Happy new year – although, “alas” (as the prime minister would say), that’s just a polite wish, and not an accurate description.

On the plus side, this morning an 82-year-old dialysis patient from Oxford has become has become the first person in the world to receive Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine outside clinical trials on the day its UK rollout starts. There is a full story here.

But on the minus side, Covid cases, hospitalisations and deaths are now rising sharply and the outlook for the next few weeks is very grim. Here are three recent Twitter threads that explain why.

From Prof Christina Pagel, head of the clinical operational research unit at University College London

Christina Pagel

THREAD – Covid-19 in England.

Things are going from very bad to much worse.

Here is where we are in 9 tweets. 1/9

January 3, 2021

From Chris Hopson, head of NHS Providers

Chris Hopson

1/3 Today’s data on NHS hospital beds occupied by confirmed COVID-19 patients continues to be really worrying and shows how difficult this is now becoming for NHS. Two things to note. 1. Very large increases overnight for London, SE and E (+8%, +6% and 5% in just ONE day) pic.twitter.com/FtnBB476S2

January 3, 2021

From Neil O’Brien MP, head of the Conservative party’s policy board

Neil O’Brien MP

>We are facing a major crisis<

The current wave of the Coronavirus crisis is in many ways *worse* than the original spring surge. Quick thread:

January 3, 2021

In his final tweet, O’Brien says “something big” is needed.

Neil O’Brien MP

Feels difficult to escape the conclusion that:

>as well as going as fast as we can with mass vaccination, we need to do something big to slow the explosive growth and stop hospitals being further overwhelmed.

January 3, 2021

Yesterday Boris Johnson hinted that tougher lockdown measures could b e announced soon. Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has been giving interviews this morning, and he has effectively backed that message too. “Each week we look at all of the areas of the country to check that we are in the right position in terms of the tiers,” he said. “It is a very difficult situation in terms of the growth of the virus.”

The situation in the UK has become much worse in recent weeks because of the new variant of coronavirus in circulation that is now dominant in some areas. But in an interview on the Today programme Hancock said he was “incredibly worried” about another new variant of the virus, the one that has emerged in South Africa. He told the programme:

I’m incredibly worried about the South African variant. That’s why we took the action that we did to restrict all flights from South Africa, and movement from South Africa, and to insist that anybody who’s been to South Africa self isolates.

This is a very, very significant problem. In fact I spoke to my South African opposite number over Christmas, and one of the reasons they know they’ve got a problem is because, like us, they have an excellent genomic scientific capability, to be able to study the details of the virus. And it is even more of a problem than the UK new variant.

ITV’s Robert Peston posted this on Twitter to help explain Hancock’s comment.

Robert Peston

According to one of the government’s scientific advisers, the reason for @MattHancock’s “incredible worry” about the South African Covid-19 variant is that they are not as confident the vaccines will be as effective against it as they are for the UK’s variant. https://t.co/prc2udPVVP

January 4, 2021

Today the news is likely to be dominated by the ongoing uncertainty about pupils going back to school in England. And in Scotland the first minister is making an emergency statement to parliament. Here is the agenda for the day.

12pm: Downing Street is expected to hold its daily lobby briefing.

12.15pm: Vaughan Gething, the Welsh government’s health minister, holds a coronavirus briefing.

2pm: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, makes an emergency statement to the Scottish parliament, which has been recalled from recess, about coronavirus.

Politics Live is now doubling up as the UK coronavirus live blog and, given the way the Covid crisis eclipses everything, this will continue for the foreseeable future. But we will be covering non-Covid political stories too, and when they seem more important or more interesting, they will take precedence.

Here is our global coronavirus live blog.

I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

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