Covid-19: Millions to enter toughest tier and furlough extended

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

1. Covid rules get tougher

The toughest coronavirus restrictions are to be extended across a wide area of east and south-east England from Saturday, bringing the total number of people under tier three in England to 38 million. Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Hertfordshire are among them, as are parts of Surrey, East Sussex, Cambridgeshire and Hampshire, while swathes of the nation already in tier three will remain there. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "We've come so far, we mustn't blow it now." But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he was concerned the current tiered system wasn't "strong enough to control the virus". See all the places moving in to tier three here. Not sure which tier you're in? Our postcode checker can help.

2. Staggered start to next term

There will be a gradual return into secondary schools after the Christmas break, for pupils in England and Wales , with many years doing online classes at first. In England, only students in Years 11 and 13, who face exams next summer, will be allowed to go back on the first day of term, along with the children of key workers and those deemed vulnerable. The government said it needed to allow schools to set up a Covid testing scheme.Wales anticipates a full return to the classroom by 18 January. Scotland and Northern Ireland have not announced any changes to the start of the January term yet.

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3. Furlough scheme extended

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has extended the furlough scheme for one month until the end of April next year, saying it would provide "certainty for millions of jobs and businesses". It means the government will continue to pay up to 80% of the salary of UK employees for hours not worked, with a cap of £2,500 a month. See whether you might be eligible for furlough here.

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4. Tory MP 'broke rules'

Home Secretary Priti Patel has said a fellow Conservative broke Covid rules by giving a speech at a dinner in London and could be fined. Tory MP Tobias Ellwood defended his attendance at the "fully Covid compliant" event as being "well intentioned", and apologised if he had "muddled" the government's message.

media captionA Conservative MP who attended a business dinner was in “breach of the regulations” the home secretary says.

5. Sherry's Christmas comeback

It's not just Santa who'll be supping on the sherry this Christmas, it seems. After years of being out of fashion, the Spanish aperitif has made a comeback, with sales up 17.6% in the 12 weeks to 5 December, says market research firm Nielsen. Analysts say the renewed interest began during the first coronavirus lockdown, when both young people and old started trying different tipples and even mixing their own cocktails.

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And don't forget...

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

And, as we all continue to grapple with how to spend Christmas, check the latest rules on bubbles and when you can get together.

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