Covid latest news LIVE: ‘Nearly 75% of new London cases are Omicron’ as Rishi Sunak cuts short US trip

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Covid latest news LIVE: ‘Nearly 75% of new London cases are Omicron’ as Rishi Sunak cuts short US trip
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Rishi Sunak is cutting short a trip to the United States for crisis talks with business chiefs as the spread of Omicron and health warnings wreaked havoc on hard-hit pubs and restaurants.

The Chancellor has been criticised for going on the trip as the coronavirus variant's spread led to a wave of cancelled bookings and falling takings across the hospitality sector.

It came as the Premier League postponed four more matches scheduled for this weekend after outbreaks at Brentford, Watford, Norwich City and Leicester City.

Omicron is surging across the country and now accounts for nearly three-quarters of new cases of Covid in London, according to analysis.

Some 73 per cent of a sample of new coronavirus cases in the capital with specimen dates for December 13 and 14 were found to have S gene target failure (SGTF) - a way of detecting the likely presence of Omicron.

That’s all on the blog tonight. We will resume our live updates tomorrow.

22:01 , John Dunne

DfT apologises for staff party amid Covid restrictions

21:44 , John Dunne

The Department for Transport (DfT) has apologised after it emerged staff had a party the day London was plunged into Tier 3 restrictions in December 2020.

The Daily Mirror reported senior civil servants were “boozing and dancing” at the event on December 16.

Officials insisted it was a “low-key” gathering where social distancing was observed, and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps was not involved.

A DfT spokesman said: “The Secretary of State wasn’t involved in any gathering at the department.

“Fewer than a dozen staff who were working in the office had a low-key, socially distanced, gathering in the large open-plan office after work on December 16, where food and drink was consumed.

“We recognise this was inappropriate and apologise for the error of judgment.

More from Rishi...

20:34 , Michael Howie

The Chancellor added: "I appreciate that it is a difficult time for the hospitality industry, that's why I was on the phone earlier today with various industry leaders from the hospitality space."

The "good news" was that support measures already existed for the sector, Mr Sunak said, highlighting business rates relief, a reduced rate of VAT and around £250 million of public money available through local authorities.

"My immediate priority is to make sure that money gets to those businesses as quickly as possible," he said.

The Chancellor said his "long-planned" trip to the US was aimed at "bringing investment and jobs and new products and services to the UK".

"But of course I understand the concerns of businesses at the moment, given everything that's going on, that's why I have been in touch with hospitality industry leaders today, my team are hosting roundtables and talking to them.

"And it's why I have curtailed my trip and I will be leaving earlier tonight and I will be back in the UK tomorrow."

Chancellor cuts short US trip for talks with business amid Omicron spread

20:26 , Michael Howie

Rishi Sunak is cutting short a trip to the United States for crisis talks with business chiefs as the spread of Omicron and health warnings wreaked havoc on hard-hit pubs and restaurants.

The Chancellor has been criticised for going on the trip as the coronavirus variant's spread led to a wave of cancelled bookings and falling takings across the hospitality sector.

Mr Sunak and the Treasury team spoke to both organisations - as well as hospitality firms including Prezzo, Nando's, Whitbread, Greene King, Black Sheep Brewery and Adnams - on Thursday.

Speaking to broadcasters from the United States, Mr Sunak insisted the Government was "not telling people to cancel things" and was "not closing down businesses".

Four more Premier League games off

19:36 , Matt Watts

The Premier League postponed four more matches scheduled for this weekend due to Covid outbreaks at Brentford, Watford, Norwich City and Leicester City.

The affected games are Southampton v Brentford, Watford v Crystal Palace, West Ham United v Norwich City, Everton v Leicester City.

The league earlier said Manchester United's game against Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday had been called off, as was Thursday's game between Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur.

Pregnant women should be a priority for covid vaccines say government experts

18:21 , John Dunne

Pregnant women should be regarded as a clinical risk group for Covid-19 and be given vaccines quickly, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has said.

The expert team advising the Government said there was “growing evidence showing that women who are pregnant are at increased risk of serious consequences from Covid-19”.

New data has been published showing that 34 women have died in the UK after acquiring Covid while pregnant.

Groundbreaking trial to investigate at-home covid treatments

18:14 , John Dunne

A first-of-its-kind clinical trial will investigate new at-home coronavirus oral antiviral treatments.

The study, which is recruiting now, will quickly assess the effectiveness of a range of purpose-designed Covid-19 antivirals.

The new drugs are intended for use in the early stages of infection by people with the virus who are at higher risk of complications from the disease.

The Platform Adaptive trial of Novel antivirals for early treatment of covid-19 In the Community (PANORAMIC), is run by the University of Oxford in collaboration with GP hubs.

The UK Antiviral Taskforce has selected the treatments to be tested, and the first to be investigated will be molnupiravir, a Covid antiviral pill already licensed by the the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

People can join the study if they have tested positive for the virus, are within five days from the onset of symptoms – and are aged 50 and over.

‘Omicron now accounts for nearly three-quarters of new cases of Covid in London'

18:13 , Matt Watts

Omicron now accounts for nearly three-quarters of new cases of Covid in London, analysis suggests.

Some 73.5% of a sample of new coronavirus cases in the capital with specimen dates for December 13 and 14 were found to have S gene target failure (SGTF) - a way of detecting the likely presence of Omicron.

Most samples of Omicron that have been sequenced in a laboratory have been found to contain a slight but identifiable difference from other Covid-19 variants such as Delta.

This difference - a deletion in the S gene - shows up in certain laboratory PCR tests and can be used as a way of estimating the spread of Omicron.

The figures, which have been published by the UK Health Security Agency, also show that 48.0% of a sample of detectable cases in eastern England from December 13 and 14 were classed as SGTF, along with 40.5% in south-east England and 38.9% in north-west England.

North-east England had the lowest estimate, at 15.8%.

Titanic centre to be transformed into mass vaccination hub

17:59 , John Dunne

The Titanic Exhibition Centre in east Belfast is set to be transformed into Northern Ireland’s latest mass Covid-19 vaccination centre by next week.

Health chiefs are hoping that 4,000 vaccines a day will be delivered at the site.

It will offer the booster jab as well as first and second doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

Tanya Daly, clinical lead of the Covid-19 vaccination programme for the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, said the facility would be open to residents from across Northern Ireland.

“It is a mammoth task, we’re sitting with an empty building at the minute and we’re hoping to open as soon as possible,” she said.

“There are a lot of logistics around it, we need to get the equipment in, we need to get our pharmacy stations sorted and we have our rosters already open for our staff. We will open as soon as we can early next week.”

Omicron threatens to cancel 100,000 operation this winter

17:40 , John Dunne

More than 100,000 planned operations could be cancelled in England this winter amid surging Omicron cases, according to a new study.

Using computer modelling, researchers predict 22,147 procedures could be cancelled each week across December, January and February if Covid hospital admissions reach the same levels as April 2020.

That would mean the number of procedures would decrease by just over a third – 33.9% – from pre-pandemic levels.

If that rises from a point seen in the first half of October 2021 at around 14,348 each week, a total of 100,273 operations could be cancelled, the study predicts.

Led by researchers at the University of Birmingham, the research team used NHS England data from September 2020 to July 2021 to develop their model.

Aneel Bhangu, consultant surgeon and senior lecturer at the National Institute for Health Research Global Health Research Unit on Global Surgery at the university, said: “Our study shows that as more Covid-19 patients are admitted to hospital, surgical units are forced to cancel elective operations to release capacity to treat Covid-19.

“Hospitals work hard to prioritise life-saving operations, including those helping cancer patients. The greatest impact of hospital pressures from Covid-19 is on patients waiting for non-life saving, but quality of life-transforming surgery.

“Cancellations may mean that patients wait even longer for operations like hip replacements, resulting in deterioration of their symptoms and increased disability.

“Ringfenced elective hubs are urgently needed to protect elective surgery this winter.”

Omicron accounts for almost three quarters of new Covid-19 cases in London

17:34 , John Dunne

Omicron now accounts for nearly three-quarters of new cases of Covid-19 in London, analysis suggests.

Some 73.5% of a sample of new coronavirus cases in the capital with specimen dates for December 13 and 14 were found to have S gene target failure (SGTF) – a way of detecting the likely presence of Omicron.

Most samples of Omicron that have been sequenced in a laboratory have been found to contain a slight but identifiable difference from other Covid-19 variants such as Delta.

This difference – a deletion in the S gene – shows up in certain laboratory PCR tests and can be used as a way of estimating the spread of Omicron.

The figures, which have been published by the UK Health Security Agency, also show that 48.0% of a sample of detectable cases in eastern England from December 13 and 14 were classed as SGTF, along with 40.5% in south-east England and 38.9% in north-west England.

North-east England had the lowest estimate, at 15.8%

Three quarters of care home staff in capital ‘have not received booster'

17:11 , John Dunne

Almost two thirds of care home staff have not received a booster vaccine – rising to three-quarters in London where Omicron is thought to be the dominant coronavirus strain, figures suggest.

Some 79.4% of residents and 34.3% of staff at older age care homes in England have had their booster as of December 12, according to data from NHS England.

This falls to 24.7% of staff in care homes in the capital.

A fifth (20.6%) of residents (65,036 residents) and 65.7% of staff (301,400 staff) have not been recorded as having received their booster by this point.

People are eligible for their booster if they received their second dose at least three months ago, while those who test positive for coronavirus must wait 28 days.

The figures cover up to Sunday, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson implored the nation to “get boosted now” to curb the spread of the new variant.

HSE finds more than 90,000 people reported catching covid at work during first year of pandemic

17:02 , John Dunne

Around 93,000 people self-reported catching Covid-19 at work in the first year of the pandemic, figures show.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said 52,000 of these worked in the health and social work sector.

A total of 645,000 workers reported that their work-related illness was caused or made worse by the coronavirus pandemic, with 70% of these said to be cases of stress, depression or anxiety.

The HSE said it was not known whether some of the people reporting a coronavirus-related ill health condition would have developed and reported it if pre-pandemic working practices had continued.

HSE chief executive Sarah Albon said: “The 12-month period in question coincides with the first national lockdown and the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic. There have been significant impacts on the labour market, which is reflected in our reporting.

“We worked differently too in responding to the challenges posed by the pandemic, advising across Government, helping to shape guidance for businesses and implementing our Covid Spot Check programme to ensure workplaces were kept as safe as possible.”

Rishi Sunak returning early from California for Omicron crisis talks with businesses

16:58 , John Dunne

Rishi Sunak, will be returning early from his trip to California to hold more talks with business chiefs in response to the Omicron crisis on Friday.

Sunak and his team held talks with a string of hospitality and business organisations on Thursday.

The Chancellor said: “We understand that this is a concerning time for businesses. Myself and my wider team met with business representatives earlier today, listened to their concerns and will continue to work with industry leaders over the coming days.

“To keep safeguarding our economic recovery and the lives and livelihoods of the British people our priority is now to make sure everyone has the opportunity to get boosted now.”

No 10: Not sure about footballers needing Covid pass

16:24 , Elly Blake

Downing Street was unable to say whether footballers would need a Covid pass to enter stadiums following the new rules requiring proof of vaccination status or a negative test as a condition of entering some large venues in England.

A Number 10 spokesman said: “I would need to check on that specific point… but you are aware of the regulations in stadiums in terms of the Covid pass.”

After figures showed 25% of EFL players are not currently intending to get a vaccine, the spokesman was asked whether Boris Johnson was concerned about the situation.

“You have heard the Prime Minister talk at length about the importance of people coming forward to receive a vaccination, so he would urge absolutely everybody to come forward and receive one,” the spokesman said.

Breaking: UK records highest ever case numbers with 88,376 positive tests

16:05 , Elly Blake

The UK has recorded 88,376 positive tests and 146 deaths in the latest 24-hour period.

Breaking: Another 1,691 Omicron cases confirmed in UK

16:02 , Elly Blake

A further 1,691 Omicron cases have been confirmed in the UK, according to official figures.

Covid-19 cases for London and eastern England have risen to their highest level since early January

15:44 , Elly Blake

Covid-19 case rates for London and eastern England have risen to their highest level since early January, new figures show.

A total of 702.8 new cases per 100,000 people were recorded in London in the week to December 12.

This is up sharply from 475.8 the previous week and is the highest rate for the capital since the week to January 10.

Northern Ireland waiting for more data to decide what next steps should be

15:15 , Elly Blake

Northern Ireland’s deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill has said more data expected to be available by next week will inform further steps to be taken in the coronavirus pandemic.

The Stormont Executive met earlier today.

Ms O’Neill tweeted that ministers discussed the developing Omicron situation.

“More data available next week, which will give a clearer picture of impacts & steps we may need to take Evidence shows that getting booster vaccine is vital in our defence – please get yours,” she tweeted.

Premier League responds to news Man U vs Brighton game postponed

15:06 , Elly Blake

The Premier League says it intends to “continue its current fixture schedule where safely possible” despite announcing that Saturday’s game between Manchester United and Brighton is the latest to be postponed due to coronavirus concerns.

Man U vs Brighton match postponed

14:58 , Elly Blake

Manchester United’s Premier League match at home to Brighton on Saturday has also been postponed.

The decision was made following a coronavirus outbreak among United’s squad and backroom staff.

“The health of players and staff is our priority,” read a statement on United’s website.

“Given the number of players and support staff having to isolate due to Covid-19, the club had no option other than to request the match be rearranged.”

Training operations at the club’s Carrington training complex have been suspended for “a short period” to help reduce the risk of further transmission.

Education Secretary asks ex-teachers to help with staff shortages

14:54 , Elly Blake

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has called on school leaders to encourage ex-teachers “to sign up” to help with Covid-19 staff shortages.

In an email to heads, the minister said the Government was looking at what measures to put in place “to boost supply capacity”, adding that Department for Education officials have begun to discuss plans with key stakeholders.

“We know that in areas with high absence a particular issue can be the availability of supply staff. We want to make sure that as many supply staff as possible are available to schools and colleges,” Mr Zahawi said.

The Education Secretary added: “We will work with sector leaders and supply agencies over the coming days to offer advice to ex-teachers who want to provide support to schools and colleges.

“We will help them to register with supply agencies as the best way to boost the temporary workforce available to the sector.

“From now, you can support this effort by using your own professional and personal networks to encourage others to sign up to offer temporary help.”

Record number of third jabs given

14:17 , Elly Blake

A record 745,183 booster and third doses of Covid-19 vaccine were reported in the UK on Wednesday, new figures show.

The previous record was 656,711 doses on Tuesday.

More than 25.4 million booster and third doses have now been delivered in the UK, with nearly 3.8 million in the past seven days.

The figures have been published by the UK’s four health agencies.

Rush to buy Eurostar tickets following French travel ban

14:03 , Elly Blake

Eurostar has sold out its standard class compartments for its five London to Paris trains departing after 9.30am on Friday.

Tickets for earlier trains cost £195 each, whereas fares for travel over the weekend once the new French coronavirus restrictions are in force are available from just £86.

Aviation analytics firm Cirium said there are 540 flights scheduled between the UK and France in the seven days before Christmas Day, with a total of more than 93,000 seats.

Two of easyJet’s three flights from Gatwick to Paris Charles de Gaulle on Friday were sold out, while a seat on the other is priced at £139.

A flight on the same route on Saturday is available for £68.

UKHospitality: Desperate need for financial support as sector suffers £4bn sales drop

13:48 , Elly Blake

Hospitality is suffering a drop in trade of a quarter with industry bosses expecting a further drop of the same amount, industry body UKHospitality has said.

Prior to the emergence of Omicron and Plan B restrictions, figures show the industry was on track to reach 95 per cent of pre-pandemic trade levels but consumer confidence has plummeted and businesses are facing unprecedented and catastrophic levels of cancellations.

Pubs, bars, cafés and restaurants have already seen trade fall by a third and are expecting a further 22 per cent drop in bookings for December.

ightclubs have fared even worse with revenue already down by a quarter. City centres have been particularly hard hit amidst major corporate booking cancellations.

UKHospitality chief executive, Kate Nicholls said: “Christmas trade is always crucial for the hospitality industry, making up as much as a quarter of the year’s profit for many businesses. Last year Christmas was cancelled and so much rested on this December period for businesses already staggering under a burden of debt incurred from the pandemic and facing rising costs across the board.

“If operators are unable to trade profitably over the next month, many will simply not survive - and those that do make it through face a return to 20 per cent VAT in April.

“The Government must step in now and provide measures that support the businesses and jobs in the sector – by committing to keeping VAT at 12.5 per cent, suspending business rates payments for the first quarter of 2022 and reinstating recovery grants.”

Two-thirds of Covid cases in London are Omicron

13:37 , Elly Blake

More than two-thirds of Covid-19 cases in London are now estimated to be Omicron as it sweeps rapidly through the city.

Inner London boroughs like Southwark, Hackney, Islington and Tower Hamlets are being particularly hard hit

Initial analysis by health chiefs showed the capital is being hit by a huge wave of the new variant, with cases of Delta also still rising.

Read our exclusive story here.

No plans to ban French travellers, says Downing St

13:19 , Daniel Keane

Downing Street signalled there were no plans to ban French travellers from the UK after restrictions were imposed by Paris.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the UK had been made aware of the announcement in advance, and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps had spoken to his French counterpart.

When asked if there were any plans for measures at UK borders, the spokesman said: “I mean we think, given the rising Omicron cases around the world, a red list and sort of tighter border measures wouldn’t be effective or proportionate in slowing the import of Omicron from abroad.”

Rishi ‘needs to show up’, says pub boss

13:08 , Daniel Keane

The boss of pub group Young’s has called for Chancellor Rishi Sunak to “show up” and re-introduce a lower rate of VAT and business rates holidays.

Patrick Dardis, chief executive of 220-strong group, said: “I have no idea where Rishi Sunak is right now but he needs to show up and give the industry his backing.

“There are thousands of businesses – not just pubs – that could collapse in January if the current situation isn’t partnered with proper financial support.

“We have given up on this being the fantastic Christmas we had hoped, but will obviously continue to do our all for all the customers still with bookings.”

Treasury to hold talks with hospitality sector

12:30 , Elly Blake

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is to hold talks with representatives of the hospitality sector seeking further Government support following the emergence of the Omicron variant, Downing Street has said.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said that Mr Sunak – who is currently in California – and Treasury chief secretary Simon Clarke would be speaking to about a dozen representatives from the sector later on Thursday.

Sturgeon: Omicron spreading ‘exceptionally fast'

12:26 , Elly Blake

Omicron is “spreading exceptionally fast, much faster than anything experienced so far in the pandemic”, Nicola Sturgeons has said.

She told MSPs in the Scottish Parliament: “Let me be clear, this is not a choice between protecting health and protecting the economy.”

She said a surge in infections “will cause and indeed is already causing staff absences that will also cripple the economy and other critical services”.

She added: “Please reduce your contact with people from households other than your own as much as you possibly can. For now, please stay at home much more than you normally would and as much as is feasible.

“Right now the risk of getting Covid from interactions with others is high and it is rising. So ask yourself before doing anything you might have planned over the coming days, is it as safe as it needs to be and is it vital enough to you to justify that risk.

“I suspect what is most important to most of us over the next couple of weeks is having time with our families at Christmas. Every interaction we have before then increases the risk of us getting Covid and so possibly losing that”

Music venues calling for ‘raft of financial assistance’

11:46 , Elly Blake

Music venues are calling on the Government to provide a “raft of financial assistance” to the live music sector as it struggles due to the rise of Covid-19 case numbers and the spread of the Omicron variant.

Greg Parmley, chief executive of industry body Live (Live music Industry Venues and Entertainment), said: “The current lockdown by stealth is quickly pushing the live music sector to the edge.

“We are now facing a crippling blow as individual venues scramble to cover the spiralling costs of Covid-related cancellations, which will inevitably result in permanent closures.

“The Government must step up to the plate and provide a raft of financial assistance now if it is to avoid much-loved live music venues and businesses closing up shop for good.”

Height of Omicron will fall faster than previous peaks - Prof. Whitty

11:45 , Elly Blake

Prof Whitty said he anticipates the height of the Omicron wave will fall faster than previous Covid-19 peaks.

He told the Commons Health and Social Care Committee: “I think what we will see with this – and I think we are seeing it in South Africa – is that the upswing will be incredibly fast, even if people are taking more cautious actions, as they are.

“That will help slow it down, but it’s still going to be very fast.

“It’ll probably therefore peak really quite fast. My anticipation is it may then come down faster than previous peaks but I wouldn’t want to say that for sure.

“I’m just saying that that is a possibility.”

‘Hybrid working’ added to Oxford English Dictionary

11:39 , Elly Blake

The Oxford English Dictionary has updated its definition of ‘hybrid’ to incorporate hybrid working, reflecting the importance this practice has had over the past year.

Plan B measures introduced by the Prime Minister to limit the spead of the Omicron variant ask people to work from home where possible.

Mark Dixon, founder of IWG said: “Millions are now working long term in the hybrid model, so the Oxford English Dictionary’s decision to add hybrid working into the dictionary is very much welcomed to reinforce that hybrid working is here to stay.

“Hybrid working is delivering spectacular benefits for employees and employers alike. Team members gain better mental health and reduced costs through not having to travel into city centres, along with greater career opportunities closer to home.

“Not only that, but it gives companies the financial flexibility to invest in their staff and in growing the business, instead of the buildings from which they operate”.

Breaking: Queen cancels pre-Christmas family lunch

11:28 , Elly Blake

The Queen has cancelled her traditional pre-Christmas family lunch next week.

It is understood the decision was a precaution with a source suggesting it could put too many people’s Christmas arrangements at risk if it went ahead.

PM denies lockdown ‘by stealth'

11:26 , Elly Blake

Boris Johnson denied he was imposing a lockdown by stealth.

Speaking to broadcasters, the Prime Minister said the situation was “very different” from last year.

He said: “What we have is the additional protection of the vaccines, and the ability to test.

“So if you want to do something, if you want to go to an event or a party, then the sensible thing to do, if that’s a priority, the sensible thing to do is to get a test and to make sure that you’re being cautious.

“But we’re not saying that we want to cancel stuff, we’re not locking stuff down, and the fastest route back to normality is to get boosted.”

UK could surpass the daily peak number of people admitted to hospital with Covid-19 - Prof. Whitty

11:17 , Elly Blake

Professor Chris Whitty said the UK could surpass the daily peak number of people admitted to hospital with Covid-19.

He told the Commons Health and Social Care Committee: “The peak of just over 4,500, or 4,583 to be exact, people admitted at the absolute peak – it is possible because it is going to be very concentrated… even if it is milder, because it’s concentrated over a short period of time, you could end up with a higher number than that going into hospital on a single day.

“That is entirely possible. It may be less than that. But I’m just saying that is certainly possible.”

Almost all pregnant women in hospital with Covid-19 are unvaccinated, says Prof. Whitty

11:08 , Elly Blake

Professor Chris Whitty has repeated calls for pregnant women to get vaccinated, saying almost all of those in hospital and intensive care had not got the vaccine.

“Covid and pregnancy are a dangerous combination,” he said.

He called on pregnant women to get vaccinated and said it was a “serious problem” for expectant mothers.

Omicron moving ‘very fast’ - Prof. Whitty

10:54 , Elly Blake

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has warned that “everybody can see this is moving very fast”, in reference to the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

Prof Whitty told MPs on the Commons Health and Social Care Committee that “this is highly transmissible and the rates are going to continue to go up.

“It’s a period of the year when lots of people have got things that really matter to them family-wise, also in other bits of their life, and my point was – and I hope I can reiterate this – that people want to protect the time that is most important to them.

“And that does therefore mean in practice it is sensible for people to cut down on work or other interactions with people, including potentially social ones, which are less important to them so that they reduce their chances of catching Covid and indeed reduce their chances of passing it on.”

Prof Whitty said he did not wish to dictate to people what they can and can’t do.

But he added: “This is about saying to people, look, this is a period to prioritise. And also to be clear, (this) was a message the Prime Minister also said last night.”

Professor Chris Whitty repeats message of importance of booster jabs

10:35 , Elly Blake

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty is repeating pleas for people to get boosted.

He also told people to “prioritise” social events.

He told MPs: “Anybody that has something that really matters to you, build out from there, instead of accepting every invitation.”

“People should prioritise what really matters to them and cut down on things that don’t”.

Study shows one fifth of workers worried about cost of heating as more work from home

10:30 , Elly Blake

More than one in five workers say they will not turn the heating on while working from home this winter, due to worries around the cost of energy, a study has shown.

Research has revealed people are concerned about how this will affect their energy bills, and are taking measures to try and lower the costs this winter.

According to the data, 22 per cent of employees said they will not turn their heating on at all while working from home this winter

Just under half (48 per cent) told Electric Radiators Direct they will be more mindful of their overall energy consumption.

Almost one fifth (19 per cent) said they will invest in smart heating solutions to better monitor energy usage this winter.

Coming up...

10:25 , Elly Blake

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty will be questioned on Omicron by MPs at the Health and Social Care Committee from 10.30am.

The UK Health Security Agency’s Dr Susan Hopkins will also appear before the Health and Social Care Committee.

Labour writes to Chancellor about support for businesses

09:20 , Elly Blake

Labour has written to Chancellor Rishi Sunak urging him to provide more support for businesses facing “closure by stealth” amid rising coronavirus fears.

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves and shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds said in the letter that they met business leaders and major trade union bodies on Wednesday.

They said they “learnt that many of them hadn’t had proper engagement from Government on how Plan B and the necessary restrictions resulting from Omicron would affect them”.

The letter went on: “Since then, the public have been told to ‘de-prioritise social contact’. Following the science is crucial, but this will hit businesses and workers hard, especially in sectors like hospitality and leisure. Businesses face a perfect storm of cancelled bookings, rising costs and staff shortages.

“Businesses and their employees have put up with so much from this Government. It is time the Government came forward with their plans to ensure our great British businesses and their workers have the clarity and support they need to weather this storm.”

Man Utd announces game against Brentford is postponed

09:11 , Elly Blake

Manchester United has announced that its game against Brentford on Tuesday has been called off due to an outbreak of Covid.

“Following PCR confirmation of positive LFT Covid-19 tests among the first-team staff and players, the outbreak requires ongoing surveillance,” the club said in a statement.

Brentford manager Thomas Frank said he wants this weekend’s full round of Premier League fixtures postponed to “break the chain” on the current Covid crisis.

Minister had to cancel Christmas ski trip due to Omicron

09:06 , Elly Blake

Health minister Gillian Keegan said she had been forced to cancel a skiing trip over Christmas due to the rising threat of Omicron.

Ms Keegan was asked on LBC radio whether she had been forced to change her Christmas plans, and said: “I have altered them several times.

“I was, at one point, intending to go away skiing, but that’s changed.

“So now I will be with a small group, I think there six of us – actually there was going to be seven for Christmas Day but one person has tested positive so will be isolating over Christmas Day – so I think there’s going to be six of us.”

British tourists to be banned from France amid rise in Omicron cases

08:55 , Elly Blake

British tourists are to be banned from France amid concern over the “extremely rapid” rise in Omicron COVID cases in the UK.

From Saturday morning, France is banning travel to and from the UK without “compelling reasons”.

Those reasons do not include travel for tourism and business, Paris said.

French nationals and their spouses are exempt from the new rules.

France said in a statement: “In the UK government’s own words, the UK is facing a “tidal wave” of the Omicron variant in the coming days.”

It added: “In response to the extremely rapid spread of the Omicron variant in the UK, the government is reinstating compelling reasons for travel to and from the UK, and strengthening the requirement for testing on departure and arrival.”

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Labour: Govt should help hospitality

08:32 , Elly Blake

Labour has called on the Government to “hammer out a deal to help hospitality” amid reports bookings have been cancelled over fears of Covid.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting told ITV’s Good Morning Britain that Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng needed to meet with businesses and trade unions to offer more help.

He said Labour supported Plan B measures, and specifically Covid passes – which he saw as “pro-business” – in the interests of public health, and added that “this is one of the ways in which we can coexist with the virus without having to hammer businesses with restrictions, either closures or indeed, restrictions on numbers”.

He said: “But, as I say, I do think the Chancellor and the Business Secretary need to get business leaders around the table with trade union leaders to hammer out a deal to help hospitality because, you know, they really need us right now.”

He added: “Those businesses are having a hard time at the moment and we want Government to be by their side.”

There are measures in place to help businesses through the pandemic, says minister

08:15 , Elly Blake

Health minister Gillian Keegan insisted there were still measures in place to help businesses through the pandemic.

She told Sky News: “We do still have support in place for businesses.

“So we’ve still got VAT reductions, we’ve still got business rate cuts of 66%, and we’ve still got recovery loans in place.

“And as I say, we’re hoping this is quite a short period of time so that we can, you know, get everybody boosted and get that wall of defence back up. That’s what we’re trying to do here.

“So hopefully, we’ve got those in place till March, or May in some cases, but of course the Chancellor keeps everything under review.”

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