And it is a year to the day since the first person received a Covid vaccination outside a clinical trial. Since then nearly 120 million first, second and booster doses have been given in the UK, and more than eight billion across the world.
More research needed on Omicron impact - WHO
BBC News, Geneva
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At its weekly Covid 19 briefing, today the World Health Organization (WHO) said there was some initial evidence that the Omicron variant was more infectious, that vaccines could be somewhat less effective against it, but that its health effects might be less severe.
But officials stressed that more research is needed, and warned again that countries must act now to prepare for another pandemic wave.
A priority must be vaccinating the unvaccinated, and reliable public health measures such as mask wearing, testing, and social distancing.
The head of the WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told governments waiting to act until hospitals started to fill up would be too late.
WHO officials also said booster vaccines should not be a priority - saying all the evidence shows existing vaccines provide good protection against severe illness, hospitalisations, and death.
Governments must instead make every effort to reach vaccine hesitant people, and ramp up mass vaccination in largely unvaccinated countries.
Venues call out new Covid rules
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The new rule for some venues to introduce Covid certification is an "unfair double
standard" the live music industry says.
Pubs and bars will not have to ask for Covid passports "whilst
live music venues get hit with certification", according to industry trade association Live.
Covid health certificates will be required for people to enter English unseated indoor venues with more than 500 attendees.
Meanwhile, The Theatres Trust said the rise of the Omicron variant and the new measures will "have a big
impact on the willingness of people to travel and go to theatres over Christmas".
The organisation's director Jon Morgan said: "This will have a knock-on effect on theatres’ viability at a vital time of year
for the industry and Christmas shows that are just emerging from the
significant loss of revenue in 2020 and early 2021."
Tory backbenchers oppose Plan B
Back to the announcement of Plan B restrictions for England - and there is an indication that some backbench Tory MPs will not support the government when it puts them to a vote.
The Workington MP Mark Jenkinson says the rules are "divisive, discriminatory and are unlikely to stop spread".
In a tweet, he adds the health secretary, who addressed MPs at the same time the prime minister made his announcement, "offered no evidence for further restrictions... just as businesses desperately need a good Christmas".
Instead, vaccination was key in the response to the Omicron variant he said.
East Devon MP Simon Jupp says Plan B will cost jobs in many sectors, including hospitality. While working from home won’t help social or economic recovery.
And former chief whip Mark Harper suggests the "initial evidence on Omicron doesn't support these measures".
A step back - but not to square one
Introducing more restrictions in England just before Christmas for
the second year running is, of course, depressing.
But this is vastly different from last year. Then, large
parts of the country were put into what was effectively lockdown with tier
A full national lockdown followed in the new year.
This time, with these latest Plan B measures, society is being kept open - just with extra
precautions being taken.
As England's chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty said, we are in
an immeasurably better position now.
That is down to immunity built up by
vaccination and previous infection.
This variant can dodge some of those defences - but not
A step back, but by no means a return to square one.
The Covid crisis is the biggest challenge facing the country, Germany's new chancellor, Olaf Scholz, says.
After formally taking power from Angela Merkel following her historic 16 years as leader, Scholz acknowledged that he had taken control of Europe's largest economy in the middle of an aggressive fourth wave of Covid infections.
"We know that the transition that we are making here now is taking place in the middle of a large, ongoing crisis that calls for continuity and community and I think we will manage that," he said in Berlin.
Scholz said, however, that it would only be possible to fight the virus if the public got vaccinated and received their booster shots as soon as possible.
The soft-spoken 63-year-old also said that restrictions such as mask wearing and social distancing needed to be followed.
France looks to fourth vaccine shot
France's fifth wave of Covid infections has not yet peaked and so a fourth vaccine shot might be needed to help keep things under control, officials have warned.
"It's still spreading quickly and will continue to do so in the coming weeks," government spokesman Gabriel Attal said.
Meanwhile, government adviser Jean-Francois Delfraissy said: "For now, there's a call for one booster shot. Will that be enough? I don't know. Maybe we'll need a fourth shot."
Last week, French health authorities said the Omicron variant of Covid-19 was likely to become the most prevalent variant in the country by early next year.
Health Minister Olivier Véran said France's fifth Covid wave was spreading fast and having a big impact on hospitals, with a patient admitted to intensive care on average every 10 minutes.
France records highest Covid cases amid Europe surge
Away from events in the UK, France has recorded
its highest daily Covid cases since November 2020.
The country reported 59,019 Covid cases on Wednesday with
168 Covid deaths.
Europe’s Covid rate has been rising rapidly in recent weeks
and new restrictions have been imposed in a number of nations.
Austria, which is back under lockdown, has announced mandatory vaccinations while Germany is also mulling making jabs compulsory.
Belgium has tightened rules on face masks and Italy has introduced a "green pass" which is required at workplaces, venues and on public transport.
caveats to his "guidance was followed" mantra - such as "as far as I am
aware" - and he was pushed to broaden the remit of the cabinet secretary's
in replying to Laura Kuenssberg's question on trust, he emphasised his trust in
the British people rather than fully addressing whether they could trust him.
many of the Plan B measures won't be introduced until next week, questions will
inevitably be asked about whether the public health message would have landed
with more impact had the press conference been held on a different day.
critics - and that includes some Conservatives - say he was indulging in a "dead cat" strategy to divert attention from whatever had been going on behind
the black door of Downing Street.
But it seemed at this press conference that
the feline was still alive and prowling around the prime minister.
Working from home a blow, say small firms
While some companies, such as delivery firms, thrived under England's working from home rules, others fear more uncertainty from the government's latest Plan B guidance.
David Abramovitch, co-founder of Grind, says his chain of nine café restaurants in London were just starting to get back on their financial feet after the previous lockdown.
It will be "painful" to go into "reverse gear again", he tells the BBC. "Already we've seen a big drop-off in Christmas party bookings since the Omicron variant emerged."
Meanwhile Ruth, a dentist, says she feels like people have learned enough to keep working as they are.
"With the vaccinations and the [personal protective equipment], we have to learn to live with these things. If you lock people down constantly, they're not going to behave themselves."
What were the rules on Christmas parties last year?
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The prime minister maintained at
his press conference that: “To the best of my knowledge, we have followed the
He had been questioned about why the cabinet secretary had been asked to look into the
Downing Street party on 18 December last year and the Department for Education party, but
not a number of other parties that have been reported to have taken place.
the time, the government’s guidance specifically said that there should not be
was in Tier 3 restrictions on 18 December 2020 and the law said that there should
not be indoor gatherings - unless they were “reasonably necessary” for work.
can read more details about what the Covid rules were at the time here.
Watch: Kuenssberg challenges PM on new rules
Amid fallout from the row over a Christmas party at Downing Street in 2020, the BBC's Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg asked Boris Johnson how he could tell people they must now follow new restrictions.
At least 50% of Covid cases will soon be Omicron - report
Why all these changes announced today?
A fresh analysis published by the UK Health Security Agency
suggests the Omicron variant will be responsible for at least 50% of Covid cases within two to
The prediction is based on the number of cases judged to be
suspected Omicron from testing data.
That shows around 2% of daily cases are being caused by the
new variant. If that is correct it would mean there are about 1,000 Omicron cases every 24 hours.
What is more, the cases are thought to be doubling every two
or three days.
What is not yet known is whether Omicron will completely
replace Delta, the variant that is currently dominant.
What are the new Plan B rules for England?
if you missed all that, the government has announced new Covid rules for England, in response to concern over the Omicron variant.