Newspaper headlines: Omicron study hope, and Queen's moving tribute

By BBC News

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The latest analysis on the Covid variant Omicron makes several front pages, including the i newspaper. Official data from the UK Health Security Agency now supports the claim that Omicron is milder than Delta - and people with Omicron are between 50% and 70% less likely to be admitted to hospital, the paper reports. The i says it means the threat of lockdown has eased, but that experts are still concerned at the high numbers of cases.
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The number of daily cases in the UK hit another new record with 119,000 confirmed infections, the Financial Times reports. It also reports on the new findings on Omicron, quoting Health Secretary Sajid Javid as saying they were "promising" but that hospital admissions were increasing. Cabinet ministers are "deadlocked" on whether new Covid rules should be imposed after Christmas, the paper adds.
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But government sources tell the Daily Telegraph that restrictions being brought in over New Year's Eve in England is "increasingly unlikely". One source told the paper that the "working assumption" among key Whitehall figures was that Boris Johnson would not order new curbs on socialising straight after Christmas - although it has not been ruled out. And a second source said a package of restrictions "doesn't look as likely as it was" after the latest data on Omicron.
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The Guardian's top story focuses on a plea from doctors for people to keep their Christmas celebrations small. It points out that although the latest evidence shows Omicron is milder, it may not be enough to stop the NHS being overwhelmed. The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies warned that Omicron would need to be about 90% less severe for hospital admissions not to reach previous peak levels, the paper adds.
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The Times picks out something less positive from the study, highlighting that the vaccine's ability to stop people catching Omicron starts to wane 10 weeks after a booster dose. A senior government source tells the paper that they are monitoring vaccine protection rates and there will be flexibility to run another booster campaign when needed.
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A preview of the Queen's Christmas message makes the front of the Daily Mail. It says the monarch will pay a moving tribute to her "beloved" Prince Philip in the broadcast, as she faces her first festive season without him. Buckingham Palace has also announced a service of thanksgiving for Prince Philip in the spring, the paper adds.
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The Daily Mirror calls the Queen's Christmas speech a "poignant salute" to the Duke of Edinburgh. She displays his photograph and wears a sentimental brooch in the broadcast, it points out. One Palace source called her message "particularly personal".
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The Daily Express suggests the Queen's address - which it describes as "heartfelt" - will resonate with millions as it shares the pain of losing a loved one. The message will reflect grief and remembrance in a year when many have lost relatives and friends to Covid, the paper adds.
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The Daily Star leads with a different story, reporting that scientists are calling on Nasa and other space agencies to do more to encourage the study of sex in space. The paper says experts feel research is needed to provide an insight into how to build healthy and intimate lives on spacecraft and space stations.

The Queen is pictured on many of the front pages in a photograph issued by Buckingham Palace as she recorded her annual Christmas Day message.

The Daily Mail says she will pay a moving tribute to Prince Phillip, as she spends her first Christmas without him since they were married more than 73 years ago.

"Queen shares pain of her loss" is the headline in the Daily Express, which says her address will reflect "the poignancy of grief and remembrance in a year when many have lost loved ones to Covid".

"Always by her side" is the headline in the Daily Mirror, which notes that the Queen recorded the speech alongside a single, framed photograph - showing her with the duke as they celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary in 2007.

The Sun says she will also be seen wearing the same sapphire chrysanthemum brooch she was photographed with as she walked arm-in-arm with her new husband on honeymoon in 1947.

Image source, Victoria Jones
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The Queen's message will be broadcast on BBC One at 15:00 GMT on Christmas Day

The Daily Telegraph reports that government insiders think New Year's Eve Covid restrictions are less likely because of new data indicating that Omicron is milder than the Delta variant.

A government source tells the paper the working assumption is that Boris Johnson will stop short of ordering new curbs on socialising straight after Christmas.

A second source close to Downing Street tells the paper a package of post-Christmas restrictions "doesn't look as likely as it was" - but the paper says other figures in government have stressed that ministers are not yet in a position to make final decisions.

In contrast to the Telegraph's cautious optimism, the Guardian says doctors remain concerned about Omicron and are urging people to have small Christmas get-togethers.

The paper highlights minutes from the latest meeting of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, in which government advisers said the variant would have to be 90% less severe, in order to avoid reaching the peak hospital admissions seen earlier in the pandemic.

The Times says millions of people face having a fourth vaccine dose next year, after data suggested booster protection dropped significantly 10 weeks after the jab.

A senior government source tells the paper there is "flexibility" to run another booster campaign when needed.

The Financial Times reports that vintage champagne prices have "popped" this year - because of a surge in demand and restricted supplies.

The paper reports that an online marketplace for wine trading says prices for bubbly have gone up by almost 34% - making it attractive to investors who may usually stick to a top-end Bordeaux or Burgundy.

The paper notes the most sought-after brands include Dom Perignon 2008 and Krug 2000 - but it says Salon 2002 has seen the steepest price increase with 12 bottles rising in value by 80% to £10,000.

Several papers report on the development of a new lickable television.

The i explains that the prototype - developed by a Japanese professor - relies on 10 flavour canisters, which spray in tandem to recreate the sensation of sampling food when the screen is licked.

The paper says it may be the first TV truly able to offer "something to everyone's taste."