Relaxing tier restrictions could trigger a third wave of coronavirus this winter - and potentially hit the UK’s hopes for a return to normal by the summer, experts have warned.
NHS Providers, which represents hospital trusts, urged Boris Johnson to use "extreme caution" in moving any area of England to a lower tier when the measures are reviewed on Wednesday.
Chief executive Chris Hopson said: "We're about to hit our busiest time of year so people are really worried that if we relax the restrictions now the NHS simply won't be able to cope with all of the work that it needs to do in late December, January and February."
Meanwhile the Oxford vaccine’s lead scientist, Professor Sarah Gilbert, has warned that a Christmas-related surge in infections could delay the vaccination programme and have a “big impact” on the UK’s return to normal by the summer.
Elsewhere, Germany has confirmed a new lockdown will start from Wednesday, Italy now has Europe’s highest death toll after overtaking the UK last night, and the US is taking deliveries of the Pfizer vaccine ahead of the rollout on Monday.
Good morning and welcome to the Independent’s live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic in the UK and worldwide.
Relaxing restrictions ‘could trigger third wave’
Relaxing coronavirus restrictions next week could trigger a third wave of infections during the busiest time of year for hospitals, NHS bosses have warned.
NHS Providers, the membership organisation for NHS trusts in England, has written to Boris Johnson to raise concerns about pressure on the health service this winter as ministers prepare for a review of England’s three-tier system on Wednesday.
Warning comes as ministers prepare for review of England’s three-tier system
‘Shop safe’ in London to avoid Tier 3, says Khan
Christmas shoppers in the capital this weekend have been urged to follow social-distancing measures and wear face coverings by the Mayor of London.
Sadiq Khan appealed to Londoners to keep a two-metre distance where possible as he said it was "vital" to work together to tackle rising coronavirus cases in the city to prevent it moving into Tier 3.
Crowds were out and about in shopping districts of major cities on Saturday, including on London's Regent Street, which had been temporarily pedestrianised to aid with social distancing.
A joint statement from Mr Khan and Cllr Rachael Robathan, leader of Westminster City Council, said a "key" part of helping businesses recover from the crisis was "ensuring we get this deadly virus under control".
"With cases rising in many parts of the capital, it is vital that we all work together to control its spread," the statement said.
"Otherwise we may face tougher restrictions, which would greatly harm shops in the West End, our hospitality sector and the whole of London's economy.
"We are appealing directly to Londoners - when out shopping it is essential that you follow the rules."
Government ignored modern slavery warnings over PPE
Last night the Independent revealed how the government had ignored internal warnings over buying supplies of personal protective equipment from firms accused of modern slavery.Leaked documents show Whitehall identified companies suspected of forced labour as long ago as November 2019 – with further concerns about suppliers highlighted by a UK diplomat over the summer.
Samuel Lovett reports:
Exclusive: Whitehall identified companies suspected of forced labour as long ago as November 2019 – with further concerns about suppliers highlighted by UK diplomat during peak of pandemic
Teachers could strike over coronavirus safety in Scotland
Teachers in several parts of Scotland could take industrial action in disputes over school coronavirus safety, the country's largest teaching union has warned.
The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) says six of its branches are moving to ballot union members in disputes with their respective local authorities, while another four branches are considering whether to take this step.
EIS is calling for more remote teaching and learning to be used before and after the Christmas break and have proposed a shift to remote working for a few days around the festive period.
General secretary Larry Flanagan said: "The Scottish Government and local authorities seem determined to keep schools physically open, at all costs, right up to Christmas.
"Scotland's teachers are clear that this will present a very real risk to their health, their pupils' health and the health of their families by increasing the risk of Covid-19 spreading through family festive gatherings.
"Making a very slight change to arrangements around the holiday period, by allowing teachers and students to work remotely from home for a few days, would significantly reduce the risk of pupils or staff taking the virus into their family groups in the festive period."
Antivax conspiracy theories ‘reach a third of UK public’
Conspiracy theories discouraging people from getting a coronavirus vaccine have been seen or heard by more than a third of people in the UK, a new study suggests.
Research by King's College London and Ipsos Mori found that 34 per cent have encountered anti-vaccination messages, predominately via social media.
It comes in the week where the UK began vaccinating the first people in the world against Covid-19, outside of trials.
The report also found that around 40 per cent of people who get their information from platforms such as WhatsApp or YouTube believe conspiracy theories about the Covid-19 vaccines, with belief in such theories higher among young people who consume a lot of information from social media.
Those who use social media more, were more likely to believe a wider range of conspiracies, researchers said.
Colin Drury reported in September on the bizarre rise of Covid conspiracy theories:
The worry, ultimately, is that, as oddball as this stuff is, it appears to be gaining traction with a wider audience, contaminating both reasonable debate about coronavirus and trust in evidence-based science
Italy overtakes UK with Europe’s highest death toll
Italy now has the highest Covid death toll in Europe after overtaking the UK on Saturday evening - at least according to one measure.
The country reported a further 649 deaths, bringing the official total to 64,036. The UK’s official total currently stands at 64,024, after a further 519 deaths were added yesterday.
However both numbers are believed to greatly underestimate the real toll, due to missed infections, limited testing and different counting criteria. The UK’s total is based on the number of deaths within 28 days of a positive test, and separate data based on the number of deaths registered with Covid as a cause shows more than 73,000 deaths as of 27 November.
The US has the highest death toll in the world at nearly 300,000, followed by Brazil, India and Mexico.
South Korea head towards lockdown
South Korea's President Moon Jae-in warned on Sunday that Covid-19 restrictions may be raised to the highest level after a second day of record increases in cases.
Presiding over an emergency meeting at the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters for the first time since February, the president urged vigilance and called for an all-out efforts to contain the virus.
"Unless the outbreak can be contained now, it has come to the critical point of considering escalating social-distancing measures to the third level," he said.
Seoul, home to about half of South Korea's 52 million people, is currently under level 2.5 restrictions. Gatherings of more than 50 people are banned and restaurants are prohibited from serving customers after 9 pm.
Level 3 curbs would essentially mean a lockdown for the first time in Asia's fourth-largest economy. Schools would switch to remote learning, companies could allow only essential workers in offices and gatherings of more than 10 people would be banned.
"Our back is against the wall," Moon said. "This is a crucial moment to devote all our virus control capabilities and administrative power to stopping the coronavirus spread."
‘Let’s not throw away the gains we have made’: Vallance
The government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance has warned coronavirus will “bounce back” unless people follow the rules until the vaccination programme takes effect.
Writing in the Guardian, he said: “We are entering a new phase of the pandemic, one that will be fundamentally different because of the promise that vaccines hold. And while every person vaccinated is a single small step back towards normal life, it is vital that we remain clear-eyed and recognise that we are not out of the woods yet. Vaccines will need to be given to many millions of people to protect the vulnerable from severe disease and, we hope, to reduce the transmission of the virus, but we don’t know this for sure yet. It will take time to find out all we need to know, and it will take time for vaccination to reach the levels at which we can begin to lower our guard.
"Let’s celebrate the scientific achievement, let’s rejoice that new vaccine technologies will change the outlook for future infectious diseases, let’s recognise the international nature of collaboration in science and medicine, but let’s not throw away the gains we have made by allowing the virus to spread while we wait for vaccination to take effect. Continuing to follow the rules and avoiding the spread of virus is going to be essential, or this virus will simply bounce back.”
Bahrain approves China’s vaccine
Bahrain's National Health Regulatory Authority has announced it had approved the registration of a coronavirus vaccine developed by China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm).
The statement cited data from Phase III clinical trials that showed an 86 per cent efficacy rate and said Bahrain had participated in those trials.
Bahrain, which earlier this month granted emergency use authorisation for the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, said on Thursday that it would provide free vaccines for all citizens and residents.
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