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Douglas Ross has called on Nicola Sturgeon to scrap most coronavirus restrictions, with the exception of face coverings, as data show that Scotland is "past the peak of omicron”.
The First Minister is expected to lift restrictions on hospitality and leisure venues tomorrow, but Tories urge her to go further and announce the scrapping of the vaccine passport scheme along with guidance on household mixing and social distancing.
Mr Ross said: "People across Scotland have learned to live with Covid. The success of Scotland and the UK's vaccine scheme means the public can now tackle Covid through their own actions, without the need for so many government restrictions.”
"The Scottish Government's own data shows that we are past the peak of omicron. The latest evidence means we can now be far more optimistic," Mr Ross added.
Tories want Ms Sturgeon to scrap guidance on household mixing, as well as ending restrictions currently on businesses, that put a cap of 100 on indoor standing events and 200 on seated events, enforce table service for alcohol-selling businesses and mandate social distancing between groups.
The Tory plea, which would see changes come into effect from January 31, also calls for mask wearing in schools to be dropped and work from home guidance to be dropped, while self-isolation would be "gradually phased out" over a period of months.
Today in brief
That's all from us, but here's a look back at today's key developments:
New self-isolation rules came into force, with the isolation period cut by a day to a minimum of five full days in England.
A government adviser suggested that Britain will have a "flu-type" relationship with coronavirus by the end of the year, while a WHO Covid envoy said there appeared to be “light at the end of the tunnel” for the UK.
Downing Street added that there were "encouraging signs" in the data as Boris Johnson considers whether England's Plan B restrictions can be lifted on January 26.
Meanwhile, Douglas Ross called on Nicola Sturgeon to scrap most coronavirus restrictions, as he said data show that Scotland is "past the peak of omicron”.
And finally, Novak Djokovic could be barred from playing in the French Open after the French Sports Ministry said there would be no exemption from France's new vaccine pass law.
Scroll down for more Covid updates from today.
Novak Djokovic arrives home in Serbia
Novak Djokovic has arrived home in Serbia after Australia deported the world men's tennis No. 1 for not having a Covid-19 vaccine.
"You are our champion, Novak!" chanted supporters, some waving national flags, outside Belgrade airporthttps://t.co/nE6gijMP0s pic.twitter.com/ZgKqM3nMJW
— The Telegraph (@Telegraph) January 17, 2022
Hong Kong police charge Cathay flight attendants at centre of Covid outbreak
Hong Kong police arrested and charged two Cathay Pacific flight attendants for allegedly contravening Covid regulations, after the emergence of the omicron variant in the territory was traced to their breach of home quarantine.
Like China, Hong Kong maintains a strict zero-Covid strategy that has kept cases low, but has largely cut the finance hub off from both the mainland and the rest of the world for the last two years.
A recent outbreak of omicron traced to Cathay air crew who breached their quarantine period led to a dramatic tightening of already strict anti-coronavirus controls - including shutting primary schools and indoor dining at night.
Police announced today that two flight attendants were arrested and charged for violating anti-Covid measures.
"They had conducted unnecessary activities" on December 25 and 27, when they were supposed to be under home quarantine after returning to Hong Kong, the statement said.
"They were both subsequently tested positive for Covid-19 omicron variant, and have been discharged from hospital upon completion of treatment," it added.
UK reports 84,429 new Covid cases and 85 deaths
The #COVID19 Dashboard has been updated: https://t.co/XhspoyTG79
On 17 January 84,429 new cases and 85 deaths in 28 days of a positive test were reported in the UK.
Our data includes the number of people receiving a first, second and booster dose of the #vaccine pic.twitter.com/wYfFEtDhX0
— UK Health Security Agency (@UKHSA) January 17, 2022
Philippines must flatten Covid curve or risk 'superspreader' election, says government adviser
The Philippines must bring down Covid cases by April to ensure this year's presidential election does not become a "superspreader" event, a top government adviser said today.
The country of 110 million people, which is battling one of Asia's worst coronavirus outbreaks, is holding an election in May for thousands of positions, from president down to hundreds of lawmakers, mayors and governors.
Roughly 67.5 million Filipinos, including 1.7 million overseas, are registered to vote in the elections, which historically have a high turnout.
"We need to push the virus cases down in April so when we have elections in May, people will be safe," Dr Teodoro Herbosa, medical adviser to the Covid-19 task force, told Reuters.
"(It is) very important that we are able to tame this virus before May 9."
Herbosa recommends the election commission expand the use of absentee balloting to include the elderly and people with health conditions.
Israel cuts Covid isolation to five days
Israel's Health Ministry said that it would shorten the mandatory isolation period for those who test positive for Covid to five days from seven days, following an initial cut last week, provided they are asymptomatic.
Until last week, the isolation period was 10 days.
The latest decision, which takes effect on Wednesday, brings Israel in line with recommendations in the UK and United States.
A negative home antigen test is also required before ending isolation, the ministry said.
The country's pandemic-response coordinator, Salman Zarka, said the health ministry has found that people are at their most contagious during the first three days after infection.
UK's Covid cases nearly lower than when Plan B was triggered, as figures show worst is over
Cases are falling by roughly 10,000 a day, while hospitalisations are also on the decline, reports Sarah Knapton.
Covid cases are approaching levels lower than when “Plan B” was triggered, with data increasingly showing that Britain is over the worst.
On Sunday, cases fell to 70,924, the lowest since mid-December. They have halved in a week and are falling by roughly 10,000 a day.
If the current trajectory continues, Britain will hit around 50,000 cases by the middle of the week, the same level as when Boris Johnson announced restrictions on December 8.
The number of tests coming back positive has also started to fall in England - from 32.4 per cent on January 4 to 29 per cent on January 9 - showing that it is a true decline rather than a lack of testing capacity, as some have claimed.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) infection survey is also now showing falls in recent days.
Sturgeon 'cautiously optimistic' amid calls to end Covid restrictions
Nicola Sturgeon said she is "cautiously optimistic" about Scotland's coronavirus situation ahead of a statement announcing any changes to restrictions.
The First Minister said the country was "in a better position than I feared we would be before Christmas", but would not comment on whether she plans to follow Wales with a mass easing of Covid rules.
Her comments come as the Scottish Tories called for the scrapping of most coronavirus restrictions, with the exception of face coverings.
Ms Sturgeon will chair a cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning before updating Holyrood about the Government's plans later in the afternoon.
Asked about any possible changes to the coronavirus measures, Ms Sturgeon told the PA news agency: "I think everybody wants to see Covid end so it follows that everybody - me included - wants to see all restrictions end.
"I'm not going to pre-empt my statement tomorrow.
"I think what Mark Drakeford set out last week is broadly in line with what I set out earlier last week."
Denmark eases Covid restrictions, despite cases hitting new record
Denmark registered a record number of coronavirus infections today, as cinemas, museums and other cultural institutions reopened after a month-long lockdown.
The Scandinavian country registered 28,780 new cases in the space of 24 hours and the number of coronavirus-related hospitalisations rose to 802, the highest in a year.
However, health authorities said earlier this month that the now-predominant omicron variant was milder than initially thought and that around 29 per cent of those in hospital were there due to reasons other than Covid.
Since a peak of 82 on January 6, the number of Covid patients in intensive care has fallen steadily to 52 on Monday.
Last week, lawmakers agreed to ease restrictions, including reopening theatres, cinemas, museums, entertainment parks and botanic gardens, and allow limited spectators at indoor and outdoor sports events.
Moderna says data for omicron-specific shot likely available in March
Moderna’s vaccine candidate against the omicron variant will enter clinical development in the next few weeks and the company expects to be able to share data with regulators around March, the firm's chief executive Stephane Bancel said today.
"The vaccine is being finished ... it should be in the clinic in coming weeks. We are hoping in the March timeframe to be able to have data to share with regulators to figure out next steps," Mr Bancel said at the World Economic Forum's virtual Davos Agenda conference.
Moderna is also developing a single vaccine that combines a booster dose against Covid with its experimental flu shot.
Mr Bancel said the best case scenario was that the combined Covid and flu vaccine would be available by the autumn of 2023, at least in some countries.
"Our goal is to be able to have a single annual booster so that we don't have compliance issues where people don't want to get two to three shots a winter."
China cancels plans to sell public tickets for Winter Olympics in Beijing
China has cancelled plans to sell tickets to the public for the Winter Olympics in Beijing, as the number of Covid cases in the country reached its highest since March 2020.
Last year, organisers promised to allow domestic audiences after saying there would be no international spectators at the Games - partly due to China's weeks-long quarantine requirements.
But those plans were scrapped as Beijing reported its first omicron case and China saw 223 new infections just three weeks before the Winter Olympics are set to open.
"In order to protect the health and safety of Olympic-related personnel and spectators, it was decided to adjust the original plan to sell tickets to the public and (instead) organise spectators to watch the Games on-site," the Beijing Olympic organising committee said in a statement.
It is unclear how these spectators will be selected and whether they will have to quarantine before or after the Games.
China, where the virus first emerged in late 2019, has stuck to a strict policy of targeting zero Covid cases even as the rest of the world has reopened.
But its approach has come under sustained pressure in recent weeks with multiple virus clusters in key areas including the port of Tianjin and the southern manufacturing region of Guangdong.
Highs and lows: Covax hits ‘remarkable milestone’ as billionth vaccine lands in Rwanda
Over 140 countries have received Covax deliveries, with shots transported via boats, bikes, snow dogs and camels, report Anne Gulland and Sarah Newey.
It's a “remarkable milestone” that, at times, seemed out of reach. But this weekend Covax distributed its billionth coronavirus shot, less than 11 months after the vaccine-sharing initiative delivered its first dose in Ghana.
But while the vaccine, which was sent to Rwanda, is a significant moment for what has become the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history, it lags well behind where the scheme hoped to be.
Initially the initiative – whose partners include the World Health Organisation, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance – aimed to deliver two billion Covid shots in 2021, including some 1.8bn to lower income countries.
Unvaccinated Greeks over the age of 60 face monthly fines
Greece has imposed a vaccination mandate for people 60 and older, as the country's vaccination rate remains below the European Union average and a spike in infections has put sustained pressure on Greek hospitals.
Older people failing to get vaccinated will face penalties, starting at a 50-euro fine this month and followed by a monthly fine of 100 euros after that.
About two-thirds of Greece's 10.7 million people are fully vaccinated, while the EU average is just over 70 per cent. But Covid deaths and daily hospitalisations have increased following the arrival of the highly contagious omicron variant, though pressure on ICU capacity has eased slightly.
Health Minister Thanos Plevris said the fines would be collected through the tax office with the money going to help fund state hospitals.
"The age factor is important because of its impact on the public health service," Plevris told private Open TV on Sunday.
PM travelled between Chequers and Number 10 in March 2020, confirms Downing Street
Downing Street said Boris Johnson commuted between Chequers and No 10 during March 2020 as his wife was pregnant and it was safer for the couple to be away from London.
The Prime Minister's official spokesman was asked about reporting by news website Tortoise that alleged Mr Johnson had commuted between his country residence and No 10 between March 16 and 27, 2020, when guidance said people should not travel for non-essential reasons.
He said: "At the time, as you know, Mrs Johnson was heavily pregnant and had been placed in a vulnerable category and advised to minimise social contacts, so in line with clinical guidance and to minimise the risk to her they were based at Chequers during that period, with the Prime Minister commuting to Downing Street to work."
The spokesman said there would have been staff at Chequers with the couple.
He said the guidance on not travelling to second homes did not come in until March 22, "at which point the Prime Minister and his wife were already based in Chequers, acting in line with clinical guidance".
Asked if the PM was therefore putting his wife at risk by commuting during the period, the spokesman said: "The Prime Minister was leading the coronavirus response, the pandemic response, and in line with a number of individuals who were required to still be in work... that's why the Prime Minister was coming to No 10 for necessary work meetings."
Thailand mulls resuming quarantine waiver for foreign visitors
Thailand is considering bringing back a quarantine waiver for vaccinated visitors, its health minister said today, as part of a proposed easing of some Covid measures later this week.
Thailand reopened to vaccinated foreign visitors in November to help the vital tourism industry that collapsed during nearly 18 months of strict entry policies. It saw about 200,000 arrivals last year, compared to nearly 40 million in 2019.
The 'Test and Go' policy, which allows visitors to skip the mandatory quarantine if they test negative on arrival, was suspended late in December over concerns about the spread of the omicron coronavirus variant.
"We will propose measures that can be done safely and are medically sound," Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul told Reuters.
‘Encouraging signs’ that infections are falling, says Downing Street
Downing Street said there were "encouraging signs" in the data as Boris Johnson considers whether England's Plan B restrictions can be lifted on January 26, when they are due to expire.
The Prime Minister's official spokesman said the "maximum amount of time possible" would be given to prepare for any changes in the rules.
"In terms of the data, there are some encouraging signs that infections are falling across the country," the spokesman said.
"Obviously we want to see that mirrored in the latest ONS data as well.
"There are also some signs of falls - or at least plateauing - in admissions and occupancy in hospital, which is good to see.
"But it still remains the case that our NHS is under significant pressure, there are over 16,000 Covid patients in hospital in England alone.
"So we are keeping a very close eye on the data but we do believe the mitigations we have in place - particularly our booster programme - is offering massive protection to the public."
Novak Djokovic lands in Serbia to a hero's welcome
'Whoever wins the Australian Open now doesn't really count because Djokovic is the number one,' said one of his fans.
Novak Djokovic arrived home in Serbia on Monday after Australia deported the world men's tennis No. 1 for not having a Covid-19 vaccine, a stance jeopardising his quest for a record 21st Grand Slam title.
"You are our champion, Novak!" chanted supporters, some waving national flags, outside Belgrade airport.
The 34-year-old had won nine past Australia Opens and is level with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer on 20 titles.
But instead of beginning his quest for another Melbourne Park major, he took planes to Dubai then Belgrade after being twice detained in a hotel with asylum-seekers then unceremoniously booted out by Australian immigration.
New self-isolation guidance comes into force
Self-isolation guidance for people who test positive for COVID-19 in England has changed.
From today, people can leave self-isolation after five full days if they test negative on days 5 and 6.
Swipe for details 👇
— Department of Health and Social Care (@DHSCgovuk) January 17, 2022
Silenced with violence: doctors pay heavy price for treating Covid patients in Nicaragua
The world’s least-restricted country has a bad case of Covid denialism – and its scepticism comes from the top, reports Harriet Barber.
Dr Richard Saenz Coen, a gynaecologist in Nicaragua, was once so esteemed that he delivered the president’s grandchild by caesarean section.
But in July 2021 he was forced to flee the country after being arrested eight times, beaten and deprived of food.
His crime? Treating coronavirus patients in perhaps the most fervent Covid-denialist country in the world.
Alexander Downer: Djokovic proves Australia’s Zero Covid policy was always an unsustainable con
The tennis superstar's plight has highlighted Australia's draconian Covid policy, which might be starting to rebound, argues Alexander Downer.
The strange case of Novak Djokovic has shone a bright light on the eccentric behaviour of the world’s top tennis player. But it also has awoken the world to Australia’s own eccentric response to the Covid epidemic.
Indeed, the cancellation of Djokovic’s visa on Friday sums up the uncompromising attitude of the Australian government over the past 22 months.
For almost two years, the nation has ploughed its own lonely furrow in response to the pandemic. The state government in Victoria achieved a world record in locking down Melbourne six times in 20 months for a total of 262 day, just overtaking Buenos Aires as the most locked-down city in the world.
Pfizer to boost Covid pill production with French deal
Pfizer will add a production facility for its antiviral Covid pill in France as part of a plan to invest 520 million euros in the country over the next five years.
The decision is part of Pfizer's strategy to boost global production of the pill, paxlovid, which was found to be nearly 90 per cent effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths in patients at high risk of severe illness, according to clinical trial data.
The investment will initially involve the production of active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) for paxlovid at a plant run by French pharmaceutical group Novasep, Pfizer said, noting that additional Novasep facilities will be added next year.
"Novasep will produce API for use in our manufacturing network, expected to contribute to the overall (global) effort to produce 120 million courses of treatment in 2022," it added.
The drug obtained emergency approval from the US drug regulator in December, and is being assessed for possible authorisation in the European Union.
Premier League will not adjust rules for controversial Covid postponement system
The latest postponement, the north London derby, prompted Tottenham to demand more 'clarity and consistency' regarding the rules, reports Jeremy Wilson.
The Premier League will resist calls to overhaul their controversial Covid postponement system despite increasing fears that the competition’s integrity has been compromised following 21 rearranged fixtures.
While other major European leagues have got by this season without postponing fixtures, and have significantly higher vaccination rates among their players, fans of Premier League clubs have been repeatedly inconvenienced by sudden announcements.
The latest postponement was Sunday’s north London derby after Arsenal had their request accepted by the Premier League only 24 hours before kick-off despite having only one known Covid case.
Other clubs have persistently called on the Premier League to provide more transparency over their decisions, and to also disregard absentees for non-Covid issues, especially suspensions, when they decide whether clubs have the required 14 available players.
Credit Suisse boss forced out after rule-breaking Wimbledon trip
Sir Antonio Horta-Osorio has resigned as chairman of Credit Suisse after an internal investigation into breaches of Covid rules, reports James Warrington.
In a dramatic statement late last night, the lender said that Sir Antonio had stepped down with immediate effect after just eight months in the role.
It follows reports the banker, a former chief executive of Lloyds, broke Covid quarantine rules twice last year.
He said: “I regret that a number of my personal actions have led to difficulties for the bank and compromised my ability to represent the bank internally and externally.
“I therefore believe that my resignation is in the interest of the bank and its stakeholders at this crucial time.”
PM grilled by Sue Gray over Downing Street parties as Tory anger boils over
Boris Johnson has held talks with the civil servant investigating allegations of lockdown breaches, with her report possible as soon as this week, report Ben Riley-Smith and Tony Diver.
Boris Johnson has been questioned by Sue Gray over “partygate” allegations, Whitehall sources have told The Telegraph, as new signs of a Tory grassroots backlash emerged.
The Prime Minister is understood to have shared what he knows with Ms Gray, the civil servant overseeing the investigation into alleged parties at Downing Street during lockdown, ahead of publication of the report as early as this week.
Downing Street is already planning its response to the findings, with the promise to overhaul a “drinking culture” in Number 10 and the departure of senior figures expected.
At-risk 12 to 15-year-olds now eligible for booster doses
Clinically vulnerable 12 to 15-years-olds who are most at risk from coronavirus will be able to get their Covid booster jab from today.
Around 500 children will be eligible, including those receiving chemotherapy or radiotherapy, those with leukaemia, diabetes, chronic diseases or severe mental illness, and those who live with someone who is immunosuppressed.
They are entitled to their booster three months after their two primary vaccine doses, while severely immunosuppressed children can get their booster after a third primary dose.
Those who have tested positive for Covid-19 must wait 12 weeks before getting their booster, or at least four weeks if they are in the highest risk groups.
The NHS vaccination programme lead for 12 to 15-year-olds, Nick Hulme, said: "The booster has been proven to give substantial levels of protection against Covid-19 and the new omicron variant, so it is vital that our youngest and most at-risk get their top-up dose of protection as soon as possible.
"I am delighted that we can kick off this stage of the rollout with the most at-risk children eligible from today, and we look forward to encouraging many more to come forward in the coming days and weeks.
We did nothing wrong, says Sir Keir Starmer as he refuses to apologise over lockdown beer photo
Sir Keir Starmer has refused to apologise over a picture of him having drinks with Labour staff in May 2021, as he insisted: "We did nothing wrong."
At the time, indoor mixing between different households was prohibited except in work scenarios.
Nadhim Zahawi, the Education Secretary, was among senior Conservatives who called for Sir Keir to apologise in light of his own criticisms of Mr Johnson.
But speaking to LBC, Sir Keir said: "I think it’s very straightforward. It was a very busy time; it was three or four days before the local elections. We were working in the office, and a takeaway turned up and we stopped and we ate it.
"Honestly, you know, two parties the night before Prince Philip’s funeral with suitcases. We didn’t break any rules, we were working in the office.
"I understand what’s going on here which is exactly what happened with Owen Paterson, there comes a time when the Tories try to take everyone into the gutter with them. We did nothing wrong."
No vaccine, no French Open for Djokovic as things stand, says French Sports ministry
Novak Djokovic could be barred from playing in the French Open after the French Sports Ministry said there would be no exemption from France's new vaccine pass law.
World number one Djokovic, who has not been vaccinated against Covid, was deported from Australia on Sunday before the first Grand Slam tournament of the year after losing a court case to have the cancellation of his visa overturned.
France's vaccine pass law, approved by parliament on Sunday, will require people to have a certificate of vaccination to enter public places such as restaurants, cafes, cinemas and long-distance trains.
"The rule is simple. The vaccine pass will be imposed, as soon as the law is promulgated, in establishments that were already subject to the health pass," the ministry said.
"This will apply to everyone who is a spectator or a professional sportsperson. And this until further notice.
"Now, as far as Roland Garros is concerned, it's in May. The situation may change between now and then and we hope that it will be more favourable. So we'll see, but clearly there's no exemption."
Tim Stanley: Britain's failed establishment will never apologise for the catastrophe of lockdown
It was wrong to impose the restrictions, but the elites responsible are incapable of admitting it, argues Tim Stanley.
The PM has apologised after being accused of breaking lockdown rules. Fine. But will anyone apologise for setting them? Some were clearly impossible or unnecessary, or why else would Downing Street staff have ignored them? I assume these people aren’t suicidal, although buying wine from the Co-op implies a certain recklessness.
My fear is that we’ll become so obsessed with the breaking of rules by Westminster party animals that we’ll emerge from this pandemic without a proper assessment of how much damage the restrictions regime did – to our society, health and economy.
Pandemic may have pushed millions more into obesity in 'perfect storm'
Early data suggests a jump in obesity globally, particularly among children and young people, reports Jennifer Rigby.
The pandemic may have pushed millions more people into obesity, according to emerging data from around the world.
Young people have been particularly badly affected, research from countries including the United States, China and Europe suggests.
In one US study, for example, the number of overweight and obese young people jumped by more in just one year of the pandemic than it did over the previous two decades.
Experts said many different factors may be behind the rise, from decreased movement during lockdowns to coping with the added stress of the crisis. Straightened economic circumstances can also push people towards cheaper but unhealthier food choices, exacerbating the problem.
Timeline: Novak Djokovic's Australian Open nightmare
Drinking spree sparked by pandemic 'likely to last five years'
Millions of people are causing themselves 'silent harm' after consuming more alcohol at home during lockdown, Royal College of Psychiatrists warns, reports Daniel Capurro.
Rates of alcohol consumption, which surged during the pandemic, are likely to stay at higher levels for at least five years, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has warned.
The head of the organisation's addictions faculty said that millions of people were causing themselves “silent harm” through their alcohol habits, with more and more needing to enter intensive care.
New data from the Government's Office for Health Improvement and Disparities shows a large increase in the number of drinkers imbibing at levels considered to be high risk.
Boris Johnson's job is safe, insists minister
Asked on the BBC's Radio 4 Today programme if Boris Johnson's job as the Prime Minister is safe, Nadhim Zahawi insisted that it was.
He said: "Yes, because he is human, and we make mistakes."
Education secretary doesn't recognise 'Operation: Save Big Dog'
The Education Secretary said he did not recognise reports surrounding a bid to survive the "partygate" storm.
Reportedly dubbed "Operation: Save Big Dog", it has been suggested Boris Johnson could overhaul his top team, with the likes of his principal private secretary Martin Reynolds, who sent an email inviting staff to enjoy the good weather in the No 10 garden in May 2020, being shown the door as part of a move to protect the PM.
But Nadhim Zahawi told BBC Breakfast: "Honestly, I don't recognise that at all."
He added: "Government doesn't operate like that. If you look at the work I'm doing in the Department of Education on levelling up, on making sure that every child gets a really high level of education consistently in every corner of our country, the work that Michael Gove was doing on the Levelling Up White Paper (on) which I'm working closely with him because the most important capital's the human capital, the most valuable resource is the human resource.
"All that work, whether it be what Priti Patel is doing on her Nationality And Borders Bill to prepare to deal with the criminal element that is putting people's lives at risk on those little boats."
Asked why he had listed all the policies reportedly to be used as part of the bid to save the PM, he said: "They're on the list because these are the Government's manifesto."
PM 'focused on big issues', insists Cabinet minister
Nadhim Zahawi said Boris Johnson "is focused on dealing with the big issues".
The Education Secretary told Times Radio: "If you think again about the big calls, whether it's Brexit, the vaccine programme which the Prime Minister very much focused on and I led the deployment, and of course the call on Omicron pre-Christmas... on the big decisions, he's made the right call.
"Of course, we're all human, we make mistakes. And when he made a mistake, he came to Parliament and apologised for it."
Mr Zahawi said he would have acted differently and told staff to "get back to your desk" if he had discovered a party.
'Not true' that PM knew about May 20 party, says Zahawi
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said it was not true that Boris Johnson had known about a party held at Downing Street on May 20, 2020.
He told Sky News: "It's not true that the Prime Minister knew about this. He implicitly thought this was a work event."
He said senior official Sue Gray must be allowed to carry out her inquiry into reports of coronavirus restriction-breaching events in Westminster, and he said the Prime Minister had "submitted himself to that investigation".
Mr Zahawi said he shared the anger of the public over the issue, adding: "I can absolutely say to you that the Prime Minister feels the pain."
He said: "All I would say is we have to allow the investigation to take place. Why? Because that's the fair thing to do - you don't condemn a man without a thorough investigation."
Today's front page
Here is your Daily Telegraph on Monday, Jan 17
Covid data 'looking positive' to lift Plan B on Jan 26
Nadhim Zahawi said it was "looking positive" that Plan B measures could be lifted on January 26.
The Education Secretary told BBC Breakfast: "If you look at infection rates, they remain high, hospitalisations is still high, touching 20,000 people in hospital, but it feels like they're plateauing.
"The good news is the number of people in ICU has been coming down, certainly in London, which was the epicentre, the level of staff absence in education has remained pretty flat, it was 8% before Christmas, it's at about 8.5% at the moment.
"So I'm confident that when we review this on the 26th of January, as we said we would do, then we'll be in a much better place to lift some of these restrictions.
"But it's worth remembering that because we stuck to Plan B this economy is the most open economy in Europe."
'Bumpy' end to the pandemic in UK, says WHO expert
Dr David Nabarro, a World Health Organisation (WHO) special envoy for Covid-19, told Sky News there was "light at the end of the tunnel" for the UK in tackling Covid-19.
He said: "Looking at it from a UK point of view, there does appear to be light at the end of the tunnel... I think that it's going to be bumpy before we get to the end.
"So even though it's possible to start imagining that the end of the pandemic is not far away, just everybody be ready for the possibility that there will be more variations and mutations coming along, or that there will be further challenges, other surges of even Omicron coming."
He said children do not get very ill from Covid-19, and "we're going to have children acting as vectors of the virus for some time to come."
He said there was a need to still be "respectful of this virus", adding: "Do what you can to stop transmitting it. Do what you can to protect others from being affected by it. It's not the common cold.
"I know people would like it to be but it's a virus that has still some really unpleasant features. Let's do our best to protect people from it if we possibly can."
Changes to isolation come with 'increased risk', says adviser
Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick, said changes to isolation rules come with "increased risk".
The member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M) told BBC Breakfast: "It is a big change, we do need to remember that from an epidemiological perspective any relaxation in testing like that is going to have an increased risk attached to it but of course, I totally understand it's a practical thing.
"We're seeing an awful lot of absences, and it's particularly concerning in healthcare at the moment actually, so if we can reduce the isolation period then that will allow more people to get back to work
"Of course, important to remember that is done with two negative tests - so you can't come out of isolation until the sixth day with a second negative test. And if you don't get a negative test, you have to stay in isolation potentially even until day 10 so hopefully that mitigates some of the risk."
Omicron wave is 'turning around'
Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M), said that the latest Covid-19 case figures were "cautiously good news" which could indicate that the Omicron wave is "turning around".
Asked about the latest UK data, he told BBC Breakfast: "I would say cautiously good news - it does look like across the whole of the country cases do seem to be falling.
"We have had very, very high case numbers throughout late December and early January - we peaked about 200,000 at one point. We do now seem to be a little bit beyond that.
"Hospital admissions are still relatively high albeit there is some evidence that maybe they're plateauing or possibly going down in London, which is cautiously good news.
"I would say we probably need about an extra week of data to really see the effect of children going back to school - we're still only two weeks since children went back to school - but if we still see that over the next week or so, I'd be pretty confident that we are seeing this wave turning around."
Asked whether changes in testing rules may have contributed to the drop in cases, he added: "Yesterday was a Sunday and we were in the region of 70,000 (cases) which is a lot lower than previous Sundays, so I think even taking into account any changes in testing I think it is pretty clear that the Omicron wave is slowing down."
End of isolation being looked at by Downing Street
People will no longer be legally bound to self-isolate when they catch Covid-19 under plans being drawn up by Downing Street to learn to live with coronavirus in the long-term.
The Telegraph understands Boris Johnson wants to permanently repeal emergency coronavirus laws which have governed how the public can live for almost two years.
Instead, official guidance would remain in place which encourages people to behave in certain ways, but would not result in fines or legal punishment if ignored.
The plans will be worked up over the coming weeks, with an announcement being penned in as early as the spring - although no final decisions have been taken.