What we learned at tonight's No 10 press conference
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Tier three: The main news from the briefing was reiterating the news that London, parts of Essex and Hertfordshire will be moving to tier three on Wednesday at 00:01. "We do not rule out further action," Mr Hancock added
London: Infections are rising in a number of boroughs across the city, said Public Health England's Prof Kevin Fenton
The new variant: There's no evidence it's more dangerous or is invisible to coronavirus tests, said Prof Chris Whitty. He also said it would be "pretty surprising" if the vaccine didn't work on it. And Mr Whitty said the variant is not the reason behind putting more areas into tier three
Christmas: It's a period of greater risk, said Prof Whitty, as he urged people to be responsible. Matt Hancock also urged people to be "careful and responsible"
The vaccine: They were asked by a member of the public who is trying to conceive whether the vaccine affects fertility, Prof Chris Whitty said there was “no current evidence” of an impact on fertility from any of the vaccines. It would be “quite surprising” if they did so, he said
Dutch PM announces lockdown until 19 January
BBC News Hague correspondent
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Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has announced a five-week lockdown which will last until 19 January.
From Tuesday, all non-essential shops, including garden centres, DIY and clothing stores will close. Supermarkets and other food shops, banks and pharmacies will remain open.
Hairdressers, tattooists, beauticians and sex workers must stop seeing clients. Museums, zoos, theatres, Christmas markets, casinos and amusement parks will close their doors, along with gyms, swimming pools and saunas.
The rule of two applies at home, except for a few days over Christmas when three house guests are allowed a day.
From Wednesday, both primary and secondary schools are closing - something that Rutte had been determined to avoid.
Hotels will stay open, but they are no longer allowed to serve food and drink to their guests. Room service is also off the menu.
Cafes and restaurants, including cannabis cafes, can keep serving takeaways.
The Eredivisie league and other top sports competitions will continue, but without an audience - as is the case now.
Schiphol airport remains open to passengers. The travel advice remains to stay at home as much as possible this winter and not to book trips abroad until mid-March.
No curfew will be imposed. On Monday the Netherlands recorded 8,496 new daily infections, slightly up on the weekly average.
Most people see the additional restrictions as completely justified. Many believe they should have happened weeks ago, and for some, it's going to mean a lonely Christmas.
As the prime minister addressed the nation, anti-lockdown protesters could be heard outside parliament.
Uganda arrests two Nigerian singers for 'Covid spreader' show
Away from the drama leaving stages in the UK, two Nigerian singers have
been arrested and charged in Uganda for putting on a show that officials say
was likely to spread the coronavirus.
Omah Lay and Tems, along
with Tems’ manager and four Ugandans, have been charged with “negligently doing
acts likely to spread an infectious diseases” (sic), Uganda police said in a tweet.
They will remain in
custody until their appearance in court on Wednesday, the statement added.
"After Tuesday we have no idea when theatres are to be allowed to reopen," said producer Cameron Mackintosh.
A number of West End shows had reopened over the last two weeks, including Pantoland at the Palladium, starring Julian Clary and Elaine Paige.
The Society of London Theatre said the move into tier three was "devastating news for the city's world-leading theatre industry", adding that it would cause "catastrophic financial difficulties" for venues, producers and thousands of workers.
The measures mean Tuesday night will see the last live performances in London for an indefinite period.
Going home for Christmas 'not worth the risk'
We've been hearing a lot today about the debate around Christmas in the UK - when coronavirus restrictions will be eased to allow people to mix with a slightly wider circle of family and friends.
Health experts have urged people to think carefully about who they mix with.
This means many families are now having awkward conversations about what they are and aren't prepared to do.
It's that extra risk which means not everyone will be taking up the option of meeting their loved ones.
Londoners encouraged to take up vaccine when opportunity comes
The final questions come from the Times' Chris
Smyth, who asks whether people should now be self-isolating if they want to
see elderly relatives at Christmas.
Matt Hancock says the best thing to do is
be “extremely careful” about who you see now.
Asked again about the new variant of coronavirus, Prof Chris
Whitty says the virus will “continue to produce mutations over time”, adding that many
of these will die out, some will be neutral, and some will have new properties.
He says, in the long run, there may be an issue that new variants
will evolve which are less affected by vaccines. He says this may mean we have to
re-vaccinate over time, like we do with flu.
Prof Kevin Fenton, Public Health England’s (PHE) regional director
for London, is asked about how the vaccine programme is working in London.
He says he knows many Londoners have questions about the
vaccine but he say it is “highly effective” and PHE are working to educate different
communities to ensure everyone has the information they need.
He says the vaccine is one of the “keys to unlock the door
to the end of this pandemic" and he would encourage all Londoners to take up the
opportunity of the vaccine “when they are able to”.
Whitty urges a 'minimalist, responsible' Christmas
Prof Chris Whitty - the government's chief medical adviser - is asked again about Christmas. Is
it wise to relax the restrictions to such an extent - and what will the impact
"All of this is about balancing the wider needs of society with the need to get the virus under control," he says.
He describes the five-day relaxation in rules as "relatively modest actually".
But he stresses that the level of impact on infections is related to "how many people choose to do this in a very minimalist, responsible way and those who wish to choose to come together and do all sorts of things which they otherwise wouldn't be doing if it wasn't for Christmas".
"The key thing is people have just got to be sensible," he says.
Does the new Covid variant trigger the same symptoms?
Kate Proctor of Politics Home asks when the variant was discovered, in which other countries it has been found and whether the symptoms are exactly the same.
Prof Whitty doesn't give an exact answer on when or where it was discovered.
However he does confirm that there is "no evidence that the symptoms are any worse or different with this variant".
He says the main reason "we are bringing it to people's attention" is because it appears to be spreading more quickly. But he insists that the variant is not the reason behind putting more areas into tier three.
Matt Hancock says it is "a tribute to British science and in particular the support that has gone into genomics that we are in a position to identify this strain".
What did Whitty say about the new variant?
The BBC's Vicki Young also asked Prof Chris Whitty about the new variant of coronavirus which is spreading in the south east - and the possible repercussions.
Prof Whitty says the reason this has been picked up is because of the UK's good surveillance system.
He says we don't know if it's getting more frequent because it's in a part of the country where the rate of increase is faster anyway, or whether this variant of the virus is possible to transmit more easily.
And he says there are three questions that scientists are asking about it:
Is there any evidence it is more dangerous? "There's no evidence for that at the moment," he says
Is it invisible to the tests we have? "The short answer is no."
Would we expect this to reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine? "It would be surprising, not impossible, but pretty surprising" if this variant would actually have evolved to be able to get around the vaccine, he says. As time goes by, with any infection, the new variants that emerge are more likely to be ones that are able to escape from a vaccine, he says. But there's no reason to think that's happening now and that is being tested at the moment at Porton Down, he adds.
Clearly time for London to move into top tier - Whitty
There's a question about the risk of the virus spreading
widely across the country during the Christmas period.
Matt Hancock reiterates that people need to behave very carefully
during Christmas and “take personal responsibility”.
Asked about whether the current tier system is fit for purpose, Prof Chris Whitty says parts of northern England and the
Midlands have seen their rates come down and stay down using measures similar
to tier three, while he says many others have managed to “hold the line” in tier two.
However, he says in London the situation has “escalated” and
it’s “now clearly a time to move” to tier three.
He says that it would be very difficult to get on top of
things in Essex and other parts of the South East while London rates are
continuing to rise because “there’s so much traffic in and out of London from
“It’s very important for everywhere that London is going
into tier three today,” he adds.
All eyes on Christmas rules
Attention is naturally turning to the wisdom of the
relaxation of rules over Christmas. A week after London and some surrounding
areas enter tier three, which prohibits mixing both indoors and outdoors except
in public open spaces such as parks, people will be free to get together in
groups of three households.
Ministers and their advisers are warning people to exercise
caution. But there are no plans to re-think the guidance.
Chief medical adviser Prof Chris Whitty accepts there is
risk, but says the government is trying to strike a “really difficult
balance”. Meeting up with loved ones was seen as an important choice to
give people after such a difficult year – and there was also concern people
would ignore any restrictions if they tried to prevent mixing.
While the rules will relax, a tier system of sorts still remains in
place. For example, in tier three areas hospitality will not be able
to open beyond offering takeaways.
That should mitigate some of the risk, but clearly not all.
The hope had been that after the second national lockdown and the introduction
of a tougher system of tiers, that would have been enough to keep the rates of
infections coming down.
That has not happened in the south east, but is happening elsewhere,
across large parts of the north of England, the south west and some parts of
the Midlands. The message is clear – it will be up to the public to weigh up
the risks for themselves.
Should London have been in tier 3 weeks ago?
Sky's Sam Coates asks if there are any circumstances under which the government would reverse its planned relaxation of rules over Christmas.
He also asks if London should have been put into tier three weeks ago.
Matt Hancock says he understands why people want to se their loved ones at Christmas, but that must be done in a way that is "careful and responsible".
On the question about London, Prof Whitty says going into tier 3 reduces transmission but also does economic damage and that the government has to balance the two.
He says it isn't possible to achieve perfection when "choosing between two bad situations".
Prof Fenton says Londoners have been "fantastic" at responding to the pandemic. He says today's measures are aimed at helping "us get ahead of the curve".
They want people to think carefully
Although Matt Hancock has said this is a critical moment for
London, many people are due to leave the city for Christmas in as little as
nine days when the restrictions are relaxed.
It’s clear that the politicians and medical experts want
people to think carefully about that decision.
Prof Whitty has described it as a period of risk and
urged people not to go any further than they need to.
Hancock has also made clear he wants people to be cautious
– but insists people may want to get together after a difficult year.
Christmas 'is a period of greater risk'
The next question comes from the BBC's Vicki Young, who asks whether the government reckons it should be rethinking plans to relax rules over Christmas?
From 23-27 December rules are being relaxed to allow three households to mix.
Mr Hancock says it's "important" that all of us are cautious and "very careful" over Christmas.
But he says that "especially after a difficult year", he understands why people want to get together with their loved ones.
Prof Chris Whitty is also asked what he thinks of the Christmas rules, and says "it's no secret... Christmas is a period of greater risk".
But he says they have tried to strike the balance of doing what is "least damaging" while keeping the virus under control.
And he urged people to take the tiers seriously before Christmas to reduce the risk as much as possible. "Go no further than you have to," he said, of the relaxation in rules.
Prof Kevin Fenton, Public Health England's regional director for London, said "the actions we take now" will affect our ability to have a safe Christmas.
"The restrictions in the tiers will still be in place. But the Christmas period allows us to meet those who are nearest and dearest to us but also taking care to prevent the transmission to them as well."
'No evidence' vaccine affects fertility
The second question is from Becky in Gateshead who asks
about whether the Covid-19 vaccine will affect fertility, as she is hoping to
start a family.
Prof Chris Whitty says there is “no current evidence” of an impact on fertility from any of the vaccines and he says it would be “quite surprising” if they did so.
“This is not an area that people should be concerned about at this
point in time,” he says.
He points out that the vaccine is currently being rolled out
to elderly people - who will not be thinking about fertility - and the focus is on
getting these groups vaccinated.
What is going on in London?
The latest regional data highlights the problems facing
After weeks of higher case rates, the north of England and
the Midlands are now seeing sustained decreases.
But the capital – along with parts of the south east of
England – is seeing coronavirus cases increase.
London now has the highest weekly case rates of any region
in England - with 191 cases per 100,000 people, for the week ending 6 December.
And 10% of tests for Covid-19 are coming back positive – the
highest rate in England.
This is still quite far below the peaks seen in the North
West in October and lower than where London was when the national lockdown
started in November.
Importantly, the spread of the virus has happened across all
age groups, meaning that it isn’t confined to younger people (who are less
vulnerable and less likely to be treated in hospital).
The rate amongst 10 to 19 year-olds is particularly high and,
in the past, this has preceded increases in older groups.
Will there be another lockdown after Christmas?
The first question comes from Ryan, a nurse in A&E. He wants to know if there will be a "firebreak" lockdown in January following the relaxation of rules over Christmas. He also asks how the government will support hospitals to deal with the extra pressure.
Matt Hancock urges people to be "careful and cautious, especially ahead of Christmas".
In terms of protecting hospitals, he says the government will be reviewing the tier system to determine "which areas should be in which tiers so we can keep this virus under control".
Prof Whitty repeats the call for people to be "very careful" and warns that the period after Christmas could be "extremely difficult for every area of A&E".