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The Prime Minister has his finger on the Plan B panic button. Vaccine passports and new work-from-home guidance are set to be announced today as the Government speeds up plans for tougher measures to counter the omicron Covid variant.
Follow live updates as Boris Johnson is set to address the public from 6pm after ministers discussed the new rules this afternoon.
Political Editor Ben Riley-Smith says it would be the biggest increase in Covid restrictions in England since January, when the country went into full lockdown. Read what it could mean for your daily life.
On a turbulent day in Westminster dominated by leaked footage of Number 10 officials laughing about a Christmas party, the pound slumped to its lowest level in a year, while travel stocks went into reverse. See how sterling tumbled against the dollar.
Looming new restrictions in the approach to Christmas bring an unwelcome sense of déjà vu. Ross Clark writes that the Government is clunking its way towards what threatens to become an annual Christmas tradition: the festive lockdown.
And Dr Stephen Davies, from the Institute of Economic Affairs, argues that some previous measures have had a catastrophic impact that cannot be ignored this time round.
Stratton's tearful apology
The Plan B talks were suddenly pulled forward at the same time as Downing Street was fire-fighting a fierce row about a Christmas party last year. Allegra Stratton this afternoon quit her role as a government spokesman after leaked footage showed her joking and giggling about claims the gathering broke lockdown rules. Fighting back tears outside her north London home, she offered her "profound apologies" and said she would "regret those remarks for the rest of my days". Watch her emotional statement in full below.
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson apologised over the video and has asked Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, to investigate claims that a cheese and wine party was held. At PMQs, he told MPs he was "furious" at the footage - but insisted he had been assured that rules were followed. Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross later said Mr Johnson should quit if he was found to have misled Parliament. Henry Hill argues that "partygate" has united pro and anti-lockdowners in fury.
And for some good news...
By now, we are surely due some good news. It comes from Pfizer, which announced today that three doses of its Covid vaccine are effective against the omicron variant. Boosted individuals have the same level of protection, the company said in a statement, as people received with two doses against the original form of coronavirus. Scientists worldwide have been rushing to conduct studies to gauge how pre-existing immunity from both vaccination and prior infection will hold up against omicron. Science Correspondent Joe Pinkstone explains the findings.
Evening briefing: Today's essential headlines
Maxwell and Epstein | Photos show pair relaxing at Queen's log cabin
Storm Barra | Thousands without power as weather 'bomb' hits
'I became a meme' | Wife who stabbed ex-Army husband appeals
Best friend | Dogs 'prevent more than 100k suicides in the autustic'
Nobel Prize snub | Queen steps in to recognise red LED inventor
Comment and analysis
Jeremy Warner | Omicron delivers a welcome dose of disinflation
Ben Wright | Sturgeon's North Sea betrayal undermines all UK
Iain Duncan Smith | Victims of modern slavery are being failed
Nikki Da Costa | Don't rush the ban on 'conversion therapy'
Gavin Newsham | Why I no longer Google my health worries
Around the world: Scholz faces first test as Chancellor
Olaf Scholz succeeded Angela Merkel as Germany's chancellor today in Berlin, but is already under pressure from Joe Biden's administration over its deal with Russia's state-owned energy giant Gazprom. Washington wants Nord Stream 2, which is awaiting German regulatory approval, to be ditched. Until this week, Ms Merkel was the most powerful woman in the world - and one of the busiest. What will she do now her political career is over? Justin Huggler explains how quantum chemistry, plum cake making and private detective work all beckon.
Wednesday long-read: 'Eradicating the bad stuff' - the unwelcome return of book burning
Extremists on the Left and Right are burning books they find objectionable - and that should worry us all, says Jake Kerridge, as he looks at how the practice is creeping back into fashion. Read the full article.
Sport briefing: 'Worst opening day in Ashes history'
After England endured a dispiriting start to their Ashes campaign, skittled out for 147 in Australia, the questions came thick and fast. Was it poor batting - or good bowling? We have recapped how the wickets fell - and the causes. Michael Vaughan gives his assessment of "the worst opening day in Ashes history". And Chief Cricket Writer Scyld Berry says the ghost of Nasser Hussain looms large over Joe Root.
You could almost be in the Home Counties… | The most English town in all of France
Business briefing: Dyson fails to clean up over damages
Sir James Dyson has lost a legal battle to secure tens of millions of pounds in damages from an EU court following a row about vacuum cleaner labelling. In a long-running dispute, the billionaire's company successfully overturned a Brussels regulation that allowed "old fashioned" vacuums to appear as energy efficient as newer, bagless models. But the court rejected a claim that Dyson had lost out on sales.
Tonight starts now
The 12 treats of Christmas TV | Yes, it really is that time of year again - the moment to gee up for the season of festive television. But, this year, the gods of the box have come good. The barren, icy wasteland of 2020's schedules is no more. With terrestrial broadcasters pulling their socks up, and streamers continuing to strike gold, there really is something for everyone. From ghosts to earthworms and monster hunters to eerie solicitors, Alex Diggins has your guide to the best festive TV of 2021.
Three things for you
Festive planning | How to save money on your Christmas dinner
And finally... for this evening's downtime
'Racist, disgusting, lucrative' | They are the investment of the moment and their creators are darlings of the art world. But Non-Fungible Tokens are making fools of us all, argues Jessa Crispin, as she goes inside the hateful, empty world of NFT art.