4.12am GMT

Singapore bans entry from UK, including transit

The new Covid variant in the UK is causing problems well beyond European countries imposing restrictions on entry from Britain.

Singapore has banned entry from the UK from Wednesday night, which has significant implications for anyone who has flights booked through that destination as a stopping point to another country, like Australia.

Australia’s high commission in London said flights through Hong Kong had also been affected, according to the ABC.

Singapore’s ministry of health said passengers with recent travel to the United Kingdom would not be allowed entry into Singapore from 11.59pm on Wednesday 23 December until further notice.

The ministry of health website said:

“All long-term pass holders and short-term visitors with recent travel history to the UK within the last 14 days will not be allowed entry into Singapore, or transit through Singapore. This will also apply to all those who had obtained prior approval for entry into Singapore.”

Re returning citizens and permanent residents…

“Returning SCs and PRs will be required to undergo a COVID-19 PCR test upon arrival in Singapore, at the start of their 14-day SHN.”

at 4.22am GMT

3.55am GMT

Austria’s ski lifts may be operating but as the country struggles to control coronavirus infections, the sector expects a subdued season – and migrant workers who depend on it face an uncertain winter.

AFP reports that in a normal year they would be part of one of Europe’s largest seasonal labour migrations.

In western Austria’s Tyrol province alone, more than 31,000 foreign workers are needed when its 80 ski resorts are in full swing, according to one estimate.

But events in Ischgl, the village that became one of Europe’s first major coronavirus clusters, explain why many of those workers are now unemployed.

Around 6,000 tourists claim to have carried the virus home from there.

AFP interviewed workers from Germany, Italy, Croatia and Slovakia, some of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared risking future employment.

3.26am GMT

In a rare moment of unity, Democratic House speaker Nancy Pelosi has agreed with Donald Trump’s call for $2,000 stimulus cheques to be sent out.

Nancy Pelosi

Republicans repeatedly refused to say what amount the President wanted for direct checks. At last, the President has agreed to $2,000 — Democrats are ready to bring this to the Floor this week by unanimous consent. Let’s do it! https://t.co/Th4sztrpLV

December 23, 2020

3.14am GMT

Peru surpassed 1 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus, health officials said on Tuesday, as concerns about a potential second wave of infections began to grow in the hard-hit Andean nation.

The country has also recorded 37,218 deaths, according to a daily briefing on the pandemic.

Reuters reports that the daily tally of new cases in Peru has fallen sharply in recent months, from a peak of 10,000 cases per day at the end of August to around 1,000 new infections on Monday.

Pedestrians wearing face masks amid the walk in the Mesa Redonda Market, a popular spot for Christmas shopping in Lima, Peru. Photograph: Martín Mejía/AP

But many in Peru fear that the country’s ailing healthcare system and over-crowded hospitals would struggle to revive amid another spike in cases. That concern has prompted authorities to implement restrictions around the year-end holidays to ward off a second outbreak.

“Right now we are not experiencing a second wave, but we are taking these measures to be,” the health minister, Pilar Mazzetti, said on Tuesday.

2.42am GMT

More now on Donald Trump’s threat not to sign the coronavirus relief bill in the US because he thinks it should be amended to include bigger stimulus payouts.

Trump said he wants Congress to increase the amount in the stimulus checks to $2,000 for individuals or $4,000 for couples, instead of the “ridiculously low” $600 for individuals currently in the bill.

Trump also complained about money in the legislation for foreign countries, the Smithsonian Institution and fish breeding, among other spending.

President Trump wants changes made to the Covid stimulus package that was passed by Congress this week. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

“I’m also asking Congress to immediately get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation, and to send me a suitable bill, or else the next administration will have to deliver a COVID relief package. And maybe that administration will be me,” he said.

However, despite the president’s position, the stimulus bill has a veto-proof majority, so even if he does not sign it, it will still go into effect.

You can read our full story below:

at 2.54am GMT

2.15am GMT

In Scotland, the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has warned has warned she may have to introduce full lockdown measures across the country in the coming days to contain the faster-spreading Covid variant, which has already led to Wales bringing forward a countrywide lockdown from last Sunday and Northern Ireland announcing a six-week lockdown from Boxing Day.

Scotland’s level 4 Covid restrictions may be strengthened, Sturgeon says – video

It came as the British Labour leader, Keir Starmer, said it seemed “inevitable” that further national restrictions would be needed, adding that if scientists called for such measures in England he would back the government in bringing them in.

Ministers are reportedly preparing to announce the extension of tier 4 in England – the new, quasi-lockdown category of restrictions – to new areas, possibly from Boxing Day.

Tier 4 already covers London and adjoining counties in the south-east, but it could be extended to other areas where cases are rising sharply. Ministers have also reportedly been considering moving some tier 2 areas into tier 3, and even the possibility of a third England-wide lockdown in the new year.

You can read our full story below

1.58am GMT

South Korea reports second highest daily toll

South Korea reported 1,092 new coronavirus cases as of Tuesday midnight, the second highest since the start of the pandemic, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said on Wednesday.

The recent surge in cases has confounded efforts to contain the virus, prompting the authorities to shut down all ski resorts and winter tourist spots in a bid to stop the spread during the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Covid testing in front of the Seoul city hall, South Korea. Photograph: Sanghwan Jung/REX/Shutterstock

1.31am GMT

Philippines to suspend flights to UK

The Philippines has announced that it will suspend all flights to the UK from 24 December, according to a presidential spokesperson. The Philippines joins a list of more than 40 countries who have restricted entry from the UK because of a new variant of coronavirus that has taken hold. Initially reported largely in London and the south-east of the country, scientists now say the variant has been reported across the UK.

The latest genetic surveillance suggests the new variant spread rapidly from Kent and London in late September and has reached the south-west, the Midlands and the north of England, although London, the south-east and eastern England remain by far the most affected regions.

You can read latest story below on the variant below.

As countries imposed bans on the UK, thousands have been stranded ahead of Christmas. You can read some of their stories below.

at 1.33am GMT

1.12am GMT

Dr Deborah Birx to retire

In another major departure in the US, Dr Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus response, says she is planning to retire, but is willing to first help President-elect Joe Biden’s team with its coronavirus response as needed.

Birx, in an interview with the news site Newsy, did not give a specific timetable on her plans: “I will be helpful in any role that people think I can be helpful in, and then I will retire,” Birx told the news outlet.

AP reports that Birx and White House officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Dr Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington in March. Birx was brought into President Donald Trump’s orbit to help fight the coronavirus, she had a sterling reputation as a globally recognised AIDS researcher and a rare Obama administration holdover. Photograph: Alex Brandon/AP

Birx’s comments came just days after AP reported that she had travelled out of state for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend even as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was urging Americans to not to travel.

Birx acknowledged in a statement on Sunday that she went to her Delaware property and was accompanied by family members. She insisted the purpose of the roughly 50-hour visit was to deal with the winterisation of the property before a potential sale — something she says she previously hadn’t had time to do because of her busy schedule.

Birx, who is 64, became the face of the US pandemic response in the early part of the year, along with Dr Anthony Fauci. A public servant since the Reagan administration, Birx served as a U.S. Army physician and a globally recognised AIDS researcher. She was pulled away from her ambassadorial post as the US global AIDS coordinator to help the task force in late February.

She has faced criticism from public health experts and Democratic lawmakers for not speaking out forcefully against President Donald Trump when he contradicted advice from medical advisers and scientists about how to fight the virus.

In April she famously sat awkwardly and refused to meet Trump’s gaze when he suggested injecting bleach may be a method of combatting the coronavirus.

Trump floats dangerous coronavirus treatment ideas as Dr Birx looks on – video

12.56am GMT

Still in the US, and President Trump has said he wants Congress to amend the coronavirus relief bill (passed yesterday!) to raise the amount of stimulus checks and eliminate wasteful spending, among other issues.

“The bill they are now planning to send back to my desk is much different than anticipated,” Trump said in a video posted on Twitter. “It really is a disgrace.”

Donald J. Trump


December 23, 2020

Congress passed the $900bn pandemic relief package on Tuesday, finally delivering long-sought cash to businesses and individuals as well as resources to vaccinate a nation confronting a frightening surge in Covid-19 cases and deaths.

The 5,593-page legislation, the longest bill in memory and probably ever, came together on Sunday after months of battling, posturing and post-election negotiating that reined in a number of Democratic demands as the end of the congressional session approached. President-elect Joe Biden was eager for a deal to deliver long-awaited help to suffering people and a boost to the economy, even though it was less than half the size that Democrats wanted in the fall.

You can read our full story on the bill below.

12.34am GMT

In the United States, 1.6m new cases of Covid were reported in the week to 20 December, the World Health Organization has said, the highest number of new cases for any single country. That weekly US increase was a rise of 14%.

The WHO’s weekly update came as California recorded a half-million coronavirus cases in the past two weeks, overwhelming emergency rooms across the state. You can read our full story on that here.

Joe Biden meanwhile said his administration will put forward another Covid-19 relief package next year, including a new round of stimulus payments.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Biden said a $900bn relief package passed by Congress this week was a “first step” but the government will have to do more.

“Here is the simple truth: Our darkest days in the battle against Covid are ahead of us, not behind us,” he said.

Joe Biden speaks in Wilmington, Delaware, on 22 December. Photograph: Carolyn Kaster/AP

Dr Anthony Fauci, meanwhile, had his Covid jab and said he hoped it would encourage millions of other Americans to do the same. He said the shot should be “a symbol to the rest of the country that I feel extreme confidence of the safety and efficacy of this vaccine”.

Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, received his first dose of the new Moderna vaccine. Photograph: Reuters

at 12.37am GMT

12.18am GMT

France reopens border to UK, with restrictions

A mass Covid-19 testing programme for British truck drivers is to get under way to relieve congestion at British ports following an agreement to reopen the border between France and the UK.

The UK Department for Transport made the announcement late on Tuesday, hours after Paris said passengers from Britain could enter France following a 48-hour blockade aimed at stopping the spread of a new coronavirus variant that left thousands of HGVs stranded outside UK ports before Christmas.

Drivers of freight lorries and heavy goods vehicles are illuminated by the lights inside their cabs as they are parked at a truck stop off the M20 leading to Dover, near Folkestone in Kent, south east England on 22 December. Photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

Rail, air and sea services would resume from Wednesday morning, the DfT said, with all people travelling from the UK into France required to show proof of a negative test taken within the previous 72 hours.

The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said lateral flow tests, which take about 30 minutes, could be used to test those eligible to cross the French border, but urged hauliers not to travel to Kent until the testing programme was operational.

You can read our full story below:

at 12.22am GMT

12.11am GMT

China reports 15 new cases

China reported 15 new Covid cases on 22 December, the same as a day earlier, the country’s national health authority said on Wednesday.

The National Health Commission, in a statement, said 14 of the new cases were imported infections originating from overseas. The commission also reported one local transmission in Liaoning province.

The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, fell to 14 from 17 cases a day earlier.

The total number of confirmed cases in China now stands at 86,882, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,634.

12.07am GMT

Sydney learns Christmas coronavirus restrictions

We are crossing live to Australia where the premiere of New South Wales is giving an update on how Christmas will run for greater Sydney, after a serious outbreak on the northern beaches of the city.

Gladys Berejiklian says the current restrictions for greater Sydney will stay the same over Christmas – which is that you can only have 10 visitors to your home. However, premier Gladys Berejiklian says there is one “small tweak”, which is children under 12 are not counted. That applies for December 24, 25, 26 and 27.

“Can I stress, you cannot have different groups of 10 people during the day. It’s one group of 10 and you have to stick that group of 10, plus kids under 12.”

“But come 27 December for Greater Sydney, we go back to just 10 per household full stop,” Berejiklian says.

“Every other restriction remains in place but for that addition over the Christmas period,” she says.

Sydney recorded eight new coronavirus cases on Wednesday.

at 12.07am GMT

11.52pm GMT

Good morning and welcome to our live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, with me, Alison Rourke.

The World Health Organization says weekly cases of coronavirus to 20 December were the highest since the start of the pandemic. New cases rose by 6%, or by 4.6m, the WHO said in its weekly epidemiological update. New deaths rose by 4% or around 79,000 in the same period. Europe accounted for the highest number of new deaths or over 36,000 which was nearly half of the weekly global total, the WHO said.

Other key developments include:

Britain is to begin mass testing truck drivers as France reopens border. A mass Covid-19 testing programme for lorry drivers is to get under way to alleviate congestion at British ports following an agreement to reopen the border between France and the UK. The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said lateral flow tests, which take about 30 minutes, could be used to test those able to cross the French border.
Relatives of Italian Covid victims to file lawsuit against leading politicians. Relatives of coronavirus victims in Italy are taking legal action against the prime minister, health minister and the president of the Lombardy region for alleged criminal negligence over their handling of the pandemic.
Biden will seek new Covid-19 relief package next year and says “darkest days” are ahead. US president-elect Joe Biden said his administration will put forward another Covid-19 relief package next year, including a new round of stimulus payments. “Here is the simple truth: our darkest days in the battle against Covid are ahead of us, not behind us,” he said.
South Africa struggles to contain second Covid wave with new variant. South Africa is struggling to contain a second wave of Covid-19 infections which appears to be driven by a new and more infectious variant of the disease, similar to that in the UK.
NHS leaders raise concerns over pace of Covid vaccine rollout. NHS leaders in England have raised concerns about the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine, with more than half of hospital trusts and two-thirds of GPs yet to receive supplies amid growing alarm over the new fast-spreading variant.
Covid could shorten US life expectancy by up to three years, experts say. The US could see a decline of two to three years in life expectancy in 2020 due to the coronavirus, the steepest drop since the second world war and with Covid-19 poised to become the third-leading cause of death in America.
California records half a million Covid cases in two weeks. The state could be facing a once-unthinkable scenario of nearly 100,000 hospitalisations within a month, overwhelming emergency rooms across the state.
Weekly Covid-19 cases hit record fuelled by Americas. Weekly Covid-19 cases rose by the highest amount since the pandemic began, the World Health Organization said, with the Americas accounting for half of them.
Nicola Sturgeon apologises for breaching Covid rules. Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has apologised after she breached Covid rules by taking off her face mask at a funeral wake.
AstraZeneca says its vaccine should be effective against new coronavirus variant. British drugmaker AstraZeneca told Reuters its Covid-19 vaccine should be effective against the new coronavirus variant, adding studies were underway to fully probe the impact of the mutation.

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