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  1. Thanks for joining us

    Thanks for following our live coverage of the pandemic today.

    Today's live page was edited by Sarah Fowler and Chris Clayton. The writers were Mary O'Connor, David Walker, Toby Luckhurst, Emma Harrison, Kate Whannel and Joseph Lee.

    We'll be back with all the latest updates tomorrow morning.

  2. Nations divided on Christmas gatherings - UK summary

    London Christmas shopper
    Image caption: People are being urged to "think hard" about visiting friends or family over Christmas

    We're bringing our live coverage to a close today. But here's a look back at the main stories this afternoon:

  3. Covid headlines from around the world

    A woman is tested for coronavirus in South Korea
    Image caption: South Korea is seeing a sharp rise in cases

    Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called for the UK to celebrate a “little Christmas”. But the UK isn’t the only country grappling with surging cases as the year nears its end. Here’s a round up of the headlines from around the world:

    • The World Health Organization (WHO) is urging Europeans to wear face masks during family gatherings this Christmas as it warns of a further rise in infections early next year. "It may feel awkward,” WHO advice said, “but doing so contributes significantly to ensuring that everyone remains safe and healthy”
    • It comes amid a rise in cases in several European countries. Germany entered a lockdown on Wednesday after reporting a record daily rise in deaths, while Italian officials fear the country is headed for its worst annual death toll since World War Two. You can read about European Christmas lockdown rules here
    • The US has begun rolling out the vaccine, but the pandemic continues to rage. Top infectious diseases expert Dr Anthony Fauci called the vaccine rollout “bittersweet” as it came the same day the US recorded more than 300,000 deaths from the pandemic
    • And South Korea is considering a first national lockdown as a third wave of cases threatens to overwhelm authorities. The capital Seoul has just three critical care beds remaining
  4. David Walliams joins star-studded cast in school nativity play

    David Walliams at Flakefleet Primary School
    Image caption: David Walliams visited the school after their 2019 appearance on Britain's Got Talent

    A Lancashire primary school is staging a star-studded nativity play after a "cheeky" request to Britain's Got Talent's David Walliams.

    Flakefleet Primary School's choir were finalists on the show in 2019 but were prevented from appearing in the 2020 special due to the pandemic.

    So head teacher Dave McPartlin - no relation to presenter Ant - contacted Walliams, a judge on the show, to ask him to narrate the school play.

    Flushed with confidence when the star agreed, the school asked others including Gaby Roslin and Piers Morgan. "Our motto is dare to dream," the head says. "Pretty much everyone said yes."

    This Morning's Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby, BGT judge Amanda Holden, comedian John Thomson and BBC Breakfast's Mike Bushell are also among those who recorded remote contributions for the performance.

    The nativity, which also includes three socially-distanced wise men dressed as Elvis and Mary riding on a Blackpool donkey, is expected to be available to watch on the school's Facebook page from Monday.

    Pupils in the nativity play
    Image caption: Mary rides a Blackpool donkey in the performance
  5. Tanzania chooses ‘local herbs’ over vaccine

    Alistair Coleman

    BBC Monitoring

    A man drives past a poster of President John Magufuli in Tanzania
    Image caption: President John Magufuli claimed in June that Tanzania was ‘coronavirus-free’

    Tanzania has reportedly said it has no plans to import Covid-19 vaccines, instead pinning its hopes on research into “local herbs”.

    In an interview with The East African newspaper, health ministry spokesman Gerald Chami went on to cast doubt on the safety and efficacy of imported vaccines. He claimed that development has been too rapid for effective testing.

    But Covid-19 vaccine tests meet rigorous international standards – and we’ve looked into questions around safety.

    There are long-running suspicions that African countries are used as a testing ground for vaccines, along with concerns that developing countries are at the back of the queue for deliveries.

    Tanzania’s approach to Covid-19 has been at odds with its east African neighbours, who have seen a recent surge in cases.

    The country stopped reporting new cases at the end of April, and President John Magufuli claimed that the country is virus-free.

    It was also one of the first countries to order Madagascar's self-proclaimed plant-based Covid-19 remedy in May, despite warnings that its efficacy was unproven.

  6. Slovakia to return to lockdown after mass testing failure

    Rob Cameron

    BBC Prague Correspondent

    A woman is tested for coronavirus in Slovakia
    Image caption: Slovakia pioneered a mass testing programme in October and November

    The Slovak government has decided the country will return to lockdown from Saturday, amidst a sharp rise in new Covid cases. Most shops will be closed, and there will again be a daytime curfew, with exceptions for going to work. The lockdown will last until the new year. A maximum of two households will be able to meet over Christmas.

    Slovak Health Minister Marek Krajci told reporters that the virus was spreading uncontrollably and harsh action was needed. The decision was taken on the day the authorities reported 7,962 new cases for Tuesday and 58 deaths - a sharp rise.

    It comes after Slovakia was feted around the world for its mass antigen testing in late October and early November. Prime Minister Igor Matovic said at the time that the antigen testing would remove the need for lockdowns, and that Slovakia was showing the way forward.

    However, there have been problems in sourcing enough antigen tests to keep the scheme going in the pre-Christmas period. Matovic has blamed his coalition partner Richard Sulik, who is economy minister. President Zuzana Caputova has called on Matovic to hand the Covid response over to someone else in government - he has accused her of seeking to "sabotage" the mass antigen tests back in the autumn.

  7. Listen to health workers on Christmas gatherings, says NI minister

    Robin Swann
    Image caption: NI health minister Robin Swann joined in urging people to have a smaller, safer Christmas

    Northern Ireland's health minister Robin Swann has joined in urging people to have a smaller and safer Christmas.

    He told a Northern Ireland Executive press conference that it was "a big ask" for people to limit their social contacts over the festive period.

    But with some hospitals under severe pressure, Swann said: "Listen to the message that comes from our frontline workers who really need you to do what we are asking at this moment in time."

    He urged the public to "simply walk away" from gatherings if something "makes you feel uncomfortable" in terms of the risk of spreading the virus.

  8. PM will have to go further on toughening Christmas rules - Labour

    Labour says that the government should have toughened up the regulations surrounding mixing households at Christmas, as Wales has said it will.

    Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told BBC News: "We would have liked to have seen a toughening up today from the prime minister - perhaps something like what we've seen in Wales, reducing households.

    "I think he's going to have to go further in the coming days."

    But Ashworth stopped short of recommending a specific set of restrictions, saying Labour needed access to the scientific modelling and would consider the different options.

  9. Watch: Whitty warns virus is like 'icy and treacherous' road

    Prof Chris Whitty, England's chief medical officer, said that people should do the minimum possible amount of social mixing over Christmas, even if the regulations allowed them to do more.

    "You wouldn't drive at 70mph if there was a very icy road," he said, even though the law allows it.

    "People have got to take a lot of care on this. This is the equivalent of us saying, these are icy and treacherous conditions."

    Video content

    Video caption: Professor Whitty: 'You wouldn't drive down an icy road at 70 mph'
  10. Watch: Johnson urges a 'smaller but safer Christmas'

    Boris Johnson has urged everyone to have a "smaller but safer Christmas" this year to reduce the spread of the virus.

    The prime minister asked people to "think hard and "exercise extreme caution" around Christmas plans because the epidemic was getting worse.

    He suggested people should consider delaying meeting elderly relatives until they had been vaccinated.

    Video content

    Video caption: Covid-19: 'A shorter Christmas is a safer Christmas'
  11. US vaccine rollout is bittersweet, says Fauci

    Top US infectious diseases expert Dr Anthony Fauci has spoken about the "bittersweet" rollout of a vaccine against the coronavirus, as the US passed 300,000 deaths from the pandemic.

    Speaking to CBS This Morning, Dr Fauci said it's "extraordinary" that science has rapidly delivered a vaccine, but urged Americans to continue following public health measures.

    Video content

    Video caption: Fauci: 300,000 US Covid deaths makes vaccine rollout bittersweet
  12. US mayor quits after backing mask order

    A mayor in the US state of Kansas has resigned after receiving threats for backing an order to wear face masks.

    Joyce Warshaw, the Republican mayor of Dodge City, stepped down after she was quoted in a news article supporting a city commission decision to impose a mask mandate. Commissioners voted 4-1 last month in favour of the move.

    "I don't feel safe anymore due to some people's actions and words," she wrote in a Facebook post, adding that she has "no regrets" over any decisions she took as mayor.

    "I wish all of Dodge City the very best and understand that 2020 has been challenging for all of us and perhaps is the source of some of the hate," she concluded. "So let's put it behind us and bring on a better year in 2021."

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  13. US secretary of state in quarantine

    Mike Pompeo
    Image caption: Mike Pompeo has tested negative

    US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will go into quarantine after coming in close contact with someone who has tested positive.

    Mr Pompeo tested negative for the virus. A spokesperson for the state department said he was being monitored closely by their medical team.

    The name of the person close to Mr Pompeo who tested positive was not revealed. But dozens of staffer, politicians and aides close to US President Donald Trump have tested positive in the last few months - including, memorably, the president himself in October.

    Most recently, Mr Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani was hospitalised after contracting the virus. The 76-year-old told listeners on his radio show this month he was treated with the same experimental drug cocktail as the president.

  14. How worrying is the rise in cases in Kent?

    Ben Butcher

    BBC Reality Check

    Swale in Kent

    The prime minister highlighted Kent as one of the areas seeing “worrying rises” in coronavirus infection.

    The case rate hit a high on 10 December - the latest day we have official figures for.

    There are currently 452 cases per 100,000 people and in Medway the rate reached 640 cases per 100,000 , the highest for a county or metropolitan area in England.

    The cases rate is the number of people testing positive relative to the size of the area’s population.

    What’s concerning is that the national lockdown – from 5 November to 2 December - only appears to have had a small, very short-term impact. The rate fell for four consecutive days up to 23 November and then started increasing again.

    Being placed in tier three, when the national lockdown ended, has not affected the rise in cases either.

    As ever, we need to look at other data; case rates can be impacted by mass testing which is often deployed in areas with high coronavirus infection and that means more cases are found, driving up the rate.

    Looking at hospital cases, these show the same pattern: a small, short-lived dip midway through the lockdown before the cases in Kent and Medway hospitals reached their peak on 6 December – the latest day we have data for.

    In fact, their daily admissions are now four times higher than they were on 5 November.

  15. News conference ends as Wales announces new Christmas law

    Boris Johnson

    The news conference has ended.

    Boris Johnson used the briefing to repeatedly urge people to exercise "personal responsibility" over Christmas.

    While Chris Whitty urges people to keep gatherings small, not to travel too far and to avoid travelling from high prevalence areas to low prevalence areas.

    But as the briefing was ending, the Welsh government announced it would change its regulations so that people will now only be able to meet two households over the festive period by law.

    This comes despite earlier reports that the four UK nations had agreed to allow three households to meet.

  16. BreakingTwo household limit at Christmas in Wales to be made law

    People will only be able to meet two households plus an additional single person household in Wales over the festive period by law.

    The Welsh government has clarified that guidance set by the first minister on Wednesday will be set out in regulations.

    It comes despite earlier reports that the four UK nations had agreed to allow three households to meet.

    The relaxation in the rules have been planned for 23-27 December. You can read more about the change here

  17. PM and Whitty leave no doubt about the message

    Vicki Young

    Deputy Political Editor

    There's no doubt what the message is from Boris Johnson and Chris Whitty.

    The law allows you to meet up with elderly relatives for Christmas - but we’d rather you didn’t.

  18. When will the Oxford vaccine be available?

    Tim Ross, from Bloomberg, asks whether the prime minister hopes the Oxford/AstraZeneca will be available by the end of this year, adding: "When will all over 50s be vaccinated?"

    Johnson replies that he has "always been in the worried, sceptical camp on vaccines" and worried that he "shouldn't over-promise".

    He says it is "incredibly exciting" about the coronavirus vaccines, adding: "I don't want to jinx things by over-promising at this stage."

    Whitty says the approval of the Oxford/AstraZeneca this is in the hands of the regulator the MHRA and it is "very important we let them do their job free of any pressure".

    Whitty says there is a "fair chance" that by "early in the new year" the regulator will be able to says whether the vaccine is effective and safe.

    "With AstraZeneca, if it comes through, it does make it a lot easier - not only is the volume going to be greater," he says, as the Pfizer vaccine is limited because of global demand - "but it is easier to deploy because it doesn't have the -70C requirements the Pfizer one has".

    He says if the vaccine is approved "it will speed up substantially the period when those in the highest risk groups can all be vaccinated".

  19. Should we visit care home residents?

    Boris Johnson and Prof Chris Whitty

    Hannah Rodger of the Herald asks what the advice is for people planning to visit care home residents.

    She also asks the prime minister if he thinks Scotland has enough funding to manage the end of the Brexit transition period and what Christmas gift he has got for Nicola Sturgeon.

    Chris Whitty takes the first question. He says the guidance is slightly different between four nations but in essence it is to take the risk down as far as we can - this includes using testing as well as complying by the tier rules.

    "None of these are perfect solutions," he says and adds "we are never going to get the risk down to zero."

    He says the decisions on visiting have to be made by the individual care homes in consultation with the local directors of public health.

    On the other questions, Boris Johnson says Scotland will have enough money to manage the end of the transition period.

    And on a gift for Nicola Sturgeon he suggests that due to Brexit Scotland will become "the proud possessor of hundreds of thousands of tonnes fish, shellfish and crustaceans".

    "She [Nicola Sturgeon] will have more fish than she could possibly consume herself for a very long time to come," he says.

  20. Johnson: 'You cannot constrain people too much' over Christmas

    Boris Johnson

    Gordon Rayner from the Telegraph asks whether lockdowns are the best way to respond to Covid-19?

    Referring to England's Christmas guidance, Johnson replies: "We are saying very clearly you can't meet in more than three households for more than five days.

    "What we are saying is we do recognise the human spirit will want to celebrate Christmas that you cannot constrain people too much.

    "So what we are also saying is if you want to stop the spread of the disease we need to work out how we can minimise the amount of contact."