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Covid-19: A 'step forward' in vaccine roll-out plans and infections levelling off

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  • Coronavirus pandemic

Here are five things you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic this Friday evening. We'll have another update for you tomorrow morning.

1. UK government asks regulator to assess vaccine

The UK government has formally asked the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency to assess the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, one of the frontrunners in the race for a coronavirus cure. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it was "another important step forward" and that, if approved, it would be available across the NHS for free across all of the UK. He said the UK has contributed more than any other country towards researching a vaccine, something he said the country should be proud of. It follows Pfizer and BioNTech seeking emergency authorisation for the vaccine in the US.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionThe UK has pre-ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine should it prove viable

2. Infection rates levelling off

The "second peak is flattening", Health Secretary Matt Hancock told this afternoon's Downing Street press briefing. He pointed to the latest data which suggests coronavirus infection rates appear to be levelling off in England and Scotland - and decreasing in Wales and Northern Ireland. The Office for National Statistics estimates that one in 80 people in England currently have coronavirus. In Northern Ireland it is one in 135 people; in Scotland one in 155, and in Wales one in 165. Meanwhile, the R number - the number of people that one infected person will pass on a virus to, on average - for the whole of the UK is estimated to have dropped to between 1 and 1.1. Last week it was between 1 and 1.2. You can read more about the R number and why it matters here.

3. Toughest restrictions arrive for parts of Scotland

More than two million Scots are, as of 18:00 GMT, now living under the country's toughest coronavirus restrictions. The level four rules apply to 11 council areas, including Glasgow - and mean restrictions on who people can meet, and the closure of pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops. New travel laws are coming in at the same time, to try to stop the virus spreading to areas where it is less common. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she hoped it would bring levels of infection down ahead of Christmas. Meanwhile, we ask - how come Scotland's biggest city is under these restrictions, but its capital has escaped the near-full lockdown?

image copyrightPA Media
image captionThe level four restrictions will remain in place until 11 December

4. Row over NI reintroduction of Covid restrictions

Northern Ireland's first minister has denied her DUP party performed a U-turn by agreeing to tighter restrictions a week after voting against measures proposed to the Stormont Executive. Arlene Foster said the evidence "had changed". Earlier today some businesses reopened as rules lifted across Northern Ireland - but any celebration will be short-lived as a two-week "circuit-break" has been announced, beginning next Friday. The decision has been met with anger from many business leaders, but Mrs Foster said the executive "had to act".

image copyrightEPA
image captionHair salons in Northern Ireland are reopening after a five-week forced shutdown but will have to close again from next Friday

5. Scrabble, baking and beating loneliness together

Two women, 88-year-old Joan Martin and 36-year-old freelance filmmaker Karolina Malinowska, have found one way to beat the loneliness of lockdown - by signing up to a homesharing scheme. Now, the pair watch TV, play Scrabble, and bake together. Karolina says she enjoys having someone to talk to, while Joan says it is "refreshing" and "opens up new areas of conversation every day".

And don't forget...

You can find more information, advice and guides on our coronavirus page.

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