Covid vaccinations in Wales and Northern Ireland to begin on Tuesday

Georgina Hayes
Matron May Parsons (right) is assessed by Victoria Parker (centre) during training in the Covid-19 Vaccination Clinic at the University Hospital in Coventry - PA
Matron May Parsons (right) is assessed by Victoria Parker (centre) during training in the Covid-19 Vaccination Clinic at the University Hospital in Coventry - PA
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter ..
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter ..

 

Covid-19 vaccinations in both Wales and Northern Ireland will begin on Tuesday, it has been confirmed.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was approved by regulators on Wednesday and supplies have already started to arrive in the UK.

In Northern Ireland, the first recipient will be one of an 800-plus team of vaccinators that will be involved in the subsequent roll-out programme, and will receive the jab at 8am on Tuesday morning.

Stocks of coronavirus vaccine arrived in Northern Ireland today, after being transported via the Irish Republic having arrived into Dublin from Holyhead overnight. 

There are 25,000 doses in the initial batch of the vaccine, and the location of the stocks is not being disclosed. 

Healthcare workers will be able to get the vaccine through the remainder of December at seven centres spread across the region.

Two of the facilities are located on hospital grounds - at the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald and Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital - and the rest in leisure centres.

The centres will operate 12 hours a day and seven days a week in an effort to vaccinate 100,000 healthcare and care home staff. Care home residents and people aged over 80 are also in the first priority vaccination group.

Health officials continue to examine ways to administer the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in care homes in Northern Ireland, as the size of batches and the extremely low temperature at which it must be stored poses logistical challenges with using the vaccine outside the major centres.


Follow the latest updates below.

07:00 PM

Today's top stories

Good evening. Here are some of the key developments from around the world today:

  • A further 504 people have died in the UK within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of today, bringing the UK total to 60,617. Meanwhile, cases increased by 16,298.

  • The reproduction number, or R value, of coronavirus transmission across the UK is now between 0.8 and 1, the Government Office for Science and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said.Last week, the R number was between 0.9 and 1.

  • Immunity certificates which exempt people from tier restrictions and social distancing are feasible, government scientists have concluded, after finding people are protected for at least three months after infection.

  • Students may still be carrying Covid even if they test negative and should exercise caution when visiting friends and family over Christmas, experts have said.

  • The Queen has held her first virtual diplomatic audience greeting foreign ambassadors in Buckingham Palace - from her Windsor Castle home.

  • Joe Biden will ask all Americans to wear a face mask for the first 100 days of his presidency, arguing the country will see a "significant reduction" in coronavirus cases as a result.

  • The World Health Organization chief said Friday that he, like several former US presidents, would be happy to have a coronavirus vaccine on camera to help promote public confidence.

  • Mexicans should cancel year-end travel plans, curb their movement and even avoid exchanging Christmas presents amid rising coronavirus case numbers in the country, the president said today.

  • Moderna Inc will be able to produce 500 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine in 2021, according to the biotechnology company’s chief executive officer Stéphane Bancel.

06:52 PM

Joe Biden says he will ask all Americans to wear a mask for his first 100 days in office

Joe Biden will ask all Americans to wear a face mask for the first 100 days of his presidency, arguing the country will see a "significant reduction" in coronavirus cases as a result.

The president-elect does not have sweeping powers to introduce a nationwide mask mandate but said he would use what authority he had to make face coverings compulsory in public places such as government buildings and on planes and buses.

The move marks a notable shift from Donald Trump, who has been reluctant to endorse the use of masks and rejected calls for mask mandates which he argued infringed on Americans' civil liberties.

With the US hitting almost 213,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, the highest total yet, Mr Biden said he would ask Americans to wear a mask as soon as he took office on January 20.

Rozina Sabur has more here. 

06:50 PM

Healthy Scots warned they may not get Covid vaccine doses until second half of 2021

Scots who are not at a high risk of dying from Covid-19 have been urged to be patient in waiting to be vaccinated, after they were warned they may not be offered inoculations until the second half of 2021.

In an attempt to clear up confusion around when all 4.4 million adult Scots will receive a vaccination, John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister, confirmed today that a spring target date applied only to priority groups, such as the elderly and frontline healthcare workers.

Jeane Freeman, the health secretary, had told parliament last month that the entire vaccination programme could be finished by the spring while Nicola Sturgeon said on Thursday that she “very much hoped” all eligible people would have received it within the timeframe.

However, Mr Swinney said today that while the government would move “as swiftly and flexibly as time allows,” the aim was to have only the first phase completed by the start of summer.

Daniel Sanderson has more here. 

06:48 PM

Pressure mounts on retailers to repay business rates relief

Lidl and Pets at Home have became the latest retailers to hand back business rates relief as pressure mounts on a raft of retailers allowed to remain open throughout the crisis to follow suit, with one MP accusing businesses of “profiteering” from the pandemic.

This week Waitrose owner the John Lewis Partnership confirmed it would not hand back the money due to lost sales at its department stores when they were forced to shut under lockdown rules.

The Co-op said it will determine its approach in January, while Iceland is yet to comment.

Alexander Stafford, a Conservative MP and member of the Business select committee, said companies that had been allowed to trade while benefitting from the crisis had a “moral duty” to repay the rates relief.

Hannah Uttley and Simon Foy have more here. 

06:45 PM

Happy Christmas, Prime Minister?

Check out the latest Bob cartoon:

Bob 05.12.2020 - Telegraph 
Bob 05.12.2020 - Telegraph

06:43 PM

WHO chief 'happy' to have Covid-19 vaccine on camera

The World Health Organization chief said Friday that he, like several former US presidents, would be happy to have a coronavirus vaccine to help promote public confidence.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed news that US president-elect Joe Biden, and former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton have said they will volunteer to get an approved vaccine on camera.

"It's a good idea... I think it's very good that they already have shown their commitment. They can influence," he told reporters.

"They are influencers."

Asked if he would do the likewise, Tedros said: "I would be happy to do the same thing. I would be happy to do it."

06:39 PM

Vaccines 'do not equal zero Covid', warns WHO

The roll-out of vaccines to fight the Covid-19 pandemic will not by itself eliminate the deadly coronavirus, the World Health Organization said today.

The WHO warned against complacency and what it said was an erroneous belief that because vaccines are on the near-horizon, the crisis is over.

"Vaccines do not equal zero Covid," WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan told a virtual news conference.

"Vaccines and vaccination will add a major, major, powerful tool to the tool kit that we have. But by themselves, they will not do the job."

06:38 PM

Italy reports 814 deaths and 24,099 new cases

Italy reported 814 coronavirus-related deaths today, against a record 993 on Thursday, and 24,099 new infections, up from 23,225 the day before, the health ministry said.

The first Western country hit by the virus, Italy has seen 58,852 Covid-19 fatalities since its outbreak emerged in February, the second highest toll in Europe after Britain. It has also registered 1.689 million cases.

Patients in hospital with the virus stood at 31,200 today, down 572 from the day before.

There were 201 new admissions to intensive care units, while the number of intensive care patients decreased by 30 to 3,567, reflecting those who died or were discharged after recovery.

Coronavirus Italy Spotlight Chart - deaths default
Coronavirus Italy Spotlight Chart - deaths default

06:34 PM

Slopes stay open, singing banned as Swiss crack down on Covid

Switzerland has said it will allow ski resorts to remain open for domestic tourism but announced some stricter measures, including banning singing to control the spread of the coronavirus.

The Alpine country has sought a different path from neighbours Italy, France and Germany which are keeping winter sports under wraps over the holiday period, while Austria has made ski holidays all but impossible.

Instead, Switzerland said resorts will need local authority approval to open after December 22, a move in line with the country's middle path of keeping the economy relatively open and relying on the public to comply with anti-Covid-19 measures.

Enclosed transport, including ski lifts, trains and gondolas, will be limited to two-thirds capacity from December 9, the government said.

Resorts which do not comply with social distancing regulations could have their permits removed, it said.

06:32 PM

Portugal approves extension of Covid-19 emergency as Christmas approaches

Portugal's parliament has approved a 15-day extension of a state of emergency to December 23 under a decree that envisages a further extension into January, as the government prepared measures to limit Covid-19 contagion during the holiday season.

The nationwide state of emergency to tackle the second wave of the virus initially came into force on November 9 and will now likely stay in place at least until January 7.

Parliament can only authorise extensions of 15 days, but in his decree, which lawmakers approved today, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa had made clear the extension until January was on the cards.

That, he said, was necessary to allow the government to "adopt needed rules to contain the spread of Covid-19 and announce measures for Christmas and New Year periods".

The current state of emergency includes a night-time curfew and a half-day lockdown on weekend days across most of the country. A domestic travel ban also came into force around two public holidays, on December 1 and December 8, raising the prospects of a similar ban on Christmas.

Government ministers will meet this evening to agree on new rules, which will be announced on Saturday.

06:28 PM

Mexicans should cancel festive plans amid rising cases, president warns

Mexicans should cancel year-end travel plans, curb their movement and even avoid exchanging Christmas presents amid rising coronavirus case numbers in the country, the president said today.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador also announced increasing capacity for more hospital beds as well as extra medical equipment and staff to help in the fight to curb the pandemic.

"If we don't have anything truly important to do, let's not go out on the street," he told reporters at his daily morning press conference.

The leftist president, outlining a nine-point plan, said the suggested steps to limit the spread of the virus were especially important for residents of metro Mexico City, the densely-packed capital with a population of over 20 million.

Case numbers have been rising noticeably over the past two weeks across the country, with some of the highest figures so far for confirmed infections.

06:26 PM

WHO hopes to have half a billion vaccine doses through COVAX facility in Q1 2021

The World Health Organization hopes to have half a billion doses of Covid-19 vaccine available for distribution by the global COVAX facility in the first quarter of 2021, its chief scientist said today.

"The goal is to get at least 2 billion doses by end of 2021 which will be enough to vaccinate 20 pct of populations of countries that are part of COVAX," said Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan.

"That is enough, just, to bring to an end the acute phase of pandemic," she said.

06:24 PM

Mexico City mayor asks businesses to close offices and work from home amid coronavirus resurgence

The mayor of Mexico City has asked businesses in the capital to temporarily close their offices and resume work-from-home schemes amid a resurgence of coronavirus cases in the city.

Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum also told a press conference that the local government in the city would scale back its operations to a minimum due to the coronavirus risk. 

06:23 PM

Austria starts mass coronavirus tests in run-up to Christmas

Three of Austria's nine provinces have kicked off a national effort to test as much of the population as possible before Christmas, to limit infections when families meet.

Apparently inspired by a similar but more coercive effort in neighbouring Slovakia, conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced the voluntary "mass testing" plan three weeks ago.

With help from the armed forces, extra testing centres have been set up with the aim of finding undetected cases before generations mix over the holidays. Vienna and the western, Alpine provinces of Tyrol and Vorarlberg began their additional testing today.

"You get an appointment, you have to stand in line for a bit. It looks like there's an awful lot of people and you'll have to wait for hours but the whole thing is over in just under 45 minutes, including the result," said Sven Hartberger, 62, emerging from the Stadthalle, a large concert hall in Vienna.

"I can only say hats off. Very well organised. It's simply impressive that something like this can be created from scratch," he added.

06:18 PM

Christmas hugs for Granny? Here's what the science says about the risk

As Christmas approaches, many grandparents will be anticipating seeing their grandchildren for the first time in several months as restrictions are relaxed to allow families to come together.

But although hugging will be allowed under the five-day festive armistice, is it safe to be close to youngsters? 

Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, has warned that just because physical contact between people from three different households will be legal this Christmas, that does not mean it is safe. 

"Would I encourage someone to hug and kiss their elderly relatives?" he said last month. "No I would not… if you want them to survive to be hugged again."

So what are the dangers of being around children this Christmas? Sarah Knapton has all you need to know about the science here. 

06:13 PM

More than half of Spaniards unwilling to take Covid vaccine immediately, survey finds

More than half of Spaniards are not willing to get Covid-19 vaccine shots as soon as they are available, a survey showed today as the government announced a target of 15-20 million vaccinations by mid-2021.

Now several vaccines are in the works, one of the challenges for governments will be to convince a big enough share of their population to get vaccinated.

Even in Spain, where vaccination rates are usually high, this will be an issue, as shown by the official poll by the Centre for Sociological Studies (CIS).

About a third of the population would be ready to take the Covid-19 vaccine immediately, while 55.2 per cent of them would rather wait to see any effects on others, the poll carried out on November 23-26 of 2,130 people showed.

Out of the 55.2 per cent of people who would rather wait, almost 60 per cent would change their mind if their doctor recommended them to take it because they were at risk or putting their family members at risk, the survey showed.

Only 8.4 per cent of Spaniards would refuse to take any sort of vaccine.

Watch our Q&A with a vaccine expert here:

06:11 PM

Moderna CEO confident of producing 500 million vaccine doses in 2021

Moderna Inc will be able to produce 500 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine in 2021, according to the biotechnology company’s chief executive officer Stéphane Bancel.

“For 500 million, I am very comfortable we are gonna get there (2021),” Bancel said, while speaking at the Nasdaq Investor Conference today.

He added that the company will be able to maintain a premium price of $37 for its vaccine doses. “For big volume supplies like to the US government we can maintain $25 for doses”

06:08 PM

What areas in England have the highest case rates?

Here is today's update of the rolling seven-day rate of new cases of Covid-19 for every local authority area in England.

The figures, for the seven days to November 30, are based on tests carried out in laboratories (pillar one of the Government's testing programme) and in the wider community (pillar two). The rate is expressed as the number of new cases per 100,000 people.

A majority of areas in England (250 out of 315) have seen a fall in case rates.

Medway in Kent has the highest rate in England, with 1,620 new cases recorded in the seven days to November 30 - the equivalent of 581.6 cases per 100,000 people.

This is up from 449.5 in the seven days to November 23.

Swale - also in Kent - has the second highest rate, up very slightly from 561.7 to 567.7, with 852 new cases.

Boston in Lincolnshire is in third place, where the rate has risen from 453.2 to 503.0, with 353 new cases.

After Medway, the areas with the biggest week-on-week jumps are Maidstone (up from 298.0 to 375.4, with 645 new cases); Basildon (up from 271.9 to 333.9, with 625 new cases); and Ashford (up from 130.7 to 184.6, with 240 new cases).

UK daily cases over time with postcode look up
UK daily cases over time with postcode look up

06:04 PM

The swimming pools in limbo after lockdown

For more than 20 years, John Robinson, 75, and his wife have been going to their local swimming pool in Fleetwood, Lancashire, twice a week for a 7am swim. They are not the only early birds – there are around 25 swimmers, all of a similar age, who like to go early. “It’s like a club,” Robinson tells me, adding that he has received Christmas cards from some of the people he has met at the leisure centre.

Swimming has become part of Robinson’s weekly ritual, and something he looks forward to. “It gets you up in the morning and you get something to do – you meet other people and you’re exercising at the same time,” he explains. It keeps boredom at bay. “Apart from that, we’re just at home – we go shopping once a week and then we’re at home. So it’s like a day out, with exercise and everything we need, really.”

But since March, Robinson and the other members of the Fleetwood community haven’t been able to go swimming at their local YMCA, as the pool hasn’t reopened since the pandemic began. 

This is not an isolated case. Despite being given the green light to reopen following the lift of the second lockdown, 213 council-owned swimming pools have remained closed across the country, according to a new report by Swim England. Swindon, Gateshead, the Wirral, Trafford and various areas in the North East and North West have been particularly affected.

Katie Russell has more here. 

05:57 PM

Immunity certificates for Covid-19 'likely to be possible', say scientists

Immunity certificates which exempt people from tier restrictions and social distancing are feasible, government scientists have concluded, after finding people are protected for at least three months after infection.

Nadhim Zahawi, the new vaccine minister has said that the government is ‘looking at the technology’ to allow some kind of ‘vaccine passport’ and hinted that some venues would not allow people in without confirmation they had been immunised. 

Michael Gove said there were no plans to introduce immunity certificates but a new report released today suggests that scientists are broadly supportive of the idea, believing there is now enough evidence to show that people are protected for several months.

Sarah Knapton has more here. 

05:32 PM

In pictures: Covid vaccination clinic in Coventry

Matron May Parsons (right) is assessed by Victoria Parker during training in the Covid-19 Vaccination Clinic at the University Hospital in Coventry - PA
Matron May Parsons (right) is assessed by Victoria Parker during training in the Covid-19 Vaccination Clinic at the University Hospital in Coventry - PA
Vaccinations across the United Kingdom are expected to start Tuesday - PA
Vaccinations across the United Kingdom are expected to start Tuesday - PA

05:25 PM

First Northern Ireland vaccine recipient will get jab Tuesday morning

The first recipient of the coronavirus vaccine in Northern Ireland will get the jab on Tuesday morning.

The Pfizer/BioNTech dose will be administered at 8am at a mass vaccination centre at the Royal Victoria Hospital, PA News understands.

A Department of Health spokesman confirmed that the rollout of the vaccine would take place from Tuesday morning.

The recipient will be one of an 800-plus team of vaccinators that will be involved in the subsequent roll-out programme.

Stocks of coronavirus vaccine arrived in Northern Ireland today.

05:20 PM

WHO boss concerned by "growing perception" Covid-19 pandemic is over

The World Health Organisation is concerned progress on vaccines has led to a growing perception that the pandemic has come to an end, director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said today.

“Progress on vaccines gives us all a lift and we can now start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, WHO is concerned that there is a growing perception that the Covid-19 pandemic is over,” he said.

Tedros said the pandemic still had a long way to run and that decisions made by citizens and governments would determine its course in the short run and when the pandemic would ultimately end.

“We know it’s been a hard year and people are tired, but in hospitals that are running at or over capacity it’s the hardest it can possibly be,” he said.

“The truth is that at present, many places are witnessing very high transmission of the Covid-19 virus, which is putting enormous pressure on hospitals, intensive care units and health workers.”

05:11 PM

Primark enjoys 'phenomenal' trading after reopening

The owner of Primark said the sales hit from the autumn lockdown was worse than expected but added that trading had been "phenomenal" since stores reopened in recent weeks. 

Associated British Foods revealed that Primark took a £430m hit from the closure of its stores during lockdowns in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, worse than the £375m slump it forecast at the beginning of November.

John Bason, ABF's finance chief, said this was because it was forced to shut more stores during the period than it had anticipated.

Primark was hit particularly hard by a second lockdown as it does not have an online business to allow it to trade during shutdowns. However, operating costs from the closures were reduced by a quarter during the period.

ABF reported strong trading at Primark following the opening of its stores in England, Ireland and France in recent weeks.

Simon Foy has more here. 

05:04 PM

Coronavirus around the world, in pictures

Sheila and Philip Herbert, whose house is in Tier 2 lockdown, while their garden is in Tier 3, near Leeds. The strange anomaly has risen because their home in Otley, West Yorks., is divided between Leeds City Council and Harrogate Borough Council - Alex Cousins / SWNS
Sheila and Philip Herbert, whose house is in Tier 2 lockdown, while their garden is in Tier 3, near Leeds. The strange anomaly has risen because their home in Otley, West Yorks., is divided between Leeds City Council and Harrogate Borough Council - Alex Cousins / SWNS
Sinterklaas is being tested for the coronavirus in the XL corona test street at Schiphol, the Netherlands - Shutterstock
Sinterklaas is being tested for the coronavirus in the XL corona test street at Schiphol, the Netherlands - Shutterstock
Medical staff are pictured inside a clinic set by Mercy Corps for Ethiopian refugees who fled the Tigray conflict, at Um Raquba reception camp in Sudan's eastern Gedaref state - AFP
Medical staff are pictured inside a clinic set by Mercy Corps for Ethiopian refugees who fled the Tigray conflict, at Um Raquba reception camp in Sudan's eastern Gedaref state - AFP
Soldiers at the U.S. Army Air Assault School conduct training while adhering to coronavirus recommendations, at Fort Campbell, Kentucky - Reuters
Soldiers at the U.S. Army Air Assault School conduct training while adhering to coronavirus recommendations, at Fort Campbell, Kentucky - Reuters
Wreaths are placed on graves next to newly-opened graves, in a designated cemetery area for patients who died from the coronavirus in Thessaloniki, Greece - Reuters
Wreaths are placed on graves next to newly-opened graves, in a designated cemetery area for patients who died from the coronavirus in Thessaloniki, Greece - Reuters

04:56 PM

UK: Deaths up by 504 with 16,298 further cases

A further 504 people have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of today, bringing the UK total to 60,617.

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 76,000 deaths involving Covid-19 in the UK.

The Government also said that, as of 9am this morning, there had been a further 16,298 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK.

It brings the total number of cases in the UK to 1,690,432.

Coronavirus UK Spotlight Chart - deaths default
Coronavirus UK Spotlight Chart - deaths default

04:49 PM

'Rollercoaster year' for property market ends with Scottish housing boom

House prices in Scotland have risen at a faster rate than the other UK nations since lockdown began, after a "rollercoaster year" ended with a property market boom.

Data shows that average house prices north of the border rose by 6.8 per cent between March and September, increasing to £161,510.

Meanwhile, in England the rise over the same period was 4.9 per cent, following by Wales and Northern Ireland, where prices rose by 1.9 per cent and 1.6 per cent respectively.

Agents said that the surge was the result of considerable pent-up demand in the property market, while there has also been an increase in the number of people looking to swap the city for rural locations with more outdoor space.

Daniel Sanderson has more here. 

04:40 PM

'You were too fast, Mette': Denmark's mink farmers grieve end of industry after mass cull

Peter Hindbo takes a mink pelt from his 4-year-old grandson, turns it fur-side out with a vacuum tube, and tosses it into a barrel of salt and sawdust for a final tumbling.

Outside, his mink sheds on the family's traditional Danish courtyard farm in central Jutland are now completely empty. Just a single rack of chilled carcasses remains to be skinned after a nationwide cull forced him to wipe out his own farm stock of 25,000 animals.

“I think we'll be finished in three hours,” he says. “And then it's all over. It's so sad.”

Whatever you think about the ethics of the fur industry, it's difficult not to feel sympathy for a man forced to destroy a family business he has spent the last 35 years building up - growing it from 400 to 3,600 breeding females.

Read the full report from Richard Orange in Jordrup here. 

Since Denmark's government at the start of last month gave the country's 1,500 fur farmers just 12 days to cull the country's entire population of 17 million mink in an attempt to eradicate a new vaccine-resistant Covid-19 mutation, a world-leading industry has been destroyed almost overnight - Richard Orange
Since Denmark's government at the start of last month gave the country's 1,500 fur farmers just 12 days to cull the country's entire population of 17 million mink in an attempt to eradicate a new vaccine-resistant Covid-19 mutation, a world-leading industry has been destroyed almost overnight - Richard Orange

04:35 PM

Students urged to be careful when visiting relatives amid concerns over mass Covid testing

Students may still be carrying Covid even if they test negative and should exercise caution when visiting friends and family over Christmas, experts have said.

Universities, using lateral flow devices which give a quick result, have begun mass testing students ahead of their return home.

But figures released by the Government this week showed that mass testing with similar devices in Liverpool had missed positive cases 50 per cent of the time, meaning some students will think they are virus-free when they are actually infected. 

Dr Daniel Howdon, a researcher in health economics at the University of Leeds, said it was "questionable" whether mass testing should continue.

Sarah Knapton has more ​here. 

04:30 PM

33 more deaths in Wales and 41 more deaths in Scotland

There have been a further 1,471 cases of coronavirus in Wales, while Public Health Wales has also reported another 33 deaths.

In Scotland there have been 966 further cases and 41 more deaths of patients who tested positive for the virus.

04:29 PM

Warner Bros blockbuster films to be released to streaming service

Warner Bros blockbuster films to be released to streaming service

Warner Bros will release all of its 2021 films - including blockbusters such as Dune, Matrix 4 and The Suicide Squad -  on its HBO Max streaming service at the same time as in cinemas in the US, it has been announced.

The company said the one-year plan was a response to the "unprecedented times" of the coronavirus crisis.

HBO Max, which is not yet available in the UK, is a rival to platforms including Netflix and Disney+, and Thursday's news highlights how vital Hollywood studios now view the streaming business.

04:27 PM

'Long way from stamping out the disease quite yet': Experts react to ONS data

Dr Simon Clarke, Associate Professor in Cellular Microbiology, University of Reading, said: “The latest data from the ONS show that while the effects of lockdown 2.0 has been to reduce infection rates, we are a long way from stamping out the disease quite yet.

“Those who argued against the stricter post-lockdown tiers, including many politicians, should look hard at this data and realise what it means. It means that, at the end of November, there were still half a million people in the UK with coronavirus. It meant that 1 in 50 secondary school children was carrying the disease. And it showed that some parts of the country still had stubbornly high infection and death rates.

“Scientists like me don't want to come across as prophets of doom. But people should remember that while there is good news about vaccines and infection rates reducing, hundreds of people are still dying daily, and the virus is far from reaching the lower levels it reached as a result of the first lockdown."

Prof James Naismith FRS FMedSci, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute, and University of Oxford, said: "We are currently on the downward slope of the second wave. There can be no celebration, too many have died; but we have managed the second wave somewhat better than the first. The lower we get the daily number of infections, the less risk the Christmas relaxation poses.

“It is important for us to think about what will happen to the numbers over Christmas."

04:24 PM

Bahrain becomes second country to approve Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine

Bahrain has granted emergency use authorisation for the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, becoming the second country after the UK to approve it.

The Gulf Arab state had also approved Sinopharm’s Covid-19 vaccine in November for use by frontline workers.

“The approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will add a further important layer to the Kingdom’s national Covid-19 response,” Dr. Mariam Al Jalahma, CEO of Bahrain’s National Health Regulatory Authority said in a statement.

04:17 PM

Philippine police threaten to cane social distancing rule flouters

Philippine police have threatened to cane people who violate social distancing protocols as the Southeast Asian nation fights the spread of the coronavirus during the festive season.

The Philippines celebrates one of the world’s longest Christmas seasons, starting as early as September, and crowds have started to flock to sprawling malls and shopping centres despite the pandemic.

Police general Cesar Binag, commander of the coronavirus task force, told a news conference that police and soldiers would patrol in public areas in the capital Manila, the hotspot of Covid-19 cases, carrying one meter rattan sticks to measure distancing.

“It can be used to cane the hardheaded,” Binag said, adding that the “social distancing patrols” would focus on high-traffic areas such as transport hubs and public markets.

The plan will likely raise eyebrows with human rights advocates who have criticised the government’s militaristic approach to the pandemic.

04:12 PM

KLM to offer 'Covid-tested- flights from Atlanta to Amsterdam

KLM, the Dutch arm of Air France-KLM, said on Friday it would begin offering a “Covid-19 tested” flight from Atlanta to Amsterdam together with Delta four times a week from December 15 to increase customer confidence in flying amid the pandemic.

Under the plan, passengers will be tested for the virus five days before departure. KLM said in a statement: "Only passengers with negative test results will be accepted on-board.

"The flights will initially run for three weeks and if successful, the airlines hope to extend the program to other markets."

After testing negative again upon arrival at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, US and European Union passengers travelling from Atlanta will be able to skip a five-day quarantine in the Netherlands.

Alitalia announced a similar plan for flights from Rome to New York earlier today.

04:06 PM

Welsh residents urged to avoid travel to England to shop or drink

People in Wales should not travel to England to do their Christmas shopping or for a drink in a pub, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said.

The Welsh Labour leader's plea today came as tougher restrictions on the hospitality sector came in across Wales, with pubs, bars and restaurants unable to sell alcohol and forced to close at 6pm.

But a relaxing of travel restrictions in Wales means people will be able to go between the country and areas of England under Tier 1 and Tier 2.

Asked whether people can go Christmas shopping in border areas such as Hereford or Oswestry, which are in Tier 2, Mr Drakeford told the Welsh Government's press briefing on Friday: "The law in Wales will not prevent people from going there.

"The advice from the Welsh Government is not to do it, because the further you travel and the more people you mix with elsewhere, the greater the risk you pose.

"This is a year to go Christmas shopping in Wales, and close to home. Because in that way you can both celebrate Christmas, and you can do it without posing a risk to yourself and others."

04:04 PM

'Heroism now is keeping going': on the frontline of the Covid-19 second wave in Liverpool

There was a couple in the hospital, both in their 80s.

Alone in their beds, and suffering badly with Covid-19, they were both wearing masks pumping high-flow oxygen into their lungs to help them breathe.

But they were on different wards. 

The husband and wife wanted to see each other - a difficult ask during a pandemic, with patients isolated in a hospital already stretched to its limits. 

But it seemed important, so the staff at Royal Liverpool University Hospital made the necessary arrangements to control infection and keep patients safe, and wheeled the wife over to the husband.  

Jennifer Rigby has the full report here. 

04:02 PM

Psychologist dies after 'prolonged battle' with Covid

Colleagues have paid tribute to a "kind-hearted" clinical psychologist who died after contracting Covid-19, the BBC reports.

Dr Kalli Mantala-Bozos, 50, who has four children, worked at the Laura Mitchell Health and Wellbeing Centre in Halifax, Calderdale, and died on 26 November. 

Dr Mantala-Bozos, who was also a well-known figure in Leeds' Greek Orthodox Community, was part of Calderdale's core mental health team and a member of its bereavement development group.

She also helped to develop and deliver palliative care support as well as bereavement education and training.

"Kalli was a genuine, kind-hearted individual who made time to build relationships, bring a smile to others' faces, and who put her all into her clinical work while being family-oriented and a cornerstone of her community," a colleague said.

Rob Webster, chief executive of the trust, said: "She spent her life helping people in their time of need, both in and out of work, and the loss to the communities she lived in and served will be felt deeply.

"Kalli was an inspiration and will be very much missed by us all."

A charity fundraising campaign set up by the Greek Orthodox Community of Leeds in her memory has raised £9,600 in a week.

South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust said a therapy room would be dedicated to her memory.

03:53 PM

Vaccine uptake can be boosted by social influences, says WHO

The WHO Technical Advisory Group (TAG) on Behavioural Insights and Sciences for Health has published a report on “Behavioural considerations for Acceptance and Uptake of COVID-19 Vaccines”.

The report concludes that vaccine acceptance and uptake can be increased by:

  • Creating an enabling environment – making vaccination easy, quick and affordable, in all relevant respects.

  • Harnessing social influences – especially from people who are particularly trusted by and identified with members of relevant communities.

  • Increasing motivation – through open and transparent dialogue and communication about uncertainty and risks, including around the safety and benefits of vaccination.

03:46 PM

UNICEF reminds the world that ‘the light at the end of the tunnel needs to shine for all’

Amid positive vaccine news, UNICEF has reminded the world that the "guiding principle" should be that "the light at the end of the tunnel needs to shine for all", with no country being pushed to the back of the line for jabs.

A statement from the charity read: "This is why UNICEF has enthusiastically joined the Advance Market Commitment of the COVAX Facility to allow low- and lower-middle income countries access to Covid-19 vaccines.

"It is the best way to make sure that, as vaccines become available, no country is pushed to the back of the line. This would not only be fundamentally unfair, it would be unwise. The whole world will remain vulnerable to the virus until countries with the weakest health systems are protected from it as well.

“In order for the COVAX Facility to work and guarantee equitable and affordable access to low- and lower-middle income countries, we need a global commitment to support and capitalize it, but also to finance the delivery of vaccines and associated supplies such as syringes and safety boxes.

"Governments must work together to ensure that Covid-19 vaccines are affordable and accessible to all countries. High-income countries should invest financially in the Advance Market Commitment and in UNICEF’s Covid-19 vaccine delivery efforts. All countries should take a strong stand against export controls on – and unnecessary stockpiling of – commodities for the Covid-19 response."

03:33 PM

Vaccinations in Wales to begin on Tuesday

Frontline NHS and social care staff in Wales will receive the country's first coronavirus vaccine from Tuesday, the First Minister has said.

Mark Drakeford said he hoped supplies of the Pfizer vaccine marked a "turning point in the pandemic" that would put Wales "on what is going to be a long path back to normality".

The announcement came on the same day Wales' new restrictions on its hospitality sector came into force, which will see pubs, bars and restaurants forced to offer takeaway only after 6pm and to stop selling alcohol entirely.

Welsh Labour leader Mr Drakeford told Friday's Welsh Government press briefing that the first vaccine supplies would arrive "in the next couple of days" and that trained staff were ready to administer it.

"I'm pleased to be able to say this afternoon that we are planning to begin vaccinating people from Tuesday next week," he said.

03:29 PM

Care bosses express concerns over family visits

Care home bosses have raised concerns that government plans to allow relatives to visit loved ones have not considered the extra precautions staff will have to take.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that more than a million rapid testing kits will be distributed so that visitors can be checked for Covid-19 before being allowed in to see residents.

But care providers fear this could compromise infection control and put added stress on homes which are already receiving calls from relatives asking when they can visit.

Staff have not received any training on using the tests and bosses are concerned about what they say is a hastily thought-out plan.

And they claim some local authorities are telling homes to refuse visits rather than offering them help on managing the situation.

Keith Gray, from Care North East, which represents hundreds of homes across the region, said: "We know how difficult it has been for people not to be able to see their relatives in the past month.

"And, while we understand the sentiment behind this decision, the Government has not taken into account the practicalities."

03:17 PM

First Covid jab in Northern Ireland will be given on Tuesday

The first person to receive the Covid-19 vaccine in Northern Ireland will be given the jab at 8am on Tuesday next week, the PA news agency understands.

The recipient will be a vaccinator who will also be involved in administering the vaccination rollout.

03:14 PM

Queen holds first virtual diplomatic audience

The Queen has held her first virtual diplomatic audience greeting foreign ambassadors in Buckingham Palace - from her Windsor Castle home.

Following tradition three ambassadors presented their credentials to the monarch but via a video link, staged in line with medical advice.

The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh spent much of the second lockdown in England at their Berkshire residence and announced earlier this week they will remain at Windsor Castle for Christmas, forgoing the annual royal gathering at Sandringham.

A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said: "Diplomatic audiences are a long standing and traditional part of the monarch's role and the hope has always been to restart them as soon as possible.

"A variety of options were considered in line with current guidelines to reintroduce diplomatic audiences while retaining some of the long-established ceremonial elements, such as the use of Buckingham Palace."

She added: "At this time, in line with medical advice, Her Majesty will conduct diplomatic audiences virtually from Windsor Castle."

03:07 PM

Covid-19 vaccines Q&A: An expert answers your Pfizer, Moderna and Oxford questions

With the roll-out of coronavirus vaccines set to begin, we enlisted an expert to address your questions and concerns relating to the inoculations. 

Dr Michael Fitzpatrick is a GP and expert on vaccines - and has spent the last six months working in a Covid Hot Hub in Hackney.

Watch the video above to see him address questions over side effects, trust in the vaccines, whether it could alter your DNA, and many more.

02:58 PM

Sweden to prioritise care home residents and staff in vaccination drive

Sweden is to prioritise around 600,000 elderly nursing home residents as well as staff and residents’ relatives for Covid-19 vaccines, the government has said.

The country has signed up to receive five of the six vaccines to be purchased through the European Union’s common procurement scheme; the first, from Pfizer and BioNTech’s, could be approved by the European Medicines Agency in late December.

“First, we need to protect the most vulnerable, then vaccinate the whole population so the pandemic slows and then is stopped,” Johan Carlson, head of the public health agency, told a news conference on Friday.

Sweden has imposed some of the least stringent social and economic restrictions in western Europe to tackle the pandemic. Its infection rate and mortality rate are substantially higher than those of its Nordic neighbours, although lower than those of several European countries that opted for lockdowns.

A large percentage of deaths in Sweden have occurred at nursing homes, and authorities have been heavily criticised for failing to protect the most vulnerable.

02:46 PM

Fauci warns US hasn't yet seen post-Thanksgiving coronavirus peak

Dr Antony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert, has delivered a bleak warning that the country has not yet seen the post-Thanksgiving coronavirus peak amid record-breaking numbers of cases.

“It is likely we’ll see more of a surge as we get two or three weeks past the Thanksgiving holiday [on 26 November]...the thing that concerns me is that abuts right on the Christmas holiday as people start to travel and shop and congregate,” he told NBC News’ Today.

“We’re in a very precarious situation right now. There is light at the end of the tunnel with a vaccine, but we’re not there yet.”

US Covid infections have surpassed 14 million, with a record 195,695 new cases recorded on Wednesday. The number of people in hospital also passed 100,000 for the first time, a figure that has doubled since early November, while more than 274,000 people have died from the virus in the country.

Coronavirus USA Spotlight Chart - cases default
Coronavirus USA Spotlight Chart - cases default

02:40 PM

Coronavirus around the world, in pictures

People living on one side of the famous landmark (Roseberry Topping in North Yorkshire) are being warned not to climb it because it is split in two by the coronavirus tier restrictions - Alan Cook / SWNS.com
People living on one side of the famous landmark (Roseberry Topping in North Yorkshire) are being warned not to climb it because it is split in two by the coronavirus tier restrictions - Alan Cook / SWNS.com
Pub goers headed out for one last knees-up as Wales is set to go dry for the rest of 2020 - Wales News Service
Pub goers headed out for one last knees-up as Wales is set to go dry for the rest of 2020 - Wales News Service
A boy plays smoke from fumigation being carried out by a municipal worker at a residential area in Ahmedabad, India - AP
A boy plays smoke from fumigation being carried out by a municipal worker at a residential area in Ahmedabad, India - AP
Somerset house re-opening with spectacular 40ft christmas tree ahead of the site's public re-opening yesterday - Geoff Pugh
Somerset house re-opening with spectacular 40ft christmas tree ahead of the site's public re-opening yesterday - Geoff Pugh
A member of the Austrian armed forces provides a rapid antigen coronavirus test during a nationwide mass testing at the Stadthalle event hall in Vienna, Austria, as the country begins a massive nationwide operation to provide complimentary voluntary antigen testing - Shutterstock
A member of the Austrian armed forces provides a rapid antigen coronavirus test during a nationwide mass testing at the Stadthalle event hall in Vienna, Austria, as the country begins a massive nationwide operation to provide complimentary voluntary antigen testing - Shutterstock
Ultra Orthodox Jews attend a mass funeral for Rabbi Aharon David Hadash, the spiritual leader of Jerusalem's Mir Yeshiva, one of the largest Jewish seminary in Israel, amid the coronavirus restrictions in Jerusalem - Reuters
Ultra Orthodox Jews attend a mass funeral for Rabbi Aharon David Hadash, the spiritual leader of Jerusalem's Mir Yeshiva, one of the largest Jewish seminary in Israel, amid the coronavirus restrictions in Jerusalem - Reuters

02:25 PM

Stocks of Pfizer vaccine arrive in Northern Ireland

Stocks of coronavirus vaccine have arrived in Northern Ireland ahead of the rollout of the jabs next week.

The initial batch of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine were transported overnight from England.

It has been taken to a central storage facility, the location of which is not being disclosed.

The delivery means Northern Ireland remains on track to start administering the vaccine to healthcare workers next week.

Healthcare workers across the region will be able to get the vaccine through the remainder of December at seven centres spread across the region.

02:17 PM

Marked difference in behaviour of the sexes during the Covid pandemic, fresh ONS data shows

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has today published its weekly update on coronavirus and its social impacts on people in England and Wales and for the first time examined the difference between men and women.

Government data suggests women are more concerned about keeping in touch with friends, while men are preoccupied with takeaway food and pints.

The data, which covers the period from 15 to 29 November, found that women were less likely than men to have left home to collect takeaway food or drinks from a restaurant, bar or pub (10 per cent of women and 19 per cent of men). 

However, researchers also found that women were more likely than men to have done so in order to meet up with people in a public place (17 per cent of women and 12 per cent of men), take children or young people to school or college (21 per cent of women and 14 per cent of men) or to go shopping for food and medicine (80 per cent of women and 74 per cent of men).

Gabriella Swerling has more here. 

02:05 PM

People in Wales can travel into Tier 1 and 2 areas of England, Drakeford confirms

People in Wales can legally travel into Tier 1 and Tier 2 areas of England where pubs, bars and restaurants remain open and are serving alcohol, First Minister Mark Drakeford has confirmed.

"The law would not require people in Wales not to travel to a Level 2, or Tier 2, area outside Wales," Mr Drakeford said.

"The advice of the Welsh Government, the clear unambiguous advice to people, is not to do it because to do it is to add to the risks that we are already facing and those risks are already driving coronavirus rates rapidly upwards in Wales.

"So, please, don't do it. It is not good for you. It is not good for anybody you know, it is not good for the rest of the population of Wales.

"I think there is a very big difference myself in the idea of people getting in their cars, travelling long distances to do that rather than simply being able to take advantage of hospitality open on your doorstep.

"So, that's the position. Legally, it's not preventable but in every other way, it's not to be advised."

01:52 PM

UK: Number of infections shrinking by 1-3pc every day

The UK growth rate, which estimates how quickly the number of infections is changing day by day, is between minus 3 per cent and minus 1 per cent for the UK as a whole.

It means the number of new infections is shrinking by between 1 per cent and 3 per cent every day.

Estimates for R and growth rates are shown as a range and the true values are likely to lie within this range, according to the experts.

Sage also said the figures published today more accurately represent the average situation over the past few weeks rather than the present situation.

01:48 PM

UK R number now between 0.8 and 1

The reproduction number, or R value, of coronavirus transmission across the UK is now between 0.8 and 1, the Government Office for Science and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said.

Last week, the R number was between 0.9 and 1.

R represents the average number of people each Covid-19 positive person goes on to infect.

When the figure is above 1, an outbreak can grow exponentially.

An R number between 0.8 and 1 means that on average every 10 people infected will infect between 8 and 10 other people .

01:39 PM

Global virus cases top 65 million

Global coronavirus infections passed 65 million today as countries doubled down on restrictions, even as plans to roll out vaccines gathered pace.

Joe Biden said he would ask Americans to wear masks for 100 days when he takes over as president of the United States, the world's worst-hit country from a pandemic that has now killed more than 1.5 million people across the planet.

"I'm going to ask the public for 100 days to mask. Just 100 days to mask - not forever," Biden told CNN on Thursday.

The US is among the countries posting all-time highs in daily deaths this week along with Italy, which is undergoing a dramatic resurgence after it largely tamped down its earlier outbreak by enforcing a strict lockdown in the spring.

The alarming spikes come after more positive news on vaccine development, with US-based Moderna announcing its candidate drug confers immunity for at least three months.

To build trust in vaccines after they are approved, 78-year-old Biden said he was willing to be vaccinated in public - following up on similar commitments from former US presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

01:27 PM

Yellow fever claims 172 lives in Nigeria

A yellow fever outbreak in Nigeria has killed 172 people so far, the World Health Organization said today.

The outbreak poses an extra challenge to the country's health system as Africa's most populous nation deals with the Covid-19 pandemic, several concurrent disease outbreaks and a humanitarian crisis in the northeast, the WHO said.

Nigeria has been battling successive yellow fever outbreaks since 2017. This latest outbreak was detected in November, WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told reporters in Geneva.

"As of November 24, the outbreak has been reported in five states in Nigeria: Delta, Enugu, Bauchi, Benue and Ebonyi," he said.

"A total of 530 suspected cases have been reported, including 48 that have been confirmed by lab testing.

"A total of 172 deaths have been reported out of those 530 suspected cases."

01:25 PM

Christmas bubbles in Wales can be joined by a single person

Christmas bubbles in Wales can be joined by a single person, single parent or someone with caring responsibilities, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said.

"We have agreed an important addition to the Christmas arrangements to make sure that people living alone, single parents and those with caring responsibilities are not left out," Mr Drakeford said.

"As you know, we agreed with the other governments of the United Kingdom to have a common set of arrangements between December 23 and 27 to enable three households to join together to form a single Christmas bubble.

"Now here in Wales, that Christmas bubble can be joined by a single person, a single parent or somebody with caring responsibilities to make sure that they are not left alone for that five-day period."

01:17 PM

Watch: Wuhan's tourist board invites visitors to see the city's beauty

01:09 PM

Wales expecting to receive Pfizer vaccine 'in the next couple of days'

Wales is expecting to receive the first supplies of the Pfizer vaccine "in the next couple of days", with staff trained to give it and people expected to receive it from Tuesday, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said.

Mr Drakeford told a press conference that it was hoped the vaccine marked a "turning point in the pandemic" that would put Wales "on what is going to be a long path back to normality".

He described how the Welsh Ambulance Service declaring a critical incident on Thursday highlighted the "impact of coronavirus on day-to-day care".

Mr Drakeford told a press conference: "The problem was not so much ambulances or crews being unavailable, but that hospitals in some parts of Wales are now so full of patients with coronavirus that it simply wasn't possible for our ambulance service to attend to other people's emergencies in the way that we would want and expect.

"Fortunately, that position has improved today but yesterday the impact of coronavirus in our health service was absolutely real, and making a difference in the care we were able to offer to people suffering from strokes, or heart attacks, or having broken limbs."

01:06 PM

Afternoon summary

Good afternoon. If you're just joining us, here's all you need to know today so far:

  • NHS front-line staff will no longer be prioritised for the coronavirus vaccine, amid confusion over the number of doses that will arrive by the end of the year. Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, said that an initial 800,000 doses "could be the only batch we receive for some time". 

  • Leading American infectious disease scientist Dr Anthony Fauci has walked back his criticism of Britain's drug regulator after saying it had rushed through its coronavirus vaccine approval.

  • Police have been criticised for their “overzealous” enforcement of the new rules on pubs, after landlords reported officers arguing over whether Scotch eggs were a substantial meal and threw out customers who had finished eating.

  • Cyprus is to waive Covid testing requirements for visitors who have been vaccinated against the virus, according to a Government plan that will come into effect in March 2021.

  • The coronavirus situation in Wales remains "very serious", with almost two-thirds of local authorities seeing a seven-day incidence rate of 150 cases per 100,000 people or higher, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said.

  • Meanwhile, latest figures from the Office for National Statistics found that cases in England are falling, with the percentage of people testing positive decreasing in all regions except the North East.

  • Positivity rates in Northern Ireland are also continuing to decrease, the data shows, while there are early signs that the positivity rate in Scotland has started to decrease also. 

  • Joe Biden has said he will join former presidents in publicly getting vaccinated for Covid-19 to encourage others. 

12:58 PM

Spain considering introducing a four-day week to boost job creation

Spain's Left-wing government is considering introducing a four-day working week without any loss of pay for workers.

Pablo Iglesias, the deputy prime minister, said a 32-hour week could create more jobs as Spain currently has one of the highest unemployment rates in the European Union at 16.2 per cent.

Mr Iglesias, the leader of the far-Left Unidas Podemos party, the junior partner in Spain's minority ruling coalition, said: “We have always been in favour of reducing working hours.

“The proposal is interesting and I know that the ministry of labour is studying it and within the framework of social dialogue it will be explored because it would undoubtedly favour job generation.”

He said the measure was being considered as the final details were discussed for the 2021 budget but it will depend on the agreement of the Socialists, the senior partner in the coalition.

Reporting from Madrid, Graham Keeley has more here. 

12:55 PM

Downing Street defends UK medicine's regulator as 'world leader in its field'

Downing Street has joined in defending the UK's medicines regulator after it faced criticism from America's top infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, who warned the speed at which the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was approved could undermine confidence in the jab.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister told reporters: "You will have seen that he (Dr Fauci) has now withdrawn those comments and apologised.

"I would just point to the fact the MHRA is a world leader in its field and has followed rigorous international standards in terms of its assessment of the vaccine to ensure it meets the standards of safety and effectiveness and quality.

"The CEO of the MHRA has been quite clear that no corners have been cut at all."

12:54 PM

Controversial travel quarantine exemption will not apply in Scotland

Deputy First Minister John Swinney has announced there will be no changes to Scotland's quarantine list for overseas travel (see 11.13am post).

He said: "Very often on a Friday, we provide an update on the quarantine exemption list.

"Following our usual risk assessments, I can confirm that the Scottish Government has not made any change to that list this week.

"As you may be aware, the UK Government last night announced a number of changes to the quarantine rules in England.

"Those changes exempt certain categories of people working in certain sectors from the requirement to self-isolate.

"I want to emphasise that these are changes that apply only in England and that they do not apply here in Scotland.

"The quarantine requirements in this country are unchanged.

12:52 PM

Wales facing 'unmistakable rise in coronavirus once again'

The coronavirus situation in Wales remains "very serious", with almost two-thirds of local authorities seeing a seven-day incidence rate of 150 cases per 100,000 people or higher, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said.

Mr Drakeford told a press conference that Neath Port Talbot and Blaenau Gwent had rates that exceeded 400 cases per 100,000 people.

He said that Wales was experiencing an "unmistakable rise in coronavirus once again" following the reduction in cases from the country's 17-day firebreak lockdown.

"Every day we are seeing more and more people admitted to hospital with coronavirus symptoms," Mr Drakeford said.

"In the last week we have seen a record number of coronavirus-related patients and these numbers are increasing.

"Many of these patients will be in hospital for three weeks or longer.

"The epidemic is putting our health service under a significant and sustained pressure."

12:41 PM

Cyprus hopes to roll out Covid vaccine by year-end

Cyprus expects its first deliveries of Covid-19 vaccines before the end of the year as part of the rollout across Europe once the drugs are approved, officials said today.

Zoi Dorothea Pana, a member of the government's coronavirus task force, said two manufacturers - AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech - had pledged to start supplying countries with their vaccines in December.

If all goes according to plan, Cyprus will get 119,024 doses from AstraZeneca and 48,955 from Pfizer/BioNTech, according to government advisers.

In total, Cyprus has ordered around 1.8 million doses from AstraZeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech and Janssen, with each vaccine requiring two shots for immunity.

Cyprus expects to receive 1,192,043 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from December through to the second quarter of 2022. Delivery of 391,637 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is expected this month, and this would continue until the third quarter of 2021.

Another 200,000 doses are expected from Janssen from the second quarter of next year.

12:33 PM

Misleading alcohol claims on hand sanitisers found online, investigation finds

A number of hand sanitisers have been found containing less alcohol than described via online marketplaces which could leave people unprotected against coronavirus, a Which? investigation has found.

The worst offending product was identified as the Klenzy Hand Sanitizing Gel, available for sale on eBay, claiming to have a 75 per cent alcohol content but actually containing just 10 per cent, according to tests by the consumer group.

Hand sanitisers need an alcohol content of between 60 per cent and 90 per cent to be deemed effective against Covid-19. Sanitisers normally use ethanol, isopropanol or a mixture of the two.

Which? scientists tested 18 products available at high street retailers, supermarkets and online marketplaces.

Three bought from online marketplaces eBay and Etsy failed to show the same alcohol levels claimed on the product listing page or the packaging.

The VaidaMakeup Hand Sanitiser Gel sold on Etsy was found to have 33 per cent instead of the 70 per cent mentioned, while the Hansan Antibacterial Hand Sanitiser on eBay came out as 35 per cent instead of 70 per cent.

eBay removed both product listings and banned the sellers from selling hand sanitiser on the site again, while the seller on Etsy said it had removed the listing and contacted all customers to warn them.

12:25 PM

ONS latest: What's the picture in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland?

The picture is a bit brighter across the whole of the UK this week...unless you're in Wales.

Positivity rates in Northern Ireland seem to have peaked around the middle of October, with positivity continuing to decrease in the most recent week, according to latest ONS data. During the most recent week (22 to 28 November 2020), the statistics agency estimates that 9,500 people in Northern Ireland had the virus - equating to 1 in 190 people.

Meanwhile there are early signs the positivity rate in Scotland has started to decrease in the most recent week: between 22 to 28 November, the ONS estimates that 40,900 people in Scotland had Covid-19, equating to 1 in 130 people.

However, the ONS said that the percentage of those testing positive is no longer decreasing in Wales. It now estimates that during the most recent week, 18,100 people had the virus, equating to 1 in 170 people. 

12:19 PM

ONS: England's weekly infection rate outside of hospitals falls by 112,000

An estimated 521,300 people in England had Covid-19 from 22 to 28 November - a fall from 633,000 the week before.

The Office for National Statistics said this means that approximately one in 105 people in England had coronavirus over the period - an improvement from the one in 85 seen seven days earlier.

The newest data also shows that the percentage of people testing positive has decreased in all regions except the North East.

Infection rates were highest in the North East, the North West and Yorkshire and The Humber.

There also appears to have been a fall in positivity rates among all age groups over the past week, with rates remaining the highest among secondary school-aged children.

12:16 PM

UK daily Covid cases continue to fall, survey finds

New daily cases of Covid-19 in the UK are continuing to fall, but cases in Scotland and Wales have plateaued, a survey suggests.

There are 20,497 daily new symptomatic cases of the virus in the UK on average over the two weeks up to November 29, excluding care homes, according to the Zoe Covid Symptom Study UK Infection Survey.

This compares to 29,311 daily new symptomatic cases a week ago and more than 42,000 six weeks ago, the researchers said.

They say the UK R value is 0.8, and the official R value from the Government Office for Science will be announced later.

The survey found that daily new cases are continuing to decrease in every region across England.The Midlands saw a dramatic decrease in daily new cases since the middle of November with an R value of 0.7, the researchers said.

In Scotland, cases have fallen to the same levels of the end of September, but recently plateaued and there are still around 40,000 infectious individuals, according to the survey.

In Wales, cases have fallen to around the same level as the end of the September but have started to rise again.

Coronavirus UK Spotlight Chart - Cases default
Coronavirus UK Spotlight Chart - Cases default

12:10 PM

Wetherspoons will keep some pubs open in Wales and trade as cafes

Wetherspoon is to keep eight of its pubs open in Wales from Saturday, the company has announced.

The move follows a meeting between Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin and members of the Welsh Parliament who are opposed to pub closures.

Wetherspoon said pubs will effectively trade as cafes in Cardiff, Newport, Caernarfon, Cwmbran, Mold and Wrexham.

Tim Martin said: " I met with Conservative leader of the opposition Paul Davies MS and Conservative chief whip Darren Millar MS at our pub, The Mount Stuart, in Cardiff earlier this week.

"They are opposed to the Welsh pub closures and were keen for Wetherspoon to keep some of the company's pubs open.

"As a result we have decided to keep eight of the pubs open from 8am to 6pm throughout the week."

From 6pm on Friday, licensed pubs, cafes and restaurants in Wales will have to stop serving alcohol on their premises, although those with an off-licence can sell alcoholic drinks to be taken away.

12:04 PM

Postponed Tokyo Olympics to cost extra $2.4 billion

The coronavirus-delayed Tokyo Olympics will cost at least an extra $2.4 billion, organisers said today, with the unprecedented postponement and a raft of pandemic health measures ballooning an already outsized budget.

Tokyo 2020 said an additional $1.5 billion would be needed for operational costs related to the delay, with another $900 million in spending on coronavirus countermeasures for the Games next year.

The dollar figure is calculated at an exchange rate of 107 yen, and is closer to $2.56 billion when calculated at today's rate.

The costs could rise further, with Tokyo 2020 saying it will release an additional $250 million in "contingency" funds to help cover the expenses.

The extra costs come as organisers and Olympic officials work to build enthusiasm and momentum for the first Games postponed in peacetime, insisting that the massive international event can go ahead next year even if the pandemic is not under control.

But more spending could further harden public opinion in Japan, where polls earlier this year showed a majority of people think the Games should be postponed again or cancelled together.

11:58 AM

Cyprus to become first country to waive Covid tests for vaccinated arrivals

Cyprus is to waive Covid testing requirements for visitors who have been vaccinated against the virus, according to a Government plan that will come into effect in March 2021.

This would make it the first destination to specify that vaccinated travellers will not need to meet other Covid-related entry rules, such as a negative test result or quarantine, the Cyprus Mail reports. The measure was included in an action plan for the resumption of flights to the country.

“The amended action plan is expected to further boost the interest of airline companies to carry out additional flights to Cyprus, improve connectivity and increase passenger traffic,” said Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos. 

This action plan includes a four-tier safe travel list, replacing a three-tier system, in a bid to boost air travel and tourism to Cyprus. 

Passengers who have not been vaccinated will still need to meet Cyprus’ requirements based on their origin country. Karousos said its safe travel list would follow European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) guidelines.

Follow all the latest on our travel live blog here. 

11:51 AM

ICYMI: 'Overzealous' police patrol pubs and argue with landlords over Scotch eggs

Police have been criticised for their “overzealous” enforcement of the new rules on pubs, after landlords reported officers arguing over whether Scotch eggs were a substantial meal and threw out customers who had finished eating.

Pub bosses in Tier 2 areas said police had visited their premises to argue over the regulations - insisting that Scotch eggs cannot be considered a “substantial” meal that allows punters to order alcohol.

Patrick Dardis, chief executive of Young's, said officers in London on Wednesday also told customers to leave pub premises as soon as they had finished their meals, preventing them from ordering more drinks. 

"As if we haven't got enough to contend with we have had some overzealous officials going into pubs unnecessarily and it's a bit intimidating for customers," Mr Dardis said.

Read the full story here. 

11:45 AM

Kazakhstan to launch production of Russian vaccine

Ex-Soviet Kazakhstan has said it will begin producing Russia's coronavirus vaccine later this month, becoming the latest country to do so as a global inoculation race heats up.

Russia last month said its Sputnik V drug was 95 per cent effective and would be cheaper and easier to store than some alternatives.

President Vladimir Putin has called on Moscow's allies to mass produce the country's vaccines.

In a statement today, Kazakhstan's presidency said the country would begin producing Sputnik V from December 22, with plans to begin inoculating vulnerable groups in early 2021.

The developers of Sputnik V - named after the Soviet-era satellite - have said the jab will be available on international markets for less than $10 (8.40 euros) per dose.

11:39 AM

Threatening letters sent to Dutch pandemic scientists

Several members of a group of scientists that advises the Dutch Government on managing the Covid-19 pandemic have received threats, local media reported today.

Multiple experts on the OMT scientific committee found threatening letters had been left in their letterboxes at home, according to news website Nu.nl.

Committee member Andreas Voss told the site he had been called a "horrible monkey" and told to "go back to Germany" in a note addressed to him.

Another OMT expert, Diederik Gommers, said that one of his colleagues was under police protection after "serious threats".

Other members of the committee told Nu.nl they had been so unsettled by the threats that they are now reluctant to speak to the media about Covid-19.

11:27 AM

How long will it take Pfizer to vaccinate everyone? 8.4 years, apparently

Two physicists and a medical student have devised a calculator showing how many vaccines will be needed to inoculate different amounts of the population at different timescales, reports Dominic Penna.

While Pfizer has said that it expects to produce 1.3bn doses of its newly-approved vaccine in 2021 - which works out at 41 vaccines per second - 347 vaccines would need to be produced per second to vaccinate 70 per cent, the supposed threshold for herd immunity.

Steven Wooding, the Southampton-based physicist behind the algorithm, said the calculator proves that to vaccinate widely in a desirable time frame, “we need many, many manufacturers”.

“The UK will probably be done quite quickly because you only need three vaccines per second produced for us to be vaccinated in a year,” he said. “So it’s more countries like us that will be able to do it, although we still have to distribute it and roll it out.

“The production challenges show we need to target the vaccine at the vulnerable and seniors because that’s where most of the deaths are happening, because most of the population can cope with Covid. But just because we’ve got the vaccine now that’s not the end of the story - it’s just another phase of the story.”

Try the calculator out yourself here.

11:20 AM

Cambodia reports first locally-transmitted infection

Cambodia, which has not reported any deaths from Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, registered its first locally-transmitted infections this week, prompting a rapid shutdown of public spaces. 

The number of infections has risen to 19. Although the origin is unknown, they are linked to a private commercial bank and the director of the general department of prisons in the capital, Phnom Penh, and known as a cluster called the “November 28 incident.”

The authorities have closed down malls, cinemas, schools, and banned gatherings of more than 20 people in an effort to contain the spread. 

Cambodia, which has a weak public health system, has defied expectations and emerged relatively unscathed from the pandemic so far, keeping infections down to just 335.

Experts have contributed this in part to it closing its border in March and the country’s location between Vietnam and Thailand, who have also performed well. 

11:13 AM

Expert blasts 'high-value' business traveller quarantine exemption

Professor Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh and adviser to the Scottish Government on the pandemic, has blasted the decision of the UK Government to allow senior company executives to be exempt from Covid-19 quarantine restrictions for international arrivals in England.

Recently signed elite sportspeople, performing arts professionals, TV production staff and journalists will also not have to abide by quarantine restrictions if arriving from a country outside of England’s travel corridor from 4am on Saturday.

11:02 AM

UK 'confident' of having 800,000 vaccine doses by next week

The Government is "absolutely confident" that the UK will have 800,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses by next week, when the vaccination programme starts, the Business Secretary has said.

Alok Sharma said that some of the Pfizer/BioNTech doses had arrived, with more expected by the end of the year. However he was unable to say how many that will be.

The UK has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine - enough to vaccinate 20 million people.

Asked about whether the 800,000 doses the UK is expecting in the coming days will arrive by next week, Mr Sharma told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We will have - I'm absolutely confident - that we will have 800,000 doses available at the point next week when we start the vaccination programme.

"Of course, by the end of this year we will expect some more doses to come through - I can't give you a number on that."

However, NHS Providers said the UK must work on the basis that more doses might not arrive "for some time".

Its chief executive Chris Hopson tweeted that because of that it was "vital" hospitals sought to vaccinate as many people as possible in the highest priority groups.

The first vaccinations are set to begin from Tuesday, he said.

Mr Hopson added that with "every day that goes past, we become more confident we will get a lot more [doses] and get them soon".

10:55 AM

G-A-Y owner criticises Government as Soho bar begins serving McDonald's

The owner of G-A-Y has attacked the Government's "ridiculous" tier system after the famous London venue was forced to reinvent itself with table service and food from McDonald's.

Jeremy Joseph told the PA news agency the Government had "discriminated against wet-led venues" in its rules to tackle coronavirus and claimed ministers had also "f****d up" by failing to give clear guidance.

In order to reopen under London's Tier 2 restrictions, the brand's popular Old Compton Street bar worked with a number of nearby restaurants - including McDonald's - to offer a table service menu.

The change, along with the introduction of masks and social distancing, means the experience at one of London's most renowned venues is a long way from the usual mix of dancing and glitter.

However, G-A-Y nightclub by Manchester's Canal Street remains closed due to Tier 3 restrictions.

Meanwhile, Mr Joseph's other London venue, Heaven - which has hosted the likes of Lady Gaga and Kylie Minogue - is due to reopen this weekend despite uncertainty over what guidance it needs to follow.

10:41 AM

Coronavirus vaccine won't free you from self-isolation, says Government

People who receive the coronavirus vaccine will not be exempted from self-isolation if they are contacted by NHS Test and Trace, it has emerged.

Although the vaccine will give recipients immunity from the virus, scientists do not yet know whether it will stop them being carriers.

Government sources said it was likely to be months before there was any prospect of the vaccine negating the need for self-isolation.

Read the full story by Gordon Rayner, here.

10:28 AM

WATCH: Dr Fauci apologises for criticism of UK vaccine approval

Dr Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the US, has apologised for claiming that the UK regulators were too quick to authorise the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Watch below: 

10:02 AM

China's Covid-19 vaccines trigger 'strong immune' response

Two coronavirus vaccine candidates developed by China's Clover Biopharmaceuticals triggered strong immune responses in an early-stage human trial and appeared to be safe, the company said on Friday.

The vaccine candidates, one containing an adjuvant from GlaxoSmithKline and the other from Dynavax, induced strong immune responses including neutralizing antibodies and cell-mediated immunity in a Phase 1 clinical trial, Clover said. Adjuvants are ingredients that can boost immune responses.

"Based on the positive Phase 1 results reported and the unprecedented need for Covid-19 vaccines, Clover and its partners are confident to enter late-stage clinical development for both adjuvanted vaccines," the company said.

The vaccines did not trigger any serious adverse reactions on the 150 adult and elderly people that participated in the trial, the company said.

Read more: How the UK will get Pfizer's Covid vaccine from factory to patient

09:52 AM

How Covid has changed the way we eat – from 'tornado omelettes' to snack attacks

The Tornado Omelette: Unusual recipes and techniques proved popular on social media 
The Tornado Omelette: Unusual recipes and techniques proved popular on social media

The end of the pandemic may finally be in sight but, after a year of lockdowns, working from home and general uncertainty, one fundamental change is undeniable: our relationship with food.

The annual survey of Britain’s eating and drinking habits by Waitrose & Partners shows just what this looks like.

With spending in supermarkets rocketing as pubs and restaurants repeatedly closed and workers with more time on their hands than ever before, food sales in October across all supermarkets were around £445 million higher than those in February – the month before the first lockdown

Read James Hall's full story here.

09:24 AM

Bulgaria to prioristise mink farmers for vaccines

Bulgaria on Friday announced plans to vaccinate people against the coronavirus free of charge once it has procured vaccine doses, and said it would start with doctors, nurses, dentists and pharmacists, Health Minister Kostandin Angelov said.

Under the voluntary plan, teachers, people in care homes and workers at mink farms will be inoculated next, followed by workers in social services and people over 65 years of age.

"Every Bulgarian who would like to get a vaccine shot will get one for free," Angelov told reporters. 

Read more: Denmark travel ban lifted after cull of 19 million mink to control mutant Covid strain

09:15 AM

Vaccine doses need to be 'split down'

Chris Hopson, NHS Providers chief executive, has explained a logistical issue has arisen with the Pfizer vaccine which is preventing them being delivered to care homes.

"The bit on the care home residents is more complex because the other thing I haven't said to you is that these (doses) come, the pizza boxes, come in 975 batches," he told BBC Breakfast.

"And we obviously don't have care homes that have got 975 residents in them. You tend to have them as 50s, 30s, 60s.

"So what you would need to do is break those 975 pizza boxes into smaller batches, and then the good news is, when we can do that, which we think we'll be able to do really quite quickly, is we can then ask GPs to go in and administer the vaccine into care home residents."

He added that hospitals are now working out how many care home staff, residents and over-80s can be administered with the vaccine.

Mr Hopson said he is not aware of any target for the number of vaccines to be administered on Tuesday, but said "clearly as many as possible", adding that the bulk of the programme would be done in the first three months of 2021.

"We've mobilised at real speed, this is really exciting, we know we've got to get this right. It's the kind of thing the NHS does really well," he said, adding: "It's a marathon, it's not a sprint. We're looking forward to the race starting on Tuesday."

Read more: Supply fears hit coronavirus vaccine amid warning over initial 800,000 doses

09:06 AM

Wales experiencing 'rising tide' of infections

Coronavirus cases increased in 20 of Wales's 22 local authority areas on Thursday, with a "rising tide" of infections seen in both urban and rural areas, Health Minister Vaughan Gething said.

He told Good Morning Britain that the Welsh Government is acting on scientific evidence in imposing a ban on pubs, restaurants and cafes serving alcohol from 6pm on Friday.

He said a £340 million package, in addition to measures taken by the UK Government, is being provided to support hospitality businesses that will be "hard hit" by the restriction.

"I won't pretend this won't have a really significant impact on those businesses, at pretty much the worst time of the year for them as well, and I really do recognise that," Mr Gething said.

"But if we don't act on the evidence, then I'm afraid we won't be meeting our responsibilities to keep Wales safe and to keep people alive."

Map of UK's seven-day Covid-19 infection rate, by local authority
Map of UK's seven-day Covid-19 infection rate, by local authority

09:01 AM

Lateral flow test data 'hidden' and 'falsely represented', expert claims

Dr Angela Raffle, a consultant in public health and honorary senior lecturer at the University of Bristol, said Prime Minister Boris Johnson was wrong to accredit the fall in infection rates in Liverpool to the mass testing scheme, and claimed the trial results of lateral flow tests had been "falsely represented".

Her comments come amid concern in some parts of the care home sector over the use of lateral flow tests, with homes in Greater Manchester urged not to use them to allow visits.

Dr Raffle, a member of the National Screening Committee, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It is very concerning to me that, with these lateral flow tests, the evidence on how they perform in the field has actually been kept hidden and falsely represented by the Government.

"When the Porton Down results (into the lateral flow test trials) came out, it was reported that they showed that the results were highly sensitive and specific, but actually they were only 58 per cent sensitive in the trial that used quickly-trained staff - that's in the Porton Down paper.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace (centre) during a visit to the Covid testing centre at Liverpool Exhibition Centre.  - Peter Byrne/PA
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace (centre) during a visit to the Covid testing centre at Liverpool Exhibition Centre. - Peter Byrne/PA

"For Liverpool, we've been promised the evaluation report but actually findings for how the tests performed in Liverpool have been buried in an appendix of the community guide to testing and they show that, in Liverpool, 30 per cent of the tests that were 'very infectious' were missed, whereas in the Porton Down results we were told, oh no, it finds all the highly infectious ones."

On the success of the Liverpool mass testing scheme, she added: "The infection rate in Liverpool has come down no quicker than in many other places that haven't got mass testing and we haven't yet seen a proper evaluation report from Liverpool.

"So the claims that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Health are making that there has been a three-quarters drop in Liverpool because of mass testing are completely false."

08:41 AM

'Bulk' of vaccine rollout to take place next year, minister says

Mr Sharma reiterated that the "bulk" of vaccine rollout would take place in 2021, with the Oxford/AstraZeneca version likely to considerably boost supply.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We will expect more (Pfizer vaccine) by the end of the year but what we have always said is that the bulk of the vaccination programme will take place next year.

"We've, of course, got the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine that we're talking about for deployment right now but AstraZeneca is also being reviewed by the MHRA.

"We'll see what they pronounce and then, of course, we've got 100 million of those on order, and a lot of that is being manufactured - and the fill and finish - in the UK."

08:04 AM

Business travel plan is 'incredibly proportionate', says minister

The plan to allow business travellers to be exempt from quarantine is "incredibly proportionate", Alok Sharma, the Business Secretary, has said.

The exemptions will only apply to senior executives who "absolutely need" to be in the UK, he told BBC Breakfast. "This is where there are either going to be 50 or more jobs created in the UK, or 50 more jobs in the UK that are going to be, or indeed there is going to be £100m or more of contracts or investment flowing into the UK," he said.

He went on to add the Government has discussed the plan with the Department of Health and Public Health England and they have said "given the numbers involved, this is not going to have any additional health risks to people in this country".

07:48 AM

800,000 Pfizer doses will arrive by next week, says Business Secretary

Alok Sharma, the Business Secretary, said he is "confident" the first batch of Pfizer vaccines will arrive before the immunisation programme begins next week.

"The plan is to start the vaccination programme next week, we of course have said we will have 800,000 of these doses available by the start of next week and we are on course for that," he told BBC Breakfast.

He confirmed some of the doses are already in the UK, but could not provide a figure for how many.

"I am confident that we will have all 800,000 available as we start the programme," he added.

Mr Sharma went on to add "no corners have been cut" in the approval of the vaccine. 

07:25 AM

Fauci apologises for criticising UK regulator

Dr Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the US, apologised for criticising the UK's medicines regulator - KEVIN DIETSCH/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock 
Dr Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the US, apologised for criticising the UK's medicines regulator - KEVIN DIETSCH/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Dr Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the US, has apologised for claiming that the UK regulators were too quick to authorise the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

In a interview with BBC News, Dr Fauci said he did not mean to "imply any sloppiness", adding: "I do have great faith in both the scientific community and the regulatory community at the UK."

Hitting back at the claims, Prof Van-Tam said that a number of other regulators were “close behind” and were also likely to approve the vaccine in a “matter of days”. 

Read the full story by Harry Yorke, here.

07:14 AM

Worldwide summary

Here's a roundup of the latest coronavirus news from around the world.

  • India's daily coronavirus cases rose by less than 40,000 for the fifth straight day, health ministry data showed on Friday, with 36,595 new infections reported in the last 24 hours. India's daily rate has fallen since the south Asian nation reported the world’s highest such tallies through most of August and September.

  • The World Health Organization said it was considering introducing electronic vaccination certificates, as hopes for an end to the pandemic were boosted after Britain became the first country to approve use of a Covid-19 vaccine.

  • South Koreans were urged to cancel Christmas and New Year parties on Friday as daily coronavirus cases hit a nine-month high and the government considered imposing tighter social-distancing rules to halt a third wave of infections. Health authorities reported 629 new coronavirus infections, the highest in South Korea since a first wave peaked in February and early March.

  • Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston said he still has not fully regained his sense of taste and smell after being diagnosed with Covid-19. The actor, 64, revealed he had coronavirus in July, and was originally ill for 10 days - but is still feeling the effects of the virus.

  • Hungary's government will decide on Monday on whether current restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus should be extended for the Christmas holidays, Prime Minister Viktor Orban told state radio on Friday. Mr Orban said medical experts were firmly against any loosening of coronavirus curbs. Hungary reported 182 new Covid-19 deaths on Thursday, by far the highest daily toll since the start of the pandemic.

07:03 AM

Today's top stories

Good morning from Telegraph HQ. Here's today's top stories this Friday.

  1. Vaccine: Supply fears hit coronavirus vaccine amid warning over initial 800,000 doses

  2. Quarantine: Vaccine won't free you from self-isolation, says Government 

  3. Pub woes: 'Overzealous' police patrol pubs and argue with landlords over Scotch eggs

  4. JVT: Criticism of UK's vaccine approval is because other regulators are playing catch-up

  5. Before-Covid: Will we ever return to the ‘old normal’?

06:53 AM

South Korea sees biggest jump in cases for 9 months

South Korea has recorded 629 new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, the highest daily tally in about nine months.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Friday that 600 of the newly confirmed cases were domestically transmitted _ nearly 80 % of them in the densely populous Seoul area, which has been at the center of a viral resurgence.

The cases took the country's total to 36,332 with 536 deaths.

After successfully suppressing two previous outbreaks this year, South Korea has been grappling with a fresh spike in infections since it relaxed stringent social distancing rules in October. Last week, it toughened those restrictions in the greater Seoul area and other places.

04:50 AM

Biden to ask Americans to wear masks for 100 days after inauguration

Joe Biden has said he will ask all Americans to wear a face mask for the first 100 days of his presidency, saying the country will see a "significant reduction" in coronavirus cases. 

While Mr Biden does not have sweeping powers to introduce a national mask mandate, the president-elect said he would use what authority he had to require masks in places like federal buildings and on planes and buses. 

"Just 100 days to mask, not forever. 100 days. And I think we'll see a significant reduction," Mr Biden told CNN on Thursday night, during his first joint interview with Kamala Harris, his Vice President, since winning the election.

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden regularly wears a mask - Reuters
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden regularly wears a mask - Reuters

Mr Biden said he had met Dr Anthony Fauci, the country's top infectious disease expert, who has regularly faced a backlash from Donald Trump in his role as a White House adviser on the coronavirus. 

Dr Fauci has consistently urged Americans to wear face masks to halt the spread of Covid-19 and warned the country faces a bleak winter with infection rates increasing, contradicting Mr Trump who has insisted the US is rounding the corner on the pandemic. 

Read more: Joe Biden says he will ask all Americans to wear a mask for his first 100 days in office

01:16 AM

New lockdown in California

California's governor on Thursday announced new statewide bans on gatherings and "non-essential" activities, as hospitals in the nation's most populous state face being overwhelmed by record Covid-19 cases.

In a move that could plunge the state's 40 million residents back into lockdown, Gavin Newsom announced new limits that will come into effect once 85 per cent of intensive care unit beds have been filled - a development expected in four of California's five regions "as early as the next day or two".

"We are announcing and introducing a regional 'stay-at-home' order in the state of California, fundamentally predicated on the need to stop gathering with people outside of your household," Mr Newsom said.

Once a region is placed under the new limits - an "emergency brake" which will last for a minimum of three weeks - the gathering of people from different households will be banned. Bars and personal services such as hair salons will be temporarily closed, and restaurants will only be allowed to offer take-out and delivery.

Read more: California announces new statewide lockdown to fight surging cases

Los Angeles is California's worst-hit county - GETTY IMAGES
Los Angeles is California's worst-hit county - GETTY IMAGES

12:55 AM

Cases surge in South Korea

South Korea reported 629 new coronavirus cases on Friday, the highest number in nine months.

Of the new cases, 295 were from the capital Seoul, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency reported.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said the situation was critical as infections continued to rise at an alarming rate despite the reimposition of social-distancing rules late last month. The government would decide on Sunday whether to upgrade restrictions, he said.

"It's been 10 days since we upgraded the social distancing rules to phase 2 in the Seoul metropolitan area, but the transmission still seems to be uncontainable," Mr Chung told a government meeting.

The cluster of cases has alarmed official in Seoul - EPA
The cluster of cases has alarmed official in Seoul - EPA

12:49 AM

Today's top stories