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Coronavirus news – live: Christmas rules to remain in place, four nations agree, as 138,000 receive vaccine

Boris Johnson has told MPs that the four UK nations have agreed to continue “in principle” with the easing of coronavirus restrictions over Christmas.

But opposition leader Keir Starmer accused the prime minister of ignoring medical advice over the Christmas plan.

Mr Johnson said he did not want to “criminalise people’s long-made plans” for the festive season, but urged people to “exercise a high degree of personal responsibility”. 

The World Health Organisation has warned Europeans to have a quiet Christmas or risk a renewed surge of the disease.

Earlier the communities secretary admitted the Covid-19 infection rate would rise as people mix together over Christmas.

“This is a virus that thrives on social interaction, so bringing more people together, even over this short period of time, is not cost-free. It will have consequences in terms of increasing the rate. It will rise,” Robert Jenrick said.

Meanwhile, it was announced that nearly 138,000 people in the UK received a first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine over the last week.

The Office for National Statistics also revealed one in 10 people infected with Covid-19 experiences symptoms that last for three months or longer, with one in five reporting symptoms lasting for five weeks or longer.

Follow the latest updates

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Keir Starmer accuses Boris Johnson of ‘ignoring medical advice’ over Christmas plan

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has accused the prime minister of “ignoring medical advice” after he confirmed that the relaxation of coronavirus restrictions will go ahead at Christmas. Andrew Woodcock reports:

Jane Dalton16 December 2020 12:26

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Samuel Osborne16 December 2020 12:01

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Government announces up to £3m for more coach seats over Christmas

Sir Peter Hendy said asking people to book ahead was a “reasonable request” in order to allow transport operators to plan services.

He described introducing reservations on services that are not usually reservable as a “far too great a burden to institute at this time”.

The Transport Committee heard the government has announced up to £3m funding to provide up to 80,000 more seats on coach services over Christmas.

“If you turn up on a major station on Christmas Eve morning and find the train you want is booked, the railway will get you back because by mid-afternoon the trains are almost empty,” Sir Peter said.

“If you are planning to travel in advance and you know the trains are going to be full at the time you are travelling, then there will be an alternative, which is to go to National Express, megabus or one of the other operators, and book a ticket and they will be able to cope.”

Samuel Osborne16 December 2020 11:44

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WHO pleads with Europe to have quiet Christmas, or risk third wave

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has pleaded with Europeans to have a quiet Christmas or risk a renewed surge in coronavirus cases in early 2021, Tom Embury-Dennis reports.

Samuel Osborne16 December 2020 11:29

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Patients treated in car parks in Northern Ireland as hospitals fill up

Queues of ambulances have formed outside several hospitals in Northern Ireland, as concerns rise about the NHS coming under serious pressure during an enduring second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, Adam Forrest reports.

At one point outside Antrim Area Hospital, 17 ambulances containing patients were lined up outside the emergency department – with doctors forced to treat patients in the car park.

Samuel Osborne16 December 2020 11:14

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Andy Burnham ‘not at all convinced tiers work in way it is claimed’

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham wrote on Twitter that he is “not at all convinced tiers 2 & 3 work in the way it is claimed”.

He continued: “(1) allowing 24/7 retail at this time of year is a significant driver of spread.

“(2) closing regulated hospitality in cities risks more gatherings in the home, particularly around NYE. The balance isn’t right.”

Samuel Osborne16 December 2020 10:58

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‘Book public transport early’ Christmas travel tsar says after advising people to ‘stay local if you can’

The government’s Christmas travel tsar Sir Peter Hendy told the Transport Select Committee what his advice is to people planning festive trips.

He said: “One ought to say ‘be careful’. One ought to say ‘stay local’ because that’s the tone of the message from government, stay local if you can.

“But the most important part of the message is book public transport early.”

Samuel Osborne16 December 2020 10:43

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One in 10 experience symptoms lasting three months or longer

A new analysis to try and determine the extent of the ‘long Covid’ problem among infected patients also found one in five patients reported having symptoms that lasted for five weeks or longer.

Samuel Osborne16 December 2020 10:27

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Nearly 138,000 people have received first vaccine dose

Nearly 138,000 people in the UK have received a first dose of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech over the past seven days, the government has announced, Samuel Lovett reports.

The jab was first authorised for emergency use by the UK’s drug regulator two weeks ago, and has since been rolled out to hospitals, mass vaccination sites and GPs.

Samuel Osborne16 December 2020 10:12

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Avoid potentially asymptomatic people mixing with older relatives, Sage member says

Sage member Professor Graham Medley urged people to think about trying to avoid younger and potentially asymptomatic people mixing with older relatives over the festive period.

Asked if school and workplaces closures would be a “cushion” to mixing over Christmas, the professor of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think so.

“It will mean that there will be more transmission in older people if we have a normal Christmas because it is the younger people, who are more likely to be asymptomatically infected, mixing with older people.

“That’s the thing that most people regard as being the highest risk.

“People thinking about what they are doing, it’s that that they should be trying to avoid.”

Samuel Osborne16 December 2020 09:57