Boris Johnson will not make any announcement over new Covid restrictions before Christmas Day, according to reports.
Earlier this week, the prime minister confirmed fresh curbs would not be brought in ahead of December 25 - but it is now expected he will delay any announcement on restrictions until next week, according to the BBC.
However, it does not mean that the PM will not bring in tighter measures to stem the spread of the Omicron variant, the broadcaster reported.
Meanwhile, hospitality bosses have pleaded with the Government for clarity over New Year’s Eve plans as initial studies claimed the Omicron variant of Covid is milder than Delta.
Jonathan Neame, boss of Britain’s oldest brewer Shepherd Neame, told the Daily Mail: “We hope that pubs stay open and that there are no further restrictions.”
It comes after two separate studies using UK-based data, both released on Wednesday, showed a significant drop in the risk of hospitalisation from the disease.
Analysis by Imperial College London said people with PCR-confirmed Omicron are 40-45 per cent less likely to spend a night or more in hospital compared with Delta.
UK among countries to get more vaccine in six weeks than Africa has all year
07:31 , Daniel Keane
Good morning and welcome to the Evening Standard’s live coverage of the Covid pandemic.
The UK, European Union, and the US have received more doses of Covid vaccines in the last six weeks than African countries have all year, according to new analysis from the People’s Vaccine Alliance (PVA).
Between 11 November and 21 December 2021, the EU, UK and US received 513 million doses of vaccines while countries in Africa received just 500 million throughout the whole of 2021.
If the current rates of vaccination continue, by next Christmas manufacturers will still be failing to fully vaccinate everyone in Africa, the PVA said.
Vaccine equity campaigners say that governments like the UK risk “trapping the world in an endless cycle of variants, boosters, restrictions and even lockdowns” if low vaccination rates are allowed to persist in the global south.
Welsh minister says return of furlough is ‘best answer’ to Covid crisis
07:42 , Daniel Keane
The economy minister for Wales has said furlough would be the “best answer” to protect businesses if the Covid situation deteriorated, after the Sennedd imposed strict new curbs to come into effect after Christmas.
He said the UK Government would need to help cover the cost.
Vaughan Gething told BBC Breakfast: “If the harm increases then we have a really practical challenge because furlough is the best answer to prevent the sort of catastrophic loss of jobs and businesses.
“But furlough can only be introduced if the UK Government do that. It’s about the money: furlough costs about £600 million a month in Wales. We don’t have the resources for furlough and the other demands we have as well.
“But, also, we don’t have access to the information that’s required to deliver furlough.
“So, if the public health situation deteriorated further then we really do need co-ordinated action and we need the UK Treasury to step up to the plate and help to protect lives and livelihoods right across the UK.”
Ministers ‘won’t meet to discuss new Covid rules for England until after Christmas'
07:57 , Daniel Keane
Ministers will not meet to discuss the prospect of fresh Covid curbs until after Christmas, according to reports.
Boris Johnson will not summon the Cabinet to discuss the next steps to tackle the spread of the variant before next week, the I newspaper reports.
It comes as data suggested the Omicron variant is less severe than scientists initially feared, with two studies released on Wednesday showing a decreased risk of hospitalisation.
A No10 source told the newspaper: “It looks like good news, but it’s difficult to know how much store to put in any individual bit of data.”
Britons far less likely to shake hands with people they don’t know, according to study
08:10 , Daniel Keane
Britons are less likely to shake hands and hug people they do not live with following the pandemic, new polling has suggested.
Around six in 10 people (62 per cent) say they shake hands less now than they did before Covid, while more than half (54 per cent) say they have cut down on hugging people they do not live with.
The figures have been collected following a survey between YouGov and the PA news agency.
Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed (71 per cent) said they use hand sanitiser more than they did before the pandemic, while around two-thirds (64 per cent) say they are more likely to stay socially distanced from people they do not live with.
England’s position on Covid curbs ‘won’t remain for much longer’
08:23 , Daniel Keane
The economy minister for Wales said he does not think England’s position on Covid restrictions will remain the same “for very much longer”.
Vaughan Gething told Times Radio: “We’ve doubled our package because we know that there is a direct impact from the alert level two style interventions we’ve had to introduce to protect the public.
“I’ve met regularly with Dave Chapman (UKHospitality’s executive director for Wales) and other stakeholders over the last few days making clear the seriousness of the position we’re at... we’re actually being a bit more generous than the money that’s on offer in England.
“Of course, Dave’s talking about England continuing to be open. Well, I’m not sure that’s going to be the position for very much longer.”
Older people ‘may need fourth jab'
08:40 , Daniel Keane
Older and vulnerable people in Britain may be given a fourth jab to combat Covid, a vaccines chief said today.
Professor Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said recommendations to ministers on such a roll-out would be made in the New Year.
Prof Finn, from Bristol University and speaking in a personal capacity, told LBC Radio: “There will be people probably who will receive a fourth jab.
“Whether that will be everyone is still very much in doubt. We do need to see how things go through this wave and beyond.”
More on that story here.
Labour call for strategy on managing Covid
08:59 , Daniel Keane
Labour has called for “more clarity” from the Government on its strategy for managing Covid.
Lucy Powell, shadow secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, told Sky News: “I think what we would like to see... is more clarity around what data points the Government is looking at, where the thresholds lie within those areas that are data points, and if those thresholds are crossed, what action would then follow.
“And what are the sort of set of restrictions that may or may not come in depending on those data points? Because at the moment, I think a lot of people just feel like they’re really stabbing in the dark.”
PM has ‘lost authority with the public'
09:10 , Daniel Keane
The shadow culture secretary said Boris Johnson is unable to take decisions on Covid data because he has “lost authority with the public”.
Calling for more clarity from the Government on its Covid strategy, Ms told Sky News there is a “feeling” that “the prime minister is not actually able to take those decisions based very clearly on data because he’s got his own political problems, and he’s lost authority with the public in order to convey some of those messages”.
She added: “The Government must be working to something. Why can’t we all know what that is, and have a clearer sense about what would happen when if some of those data points changed, and what wouldn’t happen when if some of those data points became more positive, as they are this morning?”
‘Severity is reduced compared to Delta’, says NERVTAG scientist
09:22 , Daniel Keane
Professor Andrew Hayward, director of the UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Healthcare and a member of Nervtag, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the two new British studies of Omicron and emerging South African data showed “we can reasonably say, amongst mainly young adults who normally have mild disease anyway, that the severity is reduced compared to Delta”.
He added: “And that’s reduced maybe nearly a half in terms of likelihood of being admitted to hospital and maybe by about a quarter in terms of the chance of going to accident and emergency.
“I think what we can’t necessarily extrapolate to is what level of reduction in severity we might see in elderly people, and we also know that in elderly people the risk of severe disease throughout the pandemic has always been massively high.”
Scotland to close nightclubs for 3 weeks
09:44 , Daniel Keane
Nightclubs in Scotland will be closed for at least three weeks from December 27, Deputy First Minister John Swinney has said.
Legislation tabled by the Scottish Government at the Covid-19 Recovery Committee on Thursday will close nightclubs unless they can operate with appropriate social distancing between groups and table service.
It follows the announcement of new restrictions in Scotland earlier this week, bringing back the requirement for one metre of social distancing between groups and a maximum capacity of 100 at a standing indoor event.
Decision to jab 5-11 year olds to be ‘carefully reviewed'
09:59 , Daniel Keane
A decision on whether to offer vaccinations to all five to 11-year-old children will be “carefully” reviewed over the following few weeks, an expert has said.
Professor Anthony Harnden, of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), told BBC News: “We still want to look at further data on that. It is really important that we see what the severity of illness is with Omicron on this particular age group.
“We know that with previous variants, the illness was very mild in children.
“We also want to have a look at further data from the United States where they are deploying the vaccine to all well children in terms of a safety profile, so there is no need to make that decision at the moment, but we will carefully review that over the following few weeks.”
It comes after the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approved the Pfizer vaccine for use in the age group on Wednesday.
Number of NHS staff isolating in London doubles in a week
10:17 , Daniel Keane
The number of NHS staff isolating in London with Covid has doubled in a week amid the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
A total of 3,874 NHS staff at acute hospital trusts in London were absent for Covid reasons on December 19, more than double the number a week earlier (1,540) and more than three times the number at the start of the month (1,174), according to new figures from NHS England.
Across England, the number of staff isolating at acute trusts was up 54 per cent from 12,240 a week earlier and up 51 per cent from 12,508 at the start of the month.
NHS ‘could still come under pressure’ despite Omicron being less severe
10:32 , Daniel Keane
The NHS could still be under huge pressure despite the possibility that the Omicron variant may cause milder disease, a scientist has said.
Professor Paul Elliott, a chair in epidemiology and public health medicine at Imperial College London, said “there are many many cases and sadly some of those people may get severe illness and end up in hospital.”
He told Sky News: “From the beginning of December we saw this very dramatic rise in prevalence across the country, but particularly across London with the R number now substantially above one.
“This exponential increase in infections is absolutely being driven by the Omicron variant.”
Professor Elliott described it as “encouraging news” that perhaps the infection when you get it might be less severe in terms of hospital cases.
But he added: “Of course, with this very very rapid rise and increase in cases - and we have seen the national cases go above 100,000 - then more cases means more pressure (on the health service).
“Even though a smaller proportion (of people) might get severe disease or go into hospital, that could still result in many cases and, of course, that could give pressure on the health service.”
NHS is ‘on a war footing’, says health service chief
10:48 , Daniel Keane
NHS national medical director Stephen Powis has just released a statement as staff absences pile up in the health service, saying it is on a “war footing” amid a rise in Omicron cases.
He said: “The NHS is on a war footing and staff are taking the fight to Omicron, by boosting hundreds of thousands of people each day, treating thousands of seriously-ill Covid patients and delivering urgent care for other conditions, all while seeing a worrying, high and rising increase in absence due to Covid.
“We are once again ramping up to deal with the rise in Covid infections and, quite rightly, staff are making every possible preparation for the uncertain challenges of Omicron.
“This includes recruiting thousands of nurses and reservists, but while we’ll leave no stone unturned to get the NHS battle-ready, it remains the case that the best way to protect yourself and others is to follow guidance and to come forward and get your first, second and booster jabs.”
Javid confirms no announcements on Covid until after Christmas
11:10 , Daniel Keane
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has confirmed there will be no further announcements on Covid restrictions before Christmas.
“We are not planning any further announcements this week,” he told broadcasters.
“Despite the caution that we are all taking, people should enjoy their Christmases with their families and their friends - of course, remain cautious.
“We will keep the situation under review. We are learning more all the time as we have done from this new data.
“We will keep analysing that data and if we need to do anything more we will, but nothing more is going to happen before Christmas.”
Javid welcomes data on Omicron severity
11:35 , Daniel Keane
Mr Javid welcomed new data showing the Omicron variant is less severe.
“That is, of course, good, encouraging news. They are not very clear yet though by how much that risk is reduced,” he told broadcasters.
“We do know with Omicron that it does spread a lot more quickly, it is a lot more infectious than Delta, so any advantage gained from reduced risk of hospitalisation needs to be set against that.
“If a much smaller percentage of people are at risk of hospitalisation, if that is a smaller percentage of a much larger number, there could still be significant hospitalisation.”
Nearly 3,000 people a day waiting at least 30 mins in ambulances before hospital admission
11:41 , Daniel Keane
Around 2,800 people every day are having to wait more than half an hour in the back of ambulances before being admitted to hospital, with staff shortages worsening the strain, says Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers.
“I was talking to the chief executive of London Ambulance Service yesterday who was telling me 12 per cent of his staff are currently on sick leave,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
NHS data published on Thursday showed that at Guy’s & St Thomas’ Foundation Trust in London, 515 staff were absent for Covid reasons on December 19, up from 193 on December 12, while King’s College Hospital Foundation Trust reported 505 absences, up from 193.
Mr Hopson added: “Hospital bed occupancy remains high, and despite some improvement, ambulance handover delays are a continuing cause for deep concern, reflecting wider pressure across the system.
“It’s worrying to see delayed discharges have increased again for patients who are fit to go home or to other community settings.”
New Covid measures ‘would not be prolonged’ like before, says expert
11:59 , Daniel Keane
Professor Andrew Hayward, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said he does not think further Covid measures in England will mean “the sort of prolonged periods of restrictions that we were talking about before”.
He said: “I think the speed with which this is going up probably means that it’s relatively fast up, fast down”.
However, he also warned that if more restrictions were needed to keep a lid on the Omicron wave “the longer we wait with that, the harder it gets and the less we can influence the size of that peak”.
Boris Johnson has resisted bringing in measures so far, stressing that the data on the severity of the variant is not yet clear. However, two studies released on Wednesday showed Omicron patients were significantly less likely to be hospitalised.
Health experts have stressed that, even with lower severity, Omicron could still pose a threat given its high transmissibility.
Around 1.4 million people had Covid in past week - ONS
12:21 , Josh Salisbury
An estimated 1.4 million people in the UK had Covid-19 in the week ending December 16, said the Office for National Statistics.
This is the highest number since comparable figures began in autumn 2020, the ONS said.
The percentage of cases compatible with the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) increased in all four UK countries, its latest survey shows.
In London the number of Covid cases increased during that week.
The stat comes after yesterday saw a record total of new daily Covid cases in the UK.
Over 10,000 new cases were recorded on Wednesday, the first time the daily total has topped 100,000.
Around 1 in 30 Londoners had Covid in past week
12:51 , Josh Salisbury
In London, around one in 30 people was likely to test positive in the week to December 16, ONS data also reveals.
This is the highest proportion for any region.
In England, as a whole around one in 45 people in private households had Covid-19 in that week, up from one in 60 the previous week.
Young children were most likely to test positive, as the highest percentage of people testing positive for Covid-19 was in those aged two to school Year 6 at 5.90%.
However, this could be largely still driven by Delta infections, not Omicron, said the ONS.
Wales and Northern Ireland see Covid surge
13:14 , Daniel Keane
The latest Covid figures for the other three countries in the UK have just been released by the ONS.
In Northern Ireland, the latest estimate is one in 50 people, also unchanged from the previous week and slightly below the record high of one in 40 in mid-August.
For Scotland, the latest estimate is one in 70, up from one in 80 the previous week and below September’s peak of one in 45.
In Wales, around one in 55 people is estimated to have had Covid in the week to December 16, unchanged from the previous week and below the recent record high of one in 40.
All figures are for people in private households.
Diner numbers slump to weakest level since May
13:28 , Daniel Keane
Restaurants have witnessed their poorest week since the spring as the rapid spread of the Omicron variant saw thousands of Britons stay at home.
The latest weekly economic update from the Office for National Statistics has revealed the number of seated diners fell by 14 percentage points in the week to December 20.
It said this was 88 per cent of the levels seen in the equivalent week in 2019 and reflected the weakest showing since mid-May, just after restaurants reopened for indoor dining.
It comes after hospitality bosses warned that the emergence of Omicron had sparked mass cancellations - causing a plunge in their revenue.
In central London, Pret a Manger stores witnessed a 29 percentage point drop in transaction to represent the lowest level in a week since the start of September, the ONS added.
Germany reports first Omicron death
13:44 , Daniel Keane
Germany has reported its first death from the Omicron variant of Covid, health authorities announced.
The person was between the age of 60 and 79, the Robert Koch Institute for infectious disease said.
There were 810 new Omicron cases reported, bringing the total number of cases with the more contagious variant to 3,198.
Half of people with common cold ‘actually have Covid'
13:50 , Daniel Keane
Half of people who have symptoms of the common cold actually have contracted Covid, researchers have warned.
The ZOE Covid study team estimate that a high proportion of people with a runny nose and a headache may actually be suffering from the Omicron variant.
Lead scientist Professor Tim Spector has urged anyone with cold-like symptoms to take a test.
“The number of new symptomatic cases has exploded over the last week,” he said.
“For most people, an Omicron positive case will feel much more like the common cold, starting with a sore throat, runny nose and a headache.
“You only need to ask a friend who has recently tested positive to find this out.”
One in four patients with Covid in hospital ‘being treated for another illness'
14:08 , Daniel Keane
Given the surge of Omicron in the community in the capital, now estimated to account for more than 90 per cent of Covid cases, one in four patients in the city’s hospitals with the virus was being treated primarily for another health reason, writes our political editor Nic Cecil.
Some of these individuals are expected to need more treatment because of Covid and could be in hospital longer having got the disease.
Health chiefs are urging Londoners to get their booster, as well as their first and second jabs, as the majority of patients in intensive care are not fully vaccinated.
UK edges closer to 1m daily booster target
14:28 , Daniel Keane
The UK is edging closer to its target of offering a million Covid booster jabs a day by the end of the year, with 840,038 given out on Wednesday.
More than 31.6 million booster and third doses have now been delivered in the UK, with 6.2 million in the past seven days.
The figures have been published by the UK’s four health agencies.
London still has highest Covid rate in England, according to new figures
14:52 , Daniel Keane
Covid case rates are rising in every region of England, according to the latest weekly surveillance report from the UK Health Security Agency.
London has the highest rate, with 1,732.6 cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to December 19, up significantly from 729.7 the previous week and the highest figure for London since comparable figures began.
Eastern England has the second highest rate at 1,027.7, up from 631.0.
The north east has the lowest rate at 470.1, up from 386.1.
Cases 'rising in every group except five to nine-year-olds’
15:06 , Daniel Keane
Case rates in England are rising in every age group except five to nine-year-olds, the UK Health Security Agency has said.
The highest rate is among 20 to 29-year-olds, with 1,741.0 cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to December 19, up sharply week-on-week from 656.4.
The second highest rate is among 30 to 39-year-olds, up from 763.8 to 1,496.8.
The lowest rate is among people aged 80 and over at 112.7, up from 73.4.
Record number of people test positive for COVID in England in a week
15:21 , Daniel Keane
A record 464,667 people tested positive for Covid in England at least once in the week to December 1.
This is up 47 per cent on the previous week, according to the latest Test and Trace figures.
It is the highest number to test positive in a single week since the Test and Trace scheme began in May 2020.
Power cables snatched from vaccination centre
15:42 , Daniel Keane
Power cables are believed to have been stolen from a vaccination centre in the middle of a surge in Omicron cases.
The leads, used for a generator at a site in Tonbridge, Kent, were reported missing by local MP Tom Tugendhat on Twitter on Thursday.
Mr Tugendhat took to the social media site to try and source new cables to get the centre up and running for the day.
The Tonbridge and Malling MP, who has served as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee since 2017, said: “Someone has stolen the leads to the generator of the vaccination centre on Sovereign Way, Tonbridge. We need to replace them urgently.”
Kent Police said it was “sending a patrol to the scene to try and establish more details”.
A spokesperson for NHS Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group said: “A cable used for a generator at the Tonbridge vaccination site in Sovereign Way was stolen overnight, but thanks to the kindness of local business Piper Electrics, the cable was replaced very quickly for free and vaccinations were able to begin.
“We understand there weren’t any delays to the vaccine programme as a result of the theft.”
More than 16,000 new Omicron cases reported on Thursday - UKHSA
15:56 , Elly Blake
Another 16,817 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant were reported in the UK on Thursday.
#OmicronVariant latest information
16,817 additional confirmed cases of the #Omicron variant of COVID-19 have been reported across the UK.
Confirmed Omicron cases in the UK now total 90,906. pic.twitter.com/H4YwkbP8Yq
— UK Health Security Agency (@UKHSA) December 23, 2021
There are now a total of 90,906 confirmed Omicron cases, the UK Health Security Agency said.
Breaking: UK records more than 119,000 cases in new daily record
16:08 , Elly Blake
The UK has recorded more than 119,000 positive tests on Thursday - the highest number of daily cases seen since the start of the pandemic.
Official figures show 119,789 cases were reported, compared with 106,122 reported on Wednesday.
A further 147 people have died within 28 days of a positive test.
Read more here.
Nearly 3,000 Covid patients in London hospitals
16:46 , Elly Blake
A total of 2,097 people were in hospital in London with Covid-19 as of 8am on December 23, according to new figures from NHS England.
This is the highest number since February 27 and is up 44 per cent from a week earlier.
Ireland reports 7,411 Covid cases on Thursday
20:47 , Elly Blake
There have been a further 7,411 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Ireland, the Department of Health said.
As of 8am on Thursday, 390 Covid-19 patients were in hospital, 98 of whom were in ICU.
That’s all for tonight - join us again tomorrow for more Covid-19 updates
20:50 , Elly Blake
This is the end of our reporting on what is Christmas Eve Eve.
Join us again for the latest Covid-19 updates, have a good evening.