Britain will be in strict lockdown until March after Boris Johnson said the country faces a “tough, tough” few months because of rocketing Covid infections.
In an address to the nation, Mr Johnson returned to the 'stay at home' message of last March as he confirmed all primary and secondary schools will close from Tuesday.
Everyone living in England has been told to stay at home, and only to go out for one of five reasons: to work if it is “impossible” to work from home; to shop for essentials; to exercise; to provide care, and for medical appointments.
The third national lockdown begins immediately, with new laws coming into force within 24 hours. Mr Johnson said he had been forced to act to prevent the NHS becoming overwhelmed, but offered the prospect of restrictions being lifted.
Mr Johnson insisted the deployment of the Covid vaccine would provide a route out of the lockdown, potentially by mid-February. The Prime Minister has challenged the NHS to vaccinate all over-70s, frontline workers, and vulnerable Britons by mid-February - a total of 13.2 million people - to protect the health service from becoming overwhelmed.
'I'm so angry about the lack of notice'
Teachers have responded with anger to the new lockdown rules and criticised the lack of notice given to parents after Mr Johnson announced the immediate closure of primary and secondary schools.
Bryony Baynes, headteacher of Kempsey Primary School in Worcestershire, said: "I really cannot believe that they think it's acceptable to drop a bombshell like this on parents with no notice," she said.
"Once again they are making this catastrophic U-turn without allowing parents to put anything into place.
"I am going to get so many angry accusatory emails from parents who are seeing their livelihoods disappear because they haven't got childcare.
"I am just so angry. Why does Nicola Sturgeon get it, and can close schools before they reopen and he lets us open for one day? Boris is once again Mr Last Minute."
Sage member blames Christmas for new lockdown
Sage member Professor Calum Semple said the festive easing of the lockdown in some areas, and the new super-contagious variant, made the new national measures inevitable.
The University of Liverpool academic told Sky News: "We're only now seeing the start of the price we have to pay for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day mixing.
"With that and the new variant it was inevitable we were going to have to hit a hard lockdown at this stage."
Prioritise vaccine for teachers, says union boss
School staff should be prioritised for vaccinations to help facilitate a speedy return to face-to-face lessons, a school leaders' union has said.
After days of confusion over reopening, Boris Johnson announced tonight that schools will close until at least the middle of February.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders' union, said: "The announcement this evening will bring some much-needed clarity to the situation but it is a decision that should have been taken much sooner.
"No time should be wasted in preparing for an orderly and sustainable return. The case for prioritising the school workforce for vaccination, alongside other key workers, is strong, in order to help facilitate a speedy return to face-to-face education."
Do you think teachers should be vaccinated first? Have your say in our poll:
So... what are the rules now?
Tonight's announcement has plunged the country back into lockdown.
People in England will now only be allowed to leave the house for one of five reasons:
To work if it is “impossible” to work from home
To shop for essentials
To provide care
For a medical appointment
There are also new rules on travel, shopping, schools and work.
'PM is in trouble if he breaks vaccine pledge'
After Boris Johnson's announcement, Janet Daley says "the only thing that rendered the immediate future tolerable was the prospect of that miraculous delivery by a vaccine roll out".
"But that boast will not hold if the vaccination programme does not live up to his risky promise that all four of the most vulnerable categories of people will have received one dose of vaccine by mid-February. He will be held to that prediction. I wonder if he and his Cabinet and their advisors realise how much credibility they have now staked on this: of how much moral pressure they are now under to deliver this vaccine programme with absolute transparency."
What happened today
Good evening. Here is a roundup of another vastly significant day:
Britain will be in strict lockdown until March after Boris Johnson said the country faces a “tough, tough” few months because of rocketing infections.
All primary and secondary schools will close tomorrow until at least mid-February and GCSE and A-level exams face cancellation for a second year.
Everyone living in England has been told to stay at home, and only to go out for one of five reasons, while non-essential retailers will be shut.
Nicola Sturgeon announced that Scotland will be placed in lockdown for the entirety of January, with a legal requirement to stay at home.
The UK has also moved into Alert level 5, meaning that "there is a material risk of healthcare services being overwhelmed".
An 82-year-old retired maintenance manager became the first person in the world to receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine outside clinical trials.
And elsewhere across the globe:
The European Commission is in talks with Pfizer and BioNTech about the possibility of ordering more vaccine doses.
In France, President Emmanuel Macron is reportedly furious at the slow rollout of the vaccine - just 516 vaccinations were reported to have been given in the first week.
Japan said it would consider declaring a state of emergency for the Greater Tokyo metropolitan area as cases climb, casting news doubts over whether it can push ahead with the Olympics and minimise economic damage.
550,000 business closed under new restrictions
The third lockdown imposed tonight across the whole of England - mirroring Tier 4 restrictions with the addition of school closures - will see business premises closures increase to 550,000.
This figure includes as many 401,690 non-essential shops, 64,537 pubs and restaurants, 20,703 personal care facilities and 7,051 gyms/leisure centres, according to real estate adviser Altus Group.
The Altus Group analysis also shows that 21,119 local authority schools - as well as 2,645 private schools - will also need to close in England.
All but four EU countries banning UK arrivals
Only four EU countries are allowing in non-essential travellers from the UK, as Governments tighten border restrictions due to the new variant of Covid-19.
Of the four that will permit UK arrivals – Greece, Slovenia, Estonia and Lithuania – all are imposing a requirement to quarantine or arrival.
This means there is currently no viable holiday option on the Continent.
With the whole of mainland Britain in Tier 3 or 4, holidays are largely off the cards anyway. But the prospect of a rapid return for normal travel to Europe appears unlikely.
Brexit isn’t the key factor for the travel bans, but rather Britain’s spiralling Covid infection rate and concerns about the new variant of the virus.
Schools shut to most students: Reaction from education
Commenting on the new plans for schools and exams, Natalie Perera, Chief Executive of the Education Policy Institute (EPI), said:
"While closing schools is always difficult and undesirable, the government has rightly acted on the best available health advice by closing schools for a prolonged period.
"Given the amount of school time that pupils will have lost last year and this year, the apparent decision to cancel GCSE and A level exams this summer is sensible."
David Laws, Executive Chairman of the Education Policy Institute (EPI), said that the Government has acted "decisively to close schools, and under these extreme circumstances this is necessary."
"The prolonged additional school closure also made the scrapping of this year's exams necessary, as they could not truly have been fair given the very large learning losses which are not spread evenly across the country," he said.
A Level exams: "Hard to see how they can take place", says Sir Keir Starmer
Sir Keir Starmer has told Sky News: "it's very hard to see how exams can take place this year".
He added that one of the "big mistakes" of last year was "the government leaving everything to the eleventh hour".
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the lockdown announcement was "inevitable" and the only way to tackle the "out of control" level of Covid-19 cases.
Boris Johnson's lockdown announcement, in full
Boris Johnson tonight announced that England is back into a full national lockdown from January 6 onwards.
"We now have a new variant of the virus. It has been both frustrating and alarming to see the speed with which the new variant is spreading," he said.
"As I speak to you tonight, our hospitals are under more pressure from Covid than at any time since the start of the pandemic."
Boris Johnson speech: What PM had to say about vaccines
Of course, there is one huge difference compared to last year. We are now rolling out the biggest vaccination programme in our history.
So far, we in the UK have vaccinated more people than the rest of Europe combined. With the arrival today of the UK’s own Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccine, the pace of vaccination is accelerating.
I can share with you tonight the NHS’s realistic expectations for the vaccination programme in the coming weeks.
By the middle of February, if things go well and with a fair wind in our sails, we expect to have offered the first vaccine dose to everyone in the four top priority groups identified by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
That means vaccinating all residents in a care home for older adults and their carers, everyone over the age of 70, all frontline health and social care workers, and everyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable.
If we succeed in vaccinating all those groups, we will have removed huge numbers of people from the path of the virus. And of course, that will eventually enable us to lift many of the restrictions we have endured for so long.
Covid vaccine: PM challenges NHS to vaccinate 13.2m by mid-February
The Prime Minister has challenged the NHS to vaccinate all over-70s and vulnerable people by mid-February – a total of 13.2 million people – in order to protect the health service from becoming overwhelmed, writes Gordon Rayner.
The lockdown will be reviewed at that point, with a possible easing of restrictions at the end of February, as the vaccines take around two weeks to give recipients immunity.
The Telegraph understands that the tipping point for the Prime Minister came when he was told that more than 80,000 people had tested positive on December 29 – around 20 times the peak of last spring.
Nicola Sturgeon imposes full lockdown in Scotland until at least end of January
Scotland's mainland is to return to full lockdown for at least the rest of January after Nicola Sturgeon warned schools must stay shut and people at home if a "race" against the mutant Covid strain is to be won, writes Simon Johnson.
The First Minister said the shutdown - "similar" to the one imposed last March - followed a massive surge in cases linked to the new variant that threatened to overwhelm the NHS within four weeks.
From tomorrow, only two Scots from two households can meet outside, with the limit not including children under 12, and people are only allowed to leave their homes for a limited range of reasons such as food shopping.
Chief Constable Iain Livingstone, of Police Scotland, said his officers will increase their patrols and "visible presence" in Scotland's communities.
Schools shut as part of third lockdown
All primary schools, secondary and colleges will move to remote provision apart from key workers and vulnerable children, in line with the first full national lockdown in March.
Early years settings such as nurseries as well as special schools will remain open.
Existing childcare support bubbles will apply. Nursery-age children, vulnerable children and the children of key workers can still attend in-person teaching.
Uni students are expected to study from their current residence until mid-February, at which point arrangements will be reviewed and it is hoped restrictions can begin to ease.
In-person teaching at universities will still take place for a small number of critical areas, such as those who are working in critical care in the health service.
'Stay at home' lockdown: The five permitted reasons to go out
To go for work if it is "impossible" to work from home, i.e. for construction sector staff and key workers
To shop for necessities i.e. food and medicines
To get medical help, including a test for coronavirus
Exercise, which must be outdoors with one other person
To provide care, or to escape domestic abuse
Third lockdown: Why the new variant has sparked drastic action
Boris Johnson told the UK that there is a material risk the NHS could be "overwhelmed in 21 days" unless tough action is taken now.
It is all to do with the new variant of coronavirus, which the PM said is between 50 and 70 per cent more transmissible than the original virus strain.
As of today 26,626 patients were in hospital with coronavirus in England, an increase of 30 per cent within a week. The peak of admissions in the first wave was 18,974 on 12 April, with the current figure now 40 per cent higher.
Across the UK there were 80,664 positive tests on December 29, and a further 65,571 on December 30. Covid cases more than trebled between the start and end of December, according to official figures.
UK Covid hotspots as third lockdown confirmed
These are the UK's coronavirus hotspots as the third national lockdown is confirmed:
Third lockdown: 'Stay at home, protect the NHS, and save lives', says PM
"The weeks ahead will be the hardest yet," says Boris Johnson.
"But I really do believe we're entering the last phase of the struggle. Because with every jab that goes into our arms, we are tilting the odds against Covid and in favour of the British people.
"And thanks to the miracle of science not only is the end in sight, but we know exactly how we will get there. But for now I'm afraid you must once again stay at home, protect the NHS, and save lives."
Boris Johnson: 'Now more than ever we must pull together'
Boris Johnson notes that there is a time lag of two to three weeks between receiving a vaccine and attaining immunity.
"If our understanding of the virus doesn't change, if the roll out of the vaccine programmes continues to be successful, if deaths start to fall, and critically if everyone plays their part by following the rules, then I hope that we can steadily move out of lockdown.
"Reopening schools after February half-term and starting cautiously to move regions down the tiers.
"I want to say to everyone right across the UK that I know how tough this. And I know how frustrated you are and I know that you have had more than enough of Government guidance.
"But now more than ever we must pull together. You must follow the new rules from now and they will become law on Wednesday morning. This Government will meet largely remotely later that day."
Boris Johnson lays out vaccine priority aims
Mr Johnson says that there is "one huge difference" compared to the lockdown of last March.
"We are rolling out the biggest vaccination programme in our history," he says. "We have vaccinated more people in the UK than in the rest of Europe combined. I can share with you tonight the NHS' realistic expectations for the vaccination programme in the coming weeks.
"By the middle of February if things go well, and with a wind in our sails, we expect to have offered the first vaccine dose to everyone in the four top priority groups identified by the Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation."
He says this means vaccinating care home residents and carers, all over-70s, everyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable, and all NHS frontline and health workers.
"We will have removed huge numbers of people from the path of the virus," he says. "That will eventually enable us to lift many of the restrictions that we have endured for so long."
Boris Johnson: I understand 'distress' caused to parents and pupils
Boris Johnson says he understands the "distress" that the new measures will cause to millions of parents and pupils, and says that until now the Government was doing "everything in our power to keep schools open".
Mr Johnson says "we know how important each day in education is to children's life chances."
"I want to stress that the problem is not that schools are unsafe to children," he adds. "The problem is that schools may nonetheless act as vectors for transmission, causing the virus to spread between households."
Mr Johnson says that the NHS may be overwhelmed in 21 days if action was not taken, hence the move to Covid Alert Level 5 today.
Free school meals to continue amid closures
Boris Johnson says those entitled to free school meals will continue to receive them during closures, and more devices will be distributed to help remote learning.
Schools shut as Boris Johnson confirms draconian new lockdown rules
Boris Johnson says Britons may only leave their homes to shop for essentials, to go to work "if you absolutely cannot work from home", to exercise, to seek medical assistance or to get a Covid test, or to escape domestic abuse.
"If you are clinically extremely vulnerable we are advising you to begin shielding again, and you will shortly receive a letter about what this means for you.
"And because we have to do everything we possibly can to stop the spread of the disease, primary schools and secondary schools and colleges across England must move to remote provision from tomorrow, except for vulnerable children and the children of key workers."
He says early years settings such as nurseries will remain accessible, and new restrictions will mean it is "not possible or fair for all exams to go ahead this summer as normal".
Boris Johnson confirms third national lockdown
"As I speak to you tonight our hospitals are under more pressure from Covid than at any time," Mr Johnson says.
He notes that the number of hospital patients has increased by almost a third to nearly 27,000, almost a third higher than the peak of the first wave in April.
"It's clear that we need to do more together to bring this new variant under control. In England we must therefore go into a national lockdown which is tough enough to combat this variant.
"That means the Government is once again instructing you to stay at home."
Boris Johnson speech is underway
Boris Johnson's speech to the nation has started.
"Since the pandemic began last year the whole of the United Kingdom has engaged in a national effort against Covid.
"But we now have a new variant of the virus and it's been both frustrating and alarming to see the speed with which the new variant is spreading.
"Our scientists have confirmed this new variant is between 50 and 70 per cent more transmissible."
Boris Johnson speech imminent on new lockdown measures
The nation holds its breath. Boris Johnson will announce new lockdown restrictions tonight in an address to the nation with further school closures expected, possibly until February half-term.
The Prime Minister is also expected to confirm the return of shielding for vulnerable people when he appears on TV screens in a few minutes' time.
NHS pressure: 'Cottage hospitals' offer made by Best Western
Best Western is spearheading a plan to turn as many as 500 hotels into "cottage hospitals" that could ease the pressure on the NHS as it reels from surging Covid cases.
The reconfigured sites would handle pre-surgery assessments, IV treatments such as for antibiotics or dialysis as well as MRI and CTI scans and post-Covid recovery support, according to proposals sent to the Cabinet Office this week.
The hotel chain is already in talks with St Bartholomew’s NHS Trust in London and Kent Medway Trust about converting some of its premises.
It is understood to have carried out a modelling and feasibility study with the Medway Innovation Institute and taken guidance from the Care Quality Commission.
Laura Onita and Hannah Uttley have the story.
Boris Johnson announcement: Watch live
Boris Johnson is to announce new lockdown restrictions imminently in an address to the nation, Downing Street has said.
It is expected that measures will include a return to shielding, further school closures, and stronger "stay at home" messaging.
Watch live at the top of this blog, and follow for live text updates.
New Covid variant 'in large part' causing case rise, says Chris Whitty
Professor Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, has said on social media:
Covid cases are rising rapidly across the UK in large part due to the new variant.
The NHS is treating many more Covid patients and vaccinating vulnerable citizens. NHS staff deserve our profound thanks.
But we must act now or the NHS will come under even greater pressure.
Margaret Ferrier latest as MP arrested for Covid rules breach
After news broke of the arrest of SNP MP Margaret Ferrier (see 18:37 post) for breaching lockdown rules, Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard has said:
Margaret Ferrier has apologised for her selfish and dangerous actions, but so far she has continued to insist she is fit to represent her constituents in the House of Commons.
I hope her arrest leads her to reconsider this arrogant position, and the people of Rutherglen and Hamilton West get the opportunity to return an MP who puts their interests first.
An SNP spokesman said that Ms Ferrier "remains suspended from the SNP", and did not comment further on the proceedings.
South African coronavirus variant: Why is it so worrying?
If the coronavirus was a horror film, we have now reached the obligatory ‘not dead yet’ scare, in which the seemingly conquered monster returns from the grave to give a final fright, writes Sarah Knapton.
Just as light was beginning to emerge at the end of a very long and gloomy tunnel, the South African variant of the virus threatens to undermine the vaccine and testing gains of recent months.
Brian Pinker, 82, received the first Oxford vaccine on Sunday, yet there are real concerns that he and the hundreds of thousands of others who have had their jabs may not be fully protected against this latest mutation.
The South African variant has three mutations in important genes. One, the N501Y mutation, has already been found in the UK variant and could be responsible for it being so infectious.
However, the South African version carries two more mutations (E484K and K417N) that are absent in the British version and make it far more worrying.
NHS Covid response: 'Critical point' reached in crisis, warns health trust body
An organisation which represents NHS trusts in England has warned that the coronavirus crisis has now reached a "critical point".
NHS leaders believe that Tier 3 rules are "insufficient", said Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers.
There is also concern in the health service about the lag between imminent tough measures and an effect on admissions, Mr Hopson added - while NHS officials think Tier 4 rules merely "slow down the rate of increase", rather than actually reducing the spread of the virus.
The latest NHS England figures show a total of 3,145 admissions in England were reported for January 2 - higher than the previous peak of 3,099, on April 1, 2020.
Ireland: We have never been more concerned about Covid
The underlying level of Covid-19 in Ireland is now higher than during the first wave in April and May, a senior health official has warned.
It comes after authorities reported another daily record of 6,110 cases today, while Ireland's 14-day coronavirus incidence rate per 100,000 people has risen almost five-fold to 583 in the last two weeks.
But modelling chief Philip Nolan said the true underlying rate, owing to a backlog of positive tests, is between 700-800. The underlying 14-day rate per 100,000 people at the April peak was around 600.
"We haven't been as concerned at any point in the whole pandemic as we are now," Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan told a news conference.
"This level of infection just simply puts too many people in hospitals and too many people in funeral homes unfortunately,"
Wales: Online learning until January 18
Schools and colleges across Wales will move to online learning until January 18, the country's education minister has said.
Kirsty Williams said the Welsh Government would use the next two weeks to work with local authorities and education settings to "best plan for the rest of the term".
The government had previously arranged for schools to have flexibility over the first two weeks of the spring term, allowing them to choose when students would return to in-person learning.
In a statement, Ms Williams said the decision to move to online learning only until January 18 had been taken in consultation with the Welsh Local Government Association and Colegau Cymru.
It followed the four chief medical officers agreeing that the UK was at the "highest level of risk" in terms of coronavirus, she confirmed.
You can find her full statement here:
Important: @WelshGovernment, in consultation with the @WelshLGA & @ColegauCymru, has just agreed that all schools and colleges will move to online learning until Monday January 18th.
Please watch & share this video to help make others aware.
Further information in thread below. pic.twitter.com/wmb9B3T1zn
— Kirsty Williams (@wgmin_education) January 4, 2021
New Kent coronavirus variant identified in Brazil
Brazil has confirmed its first two cases of the new British coronavirus variant, Sao Paulo state's health secretariat announced today.
One of the people infected was a 25-year-old woman from the city of Sao Paulo in contact with travelers who had been to Britain, according to a statement from the state government.
The other patient was another Sao Paulo resident, a 34-year-old man who had contact with her.
Scottish MP arrested and charged after breach of Covid restrictions
Scottish MP Margaret Ferrier has been arrested and charged in connection with alleged culpable and reckless conduct over an alleged breach of coronavirus regulations last September.
We can confirm that officers today arrested and charged a 60-year-old woman in connection with alleged culpable and reckless conduct," a Police Scotland spokesperson said.
"This follows a thorough investigation by Police Scotland into an alleged breach of coronavirus regulations between 26 and 29 September 2020."
The MP admitted making two cross-border trips when she should have been self-isolating, prompting the police investigation and the removal of the whip by the SNP.
'Pharmacy of the developing world shut its doors': India bans exports of Oxford jab
The Indian Government will stockpile the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine until March as part of a nationwide vaccination drive, delaying its wider distribution to the developing world.
The Serum Institute of India (SII), which has gained a licence to produce at least one billion doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, was granted emergency use authorisation by the Indian Government on Sunday on the condition that it doesn’t export the shots.
Global health experts have expressed concerns that the move means “the pharmacy of the developing world has shut its doors”.
“This is a huge blow for access to the AstraZeneca vaccine in developing countries,” Dr Mark Eccleston-Turner, an expert in Global Health Law from Keele University, told The Telegraph. “India is the world's largest manufacturer, the SII is the largest vaccine manufacturer. So the export ban has cut off a huge supply.”
But within the country, which has suffered the world’s second-largest Covid-19 epidemic, the urgency to rapidly roll out a mass-vaccination program to India's 1.38 billion citizens is mounting.
Though the number of new daily cases has fallen to their lowest in six months in India, the presence of the highly contagious UK strain of Covid-19 has led to fears of a new surge.
“This is welcome news as India is among the worst affected countries by the virus,” said Dr Jyoti Joshi, the Head of South Asia at the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy.
Read the full story here.
Lebanon orders three-week lockdown
Lebanon has announced a full lockdown for three weeks, including a night curfew, to stem a rise in Covid-19 infections that threatens to overwhelm hospitals in a country already facing financial meltdown.
Caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hasan said the lockdown would start on Thursday and run until February 1, with further details on which sectors would be exempt due tomorrow. The lockdown will include a curfew from 6 pm to 5 am.
"It has become clear that the pandemic challenge has reached a stage that is seriously threatening Lebanese lives as hospitals are not capable of providing beds," Hasan told reporters after a meeting of the ministerial committee on Covir-19.
Lebanon registered 2,870 new infections on Sunday, bringing its total to 189,278 cases and 1,486 deaths since February 21, 2020.
Greece: Orthodox Church set to defy restrictions to celebrate Epiphany
Greece's Orthodox Church has announced that it will defy a government lockdown order, imposed to limit the spread of the coronavirus, and open churches to the faithful during the Epiphany celebration on January 6.
Greece tightened coronavirus curbs for a week from Sunday and reversed an earlier decision to allow Epiphany services, after hospitals struggled to deal with a flood of new cases.
The Greek Orthodox Church said it had written to the government urging it to respect the agreement allowing Epiphany services to go ahead.
"The Holy Synod... does not concur with government measures regarding the operation of churches and insists on what was initially agreed with the state - that churches will stay open for the participation of the faithful in the Mass of Epiphany," it said in a press release.
The letter marks a rare show of dissent by Church authorities, which until now have largely respected government restrictions curbing religious services along with other public activities during the pandemic.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Epiphany is one of the most important religious feasts and commemorates the baptism of Christ and the revelation of the Holy Trinity.
As well as church services, it is traditionally marked by popular celebrations including one in which swimmers retrieve a cross thrown into the water by a priest. The government had already banned such celebrations but had agreed to allow a limited number of worshippers to take part in church services.
A government official said lockdown laws applied to everyone equally. "We hope the Church will realize the urgency of the moment for society, as it has responsibly done so far," the official said.
CMO joint statement: NHS at risk of being overwhelmed within 21 days
Earlier today it was reported that the UK is set to move into Alert level 5 - meaning that "there is a material risk of healthcare services being overwhelmed" and the virus is in general circulating and transmission is high or rising exponentially.
That announcement has now been made official. In a joint statement, the four chief medical officers for the UK said the move follows advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre.
“Many parts of the health systems in the four nations are already under immense pressure," they wrote. "There are currently very high rates of community transmission, with substantial numbers of Covid patients in hospitals and in intensive care.
"Cases are rising almost everywhere, in much of the country driven by the new more transmissible variant.
"We are not confident that the NHS can handle a further sustained rise in cases and without further action there is a material risk of the NHS in several areas being overwhelmed over the next 21 days."
But they added that although the health service is under immense pressure, "significant changes have been made so people can still receive lifesaving treatment.
" It is absolutely critical that people still come forward for emergency care," the CMO's wrote.
Sage: Really major additional measures needed immediately
Sage member Professor John Edmunds has said that "really major additional measures" are immediately needed to control the spread of coronavirus, with school closures being the "biggest lever" available.
The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine scientist told BBC Radio 4's PM programme that the UK is currently "in a really difficult situation".
"The new strain is significantly more transmissible than the old strains," he said. "So we have to take significant extra measures to stop the NHS from becoming overwhelmed with Covid patients.
"Unfortunately we are going to have to take some really major additional measures, I can't see any other way out of it.
"The biggest lever that has only partly been pulled is school closures. That would have the biggest effect of a single measure and I can see that happening."
He later added: "What we have to do now, and it's horrible I know, but we have to take really quite stringent steps right now and as stringent as we can right now."
Prof Edmunds rejected suggestions that a lack of public compliance with restrictions is a major issue, saying: "I don't think that's a major issue myself, I think people are pretty compliant."
Covid hospitalisations in England reach record high
The number of Covid-19 patients in hospital in England stood at 26,626 as of 8am this morning, according to the latest figures from NHS England. This is a week-on-week increase of 30 per cent - and is a new record high.
In London the number stood at 6,733, up 36 per cent in a week, while in eastern England the number was 3,623, 44 per cent rise.
New hospital admissions of people with Covid-19 have also reached a record high, the figures show.
A total of 3,145 admissions in England were reported for January 2, passing the previous peak of 3,099 set on April 1 2020.
The number comprises all patients admitted in the previous 24 hours who were known to have Covid-19, plus any patients diagnosed in hospital in the previous 24 hours.
Christina Pagel, a member of Independent Sage, says the day demonstrates why a "severe national lockdown" is needed:
A severe national lockdown in England cannot come too soon. There are *already* 8,000 more people with Covid in hospital than at April peak (40% higher!) - which came *3 weeks* after the March lockdown. We had the highest ever number of admissions on 2nd January. 1/2 pic.twitter.com/EiOsmvKTLJ
— Christina Pagel (@chrischirp) January 4, 2021
The pandemic in pictures
A look at life in the UK and across the globe:
Atlanta, United States:
Phnom Penh, Cambodia:
Belfast, Northern Ireland:
Sports latest: Sheffield Wednesday shut training ground after outbreak
Sheffield Wednesday's FA Cup third round preparations have been hit after they became the latest club to shut their training ground following a Covid outbreak, John Percy reports.
Wednesday’s squad have been struck by a coronavirus scare and it is understood their Middlewood Road base will be shut until Thursday, just two days before the Championship club are scheduled to play at Exeter City in the FA Cup.
Though it is unknown how many players have either tested positive or are showing symptoms, Wednesday’s medical staff have taken emergency action to prevent the situation from worsening.
Players will be tested in midweek before a decision is taken on whether the club’s training ground can be reopened.
Wednesday face a trip to League Two Exeter in the FA Cup third-round on Saturday, and could have only two days to prepare for the game.
We have all the details you need on this story here.
French vaccination campaign a 'state scandal'
President Emmanuel Macron came under intense pressure on Monday to ramp up France's snail-paced Covid vaccination campaign, which one top regional leader dubbed a "state scandal".
France, a country that prides itself on its world-class health system, launched nationwide vaccinations in late December starting with care home residents and older health workers.
But little more than a week later, a piddling 516 French had received jabs compared to around 240,000 in Germany and one million in Britain, according to health ministry figures.
"What we have seen is a state scandal," Jean Rottner, the head of France's hard-hit Grand Est eastern region told France 2 television.
"Is France getting the dunce's hat in Europe for vaccinations?" a Le Monde asked.
The slow rollout is being blamed on mismanagement, end-of-year staffing shortages, and a complex consent policy to avoid litigation in a vaccine-sceptical country in which 60 per cent of the population say they won't get a jab, according to the latest poll. The vaccine consent form is 45 pages long.
Only French doctors can currently administer doses and the government has ruled out opening "vaccinodromes" in stadiums or sports halls.
Henry Samuel has more details on the delays here.
'Anxiety levels are beyond anything' - Parents and teachers on school restrictions
British Society for Immunology supports delay in second vaccine dose
The British Society for Immunology has endorsed the delay between vaccine doses adopted by the UK.
In a comment published today, the organisation said: "We would prefer the original dosing schedules tested in the trials to be used clinically, we recognise that a pragmatic approach in the short-term is needed."
The UK now faces an "unprecedented situation", the society said.
Meanwhile in Europe, the European Medicines Agency has said that the maximum interval of 42 days between the first and the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine should be respected to obtain full protection.
Evidence of the vaccine efficacy is based on a study where administration of doses was done 19 to 42 days apart, the agency said, noting that full protection comes only seven days after the booster.
"Any change to this would require a variation to the marketing authorisation as well as more clinical data to support such a change, otherwise it would be considered as 'off label use'," he said.
Off label use entails lower liabilities on vaccine makers.
Starmer: We must introduce a national lockdown
Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour party, has reiterated his calls for a national lockdown - including school closures.
We must introduce a national lockdown now. Tragically, that must mean school closures.
We need a simple contract between the British people: the country goes into lockdown, the Government delivers the vaccine.
Stay at home, protect the NHS, vaccinate Britain.
— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) January 4, 2021
Poorer countries risk getting 'stuck' in Covid crisis until 2023
The poorest and most crisis-hit countries on earth could remain "stuck" in pandemic crisis mode until at least 2023 unless more is done to provide aid and vaccines, a leading UN figure has warned.
That means that the devastating knock-on effects of Covid-19 - including the risk of famine in a number of countries - will also be prolonged and intensified, said UN humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock.
Speaking to The Telegraph, he said: "Suppose the better-off world gradually comes out of this challenge... how do we make sure that the very poorest countries, where humanitarian agencies work, don't just get stuck?
"That's going to be one of the big challenges for 2021, and 2022, and 2023."
At the moment, Mr Lowcock said, the actions of the richer world risks prolonging the crisis, rather than ending it.
Jennifer Rigby has the full story here.
Time for an afternoon update after yet another busy news day (that is, we are sorry to report, nowhere near finished).
Here's a roundup of the major UK developments to be aware of:
Starting with the positive news: an 82-year-old retired maintenance manager has become the first person in the world to receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine outside clinical trials.
But expect the "tough tough" start to the year Boris Johnson warned of earlier today to come into focus at 8pm. The Prime Minister is set to make a televised address setting out new emergency measures to control the spread of coronavirus in England, Downing Street has said.
It comes as Sir Keir Starmer urged the Government to close all schools in England as part of a new national lockdown.
Nicola Sturgeon announced that Scotland will be placed in lockdown for the entirety of January, with a legal requirement to stay at home.
The BBC also understands that the UK is set to move into Alert level 5. This means that "there is a material risk of healthcare services being overwhelmed" and the virus is in general circulating and transmission is high or rising exponentially.
And elsewhere across the globe:
Spain's Catalonia region tightened restrictions and Germany looks set to agree tomorrow to extend its lockdown until January 31.
The European Commission is in talks with Pfizer and BioNTech about the possibility of ordering more vaccine doses.
In France, President Emmanuel Macron is reportedly furious at the slow rollout of the vaccine - just 516 vaccinations were reported to have been given in the first week. The health minister insisted that "several thousand" people will be vaccinated today.
Colombia's capital Bogota will implement strict two-week quarantines in three neighbourhoods beginning tomorrow to try to control a second wave.
Japan said it would consider declaring a state of emergency for the Greater Tokyo metropolitan area as cases climb, casting news doubts over whether it can push ahead with the Olympics and minimise economic damage.
Coronavirus restrictions, reduced remittances, locusts, floods and significant underfunding of the 2020 aid response are exacerbating hunger in Yemen.
Ending on a lighter note - the mayor of Antwerp, Bart De Wever, kicked off 2021 in an embarrassing manner when he was called out for not wearing trousers during an interview streamed online (see 1:49pm for full details).
Duke and Duchess homeschooling their children in Norfolk home
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have remained at their Norfolk home, Anmer Hall, since Christmas, where they are now homeschooling their two elder children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, the Telegraph understands.
Their school, Thomas's Battersea, is closed for at least the next two weeks, in line with all other London schools. The Cambridges left London for Norfolk in early December, when the school broke up for Christmas.
UK coronavirus cases near 60,000
The UK has reported a record rise in coronavirus infections. There have been a further 58,784 coronavirus cases confirmed across the UK, the government says - an increase on the previous high of 57,725 reported on Saturday.
It is the seventh day in a row that daily new infections have topped 50,000 - a grim feat that was hit for the first time last week.
There have also been a further 407 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, taking the total by that measure to 75,431. It is important to note, however, that no deaths data is available from Scotland today.
Meanwhile, according to YouGov, public support for lockdown is growing. According to the latest snap poll
79 say they support the UK going into another national lockdown - up 8 points since December 22nd. Just 16% oppose such a move
Overwhelming support continues across all major party voters, regions and ages.
62% of people asked say it was wrong decision to open some schools in England this week - just 22% said it was the right decision.
Four Nation call at 5pm
Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster said she would be joining a call with the UK Government at 5pm to discuss the "Coronavirus response across the four nations".
"There will be an Executive meeting at 6pm immediately afterwards," she wrote on Twitter:
We will be speaking with HMG at 5pm regarding a Coronavirus response across the four nations. There will be an Executive meeting at 6pm immediately afterwards.
— Arlene Foster #WeWillMeetAgain (@DUPleader) January 4, 2021
What to expect at 8pm
Further to our post 20 minutes ago about what journalists expect to be announced at 8pm, our reporters have a few more details on what to expect:
As predicted by the Telegraph this morning, we understand that Boris Johnson will announce tonight that shielding for vulnerable will return.
There will be further school closures, possibly up until February half-term. It remains unclear whether it will be just secondary or also include primary and year 11 and year 13 classes switched to remote learning for that period.
There will be a delay in the return of university students, though some institutions have already told their undergraduates that there will be a pause in getting back.
Scottish-style stay at home rules appears to be on the cards, with messaging that people should only work where they absolutely cannot from home toughened.
A final option could be further restrictions on outside contacts, ending the rule allowing a single member from one household to meet another socially distanced outdoors.
Group worship may also be barred with only solitary prayer allowed.
North Korea asks Covax for vaccines - depsite never admitting a Covid case
North Korea has requested vaccines for Covid-19 from the main body helping developing countries access inoculations - Covax - despite having never admitted to a single case of the virus.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the hermit country had contacted several European embassies asking how it would obtain vaccines.
Gavi, the international vaccine alliance, did not comment on Pyongyang's application.
North Korea has shut its borders to all international travellers, and tens of thousands are believed to have been put in quarantine after being tested for the virus.
South African Covid variant not anticipated to affect vaccines, expert insists
The new South African coronavirus variant is not anticipated to bypass the protection of current vaccines, an expert has said.
Scientists say not enough is known about the mutation to make assumptions, and the changes to the virus are consistent with it being more transmissible.
Scientists at Porton Down are researching whether vaccines will be effective against the variant from South Africa, and the new variant spreading across the UK.
Earlier today Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was "incredibly worried" about the South African variant, describing it as a "very, very significant problem".
Francois Balloux, professor of computational systems biology and director, UCL Genetics Institute, University College London, said that the 'South African variant' carries a mutation in the spike protein called E484K, "which is not present in the 'UK strain'".
"The E484K mutation has been shown to reduce antibody recognition. As such, it helps the virus Sars-CoV-2 to bypass immune protection provided by prior infection or vaccination," he said.
But he added: "It is not anticipated that this mutation is sufficient for the 'South African' variant to bypass the protection provided by current vaccines.
"It's possible that new variants will affect the efficacy of the Covid vaccines, but we shouldn't make that assumption yet about the South African one."
Starmer: 'I hope the PM has been listening to the calls for tough national restrictions'
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, responding to the announcement of the Prime Minister's statement and the recall of Parliament, said:"I hope the Prime Minister has been listening to the clear calls for tough national restrictions."
He told the PA news agency new measures were needed to "get the virus under control, protect the NHS and create the space for the vaccine to be rolled out as quickly as humanly possible".
As for what to expect at 8pm? Here's what journalists are expecting:
Given PM's pool clip earlier, seems likely secondary schools could be closed for January.
But could England differ from Scotland and try and keep some primary schools open?
— Harry Yorke (@HarryYorke1) January 4, 2021
PM will be directly addressing the nation. It won’t be a press conference. Tier 4 restrictions will be imposed everywhere. Schools closed. No more team games in parks. But outdoor exercise will still be allowed. https://t.co/dhKbH2lkgC
— Robert Peston (@Peston) January 4, 2021
— Nick Robinson (@bbcnickrobinson) January 4, 2021
PM to address the nation at 8pm. Understand Keir Starmer has also done broadcast interview for later this afternoon - so Labour backing of the toughest measures is pretty much assured. So we head towards the inevitable, which must essentially be a repeat of the March lockdown.
— Jessica Elgot (@jessicaelgot) January 4, 2021
Countries follow UK precedent to delay second vaccine dose
Germany is considering whether to allow a delay in administering a second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine from BioNTech-Pfizer to make scarce supplies go further, after a similar move by the UK last week.
In Berlin, the health ministry was seeking the view of an independent vaccination commission on whether to delay a second shot beyond a current 42-day maximum limit, according to a one-page document seen by Reuters today.
The move came amid criticism of Health Minister Jens Spahn - including from his conservative political allies - that Germany has failed to procure enough vaccines and been too slow to ramp up its nationwide inoculation campaign.
According to the latest daily update from the Robert Koch Institute, Germany has vaccinated around 239,000 people since starting its campaign on December 27 - well short of the 1.3 million doses that were delivered by the end of 2020.
By comparison, Britain has administered more than a million vaccines so far, more than the rest of Europe put together, Health Minister Matt Hancock said.
Separately, Denmark approved has approved a delay of up to six weeks between the first and second shots of the vaccine.
But the head of the Danish Health Authority, Soren Brostrom, said the original guidelines of waiting only three to four weeks should be followed whenever possible.
As of Monday, a total of 46,975 Danes had received the first Pfizer-BioNTech shot, mostly health workers and the elderly.
Watch: New lockdown from midnight in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon announces
UK set to move into Alert Level 5: hospitals on the brink of being overwhelmed
The BBC has reported that the UK is set to move into Alert level 5. This means that "there is a material risk of healthcare services being overwhelmed" and the virus is in general circulating and transmission is high or rising exponentially.
During the first lockdown, which began last March, the UK was considered to be at level 4.
These alert levels are different from the Tiers, which acknowledge the restrictions in a given area.
NEW: Sources have told the BBC the Covid threat level - decided by the Joint Biosecurity Centre, which includes the UK's four Chief Medical Officers - is being moved up to 5, the highest level.
This is different from tiers.
— Nick Eardley (@nickeardleybbc) January 4, 2021
Germany heading towards extension of hard lockdown
It is not just the UK that is facing additional coronavirus restrictions.
The German government and the country's 16 federal states have agreed to extend a strict lockdown until January 31 in an effort to bring coronavirus infections under control, according to a report in Bild newspaper.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and the state premiers are scheduled on to discuss a possible extension of the lockdown beyond January 10 tomorrow. Some, including Bavaria's premier Markus Soeder, have already spoken in favour of an extension.
Speaking after the Bild report, a government source told Reuters: "All but two federal states support (a lockdown extension until) January 31. However, the formal decision will be made on Tuesday."
Germany was more successful than many European countries in keeping the coronavirus in check during the first wave in the spring but has seen a surge in new infections since the autumn.
It imposed a second hard lockdown on December 16, closing schools, shops and restaurants after a partial lockdown introduced in early November did not bring the hoped-for reduction in new infections.
But cases have not fallen and a government spokesman told a news conference on Monday that the situation in Germany's hospitals has become "extremely difficult".
Parliament to be recalled on Wednesday
Some more detail here from Lucy Fisher around the news that the House of Commons will be recalled on Wednesday, enabling MPs to debate and pass legislation enshrining stricter new lockdown measures.
Downing Street’s decision to allow Parliament to have a say on the next series of measures to contain the virus comes after Boris Johnson warned there was “no question” that tougher action was needed.
It is expected he may announce a full-scale national lockdown for England, after Nicola Sturgeon announced earlier that Scotland will be plunged lockdown for the rest of January.
It is understood the House will return for a single day on Wednesday before returning for the new parliamentary term next Monday.
The Christmas recess was extended by a week, a decision said to have been informed by the Speaker’s desire to protect the parliamentary authorities from the spread of coronavirus.
Conservative MPs have clamoured for the right to debate and vote on tougher coronavirus restrictions.
Steve Brine, the former Health Minister, raised questions today about how much tougher the Government could go beyond the current tiers system.
“What else can we take away from you? If you live in a Tier 4 area, you can't do anything and can't go anywhere. What is there left to take away?” He told the Telegraph: "We need parliament sitting to ask these questions.”
Others have been calling for stricter restrictions to prevent Covid spiralling out of control:
So the PM is doing a press conference at 8PM to set out next steps, parliament being recalled to sit on Wednesday.
Absolutely right: we need to take action now to save lives.
— Neil O'Brien MP (@NeilDotObrien) January 4, 2021
Time to act: thread on why we need to close schools, borders, and ban all household mixing RIGHT AWAY.
— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) January 4, 2021
Spain: Catalonia tightens restrictions to curb Covid
Catalonia has announced a tightening of restrictions to tackle an uptick in Covid-19 infections, banning people from leaving their municipality, closing gyms and shopping malls, and allowing only essential shops such as pharmacies to open at the weekend.
The new restrictions in Catalonia, which has Spain's second-highest number of infections and deaths after Madrid, will start on Thursday and last until January 17.
"We have to stop the transmission and the main way to do so is to reduce all social activity," Catalan health chief Alba Verges told a news conference, adding that financial aid would be given to the sectors most hit by the new restrictions.
The new measures will not affect bars and restaurants, which can still have clients eat in for breakfast and lunch and offer take-away food for dinner.
Other regions such as Andalusia, Murcia or Extremadura have announced new measures over the past days. Madrid continues to have lighter restrictions than most of the country but has locked down some districts with a higher infection rate.
Spain has been one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, registering more than 50,000 deaths and close to 2 million cases:
Recap: Hancock hints at tougher coronavirus restrictions
Boris Johnson to make statement at 8pm
Boris Johnson will make a televised address at 8pm tonight outlining the steps to tackle the rise in coronavirus cases, with Parliament set to be recalled to sit on Wednesday, Downing Street has said.
"The spread of the new variant of Covid-19 has led to rapidly escalating case numbers across the country," a No 10 spokesman said.
"The Prime Minister is clear that further steps must now be taken to arrest this rise and to protect the NHS and save lives. He will set those out this evening."
Sturgeon: Mixing vaccine doses is not our strategy
Nicola Sturgeon is still answering questions from MSPs in the Scottish Parliament. Vaccines, concerns around school closures and discussions around support payments have dominated.
One element the First Minister has focused on is the new guidance from the four Chief Medical Officers on lengthening the interval between vaccine doses.
"Given the race we are in, and the circumstances we are in, I think that if they belief that is a safe and effective thing to do, it is incumbent on politicians to follow that advice," she said.
Sturgeon adds that the suggestion that people may get one dose with one vaccine and another with a different vaccine is "not our policy".
People will get both doses with the same vaccine, unless there are exceptional circumstances where it is not known which jab an individual received initially.
Jean-Clause Junker unimpressed with EU Covid response
Another update from Europe, here. Ex-EU Commission boss Jean-Claude Juncker is not impressed with the EU's pandemic response, accusing the 27 member bloc of having "reacted very weakly" in an interview with Luxembourg magazine Télécran.
However, Juncker also added that the poor showing was due to the EU not having any power to set health policy.
The former Luxembourg PM also revealed that he has not fully retired from politics and still consults with his successor, Ursula von der Leyen.
“I always say I am like Ratzinger in the Vatican Gardens: I am their Ratzinger," he said in reference to the former pontiff. "She likes it a lot, and it gives us the opportunity to exchange ideas from time to time, which is very useful for both of us… I'm von der Leyen’s Ratzinger.”
EU could approve Moderna jab this afternoon
Jumping away from Scotland for a moment, Sam Morgan reports that the European Medicines Agency could give the green light to the Moderna Covid vaccine later today, after bringing forward a decision previously scheduled for Wednesday.
The regulator has faced increasing pressure from EU countries to fast track vaccine approvals although the European Commission insists "there is no frustration" when it comes to the EMA's approach.
The UK is still conducting its own review of the Moderna jab, which has already been authorised in Canada and the US.
Recap: Scotland's new lockdown
Here's a quick overview of the key changes Nicola Sturgeon announced this afternoon, if you are just joining us:
People may only leave their homes for essential reasons, by law
Schools will remain closed to almost all students until February 1
People cannot meet outdoors except for in groups of two
No one can travel in or out of Scotland except for essential reasons
Sturgeon: This was not the New Year message I wanted to share
Nicola Sturgeon concludes by suggesting that this was not the New Year message she wanted to convey, but that by acting now Scotland can avoid the dire crisis hitting other parts of the UK and world.
She says if everyone stays at home, they are giving the vaccine the time needed to beat the virus.
"The difference between now and March is that we can be sure that sacrifices will pay off in the long run," the First Minister finishes.
Sturgeon: Priority group will all have first vaccine dose by May
The first Minister is now turning to vaccination, she says 100,000 people have now received their first dose and the AstraZeneca jab will be rolled out from today.
Scotland has access to 900,000 vaccines during January, although there are hopes this will increase.
Current expectations on supply and dose advice is that by early May everyone over fifty and those under fifty with specific conditions will have had their first dose of a Covid vaccine - more than 2 million people.
Those timetables are dependent on supply, she adds, so are currently cautious. But all possible options to bring timescales forward are being assessed.
Sturgeon: Schools will be first to reopen
Nicola Sturgeon adds that schools and nurseries will be the first premises to reopen at the end of this period.
The Government are therefore considering how to include school staff in priority vaccinations - although she says that many will be included in the existing JCVI allocation lists.
School closures will be reviewed every fortnight, she says.
Sturgeon: Schools to close buildings and move online until Feb 1
More non-essential businesses will also have to close, Nicola Sturgeon says, including ski centres, showrooms or larger retailers and clinics offering cosmetic and prosthetic procedures will be closed.
She says the Government will work towards providing additional financial resources - announcements will be made later this week.
Now the First Minister comes to schools. She says that schools will remain closed to the majority of pupils until February 1. It includes nursery schools as well as primary and secondary schools, but they will remain open for vulnerable and key worker children.
She says this was the most difficult decision of the package of restrictions announced today.
"It remains our priority to get school buildings open as quickly and keep them open," says Sturgeon. But she says the overall level of community transmission is too high and there is still significant uncertainty about the spread of the new variant among children.
Sturgeon: Fundamental message is to stay at home
The First Minister says the new measures are effectively an enhancement of Level Four restrictions, which will be in place for the whole of January. But she cannot rule out extending them for longer.
The fundamental message, says Nicola Sturgeon, is to stay at home. She says the measures will become law and it will only be permissible to leave home for an essential purpose - for instance shopping for food or caring for a relative.
It is only permissible to go to work if your job cannot be done at home. She says that every business needs to look again and make sure every function that can be done at home is done at home.
She adds that new guidance for those shielding will also be introduced. If you are shielding but cannot work from home, do not go to work - the Chief Medicial Officer will write to all that this applies to which will act as a doctors note.
From tomorrow, Sturgeon adds, a maximum of two people from two households are able to meet indoors. Children under 11 are not included.
Travel restrictions remain in place. If you live in a Level 4 area - effectively everywhere bar the islands - you cannot leave your area. And no one can leave or enter Scotland unless for an essential purpose.
The First Minister adds that all places of worship must be closed, for all except broadcasting a service, a small wedding with five guests or a funeral with up to 20 people.
Sturgeon: We have an opportunity to avert crisis seen in London
If the rate of increasing cases is continued unchecked, there is a "real risk of the NHS being overwhelmed, even with contingency plans in place," the First Minister says.
Nicola Sturgeon adds that Scotland is about four weeks behind London and south England. "We have an opportunity in Scotland to avert the situation deteriorating to that extent, but we must act quickly", she says.
The adds that the decisions taken by Cabinet were not taken lightly, but the "clear and overriding duty right now" is to protect public health.
Sturgeon: I am more concerned about the situation now than ever before
Nicola Sturgeon adds that two major developments have changed the equation in the last couple of weeks: the vaccine and the new Covid variant.
"To ensure the vaccine wins the race we must increase delivery as much as possible. But to give it time to get ahead, we must slow the spread of the virus."
She says the new variant is up to 70 per cent more transmissible than previous strains and may add 0.7 to the R number. It already accounts for almost half of all new cases in Scotland.
That increased spread is "undoubtedly driving the very serious situation we face".
1,900 new cases have been detected in Scotland, with a 15 per cent positivity rate.
"But this is not just about one single days numbers, we are now seeing a steep rise in cases... I am more concerned about the situation now than I have been at any moment since the pandemic starts," says Sturgeon.
Sturgeon: Lockdown to start at midnight for January
The First Minister has started her statement in the Scottish Parliament on lockdown measures (which you can watch at the top of the blog).
She starts by paying tribute to an SNP politician who died on Friday - Kay Ullrich. "We will miss her", Nicola Sturgeon tells Hollyrood.
Then onto her statement on coronavirus. She says the Cabinet met this morning to assess the situation - which "I must say at the outset is extremely serious".
"I can confirm now in summary that we have decided to introduce from midnight tonight for the duration of January a legal requirement to stay at home except for essential services. This is similar to the lockdown in March 2020.
Oops.. Antwerp Mayor caught on camera in underwear
The mayor of Antwerp, Bart De Wever, kicked off 2021 in an embarrassing manner when he was called out for not wearing trousers during an interview streamed online on Saturday.
Radio 2 presenter Kim Debrie was quick to point out his mistake: “You are wearing a very nice shirt, probably you donned it especially for us. But under that shirt, could it be that you are there in your underwear?”
Mr De Wever, head of the separatist New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) party and one of the most powerful politicians in Belgium, apparently didn’t realise he was doing the interview in front of a mirror, which showed his bare legs below his chequered shirt.
“How can you know that?” asked Mr De Wever after being caught out. “Damn ... The year begins with a particularly embarrassing moment, I will remember this for a long time.”
Recap: Brian Pinker becomes the first to receive Oxford jab
Brian Pinker, an 82-year-old dialysis patient, has become the first person to be vaccinated with the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 jab this morning, after getting the dose at Oxford University Hospital.
"I am so pleased to be getting the Covid vaccine today and really proud that it is one that was invented in Oxford," Mr Pinker, a retired maintenance manager, said.
Six hospitals in England will administer the first of around 530,000 doses of the newly approved vaccine that Britain has ready to go.
The coronavirus immunisation programme will be expanded to hundreds of other British sites in the coming days, with the Government hoping it will deliver tens of millions of doses within months.
"[It's] a triumph of British science that we've managed to get where we are," Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, told Sky.
Watch for 2pm: Sturgeon expected to toughen restrictions
Nicola Sturgeon is expected to put Scotland in full lockdown from midnight tonight, with the 'stay at home' message put into law, Simon Johnson reports.
It is understood she will announce at 2pm that Scots may only meet one other person from another household outside. Schools are to be closed until February 1 initially, with the situation reviewed every fortnight.
Moderna vaccines among candidates under review by UK regulators
The head of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has confirmed that other vaccine candidates are in the approval pipeline.
Dr June Raine told BBC Radio 5 Live: "We have an ongoing rolling review about one vaccine I've already mentioned called Moderna, the one that's authorised in the US and Canada, and others starting up.
"So the excellent news, the brilliant news for 2021 is that there will be more more-effective and safe Covid-19 vaccines."
The UK has, though, received some criticism for the speed at which vaccines here have been approved (most notably the US). Asked about this Dr Raine said:"We are in a public health emergency, I'm absolutely confident of the rigour of the science and that no corners have been cut, there's no compromise.
"Our staff have worked around the clock, over the holidays, day and night, to make sure that not a single day is wasted because we know that the death toll is going on and that we need to do everything we can to avoid that and to minimise it."
She added that she would "embrace our questioning colleagues from the international regulators", and that the MHRA "interact with them very regularly... it's a really positive relationship."
Today in photos
Our picture desk have pulled together a selection of the best images of the coronavirus pandemic in the UK so far today.
Lobby latest: Waiting to see if Tier 4 is effective - which is 'still unclear'
Asked about further restrictions, Downing Street has said the Government is waiting to see the impact of the latest coronavirus restrictions in England before deciding on which further measures would be needed.
"We have been waiting to see the impact of the Tier 4 measures. It is a bit unclear still at the moment," the Prime Minister's official spokesman said.
"I have always said we would continue to look at the latest evidence and data and that is what we base our decisions on. We have always said that we would take the measures needed to reduce the spread of the virus and we will continue to do."
Here is a recap of Boris Johnson's warning about stricter measures - and a "tough, tough" few weeks ahead - earlier today:
Lobby Latest: Government ramping up vaccination campaign
The Government has insisted that it is "ramping up" the coronavirus vaccination programme with the rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab.
"The NHS has the capacity to deliver vaccines as soon as they have been manufactured and have undergone the relevant safety checks," the Prime Minister's official spokesman said during the Lobby briefing with political journalists.
"We are ramping up the vaccine programme. More GPs and hospitals are coming on stream all the time.
"Our priority has always been and will remain getting the vaccine to as many people as possible as quickly as possible. The NHS is set up to do that."
Gething: 2,700 coronavirus-related patients in Welsh hospitals
Back to Wales, where Vaughan Gething says there are almost 2,700 coronavirus-related patients in hospitals across the country. 208 patients are in critical care, with more than half of these having coronavirus.
"Very sadly we have seen an increase in the number of people who are dying after contracting coronavirus over the Christmas period," Mr Gething says.
More than 35,000 people in Wales have received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine since it was approved, primarily frontline health and care staff, as well as care home residents and the over-80s.
Mr Gething also adds that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is a "real game changer" because it can be stored in a fridge and is easier to transport.
Regulator head responds to PM's comments on batch approval delaying vaccinations
Away from the Welsh Health Secretary's briefing and back to vaccine roll-out.
Dr June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), has been asked by the BBC whether she agrees with the Prime Minister's suggestion that the limiting factor in expanding the UK's vaccine roll-out is waiting for batches to be approved.
She said that the approval was "part of our end-to-end process where everything is thoroughly checked".
Asked if the MHRA is able to do this as quickly as possible, she said: "Yes, and we have scaled up, in the fullness of time, if there are more vaccines, to be able to batch release all of them.
"I was really proud last Wednesday when we approved the AZ vaccine, the Oxford/AZ vaccine that we had approved the first batch the night before. We are that nimble and that quick."
But she also seemed to hint that approval alone is not the only potential bottleneck.
"It's a supply chain that goes right back from the manufacturer, right through to MHRA, and then on to the clinical bedside or where the vaccines are delivered, so we are a step on the road but our capacity is there, I'm very clear about that."
Gething: Concerns around schools linked to role in transmission, not safety
Asked again about whether schools should remain open, Vaughan Gething suggests the concerns are not around the safety of educational establishments themselves. Instead, it is the broader impact on community transmission.
Asked about vaccine prioritisation, the Welsh Health Minister says that the list has been set to save as many lives as possible. If other groups, for instance teachers or taxi drivers, are pushed further up that list, it means someone at the top has to be de-prioritised.
He also warns against "false hope and expectation" and refuses to set a timeline for when life may return to some semblance of normality.
"We have to focus on the fact that the pandemic is still with us," he says. "I don't think we should set an artificial period within the year when people can aim to do more."
On a more optimistic note he adds there is a "light at the end of the tunnel" thanks to vaccines and, come Spring, the weather will make a difference in reducing transmission.
Gething: School closures a last resort
Closing schools is a last resort, Vaughan Gething says, both to ensure children do not miss out on crucial learning and because school closures cause significant childcare difficulties.
He adds that the Government is sticking to allow schools too have a flexible strategy in the first few weeks. But if advice changes around the new Covid-19 variant, and its risk within schools and to children, then guidelines on schools may too.
"If the evidence changes, you have to be prepared to change your decision," he says. "We made a choice in the last week of the December school term to move high school learning to distance learning because we could see the evidence in front of us with a rising tide of infections.
"Within this we are having to balance all of the different harms," he says. "We can't allow the NHS to be overwhelmed... we also know that not having our schools operating causes schools to learners as well."
Gething: New variant spreading rapidly though Wales
The new Covid-19 variant is "spreading quickly throughout Wales", the country's health minister has told a press conference.
Vaughan Gething warns that cases of coronavirus in Wales "remain very high", though rates have fallen back from "incredibly high levels" seen before Christmas.
"The overall incidence rate for Wales has fallen from a high of 636 cases per 100,000 people on December 17 to 446 cases today," Mr Gething says.
"This is still far too high. There have been falls in most parts of Wales, except in North Wales, where we are seeing cases rise quickly. We believe this is because of the new fast-moving strain.
"It's too early to know if these falls are because of the Christmas period and fewer people coming forward for testing or if they are early, positive signs of a sustained slowing of this awful virus."
Mr Gething said that while the number of people being tested had fallen, the testing positivity rate across Wales was 25 per cent.
Gething: Vaccines offer route to exit the pandemic - but we are not out of the woods
Heading to Wales, where Vaughan Gething is giving a press conference on the coronavirus. He starts by welcoming the news that the AstraZeneca-Oxford jab is being rolled out - Wales has so far received 22,000 doses.
The Health Secretary says that there will be 22 mass-vaccination centres, while mobile units and more than sixty GP services will also be providing jabs.
"These two vaccines offer us a path out of this pandemic, but it will take a huge effort and time to vaccinate everyone," he adds, suggesting we are not out of the woods yet.
He urges people to keep contacts to a minimum, keep distance from others, working from home wherever possible and following health guidelines such as washing hands.
Follow the entire briefing via the video link at 12:18pm.
Jeremy Hunt calls for a full national lockdown
Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has called for the closure of schools and borders and a ban on household mixing "right away"
In a thread on Twitter the chairman of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee wrote that the pressures on the NHS are "off-the-scale" and far far worse than previous winter crises.
To those arguing winter is always like this in the NHS: you are wrong. I faced four serious winter crises as Health Sec and the situation now is off-the-scale worse than any of those.
— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) January 4, 2021
Watch live: Welsh health minister gives coronavirus update
Boris Johnson defends Government stance on schools
Boris Johnson has insisted that teachers are not at greater risk of catching Covid-19, adding that closing schools during the first wave was one of his "greatest misgivings".
"The risk to teachers, and of course we will do everything we can to protect teachers, but the risk to teachers is no greater than it is to anyone else," the Prime Minister told reporters this morning. "The reasons for wanting to keep schools open I think are very, very powerful."
Reiterating his view that schools are safe, he added:
"It's very important to understand that back in March, one of the things I look back on with the greatest misgivings was the closure of primary schools because it's so important for young people to get an education.
"That's why closing primary schools is, for all of us, a last resort... I would stress schools are safe and the risk to kids is very, very small."
This comes after teaching unions warned that bringing all pupils back into classrooms while the rate of infection is so high "is exposing education sector workers to serious risk of ill-health and could fuel the pandemic". (See 8:28am for full statement).
Austria extends lockdown for another week
Austria has scrapped plans to allow anyone with a negative coronavirus test to exit lockdown a week early, effectively extending strict measures and keeping restaurants and non-essential stores shut until Jan. 24, news agency APA has reported.
The decision came after Austria's opposition parties blocked a draft law that would have allowed an early exit from lockdown for anyone producing a negative test for the coronavirus, Health Minister Rudolf Anschober said.
It was not immediately clear whether schools are also to remain closed until January 24 or if they can open as originally planned on January 18, APA reported.
The draft law would have allowed those with a negative coronavirus test to attend cultural or sport events, buy non-essential goods and get their hair cut, a week before the official end of the lockdown on January 24.
Close schools for the rest of January, says Scottish Government committee
The Scottish Government's Education Recovery Group has recommended keeping schools shut until Feb 1, following a meeting this morning chaired by Deputy First Minister John Swinney, Simon Johnson reports.
The recommendation was being considered by the Scottish Cabinet, ahead of a parliamentary statement at 2pm by Nicola Sturgeon on the introduction of tougher lockdown restrictions in Scotland.
Scotland's schools had been scheduled to reopen after the festive break on Jan 18, but Ms Sturgeon is concerned about the impact of the new, more transmissible strain of Covid.
Online learning is supposed to start on Jan 11 but education experts have attacked the lack of teaching materials available for this, despite the Scottish Government and its agencies having months to prepare.
EU in conversations to secure more Pfizer-BioNTech jabs
The European Commission is in discussions with Pfizer and BioNTech about the possibility of ordering more doses of their Covid-19 vaccine, in addition to the 300 million shots already covered under an existing contract.
"The Commission is checking whether there is a way to add additional doses to those for which we already have a deal," a spokesman said this morning.
It comes after the German couple behind the vaccine criticised the European Union for failing to order enough doses (full story here).
“The process in Europe was not as quick and straightforward as it was in other countries,” Prof Ugur Sahin, the billionaire scientist and CEO of BioNTech, told Spiegel magazine.
“There was an assumption that many other companies would come with vaccines. Obviously the thinking which prevailed was: we'll get enough, it won't be so bad, and we have it under control. I was amazed.”
Quality control is holding up vaccine rollout, says Johnson
Speaking during a visit to Chase Farm Hospital in north London, Boris Johnson has suggested that the limiting factor in expanding the UK's vaccine rollout was not supply or staff but waiting for batches to be approved.
"We have the capacity, the issue is to do with supply of the vaccine," he told reporters. "It's not so much a manufacturing issue although that's part of it. Each batch needs to be properly approved and quality controlled."
The Prime Minister added that there will be a "massive ramp up" in vaccination numbers in the coming weeks.
"The rate limiting factor is now not supply of vaccines although we want that to go faster, it's getting them properly tested and getting them to the NHS."
But, echoing comments from Matt Hancock this morning, the Prime Minister warned of "tough tough" weeks to come.
"If you look at the numbers there's no question we will have to take tougher measures and we will be announcing those in due course," he said.
Just joining us? Here's an overview of the key headlines to be aware of, in the UK and across the globe:
Dialysis patient Brian Pinker, 82, has become the first person to be vaccinated with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine outside of clinical trials in the UK this morning.
In less optimistic news, Boris Johnson has warned that tougher measures will soon be announced to control coronavirus, suggesting there are "tough, tough" weeks to come.
It comes after Matt Hancock said Tier 3, which is in force in areas of the North East and South West of England, was no longer enough to contain the new variant of Covid-19.
The row over schools is also continuing, with a coalition of education unions warning that bringing all pupils back to class could fuel the pandemic and put teachers at "serious risk" of falling ill. But hundreds of schools across the country are still re-opening today.
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is expected to announce new Covid-19 restrictions following a sharp rise in cases in the country.
The German health ministry is seeking advice on whether to delay administering a second dose of the Covid19 vaccine from BioNTech and Pfizer to make scarce supplies go further.
France sought to accelerate inoculations after an initial roll-out slowed by bureaucracy and government wariness in one of the world's most vaccine-sceptical countries.
Meanwhile in the United States, the government is considering giving people half the dose of Moderna's vaccine to speed up vaccinations.
And in India, regulators have authorised two Covid-19 vaccines - the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab and the locally-produced Covaxin.
Colombia's capital, Bogota, will implement strict two-week quarantines in three neighbourhoods beginning tomorrow in an attempt to control a second wave of Covid.
And finally Japan said it would consider declaring a state of emergency for the Greater Tokyo metropolitan area, casting news doubts over whether it can push ahead with the Olympics and minimise economic damage.
Parents worry as crowded Kenyan schools reopen
Debates over whether schools should reopen in Britain have dominated the headlines. But concerns about safety for children and teachers are not confined to the UK.
In Nairobi's biggest slum, Kibera, hundreds of children formed an orderly queue this morning as they waited to enter classrooms for the first time since March, when the government closed schools after Kenya reported its first Covid-19 case.
The country is the last in East Africa to fully reopen its schools. Children in grades four, eight and 12 returned to class in October so they could prepare for exams postponed amid the pandemic.
But parents have expressed concerns that measures to prevent the spread of Covid are limited. Anyone entering schools has to use hand sanitiser and have their temperature checked but inside most, children are shoulder to shoulder, three at a desk.
"The government has said our children must go, but they are not safe according to how I see it," said 54-year-old parent Maurice Oduor, questioning how social distancing can be practised with about 100 students squeeze into each room.
But the government has insisted it is safe. George Magoha, the Education Minister, said yesterday that more than half a million desks and supplies of soap have been distributed to schools to keep parents and teachers safe.
Watch: Hancock hints at new national lockdown
Public must 'keep disciplined' to control virus, Johnson says
Boris Johnson said that while the Government will do everything necessary to keep the virus under control, the public must keep their discipline.
He said: "We will do everything we can to keep the virus under control and people should be in no doubt that the Government will do everything that's necessary.
"But I must stress at this critical moment it is so vital that people keep disciplined."
The Prime Minister said huge numbers of people were following the guidance and he recognised some were becoming frustrated.
He added: "I think the public have been fantastic in the way they have tried to follow the guidance."
This time last year...
On this day in 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) made this announcement.
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) January 4, 2020
Prime Minister vows 'massive ramp up' in vaccination numbers
Boris Johnson said there will be a "massive ramp up" in vaccination numbers.
He added: "There's a massive ramp up operation now going on.
"The rate limiting factor is now not supply of vaccines although we want that to go faster, it's getting them properly tested and getting them to the NHS.
"It's not the ability to distribute the vaccine, it's not the shortage of staff.
"It's getting it properly tested. That will ramp up in the weeks ahead."
Tougher measures to be announced, Boris Johnson says
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that tougher measures will be announced soon to control the coronavirus.
Speaking during a visit to Chase Farm Hospital in north London to meet some of the first people to receive the Oxford vaccine on Monday Mr Johnson said there were "tough tough" weeks to come.
He added: "If you look at the numbers there's no question we will have to take tougher measures and we will be announcing those in due course."
German lockdown extended to Jan 31
The lockdown in Germany will continue until January 31, according to a newspaper in the country.
German states have agreed to extend the current measures to the end of the month, according to Bild.
German officials made clear last week that they won't be able to relax lockdown restrictions in early January as the country recorded more than 1,000 deaths in one day for the first time at the end of December.
Germany, the European Union's most populous country, shut restaurants, bars, sports and leisure facilities on November 2. The partial shutdown halted a fast increase in new infections for a while but failed to bring them down, prompting authorities to impose a fuller lockdown from December 16, shutting non-essential shops and schools.
Those measures are due to run until January 10. Chancellor Angela Merkel and the governors of Germany's 16 states will consult Tuesday on how to proceed.
Birmingham council leader calls for national lockdown
The Labour leader of Birmingham City Council has called on the Government to impose a new "lockdown" amid rising case rates.
Speaking to BBC Radio WM, Cllr Ian Ward said that in the past week there had been a 36% increase in the city's seven-day case rate.
He added: "The NHS here in the city is under intensive pressure.
"University Hospital Birmingham has 98% of its intensive care beds occupied and Sandwell and City (hospitals trust) has 100% of its intensive care beds occupied.
"We're not in a position here to wait until the overall case rate gets up into the thousands, where it is in some London boroughs.
"We need decisive action now and the Government needs to act early for once and get ahead of the curve."
Labour MP was 'very ill' with Covid over Christmas
Labour MP Toby Perkins said he became "very ill" over Christmas after contracting coronavirus, but had now made a "steady recovery" and was back at work.
Mr Perkins, who represents Chesterfield and is shadow minister for apprenticeships, tweeted: "Thanks to everyone who has sent kind messages, and enquired about my health since I announced that I had Covid over Christmas.
"I was very ill over Christmas, particularly suffering with breathlessness as well as other feverish coronavirus symptoms.
"I have made a steady recovery each day since 27th December or so, and whilst continuing to take things a little easier than normal, I am basically back at work now, although I'm advised to take a little extra rest every now and then."
Hancock on tighter restrictions
There is plenty of talk of Tier 5 being introduced in the UK - you can read about what that might look like here.
But here is Health Secretary Matt Hancock refusing to rule out a tightening of measures.
Jeremy Vine: 'Getting coronavirus over Christmas was like meeting Elvis'
Jeremy Vine has said having coronavirus over Christmas after reporting on it for so long felt like "meeting Elvis".
During his Channel 5 current affairs programme, the presenter aired a series of videos he had recorded while self-isolating in his family home over the festive period.
He said: "I had a weird one, I had Covid. I felt a bit ill on December the 22nd and then on the 23rd this was me."
Vine added: "When you have reported so much on a virus and you finally get it, it's like meeting Elvis but actually by day three, Christmas Day, I was a little better, although I had now had a positive test result.
"I followed all the rules. The family isolated. I had to isolate within the house."
Boris Johnson arrives for hospital visit
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has his temperature checked during a visit to Chase Farm Hospital in north London.
Mr Johnson warned Sunday that more onerous lockdown restrictions in England are likely in the coming weeks as the country reels from a coronavirus variant that has pushed infection rates to their highest recorded levels.
Headteacher 'frustrated' at lack of leadership
Bryony Baynes, head of Kempsey Primary School in Worcestershire, said she feels "frustrated" at the lack of leadership and another potential last-minute change.
She said: "I feel sick with anxiety. I emailed all my staff last night because I am aware that the NEU has issued guidance letters and all of my staff are committed to being in school.
"They are, as I am, very anxious, but are determined to do their best for the children in our care. I think the unions are combining to bring pressure on the Government and on headteachers to close.
"I am not an epidemiologist - I trained to be a teacher, not to study viruses. I have to depend on the DfE and my local authority to lead me and, at the moment, I don't feel that leadership is clear."
After a morning of media interviews on the morning the Oxford vaccine was rolled out in the UK, the Health Secretary gives the thumbs up to a photographer.
Hancock hints at new national lockdown
Matt Hancock hinted at the potential for a new national lockdown, saying the Government is prepared to act "rapidly" where necessary.
The Health Secretary told ITV's Good Morning Britain: "We are prepared to take the sort of action (lockdown) if that is what's necessary."
He added: "It's about not only the measures we put in place but how everybody responds to them.
"We're prepared to take the action that's necessary, and sometimes very rapidly.
"When we found out that this new variant spreads so much faster, we moved within just over 24 hours to bring in the Tier 4."
Asked whether he is prepared to introduce a new national lockdown, Mr Hancock replied: "We look at the data all the time, and we will take the action that is needed based on public health advice."
Vaccine is safe, says JCVI
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation ( JCVI ) has deemed both the Oxford/Astrazeneca and Pfizer safe and provide high-levels of protection against coronavirus (COVID-19) disease, including severe disease.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, Covid-19 Chair for JCVI, said: "The JCVI has considered the safety and efficacy data on the AstraZeneca vaccine and we are pleased to say that it is acceptably safe and effective – as with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
"For both vaccines, high-levels of protection are evident after the first dose of vaccine. JCVI advises priority should be given to the first dose, to maximise the public health benefits in the current situation and save more lives."
Here is how the vaccines will be rolled out in the UK
Residents in a care home for older adults and their carers
All those 80 years of age and over, and health and social care workers
All those 75 years of age and over
All those 70 years of age and over, and individuals deemed clinically extremely vulnerable
All those 65 years of age and over
Adults aged 18 to 64 years with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality
All those 60 years of age and over
All those 55 years of age and over
All those 50 years of age and over
Some schools, like this one in Liverpool, have closed in spite of Government pleas to remain open.
Dozens of others have followed suit, citing that staff do not feel it is safe to reopen given the surge in coronavirus cases.
But schoolchildren in Leeds were skipping into the new term this morning, as captured by this picture.
FTSE 100 jumps on first trading day of 2021
The FTSE 100 has risen strongly on the first full trading day of 2021, with hopes for a rebound in global demand driving energy and mining stocks higher, writes Louis Ashworth.
London’s top index rose as much as 2pc, on track for its best one-day performance since early November, before gains cooled slightly.
Heavyweights such as Shell and BP rose as Brent crude oil prices broke above $53 a barrel, hitting the highest price since early May.
Meanwhile, gold and silver prices have risen solidly as investors seek alternative safe investments as bond yields remain poor.
'We are going to get this out as quickly as possible', says NHS director
Prof Stephen Powis, director of NHS England, said: "We are going to get this out as quickly as possible. We need to get the supplies through. This is a new vaccine.
"AstraZeneca are ramping up producing and batches will be coming through. We have half a million to come. If we get two million per week, our aim is to get two million into people’s arms a week.
"We have been preparing in the NHS for months to deliver the biggest vaccination programme in out history and I am confident we will be able to do that Assuming the supply is there, we do have the workforce available.
"We want to minimise the bureaucracy people will go through, to ensure people volunteer. We want people to come forward. We are still looking for people because we want to get this into people’s arms very quickly."
Matt Hancock 'incredibly worried' about South African variant
The Health Secretary said that he is "incredibly worried" about the South African variant of coronavirus.
"This is a very, very significant problem," he said.
'No shaky hands' from nurse who gave first vaccine.
Nurse Sam Foster was asked if she was nervous administering the first Oxford vaccine.
But she told Sky News: "I've given many vaccines, it was exciting, but no shaky hands."
She called the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab "an absolute game changer", and said there is "nothing more" than she and her NHS colleagues want more than a proper roll-out programme.
Talking of her first patient Brian Pinker - the first man vaccinated - she said he was the dream patient who said he "didn't feel a thing" when he was pricked with the needle.
Opening schools is in 'no-one's interest', says TUC
Wading into the schools debate, Trades Union Congress general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "The Government's own advice from Sage makes it clear that opening schools to all pupils now risks increasing the infection rate. That's in no-one's interests.
"Instead of creating chaos for parents and exposing workers to risks, the Prime Minister should be talking to trade unions about what steps are needed to make sure all schools are Covid-secure."
Teachers at 'serious risk' of infection, say unions.
Away from the news on the Oxford vaccine, education unions have released a joint statement.
The statement, signed by GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU, Unison and Unite, said:
"The Government's chaotic handling of the opening of schools has caused confusion for teachers, school staff and parents alike.
"Bringing all pupils back into classrooms while the rate of infection is so high is exposing education sector workers to serious risk of ill-health and could fuel the pandemic.
"Unions have called for a pause in the reopening of schools for anyone other than vulnerable children and children of key workers, and a move to remote learning for all while Covid-secure working arrangements are reviewed. All school staff continuing to work in schools should be given priority access to Covid-19 vaccinations.
"Instead of casually asserting that schools are safe, the Prime Minister should sit down with unions to discuss a joint approach to ensuring safe working arrangements in all schools and prioritising enabling all pupils to have the equipment and access they need to receive a high standard of remote learning until the safety of them and the staff in their school can be guaranteed."
Vaccine professor receives jab
Professor Andrew Pollard, Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, and a professor of paediatric infection and immunity, has received the new vaccine at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford.
And we're off!
The UK roll-out of the Oxford vaccine is underway.
Here is the second patient getting his jab in Oxford.
Nurse speaks of 'real privilege' after administering first jab
Sam Foster, Chief Nursing Officer at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, who administered the vaccine to Mr Pinker, said: "It was a real privilege to be able to deliver the first Oxford vaccine at the Churchill Hospital here in Oxford, just a few hundred metres from where it was developed.
"We look forward to vaccinating many more patients and health and care staff with the Oxford vaccine in the coming weeks which will make a huge difference to people living in the communities we serve and the staff who care for them in our hospitals."
"Bureaucracy" of signing up to being a volunteer vaccinator being reduced
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the "bureaucracy" involved in signing up to be a volunteer vaccinator is being reduced.
He told BBC Breakfast: "We're going to reduce the amount of bureaucracy that is needed there, and I've been working with the NHS on that.
"For instance, there's one of the training programmes about needing to tackle terrorism. I don't think that's necessary, we're going to stop that.
"And we're going through the different parts of that process to streamline it as much as possible but again that isn't the rate-limiting step.
"Because at the moment the NHS, with the people that it has got already, is able to deliver the vaccine as it can be produced, but obviously I want to make that easier."
First Covid vaccine patient 'really proud' it was created in Oxford
Mr Pinker, a dialysis patient who describes himself as Oxford born and bred, said in a statement issued by NHS England: "I am so pleased to be getting the Covid vaccine today and really proud that it is one that was invented in Oxford.
"The nurses, doctors and staff today have all been brilliant and I can now really look forward to celebrating my 48th wedding anniversary with my wife Shirley later this year."
First Oxford vaccine delivered
Dialysis patient Brian Pinker, 82, has become the first person to be vaccinated with the new Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine after being given the jab at Oxford University Hospital, NHS England said.
How does the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine work?
New vaccine 'really positive change for the UK'
Matt Hancock told Sky News that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was a "really positive" change for the UK and the wider world.
He said: "It's a really positive change for the country as a whole and indeed for the world that you can wait until 12 weeks to get the second dose and the signs with the AstraZeneca vaccine are that you get a better protection if you wait that bit longer.
"These vaccines are effective and they're safe and the critical thing is since we have these doses available do you use any two doses to dose two people to give them that protection which starts after the first dose or do you give one person two doses which actually leaves somebody else without that protection at all?
"So imagine if you have got two grandparents and you've got two doses of vaccine, you want to give one each because they both then get that protection."
Hancock: Schools, teachers and children are 'absolutely safe'
Mr Hancock told Times Radio that people were understanding of the Government changing its position on whether schools should remain open or not.
He said: "One of the big challenges in the middle of a pandemic is that the data changes, and therefore the public health advice rightly changes, and we have to change our position.
"One of the interesting things as Health Secretary I've noticed over the last year is that people get that, right?
"People get that the virus moves - we've seen this new variant making things much, much harder because it spreads so much easier and then we have to update our position based on updated public health advice.
"On schools, our approach is we should follow that public health advice."
He told the BBC that teachers and children were "absolutely safe" in schools.
Teachers 'no more at risk' than public, says Health Secretary
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said people should follow the public health advice regarding the reopening of schools, and suggested teachers are no more at risk of catching coronavirus than the rest of the population.
He told Sky News: "It is also clear that the proportion of teachers who catch coronavirus is no higher than the rest of the population.
"So there is clear public health advice behind the position that we have taken and that is what people should follow because, of course, education is very important as well, especially for people's long-term health."
Vaccine rollout a 'big, medium-term project'
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Times Radio increasing the country's vaccine manufacture capacity was "a big medium-term project".
He said: "But that doesn't take away what's being delivered today - British science, with the British industrial might of AstraZeneca, backed by the British Government, is delivering the first doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, into arms, in the NHS, this morning."
New strain 'increasingly difficult' to contain in Tier 3, says Matt Hancock
Matt Hancock hinted that more parts of the country could be plunged into the strictest tier of Covid restrictions due to the new strain of the virus.
The Health Secretary told Sky News: We don't rule anything out and we have shown repeatedly that we will take the public health advice in terms of what's needed to control the spread of the disease.
"Now this new variant is much easier to catch, it's much more transmissable and we are now seeing the effect of that in lots of different parts of the country and it means that whereas the old tier 3 was able to contain the old variant that is proving increasingly difficult in all parts of the country."
How vaccines have been rolled out across the world
As we await the much-anticipated first delivery of the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine, here's a look at how vaccines have been distributed across the world.
Hancock: It's on all of us to beat the virus
The Health Secretary told Sky News that it was a "massive team effort" to try to limit the spread of the virus.
"It is a very difficult situation in terms of the growth of the virus," he said, adding that it was critical that everyone in the country did what they could to stick to restrictions.
“It is critical that everybody in the country does all that they can to reduce the spread of the virus.”
Health Secretary, @MattHancock says “it’s down to people’s behaviour” whether Tier 4 works or not.
Get the live #Coronavirus updates: https://t.co/iclPwb2Re8 pic.twitter.com/7BoWyArbym
— Sky News (@SkyNews) January 4, 2021
Hancock: We don't rule out another lockdown
Matt Hancock is being interviewed on Sky News right now. He told the programme that the vaccine rollout was a 'triumph for British science' but he warned that the virus in its mutated form was still spreading rapidly.
When asked about the threat of another national lockdown, he said: "We don't rule anything out".
'We will need a stronger set of measures': Labour education secretary
The shadow education secretary, Kate Green, has said there needs to be a "clear understanding" among the public to "stay at home" as she called for a "stronger set" of coronavirus restrictions.
She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It is very clear that the Government has lost control of the virus, we're seeing a really alarming rise in cases and in the spread of the infection.
"And I do think that we will need a stronger set of measures... but also a very clear understanding among the whole of the public everywhere that staying at home, not going out except when it is essential, not mixing socially or unnecessarily is key to getting this virus under control."
South Korea reviews AstraZeneca vaccine
South Korea is reviewing AstraZeneca's request for approval of its coronavirus vaccine, as it expands a ban on private gatherings of more than four people to the whole country with daily cases topping more than 1,000 in four days.
The drug safety ministry said would aim to approve the British shot for emergency use in 40 days. The approval would mark the first for the country, which has been grappling with a prolonged surge in infections during the latest wave that has led to a sharp increase in deaths.
South Korea signed a deal with AstraZeneca to secure 20million doses of its vaccine in December, with the first shipment expected as early as January.
It also has deals with three other drugmakers - Pfizer Inc , Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen, Moderna Inc - and the global COVAX initiative, backed by the World Health Organization.
The country has secured enough doses to allow for coverage of 56 million people, more than the 52 million residents of the country.
Which hospitals have the vaccine?
The following hospitals in England will start delivering the vaccine today ahead of the rollout to hundreds of GP-led services later in the week:
Royal Free Hospital London NHS Foundation Trust
Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust
Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust
Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust
George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust
There are more than 730 vaccination sites across the UK.
Up to 100 more hospital sites are due to come online in England this week, subject to final assurance checks. There are also another 180 GP-led services which are due to come online this week.
Matt Hancock hails the 'national mission'
Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, will be giving interviews to the morning news outlets today, starting with Sky News at 7.05am. We'll bring you all the latest from him.
He has already tweeted his joy at the Oxford rollout.
Delighted that today we roll out the @UniofOxford / @AstraZeneca vaccine across the whole UK 🇬🇧
It’s a vital step in our fight against this pandemic
This is a national mission. Thank you to everyone involved. pic.twitter.com/EU3R0AJoCx
— Matt Hancock (@MattHancock) January 4, 2021
AstraZeneca shipment heading to South Korea
AstraZeneca has filed an application for approval in South Korea of the coronavirus vaccine it developed with Oxford University, the country's drug safety ministry said in a statement on Monday.
The ministry said it would aim to approve the vaccine for emergency use in 40 days.
The approval would mark the first in South Korea, which has been grappling to contain its latest wave of infections.
South Korea signed a deal with AstraZeneca in December, with the first shipment expected as early as January.
Vietnam to purchase Oxford vaccine
Vietnam has agreed to buy 30 million doses of the Covid vaccine produced by AstraZeneca, the government said on Monday.
The AstraZeneca and Oxford University vaccine is cheaper than some others and can be stored at fridge temperature, which makes it easier to transport and use, particularly in developing countries.
"We've already signed an agreement to guarantee the AstraZeneca vaccine for 15 million people, which is equivalent to 30 million doses," deputy health minister Truong Quoc Cuong told a government meeting.
50,000 vaccine doses allocated to Northern Ireland
Injections of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine start in Northern Ireland GP practices on Monday.
A batch of 50,000 doses has been allocated, and those aged over 80 will be prioritised initially.
The country has moved to accelerate delivery of the jab as the pace of the pandemic has picked up.
The new and more infectious variant of Covid-19 has been detected in Northern Ireland.
The number of coronavirus infections has increased rapidly.
Chief medical officers across the UK have decided to delay delivery of the second shot of vaccines.
The intention is that the maximum number of people receive their first jab, with its partial protection, as quickly as possible to help stem the tide of cases that threatens to overwhelm the health service.
Northern Ireland is in the second week of a six-week lockdown in which non-essential retail is closed.
The country has recorded a further 1,662 cases of Covid-19.
A total of 11,810 people have tested positive in the past seven days, the Department of Health said on Sunday.
Wales ready for vaccine roll-out
The second coronavirus vaccine available in the UK will be rolled out across Wales from Monday, the Welsh Government has announced.
At least 40,000 doses of the AstraZeneca jab will be made available within the next two weeks.
Wales' health minister Vaughan Gething said: "Today marks a key milestone in our fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. The rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine has been called a 'game changer' and this is true - its potential should not be underestimated.
"In less than a month Wales' NHS has mobilised the largest vaccination programme our country has ever seen and so far more than 35,000 people have received their first dose.
"Now, only five days since regulatory approval of the new vaccine for use in the UK, a second vaccine is here and ready for use, significantly adding to Wales' defences in the face of coronavirus and protecting our most vulnerable."
Army deployed to help roll out vaccines and testing
The Army is to be deployed in the biggest ever peacetime operation in the UK to help roll out vaccines and testing.
A further 800 soldiers have been sent to Greater Manchester in order to provide community testing support across all 10 local authority areas.
Troops will carry out targeted asymptomatic testing of specific populations that may be at a higher risk of infection including social care staff, key workers, public facing occupations such as bus drivers, and those in high-risk environments such care homes and shared accommodation for the homeless.
Read the full story here.
Vaccine marks a 'pivotal moment'
The bulk of supplies of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine will be sent to hundreds of GP-led services and care homes later this week for wider rollout, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "This is a pivotal moment in our fight against this awful virus and I hope it provides renewed hope to everybody that the end of this pandemic is in sight."
He urged everyone to continue to follow coronavirus restrictions while the vaccination programme is under way to "keep cases down and protect our loved ones".
The UK has secured 100 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine as part of its contract, enough for most of the population.
While some 530,000 doses are to be available from today, DHSC said that tens of millions more are to be delivered in the coming weeks and months once batches have been quality checked.
First Oxford doses ready to be administered
The first doses of the Oxford University and AstraZeneca vaccine are set to be administered in what has been described as a pivotal moment in the UK's fight against coronavirus by the Health Secretary.
Just over half a million doses of the newly approved vaccine will be available from this morning, with vulnerable groups already identified as the priority for immunisation.
Jabs will be delivered at about 730 vaccination sites already established across the UK, with others opening this week to take the total to more than 1,000, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
The vaccine will be administered at a small number of hospitals in England for the first few days, including at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, where it was developed.
Five other hospital trusts - two in London, and others in Sussex, Lancashire and Warwickshire - will also start delivering the vaccine today.
The challenges facing the Oxford Covid vaccine roll-out
Boris Johnson insisted on Sunday that tens of millions of doses of Covid-19 vaccine would be delivered by the end of March.
He refused to say how many people would receive the jabs, but told the BBC's Andrew Marr programme: "What I can tell you is that … we do hope that we will be able to do tens of millions in the course of the next three months."
The first big step towards that goal begins with the roll-out of the Oxford/Astra Zeneca vaccine this morning.
The priority list for the Oxford and Pfizer vaccines
Boris Johnson has said Britain is in a "race" to roll out the newly approved Covid vaccine in order to avoid a third national lockdown as a new virus variant surges across the country.
The Oxford vaccine will be rolled out from today across the country after the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency approved the vaccine on December 30.
The largest-scale vaccination programme in British history is already underway.
Regarding the Oxford vaccine approval, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "This is a moment to celebrate British innovation - not only are we responsible for discovering the first treatment to reduce mortality for Covid-19, this vaccine will be made available to some of the poorest regions of the world at a low cost, helping protect countless people from this awful disease."
NHS refuses to commit to delivering two million Covid jabs
The NHS has declined to make a commitment to delivering two million doses of Covid-19 vaccine a week, according to sources, on the eve of the roll-out of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab this morning.
The health service said the supply of vaccines remained the "main barrier" to delivering tens of millions of doses despite manufacturers insisting that doses were being delivered to the timetable agreed with the Government.
Today's top stories
The Prime Minister has put the country on notice for a third national lockdown, as it emerged that the Government is drawing up plans for the return of shielding.
The NHS has declined to make a commitment to delivering two million doses of Covid-19 vaccines a week, according to sources, on the eve of the roll-out of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab on Monday.
Boris Johnson insisted on Sunday that tens of millions of doses of Covid-19 vaccine would be delivered by the end of March.
The number of patients left waiting outside hospitals in ambulances is soaring due to Covid infection control measures and rising hospital admissions, with paramedics warning that emergency calls are going unanswered.
Primary schools in some parts of the country will stay shut despite being ordered to open by the Government after council bosses pledged their support to head teachers.
The coronavirus variant circulating in South Africa could be resistant to current vaccines, a leading expert has suggested, but stressed that it could take just six weeks to develop a new jab if one were needed.
Britons are bracing themselves for Tier 5 restrictions or even another lockdown as Boris Johnson and scientists admitted more needed to be done to curb rising coronavirus cases across the country.