MILLIONS more Brits will be plunged into harsh Tier 4 lockdowns today as Matt Hancock warned we "have to take further action".

The Health Secretary will appear in the House of Commons later today to tell MPs which areas will be put into tier 4 – a near-lockdown scenario with shops, indoor activities, gyms and hairdressers shut to stop Covid.

Up to two THIRDS of the country may be put in Tier 4 after Covid cases rocketed yesterday – the highest daily rise since mass testing began.

The news comes as patients were treated in the back of ambulances and hospitals planned to set-up outdoor tents normally reserved for terror attacks after becoming overwhelmed by as coronavirus.

A major incident has been declared in Essex as Covid continues its deadly spread – with the frontline workers facing "heartbreaking" unprecedented pressure in the battle against the bug.

Follow the very latest news, updates and analysis of the coronavirus crisis in our live blog below.

  • Catriona Graffius

    WHAT IS THE OXFORD VACCINE?

    Developed by top scientists at Oxford University in collaboration with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, the Oxford Covid vaccine has an “overall efficacy” of 70.4 per cent against the virus. 

    In the first trials of the Oxford vaccine, the jab was found to be 62 per cent effective overall – similar to the flu vaccine's efficacy – but in a smaller group given a half-dose first, protection went up to 90 per cent. 

    The Oxford vaccine is seen as a game changer in the fight against Covid and the UK government has already bought 100million doses of the vaccine.

    Unlike the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine which costs about £15 a jab and must be kept at -70C, the Oxford vaccine costs a little under £3 and can be kept at normal fridge temperature. 

    This means it will be easier to deliver and administer the jab across the country. 

     

  • Catriona Graffius

    WHEN WILL THE OXFORD COVID VACCINE BE ROLLED OUT?

    The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved for millions of Brits as Covid cases mount across the country.

    The vaccine was approved by regulators today and a roll out of the vaccine could begin as early as January 4. 

    Thousands of medics across the country are poised to begin administering the Oxford jab now it's been given the go-ahead.

    In anticipation, mass vaccination centres at sports stadia and conference venues are all primed.

    Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said: “There is light at the end of the tunnel with this vaccine."

  • Catriona Graffius

    TIER 4 ANNOUNCEMENT: WHAT TIME IS MATT HANCOCK'S ANNOUNCEMENT TODAY?

    The next tier system review, led by the Health Secretary, will take place today.

    Matt Hancock will address the House of Commons at 3pm today to announce any changes to the Tier system.

    He is also set to mention any additional measures the government will be taking.

    With rising cases in all regions of England and record numbers of patients in hospital, it is likely that more regions will be moving up a tier rather than down.

  • Catriona Graffius

    MATT HANCOCK HAILS OXFORD VACCINES AS "GREAT BRITISH SUCCESS STORY"

    Health Secretary Matt Hancock has hailed the Oxford Covid vaccine as a "great British success story".

    Describing the news that regulators approved the vaccine as a "double dose of good news", the Health Secretary told BBC Radio 4 he has a "high degree of confidence we can be out of this by the spring".

    Mr Hancock said: "It is absolutely brilliant work to make this happen and the really good news is not only that we have two vaccines and the NHS delivery plan to get it out to everybody but it also means we can accelerate that delivery plan so we can bring this pandemic to an end faster than we would have been able to. The vaccine is our way out of this."

    Mr Hancock would not offer target figures to vaccinate over the coming months but said the NHS delivery plan for the jab was secure.

  • Catriona Graffius

    NEXT STEPS IN VIRUS BATTLE ARE 'CRITICAL', SAYS TOP SCIENTIST

    The next steps in the battle against coronavirus are "critical", a top Oxford scientist has warned.

    Prof. Andrew Pollard – who has worked on the Oxford Covid vaccine – told BBC R4 this morning that the "blizzard is still raging" as virus case numbers rocketed yesterday.

    The scientist also hailed the arrival of the Oxford vaccine which was approved by regulators this morning.

    Prof Pollard called it an "absolute triumph" and said the data regarding the. vaccine's efficacy was "robust".

     

  • Britta Zeltmann

    'TRIUMPH FOR BRITISH SCIENCE'

    Boris Johnson has hailed this morning's vaccine news as "a triumph for British science'".

  • Britta Zeltmann

    VACCINE APPROVED

    OXFORD University's coronavirus vaccine has been approved by regulators today – and the jab will be rolled out to millions of Brits from Monday.

    The news will bring much-needed hope as Covid cases surge, with thousands receiving treatment for the deadly bug in hospitals around the UK.

    A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The Government has today accepted the recommendation from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to authorise Oxford University/AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine for use.

    "This follows rigorous clinical trials and a thorough analysis of the data by experts at the MHRA, which has concluded that the vaccine has met its strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness."

  • Britta Zeltmann

    NEW TIERS EVE

    Two thirds of England could be put into Tier 4 lockdown from as early as Thursday after daily Covid cases soared by a record 53,135 yesterday.

    The PM was yesterday deciding whether to extend the toughest laws to Lancashire, the Midlands and Cumbria.

    They would join 24 million in the South East and East of England. The changes could come into effect on Thursday — but will be in place by Saturday at the latest.

    But there have also been dire warnings from scientific advisers, who told the PM that harsher measures will have to be imposed on the rest of the country if schools are to reopen next month.

  • Niamh Cavanagh

    BRUTAL BEATING

    Police are hunting a woman who viciously assaulted a sheriff's deputy at a gas station – after she was asked to put on a face covering.

    Shocking video footage shows the moment the deputy was battered with her OWN baton during the altercation at in St Louis City, Missouri, on Christmas Day.

    The assaulted deputy was working as security at the Shell Gas Station on North Tucker Boulevard when the suspect entered the business without wearing a face mask.

    But according to Breaking911, the unnamed deputy said the suspect became aggressive when she was told she could not enter the business without a covering.

  • Niamh Cavanagh

    SACKED FOR ISOLATING

    A paperboy was sacked for taking time off to self-isolate as instructed by his school.

    Keenan Latimer, 15, missed two separate ten-day stints after pupils tested positive for Covid.

    Now, his angry dad John, 43, is thinking of suing the newsagent for giving Keenan the axe.

    He said: “He’s lost his job merely for following the guidelines and that’s not acceptable.

    "In fact, it’s downright shameful.”

    Keenan, of Stamford, Lincs, took time off after being told to isolate by Bourne Grammar School.

  • Niamh Cavanagh

    PASSING IT ON

    The mutant Covid strain wreaking havoc in London and the south east is over 50 per cent more infectious than other strains of the virus.

    People with the mutant strain are 54 per cent more likely to pass it on to others, according to Public Health England.

    Despite being more contagious, the strain does not appear to cause worse symptoms or more deaths.

    The research was published in a report by PHE.

    The report compared 1,769 people with the mutant strain and the same number of people with similar genders, ages, residences and dates of infection but with different strains of the bug.

    It also found that the new strain was no more infectious among children than other strains.

  • Niamh Cavanagh

    HOSPITAL CRISIS

    Covid-19 patients at London hospitals could be taken to YORKSHIRE as ICU units reach breaking point at 114 per cent capacity.

    Medics are also said to be considering using war-style triage tents to treat the ever-increasing number of virus patients as a super-infectious new strain rip roars through the capital.

    The triage tents are usually used in extreme cases which see a sudden influx of patients, like a terror attack.

    The terrifying coronavirus boom has seen officials at some London hospitals request several major Yorkshire hospitals take on Covid-19 patients, reports the Health Service Journal.

    The Royal Free in the capital has already decided to move its children's inpatients unit to another hospital to free up space for adult patients, covid and non-covid sufferers alike, reports The Guardian.

  • Niamh Cavanagh

    AREAS AT RISK GOING INTO TIER 4

  • Niamh Cavanagh

    TIERING UP

    Boris Johnson will decide England's new tiers tonight amid claims up to two thirds of people could end up in the toughest lockdown restrictions.

    The Prime Minister will chair a meeting of the "Covid-O" committee this evening ahead of the Health Secretary's announcement tomorrow.

    It comes as Whitehall sources claimed "sizeable chunks" of the Midlands and the North are expected to be put into Tier 4.

    Ministers are growing increasingly concerned over new and more infectious Covid variants, which are spreading across the country.

    The Government has yet to rule out tougher new "Tier 5" rules – which could see schools shut down – but a Whitehall source has said that expanding Tier 4 was more likely in the "immediate future".

  • Niamh Cavanagh

    IS IT POSSIBLE TO CELEBRATE ON NEW YEAR'S EVE THIS YEAR?

    While the government relaxed the rules for parts of the UK on Christmas Day, this does not include the New Year.

    Those wanting to party will have to do so with their household only.

    There will also be restrictions on going to the pub or a restaurant, although this depends on what tier you live in.

    The government's guidance says: "You must follow the rules on where you can go and who you can meet, including on New Year’s Eve.

    "Your Christmas bubble will no longer apply."

    London's traditional fireworks display has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Niamh Cavanagh

    VENEZUELA SIGNS CONTRACT WITH RUSSIA TO ACQUIRE VIRUS VACCINE

    Venezuela has signed a contract with Russia to acquire enough of the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine to inoculate 10 million people in a first phase, Vice President Delcy Rodriguez said on Tuesday.

    Venezuela began administering the vaccine to about 2,000 people in October as part of a clinical trial.

    The once-prosperous OPEC nation is suffering a severe economic crisis marked by a weak health system and deterioration of basic services such as electricity and running water.

    "This is a safe vaccine, it is a step forward," Rodriguez said on state television, accompanied by Moscow's ambassador to Caracas, Sergei Melik-Bagdasarov.

  • Niamh Cavanagh

    EXPLAINER: WHAT IS THE OXFORD COVID VACCINE?

    Developed by top scientists at Oxford University in collaboration with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, the Oxford Covid vaccine has an “overall efficacy” of 70.4 per cent against the virus. 

    In the first trials of the Oxford vaccine, the jab was found to be 62 per cent effective overall, but in a smaller group given a half-dose first, protection went up to 90 per cent. 

    The Oxford Covid vaccine uses a harmless, weakened version of a common virus which causes a cold in chimpanzees.

    Researchers have already used this technology to produce vaccines against a number of pathogens including flu, Zika and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers).

    The virus is genetically modified so that it is impossible for it to grow in humans.

    Scientists have transferred the genetic instructions for coronavirus's specific "spike protein" – which it needs to invade cells – to the vaccine.

    When the vaccine enters cells inside the body, it uses this genetic code to produce the surface spike protein of the coronavirus.

    This induces an immune response, priming the immune system to attack coronavirus if it infects the body.

  • Niamh Cavanagh

    CONTINUED

    Wales is under a nationwide level four lockdown, which was introduced on December 20.

    Cops set up road blocks in the Brecon Beacons today.

    There were visitors from London, Cheltenham in Gloucestershire – which is under Tier 3 rules – as well as people who had travelled from Swansea, Cardiff and Newport.

    Carmarthenshire Police tweeted today that they were doing "high-visibility patrols" outside the mountain.

    They wrote: "A large number of people are visiting the area to walk up Pen y Fan.

    "This is not essential. Officers are engaging and educating and where necessary will enforce restrictions."

  • Niamh Cavanagh

    ENDS IN TIERS

    Covid cops have cracked down on Londoners fleeing to beauty spots today as two-thirds of England are set to be plunged into Tier 4.

    Drivers filled up a car park at Pen y Fan in the Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales as people left their areas despite strict coronavirus lockdown rules.

    Police said they turned away drivers who had come from as far away as London, which is under Tier 4 restrictions.

    Intensive care consultant Dr David Hepburn said it was "very disappointing" that people were travelling to visit the mountain despite soaring Covid cases.

    Dr Hepburn, who works at Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport, Wales, told the BBC: "All the hospitals across the health board are now very, very full.

    "We've still got quite a lot of time to go before this pandemic is under control, so really anything could happen over the next month or so."

  • Niamh Cavanagh

    YOU’RE 1,465,987 IN QUEUE

    This online Covid vaccine calculator can determine when you are likely to get invited for your jab.

    The tool considers your age, your health, and whether you work in the NHS.

    On the December 8, Margaret Keenan became the first person in the UK – and the world – to receive an approved Covid-19 jab.

    It marked the beginning of the end of the coronavirus pandemic – however, experts say it will take years for the whole population to get their jab.

    Although the UK has paid for 340 million vaccine doses, so far only one of the seven candidates – the Pfizer/BioNTech jab – has been approved for use.

    The Government has secured 40 million doses of the Pfizer jab – enough for 20 million people as a booster jab is required a few weeks after the first shot.

    You can find the calculator in our story.

  • Niamh Cavanagh

    DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FLU, COLD AND COVID-19

  • Niamh Cavanagh

    KISSING BANNED

    Brits are banned from seeing in 2021 with a kiss as the mutant Covid strain spreads through the UK.

    No10 today urged everyone to stick to social distancing for any NYE celebrations – which means no locking of lips with anyone outside your household.

    It is a tradition to have a smooch as the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve, but to keep as safe as possible, partygoers should steer clear.

    A Downing Street spokesperson said: "We've been clear, the PM has said previously it's important that everybody continues to follow the guidelines and do everything they can to reduce the transmission of the virus.

    "That remains the case on New Year's Eve so we are asking people to stick to the guidance and keep contact to a minimum."

  • Niamh Cavanagh

    WORKED TO DEATH

    North Korea has reportedly opened new prison camps for those breaching coronavirus rules with some dying just "a day after entering" their gates.

    It's claimed multiple detainees dropped dead as a direct result of the extreme "cruelty" dished out by the brutal guards running the highly-secure compounds.

    Reports claim many are feared to have collapsed after being forced to run non-stop inside the units – which are surrounded by razor-sharp barbed wire.

    Kim Jong-un's cronies have introduced strict quarantine regulations on the hard-hit provinces of Sungho-ri and North Hwanghae

    Now they are putting those who violate the non-nonsense Covid rules into hardline political prison camps, reports the Express.

  • Niamh Cavanagh

    THE LATEST – UK COVID-19 CASES AND DEATHS

  • Niamh Cavanagh

    TAKING ITS TOLL

    The UK has recorded 53,135 coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours in the biggest rise yet.

    There have been 414 more deaths, taking the grim total to 71,567, as hospital admissions go well past the April peak.

    The number of people being treated for the killer bug in hospitals in England is now 21,286, compared to 18,974 patients recorded during the peak on April 12.

    Today's large case number also reflects a lag from some logged infections over the Christmas period when offices in Scotland and Ireland were closed.

    There are 1,529 patients on ventilators in the UK, with 616,933 people now vaccinated with their first dose.

    Dr Susan Hopkins, Senior Medical Advisor at Public Health England, said: “We are continuing to see unprecedented levels of COVID-19 infection across the UK, which is of extreme concern particularly as our hospitals are at their most vulnerable.

    "Whilst the number of cases reported today include some from over the festive period, these figures are largely a reflection of a real increase."

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