11.56am GMT

New 11th hour restrictions introduced at midnight last night for millions of people in London and parts of the south east of England appear to have large-scale support, polling by YouGov has found.

Pippa Crerar

New ⁦@YouGov⁩ poll shows public overwhelmingly support new Tier 4 (74% vs 17%) and Christmas restrictions (67% vs 25%) *but* vast majority also think handling of changes has been a shambles. pic.twitter.com/cKcuLPtjJ8

December 20, 2020

Londoners and young Britons are less supportive, although most still back the new rules, according to the polling.

11.43am GMT

Trucks and planes loaded with doses of Moderna Inc’s Covid-19 vaccine are expected on Sunday to leave warehouses en route for healthcare facilities around the United States in a push to distribute the second approved Covid-19 vaccine there.

The distribution of Moderna’s vaccine to more than 3,700 locations in the United States will vastly widen the US rollout started last week by Pfizer.

The US government plans to deliver 5.9 million Moderna shots and 2 million Pfizer shots this week. But an ambitious target to get 20 million Americans started with their first shot of the two dose vaccine regimen before the end of the year could slip into the first week of January, US Army General Gustave Perna told reporters on Saturday.

11.30am GMT

The new Covid-19 variant was initially identified in a patient in September while further results of tests from them were returned in October, according to an expert advising the government.

Dr Susan Hopkins, Public Health England, told Sky News: “Even then there was nothing to particularly highlight that this was something of major concern as variants come and go.”

In late November, health officials were attempting to understand why parts of northern Kent were not reducing their infections even though major restrictions were in place.
Investigations found there was a cluster that was rapidly spreading, which was called a “variant of interest.”

They found it was spreading into London and Essex and informed the government of this last Friday week. She said they found this week – “with all evidence stacking up” – that the variant was much more transmittable, and the government was informed on Friday.

“We were talking to the government on a daily basis. The results of the modelling on transmissibility all summarised an present on Friday morning by a number of different groups around the country doing that.

That was the first time where all of the evidence came together for New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Group (NERVTAG) to take into account.

Asked how the prime minister could have continued to insist that Christmas could go ahead with lesser restrictions in place, Dr Hopkins said that the evidence was not available last Wednesday to prove that the transmissibility or ‘R value [reproductive rate] was increased.

As well as England, the strain has been detected in Scotland and Wales but not yet in Northern Ireland. It has been detected outside of the UK in Denmark and South Africa, she added.

at 11.35am GMT

11.09am GMT

Scotland now appears to have the harshest ongoing restrictions of any part of the UK, with near-lockdown level 4 restrictions right across its mainland area for three weeks from Boxing Day and nurseries and schools not set to re-open for the majority of children until January 18.

In England, schools return from January 11 and there will be a fortnightly review of restrictions. From memory, Scotland had the toughest restrictions in the UK in early October, when hospitality closures compounded an indoor visiting ban across the central belt, just before the October school holiday circuit-breaker was imposed in Wales.

The Scottish Government flagged the update on twitter earlier

ScotGov Childcare

Nurseries and all other childcare providers across Scotland should only open to key worker and vulnerable children from Boxing Day until at least 18 Jan. We are meeting sector reps on Monday morning to discuss impacts and will publish guidance ASAP.

December 20, 2020

11.06am GMT

Extra police deployed to enforce new travel rules

Extra police are being deployed in London and in other areas of England’s south east to try to ensure only people who need to make essential journeys are doing so

They are also expected to be involved in the enforcement of new restrictions meaning that people cannot travel outside of London and areas of the south east of England which have been placed in a new ‘Tier 4’ category.

The UK government minister with responsibility for travel, Grant Shapps, said: “If you are in Tier 4, the law means you must stay at home and you cannot stay overnight away from home. Across the rest of the country, you must stay local.

“Follow the guidance and please do not come to a station unless you are permitted to travel. Extra BTP officers are being deployed to ensure only those who need to take essential journeys can travel safely.”

This was the scene last night meanwhile as throngs of travellers congregated at London’s St Pancras train station as they sought to flee the city before it was placed in a new highest tier of restrictions at midnight.

Swaths of south-east England were placed in the new highest tier as Boris Johnson abandoned attempts to relax Covid restrictions over Christmas to counter a highly infectious new strain of the virus. The announcement prompted a rush on London train stations

London’s St Pancras station packed as travellers flee tier 4 restrictions on Saturday – video

10.47am GMT

Francois Balloux, a geneticist at University College London, has been sketching out some thoughts on Twitter about the new Covid-19 strains identified in the UK, South Africa and elsewhere.

He cautions that his comments are very much preliminary, and new data is essential, but I think his comments are very much worth reading for those who would like to know more about the potential science behind the new variant.

Prof Francois Balloux

1. The two lineages increased in frequency following a major founder effect. They were at the right time in the right place (i.e. major ‘super spreader’ event), and are not necessarily intrinsically more transmissible.

December 20, 2020

10.30am GMT

Police in Scotland has said they will use enforcement “as a last resort” after the head of the devolved government in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, announced a strict ban on cross-border travel to others parts of the UK as part of a tightening of festive rules yesterday.

Cross-border travel has been banned for several weeks, other than in exceptional circumstances – but the expectation was that it would be relaxed over the five-day window.

But on Saturday Sturgeon made it clear that she would be maintaining “a strict travel ban between Scotland and the rest of the UK. This will remain in place throughout the festive period. We simply cannot risk more of this strain entering the country if we can possibly avoid it”.

Assistant chief constable Alan Speirs said: “The vast majority of the public have been complying and so the policing approach we adopted from the outset will not change. Our officers will continue to engage with the public, explain the legislation and guidance, and encourage compliance. We will use enforcement as a last resort.”

10.28am GMT

Rumours which have been swirling around on social media that a new variant of Covid-19 is more transmissible among children have not been helpful, according to a senior health expert and advisor to the Scottish government who said she was unaware of data to support the claims

Devi Sridhar, Chair of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, said the rumours were probably driven by data from Britain’s Office of National Statistics (ONS) about the growing number of infections in schools.

“I think we need to divide kids under 12, which we know generally have not transmitted that well between each other – we haven’t seen many outbreaks in nurseries and primary schools – and secondary schools where children are very much like adults,” she told Sky News

Schools needed to be kept open as much as possible, she added, and the way to do that was to keep community prevalence low.

10.10am GMT

South Korea reported a record 1,097 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, including an outbreak in a Seoul prison that infected 188 as the country’s latest wave of COVID-19 worsens.

With daily infections over 1,000 for a fifth consecutive day, some medical experts and politicians criticised the government for being too loose with social distancing rules.

South Korea’s aggressive tracing and testing early in the pandemic had made the country a global success story when many nations saw soaring infections, prompting wide lockdowns.

But the recent surge – stemming mostly from widespread clusters rather than the large, isolated outbreaks of the previous waves – has confounded efforts to contain it and the country is now running short of hospital beds.

Citizens line up to receive coronavirus tests at a makeshift clinic in Seoul, South Korea. Photograph: YONHAP/EPA

9.54am GMT

US Congress to vote on Covid-19 aid package

The US Congress appears poised to vote on a $900bn coronavirus aid package after senators struck a late-night compromise to clear one of the final hurdles: a dispute over Federal Reserve pandemic lending authorities.

The Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, said late on Saturday: “If things continue on this path and nothing gets in the way, we’ll be able to vote tomorrow.”

Congressional leaders plan to attach the coronavirus aid package – which includes $600 direct payments to individuals and a $300 a week unemployment compensation supplement – to a $1.4tn spending bill funding government programs through to September 2021.

A 48-hour funding extension expires at midnight on Sunday, after which the government would shut down.

9.40am GMT

Facebook has taken down content that spread lies in Israel against coronavirus vaccinations as the government seeks to drum up support for the programme, the Justice Ministry said on Sunday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday became the first person to be vaccinated in Israel. Opinion polls show some two-thirds of the public want to follow suit.

The Justice Ministry said that, at its request, Facebook took down four groups at the weekend that had disseminated texts, photographs and videos with “deliberately mendacious content designed to mislead about coronavirus vaccines”.

A Facebook spokeswoman confirmed that four Hebrew-language groups had been taken down as part of the company’s policy against “spreading misinformation regarding the vaccines”.

Israeli officials say the country has enough vaccines on order by year’s end to protect the most vulnerable 20% of the population and then lift some coronavirus curbs, but worry that turnout might be dampened if people get false information about the innoculations.

Israeli Prime Minister Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waits to receive a coronavirus vaccine at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel on Saturday, Dec. 19. Photograph: Amir Cohen/AP

at 10.11am GMT

9.32am GMT

The decision of thousands of people to leave London and the south east of England, the hotspot of a new Covid-19 variant, and travel to other parts of the coutry was “absolutely irresponsible,” according to Britain’s health minister.

“The chief medical officer was absolutely clear that people should unpack their bags,” said Health Secretary Matt Hancock, referring to a plea for people to stay in London rather than dashing out of the city before new restrictions came into place at midnight.

Hancock said there would be a new vote in January parliament on the new Tier 4 restrictions.

On vaccines, he said that the numbers of people being vaccinated were rising and 350,000 had been given their first dose as of 8am on Saturday.

By the end of the weekend, the government planned to have reached something around the half a million mark.

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