Christmas cancelled as London and South East plunged into Tier 4 lockdown

Coronavirus Article Bar with counter
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter

Boris Johnson has cancelled Christmas for millions of people across London and south-east England after scientists said that a new coronavirus variant is spreading more rapidly.

The Prime Minister announced that from Sunday areas in the South East currently in Tier 3 will be moved into a new Tier 4 – effectively returning to the lockdown rules of November.

Non-essential shops, gyms, cinemas, hairdressers and bowling alleys will be forced to close for two weeks – while people will be restricted to meeting one other person from another household in an outdoor public space.

The rest of England will also see the Christmas “bubble” policy – allowing up to three household to meet up over the holiday period – severely curtailed, applying on Christmas Day only.

Mr Johnson told a Downing Street news conference that he was making the changes with a “very heavy heart”.

He said: “I know how much emotion people invest in this time of year, and how important it is, for instance, for grandparents to see their grandchildren, for families to be together.

“So I know how disappointing this will be. But we have said throughout this pandemic that we must and we will be guided by the science.

“When the science changes, we must change our response.”

Alert Level 4 restrictions will be brought forward to apply across Wales from midnight, First Minister Mark Drakeford has announced.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced a “strict travel ban” between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Follow the latest updates below.

07:32 PM

Donald Trump reacts to UK restrictions and says ‘we don’t want to have lockdowns’

07:13 PM

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer ‘really frustrated’ following announcement

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he was “really frustrated” following the announcement that Christmas would be cancelled for many families across the UK.

“The infection rates are going up very very fast and so something has to be done, and we support the steps the Government has put in place but millions of families are going to be heartbroken by this news – having their Christmas plans ripped up,” he said.

“I’m really frustrated because I raised this with the Prime Minister on Wednesday and he dismissed that and went on to tell people to have a merry little Christmas – only three days later to rip up their plans.

“I think the British public is entitled to more decisive leadership than that.”

07:10 PM

Gove does some last minute Christmas shopping before stores ordered to close

Michael Gove was seen wearing a face mask and carrying bags of Christmas shopping as he walks with pedestrians past the Ritz in London on December 19, 2020.    - TOLGA AKMEN 
Michael Gove was seen wearing a face mask and carrying bags of Christmas shopping as he walks with pedestrians past the Ritz in London on December 19, 2020. – TOLGA AKMEN

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, was spotted doing some last minute Christmas shopping before all non-essential stores in London are forced to close. 

07:05 PM

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon: ‘Don’t visit other households indoors unless you really have to’

 First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “I know this is tough. But this new virus strain is spreading much faster, and so we must act quickly to stop it taking hold. That means even tighter restrictions through January to prevent the serious situation currently faced by places like London & save lives.

“It is especially tough at Christmas, but don’t visit other households indoors unless you really have to – and if you do (unless for caring responsibilities) it should only be on Christmas Day. Staying physically apart this year is the best way to protect those we love.

“And while it’s hard to see it right now, the light at the end of the tunnel is still there. With every day that passes, more people are being vaccinated. We will get through this – but as we do, let’s continue to love and look out for each other.”

06:57 PM

Non-essential shops have only been open for 17 days in busiest month of the year

Andrew Goodacre, chief executive of the British Independent Retailers Association (Bira), said: “Closing down non-essential shops as from Sunday in London and the South East is a disaster for those businesses.

“They have only been open for 17 days in the busiest month of the year.”

He added: “They need financial support that reflects what they have lost and certainly better than the grants made available in November (many of which have not been paid).

“Bira still believes that closing down Covid-secure non-essential shops at this time of year does not deter people form coming out. It only leads to larger crowds in those stores left to trade, giving every opportunity for this virus to spread.”

06:44 PM

British Medical Association praise decision and say it will save lives

British Medical Association council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said today’s decision “will save lives”. 

“With the virus rushing through the country at an alarming rate, the BMA has been warning that our NHS and its staff are already at the point of collapse. As many hospitals are already full to capacity and some are even unable to provide patients with the urgent care they need, these are necessary measures to ease pressure on services.

He added that the measures are “necessary to protect our loved ones and those most vulnerable” and would give our health service a “fighting chance to cope”. 

“There is hope that in a few months the vaccination programme will allow family, relatives and friends to mix together once again,” he said. 

06:39 PM

We may be entering a ‘less predictable phase’ of the virus, says Director of Wellcome Trust

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of Wellcome, said:  “There is no part of the UK and no country globally that should not be concerned. As in the UK, in many countries the situation is very fragile.  

“It may feel harder during times we normally celebrate and enjoy with family and friends, but we must keep doing all we can to stay safe.  

“We will only end this pandemic with a combination of vaccines, tests and treatments, available to everyone, everywhere. The pace of global research has been phenomenal and we have made significant progress on the tools needed. However, we must be realistic; this pandemic is not over and it will take some time for the first vaccines to have the impact needed.  

“Through 2020 much of this pandemic has been predictable, waves of infection reverberating globally as behaviour changes and restrictions are relaxed. We may now be entering a less predictable phase as the virus evolves and changes. 

“We must keep asking ourselves ‘are we doing enough’ and responding fast to new and continued challenges, in order to save lives now and as we move into 2021.” 

06:24 PM

Boris Johnson had no choice but to tighten restrictions

The Telegraph’s Global Health Security Editor, Paul Nuki, comments on the new restrictions:

The Prime Minister may be famed for his boosterism but he was left with no choice other than to act on Saturday and tighten restrictions across the country for Christmas.Virtually every shred of data was stacked against him. The  R rate across the country has again moved above one, meaning the epidemic is growing exponentially. Hospitals in many areas are already struggling. And in London and the South East, where cases are up by over 50 per cent, a  new strain of the virus is rapidly carving out a foothold for itself.  The new rules (a full lockdown for the capital and much of the South East of the country, and household mixing limited to just Christmas Day for other areas) aim to stop the virus moving between households and generations. It is also designed to try and stop the new, faster-moving strain of the virus being carried across the country.

Read the full story here. 

06:12 PM

Keir Starmer: ‘The British people want clear, decisive leadership’

06:02 PM

Christmas holidays for Scottish pupils extended

Christmas holidays for most Scottish pupils have been extended to January 11 and the majority will begin the new term studying from home, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.

The First Minister said schools will reopen as currently scheduled for some pupils, such as children of key workers.

But for most pupils, the new school term will begin on January 11, with online learning until “at least” January 18.

05:58 PM

Reports on transmissibility of new variant are ‘more depressing’ than anticipated, says Prof Paul Hunter

Prof Paul Hunter, Professor in Medicine, The Norwich School of Medicine, University of East Anglia, said:

“Today’s press briefing was perhaps not too surprising. We did hear more information about this new variant SARS-CoV-2 virus.

“That viruses mutate to become more infectious is not surprising and that this could happen with new and emergent viruses has been known for some time.

“To me these reports on the transmissibility of the new variant are even more depressing than I had anticipated. An increase in R of 0.4 or greater is extremely bad news. During the national lockdown in November the best we could achieve was an R value of somewhere between 0.8 and 1.0 around the UK.

“What this means is that even if we went back to the National Lockdown it would still not be enough to bring the R value down to less than 1.0. It is even uncertain whether if we went back to the lockdown of March and April we would bring the R value down to less than 1.0. So, perhaps, all we can now hope for is that the epidemic increases less rapidly with the measures that the PM announced today. ” 

05:52 PM

Travel ban will remain in place throughout festive period, says Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon said: “In order to reduce the risk of more of the [coronavirus] strain being imported into Scotland, we intend to maintain a strict travel ban between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

“Unfortunately, and I am genuinely sorry about this, that ban will remain in place right throughout the festive period.

“We simply cannot risk more of this new strain entering the country if we can possibly avoid it.

“That means people from Scotland not visiting other parts of the UK, and vice versa.

“Cross-border travel for all but the most essential purposes is not permitted.”

05:50 PM

Three week lockdown from Boxing Day in Scotland

The toughest level of coronavirus restrictions will be applied to all of mainland Scotland for three weeks from Boxing Day, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

05:48 PM

Hundreds of people in all parts of Wales now suffering from new variation

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has said the new strain of coronavirus was “genuinely part of the explanation” for a rapid surge in cases across Wales.

Mr Drakeford told BBC Wales: “We know as of today there are hundreds of people in all parts of Wales who are now suffering from this variation, and those people will be more infectious to other people.

“And other people are more likely to catch the virus because of the way the virus has changed.

“I think when you look at those numbers which are so similar to the numbers in London and the South East, it is genuinely part of the explanation.”

05:48 PM

Bubbles will only be allowed on Christmas Day, says Nicola Sturgeon

The travel ban between Scotland and the rest of the UK will remain in place throughout the Christmas holidays and bubbles will only be allowed on Christmas Day, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

05:43 PM

Travel banned between Scotland and rest of UK

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced a “strict travel ban” between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

05:37 PM

There is a ‘crisis of confidence in the PCR tests’, says Richard Tice, Chairman of the Brexit Party

Richard Tice, Chairman of the Brexit Party said: “The Prime Minister does not have an easy job, and these are very difficult decisions to take. He is understandably concerned by the new variant of Covid.

“Millions of families will be devastated by the changes to the Christmas regulations. My heart goes out to all those who will not be able to spend time with their loved ones.

“However, these is a crisis of confidence in the PCR tests which I have set out in a detailed letter to the Health Secretary. The mass-testing programme they are using is seriously unreliable. If we could trust the data these decisions would be easier to make and easier to accept.

“The PCR testing produces large, but unknown quantities of false positives. The only way to restore confidence is to introduce additional checks. We need to double check any asymptomatic positive – and then check any inconsistent results again. I understand this occurs in Norway, which may contribute to their case numbers being much lower.”

05:23 PM

NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said these changes ‘were inevitable’

NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said trust chiefs had wanted tough restrictions to curb infection rates.

“These changes were inevitable given how rapid the infection rates have been rising in London, South East and parts of the East of England due to the new variant,” he said.

“Trust leaders have consistently called for the restrictions to be as tough as needed to cut infection rates.

“It is therefore right that the Government has acted quickly to avert significant extra deaths and levels of harm.”

05:21 PM

Assume you might be infectious when considering meeting others, says Sir Patrick

Sir Patrick Vallance urged the public to assume they might be infectious when considering meeting others over Christmas.

Following on from Professor Chris Whitty’s advice to keep Christmas interactions “short” and “small”, Sir Patrick said: “I think one way to think about it is assume you could be infectious.

“It’s not somebody else’s issue, it’s your own issue, you might be infectious and that’s the way that we have to behave at this moment. Assume you might be infectious.”

Boris Johnson said it “can’t be stressed too often” that a lot of coronavirus transmission was by people who do not have symptoms at the time.

The Prime Minister added: “I don’t think people still now fully get that, in a way that perhaps they need to, it’s absolutely vital I think.

“I think one in three infections are transmitted asymptomatically still and people really need to realise that.”

05:20 PM

Alert Level 4 restrictions to apply across Wales from midnight

Alert Level 4 restrictions will be brought forward to apply across Wales from midnight, First Minister Mark Drakeford has announced.

Mr Drakeford said the pattern of transmission in London and the South East of England, linked to the new variant of coronavirus, is “remarkably consistent with the rapid acceleration of transmission in Wales” in recent weeks.

In a statement, Mr Drakeford said the latest evidence suggested that the new strain is present “throughout Wales” and said this required an “immediate response”.

The Welsh Government’s Cabinet met on Saturday to discuss the “worrying new development in the pandemic”, as well as advice from senior medical and scientific advisers, including the impact on NHS Wales.

“The situation is incredibly serious. I cannot overstate this,” Mr Drakeford said.

“We have therefore reached the difficult decision to bring forward the Alert Level 4 restrictions for Wales, in line with the action being taken in London and the South East of England.

“These new restrictions will come into effect from midnight tonight instead of during the Christmas period.”

05:18 PM

Prof Whitty: ‘Keep it small, keep it short, keep it local’

Prof Whitty reiterated that people should “keep it small, keep it short, keep it local and remember the vulnerable are vulnerable” over Christmas.

He advised people should minimise contact with grandparents, keeping it at a distance and for the “shortest period you can”.

Prof Whitty added: “Because what you really want is to get to the point when your grandmother has been vaccinated, ideally when you and people around you have been vaccinated, taking the risk right down. At that point we’re in a different place.

“But at this point in time, at this really, really critical and dangerous time – pre-vaccine but high transmission – I repeat it: keep it small, keep it short, keep it local and remember the vulnerable.

“And short should mean as short as you can manage with a reasonable social interaction.”

05:18 PM

Businesses are ‘staring into the abyss’ after lockdown announcement

Westminster City Council, which covers parts of central London including Oxford Street, warned that businesses were now “staring into the abyss” after the lockdown announcement.

Tory council leader Rachael Robathan said: “On every level this is devastating: for our residents, for families who will now miss Christmas, for those young people who can’t leave, for those businesses now staring into the abyss after having had a last gasp at pre-Christmas sales snatched from them.

“The shock waves of this are going to jolt through every part of Westminster.

“This is an absolute tragedy for everyone who had worked so hard to revitalise our West End and fan the embers of recovery for our city.”

05:15 PM

Covid will not take five days off over Christmas and neither will NHS staff

Dr Samantha Batt-Rawden, President of DAUK and a senior intensive care registrar in the South East said: 

“We realise how disappointing the new restrictions will be for many today, especially those in Tier 4 areas. However, doctors across the UK, but especially those in the South East are telling us that the surge in cases is already putting hospitals and critical care units under enormous strain.  

NHS staff are grateful to the public who have sacrificed so much to protect each other and our health service. But with the emergence of a new variant, sadly restrictions must be revisited. Covid will not take 5 days off over Christmas, and neither will NHS staff who do all they can to keep patients safe over the festive period.” 

05:12 PM

Level four lockdown restrictions brought forward to apply across Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford announces

Level four lockdown restrictions will be brought forward to apply across Wales from Sunday and festive bubbles can be formed for Christmas Day only, First Minister Mark Drakeford has announced.

05:08 PM

Prime Minister defends promising five days of Christmas

The Prime Minister said the Government was following scientific advice over changes to coronavirus restrictions.

Asked at the Downing Street press conference if it was “reckless to promise five days of Christmas against scientific advice”, Mr Johnson said: “We’ve always taken account of scientific advice, always tried to follow it and that is what we’re doing today.

“Because the science is clearly changing and has changed in the sense that our understanding of this new virus, its transmissibility, has been radically shifted just in the last 24 hours.”

Mr Johnson added: “We simply can’t ignore that and that’s why we’re taking these extra steps today to protect the country.”

05:07 PM

Parliament must be recalled, says Mark Harper

Mark Harper, the chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs which has been highly critical of the Government’s strategy, called for Parliament be recalled so MPs could debate and vote on the changes.

“This is a very sad day. Lockdowns and increasingly severe tiered restrictions have failed in their goal of slowing the transmission of Covid.

“And now the Government is expecting people to sacrifice the chance to share Christmas with family, friends and loved ones, just a few days after promising the opposite.

“If the Government wants the support of the public and Parliament, it must publish a clear exit strategy from this nightmarish, cycle of damaging lockdowns and restrictions.

“More immediately, given the three-tier system and the initial Christmas household rules were expressly authorised by the House of Commons, these changes must also be put to a vote in the Commons at the earliest opportunity, even if that means a recall of the House.”

05:05 PM

Keep social distancing, says Prof Chris Whitty

Professor Chris Whitty said that the new coronavirus variant would not decrease the effectiveness of current social distancing measures and that people must continue to follow them.

“Yes social distancing does work, it doesn’t work as a yes, no,” he told a press conference.

“The more things you do, the more determinedly you do them… the more this and every other respiratory virus goes down.

“It’s like you were cycling up a steep hill and now you’ve got the wind against you as well, you just have to do that much more to keep going.

“And that’s what we’re going to have to do… the actual tools have not changed.”

When asked if he would board a train to Kent this evening, Prof Whitty replied: “Not unless I had to.

“Not because I don’t love Kent, Kent is fantastic, but because this is not the moment with this virus circulating for unnecessary travel.”

05:03 PM

Everyone should get vaccinated ‘as soon as possible’, says Professor Daniel Altmann

Professor Daniel Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said: “From the graphics as presented, this variant sequence has certainly become more prevalent in the South East, correlating with an upturn in caseload.

“As far as I can see this greatly strengthens the case for all to get vaccinated as soon as possible: the vaccines induce neutralising antibodies to several parts of spike (‘epitopes’) and most of these would be unchanged by the mutations – so the vaccines will still work.”

05:03 PM

‘Lift a glass’ to those who aren’t with you this Christmas, says Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson said that Christmas this year would be a chance to “lift a glass to those that aren’t there” in the hope that increased restrictions would allow families to meet again in the new year.

He said that bubbles for elderly and lonely people would provide “consolation” for cancelled festive plans.

05:01 PM

Hospitality sector has ‘lost all confidence’ in the Government strategy for tackling Covid-19.

Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, said the hospitality sector had “lost all confidence” in the Government strategy for tackling Covid-19.

He said: “The unrelenting closing and reopening of businesses is costing owners hundreds of thousands of pounds, and coupled with the erratic decision-making around restrictions, is rapidly destroying the ability of the sector to bounce back.

“Thousands of businesses and employees have supported the Government’s public health campaign against Covid, creating safe, regulated environments for people to socialise. This financial burden and commitment has been recognised only in lip-service, with insubstantial support measures to repay confidence in the sector.

“There is disbelief and anger amongst the sector that the Government did not foresee the impact of transmissions by keeping retail, education and other sectors open during such a delicate period within the crisis.

“If the Prime Minister wants the hardest-hit sectors to continue to support the Government in its public health strategy against Covid, then he must compensate the businesses fully for their losses, and deliver a robust exit strategy to regain industry confidence.”

05:01 PM

‘London faces its toughest Christmas since the war,’ says Sadiq Khan

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “These further restrictions are a bitter blow for Londoners who were hoping to spend time with loved ones safely this Christmas, and for businesses who have already suffered so much this year.

“London faces its toughest Christmas since the war and the whole city will need to pull together to see us through this terrible period.

“Implementing restrictions is not enough – it is imperative that the Government vastly increase mass testing as a matter of urgency.

“Providing greater financial support to businesses and the self-employed, currently woefully insufficient, is crucial.

“The Government needs to put in place a compensation scheme for all lost income for the festive period, as well as a package of full pay for those who are required to self-isolate.

“Face coverings should be made mandatory in all busy outdoor public places.

“London and the country are paying the price for the Government’s continued failure to get a handle on the pandemic. This continued chaos and confusion could all have been avoided had the Government not made irresponsible promises to the public and raised expectations about the Christmas period.

“I urge Londoners to follow the new restrictions very closely, so that we can protect our NHS and prevent more tragic deaths. “It would be such a tragedy to lose even more people to this disease when the vaccine is now being rolled out across our city and those lives could be saved.”

05:00 PM

Guidance around shielding being reviewed

Professor Chris Whitty suggested the guidance around shielding was being reviewed.

England’s chief medical officer told a Downing Street news conference: “The shielding patterns are actually being re-looked at.

“The view about shielding is that, in the first wave, shielding did many things that were useful but also did many things that were actually actively harmful.

“And we therefore changed the model of shielding since the first wave, and that includes people being able to get out more in many situations, and also areas around work.

“But this is something which people are keeping on looking at, to try and get the optimal balance between isolating people too much and isolating them enough from the virus. “

04:59 PM

Massive travel disruption and chaos expected, says consumer group Which?

Which? consumer rights expert Adam French said: “These new restrictions will cause massive travel disruption and chaos, leaving many peoples’ festive plans in tatters.

“If you’ve forked out on money for a train ticket and have to stay put you should be able to cancel the trip and get your money back.

“Rail operators should be as accommodating as possible by allowing passengers the flexibility to use tickets or issuing them refunds if they can’t travel at another time.”

04:58 PM

In London, 62 per cent of virus cases is new variant

Professor Chris Whitty said there had been a “really dramatic increase in the proportion of cases” seen with the new variant.

Screening tests suggested that in the South East 43 per cent of the virus was now the new variant, in the East of England it is 59 per cent and in London 62 per cent.

“Those have gone up very, very fast over the last few weeks,” he told a Downing Street news conference.

“This has really gone incredibly quickly. They are much lower in other areas of the country.”

The number of people in hospitals was also increasing in areas where the new variant was more prevalent.

“In the areas where this is very, very common you are seeing rates of increase of maybe 36% in the East of England, 34% in London and 28% in the South East.

“These are the areas which have actually had significant numbers of this new variant.”

04:57 PM

New variant of coronavirus contains 23 different changes

Sir Patrick said the new variant of coronavirus contains 23 different changes, “many of them associated with changes in the protein that the virus makes”.

He added: “This is an unusually large number of variants, it’s also got variants in areas of the virus that are known to be associated with how the virus binds to cells and enters cells.

“So there are some changes which cause concern in terms of how the virus looks.”

04:57 PM

People leaving Tier 4 areas now should ‘unpack their bag and stay at home’, says Prof Whitty

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said people considering leaving Tier 4 areas now should unpack their bag and stay at home.

“My short answer would be ‘please unpack it at this stage’,” he said.

Prof Whitty told a Downing Street news conference: “If they were to go with this new variant, unwittingly, to an area that has a low prevalence and starts this being seeded even more outside the high prevalence areas that would be a significant risk to the area they went to.

“That is the reason we are really keen that people do not go from these areas.”

He indicated that Tier 3 and Tier 2 restrictions had proven ineffective at controlling the new variant.

If the new variant spread “none of them would be able to hold things with Tier 3 and Tier 2 elsewhere”.

04:56 PM

Tracey Crouch MP: ‘I feel quite down about tougher restrictions’

Tracey Crouch, Conservative MP for Chatham & Aylesford which will enter Tier 4, tweeted: “I feel quite down (personally & professionally) about tougher restrictions announced this afternoon but I also understand why this has happened.

“Our local hospitals have reached capacity, the virus & its new variant is rife in our community. Focus must be on vaccine roll out.”

04:51 PM

Which tier are you in? Use our map to find out

Which Covid tier am I in?
Which Covid tier am I in?

04:49 PM

Scientific evidence on the new variant is ‘sobering’, says Health Secretary Matt Hancock

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “The scientific evidence on the new variant of coronavirus is sobering. If you are in Tier 4, from tomorrow you must stay at home to protect the NHS & save lives. Thank you to everyone playing their part in the national effort.”

04:48 PM

Slides highlight that coronavirus cases are increasing

Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, presented slides to the Downing Street press conference highlighting that coronavirus cases were increasing.

Focusing on NHS data for the south-east and east of England and London, Sir Patrick said hospital admissions per day from September to now had gradually increased, with a “very sharp increase” during December.

“This virus has taken off, it’s moving fast and it’s leading inevitably to a sharp increase in hospital admissions,” he said.

Over the last two weeks UK case-rates have increased by more than 50% 
Over the last two weeks UK case-rates have increased by more than 50%
Case-rates in the areas moving to Tier 4 are higher than in England as a whole and rising fast
Case-rates in the areas moving to Tier 4 are higher than in England as a whole and rising fast

04:45 PM

No evidence that the new variant ’causes more trouble’, says Sir Patrick

Sir Patrick said that there was no evidence that the new variant “causes more trouble” and would make people sicker.

He added there were “theoretical reasons” to suggest that it may alter an immune response though there was no evidence for this.

“Our working assumption from all the scientists is that the vaccine response should be adequate for this virus,” he told the Downing Street press conference.

“We need to keep vigilant about this.”

04:44 PM

‘Hugely regrettable news,’ says British Retail Consortium as it warns consequences will be ‘severe’

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “We recognise that the government has difficult decisions to make and the situation with the pandemic is very fast moving, but this is hugely regrettable news.

“Retailers have invested hundreds of millions of pounds making stores Covid-secure for customers and staff, and Sage’s advice has said throughout that closing non-essential retail has a minimal impact on the spread of the virus.

“The consequences of this decision will be severe. For businesses, the government’s stop-start approach is deeply unhelpful – this decision comes only two weeks after the end of the last national lockdown and right in the middle of peak trading which so many are depending on to power their recovery.

“Faced with this news – and the prospect of losing £2 billion per week in sales for the third time this year – many businesses will be in serious difficulty and many thousands of jobs could be at risk.

“The government will need to offer additional financial support to help these businesses get back on an even keel – an extension to business rates relief in 2021 is the best place to start.”

04:43 PM

‘Police have done an amazing job,’ says Boris Johnson.

The Telegraph’s Christopher Hope asks how new restrictions will be policed.  

“Police have done an amazing job,” says Boris Johnson. 

04:41 PM

60 per cent of December infections in London are new variant, says Sir Patrick Vallance

Sir Patrick Vallance said that three questions needed to be asked about the new variant of coronavirus; whether it could be transmitted more readily, if it made people sicker, and whether it altered the immune response caused by vaccines.

He said the variant, which was thought to have emerged in mid-September in London or Kent, had a “significant substantial increase in transmissibility”.

Sir Patrick added that by December over 60 per cent of infections in the capital had been the new variant, saying: “It moves fast and is becoming the dominant variant.”

04:40 PM

Latest closures are ‘catastrophic’ for retail

Jace Tyrrell, chief executive at New West End Company, which represents businesses on Oxford Street, Bond Street, Regent Street & Mayfair, said the latest closures were a “huge blow”.

He said: “Today’s announcement, while not completely unprecedented, is a huge blow to London retailers. Whilst trade had picked up over these past few weeks, we had hopes that businesses would have up until Christmas to secure more of their lost sales over the past year.

“While of course reducing infection rates and fighting the virus is of paramount importance, the stop-start approach that the Government has led with so far has been, and will continue to be, catastrophic for businesses, not only in London, but across the country.”

04:37 PM

Boris Johnson said he ‘bitterly regretted'” the changes to the Christmas arrangements

Boris Johnson said he “bitterly regretted” the changes to the Christmas arrangements.

The Prime Minister told a Downing Street news conference: “We, of course, bitterly regret the changes that are necessary but, alas, when the facts change you have to change your approach.

“The briefing that I had yesterday about this mutation of the virus, particularly about the speed of transmission, was not possible to ignore.”

04:37 PM

There was ‘no alternative open to me’, says Boris Johnson

Commenting on changes to Christmas rules, Mr Johnson said that as Prime Minster he believed there was “no alternative open to me”.

He said: “Without action the evidence suggests that infections would soar, hospitals would become overwhelmed and many thousands more would lose their lives.”

04:36 PM

Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale ‘vital that everyone sticks to the restrictions’

Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale, whose constituency North Thanet will enter Tier 4, said: “It is very hard but if we are to enjoy Christmas and at the same time stay safe it is vital that everyone sticks to the restrictions that have been announced this afternoon.

“The alternative will be a truly dangerous and terrible start to 2021.”

04:35 PM

Variant is transmitting faster than the original

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the new restrictions were necessary because of the spread of a variant coronavirus which was transmitting faster than the original.

He told a Downing Street briefing: “It seems that this spread is now being driven by the new variant of the virus that we spoke about earlier this week.

“Our advisers on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) have spent the last few days analysing this new variant – there’s no evidence that it causes more severe illness or higher mortality but it does appear to be passed on significantly more quickly.

“Nervtag early analysis suggests the new variant could increase the R by 0.4 or more and although there is considerable uncertainty it may be up to 70 per cent more transmissible then the old variant.

“This is early data and is subject to review but it is the best that we have at the moment and we have to act on information as we have it because this is now spreading very fast.”

04:34 PM

Prime Minister says 350,000 have received first jab

350,000 people in the UK have so far received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, Mr Johnson said.

04:33 PM

Tiers work in areas with low prevalence of variant

If you have a lower amount of this variant the rate of increase is held by the Tiers but if you have a high rate of the variant the Tiers do not hold the spread, says Chris Whitty. 

04:30 PM

Sacrifice seeing loved ones to protect their lives, says Boris Johnson

The Prime Minister said: “We are sacrificing the chance to see our loved ones this Christmas so we have a better chance of protecting their lives so that we can see them at future Christmases”.

04:29 PM

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to hold a press conference at 5.30pm

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will hold a press conference following a Cabinet meeting about the new mutated strain of coronavirus.

Ms Sturgeon had previously warned “preventative measures” could have to be imposed to stop the “faster spreading strain taking hold”.

Scottish Government ministers met on Saturday afternoon to discuss the discovery by scientists that the new variant coronavirus was spreading more rapidly.

The media briefing is scheduled to begin at 5.30pm, with the First Minister being accompanied by interim chief medical officer Dr Gregor Smith and national clinical director Jason Leitch.

04:28 PM

Shadow minister for mental health Dr Rosena Alin-Khan reacts – Christmas is ‘ruined’

Shadow minister for mental health Dr Rosena Alin-Khan said: “Christmas plans are ruined for families up and down the country because of Government neglect, incompetence and an inability to get on top of this virus.

“Dither and delay has cost lives with more to come. The mental health implications of this will be tragic.” 

04:27 PM

Stay at home and work from home if you can, says Prime Minister

Speaking at a Downing Street briefing on Saturday, he added that people will be asked to stay at home and work from home if they can, not enter or leave Tier 4 areas, not stay away from home overnight and can only meet one person from another household outside in a public space.

04:26 PM

People in Tier 4 not permitted to travel abroad

People in all tiers were advised to “stay local” by the Prime Minister.

Boris Johnson said people should “carefully consider whether they need to travel abroad.”

Those in Tier 4 will not be permitted to travel abroad apart from “limited exceptions”, for example work purposes.

04:25 PM

Christmas cancelled for 20m – everything we know

New Tier 4 restrictions to be placed on large parts of southern England to control Covid, preventing people travelling to other tiers. 

Read our summary of everything we know so far here. 

04:24 PM

Boris Johnson said he has brought in new measures ‘with a very heavy heart’

The Prime Minister said: “I know how much emotion people invest in this time of year, and how important it is, for instance, for grandparents to see their grandchildren, for families to be together.

“So I know how disappointing this will be.

“But we have said throughout this pandemic that we must and we will be guided by the science.

“When the science changes, we must change our response.”

04:23 PM

New variant may be up to 70 per cent more transmissible

The new variant strain of the virus which causes Covid-19 may be up to 70 per cent more transmissible and could increase the R value by 0.4, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

04:23 PM

Cases pass two million in the UK

The total number of lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK has now passed more than two million since the outbreak began, according to the Government’s dashboard.

04:22 PM

All places about to plunge into Tier 4 lockdown

All 32 boroughs plus the City of London South East Berkshire (Bracknell Forest, Reading, Slough, West Berkshire, Windsor and Maidenhead, and Wokingham) Buckinghamshire Gosport, Havant and Portsmouth Hastings and Rother Hertfordshire Kent and Medway Surrey (excluding Waverley) East of England Bedford, Central Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes some local authorities in Essex (Basildon, Braintree, Brentwood, Castle Point, Chelmsford, Epping Forest, Harlow, Maldon, Rochford, Southend-on-Sea and Thurrock) some local authorities in Hertfordshire (Broxbourne, Hertsmere, Three Rivers and Watford) Peterborough. 

Covid rates in London - MSOA map
Covid rates in London – MSOA map

04:20 PM

Boris Johnson cancels Christmas for millions

Boris Johnson has cancelled Christmas for millions of people across London and south-east England after scientists said that a new coronavirus variant is spreading more rapidly.

The Prime Minister announced that from Sunday areas in the South East currently in Tier 3 will be moved into a new Tier 4 – effectively returning to the lockdown rules of November.

Non-essential shops, gyms, cinemas, hairdressers and bowling alleys will be forced to close for two weeks – while people will be restricted to meeting one other person from another household in an outdoor public space.

The rest of England will also see the Christmas “bubble” policy – allowing up to three household to meet up over the holiday period – severely curtailed, applying on Christmas Day only.

04:18 PM

‘We cannot continue with Christmas as planned’, says Boris Johnson

Tier 4 should not mix with anyone outside of their household on Christmas day but support bubbles will remain in place. 

For the other tiers, Christmas rules allowing up to three households will now be limited to Christmas day only rather than five days. 

04:16 PM

New tier 4 announced

  • Residents in areas that enter the new tier 4 must must stay at home.

  • Non essential retail, indoor gyms and personal care services must close.

  • People should not enter or leave tier 4 areas. 

  • People can only meet one person in an outdoor public space. 

04:14 PM

Vaccine will still work on variant

Boris Johnson says there is no evidence to suggest the vaccine would be any less effective. 

04:12 PM

Boris Johnson: Virus spreading more rapidly in London and South East

“It seems that the spread is now being driven by the new variant of the virus,” the Prime Minister says. 

He said there’s no evidence it causes severe illness or higher fatality. 

04:06 PM

Boris about to update the nation

We are waiting for Boris Johnson, Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance to begin their No.10 briefing. 

Follow the latest with us. 

04:02 PM

Cases in London are rising at an alarming rate

How many cases are there in the capital? The Telegraph’s data team has tracked the rise. 

London coronavirus cases chart
London coronavirus cases chart

03:58 PM

Watch Boris Johnson’s press conference live

Follow all the live updates in the video below as the Prime Minister addresses the nation with more lockdown measures expected to be announced. 

03:49 PM

What is the new Covid-19 strain and will it respond to the vaccine?

The Telegraph answers all your questions about the new variant, which was first spotted in late September and it is highly unlikely that this mutation would fail to respond to a vaccine. 

Read the full Q&A here. 

03:38 PM

Coming up: PM to host press conference at 4pm

Boris Johnson is expected to host a press conference at 4pm today with the Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.

We’ll bring you updates as they come.

03:21 PM

NHS England reports 339 more coronavirus deaths

A further 339 people who tested positive for coronavirus have died in hospital in England, NHS England said on Saturday. 

Patients were aged between 44 and 100. All except 13, aged between 64 and 95, had known underlying health conditions.

The deaths were between 5 November and 18 December.

Eighteen other deaths were reported with no positive Covid-19 test result.

The total number of confirmed deaths reported in hospitals to 46,122. The figure is lower than the number of deaths reported by the Office for National Statistics, which includes all deaths in which Covid-19 was mentioned on a death certificate.

03:17 PM

NHS pandemic simulation reveals devastation caused by overwhelmed hospitals

While we wait on Boris Johnson to update the nation on a new set of Christmas coronavirus restrictions, here is a reminder that a pandemic simulation carried out in 2016 once predicted that more than 7,800 additional patients would die every week if hospitals were overwhelmed at the height of a flu pandemic.

The Government documents also warned that hundreds of children would likely die every week, and sheds fresh light on secret plans to “triage” the population, offering treatment based on patients’ chances of survival rather than their clinical need.

Code-named Exercise Cygnus, the Government’s pandemic simulation tested how hospitals and other services would cope in the event of a major flu outbreak with a similar mortality rate to Covid-19.

The papers, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and seen by The Telegraph, show that NHS England officials predicted that even amongst patients without flu, there would be more than 46,800 excess deaths within six weeks if normal hospital services had to be curtailed, following a three-day dry run for a flu pandemic in October 2016.

Read more on this here.

03:11 PM

Tübingen: the German town that controlled coronavirus without a lockdown

As Europe faces the prospect of Christmas under lockdown, a university town in southern Germany is being held up as an example of how the coronavirus can be contained without resorting to such drastic measures.

Tübingen, just south of Stuttgart, has achieved remarkable success in preventing the spread of the virus to the elderly and most vulnerable. Until the past fortnight, the town hadn’t suffered a single case in any of its nine retirement homes since May.

At a time when infections were rising alarmingly among the vulnerable over-75 age group across Germany, Tübingen managed to avoid a single case.

Justin Huggler explains how they did it.

People queue for free rapid testing in Tübingen -  Thomas Niedermueller / Getty
People queue for free rapid testing in Tübingen – Thomas Niedermueller / Getty

03:01 PM

Thailand reports over 500 new coronavirus cases

Thai health authorities reported 516 new cases of coronavirus on Saturday, by far the biggest one-day jump in a country that had previously brought the epidemic largely under control.

The new cases were reported in Samut Sakhon province, where an outbreak has been reported linked to a shrimp market.

Disease Control Department director-general Opas Karnkawinpong told a news conference the new cases were found through testing among migrant workers and there were more cases at hospitals. Most were asymptomatic, he said.

02:48 PM

PM expected to announce tier 4 and tighter Christmas rules

The prime minister is expected to announce a tightening of Covid restrictions and a Tier 4 for London and the South East as well as several other counties.

Tier 4 restrictions may spell an end to Christmas plans, with suggestions that those under the new top tier may be prevented from meeting other households over the holiday.

There are also suggestions that just two households will now be able to meet in the rest of England, rather than the planned three.

Boris Johnson is expected to host a press conference at 4pm today with the Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.

We’ll bring you updates as they come.

02:43 PM

Turkish hospital fire kills 9 Covid-19 patients

An update on our earlier post (see 9:40am): At least nine coronavirus patients have now died after an oxygen tank explosion triggered a fire at a hospital in southeastern Turkey, the health ministry said.

The blaze in an intensive care ward of the hospital in Gaziantep broke out when a tank on an artificial respirator exploded.

“We are profoundly saddened by this tragedy,” Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said before a planned visit to the hospital.

All the victims were patients who had been hospitalised with the coronavirus. Other patients affected by the fire were transferred to other hospitals.

Turkey has recorded more than 1.9 million cases of Covid-19 and more than 17,600 deaths since the pandemic began a year ago.

02:32 PM

Legal battle launched against government for lack of sign language provision during Covid briefings

A woman has launch a battle with equality lawyers Fry Law against the UK Government over their lack of sign language provision during Covid briefings, the Independent has reported.

Katie Rowley, whose first language is BSL is living with the pressure of being pregnant and chronically ill during a pandemic.

Concerns have been raised that many of the scientific briefings lead by Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty, have no BSL provision, excluding up to 80,000 people who have BSL as their primary language.  

She decided to launch a battle with the law firm after discovering she had broken lockdown measures, which she said were not presented in an accessible format due to the lack of BSL interpreters at the conferences.

Both Scotland and Wales have BSL interpreters for their Covid briefings.

02:19 PM

Italians restricted to one outing a day over Christmas lockdown

People in Italy will only be allowed to leave their homes once a day to visit friends or relatives over the Christmas and new year period, and travel between regions is to be banned.

The entire country is to be classified a “red” zone between 21 December and 6 January. Starting from 24 December, bars and restaurants will also be closed.

Giuseppe Conte, the prime minister, said: “Our experts fear that the infection curve will increase during the Christmas period.”

However, the rules will be relaxed on 28, 29 and 30 December, as well as on 4 January, when shops will be able to remain open until 9pm and people will be allowed to move about freely. 

assengers wearing protective masks depart for the Christmas holidays amid a second wave of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic from the Termini railway station, in Rome, Italy - GIUSEPPE LAMI/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
assengers wearing protective masks depart for the Christmas holidays amid a second wave of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic from the Termini railway station, in Rome, Italy – GIUSEPPE LAMI/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

02:01 PM

Drakeford to hold Welsh Cabinet meeting following four nation discussion

Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford said he would chair a meeting of his cabinet later.

He tweeted: “I attended a four nation call earlier today to discuss serious concerns over the spread of a new Covid variant. I will chair a meeting of the @WelshGovernment Cabinet at 2pm today.”

01:59 PM

Santa goes virtual in pandemic hit Spain

An enterprising Santa Claus has given himself the mission of saving Christmas in Spain by sending video messages to children who are unable to meet the man himself this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We thought of doing Zoom, Skype and using new technologies since Santa cannot visit the children’s homes,” said Hector Fuentes, decked out in the classic red suit, white beard and hat of Father Christmas, or “Papa Noel” in Spanish.

Children’s entertainer Fuentes, a Chilean who has been living in Spain for the past decade, has transformed an old shipping container in Leganes, south of Madrid, into a grotto-cum-production studio.

He records personalised messages with the help of his son Andres, who works behind the camera, and his colleague Pilar Carrion, who plays his trusty sidekick elf.

Parents can find Fuentes on social media and send him their children’s letters. Then he and Carrion film a personalised reply from Papa Noel himself.

“When the pandemic arrived all the events we had were cancelled…we had to start from scratch to reinvent ourselves,” said Carrion.

Artist Hector Fuentes, dressed up as Santa Claus, and his companion artist Pilar Carrion, dressed up as an elf in Leganes, near Madrid, Spain - SERGIO PEREZ / REUTERS
Artist Hector Fuentes, dressed up as Santa Claus, and his companion artist Pilar Carrion, dressed up as an elf in Leganes, near Madrid, Spain – SERGIO PEREZ / REUTERS

01:52 PM

UK well stocked on Pfizer jab, company says

This morning  Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary, told the BBC’s Today Programme that the UK’s vaccine roll-out could slow if more vaccine candidates were not approved by the end of the year.

Approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine would make a “massive difference because the doses that we have of the Pfizer vaccine will keep us going until the end of January and I think we’re not getting another shipment until March,” he said.

However there seems to be a misunderstanding around delivery of the Covid-19 vaccine, Pfizer has said in a statement made to The Telegraph:

“Pfizer is aware of reports around the delivery of the Pfizer/ BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine into the UK.

“The deliveries are on track and progressing according to our agreed schedule.

“We can confirm, in accordance with the schedule, that there will be continued deliveries into the UK in early 2021, with shipments scheduled to arrive before March.”

01:32 PM

‘Preventative action may be necessary,’ says Sturgeon on fast-spreading strain

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said “preventative action may be necessary” to halt the spread of the variant strain of the virus.

She tweeted: “Following a 4 nations Covid call earlier, I’ll chair @scotgov Cabinet meeting this afternoon to discuss emerging evidence on new variant.

“Cases currently at lower level in Scotland than UK – but preventative action may be necessary to stop faster spreading strain taking hold.”

01:30 PM

Lunchtime update

Just joining us? Here’s what you need to know:

In the UK…

  • Boris Johnson has called an emergency meeting of his Cabinet today to discuss how to control a fast growing mutated strain of coronavirus.

  • The Prime Minister will also host a last-minute press conference at 4pm  with the Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.

  • One source has suggested that MPs are looking at locking down all transport routes in the south east of England.

  • Meanwhile Professor Chris Whitty has responded to concerns that the new strain may be more virulent. So far there is “no current evidence to suggest the new strain causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments although urgent work is underway to confirm this”, however the World Health Organization has been informed, he said.

  • Approval of the Oxford-AstraZenca vaccine will help speed up crucial vaccination in care homes, experts have said.

Further afield…

  • China will aim to vaccinate all “key groups” – including workers in the cold chain industry, customs, healthcare, markets and public transportation – over the winter and spring period.

  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday urged citizens to follow the example of soldiers posted abroad and celebrate Christmas with video calls to loved ones instead of in-person gatherings.

  • India’s coronavirus tally breached the 10 million mark on Saturday, the world’s second highest, even though the number of new daily cases has fallen sharply since a mid-September peak.

  • Sweden was tightening nationwide coronavirus restrictions by requiring many people to work from home and reducing the number who can gather in restaurants, shops and gyms, starting next week.

01:09 PM

Merkel urges citizens to celebrate Christmas virtually

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday urged citizens to follow the example of soldiers posted abroad and celebrate Christmas with video calls to loved ones instead of in-person gatherings.

“Women and men stationed far away from home to ensure our security know what it means to have limited contact with loved ones,” Ms Merkel said in her weekly video podcast. “They know what it means to only be able to Skype over a long period of time instead of being together.”

01:04 PM

‘No current evidence to suggest the new strain causes a higher mortality rate’: Whitty

Responding to concerns that a new strain of Covid-19 may be spreading rapidly around the south-east of EnglandChief Medical Officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty said:

“As announced on Monday, the UK has identified a new variant of Covid-19 through Public Health England’s genomic surveillance.

“As a result of the rapid spread of the new variant, preliminary modelling data and rapidly rising incidence rates in the South East, the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) now consider that the new strain can spread more quickly.

“We have alerted the World Health Organisation and are continuing to analyse the available data to improve our understanding.

“There is no current evidence to suggest the new strain causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments although urgent work is underway to confirm this.

“Given this latest development it is now more vital than ever that the public continue to take action in their area to reduce transmission.”

01:00 PM

Approval of the Oxford-AstraZenca vaccine will help speed up crucial vaccination in care homes

Approval of the Oxford-AstraZenca vaccine will help speed up crucial vaccination in care homes, an expert said today. 

The Telegraph has exclusively revealed that the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency will authorise the vaccine on December 28 or 29 after final data is provided to the regulator on Monday.

This morning Prof Martin Marshall, the chair of the Royal College of GPs, said that would boost the rollout of the coronavirus vaccination programme in care homes. “At the moment we are dealing with this Pfizer vaccine, which is difficult,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“On the assumption that we are going to get approval for the AstraZeneca vaccine which is much more familiar because it is much more like the flu vaccination, then I think we will be able to roll out at a much faster pace, but certainly over the next few weeks and next couple of months we expect all care homes to be covered.”

Meanwhile, Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary, told the programme: “It will make a massive difference because the doses that we have of the Pfizer vaccine will keep us going until the end of January and I think we’re not getting another shipment until March. 

“So if we could have that Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine ready to go in January then we could keep the roll-out going at its current pace.”

News of the vaccine boost comes as it emerged tougher coronavirus restrictions could be announced as early as today after an initial analysis of a new variant of the virus in England suggested it is “growing faster than the existing variants”.

12:57 PM

Google rolls out free at-home Covid-19 testing for all US employees

Alphabet Inc’s Google said on Friday it is offering free and weekly at-home Covid-19 testing for all its US employees and plans to expand the benefit globally during the next year.

A Google spokesman said the company had rolled out the benefit this week for all 90,000 US employees, with the initiative guaranteeing them a weekly, at-home nasal swab and a lab analysis.

The company is recommending every staffer be tested weekly, although it is not mandatory, the spokesman said.

The news was reported earlier by the Wall Street Journal.

 A pedestrian walks past a building at the Google campus in Mountain View, California, U.S -  David Paul Morris / BLOOMBERG
A pedestrian walks past a building at the Google campus in Mountain View, California, U.S – David Paul Morris / BLOOMBERG

12:46 PM

Coronavirus world news – in pictures

A worker at the El Gran San Shopping Center walks inside a balloon as part of a campaign to maintain physical distance between shoppers during the Christmas season, in Bogota, Colombia

A worker at the El Gran San Shopping Center walks inside a balloon as part of a campaign to maintain physical distance between shoppers during the Christmas season, in Bogota, Colombia - Mauricio Dueñas Castañeda/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
A worker at the El Gran San Shopping Center walks inside a balloon as part of a campaign to maintain physical distance between shoppers during the Christmas season, in Bogota, Colombia РMauricio Due̱as Casta̱eda/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Residents watch through the window as medical workers perform during a Christmas party at Le Gatinais Korian retirement home near Paris, France.

Residents watch through the window as medical workers perform during a Christmas party at Le Gatinais Korian retirement home (Ehpad - Housing Establishment for Dependent Elderly People) amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Maisse near Paris France - GONZALO FUENTES / REUTERS
Residents watch through the window as medical workers perform during a Christmas party at Le Gatinais Korian retirement home (Ehpad – Housing Establishment for Dependent Elderly People) amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Maisse near Paris France – GONZALO FUENTES / REUTERS

Batman and Transformer’s Bumblebee stand on the facade of a children’s hospital in Malaga, Spain, to bring cheer to sick children during the coronavirus pandemic

Batman and Transformer's Bumblebee stand on the facade of a maternity hospital in Malaga and greets the children through the windows. Superheroes have visited the children from the outside -  Lorenzo Carnero/ZUMA Wire/Shutterstock
Batman and Transformer’s Bumblebee stand on the facade of a maternity hospital in Malaga and greets the children through the windows. Superheroes have visited the children from the outside – Lorenzo Carnero/ZUMA Wire/Shutterstock

12:42 PM

MPs hold emergency talks to discuss evolving UK’s Covid situation

UK cabinet ministers are set to hold talks at 1pm today as coronavirus infections continue to rise in England with only days to go until the easing of restrictions for Christmas.

It follows an unscheduled meeting called by Boris Johnson on Friday evening to discuss how to tackle the spread of a new strain of Covid-19

12:38 PM

Iran extends coronavirus restrictions ahead of Yalda festival

Shop closures and traffic restrictions in Iran will begin earlier on Saturday in an effort to avert a resurgence of coronavirus infections and deaths as Iranians prepare for the Yalda Night winter festival, authorities reported.

“Let’s not gather, so we don’t become fewer,” President Hassan Rouhani said in televised remarks on Saturday, urging Iranians not to hold extended family gatherings on Yalda Night, or Shab-e Yalda.

This year, the ancient winter solstice celebration falls on Sunday night. Families traditionally celebrate until the early hours of the morning, reciting poems, singing and eating nuts, dried fruits, watermelon, pomegranates and persimmon.

Shops were ordered to close two hours earlier, from 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi announced on state television. A traffic curfew was brought forward an hour to 8 p.m. until 4 a.m.

The Health Ministry said on Saturday that 175 people had died over the past 24 hours, the lowest daily death toll since September 19. It said to date a total of 53,448 people had died from the coronavirus and 1,152,072 had been infected in Iran, the Middle East’s worst hit country.

Coronavirus Iran Spotlight Chart - Cases default
Coronavirus Iran Spotlight Chart – Cases default

12:23 PM

French President Macron’s condition is ‘stable’, presidency says

French President Emmanuel Macron’s condition is stable and the results of a medical examination reassuring, the French presidency said on Saturday in an update on his bout of coronavirus.

“The medical condition of the president is stable compared with … Friday. He presents similar Covid-19 symptoms which do not prevent him from fulfilling his obligations,” the presidency said in a statement.

Macron said on Friday he was doing fine a day after testing positive for Covid-19, but was working at a slower pace than usual outside Paris. 

Taken yesterday, French President Emmanuel Macron speaks from his residence in Versailles, France, where he is isolating - @EmmanuelMacron
Taken yesterday, French President Emmanuel Macron speaks from his residence in Versailles, France, where he is isolating – @EmmanuelMacron

12:13 PM

England’s new virus strain ‘a real cause for concern’, expert warns

Jeremy Farrar, the director of the Wellcome Trust has said the new strain of coronavirus found in the England is “worrying and a real cause for concern and extra caution.”

The mutation could cause the pandemic to enter a “less predictable phase”, he wrote on Twitter.

12:02 PM

Shadow health secretary calls on PM to update coronavirus action plan

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth has called on Boris Johnson to set out how he intends to stem the spread of coronavirus in an address to the nation.

“It has been apparent for some days that the virus is again out of control in parts of the country. The Government’s tiered system has failed to stem its spread,” he said in a statement.

“This is an incredibly serious moment and people are worried. The Prime Minister has refused to take action to limit the virus’ spread over Christmas. All he has offered so far is confusion and indecision.

“He must now address the nation to explain what action he will be taking.”

11:50 AM

Second coronavirus wave hits Africa

A second wave of Covid-19 cases has hit several major sub-Saharan African nations, as anxiety grows that the continent will be left behind in the global race to stockpile coronavirus vaccines.

The continent of more than 1.1 billion people dodged the apocalyptic, mass death scenarios many Western experts predicted at the beginning of this year. 

Sub-Saharan Africa has recorded about 25,000 confirmed deaths and 1.6m cases, a fraction of the world’s caseload. 

Experts say this was primarily due to the lockdown measures put in place by African governments and the fact that Africans tend to be much younger, fitter and more rural than the average Italian or American.

But officials across Africa are now bracing for what looks like an avalanche of infections. Last week, coronavirus cases and deaths went up 40 per cent in the region, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). 

Will Brown has more here.

11:40 AM

China to vaccinate ‘key groups’ over winter-spring period

China will aim to vaccinate all “key groups” – including workers in the cold chain industry, customs, healthcare, markets and public transportation – over the winter and spring period, a senior health official told a briefing on Saturday.

China will use the vaccination programme to build a “group shield” that will give active immunity to the public, said Zeng Yixin, vice minister of China’s National Health Commission and the director of the working group in charge of vaccine research and development.

Zeng Yixin, vice minister of China's National Health Commission - Mark Schiefelbein / AP 
Zeng Yixin, vice minister of China’s National Health Commission – Mark Schiefelbein / AP

11:31 AM

Global initiative to get vaccines for world’s poorest secures 2bn doses

The global alliance set up to ensure that poorer countries do not miss out on Covid-19 vaccines is set to begin distributing doses at the beginning of next year, it confirmed on Friday.

The Covax initiative – established by the World Health Organization, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi) – said it has reached its target of securing two billion doses of various coronavirus vaccines.

While there is a long way to go – the initiative continues to need around $6.8bn for distribution and to fund further vaccine development – the news suggests that fears that the developing world would be left behind in the scramble for a vaccine may yet prove overblown.

Read more.

11:22 AM

Sweden adopts more restrictions as virus cases rise

Sweden was tightening nationwide coronavirus restrictions by requiring many people to work from home and reducing the number who can gather in restaurants, shops and gyms, starting next week.

However the government has decided against ordering the country’s first full lockdown to control a recent spike in virus cases, Stefan Lofven, Prime Minister of Sweden, said on Friday.

Sweden has stood out among European nations for its comparatively hands-off response to the pandemic.

Read more.

11:11 AM

India passes grim milestone of 10 million coronavirus infections

India’s coronavirus tally breached the 10 million mark on Saturday, the world’s second highest, even though the number of new daily cases has fallen sharply since a mid-September peak.

It reported 25,152 new infections and 347 deaths in the past 24 hours, data from the health ministry showed. The virus has so far killed 145,136 people in the country.

After hitting a peak of nearly 98,000 cases in September, daily cases are now down to an average of 27,000. 

An Indian medical official collects a swab sample from a person for a coronavirus, COVID-19 disease test in Bangalore, India -  JAGADEESH NV/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
An Indian medical official collects a swab sample from a person for a coronavirus, COVID-19 disease test in Bangalore, India – JAGADEESH NV/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

10:39 AM

New mutation in South East could mean tougher restrictions

Tougher coronavirus restrictions could be announced on Saturday after an initial analysis of a new variant of the virus in England suggested it is “growing faster than the existing variants”.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed this week that its numbers “are increasing rapidly”.

It prompted Boris Johnson to call an unscheduled meeting of senior ministers on Friday night to discuss how to contain the new variant, which has largely been confined to London and the South East.

Experiments on the new strain have confirmed ministers’ fears about it being far more infectious than the original strain.

Much of the South East was put into Tier 3 by the Government on Thursday, but the new information about the transmissibility of the mutant strain is so worrying that ministers fear they may have to act immediately.

Travel restrictions are among the measures under discussion, with one source suggesting the Government could restrict travel between the South East and other parts of the country.

An alternative would be to ban commuters from travelling to London, after the mutant strain, which originated in Kent, spread rapidly to London and then the home counties.

10:31 AM

Italy announces Christmas lockdown

Italy has ordered a nationwide lockdown over much of the Christmas and New Year period in an effort to combat a rise in coronavirus cases.

The country will be under “red-zone” restrictions over the public holidays, with non-essential shops, restaurants and bars closed, and Italians only allowed to travel for work, health and emergency reasons.

Limited home visits will be allowed.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said it was “not an easy decision”.

“Our experts were seriously worried that there would be a jump in cases over Christmas… We therefore had to act,” he said in a news conference.

Italy has recorded the highest Covid death toll in Europe, with close to 68,000 fatalities.

Read more.

10:14 AM

Chilean President caught out by coronavirus rules

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera was slapped with a $3,500 fine on Friday after posing for a selfie on the beach with a bystander without wearing a mask as required during the coronavirus pandemic, health authorities said.

Chile has strict rules on mask wearing in all public places and violations are punishable with sanctions that include fines and even jail terms.

Pinera apologized then turned himself in shortly after the selfie surfaced on social media in early December.

The president explained he had been walking alone along the beach near his home in the posh Chilean seaside town of Cachagua when a woman recognized him and asked for a photo together.

09:52 AM

Switzerland authorises Pfizer vaccine

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has been authorised for use in Switzerland following a two-month rolling review, the Swissmedic regulatory authority said Saturday.

“After a meticulous review of the available information, Swissmedic concluded that the Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer/BioNTech is safe and that its benefit outweighs the risks,” the body said in a statement.

It is the first vaccine against the new coronavirus that has been authorised for use in the wealthy Alpine nation.

“The safety of patients is an essential prerequisite, especially where the authorisation of vaccines is concerned,” said Swissmedic director Raimund Bruhin.

“Thanks to the rolling procedure and our flexibly organised teams, we nevertheless managed to reach a decision quickly – while also fully satisfying the three most important requirements of safety, efficacy and quality.”

Switzerland, population 8.6 million, has secured around 15.8 million Covid-19 vaccine doses, in deals with three manufacturers.

It has signed contracts for around three million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, around 7.5 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine, and around 5.3 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

09:40 AM

Hospital fire kills 8 Covid-19 patients at ICU in Turkey

A fire broke out Saturday at an intensive care unit treating Covid-19 patients in southern Turkey after an oxygen cylinder exploded, killing eight people, state-run media reported.

The Anadolu news agency said the fire took place at the privately-run Sanko University Hospital unit in Gaziantep. It cited a hospital statement identifying the victims as being between 56 and 85. The fire was quickly brought under control.

The statement said 14 patients undergoing intensive care treatment were transferred to other hospitals. An investigation was underway.

The provincial governor’s office later said 19 patients were in the unit when a “high pressure oxygen device” exploded at 4:45 a.m.. Other than the fatalities, no others were injured in the fire, it sad.

Intensive care units across Turkey currently have a 74% bed occupancy rate due to the coronavirus outbreak, according to government figures, although medical associations say the figure is higher and their hospitals are overrun with Covid-19 patients.

09:22 AM

Scramble for PPE during first wave left supplies open to thieves

PPE heading for Britain was at risk of being stolen as it travelled through Asia at the height of the pandemic, ministers were warned.

Suppliers have told this newspaper they warned government officials vital equipment could be siphoned off and sold to other countries and firms if it came on indirect flights via the Middle East, Thailand and Vietnam.

Officials subsequently advised suppliers to only use British Airways or Virgin Atlantic flights out of China due to piracy fears, as they flew directly to Britain instead.

Read more.

09:14 AM

Care homes to benefit most from AstraZeneca vaccine approval

The Royal College of GPs chair Professor Martin Marshall has said it will speed up the rollout of the coronavirus vaccination programme in care homes if the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is approved by regulators.

“At the moment we are dealing with this Pfizer vaccine, which is difficult,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“On the assumption that we are going to get approval for the AstraZeneca vaccine which is much more familiar because it is much more like the flu vaccination, then I think we will be able to roll out at a much faster pace, but certainly over the next few weeks and next couple of months we expect all care homes to be covered.”

09:02 AM

Government ‘difficult, finely-balanced judgement’ on whether to strengthen the coronavirus rules.

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said the Government faces a “very difficult, finely-balanced judgment” on whether to strengthen the coronavirus rules.

Mr Hunt, who now chairs the Commons Health and Social Care Committee, said that if ministers did not want to change the law they should consider strengthening the guidance on social-distancing.

“It is a very difficult, finely-balanced judgment. The biggest worry is what happens indoor in family gatherings and that’s where the risks do increase,” he told the BBC Radio 4 programme.

“They have to respond to what is happening on the ground. I think they can be clearer about what is and isn’t advisable because it would be an enormous tragedy if we had a spike in deaths at the end of January/February because we took our foot off the pedal this close to having a vaccine.”

Mr Hunt said it was on a “knife-edge” whether a third national lockdown would be needed after Christmas.

“Looking at the numbers it is difficult to judge at the moment because in the North East and the North West although infection levels are going up they are still much lower than they have been, and the second strain of the virus doesn’t seem to have spread as much in the North as it has in the South. I would say at the moment it is on a knife-edge.”

08:51 AM

Canada reviews Moderna vaccine

anada’s health regulator said it expects to complete its review of the Moderna mRNA coronavirus vaccine in the coming weeks, according to Reuters.

“There is still information and data to be provided by Moderna for review,” the regulator said in a statement, published after the US Food and Drug Administration approved its emergency use on Friday.

Health Canada said it cannot provide a definite timeline for the vaccine approval but expects the process to be completed in the coming weeks.

Canada on Tuesday also announced an agreement to receive early deliveries of the Moderna vaccine amid a surge of new cases that are forcing new health restrictions across the country.

Last week Canada’s health ministry had approved Pfizer Inc’s vaccine , developed with Germany’s BioNTech SE.

08:37 AM

Christmas dinner presents the “perfect conditions” for coronavirus to spread

Christmas dinner presents the “perfect conditions” for coronavirus to spread, an expert has warned.

Professor Stephen Reicher, a social psychologist from the University of St Andrews, told Times Radio: “Christmas is a gift to the virus. If you want the perfect conditions for the spread of virus it would be to be indoors, somewhere that wasn’t well ventilated, somewhere which was crowded, somewhere where there’s alcohol so that we forget our inhibitions and that describes perfectly the Christmas dinner.”

Prof Reicher, who sits on the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (SPI-B), which advises the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), added: “Of course we don’t want to give gifts to this virus, we want to look after ourselves and the best way of doing that, I think, is sadly to postpone if we can.

“I recognise that for some families it does make sense to meet up, I mean, if you’ve got an elderly relative who might not see another Christmas or somebody who’s suffering greatly there will be exceptions.

“But if we turn the exception into the rule and if many people meet, then we really are heading towards a disaster.”

He argued that people meeting over the five days of relaxed measures over Christmas was “too long” and that the mixing of households from different areas across the country could “relaunch the pandemic”.

08:21 AM

Infection numbers rise at Thai seafood market

Thailand has nine new local coronavirus infections, the biggest one-day rise in local transmissions in more than seven months, health officials said on Saturday.

The nine cases are connected to a shrimp market in Samut Sakhon province, near Bangkok, where four infections were reported on Friday, officials told a briefing.

The cases started with a 67-year-old woman, who sells shrimp in the market, who was confirmed to have the infection before three of her family also tested positive.

Members of the fire department spray disinfectant at a shrimp wholesale market in Samut Sakhon, Thailand - DIEGO AZUBEL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Members of the fire department spray disinfectant at a shrimp wholesale market in Samut Sakhon, Thailand – DIEGO AZUBEL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Taweesin Wisanuyothin, a spokesman for Thailand’s Covid-19 taskforce, said there is no need for a lockdown yet but steps will be taken if cases keep rising.

“If the number of cases won’t come down tomorrow or the day after and become a cluster with unfound origins, we will choose measures from light to strong to handle it,” he said.

Local cases have largely been found in people observing quarantine after having been in close contact with an infected person. Most of Thailand’s recent cases have been imported.

08:09 AM

WHO was warned of fallout over removed Italy report

An author of a withdrawn World Health Organisation report into Italy’s coronavirus response warned his bosses in May that people could die and the UN agency could suffer “catastrophic” reputational damage if it allowed political concerns to suppress the document, according to emails seen by The Associated Press.

The comprehensive report examined how the Italian government and health system reacted after the country became the epicentre of the European outbreak in late February – with real-time data and case studies of what worked and what didn’t aimed at helping other countries prepare as the virus spread.

The agency took it down a day after it was posted on its website, prompting the official who coordinated the work to appeal directly to WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on May 28 and warn that the report’s disappearance was undermining WHO’s credibility. He cautioned that any further attempts at censorship would compromise the agency’s independence and its relations with donor nations that funded the research.

Concerns over the missing report have grown in recent weeks, fueling criticism of WHO’s leadership of the global response to the pandemic that led the agency to agree to an independent probe of its performance.

RELATED NEWS: WHO accused of burying report about Italy’s coronavirus mismanagement

07:49 AM

Gondolas offer socially distanced movie experience

People on gondolas watch a movie at a floating cinema in Venice Grand Canal Mall, Taguig City in Manila - REUTERS/Lisa Marie David
People on gondolas watch a movie at a floating cinema in Venice Grand Canal Mall, Taguig City in Manila – REUTERS/Lisa Marie David

In Manila, some moviegoers in the Philippines capital are tired of lengthy Covid restrictions so they are opting for a taste of Venice – bobbing in front of the big screen in socially distanced gondolas.

Gondoliers in striped uniforms steer and position each boat in an outdoor canal to watch full-length films, a rare chance to visit the cinema after nine months of lockdowns.

“Riding a boat made it a unique experience,” patron Violet Gatchalian told Reuters at the Venice Grand Canal-themed shopping mall in Manila.

People on a gondola watch a movie  - REUTERS/Lisa Marie David
People on a gondola watch a movie – REUTERS/Lisa Marie David

With more than 456,000 infections and 8,875 deaths, the Philippines is South-East Asia’s hardest-hit country after Indonesia.

The government started gradually reopening the economy in June, but most non-essential businesses remain shut – in Manila, the gondola cinema and a drive-through theatre are the only movie venues.

The gondolier - REUTERS/Lisa Marie David
The gondolier – REUTERS/Lisa Marie David

Gondola moviegoers sit two to a boat, with up to 10 guests per screening and boats are kept metres apart. Admission is 500 pesos (£7.40), roughly the minimum daily wage in the capital.

Guests bring their own earphones and listen to audio broadcast at a radio frequency available only to those aboard the gondolas.

07:17 AM

Strict lockdown for Sydney’s northern beaches

Around a quarter of a million people in Sydney’s northern beach suburbs were ordered on Saturday into a strict lockdown until midnight on Wednesday in an effort to contain a coronavirus cluster that authorities fear may spread across the city.

Public health message
Public health message

Authorities will on Sunday announce whether further restrictions will be imposed on the rest of Sydney, Australia’s most populous city.

The outbreak now totals 39, with two additional cases still under investigation. Authorities do not know the origin, which genome testing suggests is a US strain of the virus.

Until this week, Australia had gone more than two weeks without any local transmission and lifted the majority of restrictions ahead of Christmas. The Sydney outbreak prompted states and territories to reimpose border restrictions, sending holiday travel plans for thousands into chaos.

The Sydney lockdown will mean people in the designated area will only be allowed to leave home for one of four essential reasons: grocery shopping, work, compassionate grounds including emergency medical treatment, or visiting an isolated relative.

07:09 AM

Archbishop urges church caution at Christmas

People who are at higher risk of complications from Covid-19 should avoid going to Christmas church services in person and watch them online instead, the Archbishop of Canterbury said.

Places of worship have been allowed to open in all tiers since December 2 and, between December 23 and 27, worshippers can attend services with members of their Christmas bubble.

Services, including Christingle and Midnight Masses, can be held as long as social distancing requirements are met.

Speaking to The Times, the Most Reverend Justin Welby was asked about Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s request for people to “think hard” about what they do over Christmas.

“I would say, yes, go to church,” he said.

“Or go online. If you’re vulnerable, if you’re more at risk, then it’s going to have to be online.”

07:07 AM

Shipping containers of surplus PPE moved to railway station

Thousands of shipping containers of surplus Personal Protective Equipment have been moved to railway stations after blocking up ports, it has emerged. 

Photographs published on social media revealed thousands of containers of PPE had been deposited next to the rural railway station of Melton in Suffolk.

The PPE had been reportedly transported from the UK’s busiest container port, Felixstowe. 

Further images taken by ITV news show that the several thousand shipping containers containing masks, gloves and aprons were transported from Felixstowe to the Port of Tilbury, arousing concerns that the Government over-ordered and overpaid for the medical gear.  

READ MORE: Thousands of shipping containers of surplus PPE moved to railway station after blocking up ports

04:48 AM

HK police launch manhunt for escaped Covid patient

Hong Kong authorities are searching for a Covid-19 patient who escaped one of the city’s largest hospitals while undergoing treatment, according to health officials.

The 63-year old man, identified as patient 7379, was admitted to the isolation ward of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital on December 14 after it was confirmed he had coronavirus.

Read the full story here.

03:25 AM

Severe shortage of hospital beds in South Korea

A man has a Covid test at a site temporarily set up at City Hall Plaza in Seoul, South Korea - REUTERS/Heo Ran
A man has a Covid test at a site temporarily set up at City Hall Plaza in Seoul, South Korea – REUTERS/Heo Ran

South Korea’s Covid-19 surge continued on Saturday, with a lack of hospital beds raising concerns in a country that has kept fatalities low despite a third wave of the disease.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 1,053 infections, a record fourth consecutive day of more than 1,000 cases.

South Korea has recorded 659 deaths out of 48,570 infections, a comparatively low mortality rate attributed to aggressive tracing and testing for much of the year, which minimised the strain on hospitals, allowing them to focus on seriously ill patients.

The mitigation efforts made the country a global success story when many nations saw soaring infections, prompting wide lockdowns.

But the recent surge – stemming from widespread clusters rather than the large, isolated outbreaks of the first two waves – has caused a severe shortage of hospital beds.

RELATED NEWS: ‘Our back is against the wall’: South Korea considers lockdown amid brutal third Covid-19 wave

Only four critical-care beds were available as of Friday in greater Seoul, an area with almost 26 million people, data showed.

Six people with Covid have died in South Korea this month waiting for beds, and hundreds cannot get admitted as infections overload the health system, officials and media said on Friday.

The number of severely ill patients reached 275 on Saturday, up from 97 on December 1.

The South Korean Government has expressed concern about some religious establishments preparing for year-end events and gatherings ahead of Christmas and asked that they strictly follow state-mandated disease-control measures - Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
The South Korean Government has expressed concern about some religious establishments preparing for year-end events and gatherings ahead of Christmas and asked that they strictly follow state-mandated disease-control measures – Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

Despite the surge, the government has refrained from raising social distancing restrictions to the highest level, which would mean ordering 1.2 million business to suspend operations.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said on Friday that “social consensus” would be necessary for such a move, given the burden on businesses.

03:05 AM

China aims for winter-spring vaccinations

China will aim to vaccinate all “key groups” – including workers in the cold chain industry, customs, healthcare, markets and public transport – over winter and spring, a senior health official told a briefing on Saturday.

The country will use the vaccination programme to build a “group shield” that will give active immunity to the public, said Zeng Yixin, vice-minister of China’s National Health Commission and the director of the working group in charge of vaccine research and development.

02:08 AM

US gives Moderna’s Covid vaccine green light for emergency use

Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine on Friday became the second to receive emergency use authorisation from the US Food and Drug Administration, welcome news to a nation with a staggering Covid-19 death toll of more than 307,000.

The biotech company has worked with the US government to prepare for the distribution of 5.9 million shots as early as this weekend.

The FDA decision is based on results from a late-stage study of 30,000 volunteers that found the vaccine was nearly 95 per cent effective at preventing illness from Covid-19 with no serious safety concerns.

“Authorisation of Moderna’s vaccine means we can accelerate the vaccination of frontline healthcare workers and Americans in long-term care facilities, and, ultimately, bring a faster end to this pandemic,” US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said.

READ MORE: Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine approved for emergency use in the United States

01:34 AM

Today’s top stories

Source Article

Next Post

Historic Louisiana hurricane season leaves people homeless for the holidays

Sat Dec 19 , 2020
LAKE CHARLES, La. – Heading into the Christmas holiday, people in Lake Charles are still recovering from not one, but two major storms: Hurricane Laura devastated the area in August and just six weeks later Hurricane Delta followed suit.  According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), more than 1,000 people are […]