2pm: Nicola Sturgeon to give update on Scottish restrictions
Up to 90 per cent of coronavirus patients in intensive care have not received their booster vaccine, Boris Johnson has claimed in a plea to increase uptake.
The Prime Minister said the “overwhelming majority” of those in ICU with the virus had not had a third jab and 2.4 million eligible adults already double-jabbed are yet to come forward.
Mr Johnson told reporters on Wednesday: "According to some of the surveys I've seen 90 per cent of people in ICU are people who are not boosted. So think about that, think about the risk you're running with your own health if you fail to get a booster.
"I'm sorry to say this but the overwhelming majority of people who are currently ending up in intensive care are people who are not boosted. I've talked to doctors who say the numbers are running up to 90 per cent of people in intensive care who are not boosted.”
He said he “cannot stress enough how vital it is” to receive a booster jab and said “I’ve got no doubt at all” that the Government would hit its January 1 target of offering boosters to all eligible adults.
While acknowledging the surging omicron variant “continues to cause real problems”, he stressed the new variant is milder and some 32.5 million boosters had been given.
Covid infections hit a record high on Tuesday but the most up to date NHS data show that just one fifth of the weekly rise in Covid inpatients were admitted to hospital because of the virus, as opposed to being admitted for unrelated reasons.
Follow the latest updates below.
Test & Trace tells people to isolate incorrectly
People testing positive for Covid - and their families - are still being told in NHS messages to self-isolate for 10 days, in apparent contravention of new guidance issued by ministers.
The Telegraph has learned that people are still being warned that they must quarantine for the full period - even though the Government has said this can be cut to a week or less for most people, providing they self-test.
The messages risk causing confusion and jeopardise attempts to keep the economy and key public services operating, as Covid cases soar to record levels.
On Tuesday, Conservative MPs and representatives of the hospitality industry reacted furiously to the approach adopted by officials. One MP accused it of trying "to undermine ministers" with the guidance.
Bars and restaurants 'lost £10,000' in run-up to Christmas
Pubs, bars and restaurants lost £10,335 on average in the week leading up to Christmas, according to new data.
On Christmas Day takings were down 60 per cent compared with 2019, new figures from the industry body UKHospitality found.
The average losses are above the maximum £6,000 cash grants offered to each affected venue by Chancellor Rishi Sunak as part of his £1 billion fund announced last week, prompting calls for more financial support from the Trreasury.
City centre and London venues were hardest hit, with the rise of the omicron variant of Covid-19 and new work from home instructions knocking pre-Christmas celebrations badly.
By comparison, data from the weeks prior to omicron emerging showed average sales had been at 98 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, leading many to hope for a successful festive period.
December is typically equal to three months' worth of trading, UKHospitality said, meaning the economic recovery could now take far longer.
Residents in locked-down Chinese city plead for food
Chinese officials admitted Wednesday they have faced challenges getting enough supplies to residents in locked-down Xi'an, after the city's inhabitants took to social media to complain they did not have enough food and called for help.
Some 13 million residents in northern Xi'an are in their seventh day of home confinement, and national health officials have called for measures to be strengthened further as China battles its worst virus surge in months.
Beijing has followed a strict "zero Covid" strategy involving tight border restrictions and targeted lockdowns since the virus first surfaced in a central city in late 2019.
But officials admitted at a press conference on Wednesday that "low staff attendance and difficulties in logistics and distribution" had led to trouble providing essential supplies.
A day before, many residents asked on social media for help acquiring food and other essentials, with some saying their housing compounds would not let them out even though they were running out of food.
WHO says global Covid positive tests up 11 per cent last week
The World Health Organisation says the number of Covid-19 infections recorded worldwide increased by 11 per cent last week compared with the previous week, with the biggest increase in the Americas. The gain followed a gradual increase since October.
The UN health agency said in its weekly epidemiological report released late Tuesday that there were nearly 4.99 million newly reported infections around the world from December 20-26.
Europe accounted for more than half the total, with 2.84 million, though that amounted to only a 3 per cent increase over the previous week. It also had the highest infection rate of any region, with 304.6 new infections per 100,000 residents.
WHO said that new infections in the Americas were up 39 per cent to nearly 1.48 million, and the region had the second-highest infection rate with 144.4 new cases per 100,000 residents. The US alone saw more than 1.18 million, a 34 per cent increase.
Reported new infections in Africa were up 7 per cent to nearly 275,000.
Evidence needed for any self-isolation rule change, says NHS leader
Any decision to cut the Covid self-isolation period to five days "would have to be based on very clear evidence" that it will not drive a rise in infections, an doctors' leader has said.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, a membership body for doctors, said staff absence "is a huge issue for the NHS right now" with many in isolation.
At present, people who receive negative lateral flows on days six and seven of their self-isolation period, 24 hours apart, no longer have to stay indoors for a full 10 days.
Calls are growing on the Government to cut this further after the US slashed its self-isolation period to five days if people are not showing symptoms.
Mr Taylor told BBC Radio 4: "The Government, with scientific advice, has to make an assessment of the balance of risk here, but it's important to recognise that there are risks to anything that we do, and if we were to reduce to five days that would have to be based on very clear evidence that is not going to increase the rate of infection."
No Covid tests available to order in the whole of England
The Covid test shortages that have regularly blighted the country over the festive period have struck again this morning, with home-delivery tests out of stock nationwide.
Those trying to order lateral flow and PCR tests for home delivery on the Gov.UK website are currently being met with an error message.
The lateral flow booking page says, "sorry, there are no home delivery slots left for rapid lateral flow tests right now", while the PCR booking page says "none available" for every region of England. However, PCR tests are available in Scotland and Wales.
This is despite the Government urging people to test regularly ahead of New Year's Eve, which has caused testing levels to surge to a record high.
'Overwhelming majority' in ICU haven't had a booster, says PM
Boris Johnson said the "overwhelming majority" of people entering intensive care with the virus had not had their booster jab.
The Prime Minister told reporters: "We can see the data about the relative mildness of omicron. What we can also see is the very, very clear effect of getting those jabs, getting those boosters in particular - and that's what's making a huge difference.
"According to some of the surveys I've seen, 90 per cent of the patients in ICU are people who are not boosted. So, think about that. Think about the risk you're running with your own health if you fail to get a booster."
Mr Johnson said there were 2.4 million eligible double-jabbed people who were yet to take up the offer of a booster.
He told reporters: "I'm sorry to say this but the overwhelming majority of people who are currently ending up in intensive care in our hospitals are people who are not boosted."
He added: "Get boosted for yourself, and enjoy New Year sensibly and cautiously."
We've looked at 'balance of risks', says PM on divergence from devolved rules
Boris Johnson stressed that the Government had looked at the "balance of the risks" on Covid policy and insisted he is on track to hit his target of offering boosters to all eligible adults by 2022.
Asked why England had acted differently to the devolved nations, Mr Johnson told reporters: "I think that we've looked at the balance of the risks together, we generally concert our strategies together.
"We see the data showing that, yes, the cases are rising and, yes, hospitalisations are rising, but what is making a huge difference is the level of booster resistance or level of vaccine-induced resistance in the population.
"What we need to do now is really finish off that work. I've no doubt at all that by January 1, by the New Year, every adult in the country will have been offered the slot to get a booster. They'll be given a slot to get one.
"The question is, are we getting people coming forward to take advantage of those slots? And that's what needs to happen."
Prime Minister defends New Year freedoms with a dose of caution
Boris Johnson said people should enjoy the New Year in a "cautious and sensible way".
Asked about reports of people travelling across the border from Wales and Scotland into England to celebrate, the Prime Minister told reporters on Wednesday: "I think everybody should enjoy New Year but in a cautious and sensible way.
"Take a test, ventilation, think about others - but above all, get a booster."
He added that the vaccination campaign had allowed England to maintain its current level of coronavirus controls.
"The omicron variant continues to cause real problems. You are seeing cases rising in hospitals," he told reporters. "But it is obviously milder than the Delta variant and we are able to proceed in the way that we are."
That was due to the "huge proportion of the British public" which had been vaccinated. "That is allowing us to go ahead with New Year in the cautious way that we are," he said.
US coronavirus infections 'hit record high'
The average number of daily Covid-19 infections in the United States has hit a record high of 258,312 over the past seven days, according to a Reuters tally.
The previous peak for the seven-day moving average was 250,141 recorded on Jan 8 of this year.
States showing the highest daily infection numbers on Tuesday included New York, at 40,780 , and California, which reported more than 30,000 positive tests. Texas reported more than 17,000 and Ohio 15,000.
The omicron variant was estimated to make up 58.6 per cent of the coronavirus strains circulating in the US as of Dec 25, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
'Year of the squeeze' to see post-Covid energy bills climb
Families are facing a £1,200 hit in soaring energy bills and tax increases next year, a prominent think tank has calculated in what it called a looming “cost of living catastrophe”.
The Resolution Foundation said that 2022 looked set to be the “year of the squeeze”, with tax changes and an energy price increase both coming in April.
The think tank’s analysts predicted that real wages would grow by just 0.1 per cent next year due to rising inflation and may have actually fallen in November.
Rising energy bills have pushed up by supply side problems seen during the pandemic, while inflation increases have been blamed on the upheaval of Covid lockdowns.
'Wrong course of action' to flee across Scottish border for New Year's Eve
Scotland's Deputy First Minister has told New Year revellers planning to travel to England for more relaxed Covid restrictions that this would be the "wrong course of action".
John Swinney said while there is nothing to stop party-goers from heading south of the border, where nightclubs are still open, for their Hogmanay celebrations, this would go against "the spirit of the rules we are putting forward".
In Scotland, nightclubs closed for at least three weeks from December 27, along with limits to outdoor event sizes and a maximum of three households allowed to meet indoors.
Asked if there would be anything to stop people heading to England, Mr Swinney said: "People are free to take those decisions, but I would discourage them from doing so.
"I think it is the wrong course of action for people to take because we have a serious situation we have got to manage and we encourage everybody to play their part in addressing that."
He added: "We have the power in Scotland to put in place certain restrictions and we have done those on what we consider to be a proportionate and appropriate basis."
Australia seeks to ease testing rules amid record infections
Australia will seek to make urgent changes to Covid-19 testing rules to ease pressure on test sites as infections surged.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday Australia needed "a gear change" to manage overburdened laboratories and get people out of isolation. He called a snap meeting of the national cabinet on Thursday.
"We just can't have everybody just being taken out of circulation because they just happen to be at a particular place at a particular time," Morrison said during a media briefing.
Morrison's plan would prioritise clinically urgent cases, in a bid to cut long lines at test sites and waits for lab results, which can currently take three to four days.
The proposed rules would rely more on rapid antigen tests, redefine close contacts of confirmed cases to those who live in the same household, and only require PCR tests for people with symptoms. Close contacts would have to isolate for seven days.
True cases account for only one-fifth of new Covid hospital patients
Just one fifth of the weekly rise in Covid inpatients was caused by people admitted to hospital because of the virus, figures suggest.
The most up-to-date NHS data show that on December 21, there were 6,245 beds occupied by coronavirus patients in English hospitals - an increase of 259 from the previous week.
But within that increase, just 45 patients were admitted because of the virus, with the remaining 214 in hospital for other conditions but having also tested positive - so called “incidental Covid” admissions.
Critics of the data say it is wrong to include incidental figures in the daily updates of admissions and patient totals, as they can include someone with a broken leg who has just also tested positive on admission, but may be completely asymptomatic.
Scale of lateral flow supply issues is 'huge', pharmacies warn
Here is more on the lateral flow test shortages from Leyla Hannbeck, the chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, which represents thousands of chemists. ]
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has said nearly 900,000 test kits are being provided per day - which is double the supply seen before December 18 - but Ms Hannbeck warned deliveries have been "patchy".
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, she said:
What our members are telling us is that demand for the lateral flow tests is very high at the moment due to the current guidelines around self-isolation.
Pharmacies are reporting that every five minutes approximately somebody comes in to the pharmacy asking for a test.
But, unfortunately, because of the issues around supply being patchy and inconsistent, it means that those who come for the test don't always get it, which is very stressful not just for the pharmacy team but for the patient.
The scale of the problem is huge because the demand is high, because of the current guidelines.
People are doing the responsible thing by wanting to be tested and we are in the Christmas area of time, and the New Year is just around the corner and people want to be with family and friends.
It just simply isn't enough to meet the demand and it's patchy. Some days you get one box delivered and other days none. It isn't enough for the pharmacies to deliver to the patients.
We want to make sure that the message is clear to the Government that the supply needs to be consistent.
Avoid 'rushing into' self-isolation rule change, says Labour
The Government should avoid "rushing into" cutting Covid isolation times, Labour has said as pressure grows for a rule change to tackle staff absences inflicting key sectors of the economy.
Asked about calls for the isolation period to be reduced to five days, the shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Ashworth told Sky News: "I think we should always follow the advice of our leading scientists, medical scientists like Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance, and I don't think they've given an opinion on this."
He added: "Let's see what they say on this before rushing into this."
Mr Ashworth said politicians "should always be careful to listen to scientific experts".
On Tuesday, British scientists argued that the length of time needed to self-isolate could be cut further, possibly to five days as in the US, and they urged the Government to allow the country to begin living with the virus.
Keep going in bid to get hold of lateral flow tests, says minister
People should "persevere" in their efforts to secure Covid tests amid warnings from pharmacies of patchy supply, a Government minister has said.
The work and Pensions minister Chloe Smith said delivery capacity of lateral flow tests has been doubled to ensure kits are delivered to people at home and chemists.
"Of course, what we're seeing is increased demand for testing, which is good and sensible because that's part of people having been cautious, I think, and being sensible around Christmas and around New Year. So, we're seeing spikes of demand," she told BBC Breakfast.
"I quite understand that people will be wanting to make sure that the testing kits are there - that follows on from people having been doing the right thing in being cautious and in wanting to be tested, perhaps before big events or family gatherings.
"What I would say is to please persevere with either making use of your friendly local pharmacy or using the delivery method on the Gov.uk website.
"Even whilst there have been periods of great demand on that, and every so often we've had to replenish the means behind the scenes there, that is happening and the delivery is occurring."
Sturgeon to give update on Covid in Scotland
Nicola Sturgeon is due to give an update on Covid restrictions in Scotland as case numbers reach record highs.
The festive period has seen daily cases in Scotland climb to more than 8,000, with the most recorded since the start of the pandemic on Boxing Day - 11,030.
The Scottish First Minister is expected to give an update on restrictions and Covid statistics in Scotland between 2pm and 2.30pm in Parliament on Wednesday.
It remains unclear whether she will introduce further restrictions or not.
Here's a reminder of Scotland's current main curbs:
One-metre physical distancing at large events, with limits of 100 people standing indoors, 200 people sitting indoors and 500 people outdoors.
Meetings limited to three households at indoor and outdoor venues like bars, restaurants, theatres, cinemas and gyms.
Table service was also made a requirement at places where alcohol is served.
No current plans to reduce England's self-isolation period
There are "no current plans" to cut the Covid isolation period in England to five days, a Government minister has said.
Calls are mounting for the current seven-day "test to release" isolation period - already cut from ten days - to be relaxed further as staff absences throughout the economy soar.
US health officials have cut the self-isolation window from ten days to five days.
Chloe Smith, minister for disabled people, health and work, told BBC Breakfast: "There are no current plans in England to change that period.
"Of course, we have actually only recently taken it down from 10 to seven, and we want to look at that - we want to make sure that that is working as we believe it ought to.
"We think the current period, therefore, is the right one, so we haven't any plans to change that further."