Nicola Sturgeon fractures 'four-nations' lockdown plan by tightening Scotland's Christmas rules

Max Stephens
·79-min read
Nicola Sturgeon warned Christmas restrictions would “look to tighten around the edges rather than further expand.” - 245286467 
Nicola Sturgeon warned Christmas restrictions would “look to tighten around the edges rather than further expand.” - 245286467
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter ..
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter ..

A “four-nations” plan for the relaxation of coronavirus rules has fractured within 24 hours after Nicola Sturgeon warned Scots that they would face tighter restrictions than people in England, writes Daniel Sanderson. 

The First Minister said that she believed treating existing “bubbles” as one household, as will happen south of the border, would be “going too far” as in practice it could allow members of up to six households to meet during a five-day easing of exemptions next month.

She also suggested that Scots should give each other gift vouchers as presents, for both public health and economic reasons, while Scotland’s National Clinical Director warned that there should be no shared serving spoons for Christmas dinner roast potatoes.

Scotland-specific guidance will be issued on Thursday, Ms Sturgeon said, but she warned that it would “look to tighten around the edges rather than further expand.”

The SNP leader also said that people going to the Scottish islands for Christmas would not get extra days to travel, as is being granted to those going to Northern Ireland. 

 A total of 56,533  have died from Covid -19 in the UK with worldwide cases surpassing 60m. 

Follow the latest updates below.

07:06 PM

Top stories of the day

Here is a roundup of today's top stories: 

Follow all the latest news in Thursday's live blog

06:53 PM

Champion boxer Nicola Adams speaks out after coronavirus forced her out of Strictly Come Dancing

Nicola Adams has said it was "really tough" to be forced out of Strictly Come Dancing and into self-isolation by coronavirus.

The Olympic boxer had to quit the competition after her professional partner Katya Jones tested positive for Covid-19.

Nicola Adams (R) was forced out of the competition after her partner Katya Jones (L) tested positive for coronavirus - PA
Nicola Adams (R) was forced out of the competition after her partner Katya Jones (L) tested positive for coronavirus - PA

Adams told BBC Two's It Takes Two: "It's been really tough."

She added: "It was horrible, I just felt sorry for Katya because I knew she was going to blame herself and it's one of those things.

"I didn't want her to blame herself because it wasn't her fault and I never saw it that way."

06:42 PM

Dutch researchers preparing for 'human challenge' vaccine trial

Researchers at the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands are preparing for a potential "human challenge" trial in which volunteers are deliberately infected with the Covid-19 to test the effectiveness of vaccine candidates, advocacy group 1Day Sooner said today.

The plan has already attracted 240 volunteers, the U.S.-based group said. 

This is the latest in 1Day Sooner's efforts to get such a trial off the ground. In September, the group said such trials are expected to begin in January at a quarantine facility in London.

Researchers in the Netherlands have not yet decided to conduct the trial, which would still need regulatory approval, the organisation added. 

06:34 PM

Americans in holiday rush despite highest Covid-19 death toll in six months

 Record hospitalisations and a surging death toll failed to keep Americans from traveling a day before the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday, raising fears that the unchecked spread under way is a prelude to further in at Christmastime.

Daily U.S. deaths from COVID-19 surpassed 2,000 for the first time since May and hospitalisations reached a record 87,000 on Tuesday as the country recorded 2.3 million new infections in the past two weeks alone.

Coronavirus deaths reached 2,157 on Tuesday - one person every 40 seconds - with another 170,000 people infected, as millions of Americans disregarded official warnings and travelled for Thanksgiving.

Nearly one million passengers a day have been screened at airport security checkpoints for the past week, with Sunday's total of 1.047 million being the highest number since the early days of the pandemic in mid-March.

Coronavirus USA Spotlight Chart - deaths default
Coronavirus USA Spotlight Chart - deaths default

06:22 PM

UK should expect third wave of coronavirus next year despite vaccine, top scientist cautions

A third wave of Covid-19 next year in the UK should still be expected as the vaccine is unlikely to reach enough people in time to prevent it, a leading scientist has cautioned.

Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King's College London, said the vaccines were a major breakthrough but it was unlikely that enough people would be reached by a mass vaccination programme before infections, now seemingly beginning to decline under the national lockdown, started to rise again in February or March next year.

However, he said the fact that the most vulnerable would be targeted first - including care home residents and workers - would hopefully mean less disease in these groups, and ultimately less fatalities.

"I still think we should expect a third wave in about February or March, and just hope that it is going to be a smaller one than the first and second," he told an online briefing on vaccines hosted by the Zoe Covid Symptom Study app on Wednesday.

Jennifer Rigby has the full story here

06:13 PM

Close contact with loved ones may deliver a 'deadly dose' of virus, warns experts.

Health experts have urged people to take extra precautions to keep their loved ones safe over the Christmas period.

Under new rules three households across the UK will be able to mix from December 23 to 27.

But scientists have warned that the relaxation of rules over the holidays could lead to a "third wave" of the virus and another national lockdown.

Families have been urged to carefully think through their plans to be together.

Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, said: "I do hope that people will not let caution evaporate over the Christmas period and think that a short break from restrictions will be fine. It really won't."

Feeling well does not guarantee that you don't have the virus: kissing your grandparents may be delivering a deadly dose of virus. Be pleased to see them but keep a safe distance.

06:03 PM

Train firms could ban walk-on passengers to stop overcrowding during Christmas break

Train firms could ban walk-on tickets to stop overcrowding and aid social distancing during the Christmas getaway, rail sources have said.

Operators are looking at potentially expanding restrictions already on some long-distance lines to deal with an expected surge of travellers over the winter break, prompting calls from passenger groups for more carriages to be added to ensure people can reach loved ones. 

It comes as the Government confirmed on Tuesday that up to three different households will be able to mix for five days from December 23 as part of a festive relaxation of Covid rules.

Yet on Tuesday, Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, warned people to consider not travelling over the break due to the train network’s “limitations” coping with large numbers of passengers.

Mike Wright has the full story here

05:52 PM

Rave organiser faces £10,000 fine for 'blatant' Covid rules breach

The organiser of a rave that saw 50 people partying until daylight faces a £10,000 fine for what police called a "shocking and blatant" breach of Covid rules.

Officers were called to a building in Pixley Street, Limehouse, east London, at around 7.30am on Sunday where they heard "deafening" music coming from the basement.

They found a party with strobe lights, full sound system and DJ, and up to 50 people drinking and dancing.

Chief Inspector Pete Shaw, from the Central East policing command, said: "This was such a shocking and blatant attempt to breach the regulations. We are living in a health crisis and Tower Hamlets has some of the highest infection rates within London.

"The behaviour by those who organised or attended this rave was downright unacceptable and risked furthering the spread of the virus."

05:42 PM

Pubs are safer than homes at Christmas, says Wetherspoons boss

Going to a pub on Christmas Day is safer than the family living room, despite a Government ban on households mixing in hospitality venues, Tim Martin has said.

The Wetherspoons boss joined calls from industry groups for an amnesty on restrictions on pubs and restaurants over the five-day Christmas break.

“The data we have shows that the infection rate has risen, mainly due to social interactions, particularly private household gatherings,” he told The Telegraph.

“In shops and hospitality venues there are strict measures in place to ensure they are Covid-safe, whereas it is much easier to inadvertently pass on the virus in someone’s house, where people are more relaxed and less vigilant.”

Tony Diver has the full story here

05:36 PM

Mail-order mistletoe racks up service racks up rise in sales despite lockdown

A farm offering mail-order mistletoe has seen a November sales rise despite fears the Covid-19 pandemic would hamper demand for the traditional Christmas crop.

Sarah Starkey runs Mistletoe By Post from Knighton-on-Teme, near Tenbury Wells in Worcestershire, harvesting the plant from her farm's cider orchards.

Sarah Starkey, who runs Mistletoe By Post, harvesting mistletoe on Commonwood Farm in Tenbury Wells.  - Jacob King /PA 
Sarah Starkey, who runs Mistletoe By Post, harvesting mistletoe on Commonwood Farm in Tenbury Wells. - Jacob King /PA

The direct-to-customer service, set up three years ago, offers bespoke bunches and door wreaths, usually in gift boxes designed to fit through a letterbox.

Expressing sadness that 2020's renowned local mistletoe auction has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Ms Starkey said: "This year the holly and mistletoe sales down in Tenbury Wells have not happened at all, which is a big shame, and the first time for many, many years." 

05:29 PM

People can be incubators of more than one strain of Covid-19, says scientists

Due to the "sloppy" nature of Covid-19, one person could be an incubator for more than one strain of the virus thanks to errors in the genetic code,  a scientist at the World Health Organization has said,  Jordan Kelly-Linden reports. 

When viruses infect human cells they replicate and spread by duplicating their genetic code. However this "copy and paste" mechanism can result in mistakes and faults, Dr Frank Konings, Senior Laboratory Expert, told a WHO briefing today.

"We see that a lot with the RNA viruses, they make up quite sloppy viruses, when they make a copy of themselves.

"There are a few errors here and there. Most of these areas still don't make any impact. They may even be detrimental to the virus."

05:20 PM

International aid to Afghanistan set to fall by a fifth in the next four years

International aid to Afghanistan's impoverished government appears set to fall by around a fifth in the next four years as weary donors scale back their giving amid new priorities and the Covid pandemic. 

A four-yearly, aid-giving conference in Geneva saw donors pledge $3bn (£2.3bn) next year for Ashraf Ghani's beleaguered administration, with predictions that total donations would mount to $12bn (£9bn) through to 2024.

That preliminary figure was down from $15.2bn (£11.4bn) given in 2016 for the past four years and came as the country is in the midst of a worsening humanitarian crisis and unrelenting violence. 

Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government have stalled before getting underway and American troops are withdrawing quickly.

Ben Farmer has the full story here

05:15 PM

WHO urges Americans to stay at home and limit holiday season events amidst Covid-19 surge

The World Health Organisation's regional branch for the Americas recommended postponing or reducing mass gatherings during the approaching holiday season as cases surge again in many countries.

This is not the time to be hosting any large gatherings ... during a pandemic, there is no such thing as a risk-free holiday season," the Pan American Health Organization's Assistant Director Jarbas Barbosa said in a briefing. 

Religious services should be held outdoors whenever possible or limited in size, he added.  

With every gathering, every shopping trip and every travel plan increasing the chances of spreading the virus, the safest option for everyone is to stay at home, Barbosa said.

The organisation does not recommend relying on laboratory tests for travellers because they do not guarantee safe travel or eliminate the risks related to infected travellers, he said.

The Americas reported more than 1.5 million cases of Covid-19 in the last seven days, the highest weekly number since the start of the pandemic. 

05:05 PM

Unemployment to hit three million despite furlough extension

Unemployment will surge to a peak of 7.5 per cent next year when the Chancellor’s support for millions of workers is withdrawn as Covid continues to transform Britain’s job market, reports Tom Rees. 

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) warned that almost 3m Britons will be jobless by the second quarter of 2021, with unemployment reaching close to double the levels seen before the pandemic.

It warned that economic shifts caused by the pandemic, such as homeworking and the online shopping boom, will leave the UK with higher long-lasting joblessness. 

The expected unemployment peak is well above the current level of 4.8 per cent but the extension of the furlough scheme until next March will save 300,000 jobs, the budget watchdog predicted.

 Read the full story here.

05:01 PM

Coronavirus rules have compounded the trauma of miscarriage, says charity boss

Coronavirus restrictions have compounded the "trauma and distress" already felt by many women who have miscarried, a charity boss said.

Clea Harmer, chief executive of stillbirth and neonatal death charity Sands, said social distancing limitations have meant women have had to go to hospital and grieve their unborn baby alone.

After the Duchess of Sussex spoke out on Wednesday about losing her unborn baby, Ms Harmer highlighted the "enormous" impact coronavirus is having for women going through the same struggle.

She said: "Attending scans and appointments can be really difficult, especially if you have had a miscarriage before, or your baby has died before, and often the scan is the place where you were told your baby has died.

"To be in that position on your own, without your partner there... there are heartbreaking stories of mothers being told on their own and having to go out to the car park or back home and tell their partner themselves." 

04:52 PM

Watch: Sunak's spending spree: How will the UK pay for coronavirus aid?

04:46 PM

Face shields inspired by fashion houses created using medical-grade plastic

A Scottish artist has created bespoke face shields so workers can be both safe and stylish.

Boo Paterson from Fife was inspired to create the designs - using regular personal protective equipment (PPE) when she heard fashion houses in Paris were reopening.

Artist Boo Paterson, from Fife, models some of the bespoke protective face shields she was inspired to create during lockdown when she saw that the big fashion houses in Paris were re-opening their stores with staff wearing medical PPE - Jane Barlow/PA
Artist Boo Paterson, from Fife, models some of the bespoke protective face shields she was inspired to create during lockdown when she saw that the big fashion houses in Paris were re-opening their stores with staff wearing medical PPE - Jane Barlow/PA

Ms Paterson set about creating the face shields, which are crafted from medical-grade plastic. 

"I came up with the idea when I saw that the big fashion houses in Paris were reopening their stores with staff in medical PPE. "It seemed so incongruous for these icons of style," she said. 

04:37 PM

Comment: 'Grim forecasts spell out the ugly truth of long economic Covid'

Falling productivity and high deficits will linger as business investment suffers post-pandemic hangover , writes Russell Lynch. 

The economy has a nasty case of long Covid. The OBR has the economy 3pc smaller in 2025 as a result of the pandemic, meaning permanent damage of more than £60bn. Despite prospects for consumers looking healthier as more fortunate households splash out enforced savings, business investment has stalled and remains more than 20pc below the end of 2019. 

Read Russell Lynch's full comment here

04:29 PM

Would-be holidaymakers fined after repeated attempts to cross channel

ore than 40 people have been hit with fines after trying to cross the Channel since the weekend.

Many admitted they were going on holiday and tried to get to France even after being stopped by police.

Among those fined were two men and two women from Barnsley, two men and a woman from Ipswich, a man from Preston, a man from Welling and several people from London, Coventry and Essex, Kent Police confirmed.

Assistant Chief Constable Claire Nix said: "It is very worrying that despite the well-publicised national restrictions and advice, some people still aren't getting the message.

"Unless you have to travel for work or have a legitimate reason to be arriving at the Port of Dover or the Channel Tunnel, our officers will turn you away."

04:23 PM

Egyptian inventor trials robot that can test for Covid-19

With Egypt facing a second coronavirus wave, an inventor is trialing a remote-control robot which can test for Covid-19, take the temperature of patients, and warn them if they don't wear masks at a private hospital north of Cairo.

A volunteer is examined by Cira 3, a remote-controlled robot that runs tests on suspected coronavirus disease - Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters
A volunteer is examined by Cira 3, a remote-controlled robot that runs tests on suspected coronavirus disease - Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

Mahmoud el-Komy, who designed the robot, called Cira-03, says it can help limit exposure to infection and prevent the transmission of the virus.

His creation, which has a human-like face and head and robotic arms, can take blood tests, perform echocardiograms and X-rays, and display the results to patients on a screen attached to its chest.

"I tried to make the robot seem more human, so that the patient doesn't fear it. So they don't feel like a box is walking in on them," he said.

04:11 PM

Manchester mayor says 'more likely than not' city will enter Tier 3 restrictions

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said it was "more likely than not" the area would be made subject to Tier 3 restrictions.

Speaking at an online press conference, he said: "We don't know what tier we will be in, that still has not been communicated to us. I think it is fair to say we are heading at some speed to Tier 3, Tier 2 borderline, given the figures."

He said although infection numbers in Greater Manchester were still high, the rates were falling.

"If things continue in this direction at the rate at which we are seeing change in Greater Manchester, I would want to ask the Government for a serious review of Greater Manchester's position at the first review of tiering arrangements which is scheduled to take place two weeks from now," he added. 

04:01 PM

White House considers lifting European travel restrictions

The White House is considering rescinding entry bans for most non-US citizens who recently were in Brazil, Britain, Ireland and 26 other European countries, five US and airline officials told Reuters.

The Trump administration imposed the bans in a bid to contain the pandemic. It is not considering lifting separate entry bans on most non-US citizens who have recently been in China or Iran, officials said.

The plan has won the backing of White House coronavirus task-force members, public health and other federal agencies but President Donald Trump has not made a final decision and the timing remains uncertain.

Read the full article here

03:53 PM

Lancashire council leaders plan to divide county into two different tiers after Dec 2

ancashire's council leaders have submitted a proposal to the Government to divide the county into two different tiers when the lockdown ends next week.

A request has been made for Hyndburn, Rossendale, Burnley, Pendle and Preston to go into Tier 3 restrictions while Fylde, Wyre, Lancaster, Chorley, South Ribble, Ribble Valley and West Lancashire would go into Tier 2.

Shaun Turner, cabinet member for health and wellbeing at Lancashire County Council, said: "We are seeing rates reduce across almost all parts of the county and that is down to the hard work and sacrifices of our residents. I can only thank everyone for playing their part.

"With lower rates we believe it is appropriate for some parts of the county to go into Tier 2 and hope it will be very soon before they are joined by the rest of the county."

03:46 PM

Huge drop in new HIV diagnoses across eastern Europe as Covid surge disrupts care

The Covid-19 pandemic has severely impacted healthcare systems in eastern Europe and central Asia, as experts warn that new HIV and TB cases are going undetected among vulnerable groups, reports Jordan Kelly-Linden.

The region, which includes countries such as Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus and Georgia and Kazakhstan, accounts for 26 per cent of cumulative Covid-19 cases across the whole WHO European region. 

It is also one of the only regions on earth where the HIV epidemic and burden of multidrug-resistant (MDR) TB is escalating, however, new infections are being missed and treatments is becoming harder to access thanks to disruptions caused by the Covid-19 crisis, a special advisor to UNAids has warned.

“Covid-19 severely affects the access to testing for HIV and detection of TB and MDR TB,” Michel Kazatchkine, Special Advisor to the UN on AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia told a briefing on Wednesday.

New diagnoses of TB are down as much as 50 per cent compared to 2019 thanks to the chaos caused by Covid-1

03:43 PM

Angela Merkel says Germany can't extend Covid economic aid for whole winter

Germany will not be able to keep in place its financial lifeline for businesses forced to close by the coronavirus pandemic through the whole winter, Chancellor Angela Merkel told federal state leaders on Wednesday.

The government expects economic aid for businesses to total 10-15 billion euros ($12-18 billion) in November and sources estimate additional costs for December could come to some 15-20 billion euros. 

Coronavirus Germany Spotlight Chart - cases default
Coronavirus Germany Spotlight Chart - cases default

03:34 PM

RAF drafted in to support mass testing in South Wales

The British Armed Forces have deployed around 170 RAF personnel to support mass testing in Merthyr Tydfil and surrounding areas in South Wales.

The personnel are helping to run mass testing sites around the town and are using lateral flow tests to help identify asymptomatic cases and break chains of transmission.

RAF personnel undertake PPE training at a leisure centre before being deployed to temporary remote testing sites  - Leon Neal/Getty Images Europe
RAF personnel undertake PPE training at a leisure centre before being deployed to temporary remote testing sites - Leon Neal/Getty Images Europe

South Wales is currently the region of the country hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, with Merthyr Tydfil recently named as having the worst case rate for Covid-19 in the UK.

Test kit supplies at a temporary Covid-19 testing site within a leisure centre in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales - Getty Images Europe 
Test kit supplies at a temporary Covid-19 testing site within a leisure centre in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales - Getty Images Europe

 

03:30 PM

I've rung the North Pole, and Covid won't stop Father Christmas coming, Boris Johnson tells eight-year-old

Boris Johnson has confirmed Father Christmas will be visiting homes this year, but children should leave hand sanitiser with their offerings of mince pies to prevent the spread of the virus.

Eight-year-old Monti wrote a letter to the Prime Minister asking if “the government had thought about Santa coming this Christmas”.

“If we leave hand sanitiser by the cookies can he come?” the child wrote, according to a handwritten letter posted on Twitter by Mr Johnson. 

Responding to his letter Mr Johnson assured the child that he had “put in a call to the North Pole” and that “I can tell you Father Christmas is ready and raring to go”.

Mr Johnson went on, “as are Rudolph and all of the other reindeer”.

03:23 PM

Indonesia reports record daily rise in coronavirus infections

Indonesia reported on Wednesday a record daily rise in coronavirus infections with 5,534 new cases, bringing the total to 511,836, according to its Covid-19 task force.

The task force's data also showed 114 new Covid-19 deaths, bringing total fatalities to 16,225.

Pondok Ranggon cemetery complex in Jakarta provided for victims of Covid-19 - Willy Kurniawan/Reuters
Pondok Ranggon cemetery complex in Jakarta provided for victims of Covid-19 - Willy Kurniawan/Reuters

Southeast Asia's biggest country has the region's highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths.

03:20 PM

Michelin-starred Italian restaurant serves country's poor during pandemic

 In the kitchen of the Michelin-starred Del Cambio restaurant, chef Matteo Baronetto fusses over a boiling vat of paccheri - fat pasta tubes to be immersed in a light tomato sauce.

But the delicious meals will not be served to patrons of this historic eatery in the Italian city of Turin, which is shut because of the latest coronavirus restrictions. Instead, they will be handed out to those in need.

"Tre Galline" restaurant chef Luigi Rosato (C) and his team prepare a baked potato flan - AFP/Miguel Medina
"Tre Galline" restaurant chef Luigi Rosato (C) and his team prepare a baked potato flan - AFP/Miguel Medina

Baronetto is part of the "Solidarity Kitchens" project, a network of 21 restaurants, volunteers and charities in the northern city that has served up about 35,000 meals since it began in late March.

Project coordinator Andrea Chiuni, head chef of the Tre Galline ("Three Hens") restaurant, said it did not take a lot of extra effort for professional chefs to whip up a simple, nutritious meal, even for hundreds.

03:12 PM

Government saves £600m on state pension payments as Covid deaths surge

The Government will save over £600m in state pension payments this year following a steep rise in excess deaths among the elderly, according to the budget watchdog. 

The expected number of excess pensioner deaths has shot up by more than 45pc, to 90,000 this year, because of the latest surge in the number of coronavirus cases.

Those over the age of 70 are most vulnerable to the disease and have been following strict social distancing measures since the start of the pandemic. However, the Covid-19 death toll has grown to 66,713 in Britain by mid-November, Government figures have reported.  

The state pension
The state pension

 Jessica Beard has the full story here

03:09 PM

Bulgaria closes restaurants and schools to fight virus

Bulgaria's government announced Wednesday a return to tougher restrictions, closing restaurants and schools in the face of a surge in infections and deaths as the country endures a second wave of coronavirus.

"New anti-epidemic measures are coming into force from November 27 until December 21," Health Minister Kostadin Angelov told a news conference after a government meeting early Wednesday.

Cafes and restaurants had remained open even as infection and death rates peaked over the past two weeks, but they will now close along with casinos, fitness studios and shopping centres.

02:59 PM

Spain considers limiting Christmas celebrations to six people, PM says

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Wednesday that his government was considering limiting Christmas celebrations to six people in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus

Health experts and scientists have advised that six is a sufficiently low number to help stop the virus, Sanchez said, adding that the final details of the restrictions will be negotiated with regional authorities

Coronavirus Spain Spotlight Chart - Cases default
Coronavirus Spain Spotlight Chart - Cases default

02:51 PM

Lottery winners team up to deliver Christmas hampers to carers

A team of lottery winners have been bringing early Christmas cheer to carers by delivering festive hampers.

The lucky group, worth a combined total of more than £26 million, formed a Christmas elf hamper task force to spread some goodwill.

They created than 100 luxury hampers for carers at Age Concern Central Lancashire.

Natalie Cunliffe, from Blackpool, who won £1 million on a National Lottery scratchcard four years ago said: "My grandma is in a care home suffering with dementia. "Carers are the ones that are with our loved ones when we can't be, especially this year, so it's just to show our thank you.

You're not unrecognised, you are doing an amazing job."

Lottery winner Natalie Cunliffe delivers Christmas hampers to carers at Charnley Fold Day Centre in Bamber Bridge near Preston - PA
Lottery winner Natalie Cunliffe delivers Christmas hampers to carers at Charnley Fold Day Centre in Bamber Bridge near Preston - PA

02:46 PM

Researchers warn world needs to 'remain vigilant' as Covid vaccines could cause virus to mutate

Coronavirus vaccines could cause the virus to mutate, meaning new forms would need to be created, scientists have said.

Researchers at University College London (UCL) warned that the world needs to remain vigilant for genetic changes to Sars-Cov-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

Scientists said the imminent introduction of vaccines may “exert new selective pressures on the virus” that may lead to mutations that do not respond to jabs.

Their comments are based on analysis of genetic material from more than 46,000 people with Covid-19 from 99 countries.

Author Lucy Van Dorp, of the UCL Genetics Institute, said: “Fortunately, we found that none of these mutations are making Covid-19 spread more rapidly, but we need to remain vigilant and continue monitoring new mutations, particularly as vaccines get rolled out."

Henry Bodkin has the full story here

02:37 PM

Tier reallocation “too slow” research shows

Tier 1 restrictions in England had “little impact” on Covid-19 transmission according to new research from the University of East Anglia.

The study examines how well the UK Government’s tier system worked in England, before the second lockdown came into effect.

They found that Tier one rules - the least restrictive - were largely inadequate and Tier two rules were only effective in around half of local authority areas. Tier three restrictions seemed to be effective in most areas.

Academics say the real problem lies with regions not being allocated to the most appropriate tier swiftly enough.

Lead researcher, Professor Paul Hunter, said: “Based on this analysis, almost all of the regions in Tier 1 should have been in Tier 2. And about half of Tier 2 should have been in Tier 3.

“Whilst an additional even more restrictive tier may be needed, the evidence from Tier 3 areas so far suggests that few local authorities would have needed such a more restrictive tier."

02:30 PM

Minks culled over coronavirus fears rise from mass grave in Denmark

A rushed cull of Denmark's minks over concerns about a coronavirus mutation has left the country facing a new horror, as cadavers of the animals re-emerge from the earth.

Thousands of mink carcasses being buried at the Jydske Dragonregiment's training ground at Noerre Felding near Holstebro in Denmark, - AFP
Thousands of mink carcasses being buried at the Jydske Dragonregiment's training ground at Noerre Felding near Holstebro in Denmark, - AFP

The macabre phenomenon was observed in a military training field outside the western town of Holstebro, where thousands of minks had been put into an improvised mass grave.

The carcasses rose to the surface, lifted by pressure from gases released by the decomposition, according to local police.

The environment ministry said minks should be covered by at least 150 centimetres of earth, but according to public broadcaster DR they were only buried under 100 centimetres of dirt in the field outside Holstebro.

Read the full story here 

02:10 PM

Free Covid tests for Czechs to start Dec 18, minister says

The Czech Republic should begin offering free antigen tests for Covid-19 for all who want them from December 18, Health Minister Jan Blatny said today. 

A mother with her child looks on at memorial site for people who died with Covid-19 in Prague - Martin Divisek/Shutterstock
A mother with her child looks on at memorial site for people who died with Covid-19 in Prague - Martin Divisek/Shutterstock

The Czech Republic has been one of the worst-hit countries in Europe in the second wave of the pandemic.

The nation is set to ease some of its measures that have been in place for weeks had have helped to reduce the infection rate. 

Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Tuesday he wanted free testing on a voluntary basis before Christmas, expanding the use of antigen tests, which are faster and logistically easier than standard PCR (swab) tests but less accurate.

02:01 PM

Councils will have access to extra £1bn next year to relieve coronavirus pressures

Local authorities will have access to an extra £1 billion to help them fund social care and address coronavirus pressures next year, the Government has said.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said investment in public services will allow councils to increase core spending by 4.5 per cent, and they will have extra flexibility to increase council tax and social care precepts.

Rishi Sunak leaves 11 Downing Street, London, ahead of delivering his one-year Spending Review in the House of Common - Yui Mok/PA
Rishi Sunak leaves 11 Downing Street, London, ahead of delivering his one-year Spending Review in the House of Common - Yui Mok/PA

Councils will be able to access over £1 billion of spending for social care through a £300 million social care grant and the option to levy a three per cent adult social care precept.

Local authorities will be able to increase council tax bills by two per cent without needing a referendum. 

The Government expects to provide local authorities with more than £3 billion to address Covid-19 pressures, including in adult social care.

01:55 PM

Foreign aid budget slashed by £5bn in Sunak's spending review

The Government will cut the overseas aid budget from 0.7 per cent of gross national income to 0.5 per cent this year in a bid to balance the books amid Covid-19's devastating economic impact, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced. 

Outlining the plan to the House of Commons in the comprehensive spending review, Mr Sunak said the country faced an "economic emergency" and that at a time of "unprecedented crisis the government must make tough choices".

He said: "I want to reassure the House that we will continue to protect the world's poorest, spending the equivalent of 0.5 per cent of our national income on overseas aid in 2021, allocating £10 billion this spending review.

And our intention is to return to 0.7 per cent when the fiscal situation allows."

 Read the full piece here by Anne Gulland and Jennifer Rigby

01:49 PM

U.S. unemployment claims rise to 778,000 as pandemic worsens

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose last week to 778,000, evidence that the U.S. economy and job market remain under strain as coroanvirus cases surge and colder weather heighten the risks.

The Labor Department's report today said jobless claims rose from 748,000 the week before.

Before the virus struck hard in mid-March, weekly claims typically amounted to roughly 225,000.

They shot up to 6.9 million during one week in March before dropping yet remain historically high more than eight months later, with many businesses unable to fully reopen.

The number of people who are continuing to receive traditional unemployment benefits is now 6.1 million, up from fewer than 1.7 million a year ago. 

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

01:42 PM

UK economy facing 'lasting damage' after coronavirus emergency, Sunak warns

The economic emergency caused by coronavirus has only just begun and there will be "lasting damage" to the UK, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said as he set out his Spending Review.

Official forecasts showed the UK economy was expected to shrink by 11.3 per cent this year, the worst recession for more than 300 years.

The Chancellor told MPs that the Office for Budget Responsibility did not expect the economy to return to its pre-crisis levels until the end of 2022 and the damage was likely to last.

The "long-term scarring" would mean that in 2025 the economy will be around 3 per cent smaller than expected in March.

The Government will borrow an eye-watering £394 billion this year, equivalent to 19 per cent of GDP - the highest ever recorded in peacetime.

01:37 PM

EU drug regulator 'very hopeful' of positive Covid-19 vaccine opinion by Christmas

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is hopeful that it will be able to produce a scientific opinion on Covid-19 vaccines seeking regulatory approval before Christmas , the regulator's new chief said on Wednesday.

"All going well we would be very hopeful that we could have a positive opinion before Christmas," EMA Executive Director Emer Cooke told RTE radio in an interview. 

01:32 PM

Norway to keep virus restrictions until mid-December

Norway must maintain its most recent coronavirus restrictions for now and needs at least another three weeks to assess whether they can be lifted, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said today.

European governments are grappling with the spread of the disease while people want to celebrate Christmas and New Year.

"There is light at the end of the tunnel. We must hold on," Solberg told a news conference, adding that authorities could offer vaccines to vulnerable groups early next year, if European health authorities approve vaccines by the end of this year.

Non-EU Norway will get access to vaccines obtained by the EU, thanks to Sweden, an EU member that will buy more than it needs and sell them to Norway.

01:27 PM

Coronavirus Christmas rules likely to be tightened in Scotland, says Sturgeon

Rules allowing people to meet up at Christmas in Scotland are likely to be tightened when they are set out on Thursday, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

The UK Government and devolved administrations have agreed a joint plan to relax social distancing rules over the festive period, allowing three households to mix from December 23 to 27.

During her daily Covid-19 briefing on Wednesday, Ms Sturgeon said guidance about the festive period to be issued on Thursday is still being finalised.

She said: "The expectation should be that the guidance will probably look to tighten around the edges rather than further expand and that will be true with the travel window of opportunity as well - we want to limit that window, not expand it."

01:24 PM

Ex-England rugby captain Will Carling criticised for 'rubbish' Covid-19 tweets

Welsh Government minister has criticised former England rugby captain Will Carling for tweeting "rubbish" about the coronavirus pandemic.

Health and social care minister Vaughan Gething said Carling had a "significant social media following" and people would believe what he said.

Carling, who won three Five Nations Grand Slams and led England to the 1991 World Cup final, has recently shared tweets from biochemist Mike Yeadon, including one about a video criticising the lockdown being removed from YouTube.

Mr Gething, who was speaking at the Senedd's health, social care and sport committee, said there is a "rising tide of denial and conspiracy theories" which has led to health staff receiving abuse.

"I saw something, and I can mention his name, because Will Carling tweeted something that I thought was rubbish, and there are a range of other healthcare professionals saying this is not true," Mr Gething said.

01:18 PM

Coronavirus hits Italian birth rate

The coronavirus crisis has hit Italy's already historically-low birth rate, new projections from the national statistics agency reveal.

Italy had last year already recorded its lowest number of births for 150 years, at 420,000, but this could fall to 408,000 in 2020 and 393,000 in 2021, according to Istat.

The projections were presented by Istat chief, Gian Carlo Blangiardo, to lawmakers on Tuesday.

"The climate of fear and uncertainty as well as financial difficulties... caused by recent events will have a negative effect on the fertility of Italian couples," he said.

"The demographic recession that has hit Italy since 2015 is significant and translates into a real collapse that has no equivalent in Italian history, except if we go back to 1917-18, with World War I and the dramatic effects of the Spanish flu."

01:13 PM

Football: Barnet chairman fears chaos when crowds return if clubs are moved between different tiers

Barnet chairman Anthony Kleanthous fears ticketing chaos when crowds return as clubs move between different “tiers” and their capacity is impacted. 

Fans will be allowed back in stadiums from December 2, with crowds limited to 4,000 in Tier 1 and 2,000 in Tier 2. Kleanthous has warned that he could sell tickets to watch his team in the National League then face a reduced capacity when restrictions are reviewed. 

He believes clubs will stage matches despite the costs of making stadiums Covid-secure but the tier system will cause problems.   

It makes no sense whatsoever to have varying crowds. Imagine you bought a ticket for a 4,000 crowd and they change tier the next day. Which 2,000 can turn up and which 2,000 can’t?

Mike Mcgrath has the full story here

01:08 PM

Bogus Covid-19 contact tracer jailed for trying to dupe people out of cash

A bogus Covid-19 contact-tracer who tried to dupe people into giving him money over the doorstep has been jailed for six weeks.

Martin Payne, from Oldbury in the West Midlands, was sentenced at Cannock Magistrates' Court after admitting six counts of making false representations in an attempt to make a gain for himself, Staffordshire Police said.

Payne wore a high-visibility bib while telling householders in Stafford in September  he was collecting on behalf of the NHS,

However, Payne was rumbled when residents asked for identification and traced when homeowners contacted police, with doorbell camera footage forming part of the evidence against him.

The 30-year-old was jailed on November 12 and ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £128.

01:05 PM

Fears of Covid-19 second wave in India as daily cases increase again

India is at the beginning of a second wave of Covid-19 infections, public health experts fear, after reporting more new daily cases than recoveries since Monday.

India's underfunded public health system has been struggling to contain the world's second-largest Covid-19 epidemic  - Hemanshi Kamani/Reuters
India's underfunded public health system has been struggling to contain the world's second-largest Covid-19 epidemic - Hemanshi Kamani/Reuters

Last week, the number of new daily infections in India dropped below 30,000 – a significant decrease from its mid-September peak of 97,399 - but this figure has risen steadily again, with 44,376 new cases recorded on Tuesday.

Public health experts had urged caution when the numbers of new daily infections in India began to fall in October, arguing that it was because testing in many Indian states had again dropped and so cases were simply being missed.

Joe Wallen has the full story here

12:58 PM

Germany plans Christmas curbs as Covid-19 deaths hit record

Germany reported a record 410 Covid-19 deaths over 24 hours just before federal state leaders and Chancellor Angela Merkel were due to discuss an extension of pandemic-related restrictions into December and for the Christmas and New Year holidays.

The number of confirmed cases increased by 18,633 to 961,320, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed today.

However, the death toll jumped 410 to 14,771, up from 305 a week ago, and just 49 on November 2, the day Germany introduced a partial lockdown.

Coronavirus Germany Spotlight Chart - deaths default
Coronavirus Germany Spotlight Chart - deaths default

12:52 PM

U.S. surpasses 2,000 Covid deaths in a day with hospitals already full

Daily U.S. deaths from Covid-19 surpassed 2,000 for the first since May and with hospitals across the country already full, portending a surge in mortalities to come as the coronavirus pandemic casts a shadow over the holiday season.

The death toll reached 2,157 on Tuesday - one person every 40 seconds - with another 170,000 people infected, numbers that experts say could grow with millions of Americans defying official warnings and travelling for Thursday's Thanksgiving holiday. 

U.S. hospitalisations for Covid-19 surpassed 87,000 on Tuesday, an all-time high, while 30 of the 50 states reported a record number of virus related hospitalisations this month.  

Since the global pandemic began, the U.S. totals of nearly 260,000 deaths and 12.6 million infections lead the world and "all the Thanksgiving travel ensures no one will catch us, either," said Dr. Tatiana Prowell of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

12:44 PM

German restaurant bears out pandemic with furry customers

The owner of a Frankfurt restaurant is staging a protest against the Covid lockdown in Germany by filling his tables with a hundred stuffed toy pandas, in a play on the word "pandemic".

Fluffy toy panda bears as part of the art installation "Panda mie" by Italian restaurant owner Giuseppe "Pino" Fichera  - Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters
Fluffy toy panda bears as part of the art installation "Panda mie" by Italian restaurant owner Giuseppe "Pino" Fichera - Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

German officials are expected on Wednesday to agree to extend until December 20 a "lockdown light" they imposed on November 2 requiring bars, restaurants and entertainment venues to stay closed, while shops and schools can remain open.

"We wanted to put some life back into our restaurant," said Guiseppe Fichera, manager of restaurant Pino. "They are Panda-Mic pandas."

"It is a silent protest. An offer to our guests," Fichera said, adding he would keep the lights on all day and night as long as the lockdown lasts so passersby can enjoy the display.

12:39 PM

Lithuania extends pandemic lockdown as Covid cases surge on

The outgoing Lithuanian government today extended a lockdown in the country until December 17, when the new government is expected to take over, as Covid-19 cases in the country continued to soar.

The Lithuanian government said the lockdown had stabilised new infections at about 11,000 per week, twice as high as during the week of November 4 when the three-week lockdown was announced.

"The spread has slowed somewhat, but the situation remains really serious," Health Minister Aurelijus Veryga said during a televised cabinet session

12:34 PM

Risk of spreading Covid-19 from Christmas cards is 'low,' says expert

The risk of spreading Covid-19 from sending Christmas cards to friends and loved ones is "low", an academic has said.

Dr Julian Tang, honorary associate professor at the University of Leicester, advised that cards and similar objects with the potential to carry the virus pose "minimal risk" of infection.

He said: "People shouldn't worry about sending Christmas cards to friends and loved ones this year and spreading more than just festive cheer - sending cards presents a low risk of infection from Covid-19.

"Epidemiologically, we know that this virus does not transmit much via surfaces so the risk of infection remains minimal - especially given the journey the card has to take through the postal system.

"The successful transfer and infection of SARS-CoV-2 via this route is generally poor but if people are worried just wash your hands after opening cards, before touching your eyes, nose or mouth."

12:24 PM

Relatives of pandemic virus found in labs in Cambodia and Japan

Scientists have discovered coronaviruses related to SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the pandemic, have been stored for several years in laboratory freezers in Cambodia and Japan, supporting a theory that Covid-19 may not have originally emerged from China. 

The viruses are the first known relatives of SARS-CoV-2 to be found outside of China, according to a report in science journal Nature.

The virus in Cambodia was found in Shamel’s horseshoe bats captured in 2010, while a team in Japan reported the discovery of another closely related coronavirus, found in frozen bat droppings dating back to 2013. 

Nicola Smith has the full story here

12:19 PM

One fifth of offences during and after lockdown involved domestic abuse

One in five offences recorded by police during and immediately after the first national lockdown in England and Wales involved domestic abuse, figures show.

Police recorded more than a quarter of a million offences flagged as domestic abuse-related over April to June, the Office for National Statistics said.

The 259,324 offences represent a rise of seven per cent from the same period in 2019, and an 18 per cent rise from two years ago.

The ONS said the number of offences flagged as involving domestic abuse has been increasing over recent years, so it cannot be determined whether the rise is directly due to the pandemic.

12:15 PM

Covid risk to consumers from cold chain products 'very low', says Chinese official

The risk to consumers of catching coronavirus from cold chain food products was "very low," a senior Chinese official said today after China increased inspections of imported frozen foods to the irritation of its trade partners.

The World Health Organization has also said the risk of catching Covid-19 from frozen food is low.

China's screening of cold chain products, which include frozen and other perishable items that must be kept cold, has slowed the trade.

"The risk of consumers catching coronavirus through general contact of cold chain food products and their outer packaging is very low," said Li Ning, deputy director at China National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment, citing steps by the authorities to prevent goods from passing on the virus.

Screening of cold chain products for the virus showed the detection ratio was 0.48/10,000, officials said.

12:09 PM

Uganda: How the pandemic is being exploited to persecute LGBTQ+ people

The LGBTQ+ community has long faced discrimination in Uganda, where there have been repeated attempts to introduce the death penalty for same-sex relations.

Mob assaults are a regular occurrence and last year 127 people were arrested in a raid on a gay-friendly bar. The situation has been intensified by the coronavirus pandemic.

The number of LGBTQ+ people arrested in Uganda has at least doubled since March, human rights organisations report.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has learned of more than 100 cases across the country in which police or military have been accused of using new powers brought in during the pandemic to arrest, extort or imprison LGBTQ+ people, as happened to the shelter residents.

While restrictions are easing in various countries, many of the laws brought in to deal with Covid-19 have no sunset clause – a date it ceases to have effect – said Louise Edwards of the non-profit African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum.

Read the full story here by Madlen Davies and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism

12:06 PM

Half of teens 'unable to stop worrying' at times during pandemic

Half of British teenagers have been unable to stop worrying at times during the coronavirus pandemic, according to research.

The majority of young people have also felt alone, worried and believe the virus will damage their future, a study by the Mental Health Foundation and Swansea University found.

Researchers surveyed 2,375 British teenagers aged 13 to 19 between August 24 and September 8.

Half of the respondents said they had not been able to stop or control their worrying at times during the two weeks prior to the survey.

More than two thirds (69 per cent) of the teenagers said they had felt alone during the pandemic, and 58 per cent have felt they have had no-one to talk to.

A further 68 per cent fear the crisis will make the future worse for their generation.

11:49 AM

Taxpayer tab for Eat Out to Help Out hits £850m

Diners ate more than 160m discounted meals in August thanks to the Chancellor’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme, at a cost of £849m, official data shows. 

The Treasury sponsored half the cost of meals up to £10 a head on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays in August to boost the hospitality sector after the first national lockdown.

New figures from HM Revenue and Customs revealed that more than 49,000 restaurants, pubs and cafes claimed £849m by the end of September through the subsidy scheme. The Treasury had originally budgeted £500m for the scheme. 

Julian Jessop, an independent economist and fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: "Some of the cash will have subsidised meals that would have been bought anyway. Some of the rest may simply have diverted spending from other activities. We will never know for sure, but it seems unlikely that this was a sensible use of £849m." 

Lizzy Burden has the full story here

11:44 AM

Scientists warn of third wave risk over Christmas bubble plan

Easing coronavirus restrictions over Christmas could lead to a third wave of the pandemic and another lockdown, scientists have warned. 

Boris Johnson urged the public to "think carefully" over the festive period after it was confirmed that three households will be able to mix from December 23 to 27.

Professor Graham Medley, an expert in infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine told BBC Radio 4's Today programme:  "I think we're in a process now whereby the population's risk of filling up the NHS is really being passed down to us as individuals

Andrew Hayward, professor of infectious diseases epidemiology at University College London, warned easing measures would lead to increased transmission and a possible "third wave" of infection.

"Effectively what this will be doing is throwing fuel on the Covid fire," the professor, who is also a Sage member, told BBC2's Newsnight on Tuesday.

11:38 AM

Biden to discuss Covid response as Thanksgiving holiday nears

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden will give a speech today highlighting the challenges facing Americans as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches and the nation faces a surge in coronavirus infections and a wave of unpopular health restrictions.

The address is meant to encourage Americans and focus on the sacrifices they are making during the holiday season, his office said, as officials across the country plead with Americans to stay at home and avoid large gatherings that can spread Covid-19

The number of patients being treated for coronavirus infections in U.S. hospitals surpassed 86,000, an all-time high, on Tuesday. The death toll has passed 257,000.

Map of coronavirus cases and deaths worldwide
Map of coronavirus cases and deaths worldwide

11:31 AM

Swedish life expectancy to drop for first time in century due to Covid-19

Life expectancy is set to drop in Sweden this year as a direct result of the  pandemic, the country’s statistics agency said.

The average age people live “has increased steadily in Sweden from 1900 to 2019". "The fact that it’s now falling stands out,” the organisation said. 

Sweden has suffered a much higher Covid-19 mortality rate than its Nordic neighbours, with its old-age care homes particularly hard hit.

For men, average life expectancy has already fallen to 80.8 in the year through August, from 81.3, Statistics Sweden said. For women, it fell to 84.4 from 84.7.

Based on the development so far, “Life expectancy in Sweden will most likely fall this year,”  with the biggest drop expected to hit the greater Stockholm area. 

11:24 AM

Israel plans to close border with Palestinian Authority after Covid cases spike

This from the office of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, whose administrations plans to close the West Bank border with the Palestinian Authority due to rising coronavirus cases:

11:12 AM

Coronavirus news from around the world, in pictures

People attend a rehearsal of Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata with a 21.8 percent attendance capacity as part of coronavirus restrictions at the Liceu Grand Theatre in Barcelona on November 24, 2020 - Lluis Gene/AFP
People attend a rehearsal of Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata with a 21.8 percent attendance capacity as part of coronavirus restrictions at the Liceu Grand Theatre in Barcelona on November 24, 2020 - Lluis Gene/AFP
Students wearing face masks to protect against the coronavirus, ride in a tri-wheeler to school in Lahore, Pakistan - K. M. Chaudary/AP
Students wearing face masks to protect against the coronavirus, ride in a tri-wheeler to school in Lahore, Pakistan - K. M. Chaudary/AP
Healthcare workers in hazmat suits collect specimen samples through a plexiglass wall during a Covid-19 swab test in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia - Dedi Sinuhaji/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Healthcare workers in hazmat suits collect specimen samples through a plexiglass wall during a Covid-19 swab test in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia - Dedi Sinuhaji/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
An elderly couple have spent the last month transforming their home into a real life Candy Lane for Christmas - featuring a brilliant light parade and a sweet shop - Alex Cousins/SWNS
An elderly couple have spent the last month transforming their home into a real life Candy Lane for Christmas - featuring a brilliant light parade and a sweet shop - Alex Cousins/SWNS

11:01 AM

Japan and China agree to drop quarantine for business trips

Japan and China have agreed to allow business trips between the two countries without a 14-day quarantine before the end of the month, Danielle Demetriou reports from Tokyo.

The amendment of quarantine rules was agreed during a meeting in Tokyo between China’s foreign minister Wang Yi and his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi.

The agreement will allow business travel between the two nations via a “business track” programme, which will permit visitors to engage in limited activities during the quarantine period. Japan – where Chinese nationals topped the list of foreign visitors pre-pandemic – recently agreed the same arrangements with several other Asian nations.

The move, which comes amid a recent spike in cases in Japan, marks a major easing of travel restrictions between the two nations, with the goal of bolstering their economies.

Pedestrians using a crossing in Tokyo, which confirmed more than 400 new coronavirus cases today. - Eugene Hoshiko/AP
Pedestrians using a crossing in Tokyo, which confirmed more than 400 new coronavirus cases today. - Eugene Hoshiko/AP

The move comes as coronavirus continues its resurgence in Japan, with an apparent third wave hitting a number of regional hubs including Osaka and Hokkaido as well as Tokyo, where 401 new cases were reported on Wednesday.

Yuriko Koike, Tokyo Governor, called on restaurants and karaoke parlours on Wednesday to close by 10pm for three weeks from this weekend to stem cases.

10:53 AM

Eat Out to Help Out saw more than 160 million meals sold

Business that took part in Eat Out to Help Out in August sold more than 160 meals throughout the scheme, according to official figures.

More than 49,000 participating restaurants, pubs and cafes claimed a total of almost £850 million by the end of September through the subsidy scheme, which took place after the easement of the first national lockdown. 

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak places an Eat Out to Help Out sticker in the window of a business during a visit to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute - Jeff J Mitchell/PA Wire
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak places an Eat Out to Help Out sticker in the window of a business during a visit to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute - Jeff J Mitchell/PA Wire

Fifty-five per cent of claims were made by restaurants, with pubs making up 28 per cent of meals, according to the new data from HMRC.

It also revealed customers received an average discount of £5.24 per meal claimed.

Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, yesterday defended the scheme and said the "needs of the economy have to be balanced" with public health considerations. He added cases were "incredibly low" in August when the policy was in place.

10:45 AM

Sweden coronavirus news: Up to 1 in 5 Covid care home cases never saw a doctor

As many as one in five of the elderly care home residents who caught Covid-19 in Sweden never saw a doctor, the country's health inspectorate has revealed in a report outlining "serious shortcomings" in the country's care homes.

The investigation by the Health and Social Care Inspectorate examined the journals of 847 care home residents with suspected Covid-19. 

Of those, only between five and seven per cent ever physically met a doctor, with the vast majority given consultations remotely by phone or online.  Of the fifth who received no examination by a doctor at all, only 60 per cent were even seen by a trained nurse.

The new findings come as the death rate in Sweden rises rapidly, with 94 new deaths reported between Friday and Tuesday. 

Infections are also yet again spreading within care homes, which have been the site of nearly half of Sweden's 6,500 Covid-19 deaths, despite hopes that improved infection-control regimes would protect them. 

Read more: New findings expose Sweden's care home issues

10:35 AM

'Super spreader' in high risk age group can tour UK at Christmas, confirms Boris Johnson

Father Christmas will still be coming to town in this unprecedented year, Boris Johnson has confirmed in his response to a letter from eight-year-old Monti.

"I've had lots of letters about this, so I have spoken with experts and can assure you that Father Christmas will be packing his sleigh and delivering presents this Christmas!" Mr Johnson said in a tweet (below).

Mr Johnson even cites Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty as saying the 'super-spreading' gift giver poses no risks if he "behaves in his usual responsible way and works quickly and safely".

The Prime Minister goes on to suggest "leaving hand sanitiser by the cookies" in order to ensure safe stocking fillers.

The news ensures a better time for Father Christmas than the last bearded man in red who preoccupied Mr Johnson throughout the festive season.

Specific guidance on the current rules around outdoor groupings which could force three of his reindeer to stay at home is yet to be issued.

10:18 AM

Grassroots sport: Government confirms £16.5m in emergency funding

The Government has confirmed emergency funding arrangements in order to protect the future of grassroots and national youth organisations across the UK.

Ministers have confirmed that they will play ball with Telegraph Sport's campaign to save grassroots sport through the Youth Covid-19 Support Fund, a £16.5 million package.

It will cover grassroots youth clubs as well as national youth and umbrella organisations, ensuring that services which provide essential support will be able to remain open throughout the winter.

The funding will come from a wider £750 million fund which is propping up thousands of charities and other support bodies that have been hit hard by the financial impact of the pandemic.

Full details of the scheme are to be announced in due course.

10:07 AM

Tier 3 rules loom as restaurants brace for 'disaster' of new restrictions

Owners of restaurants, bars, pubs and cafes have been fighting for their businesses since March when the country first went into national lockdown and they had to close their doors, writes Rachel Millard.

Government support such as the furlough scheme, loans and grants - as well as their own resourcefulness with hampers, takeaways and vouchers- helped many make it through to July when they were allowed to reopen.

They then had to work under severe restrictions such as social distancing, bans on socialising and 10pm curfews - before another national lockdown came into force on November 5. 

Police monitor people seated outside bars and restaurants in Soho, London, on the first day after the city was put into Tier 2 restrictions to curb the spread of coronavirus.  - Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
Police monitor people seated outside bars and restaurants in Soho, London, on the first day after the city was put into Tier 2 restrictions to curb the spread of coronavirus. - Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

After December 2 they can reopen but are once again braced for new restrictions over the Christmas period, due to be allocated between different areas on Thursday, depending on local infection rates. 

Not being forced to close is obviously high on the wish-list  - but certainty and consistency would go a long way too, three leading chefs and restaurateurs tell The Telegraph.

09:56 AM

America prepares for Thanksgiving as deaths reach highest level since May

America is bracing for what health officials have warned may be the "mother of all super spreader events" as millions are preparing to see friends and relatives for Thursday's Thanksgiving celebrations, writes Ben Farmer.

Requests to postpone or limit festive get-togethers have failed to prevent large numbers of Americans taking to the airports or highways to visit loved-ones.

Travellers wearing protective face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) go through security before boarding a flight at the airport in Denver, Colorado. - Kevin Mohatt/Reuters
Travellers wearing protective face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) go through security before boarding a flight at the airport in Denver, Colorado. - Kevin Mohatt/Reuters

Meanwhile, the country logged 2,146 more deaths from Covid-19 on Tuesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, the highest daily toll since May.

Some areas of the United States will soon see their health systems overwhelmed, Dr Robert Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said.

"In some areas, we are going to see the health care system overwhelmed,” he told Fox News.

09:44 AM

Live music and Covid: 'The only way forward is to test 30 minutes before a show'

In the live music sector, the news has been dominated by desperate rescue packages designed to save small venues from extinction. Stories of fresh investment in that industry,  blossoming over the last 20 years right up until Covid hit, have been few indeed in 2020.

In early July, however, it was reported that Vince Power, perhaps the biggest player in London’s live scene in the Nineties and Noughties, had bought the lease on Dingwalls, a fabled 500-capacity club in the heart of Camden’s market district.

It comes after worldwide ticketing agency Ticketmaster proposed a scheme whereby gig-goers would present documentation for any vaccine and-or negative Covid test.

“I think the problem with that,” says Power, “is that you can have the test today and be fine, but tomorrow you go to the gig and you could have picked up the virus in the meantime.

“The only way to do it – if they really are talking about instant testing, or at least it taking maybe 15 minutes – is to go in and take the test half an hour before the show. But it's a bloody long procedure for everyone, so maybe it wouldn't work.”

09:33 AM

How to enjoy your Christmas dinner - according to Sage

Tomorrow we find out what tiers we will be in when we come out of lockdown on December 2, writes Allison Pearson.

Further restrictions will be hugely damaging, but those obsessive scientists won’t release us until they are convinced the virus is eradicated. I make that never.

You could be forgiven for thinking the main qualification for sitting on SAGE is no previous experience of being human. Yet a fearful government has subcontracted our daily existence to this odd breed of men and women who clearly view us as lab rats.

Now comes the frankly terrifying news that SAGE is modelling the risks of Christmas lunch. Next we'll be told that the traditional pulling of a cracker is problematic because it involves two people, one at each end.

Read Allison's full imagining of a Sage-approved seasonal shindig.

09:25 AM

Second wave of coronavirus in France is passing, Macron says as rules are loosened

President Emmanuel Macron last night unveiled a three-phase lockdown exit starting with the reopening of all shops starting this weekend, Henry Samuel reports from Paris.

Phase one, which starts next Saturday morning, will see all shops reopen, along with bookstores, libraries, and home services. Religious ceremonies will be authorised for up to 30 people and people will be able to move up to 20km from their home for three hours.

France's Covid death toll has surpassed the 50,000 mark, Mr Macron confirmed, but he said that the second wave had now peaked.

This screen grab made on November 24, 2020 shows French President Emmanuel Macron speaking during a televised address to the Nation on the Covid-19 pandemic  - Thomas Coex/AFP
This screen grab made on November 24, 2020 shows French President Emmanuel Macron speaking during a televised address to the Nation on the Covid-19 pandemic - Thomas Coex/AFP

Phase two will start on December 15 if daily cases are under 5,000 per day and the number of intensive care patients has fallen to 2,500-3,000. It is currently at 4,300.

No more authorisations will be needed to move between regions, and the French will "be able to spend Christmas en famille", even if this will "not be Christmas like any other".

09:10 AM

Moderna vaccines to be produced in France

French Industry Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said on Wednesday that Sweden-based pharmaceutical company Recipharm has signed a letter of intent with US firm Moderna to produce some of its Covid-19 vaccine candidate in France.

Pannier-Runacher said that Recipharm has four plants in France.

The head of the European Commission said on Tuesday that the European Union has struck a deal for up to 160 million doses of Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine candidate, taking the EU's potential stock of Covid-19 doses to nearly 2 billion.

Read more: Latest updates on Oxford, Moderna and Pfizer breakthroughs

09:02 AM

Cruises given green light if companies agree to pay for Covid outbreak repatriations

The Government has given cruises the green light to restart once companies agree to pick up the bill if passengers have to be repatriated because of a Covid outbreak, Charles Hymas and Benjamin Parker report.

The cruise industry has been in suspended animation since July, when the Foreign Office issued blanket advice against all cruise ship travel following a string of Covid outbreaks around the world.

The advice has made it impossible for travellers to get holiday insurance and effectively halted a sector which the industry estimates to be worth almost £10 billion to the UK economy.

Read the full story here.

08:40 AM

'Just in time' PPE contracts did not materialise, association claims

Mark Roscrow, chief of trustees for the Healthcare Supplies Association, said the Government's "just in time contracts" for personal protective equipment (PPE) did not all materialise when the coronavirus pandemic struck.

It comes after the National Audit Office found that the UK spent £10 billion extra in inflated prices for pandemic-battling safety kit due to an "inadequate" stockpile and a surge in global demand.

Mr Roscrow told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that there was a switch, following the 2009 flu outbreak, to holding a range of "just in case, just in time" supply contracts to top-up the stockpile of PPE if a pandemic was declared.

He said: "Unfortunately some of those contracts didn't work for a variety of different reasons, and that was part of the problem in getting PPE at the time that Covid struck."

Asked about the difficulties faced by procurement chiefs, Mr Roscrow added: "There were a number of problems. Initially, there was the scramble to try and get PPE, and we know that demand was huge and that most of this product was coming from China and China at the time had Covid and therefore was not able to turn on the volumes of product that was needed.

"There was worldwide demand for this, so there was the classic supply-and-demand conundrum, and that's what drove price and the lack of availability."

Mr Roscrow said Chinese factories kicking back into gear, along with domestic manufacturers "stepping up to the plate", helped ease supply issues, with the Government, he said, telling procurement officers that 70 per cent of what is now required is being provided from within the UK.

Read more: Government paid 1,300 per cent more for some PPE compared to 2019 prices 

08:30 AM

'Be faithful to your bubble', expert says

Graham Medley, Professor of Infectious Disease Modelling, said it's up to individuals to consider the risks of meeting up at Christmas.

"It is inevitable if a lot of people do take that risk, even if it's a small risk, then it will end up with a lot of people in hospital and potentially having to take measures in January to lockdown again.

"but at some point the Government is going to have to pass those decisions to individuals," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

He said families who want to see elderly relatives should isolate as much as possible beforehand, think about the order in which they see people and the amount of time.

"The idea of bubbles really only works if people are completely faithful to that bubble," he said.

He added: "In the end, the big thing is to weigh up the consequences of getting that risk wrong... there might only be a one in 100 chance in something going wrong and me infecting my mother for example, but do I really want to take that risk in terms of what the outcome is for her?"

08:20 AM

In pictures: Britain prepares for 'mini' merriment

Families will be able to meet with two other households for five days at Christmas under a deal struck by the Government with the devolved nations.

But the measures have already received backlash for either going too far, or not far enough. 

A ban on Christmas bubbles meeting in pubs, theatres or restaurants over the festive period faces a backlash from MPs and business leaders.

But a member of the Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has warned the planned relaxation of restrictions could lead to a third wave of the pandemic.

Professor Andrew Hayward told BBC2's Newsnight: "Effectively what this will be doing is throwing fuel on the Covid fire. I think it will definitely lead to increased transmission. It is likely to lead to a third wave of infection, with hospitals being overrun, and more unnecessary deaths.

"We are still in a country where we have got high levels of infection with Covid, particularly in young people. Bringing them together for hours, let alone days, with elderly relatives, I think, is a recipe for regret for many families."

Guest services manager Bryan Tali places a model of a Christmas Nutcracker, complete with protective facemask, outside the entrance to the Kimpton Blythswood Square Hotel in Glasgow - Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Guest services manager Bryan Tali places a model of a Christmas Nutcracker, complete with protective facemask, outside the entrance to the Kimpton Blythswood Square Hotel in Glasgow - Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Two people wearing face masks look at a display of Christmas trees at Covent Garden, London - Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
Two people wearing face masks look at a display of Christmas trees at Covent Garden, London - Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
A woman wearing a face mask looks at Christmas decorations in the Burlington Arcade, London - Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
A woman wearing a face mask looks at Christmas decorations in the Burlington Arcade, London - Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
A woman wearing a face mask passes Christmas lights outside shops on Oxford Street, London - Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire
A woman wearing a face mask passes Christmas lights outside shops on Oxford Street, London - Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire

08:11 AM

'Think carefully' about who you meet at Christmas, says Drakeford

People should "think carefully" about who they meet and how far they travel over Christmas and use the relaxation of coronavirus restrictions "sensibly and responsibly", the First Minister of Wales has said.

Mark Drakeford told BBC Breakfast: "Coronavirus has not gone away and although Christmas is a very special time and it was important to give people a sense that there was some modest relaxation, it's still relaxation to be used carefully and responsibly."

Mr Drakeford described the agreement between the UK nations on Christmas as "about as good as we could make it" and said it was clear the choice was not between no restrictions or all restrictions.

"Had we asked people simply to live with the current level of restrictions, there was a real risk that people simply wouldn't be able to go along with that," Mr Drakeford said.

He told the BBC that Tuesday's Cobra meeting was "led by the science" and first heard from the chief scientific officer and chief medical officers of the four nations.

08:07 AM

Germany reports record deaths as plans for Christmas continue

Germany reported a record 410 Covid-19 deaths in the last 24 hours, before the 16 federal state leaders and Chancellor Angela Merkel meet today to discuss restrictions for the Christmas and New Year holidays.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases increased by 18,633 to 961,320, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed.

That was 1,072 cases more then the day before but 5,015 less than the record increase reported on Friday.

The reported death toll rose by a record 410 to 14,771, the tally showed. A week ago, the toll was at 305 and on November 2, the day Germany introduced a partial lockdown, at 49.

The federal states are expected to extend the "lockdown light" until December 20 as the measures broke the upwards trend but did not bring numbers down. This will keep bars, restaurants and entertainment venues shut while schools and shops stay open.

They also plan to reduce the number of people allowed to meet to five from December 1, but allow gatherings of up to 10 people over Christmas and New Year to let families and friends celebrate together, a draft proposal showed on Tuesday.

Read more: Second shutdown saps German morale

07:57 AM

Christmas rule-break is to avoid 'free for all'

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has said the decision to agree a relaxing of restrictions over Christmas was to avoid a "free for all".

"I think it was very clear to us from the advice we received at the Cobra meeting, but also from what we hear in Wales, that unless we found a formula that allowed people to get together over Christmas, people were very unlikely to be willing to stick to the current level of restrictions that we have here in Wales," Mr Drakeford told GMB.

"So the choice was between a guided form of meeting over Christmas or people simply making their own solutions."

Mr Drakeford said it was "not a matter of encouraging people" to gather over the festive period.

"It is finding a set of rules that give us a guided way to Christmas - without the rules that we've agreed, I think the risk was very high that people would simply make up the rules for themselves," Mr Drakeford said.

07:42 AM

UK spent £10bn extra for PPE due to an 'inadequate' stockpile

Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, accused ministers of being "far too slow" to respond and said they were left paying "through the roof" for the frontline equipment.   - Victoria Jones/PA Wire
Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, accused ministers of being "far too slow" to respond and said they were left paying "through the roof" for the frontline equipment. - Victoria Jones/PA Wire

The UK spent £10 billion extra in inflated prices for pandemic-battling personal protective equipment (PPE) due to an "inadequate" stockpile and a surge in global demand, a report has concluded.

Procurement chiefs at the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) faced inflated prices for safety kit, paying 1,300 per cent more for some items compared with 2019 prices during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, the National Audit Office (NAO) said.

In its report published on Wednesday, the NAO noted that providers made a "huge effort" to boost PPE supplies as they realised that the country's stockpiles, which were geared up for a flu-style pandemic, would not be sufficient.

Read more the full story here. 

07:31 AM

'We have to put a stop to people dying from loneliness'

The pre-kindergarten group from the Boys and Girls Club visit through the window with members of the supportive daycare program at the Froio Senior Center in Pittsfield, Mass., US. In the UK, Government guidance for care homes in England said that outside visits should only be considered for residents of working age, due to the increased risk of exposure to coronavirus. - Ben Garver/The Berkshire Eagle via AP
The pre-kindergarten group from the Boys and Girls Club visit through the window with members of the supportive daycare program at the Froio Senior Center in Pittsfield, Mass., US. In the UK, Government guidance for care homes in England said that outside visits should only be considered for residents of working age, due to the increased risk of exposure to coronavirus. - Ben Garver/The Berkshire Eagle via AP

Families will be allowed to reunite when measures are temporarily eased from December 23 to 27, allowing three households to form a "Christmas bubble".

But Government guidance for care homes in England said that outside visits should only be considered for residents of working age, due to the increased risk of exposure to coronavirus.

Gavin Terry, head of policy at Alzheimer's Society, said thousands of relatives would be in "complete despair" at the guidelines and called for a national rollout of visits to "keep the spirit of Christmas alive".

He added: "We have to put a stop to people with dementia tragically dying from loneliness and urgently need to see a national rollout of testing and visits to care homes, to keep the spirit of Christmas alive for people with dementia."

Read the full story here.

07:22 AM

£7,000 diamond encrusted face masks on sale in Japan

Japanese trend-setters can now protect against the coronavirus in luxurious style with opulent masks adorned with diamonds and pearls for a cool million yen (£7,161) each.

Cox Co's Mask.com chain began selling the hand-made masks last week, with the aim of cheering up people and spurring sales in a fashion industry depressed by the pandemic.

The diamond masks are embellished with a 0.7 carat diamond and more than 300 pieces of Swarovski crystal, while the pearl masks contain some 330 Japanese Akoya pearls.

"Everyone is feeling down because of the coronavirus and it would be great if they could feel better by looking at one of these glittering masks," Azusa Kajitaka, a mask concierge at the company's store near Tokyo station, told Reuters.

Some visitors to the store were concerned the million-yen masks might be out of their league.

"If I wear one of these face masks, I have to wear suitable fashion to match it. So I think it's a bit embarrassing (to dress up)," said 66-year-old Mitsue Kaneko.

An employee of Cox Co, the operation company of the face-mask speciality shop Mask.com, shows off a luxury face mask made with about 330 pearls which is selling for one million yen  - REUTERS/Issei Kato
An employee of Cox Co, the operation company of the face-mask speciality shop Mask.com, shows off a luxury face mask made with about 330 pearls which is selling for one million yen - REUTERS/Issei Kato
The Japanese masks are still far from the world's most expensive. That honour belongs to a $1.5 million mask made with 250 grams of 18 karat gold designed by Israeli jeweller Yvel - REUTERS/Issei Kato
The Japanese masks are still far from the world's most expensive. That honour belongs to a $1.5 million mask made with 250 grams of 18 karat gold designed by Israeli jeweller Yvel - REUTERS/Issei Kato
Cox, part of retailing group Aeon Co, has opened Mask.com online and in six physical locations since September, offering more than 200 types of masks starting at 500 yen.   - REUTERS/Issei Kato
Cox, part of retailing group Aeon Co, has opened Mask.com online and in six physical locations since September, offering more than 200 types of masks starting at 500 yen. - REUTERS/Issei Kato

07:09 AM

Today's top stories

Good morning from Telegraph HQ. Here are the top coronavirus stories you need to know.

  1. Christmas baubles: Three households can meet for five days as Covid restrictions eased

  2. Tier we go again: Tougher Covid tiers are coming – and with them another potential Tory revolt

  3. Vaccine stocks: Hancock 'overruled officials' to order millions of extra Oxford Covid vaccines

  4. Spending review: Sunak to unveil £4.3 billion package to get one million back into work

  5. Sales snub: Government urged to tell shoppers to skip the Black Friday sales and spend on the High Street

06:58 AM

Singapore nearly virus free after local cases and clusters halted

People eat at a table installed with plexiglass dividers at a food court in Singapore  - REUTERS/Edgar Su
People eat at a table installed with plexiglass dividers at a food court in Singapore - REUTERS/Edgar Su

Having once had the highest Covid-19 rate in Southeast Asia, Singapore has all but eradicated the virus after reporting 14 days without any new local cases on Tuesday, and saying it had snuffed out the last cluster of infection at a worker dormitory.

The cramped dormitories for young, low-wage labourers, mainly from Bangladesh, India and China, had been at the centre of the city-state's spiralling cases earlier this year.

While Singapore has reported zero local cases for two weeks, there has been a trickle of infected people arriving from abroad who have been immediately isolated, authorities say.

Singapore was one of the first countries to report a Covid-19 case outside of China, where the virus first surfaced, on January 23. It has recorded more than 58,000 cases, but nearly all them have recovered and its fatality rate is the world's lowest with just 28 deaths.

The vast majority of Singapore's cases occurred in dormitories. Authorities imposed strict quarantines at the facilities, drawing criticism from human rights groups. But it still took many months to stifle the clusters there even as cases in the broader community stayed low.

Tuesday marked the first time Singapore said it had no live clusters of infection across the island since the start of its outbreak.

06:48 AM

Christmas rules branded 'mockery' by hospitality sector

Plans to relax rules on household mixing over the Christmas period have been branded a "mockery" of restrictions that will remain in place for pubs and the wider hospitality sector.

According to Government guidance published on Tuesday, people cannot meet up with their Christmas bubbles of up to three households inside pubs, hotels, retail, theatres or restaurants between December 23 and 27.

This is despite those within Christmas bubbles being able to visit each other's homes and stay overnight during that period.

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, said: "These plans for Christmas make a mockery of the extra restrictions being placed on pubs and the economic devastation they are facing this Christmas."

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, accused the Government of "muddled thinking" over the exclusion of hospitality businesses from the relaxed Christmas rules.

She said: "This is rapidly turning into the nightmare before Christmas for hospitality. While no-one begrudges families getting together over the festive season, the safest place to do so would be in well-managed and controlled hospitality venues.

"It is also surely better for hotels to be open and providing a place to stay than multiple households being cramped in a single house."

Read more: Three households can meet for five days at Christmas as Covid restrictions eased

Coronavirus podcast - Has hospitality been unfairly targeted?
Coronavirus podcast - Has hospitality been unfairly targeted?

06:00 AM

Teens fear for the future as pandemic continues

Half of British teenagers have been unable to stop worrying at times during the pandemic, according to research.

The majority of young people have also felt alone, worried and believe the virus will damage their future, a study by the Mental Health Foundation and Swansea University found.

Researchers surveyed 2,375 British teenagers aged 13 to 19 between August 24 and September 8.

Half of the respondents said they had not been able to stop or control their worrying at times during the two weeks prior to the survey.

More than two thirds of the teenagers said they had felt alone during the pandemic, and 58 per cent have felt they have had no-one to talk to.

And 68 per cent fear the crisis will make the future worse for their generation.

05:56 AM

Personalised Christmas wishes back on the cards during pandemic

People are planning to send more Christmas cards this year as a result of coronavirus restrictions, according to a survey.

  • One in 10 adults will send more festive greetings this year, and 55 per cent said sending Christmas cards to friends and family is more important amid the pandemic, according to a YouGov poll commissioned by Royal Mail.

  • Those who plan to send more Christmas cards this year said they will send up to 10 more than they usually do, the survey of more than 2,000 people showed.

  • Three-quarters of adults believe sending a Christmas card is a more meaningful way of letting loved ones know you are thinking of them than a social media message or text.

  • About five per cent said they would send a Christmas card to their local postman, with the same number planning to send seasons greetings to other key workers.

  • Royal Mail said the US is forecast to be the most popular overseas destination for festive greetings from the UK in 2020, followed by Australia, the Republic of Ireland, France and Canada.

05:52 AM

Tips for taking precautions with Christmas parcels

Royal Mail recommends that people post their Christmas cards early this year, with the last posting date for second class mail being December 18, and December 23 for first class.

Sending cards early is also among scientists' recommendations for those wanting to take extra coronavirus precautions this Christmas.

Royal Mail advice - REUTERS/Toby Melville
Royal Mail advice - REUTERS/Toby Melville

Medical experts have said the risk of spreading coronavirus through the post is "really low" as laboratory experiments suggest it can live on packaging materials like cardboard for a maximum of 24 hours.

But for those wanting to take extra precautions, molecular biology expert Dr Lena Ciric recommended sending gifts to family and friends "at the start of December" so they have time to quarantine parcels for "a few extra days".

Respiratory medicine specialist Professor Ashley Woodcock has advised disinfecting Christmas parcels.

05:13 AM

Hancock overruled officials to order millions of extra vaccines

Matt Hancock overruled officials in insisting that the UK order an extra 70 million Oxford AstraZeneca Covid vaccines, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said. 

Regulators are about to start their assessment of the vaccine, developed with the University of Oxford, amid hopes that a roll-out programme could begin next month. 

 

The UK has ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine, which are set to stretch even further after a half-dose for the first jab was found to be more effective than the full amount.

On Tuesday, it emerged that Mr Hancock, the Health Secretary, persuaded Government officials to buy far more stocks of the AstraZeneca jab than had been intended. 

Read the full story here.

04:42 AM

Experts say it's rare to find live virus on packaging

The World Health Organisation says cases of live viruses being found on packaging appear to be "rare and isolated", The Associated Press reports.

While the virus can "survive a long time under cold storage conditions", there is no evidence of people contracting Covid-19 from consuming food, it said.

The virus SARS-CoV-2 that causes Covid-19 is overwhelmingly transmitted through respiratory droplets and smaller particles passed through the air, underscoring the importance of wearing a mask.

Yet the virus can also be present on surfaces, and public health officials have urged people to wash their hands carefully and avoid physical contact with others. In general, the colder and dryer conditions are, the longer the virus can survive on surfaces.

Wiping down countertops, handrails and other surfaces is a common way to ensure safety. Some people have also gone to the extreme of disinfecting packages brought into their homes, both by themselves or by delivery services.

University of Sydney virologist Timothy Newsome said virus traces found on packaging could be infectious or non-infectious. The extremely sensitive tests being used can detect both active viruses and their remnants, without being able to distinguish between them.

"It is possible and may represent some risk, but it's certainly at the lower end of risk for transmission," he said.

"We know low temperatures do stabilise the virus. Nonetheless, I think things which have been transported and surface transmission - there's a low risk of it."

Andrew Pekosz, from Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health, said a positive test "doesn't indicate infectious virus, just that some signal from the virus is present on that surface".

"I've seen no convincing data that SARS-CoV-2 on food packaging poses a significant risk for infection," he said.

04:35 AM

China bans frozen imported prawns amid virus concern

China says it has detected coronavirus on packages of imported frozen food, but how valid are its claims and how serious is the threat to public health?

Frozen prawns imported from an Ecuadorian company were banned for one week on Tuesday in a continuing series of such temporary bans.

While experts say the virus can survive for a time on cardboard and plastic containers, it remains unclear how serious a risk that poses. Like so many issues surrounding the pandemic, the matter has swiftly become politicised.

China has rejected complaints from the US and others, saying it is putting people's lives first. Experts say they generally don't consider the presence of the virus on packaging to be a significant health risk.

Packaging first became a major issue with outbreaks in China linked to wholesale food markets, including one in June on the outskirts of Beijing. That prompted the removal of smoked salmon from supermarket shelves and has snowballed into multiple cases nationwide involving chicken, beef and seafood from nearly two dozen countries.

At some supermarkets, imported meat now comes with a sticker declaring it to be virus-free.

Infections among freight handlers have also placed suspicion on packaging. Person-to-person transmission hasn't been ruled out, however, and China has yet to release evidence that packaging was indeed the route of infection.

12:07 AM

Today's top stories