Covid-19: Christmas row, schools testing plan and a Bake Off vaccination

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

1. Concern over Christmas mixing

Plans to allow people to mix indoors over Christmas are under scrutiny following rising case numbers around many parts of the UK. The Health Service Journal and British Medical Journal say the easing of restrictions would be "a major error" that would "cost many lives", and Labour has joined their call for a review of the proposals. No 10 said the rules were "under constant review", but it still intended to allow families to meet up. The PM's spokesman said the government had been clear that people needed to "remain cautious and vigilant" during the five days of relaxed rules from 23 to 27 December. After Cabinet minister Michael Gove discussed the issue with leaders in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales this afternoon, a source told the BBC: "There was broad recognition commitment has been made to people and they will expect us to honour it - but there is a need to be stronger and clearer in guidance and messaging". BBC political correspondent Nick Eardley said the issue of people travelling between high and low tier areas had been discussed, but nothing had been decided. More talks are expected tomorrow. You can read more about the current plans for Christmas mixing in the UK here, and you can read tips on how to be safer at Christmas here.

Media caption,
The government needs to "review" and "toughen up" the planned Christmas virus restrictions, says Sir Keir Starmer.

2. 'Game-changer' schools testing plan

Mass testing of secondary-school pupils in England is to be greatly increased in January, in an attempt to reduce the numbers being sent home. Any students who have been in contact with a positive case will be offered seven days of daily testing, while teachers can have weekly Covid tests. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said this "huge expansion" of testing would be a "milestone moment" in keeping schools open. Hamid Patel, head of an academy trust that had piloted such testing, said it had been a "game-changer". The aim is to improve attendance and to reduce the numbers having to go home, by identifying and isolating those who are infected, and allowing those who do not have the virus to stay in school. Although 15% of pupils were out of school last week, the latest figures show 0.2% of pupils were confirmed Covid cases. You can read more about Covid safety measures for schools here.

Image source, AFP

3. Tougher measures for parts of Scotland

Three Scottish council areas are to have tougher coronavirus restrictions imposed from Friday in a bid to reverse a rising number of cases. Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and East Lothian will all move from level two to level three of the five-level system. It means people will no longer be allowed to travel outside of their own council area unless it is essential. Pubs, cafes and restaurants will have to stop serving alcohol and must shut at 6pm, and indoor entertainment venues such as cinemas, bingo halls and amusement arcades will also have to close. All the country's other 29 council areas will remain in their current levels, including Edinburgh - which had been pushing to be downgraded from level three to level two. You can read more about Scotland's Covid restrictions here.

4. Chaotic start for airport testing

A new system meant to cut quarantine times for travellers arriving in England has been beset with problems on its first day. Travellers are allowed to end self-isolation early if they pay for a coronavirus test and test negative five days after arriving. The government picked 11 firms to carry out the private tests - but a number of them have hit problems. One said it could neither provide any more tests nor even answer queries. The government approved the list of companies allowed to provide the Test to Release scheme on Monday night. One company, SameDayDoctor, has asked to be withdrawn from the programme. It posted a message on its website stating: "Unfortunately we have been so overwhelmed with requests for Test and Release that we cannot answer any more emails nor take any more bookings." You can read more about the UK's current Covid travel rules here.

Image source, EPA

5. 'Painless' vaccination for Bake Off judge

The Great British Bake Off judge Prue Leith has shared a photo of her being vaccinated against coronavirus. The 80-year-old posted the image on Twitter after she received the vaccine on Tuesday, while wearing a mask. "Who wouldn't want immunity from Covid-19 with a painless jab?" she asked. The rollout of the vaccine began in the UK last week, with healthcare workers, people living in care homes and the elderly being prioritised. You can see when you will be in line for a vaccine here, and you can read about the safety of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine being rolled out in the UK here.

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And don't forget...

Find more information, advice and guides on our coronavirus page.

Plus, our lives have changed dramatically this year in so many ways. In twelve charts, and with the help of four of our correspondents, we set out some of them.

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