Street has stressed that coronavirus rules also apply to celebrities, after Rita Ora reportedly threw a birthday party at a restaurant and actor Laurence Fox boasted of having a "large group over to lunch".

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "It's important that everybody in society sets an example by following the rules - that is for every member of the public including celebrities."

Specifically on Ora, he said: "Throughout the pandemic we've been clear that it's vital for everyone to abide by the rules in order to suppress the virus and reduce the transmission but enforcement matter is for the police."

Asked about Fox, the spokesman said: "The Prime Minister has been clear of the need for everybody across the country to continue to abide by the rules in order to reduce the transmission of the virus, but it's up to police to decide what action to take."

01:04 PM

Santa won't wear a mask but children can't sit on his knee

Father Christmases will not have to wear masks in Santa's grottos but children will not be allowed to sit on their knees under coronavirus guidance, Downing Street has said.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "We know that meeting Father Christmas is a magical experience for children which is why he will be taking safety precautions, including ensuring that he is operating in a Covid-secure way, but it won't be required for Santa to wear a mask."

He added: "It won't be permitted for children to sit on his knee, as part of the guidance."

12:37 PM

Welsh Government to provide 'generous' package of financial support for new restrictions

The Welsh Government will "provide the most generous package of financial assistance anywhere in the UK" to those affected by new restrictions in Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford said.

Mr Drakeford said indoor visitor attractions would also have to close from Friday, while outdoor attractions could remain open.

Other national measures, such as household bubbles, will remain the same, as well as how many people can meet in public indoor or outdoors.

The restrictions will be formally reviewed by December 17 and then every three weeks.

Mr Drakeford said he was "grateful" for what the hospitality industry had done and acknowledged that the new restrictions would be "difficult" as they come at one of the busiest times of the year.

12:25 PM

Breaking: Pubs, bars and restaurants in Wales to be banned from serving alcohol

Pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes across Wales will not be able to serve alcohol and must close by 6pm from Friday, First Minister Mark Drakeford has announced.

12:25 PM

Moderna vaccine: Efficacy against severe Covid was 100pc

The Moderna coronavirus vaccine may offer very high levels of protection against Covid-19 and there appears to be no evidence efficacy is worse at older ages, primary analysis for the final phase of the study suggests.

The UK has secured seven million doses of the jab from the US firm - enough for around 3.5 million people in the UK.

Moderna said the analysis of the phase three COVE study of the vaccine candidate, called mRNA-1273, involving 30,000 participants included 196 cases of Covid-19, of which 30 cases were severe.

Vaccine efficacy against the disease was 94.1 per cent, and vaccine efficacy against severe Covid-19 was 100 per cent, the company reported.

It added that the jab is generally well tolerated with no serious safety concerns identified to date.

The study has exceeded two months of median follow-up post-vaccination.

Announcing the results today, Moderna said it plans to request emergency use authorisation from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to apply for a conditional marketing authorisation with the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and to progress with the rolling reviews, which have already been initiated with international regulatory agencies.

12:14 PM

'This is great news' - Experts react to Moderna finishing Phase III study of vaccine

Responding to the announcement from Moderna that they have concluded the Phase III study of their Covid-19 vaccine candidate, of which the UK now has seven million doses, Dr Alexander Edwards, associate professor in biomedical technology at the University of Reading hailed the news as "great".

"The more trial data that we have, the greater confidence we have that vaccines can be used to blunt the human cost of Covid-19. As the numbers of cases reported grows, confidence grows that this amazing protection will be maintained in a product that can be rolled out to protect the public.

“The most significant part of this news is that we should remember RNA vaccines are really new, and potentially have really significant advantages over some other older types of vaccines. Moderna have also recently announced improvements to the product stability, allowing normal fridge distribution for up to 30 days, and frozen storage in normal (-20) freezers, which will help with logistics."

Dr Michael Head, Senior Research Fellow in Global Health, University of Southampton, said: “These revised findings are very much in line with those previously announced by Moderna. This is essentially good news, in that there continues to be a very high level of observed effectiveness, with this effectiveness was consistent across older populations and ethnic minorities.  

"There were also no serious adverse events caused by the vaccine. We must of course reserve a little caution as we await the final published results, but for now we can retain the existing optimism that this new generation of vaccines may be deployed in the near future.”

11:58 AM

'Christmas will not be cancelled' says Bethlehem, amid little comfort or joy

Bethlehem is shaping up for a dismal Christmas: most of the inns are closed, the shepherds are likely to be under lockdown and there are few visitors from the east, or anywhere else.

Just 12 months ago, the Palestinian town was celebrating its busiest festive season for two decades, amid a sustained drop in violence and a corresponding surge in the number of pilgrims and tourists.

But hotels that were adding new wings in 2019 are now shuttered because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Nevertheless, town leaders say the traditional birthplace of Jesus will go ahead with its celebrations, aware that the world's eyes are upon it at this time of year.

"Bethlehem is going to celebrate Christmas. And Christmas will not be cancelled," said Mayor Anton Salman, as workers behind him erected a huge Christmas tree in Manger Square.

"This Christmas from Bethlehem there will be a message of hope to the whole world, that the world will recover from this pandemic."

A man walks around an empty street in Bethlehem, West Bank - Shutterstock
A man walks around an empty street in Bethlehem, West Bank - Shutterstock

11:53 AM

Novavax delays US Covid vaccine trial again

Vaccine maker Novavax Inc said today that it has pushed back the start of a US-based, late-stage trial for its experimental Covid-19 vaccine and now expects it to begin in the coming weeks instead of November.

It is the second time that Novavax, which already has a late-stage UK trial underway, has rescheduled the Phase 3 trial after first flagging an October start, hampered by issues in scaling up its manufacturing.

Novavax plans to use vaccine material produced at commercial scale for the trial in the United States and Mexico and has been working closely with the US Food and Drug Administration to greenlight the use of the vaccine made at a North Carolina plant.

The company also said it has completed enrollment for its 15,000 participant UK trial and expects interim data as soon as the first quarter of 2021.

It has previously said that the UK trial could be the basis for some global regulatory approvals.

11:50 AM

Merkel slams state premiers over Christmas hotel opening plan

Chancellor Angela Merkel railed against the plans of some regional governments to let hotels open for family visits over Christmas, warning it risked worsening the coronavirus surge sweeping Germany, participants in a party meeting said.

Infection levels rose overnight compared to the same time last week, despite the partial lockdown introduced for November and since extended and tightened in an attempt to control the spread of the virus.

Merkel and state premiers agreed last week that some partial easing of the lockdown would be allowed to allow families some low-key Christmas celebrations.

But in a video conference of her conservative party's top leadership today, Merkel said she could not understand the plans of some northern and western states, where the epidemic is less severe, to allow hotels to open to allow far-flung families to get together.

Meeting participants told Reuters she saw this as particularly risky in large cities and in regions with high infection numbers.

Despite Merkel's comments, however, the regional leaders have the final say on what happens in their states under Germany's federal structure.

11:40 AM

Hong Kong reimposes strict social distancing as fourth wave strikes

Hong Kong reimposed social distancing measures at some of their strictest levels in the city since the start of the coronavirus pandemic today, as authorities battle a fourth wave of infections.

The financial hub has maintained bans on large group gatherings for much of the year and has shuttered various industries when cases have spiked.

The measures have helped keep infections to just over 6,000 in the city of 7.5 million with 109 deaths.

But daily cases have risen above 100 in recent days, prompting authorities to usher in stricter measures similar to those seen during earlier outbreaks.

The city's 170,000 civil servants will work from home unless their job is considered essential and Lam asked private businesses to follow suit where possible.

Restrictions on public gatherings will be tightened with a maximum of two people allowed to meet, down from four, while restaurants will only be able to serve a maximum of two people per table. Schools, bars and nightclubs have already been ordered to close.

Gyms and beauty parlours can remain open but with stricter limits on people per venue or class.

11:33 AM

Almost 700,000 pushed into poverty by Covid crisis

Almost 700,000 people have fallen into poverty because of the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fall-out, analysis suggests.

There are an estimated 690,000 more people in poverty in the UK, compared to a situation where Covid-19 had not struck, according to a report from the Legatum Institute.

But Government action has halved the increase in poverty that would have otherwise occurred, the think tank said.

It estimates that a further 690,000 people have been prevented from falling into poverty by the temporary £20 a week increase in Universal Credit and working tax credits.

This uplift, and suspending the minimum income floor, has "insulated many families from the economic impacts of Covid-19", the report found.

The report provides the first estimates of poverty this winter. It uses the Social Metrics Commission's approach to measure poverty which the Government is currently using to develop and release experimental statistics

11:26 AM

RNA vaccines 'like snapchat messages that expire'

Are RNA vaccines safe? It’s a question we have heard over and over in the last few weeks after positive early data from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which both use this technology.

Prof Shane Crotty, a virologist at La Jolla Institute for Immunology in California, has pulled together a brilliant Twitter thread answering this very question.

  • "RNA is like snapchat messages that expire", he writes. The vaccines do not become a permanent part of your body and, after instructing cells to make one viral protein temporarily, they disintegrate.

  • The RNA Covid vaccines include a message telling our bodies to make just one single coronavirus protein. But "it takes 25 different coronavirus proteins to make a coronavirus, so there is no worry about the RNA making a virus."

  • If a vaccine is going to generate side effects, this usually happens within days or weeks of being given the jab. To date 70,000 doses of Covid-19 RNA vaccines have been given to people and independent safety boards - which are not controlled by pharma companies - have not reported any serious concerns. 70,000 is a big number.

11:19 AM

Extra cash for pubs and restaurants as Prime Minister tries to fend off Tory rebellion

Pubs and restaurants hit by new coronavirus restrictions will be given extra cash to help get them through Christmas, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to announce as he tries to see off a growing Tory rebellion.

The Prime Minister has decided the potential closure of tens of thousands of premises is an unacceptable price to pay for a new system that places 99 per cent of England under the toughest Tier 2 or 3 restrictions from Wednesday.

A Government source said: "There are already grants of £2,000 and £3,000 for businesses in Tiers 2 and 3, but we recognise that we need to do more." 

The new tiers system, which has been described as a death knell for thousands of pubs and restaurants, requires all premises in Tier 3 to offer only takeaway service, while those in Tier 2 can only serve alcohol with "substantial meals" – restrictions which will apply to 99 per cent of the country.  

Between 70 and 100 Tory MPs are threatening to oppose the Government when the new tiers regime is put to a vote in Parliament on Tuesday, and Mr Johnson has had to up the stakes after promises of a review of the tiers in December and vote to end them in January failed to assuage them.

Gordon Rayner and Charles Hymas have more here. 

11:12 AM

Students could be 'fast-tracked' to exclusion after 200-strong party

A university has said students could be "fast-tracked" to exclusion after police broke up a 200-strong gathering at a hall of residence.

Officers were called to a courtyard outside a student block at the University of Nottingham on Saturday evening and Nottinghamshire Police said investigations are ongoing into the incident.

The university echoed the force's words after they broke up the party, saying there was "no excuse" for flouting the coronavirus regulations.

Snapchat footage of the event, which showed students dancing to loud music, was circulated after police dispersed the crowds.

The city was forced into Tier 3 restrictions before the national lockdown as a result of having one of the highest coronavirus case rates in the country.

10:32 AM

Unused buses parked up in Tbilisi

An aerial photograph shows city buses parked up in the bus depot following the suspension of public transport services amid concerns over the spread of the Covid-19 (the novel coronavirus), in Tbilisi, on November 29, 2020. - VANO SHLAMOV/AFP  
An aerial photograph shows city buses parked up in the bus depot following the suspension of public transport services amid concerns over the spread of the Covid-19 (the novel coronavirus), in Tbilisi, on November 29, 2020. - VANO SHLAMOV/AFP

An aerial photograph shows city buses parked up in the bus depot following the suspension of public transport services amid concerns over the spread of the Covid-19 (the novel coronavirus), in Tbilisi, on November 29, 2020.

10:18 AM

Tory former chief whip welcomes extra support for pubs and restaurants

Tory former chief whip Mark Harper, chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of lockdown sceptics, welcomed the prospect of extra support for pubs and restaurants.

He said: "I welcome the fact that the Government has recognised our concerns about the enormous impact that its proposals will have on the hospitality industry and has suggested further support.

"We look forward to seeing the detail of the support proposed being set out before the vote on the restrictions tomorrow evening, along with the cost-benefit analysis we've been asking for.

"I am particularly concerned about some of the non-Covid health implications these restrictions have been having.

"This needs to be published as soon as practically possible, so that MPs have a chance to digest it ahead of tomorrow's vote."

10:07 AM

Germany's word of the year is 'corona pandemic'

The Association for the German Language announced Monday that a jury chose "Corona-Pandemie" for this year's honor. The group said that it "names the dominant issue of almost the entire year."

The runners-up were "Lockdown" and "Verschwoerungserzaehlung," or "conspiracy story." "Black Lives Matter" took fourth place.

Previous winners include "postfaktisch," a reference to the rise of "post-truth" politics, in 2016; and "Heisszeit," a play on the words for "hot" and "ice age," to reflect concern over climate change in 2018.

Germany has recorded more than one million infections of the coronavirus since the pandemic began and is now in a second partial shutdown, but has been credited with handling the disease better than some other European countries.

09:56 AM

Hong Kong tightens restrictions limiting gatherings to two people

Hong Kong tightened restrictions aimed at containing a rise in coronavirus cases on Monday, limiting gatherings to no more than two people, closing karaoke lounges and games centres and telling most civil servants to work from home.

The measures come in addition to restrictions announced on Sunday that will see all schools close for in-person learning for the rest of the year, also from Dec. 2.

Games centres, karaoke lounges and swimming pools will close from Wednesday and civil servants, excluding those that provide emergency services, will stay at home, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam told reporters.

Visitors wearing face masks are seen at Hong Kong Disneyland Resort following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Hong Kong, China November 20, 2020. - LAM YIK 
Visitors wearing face masks are seen at Hong Kong Disneyland Resort following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Hong Kong, China November 20, 2020. - LAM YIK

The Ocean Park theme park and DisneyLand will also close, said secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan.

"It will be very critical in the coming two weeks," Lam said. "I hope that Hong Kong people can remain tolerant."

Gyms and sports centres will remain open but only to a maximum of two people at a time, while massage and beauty salons will stay in operation, the government said.

Restaurant dine-in hours will be shortened to 10 p.m. from midnight, with no more than two people per table. A ban on gatherings will also be capped at two people, down from four.

Bars in Hong Kong are already shut, but some are trying to skirt the rules by placing plates and cutlery with customers under the pretence they are dining.

09:43 AM

Italy green-lights stimulus package

Italy's government said Monday it had approved a new stimulus package to shore up businesses affected by the latest round of anti-coronavirus restrictions in the eurozone's third-largest economy.

The aid package, the fourth since the pandemic gripped the country in March, is worth eight billion euros ($9.6 billion) and delays tax deadlines for companies in areas subject to harsh lockdown measures.

It also offers a 1,000-euro lump sum to workers in tourism, the arts, sports and leisure - as well as setting aside funds for the conventions sector and a boosted police presence to ensure anti-coronavirus measures are respected.

 A crane lifts a 28 meters tall fir tree in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican, 30 November 2020. The tree comes from Kocevje, Slovenia. - CLAUDIO PERI/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock 
A crane lifts a 28 meters tall fir tree in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican, 30 November 2020. The tree comes from Kocevje, Slovenia. - CLAUDIO PERI/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Italy was the first European country to be hit hard by the virus. A punishing lockdown of all its 60 million residents brought the first outbreak under control but, as elsewhere, the number of cases has risen sharply in recent months.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte was set to meet with the heads of the country's 20 regions later Monday to work out Italy's plan for the holidays, with health experts warning too much Christmas cheer would spark a third wave.

"We are a long way off crying victory," deputy health minister Pierpaolo Sileri said.

He said the number of people meeting to dine together would likely be limited to six - "and by that I don't mean six different people at every meal", he warned those looking for loopholes in mince-pie and eggnog guidelines.

The health ministry reported some 20,000 new cases Sunday and 541 deaths, bringing the cumulative toll to nearly 55,000.

09:39 AM

Move to allow 24-hour trading in the run-up to Christmas not yet been decided

George Eustice said a move to allow 24-hour trading in the run-up to Christmas has not yet been decided.

The Environment Secretary told BBC Breakfast: "We are looking at a range of measures to try and ensure that we don't get overcrowding in stores, so, while retail venues are going to open from December 2 - that's very important - we also want to ensure we can maintain social distancing, we want to avoid crowds, so a range of measures are being considered.

"I'm not sure whether there has been a decision yet on round-the-clock opening, but I know there has been some discussion around the Sunday trading hours and some easements there."

09:14 AM

George Eustice defends tier system, insisting it will help keep R rate under control

George Eustice defended the return to the tier system post the current lockdown, insisting that Tier 2 and Tier 3 measures will help keep the R rate of coronavirus transmission under control.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, the Environment Secretary said: "Tiers 2 and 3 ... fall short of a lockdown and have many freedoms outside of a lockdown but actually will enable us to hold the spread of the virus in check."

Asked why so many Conservative MPs are opposed to a return to the tier system, he said: "I think it's fair to say that there's a great deal of frustration with this pandemic and these emergency measures that we have been forced to take."

He added: "What we have to do as a Government is to persuade Parliament but also the public at large that we have a route through this."

09:01 AM

Malaria set to kill more people this year than Covid-19 in sub-Saharan Africa, experts warn

The Telegraph's Jennifer Rigby reports: 

Malaria will still kill many more people, particularly children, in sub-Saharan Africa this year than Covid-19, health leaders from the region have said, lamenting the lack of urgency in tackling the age-old disease. 

Around 400,000 people die every year from malaria globally, more than 90 per cent of them in sub-Saharan Africa. 

By comparison, so far this year, Covid-19 has killed 50,000 people across Africa, including north Africa. Closer to 20,000 have died in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the best estimates. 

The World Health Organization has suggested that the pandemic could result in between 20,000 and 100,000 additional malaria deaths, too.

Launching this year's World Malaria Report, the World Health Organisation's Africa chief, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said: "Certainly, the number of deaths will be much fewer for Covid-19 than for malaria [in this region]. The question is, why does it cause so much alarm with an acute event like Covid-19 or Ebola, and why is it so ordinary and normal that hundreds of thousands of children are dying of malaria every year? Why doesn't it raise that alarm, that response to investment?" 

Read the full article here. 

08:58 AM

Taiwan to restrict the number of Indonesian workers coming to the island

Taiwan will restrict the number of Indonesian workers coming to the island from this week, following a spike in the number of coronavirus infections among migrant workers arriving from the southeast Asian country, the government said on Monday.

Taiwan is home to more than 250,000 migrant workers from Indonesia, which has the highest tally of virus infections and deaths in southeast Asia.

While early and effective prevention measures have helped the island keep the pandemic well under control, with no local transmission for more than 200 days, it has grappled with a steady increase in the number of imported cases.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen - ANN WANG 
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen - ANN WANG

More than 70 Indonesians coming to Taiwan to work, mostly as domestic helpers, have tested positive since the start of this month, government figures show, often while still in mandatory 14-day quarantine.

Taiwan's Central Epidemic Command Centre said it would suspend entry of Indonesian workers from Dec. 4 to Dec. 17, and consider whether to resume entry from Dec. 18, but limiting the number to half of what had been expected.

Subsequent measures will depend on the situation, it added.

Twenty of the 24 new cases reported on Monday came from Indonesia, Taiwan said.

08:53 AM

Nicola Sturgeon will not have an 'indoor Christmas dinner' with her parents this year

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she will not have an "indoor Christmas dinner" with her parents this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Normally, Christmas, my husband and I would have both our families here in our own home. We will not be doing that this year.

"I've not seen my parents since July and I would dearly love to see them today and at Christmas, but I don't want to put them at risk when a vaccine is so close.

"We might go and have a family walk somewhere, but the idea ... of an indoors Christmas dinner is something we will not do this year."

08:22 AM

Doctors studying the impact of Covid-19 on unborn babies in Singapore

Doctors are studying the impact of Covid-19 on unborn babies in Singapore, where an infant delivered by an infected mother earlier this month had antibodies against the virus but did not carry the disease.

The ongoing study among the city-state's public hospitals adds to international efforts to better understand whether the infection or antibodies can be transferred during pregnancy, and if the latter offers an effective shield against the virus.

A Singaporean woman, infected with the coronavirus in March when she was pregnant, told local newspaper the Straits Times that doctors said her infant son had antibodies against the virus but was born without the infection.

"It is still unknown whether the presence of these antibodies in a newborn baby confers a degree of protection against Covid-19 infection, much less the duration of protection," said Tan Hak Koon, chairman of the Obstetrics and Gynaecology division at KK Women's and Children's Hospital.

KK is one of the hospitals involved in the study of infected pregnant women in Singapore, details of which surfaced after the case of the baby born with antibodies was made public.

The World Health Organisation says while some pregnant women have an increased risk of developing severe Covid-19, it is not yet known whether an infected pregnant woman can pass the virus to her foetus or baby during pregnancy or delivery.

08:11 AM

'People have to show discipline', warns German minister

The number of Covid-19 infections is still much too high in most German regions and people must do more to reduce their contacts to slow the spread of the disease, German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said on Monday.

With ministers due to meet later to discuss further responses to the greatest public health crisis in a century, Altmaier added that pandemic relief aid for companies cannot be extended indefinitely.

"People have to show discipline," the architect of Germany's economic response to the pandemic told Deutschlandfunk radio. "We have to do more to reduce social contacts."

Even though Germany has been in partial lockdown since the start of November, the number of new infections rose overnight compared to the same period last week to 11,169, the Robert Koch Centre for Infectious Diseases said.

08:05 AM

Wetherspoon's chief criticises Government's 'reckless decisions' on Covid-19 policies

The chairman of pub chain Wetherspoon has accused the Government of making "reckless decisions" in its Covid-19 policies.

Tim Martin said it was a "fallacy" that pubs will reopen on Wednesday when the current lockdown ends.

He accused the Government of effectively closing all pubs in England "by stealth", possibly for the first time in history.

He has written to all MPs claiming there was a lack of candour from the Government.

Mr Martin said: "A pub licence, unlike a restaurant licence, allows you to sell beer, wine and spirits 'for consumption on the premises', without a table meal - and this is now prohibited.

"The reality is that pubs in Tier 3 will be physically shut from December 2 and pubs in Tier 2, if they open at all, will be trading as restaurants, not pubs.

"There are only a tiny number of pubs in Tier 1- and in those you can't even order at the bar."

He said the Government was making "reckless decisions", with MPs only having an occasional opportunity to intervene.

The test and trace results showed there has been very little transfer of the virus in pubs and restaurants, he added.

07:48 AM

Pub-goers in Tier 2 can finish their drink, says George Eustice

Environment Secretary George Eustice has said customers at restaurants and pubs in Tier 2 will be allowed to finish their drinks. 

He told Sky News: “I think you can finish your drink provided you’re at a table and you’ve had a drink with a meal then of course you can finish your drink as well. 

“I think you can finish your drink. What you probably couldn’t do is have a small meal and then sit at the table all night ordering drink.” 

Mr Eustice’s advice contradicts a warning by the Government last week that pub-goers in Tier 2 must leave after finishing their ‘substantial meal’.

A Government official stated there should be “no lingering”, and visitors must leave “once their meal is finished”.

07:35 AM

Party of up to 200 students at Nottingham University broken up by police

Large-scale illegal parties over the weekend have resulted in fines by police in England, who say people are “blatantly ignoring the restrictions”.  

One party at Nottingham University saw up to 200 students partying in a hall of residents. 

Nottinghamshire Police said in a statement: "Officers were called to flat in Pilcher Gate, Nottingham, shortly before 10.30pm last night and issued £200 fixed penalty notices to 21 people found inside.

"Investigations are ongoing to establish the identity of the organiser, who could face additional punishment.

"Another large party was broken up shortly after midnight at an address in Corporation Oaks, St Ann's and the organiser was issued with a summons to appear in court at a later date."

Officers issued another five £200 fixed penalty notices to other gatherings. 

Detective Superintendent Andrew Gowan said: "Whilst it is heartening that the vast majority of people clearly understand and are obeying the current restrictions, it is deeply disappointing that so many others needed such an expensive reminder that the rules apply equally to everyone.

"We understand that this is a difficult time but there really are no excuses for this kind of behaviour where people are blatantly ignoring the restrictions in such large numbers."

In Birmingham, officers were pelted with bottles when they forced their way into an illegal party in an abandoned warehouse in Digbeth on Saturday. They arrested one man on suspicion of assault, and handed out 100 fines.

07:16 AM

Counties across California begin stricter restrictions as Thanksgiving travelers return home

Counties across California will begin stricter Covid-19 restrictions on Monday as cases surge statewide and Thanksgiving travelers return home.

Health officials are preparing for a wave of cases in the next two or three weeks that could be tied to holiday gatherings.

Los Angeles County will impose a lockdown calling for its 10 million residents to stay home beginning Monday.

Travelers walk through Terminal 3 at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. The US is bracing for another surge after many people around the country traveled for Thanksgiving.  - Nam Y. Huh 
Travelers walk through Terminal 3 at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. The US is bracing for another surge after many people around the country traveled for Thanksgiving. - Nam Y. Huh

The state reported 7,415 coronavirus hospitalizations on Sunday, citing the most recently available data from the previous day. More than 1,700 of those patients were in intensive care units. California's previous record was 7,170 in July.

As of Sunday, California has had nearly 1.2 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 19,000 deaths since the pandemic began. The state reported around 15,600 new cases on Saturday.

07:05 AM

Lockdown cut Covid cases nationally by a third, Imperial College London’s REACT study shows

The Telegraph's Henry Bodkin reports: 

Lockdown cut Covid cases nationally by a third, although barely changed the level of infection in some areas, new data suggests.

Imperial College London’s REACT study for England found that infections fell by more than half in the North West and North East, and were also down in Yorkshire and the Humber.

But prevalence remained high in the East Midlands and West Midlands.

More than 105,000 volunteers were tested in England for the ongoing research.

According to round seven of the study, there were 96 people infected per 10,000 between November 13 and 24, down from 132 per 10,000 between October 26 and November 2.

Read the full article here. 

06:56 AM

Six dead and 52 injured in Sri Lanka after prison riot over surge in infections

A riot by inmates over a surge of coronavirus infections at a Sri Lankan high security prison has left at least eight dead and 55 wounded, police said.

Hundreds of police surrounded the Mahara prison just outside the capital Colombo where inmates set fire to the kitchens and briefly took two warders hostage on Sunday, residents and police said.

Relatives of prison inmates plead to authorities to save their kin in the Mahara Prison Complex in the suburbs of Colombo, Sri Lanka, 30 November 2020. - Shutterstock 
Relatives of prison inmates plead to authorities to save their kin in the Mahara Prison Complex in the suburbs of Colombo, Sri Lanka, 30 November 2020. - Shutterstock

"The two officers have been rescued and hospitalised," police spokesman Ajith Rohana said.

"The situation is under control."

Six hundred officers, including 200 police commandos, were deployed around the perimeter, he added.

Prison authorities would not say however whether they had taken back the whole Mahara complex.

The bodies of eight inmates were taken to the nearby Ragama hospital, medical sources said. Another 55 wounded prisoners, some in critical condition, were admitted on Sunday night.

Inmates broke out of their cells to protest over a surge of coronavirus infections, officials said.

Sri Lankan prisons have seen weeks of unrest as the number of Covid-19 cases in jails exceeded 1,000 by Saturday. Two inmates have died of the disease.

The number of Covid-19 deaths across the country has increased six-fold this month to 116, while infections have more than doubled to 23,484.

Sri Lanka had reported 19 deaths out of 10,424 cases at the end of October.

06:46 AM

First international students arrive in Australia since virus closure

International students disembarking from a flight at Darwin Airport in Darwin - Charles Darwin University/JULES
International students disembarking from a flight at Darwin Airport in Darwin - Charles Darwin University/JULES

International students have arrived in Australia for the first time since the country shut its borders to curb coronavirus in March, with a charter flight touching down in Darwin on Monday.

Australian universities have been leaking cash due to the country's indefinite border closure, which has locked out foreign students who keep the billion-dollar sector afloat.

A plane chartered by Charles Darwin University (CDU) carrying 63 international students arrived in the northern city of Darwin as part of a pilot programme aimed at kickstarting the higher education industry.

The students - from mainland China, Hong Kong, Japan, Vietnam and Indonesia - travelled to Singapore to catch the flight and will now spend 14 days in a government quarantine facility.

The mix of new and continuing students are enrolled across a range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses including law, nursing and engineering.

In a statement, CDU said it was "an important first step in the recovery of the international education sector in Australia".

06:02 AM

Abuse of older people reaches 'unprecedented level' in pandemic

A survey has revealed that 35 per cent of people in the UK do not believe "inappropriate sexual acts directed at older people" count as abuse, and nearly 30 per cent do not view "pushing, hitting, or beating an older person" as abuse.

Almost one third also said they do not see "taking precious items from an older relative's home without asking" as abuse.

Abuse of older people is at "unprecedented levels" - with almost 2.7 million victims thought to be affected in the UK, the charity behind the survey has said.

Hourglass gave the warning after it commissioned the survey which said 22 per cent of UK residents have personal experience of abuse of an older person, or know someone who has been targeted.

The charity, which promotes safer ageing, believes attitudes regarding what counts as abuse is fuelling the problem.

Read the full story here.

05:09 AM

It's beginning to look a little more like Christmas

Guidance published on Sunday on Santa's grottos, carol singing and nativity plays mean it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas - but not quite as you know it.

Festive traditions must go ahead only within the regulations - with limited numbers allowed and social distancing required.

Aaron Spenedelow dressed up as Santa Claus speaks to the camera during a Zoom call with a family, as Santa's Grotto Live gets underway in Wembley, London - NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP
Aaron Spenedelow dressed up as Santa Claus speaks to the camera during a Zoom call with a family, as Santa's Grotto Live gets underway in Wembley, London - NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP

The latest guidance includes:

  • Door-to-door carol singers can spread their annual cheer - but only in groups of six and while keeping at least 2m away from "the threshold of any dwellings".

  • Indoor singing by professional and amateur choirs can take place according to the particular area's tier, but audiences or congregations are not to join in "any activity that can create aerosols, including singing, shouting and chanting".

  • School nativity plays will be allowed to go ahead "within existing school bubbles" and avoiding any mixing across groups. Audiences will only be allowed to attend in Tiers 1 and 2 areas - subject to "appropriate safeguards". Schools in Tier 3 are advised to use live-streaming or record the performances.

  • Santa's grottos can open in all tiers, as long as they are in venues that are allowed to open.

READ MORE: Grottos to open across all tiers but sitting on Santa's lap banned

04:13 AM

WW hit by forced closure of workshops during pandemic

Weight Watchers plans to potentially shed up to half its UK coaches. Coaches motivate members through programmes via live chats and in-person sessions.

The move comes as the brand tries to shift its business online as a result of the pandemic and amid increasing competition.

The US company – which rebranded as WW International in 2018 – could make up to 50pc of its nearly 800 UK-based coaches redundant, according to sources, although some of the departures will be voluntary.

The move comes just two years after the 57-year-old brand shifted from weight loss to overall health and wellness.

READ MORE: Weight Watchers slims down with plans to shed coaches

04:02 AM

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