— Today's top story in 60 seconds —
UK COVID daily death toll tops 1,000 for first time since April
The UK has recorded more than 1,000 COVID-19 deaths in a single day for the first time since April. Some 1,041 deaths within 28 days of a positive test for the virus were recorded in the 24 hours to 9am on Wednesday, along with a further 62,322 new coronavirus cases. The highest number of deaths recorded in a single day during the pandemic was on 21 April, with a total of 1,224.
Are we at the peak of the second wave?
Not yet – infection levels and numbers of patients in hospital are yet to show signs of stabilising. Public Health England deputy director Dr Susan Hopkins told the BBC it could take up to 14 days for infections to start to come down after the introduction of the new lockdown. England's chief medical officer Chris Whitty warned on Tuesday that because of the spike in people being admitted to hospital there will “inevitably” be an increase in the number of coronavirus deaths later this month.
Can the NHS cope?
The number of COVID patients in hospital has exceeded 30,000 for the first time, the health secretary revealed today. Matt Hancock said the NHS "is under significant pressure" and gave a stark warning: "If we don't act now the NHS will not be able to cope and no one wants to see scenes from elsewhere in the world with hospitals overrun and turning away patients."
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Covid patients in England transferred to Scotland (The Independent)
—The big coronavirus stories today—
PM: Lifting lockdown will be gradual
Boris Johnson has warned that lockdown restrictions in England will be eased gradually. The PM said there will not be a “big bang” where all the curbs on freedoms are removed at once, but that there would be “substantial opportunities” for relaxation before March. Read the full story here. (PA)
Teachers' grades to replace exams
GCSE, AS-level and A-level exams in England this summer will be replaced by school assessments, the education secretary has confirmed. Gavin Williamson acknowledged that exams are the “fairest” assessments, but said the impact of the pandemic means it will not be possible to hold them this summer. Read the full story here (Independent)
Clap for Carers to return in lockdown
Clap for Carers, which ran for 10 weeks during the first lockdown, is set to return on Thursday at 8pm under a new name. The ritual's creator Annemarie Plas tweeted that it would be returning as Clap for Heroes. She said: “We are bringing back the 8pm applause, in our 3rd lockdown." Read the full story here (Guardian)
Government reveals mass vaccine hubs
Mass vaccination hubs at seven sites across England – including sports venues and London’s ExCel convention centre – will begin operations next week, Downing Street has confirmed. Hubs will be set up in London, Newcastle, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Surrey and Stevenage, Number 10 said. Read the full story here (Yahoo News UK)
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— What else happened today? —
Trump fans protest in Washington DC
Tens of thousands of Donald Trump supporters have gathered in Washington DC, protesting against Congress's preparations to confirm the results of the electoral college vote and the victory of Joe Biden. Speakers continued to voice their claims that the election was stolen from Trump. Read the full story here (Independent)
Julian Assange refused bail
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been refused bail. District Judge Vanessa Baraitser rejected an application for the 49-year-old to be released with strict conditionals over concern he would abscond. It follows a decision that he should not be extradited to the US on mental health grounds, due to the risk of suicide. Read the full story here (Evening Standard)
Chef Albert Roux dies aged 85
Chef and restaurateur Albert Roux has died at the age of 85. The French-born founder of the Michelin-starred Le Gavroche – part of the Roux culinary dynasty – died on 4 January after a lengthy illness, a statement from his family confirmed. Read the full story here (PA)
Brexit trade deal 'very unstable'
Experts have warned that the Brexit trade deal agreed between the UK and the EU on Christmas Eve is "fiendishly complicated" and "very unstable". Cambridge University professor Catherine Barnard said there were many ways the agreement could be brought to an end by either side, including the UK terminating it at a year’s notice. Read the full story here (Yahoo Finance UK)