Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, has announced changes to England’s Tier system with swathes of the East and South-East of England entering Tier 3.

The areas which will go into the toughest tier of restrictions from midnight on Saturday are Bedfordshire; Buckinghamshire; Berkshire; Peterborough, Hertfordshire; Tandridge; Reigate & Banstead; all of Surrey – with the exception of Waverley; Hastings and Sussex; Portsmouth; and Gosport.

Bristol and North Somerset will move down a tier, to Tier 2, while Herefordshire is to move out of Tier 2 into Tier 1 – in light of a case rate of 45 per 100,000.

It comes after Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester – which has remained in Tier 3 – said ministers will need to “overcompensate” for the “mistake” of Christmas bubbles.

Earlier this week, London and parts of Kent and Hertfordshire were placed into Tier 3 ahead of the formal review in light of their rising case rates.

​Follow the latest updates below.

11:56 AMCovid Christmas rules must be reviewed, says Labour

Jonathan Ashworth says clinicians are “pleading” with Matt Hancock to keep people safe over Christmas.

He notes spikes in coronavirus cases in the US after Thanksgiving, and warns a similar thing will happen in the UK.

“This isn’t about cancelling Christmas. Santa will still deliver his presents. But is he really telling us that allowing the mixing of households across generations and regions for five days is sensible given the virus is raging with such ferocity at the moment?”

Mr Ashworth urges the Health Secretary to “look again” at the Christmas arrangements.

11:52 AMMatt Hancock warns Covid-19 is a ‘silent disease’

Story continues

Matt Hancock says Covid-19 can be a “silent disease” and says one in three people with Covid is asymptomatic.

“The best thing we can all do is act with responsibility to get this virus under control.”

He says that the Government is “further expanding” its testing programme and the vaccine roll-out is accelerating, with more than 200 vaccine sites now open.

11:50 AMTier system: No changes for vast majority of areas

Matt Hancock says that for the vast majority of Tier 3 areas, there will be no change.

However he confirms Bristol and North Somerset will move down a tier to Tier 2 on Saturday.

Herefordshire is moved out of Tier 2 into Tier 1, in light of a case rate of 45 per 100,000.

11:49 AMSwathes of South-East enter Tier 3

Matt Hancock confirms that Tier 3 measures will be applied from midnight on Saturday to the following areas:

Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Peterborough, the whole of Hertfordshire, Tandridge, Reigate & Banstead and all of Surrey (except Waverley), Hastings and Sussex on the Kent border of East Sussex and Portsmouth and Gosport in East Hampshire.

11:48 AMNo one wants tougher restrictions, says Matt Hancock

Matt Hancock says that he must report to the House of Commons that “across the world cases are rising once more”, citing Europe, the US and Japan.

“No one wants tougher restrictions any longer than necessary, but where they are necessary we must put them in place to prevent the NHS being overwhelmed and to protect life.

“This is a moment where we must act with caution.”

11:46 AMMatt Hancock: ‘We mustn’t blow it now’

Matt Hancock is on his feet in the Commons.

“As we enter the coldest months, we must be vigilant,” he says, noting that more than 18,000 people currently in hospital in the UK have the virus.

“This isn’t just a matter for Government or for this house, it’s a matter for every single person.

“We must be cautious as we accelerate the vaccine deployment. We’ve come so far, we mustn’t blow it now.”

11:39 AMNew coronavirus strain: how dangerous is it?

A new variant of coronavirus has been identified in England and Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, revealed earlier this week that its numbers “are increasing rapidly”.

He told the Commons: “Initial analysis suggests that this variant is growing faster than the existing variants.

“We’ve currently identified over 1,000 cases with this variant predominantly in the South of England although cases have been identified in nearly 60 different local authority areas.”

With news of this new strain of the disease, Sarah Knapton, The Telegraph’s Science Editor, answers your questions. 

11:27 AMSchool Christmas holidays to be extended by a week for mass testing

The Christmas holiday will be extended by a week for some secondary school children to enable the rollout of mass Covid testing for pupils at the start of the new term.

The Government will announce a staggered return of children in different academic year groups, with years 11 and 13 first to go back so they can resume GCSE and A-level studies.

The move comes amid warnings that the relaxation of social distancing rules for five days over Christmas will lead to a spike in coronavirus infections and deaths.

File photo dated 31/08/20 of students at St Columba’s High School, Gourock, wearing protective face masks as they head to lessons – Jane Barlow/PA Wire

The NEU teaching union had urged the Government to move teaching online for the first week of term to give schools time to train staff in administering Covid tests.

Instead, The Telegraph understands that Education Secretary Gavin Williamson will announce the staggered return, beginning on Jan 4. All pupils will be back at school by Jan 11, one week later.

Gordon Rayner and Camilla Turner have the story.

11:24 AM”Covid Christmas shambles foreshadows the divisive despotism to come”

The Covid Christmas miracle has mutated into a farce, laments Sherelle Jacobs.

More fool Boris Johnson for promising the “prize” of a half-decent Yuletide if we followed restrictions like good little girls and boys. Just when a vaccine breakthrough had lifted morale, the PM’s dithering over holiday rules plunged the public conversation back into a frenzy.

His sensible clarifications yesterday – that people should stay local if they can, and three households is a limit not a target – were too late to temper the hysteria of the broadcast media and exhausted corners of the nation.

The Government has hesitated about trusting the public and failed to use the opportunity of Christmas to lead the national debate on to less emotional ground.

Instead, the whole imbroglio has seen people manipulated and patronised like children from start to finish.

11:18 AMHave you had a treatment or operation cancelled due to Covid?

It was revealed earlier this year that operations have been cancelled across the NHS as health services struggle to cope with rising numbers of coronavirus patients.

The sudden spike in cases has prompted fears that renewed restrictions will worsen the already perilous non-Covid health crisis.

More than 20 NHS trusts postponed surgery this year amid warnings that beds could be overwhelmed.

If you have recently had treatment or an operation cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic, we want to hear from you about the impact it has had on your life.

11:13 AMMacron Covid news: Spanish and French Prime Ministers also self-isolating

Pedro Sanchez, the Spanish Prime Minister, will self-isolate until Christmas Eve after President Emmanuel Macron tested positive for coronavirus.

The two leaders met on Monday in Paris for a lunch at the Élysée.

Jean Castex, the French Prime Minister, is also in isolation. While Mr Castex is not showing any symptoms, he has been identified as a possible “contact case”.

Meanwhile Boris Johnson has wished Mr Macron a speedy recovery:

Sorry to hear my friend @EmmanuelMacron has tested positive for coronavirus. We are all wishing you a speedy recovery.

— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) December 17, 2020

10:45 AMTenerife ‘remains open’ with no holiday ban

The Tenerife tourist board has confirmed that there will be no ban on international travellers, despite reports to the contrary this morning.

“International travellers can arrive to Tenerife as long they’re tested before arrival with PCR,” a spokesperson told Telegraph Travel.

Tenerife – Desiree Martin/AFP

Tour operator Jet2 also confirmed that no travel ban will be introduced: “We can assure customers that we have received confirmation from the Canaries Government that this is not the case,” said a spokesperson. “Holidaymakers can still travel to Tenerife.”

Read the full story and get latest updates here.

10:17 AMWhich areas could get a lower lockdown Tier before Christmas?

The number of people in the strictest tier of coronavirus restrictions looks set to grow when the Government reviews England’s measures today.

Great swathes of southern England in areas such as East Sussex and Surrey are on course to enter Tier 3 on Saturday, with limited loosening on restrictions in the North.

Ministers met on Dec 16 to review England’s tier system and decide whether any parts of the country will face tighter or looser restrictions in the run up to Christmas.

Read our full analysis and predictions here.

10:13 AMMore than half of schools in England had at least one Covid-19 infection last month

Of the 105 schools in the survey, 1.24% of pupils and 1.29% of staff tested positive for Covid-19 between November 3 and 19, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The survey also found that 27.6% of the schools had one current infection, 27.6% had between two and five current infections, and 44.8% had no current infections.

09:48 AMPresident Macron tests positive for Covid

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has tested positive for Covid-19, the French presidency has said.

The 42-year-old took a test after symptoms appeared and will now isolate for seven days, a statement from the Elysee Palace said.

Mr Macron “is still in charge” of running the country and will work remotely, said an official.

President Macron – Francois Mori /AP

France this week imposed an overnight curfew to help deal with soaring cases there.

There have been two million confirmed cases in the country since the epidemic began, with more than 59,400 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Read the full story here.

09:32 AM’No hope’ could mean lack of discipline in harsh tier areas, warns MP

Andrew Bridgen, Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire, said: “By the time the tiering system came in on Dec 2, North West Leicestershire would have qualified, had it not been for what was going on in Leicester, for Tier 2.

“The real unfairness is that we were linked to Leicester, the city that was first put into a local lockdown – it’s been in, I think, 40 consecutive weeks of lockdown.

“There’s no hope for my constituents and we all need hope … if hope is lost, then I worry if the discipline that has seen us through so far will disappear and then it’s going to be a disaster.”

09:14 AMProf Chris Whitty: coronavirus vaccines don’t mean an end to social distancing

Covid-19 vaccines will not yet enable the ending of social distancing, England’s chief medical officer has warned, as he said there will never be “zero risk” from the virus.

Prof Chris Whitty said there would be a “huge surge” in cases among the under-80s if rules were relaxed just because the highest age group had been vaccinated.

While he acknowledged the rollout of the vaccine among the elderly and extremely vulnerable would reduce deaths, Prof Whitty said those just below them in the priority list would remain at risk of getting “seriously ill” and dying.

Read the full story here.

08:53 AMDon’t travel between areas with different tiers over Christmas, warns Home Secretary

Priti Patel has said people who are planning to travel between tiers over Christmas should change their plans.

“We would urge everyone to be conscientious and to make the appropriate plans and the appropriate changes to their plans as well, hence the point about having a smaller and shorter Christmas,” she said.

“I think the British public are smart enough to make their own decisions and judgments and they don’t want to put themselves at risk, they won’t put their friends and families at risk.

“We’re urging people not to travel. Why would you travel? If you’re in a low tier area, why would you travel into a high tier area? So people will exercise their judgment.”

08:37 AMOxygen equipment vital for keeping people alive doesn’t work as well on black patients, study finds

Oxygen monitoring equipment vital for keeping patients alive in intensive care work less well on black people, a new study has found.

Doctors at the University of Michigan established that the oximeter, which fits to the end of the finger, was three times more likely to give an inaccurate reading of oxygen levels in the blood of black patients compared to white patients.

They say this has critical implications for the safe treatment of severely ill Covid patients, many of whom suffer from low oxygen saturation levels.

Read the full story here.

08:24 AMOverlooked Covid tests in Wales ‘rocks trust’

The 11,000 positive Covid tests being missed in Wales from the past week “raises questions” and “rocks trust”, Plaid Cymru health spokesman Rhun ap Iorwerth has said.

“This is a serious bulk of figures being added to the total today and it raises questions about the way data is analysed,” he said.

“It raises questions again about the interaction between what is controlled in Wales and the Lighthouse laboratories, and it’s one of those things that again sort of rocks trust in what’s happening and the data that’s presented to us.”

08:05 AMGovernment may “overcompensate” in tiers review after allowing Christmas mixing, warns Greater Manchester mayor

Andy Burnham said he fears the Government will “overcompensate” in its tiers review after “a mistake” was made in allowing too much mixing over Christmas.

He said there is a “clear case” for parts of Greater Manchester to be moved from Tier 3 to Tier 2 restrictions.

“It’s clear a mistake has been made over Christmas. I have to say I did say it at the time, that it was allowing too much. My worry is they’re now about to overcompensate with the decisions on the tiers.

“My appeal to the Government is: please look at the evidence, please give us the same fair consideration that was given to London in particular.”

07:46 AMParents of 10 year old left in coma after Covid-19 infection ‘grateful’ to have him around at Christmas

The family of a boy who developed a condition after Covid-19 which left him in a coma have said this Christmas will be one they are “much more grateful” to be able to celebrate with him.

Jack Fair spent days in intensive care after his heart began to fail and his vital organs became inflamed.

His parents Tommy and Tracey, both 51, grew concerned when he began giving strange answers to questions and rang NHS24.

It emerged he had been suffering from severe symptoms of a rare Kawasaki-like disease linked to coronavirus – his parents had the virus in October but neither of their young children displayed any symptoms.

Jack Fair – PA

The 10-year-old from Blackridge, West Lothian, was taken to St John’s Hospital in Livingston on November 9 so medics could assess him.

He was then taken to the Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow where medics were forced to put him in an induced coma for five days, with a further seven days in the ward.

Mrs Fair said: “It was going to be a strange Christmas anyway but I think we will all of a sudden be more grateful.

“Christmas will just be something we are more more grateful for.”

07:36 AMPolice should take action against “egregious breaches” of coronavirus rules this Christmas, says Home Secretary

Asked about the role of officers over the festive period, Priti Patel said: “Their role is to enforce against the egregious breaches, the raves, the house parties, anything basically that is in breach of the rules that would effectively lead to the spread of the virus.”

She said that action should be taken against “egregious breaches only” and was questioned over whether the different guidance and laws for Christmas is not clear enough.

“I don’t think that’s right,” she said.

“We’ve been living with coronavirus throughout this year. The British public are incredibly sensible in terms of exercising their own judgment.”

07:30 AM140,000 got Covid jab in first week, but Christmas target of ‘millions’ likely to be missed

Almost 140,000 people have been given a Covid-19 vaccination in the first week of rollout, according to new figures, suggesting that the promise of “millions of people” receiving their first jab by Christmas will not be met. 

Ministers hailed the figures for the first week of the programme as a “good start”. However, the statistics suggest that even if the rollout speeds up significantly, is it unlikely to meet the timescales which have previously been set out.

Developer Pfizer had pledged to deliver five million doses by the end of the year, and last week Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that “by Christmas, several million people will have been vaccinated”. 

On Tuesday, England’s chief medical officer, Prof Chris Whitty, said the programme began “with a slow start” so it could be assessed closely.

At the current pace, less than 400,000 people would have received their first jab by Christmas.

Read the full story here.

06:56 AM’Not enough evidence’ to support taking vitamin D to prevent or treat Covid-19

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice), Public Health England (PHE), and the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) were asked by Health Secretary Matt Hancock to carry out a rapid review of current evidence after some studies suggested vitamin D may be effective against coronavirus.

But Nice, which led the rapid review, said more research is needed, particularly of high-quality randomised controlled trials.

Current PHE advice states that people should take 10 micrograms (400 IU) of vitamin D every day between October and early March to keep bones and muscles healthy.

PHE also advises those most at risk of not having enough vitamin D – such as people with dark skin or care home residents – take a vitamin D supplement all year round.

Dr Paul Chrisp, director of the centre for guidelines at Nice, said: “While there is insufficient evidence to recommend vitamin D for the prevention or treatment of Covid-19 at this time, we encourage people to follow Government advice on taking the supplement throughout the autumn and winter period.

“As research continues on the impact of vitamin D on Covid-19, we are continuing to monitor evidence as it is published and will review and update the guidance if necessary.”

06:51 AMVaccine rollout may be delayed as IT system ‘failing constantly’

The rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine could be delayed by technical issues, doctors and health officials have warned, after the first week of the vaccination programme was marred by difficulties with data collection.

GP practices have been forced to collect data on the rollout of the Pfizer vaccine by hand, following problems with the software being used to keep track of who has been given the jab.

A care home resident receives the vaccine in Scotland – Russell Cheyne/AFP

A senior health official told Sky News that the IT system, known as Pinnacle, was “failing constantly” and that GPs were “having to record on paper and then transfer”.

The official said the problem could help explain why the government has struggled to publish figures on how many people have received the vaccination until Wednesday morning, when vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi tweeted what the Department for Health and Social Care described as “provisional” numbers.

06:44 AM300% jump in properties marketed as suitable for home working

Rightmove said that between June and October this year, 28% more new properties came to market compared with the same period last year.

Among the new listings, there has been a 326% annual jump in ones mentioning terms such as “office”, “workspace” and “working from home” in the property description.

Rightmove’s director of property data Tim Bannister said: “With the requirement for many people to work from home, we’ve seen workspaces evolving from laptops balancing on the end of the bed to fully equipped home offices in the garden shed, and everything in between.”

Estate agents have also reported an increase in demand for people looking for outbuildings and annexes where people can set up a home office.

Rightmove said home-hunter searches using its keyword tool to look for outbuildings are up by 90% compared with a year ago. Searches for annexes are up by 89%.

06:40 AMComputer glitch meant 11,000 positive Covid tests in Wales from past week were not counted in original figures

As cases continue to rise in Wales, the error means the number of positive tests there for the week could be nearly double what was first thought, the BBC has reported.

Currently, recorded figures for the country for the week of December 9-15 stand at 11,911.

But Public Health Wales (PHW) says the 11,000 extra cases were missed because of “planned maintenance” of some IT systems, the BBC says.

A total of 103,098 people have tested positive in Wales since the Covid crisis began, meaning the 11,000 extra positives – which will be added PHW figures on Thursday – will represent roughly one tenth of the new total.

05:45 AMTokyo raises highest alert as hospitals struggle

The Japanese capital of Tokyo says the strain on its medical system from the Covid-19 pandemic is severe, raising its alert level to the highest of four stages as the number of cases spiked to a record high.

At a coronavirus monitoring committee meeting attended by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, a health official said it had become difficult to balance the care of COVID-19 patients with regular ones as hospital beds filled up, assigning a “red” alert for medical preparedness for the first time.

The number of positive cases in Tokyo on Thursday surged to a daily record of more than 800, public broadcaster NHK said, surpassing the previous record of 678 reached a day earlier.

People wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus walk under decorations for new year through the alley leading to Asakusa Sensoji Buddhist temple in Tokyo – AP


03:53 AMChina welcomes WHO trip to investigate outbreak

The World Health Organisation said on Thursday that China had welcomed an international team of investigators into Covid-19 expected to travel to the country in early January.

Babatunde Olowokure, the WHO’s regional emergencies director in the Western Pacific, told a news conference that the organisation was in talks with Beijing over where the investigators would travel to within the country.

On Wednesday, a WHO member and diplomats told Reuters the international mission led by the WHO was expected to go to China in the first week of January to investigate the origins of the virus.

The United States, which has accused China of having hidden the outbreak’s extent, has called for a “transparent” WHO-led investigation and criticised its terms, which allowed Chinese scientists to do the first phase of preliminary research.

The virus is believed to have erupted at a market in Wuhan – REUTERS02:44 AMSeoul struggles to get a grip on virus

South Korea reported a record number of coronavirus deaths on Thursday as the country’s largest wave of infections strains hospitals and contact tracers.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported that there had been 22 additional deaths as of midnight on Wednesday, sharply up from a previous high of 13 earlier in the week.

Overall the country reported 1,014 new cases of the novel coronavirus, including a daily record of 423 in the densely populated capital city of Seoul.

02:10 AMUS breaks more records

The United States set a grim double record on Wednesday, notching more than 3,700 deaths and over 250,000 new Covid-19 cases in 24 hours, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.

The country has seen a spectacular spike in Covid infections for more than a month now, with some 113,000 people currently hospitalised due to the virus, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services.

On Wednesday Joe Biden’s team announced that the president-elect will get the coronavirus vaccine as soon as next week as US authorities try to build public confidence in a measure that could curb the deadly pandemic.

Read more: Joe Biden set to get coronavirus vaccine next week

Joe Biden said he wants to show the American public that the vaccine is safe – GETTY IMAGES02:05 AMTiers: the winners and losers

Ministers are on course to clash with local leaders in the North, as more areas look set to enter the harshest tier of coronavirus rules when the tier review is announced today.

But which areas of England could move tiers? 

Going up

Woking is expected to move up from Tier 2 to the highest level, with East and West Sussex and Brighton and Hove also at high risk of going into Tier 3.

Bracknell Forest and Hastings could be going up into Tier 3:

Going down

Weston-super-Mare, and North Somerset are hopeful that their area of the West Country will move down from Tier 3 when assessed ­separately to Bristol. The East Riding of Yorkshire could also see Tier 3 restrictions loosened.

Other ares include Gateshead and Tameside:

Staying put

Greater Manchester looks set to stay in Tier 3 which would come as a blow to Andy ­Burnham, the mayor, who insisted on Wednesday there was a “clear case” for the region to move down a tier.

Read more: Row brewing over tiers as North faces little respite from Covid restrictions

01:59 AMToday’s top stories

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