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Coronavirus 1) Europe shuts door on Britain over fears of mutant virus

“Britain’s border with France was closed last night with all travellers and lorry drivers blocked from leaving and the EU ready to ban all arrivals to the bloc. Fears were mounting of gridlock on roads in Kent as the Channel Tunnel said that its services would be suspended at 11pm yesterday amid an international scramble to quarantine Britain over a faster-spreading variant of coronavirus. Flights, ferries and trains from Britain are expected to be banned by Brussels after a wave of European countries including Italy, the Netherlands and Ireland implemented bans on arrivals. Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany and Sweden also announced travel bans.” – The Times

  • Italy detects patient with new Covid strain as EU fears mutation will explode across Channel – Daily Telegraph
  • The Department of Health has contingency plans in place to airlift the Pfizer vaccines from Belgium using military aircraft if the ban stayed in place for longer than 48 hours – Daily Telegraph

Coronavirus 2) Johnson set to chair emergency Cobra meeting today

“The Prime Minister is set to chair an emergency Cobra meeting on Monday after international travel from the UK has been effectively halted. As well as the issue of passenger travel, the meeting is set to put ‘robust plans’ in place to address the freight flow into and out of the UK after the Port of Dover closed on Sunday night. Cobra – which stands for cabinet office briefing room A – is convened to address the actions of government bodies in response to national or regional crisis. Over the course of Sunday, several European countries are imposing bans on flights from the UK in an attempt to make sure that a new strain of coronavirus sweeping parts of southern England does not reach their shores.” – Wales Online

Coronavirus 3) Tier 4 rules ‘inevitable’ across Britain as Covid-19 cases surge to record number

“More areas of the country face Tier 4 restrictions, government advisers have warned, after a record number of infections were reported yesterday. Matt Hancock, the health secretary, braced millions for lockdown until the spring, suggesting that tough new rules would not be lifted until after the vaccination of vulnerable groups. Boris Johnson ordered 16 million people in the southeast not to leave home without good reason after seeing a report by the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) on Friday. It concluded with “moderate confidence” that the new variant, known as VUI-202012/01, “demonstrates a substantial increase in transmissibility compared to other variants”.” – The Times

  • Johnson accused of waiting until parliamentary recess before announcing Tier 4 to avoid scrutiny – Daily Telegraph
  • Police ordered to stop thousands fleeing Tier 4 London… – The Times
  • … as officers say ban on Tier 4 Christmas visits is ‘unenforceable’ – Daily Telegraph
  • Surge in violence at home during Covid pandemic, health visitors say – The Times
  • One in four diagnosed with Covid is infected in hospital – The Times
Analysis:
  • Race to vaccinate faster than new strain of coronavirus infects – The Times
  • Why ministers shouldn’t gamble on vaccine roll-out success by spring – Daily Telegraph
  • Scientists in race to prove whether vaccine effective against new Covid strain – Daily Telegraph

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Coronavirus 4) Clare Foges: Time is up for Johnson’s reckless optimism

“In October 1347, 12 ships docked at the Port of Messina in Sicily after a long journey through the Black Sea. Those greeting the vessels got a nasty surprise. The sailors on board were either dead or almost dead, covered in oozing black boils — bringers of the Black Death. On December 19, 2020, trains from London arrived in the nation’s north and west, many of the passengers on board bearing not only boxes of Quality Street but the new, more infectious strain of coronavirus. On what is likely to happen next, the experiences of this year and this virus have made me not so much glass-half-empty as glass-bone-dry.” – The Times

Coronavirus 5) Retailers plead for more rates relief as tier 4 threatens flood of job losses

“Retail bosses are begging Rishi Sunak to extend a business rates holiday as fears grow that a new Covid crackdown could put thousands of jobs at risk. Industry chiefs called for aid from the Chancellor after non-essential retailers in London, the South East and the east of England were ordered to shut under new Tier 4 restrictions. The tough new rules are set to wreck hopes of a bumper Christmas, with the beleaguered industry forecast to suffer a further £2bn of lost sales per week. Julian Dunkerton, chief executive and co-founder of fashion chain Superdry, said: “A lot of people leave Christmas shopping until the last minute, so to take away the busiest period and the sales period after Christmas will be pretty tough for most retailers.”” – Daily Telegraph

  • Ministers believe at least 20 million people will need to be vaccinated before any significant relaxing of the measures – Daily Telegraph

Coronavirus 6) School closures cannot be ruled out, ministers warn

“School closures cannot be ruled out, ministers warned on Sunday, as unions demanded a delay of up to two weeks before they opened in January. Asked to confirm plans for a staggered school opening from January 4, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said: “I’ve learnt not to rule anything out in this pandemic.” The hint of a potential backdown was echoed by a Downing Street source who said: “You can never rule anything out.” However, both Mr Hancock and Number 10 maintained that the Government still intended to press ahead plans for all children to have returned by January 11 through mass testing of pupils.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Covid testing on brink of collapse in Tier 4 amid surge in demand – Daily Telegraph

>Yesterday:

Deadline passes to approve Brexit deal

“The European parliament’s deadline to ratify a Brexit deal before the end of the year passed last night with anger from MEPs and Britain demanding that the EU drop its “unreasonable demands” over fishing rights. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, said, however, that talks with Lord Frost would continue. Brexit negotiations were at a “crucial moment” as Mr Barnier faced demands from the European Union’s fishing industry to take a harder line in the trade and fisheries talks. The deepening pandemic crisis and the emergence in Britain of a mutation of the coronavirus have increased pressure on negotiators to try to find a deal in the first half of this week.” – The Times

  • Fish stuck in Brexit net with talks set to continue on Monday – FT
  • Commonwealth War Graves staff in France and Belgium ‘facing 50% pay cut’ – The Times
  • Brexit blow for parents of epileptic children as supplies of cannabis oil cut off from January – Daily Telegraph
Analysis:
  • Planes will still fly but medical care at risk – The Times

Penniless council found £300,000 to silence blogger

“A Labour council with a £2.8 million hole in its finances set up a secret £300,000 fund to silence a blogger who has been accusing it of corruption. Sandwell council in the West Midlands has admitted that it set aside taxpayers’ money from its reserves to pursue Julian Saunders, 62, a former solicitor running a blog that the council claimed was defamatory. Six years ago Mr Saunders started the Sandwell Skidder, which has been seen 1.9 million times and which has included claims about questionable deals and alleged corruption.” – The Times

Starmer vows ‘bold devolution plan’ to tempt Scottish voters

“Sir Keir Starmer will promise a “fresh and tangible offer” to Scotland on devolution as he tries to counter rising support for independence and revive Labour backing north of the border. He will also say that the pandemic has “put rocket boosters” under demands for more power to be decentralised from Westminster to English regions as he announces a commission on devolution today. The former prime minister Gordon Brown will advise on plans for “the boldest devolution project for a generation” as Labour tries to revive flagging support in Scotland. Support for independence has been consistently above 50 per cent as voters contrast Nicola Sturgeon’s handling of the pandemic with Boris Johnson’s.” – The Times

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