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Live Reporting

Edited by Martha Buckley

All times stated are UK

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  1. That's it from us

    We're closing our live coverage of the pandemic for today. Thanks for following and we'll be back tomorrow with more updates throughout the day.

    Our coverage was brought to you by: James Clarke, Martha Buckley, Becky Morton, George Bowden, Alexandra Fouché, Katie Wright, Gavin Stamp, Lucy Webster and Francesca Gillett.

  2. What's happened today?

    It's been another fairly busy day for coronavirus news, with Boris Johnson giving a press conference earlier. Here's a recap of the top headlines:

    • Early evidence suggests the variant of coronavirus that was first identified in the UK might be more deadly. Prime Minister Boris Johnson made the announcement at the No 10 briefing tonight. But there's still huge uncertainty around the numbers, and evidence shows that vaccines will still work. Here's our latest story with what we know
    • There's some good news about the infection rate.The UK's Covid epidemic appears to be shrinking for the first time since early December - with the R number now estimated to be between 0.8 and 1
    • The vaccine rollout in parts of Europe is encountering some problems, because of a reduction in deliveries of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Some vaccinations have been suspended in parts of Germany, Italy and Madrid in Spain. Pfizer said last week it was delaying shipments for the next few weeks because of work to increase capacity at its Belgian processing plant
    • Police have revised down the number of people they estimate attended a wedding party in north London last night. Originally they said 400 people were there, but they have since clarified it was more like 150. The size of the rule-breaking party appalled many people
    • Tennis star Andy Murray will miss the Australian Open. He tested positive for coronavirus last week and was not allowed to travel on a charter flight to Melbourne. He had hoped to find a way to get there safely and quarantine until he could compete, but a solution has not been found.
  3. Fines for milk buyers who drove 20 miles to farm

    Milk being poured

    People who drove 20 miles and then queued for two hours to get fresh milk from a farm's vending machine have been fined for breaching lockdown rules.

    The farmers who own the vending machine, Einion and Elliw Jones, in Trelogan near Holywell, say they feel North Wales Police have got "it in for us".

    They said even people living nearby were facing being fined, despite the force accepting milk was "an essential item".

    In Wales Covid rules tell people to "stay at home" except for essential reasons, which include buying food. Welsh government guidance on the rules says there are no limits on how far people can travel to shop for essential items, but urge people to stay as "local to your home as possible".

    Ms Jones said some customers from "just down the road" in Trelawnyd and Mostyn had even been told they shouldn't be there.

    The police said the farm was working with the local council to ensure it was "Covid-compliant surrounding queuing, social distancing etc".

    There's more on this story here.

  4. How worrying are the new variants?

    New variants of coronavirus are emerging that are more infectious than the original one that started the pandemic.

    There is some evidence that the one that has become dominant in the UK may be associated with a higher degree of mortality, says PM Boris Johnson.

    Scientists are urgently studying these mutated versions to understand what threat they pose.

    So how worrying are the new UK, South Africa and Brazil coronavirus variants?

    The BBC's Michelle Roberts has a look at the evidence here.

  5. Andy Murray 'gutted' to miss Aussie Open over quarantine

    Andy Murray

    Former tennis world number one Andy Murray will miss the Australian Open having failed to find a "workable quarantine" as he recovers from coronavirus.

    The 33-year-old Briton was set to fly out to Melbourne last week, but was not allowed to travel on a charter flight after being found to have Covid-19.

    The Victorian state government has put in place strict measures to allow players to fly into the country for the tournament, which starts on 8 February.

    Murray says: "Gutted to share that I won't be flying out to Australia to compete at the Australian Open.

    "We've been in constant dialogue with Tennis Australia to try and find a solution which would allow some form of workable quarantine, but we couldn't make it work.

  6. Corrie and Emmerdale face Covid disruption

    A man walks past the famous Rovers Return on the set of television soap Coronation Street
    Image caption: The famous Rovers Return pub on the set of Coronation Street

    ITV soaps Coronation Street and Emmerdale are both seeing their filming schedules hit by the pandemic.

    An ITV spokeswoman confirms Emmerdale stopped filming last week after some members of the team tested positive for Covid-19.

    She adds they will return to filming on Monday.

    Meanwhile, Coronation Street will pause filming for two weeks on Monday "to undertake some rewriting of stories and scripts as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic".

    However, the break will not affect its TV schedule and the show will still be on six times a week, a statement adds.

  7. News about new variant 'deeply alarming' - Labour

    Jonathan Ashworth

    The news that the new variant of coronavirus may be more deadly is "deeply alarming," said the shadow health secretary, "not least because Boris Johnson assured the nation back in December there was no evidence the variant was more dangerous."

    Jonathan Ashworth said: “We urge ministers to go further and faster on vaccination rollout now to save lives, and introduce proper financial support for those needing to isolate to help breaks chains of transmission.”

  8. Police revise wedding party guest list down to 150

    Video content

    Video caption: Covid: Wedding party in Stamford Hill broken up by police

    One of today's top stories about coronavirus in the UK has been police discovering people gathered at a wedding party in north London last night.

    Originally the police said 400 people had attended - but they have now revised that number down to 150.

    In a statement, the Met Police said: "Although initial calls suggested some 400 people had attended the wedding, it is now believed that approximately 150 people were in attendance."

    The organisers of the wedding party - which was held at a strictly Orthodox Charedi Jewish school in Stamford Hill - face fines.

    The Met said one organiser would be reported for consideration of a £10,000 fine while five other attendees were issued with £200 fixed penalty notices.

    "This afternoon, an investigation has been launched to identify those others responsible for organising and who attended the wedding," the Met added.

    Read the full story here.

  9. Higher mortality of new variant 'reflected in hospitals'

    Two hospital staff in protective gear

    There is still “a lot of uncertainty” about just how severe the new UK variant is, according to another of the government's scientific advisers.

    Prof Peter Openshaw, a member of the government's Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies, said the figures given during the Downing Street briefing suggested an increase of something like 30 to 40% in terms of mortality which “really ties in with what we’re seeing in the hospitals”.

    Speaking to Radio 4’s PM programme, he said: “It is obviously a blow. We were rather hoping that this virus was going to be quite genetically stable.

    “The realisation that this virus is capable of relatively fast mutation and development of new variants… has been a bit of a setback for us.”

  10. More international travel restrictions looking likely

    Nick Eardley

    Political correspondent

    With new variants emerging in different parts of the world, it’s worth highlighting Boris Johnson’s comments about borders.

    It seems pretty clear ministers are considering more restrictions on people coming into the UK – to stop those variants coming into the UK if possible.

    In the PM’s words, the UK may have to further to “protect our borders”.

  11. Reality Check

    Do people self-isolate?

    It’s impossible to say exactly what proportion of people stay at home for the full 10 days after being in contact with someone who has tested positive, however some evidence suggests the minority of people do.

    A government-backed study from September suggests just 10.9% of people remained indoors for the full time.

    Labour has often cited this report when arguing people cannot afford to miss work, but a closer look at it suggests that, of those who break the rules, just 8.9% do “to go to work”.

    Most people reported going out for things such as shopping or exercise, but also because they didn't think they needed to quarantine as they didn’t develop symptoms.

    This research is quite old (done before self-isolation grants came in) and has a relatively small sample size of just 400 people.

    However, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has also highlighted research that shows most people appear to be following the rules.

    This research also suggests those on lower incomes felt they were three times less able to self-isolate than those better off.

    - By Ben Butcher

  12. What did we learn from today's press conference?

    Friday's coronavirus briefing was led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

    He was joined by Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, and Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser.

    Here's what they told us:

    • There is some evidence that the new variant of the virus is associated with higher mortality, as well as being more infectious
    • For an average man in his 60s, the risk of dying with the original virus is 10 in 1,000 cases. Evidence suggests the risk with the new variant is 13 or 14 deaths in 1,000 cases, but this is uncertain
    • The number of people in hospital with Covid is 78% higher than it was in the first peak in April
    • Vaccines appear to be effective against the UK variant, but there is concern about their effectiveness against variants from South Africa and Brazil
    • At the moment, people who have had a vaccine must stick to social distancing rules. The vaccine prevents severe disease but may not prevent people catching and spreading the virus - especially as there is a lot of virus in the community
    • Restrictions will not be lifted until infections have fallen, but there are no plans to tighten them
  13. Vallance: Biggest risk is high infection rates

    Boris Johnson

    Bloomberg's Tim Ross asks whether delaying the second vaccine dose risks creating more resistant variants of the virus.

    Patrick Vallance says the riskiest thing in terms of new mutations is high prevalence in the community.

    He says the mutations currently circulating came about naturally due to transmission - but adds there is always "some risk" when there is partial immunity.

    But he says that partial immunity also provides benefits in terms of protection for the most vulnerable.

    Chris Whitty says, "Our overall view was that the balance of risks was in favour of having many more people in the UK vaccinated."

    On support for businesses and jobs, the PM says the government will "do what it takes" to support livelihoods.

    And with that, he ends today's No 10 briefing.

  14. Virus 'will be around forever' in some form

    Sir Patrick Vallance

    Asked whether the British public are ready for lockdown to stay in place for a long time, the prime minister says we will have to live with coronavirus for “a long while to come” but it is an open question "when and in what way" we can start to relax restrictions.

    He says it depends on the vaccine rollout going well, getting case numbers down and whether there are discoveries of any more variants.

    That doesn’t mean that "I’m not optimistic" about the rollout of the vaccine, he says, “but at this stage you really have to be very cautious indeed”.

    He adds that the first thing that the government wants to open is schools, which is a priority.

    Patrick Vallance says he expects the virus “to be around, probably, forever" but it is going to be controlled.

    However, he says it is a very different outlook with increasing numbers of treatments and vaccines, but the key is “not getting too hooked up on specific dates”.

  15. A pretty bleak message - but no sign of tighter lockdown

    Nick Eardley

    Political correspondent

    The new variant has been causing concern in government for a number of weeks.

    Now the scientists believe there is some early evidence it could be causing slightly higher mortality – when you look at everyone testing positive.

    The overall message from the prime minister is pretty bleak, I’m afraid; that the terrible death figures we’ve seen in recent days will continue for a while.

    We don’t seem to heading for a tighter lockdown in England because the PM believes the current measures are the right ones if people follow them.

    But there was a clear message there that we can’t start unlocking society until the rates come down significantly – we’re in this for a while.

  16. PM: We may need to go further to protect our borders

    The Daily Telegraph's Gordon Raynor raises a video he says has been posted by Health Secretary Matt Hancock aimed at travel agents, suggesting the South African variant is 50% less susceptible to vaccines than the original strain of the virus.

    He asks whether this is correct and, if so, whether it will affect the government's approach to whether to tighten UK border controls.

    The PM runs through the measures that the UK has in place, including the ban on direct flights from South Africa and "rigorous" obligations for people entering the UK in terms of quarantine and tests.

    But he suggests "we may need to go further to protect our borders", saying the massive progress the UK is making in terms of vaccinations cannot be undermined.

  17. PM: We are enforcing lockdown with increasing toughness

    PM, Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance on Friday

    Sky News's Sam Coates asks whether, if the new variant is more dangerous, it is right that more people are "out and about" during the current lockdown than the first one last year.

    The PM says that "we are enforcing the law very strictly with increasing toughness", meaning increased fines to dissuade risky behaviour.

    "It depends on everybody doing the right thing and avoiding transmission," he says, adding that is what will be more effective than police action.

    On why the new variant may be transmitting more readily, Sir Patrick Vallance says it is not believed the new variant has a higher viral load, meaning people "shed more virus". He suggests it may be other factors that make it more transmissible.

    On the current infection rate, Chris Whitty says that while infections are slowly going down "it is at a very, very high level". He says that among some age groups - including those 20 to 30 - infections may still be increasing.

    And on hospitalisations, he says that they are "broadly flat" for the UK as a whole, but there are variations between regions. "That peak is not yet definitely going down yet," he says.

    Deaths will be delayed further with the peak expected in the future, he adds.

    Video content

    Video caption: Infection level 'very, very high' and 'extremely precarious' - Prof Whitty
  18. PM 'can't begin consider unlocking'

    The next question asks about whether the UK variant means lockdown restrictions will last longer.

    The prime minister says he thinks the country has “the right package of measures” to deal with the new variant and people need to comply with them.

    He says there are signs in the data that infections are flattening, although the rates are still “very high” so the government “can’t begin to consider unlocking”.

    The vaccination programme could change this, he says, but the UK is in a position where cases are so high that unlocking could lead to “a big rebound”.

    Asked whether the South African variant is in the UK, Patrick Vallance says some cases have been detected but he says the key thing is to try to contain it.

    He adds that “there is no evidence” that the South African or Brazilian variants have transmission advantages over the variants already in the UK and so having cases here doesn’t mean “they will take off”.

  19. Deaths will continue to be high - PM

    Boris Johnson on Friday

    Now we move on to questions from journalists, the first of which is from the BBC's health editor, Hugh Pym.

    In light of the information about the danger posed by the new variant, he asks the PM whether he expects the current death trends to rise more steeply and then fall more slowly.

    In response, the PM says there was a big surge in deaths over the Christmas period which is continuing and he sadly believes this will continue to be so "for a while to come".

    Prof Whitty says the "shape of the curve" is driven by the rate of infections, which has been going up and is now coming down.

    Sir Patrick says the death numbers are "awful" and are likely to continue at current levels for some while, saying this is what was predicted for some time.

    In response to a separate question about evidence emerging from Israel that the Pfizer-BioTech vaccine might not be as effective as first thought, Sir Patrick says there needs to be further research but overall the efficacy of the approved vaccines is proven.

  20. Can those who are vaccinated mix together safely?

    The second question from a member of the public comes from Sally, from Oxfordshire, who asks whether those who have been vaccinated are allowed to mix together with others who have had a jab.

    Chris Whitty says that - even with the very effective vaccines - there is a period of time straight after a jab "where there is no effect". He says people won't see protection for around two to three weeks following their vaccination - and even then "that protection will not be complete".

    He says a large proportion of people in the community have currently got the virus - "so the risk is if you have the vaccine you still have some residual risk".

    Whitty adds that the lockdown is helping to get the rates of infection right down - to allow those who have been vaccinated more protection.

    "Over time, the answer will be yes - but at this point in time the answer will be no," he says.

    Sir Patrick Vallance adds there is uncertainty around the vaccine's role in preventing transmission of the virus.