UK coronavirus live: R number falls to between 0.9 and 1; Wales brings in new restrictions | UK news



















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UK infection rate falls

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Asked about plans currently under consideration to extend school holidays over Christmas, Scotland’s health minister, Jeane Freeman, sought to defuse speculation as she insisted that all government officials were “focused on keeping schools open”.

Speaking as Nicola Sturgeon took a rare day off the daily briefing, Freeman said: “We know that closing schools did have an impact notwithstanding the huge efforts teachers and parents put into maintaining their learning. The best place for young people to pursue their learning is the school environment and we will take all steps to ensure that is protected.”

Freeman confirmed that a further 37 people had died after testing positive for Covid-19, with 1,099 patients in hospital and 80 being treated in intensive care. The majority of the 969 new cases were in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde area.

Earlier in the day, the national clinical director, Jason Leitch, suggested that Scots could be creative in setting up a socially distanced Christmas dinner. Asked about festive logistics on BBC Radio Scotland, Leitch said:

“You need a big table but have you not used a pasting table on the day you’ve had granny round for Christmas dinner? Or served the kids round the sofa rather than the big table? I think Scotland is innovative enough to manage.”

On the vexed question of the serving of roast potatoes, which also came up at yesterday’s briefing, Leitch clarified: “You can have the roast potatoes – the roast potatoes are not your risk. Your risk is things that you share … so big spoons, cutlery we share with each other. The big shared buffets, I’m afraid, are out.”

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Downing Street says there are ‘no plans’ to print union flag on Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine doses

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Wales announces new restrictions and closes cinemas, bowling alleys and indoor entertainment venues

The Welsh first minister has announced new restrictions for Wales which will involved the closure of cinemas, bowling alleys and indoor entertainment venues.

There will also be fresh restrictions on pubs and restaurants in a week’s time, Mark Drakeford announced. Non-essential shops, hairdressers and gyms will remain open. The restrictions will cover the whole of Wales. “It’s a national approach because we need a national effort,” he said.

Drakeford said some of the advantages gained during the “firebreak” lockdown were beginning to “fade”. He expressed particular concern about the rise in the number of under-25s with Covid.

He said the R rate in Wales could be as high as 1.4 and that hospitals were under sustained pressure, with more than 1,700 people with coronavirus in hospitals in Wales. In September it was below 400.

Drakeford said: “We too now have to use the coming weeks to reduce the spread of the virus and create more headroom for the Christmas period.

“This does not mean a return to the firebreak arrangements but the cabinet has agreed to take further specific and targeted action to reinforce the current national measures we have in place.”

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Face to face Brexit talks resume

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Different age groups may get different Covid vaccines, experts say. Oxford/AstraZeneca are planning a new trial of a lower-dose jab to see how well it works in older people.

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Johnson defends government’s latest tiered controls

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Northern Ireland has started a two-week “circuit breaker” lockdown to curb Covid-19 infection rates that have remained stubbornly high and piled pressure on a struggling health system.

Pubs, restaurants, non-essential retail, gyms and close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauty salons, closed on Friday until 11 December, mirroring many restrictions that will cover 99% of England’s population from next week.

Indoor household visits have been banned in Northern Ireland since 22 September. Schools remain open and pubs, restaurants and cafes can offer takeaway and delivery services.

The deputy first minister, Michelle O’Neill, defended the restrictions, announced last week, saying they were difficult but right.

The region recorded eight more Covid-related deaths on Thursday, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 962. There were 442 new confirmed cases, raising the total to 51,118.

The R rate was just below 1, said Arlene Foster, the first minister. Hospital bed occupancy was at 99%. Of 431 people being treated for the virus, 39 were in intensive care and 33 were on ventilators.

The government in the Republic of Ireland, where infection rates are much lower, will ease restrictions next week. Public health experts said the lack of an all-island strategy was undermining the fight against the pandemic.

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