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  1. That's all from us...

    We're pausing our live coverage of the pandemic now but we'll be back tomorrow morning. Here's a reminder of the day's main developments:

    • Germany will ban unvaccinated people from shops and bars, unless they have recently recovered from Covid, and Chancellor Angela Merkel says a nationwide vaccination mandate could be imposed from February 2022
    • The UK government has signed deals to buy 114 million more doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to use in 2022 and 2023. Pfizer's boss told the BBC that annual jabs "are likely to be needed" to maintain high levels of protection
    • Families who lost loved ones during the pandemic have said they are "sickened" by a No 10 Christmas party held during last year's Covid restrictions
    • UK regulators have approved a new treatment that could reduce hospitalisation and death by 79% in high-risk adults
    • Scientists believe they have found "the trigger" that leads to extremely rare blood clots after the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine
    • Health officials say the new coronavirus variant Omicron has now become dominant in South Africa and is driving a sharp increase in new infections
    • But the World Health Organization says it believes existing vaccines "will still prevent severe disease" among people who contract the Omicron variant
    • A further 53,945 coronavirus cases have been recorded in the UK - the highest daily total since 17 July, when 54,674 were recorded.

    Today's live page posts were written by Jen Meierhans, Joseph Lee, Hamish Mackay, George Wright and Jack Hunter. The live page was edited by Emma Harrison and Emma Owen. Thanks for joining us.

  2. Biden's plan suggests a return to normal is still far off

    Anthony Zurcher

    BBC North America reporter

    With the rise of the Omicron variant, Joe Biden is back in front of the American people later with another set of steps to stop the spread of Covid-19. Unlike his last major action, however, the administration’s plan is light on government mandates – perhaps a reflection of the political firestorm his previous orders created and the legal morass that has enveloped them.

    Instead, Biden is pushing for greater access to testing and encouraging, but not requiring, all Americans to get vaccination booster shots. He also makes specific mention of keeping schools open and children in classrooms – a reflection of the white-hot rage last year’s extended closures generated among some suburban parents, who have become a key part of the Democrats’ electoral voting bloc.

    When Biden assumed the presidency earlier this year, he acknowledged the success of his tenure would be determined in large part by his ability to contain the pandemic and return a semblance of normalcy to American life. After some early positive results, the rise of new variants – along with vaccine hesitancy among some in the US – dampened those hopes and exacted an economic and political toll.

    Today’s actions suggest Biden knows a return to normal is still a long way off.

  3. What rules is Germany imposing?

    As we've been reporting, Germany has announced sweeping new restrictions for unvaccinated people to curb coronavirus infections.

    Chancellor Angela Merkel has described the measures as an "act of national solidarity" in response to a "very serious" situation in Germany.

    Some German states already operate so-called 2G policies - which stands for forgenesen (recovered in the past six months) orgeimpft (vaccinated).

    Here's what Merkel announced:

    • Unvaccinated people will be limited to meetings with their own household and two other people
    • The 2G rule will be enforced at restaurants and cultural venues and non-essential shops
    • Clubs will shut in areas where 350 cases have been recorded per 100,000 people in the past seven days - the national rate is more than 400 per 100,000 people
    • Up to 30 million vaccinations will be carried out by Christmas - first, second or boosters
    • Outdoor events, including Bundesliga football, will have limited crowds of 15,000 and 2G rules
    • Fireworks on New Year's Eve will be banned

    Read more about Germany's new rules here.

  4. Pilots call for financial support after Omicron travel rules


    Pilots are urging the UK government to provide specific financial support for the aviation sector due to the impact of the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

    Fully-vaccinated UK arrivals must self-isolate until they receive a negative result from a PCR test. And the red list has also been resurrected, with 10 southern African countries added.

    EasyJet said on Tuesday that it has seen demand softening due to the emergence of the new strain of Covid-19.

    Pilots' union Balpa is calling for the government to provide a Winter Resilience Fund to ensure cash-strapped airlines and other aviation companies survive the coming months.

    Balpa general secretary Martin Chalk says: "Holiday and New Year traffic is a core part of the winter season for airlines.

    "With this being severely depressed by shattered confidence and restrictions, we need winter support measures to help us weather the storm of Omicron uncertainty."

  5. Tesco ad showing Santa with Covid pass cleared by regulator

    Tesco Christmas advert

    The advertising regulator has cleared Tesco's Christmas TV campaign featuring Father Christmas bearing a Covid vaccine passport after it prompted 5,000 complaints from viewers.

    The ad, titled This Christmas, Nothing's Stopping Us, shows the supermarket's customers determined to enjoy a proper Christmas with family and friends after last year's Covid-related restrictions.

    However, in one scene a reporter appears on TV with "breaking news", telling viewers that "Santa could be quarantined". Father Christmas is then shown presenting his Covid pass at border control, proving he has been vaccinated to a customs officer so he can enter the country without restriction.

    Commenting on complaints that the ad is coercive and encourages medical discrimination, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) says the advert "doesn't break our rules and there are no grounds for further action".

    "In summary, we consider that the depiction of Santa displaying a proof of vaccine status in an airport is likely to be seen as a humorous reference to international travel rules people have experienced this year; it is unlikely to be interpreted as a message about these rules or the Covid-19 vaccine more widely.

    "While we understand that some people disagree with the vaccine programme and may find the ad in poor taste, we have concluded that the ad is unlikely to be seen as irresponsible or cause serious or widespread offence on the basis suggested."

  6. Free New Year's Eve Tube travel scrapped due to Covid

    The Tube

    As the debate over Christmas parties rumbles on (No 10 says, for now, they should take place), Transport for London (TfL) is already looking ahead to New Year's Eve.

    Whether Londoners will be out socialising amid the spread of Omicron remains unclear, but one thing that is certain is that free Tube travel on New Year's Eve has been scrapped for the second year in a row.

    This is due to the "catastrophic impact of the pandemic" on finances, TfL says.

    Normally London's Underground is free from 23:45 GMT until 04:30 GMT.

    Services will still run through the night but usual fares will apply.

    It is the second year of no free travel, but last year's celebrations were restricted due to the pandemic.

    This year a ticketed celebration at Trafalgar Square replaces the annual fireworks display on the Thames.

    Read the full story.

  7. How has Omicron changed the Covid rules in the UK?

    Covid measures have been strengthened in response to concern over the newly identified Omicron variant. Let's have a look at what the rules are in the UK.

    The rules in England changed this week, meaning that face coverings are once again compulsory in shops and on public transport.

    Anyone entering the UK also now requires a PCR test within 48 hours of arrival and must self-isolate until they have a negative result.

    The 10 day self-isolation rule has also been brought in again for all contacts of suspected Omicron cases.

    Face coverings are already mandatory in shops, health and social care settings and on public transport in Wales.

    But First Minister Mark Drakeford has urged people to "think carefully" about whether to meet vulnerable relatives over Christmas.

    In Northern Ireland either proof of vaccination, a negative lateral flow test or a positive PCR test in the past 30-180 days is now needed to access some venues and events.

    And the Covid booster programme is being expanded in England and Scotland.

    The Scottish government has also set up "enhanced surveillance" in a bid to identify cases quickly and break chains of transmission.

    You can read more about the latest restrictions here.

    Summary of the new Covid rules in England
  8. People shouldn't be cancelling things - PM

    Video content

    Video caption: Johnson on Downing Street Christmas party in 2020 lockdown

    We've heard from the prime minister this afternoon on whether Christmas parties and gatherings should be cancelled, in light of the new Omicron variant.

    People "shouldn't be cancelling things, there is no need for that", Boris Johnson says during a visit to St Thomas' Hospital to get his booster jab.

    "The most important thing is people should follow the guidance we have set out," he says.

    He insists that the government is taking a "balanced and proportionate approach to the risk".

    Asked why he was refusing to discuss reports that a Downing Street gathering on 18 December 2020 broke the guidance in place at the time, the prime minister refuses to engage.

    One source told the BBC that "several dozen" people were at the event, where party games were played, and food and drink was served.

    Boris Johnson getting his Covid booster jab
  9. Bereaved families 'sickened' by No 10 Christmas party

    Boris Johnson

    Families who lost loved ones during the pandemic have said they are "sickened" by a No 10 Christmas party held during last year's Covid restrictions.

    The party took place on 18 December, when such events were banned, with a source telling the BBC "several dozen" people attended.

    Boris Johnson said on Wednesday no rules were broken but, pressed on the issue at PMQs, did not deny a party took place. Downing Street has refused to explain how the staff party was in-keeping with the rules.

    The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group has called for an apology from Johnson.

    One of its spokespeople, Safiah Ngah, tells the BBC: "My dad died in February from Covid-19, despite being in good health. The last Christmas period is sadly one I will never forget.

    "One in 20 people in my borough had Covid-19 and my family were desperately trying to do what we could to keep each other safe. Unfortunately it wasn't enough.

    "To think that just a few miles away, No 10 was throwing a 'Christmas Party', with no care for the rules they had set, is sickening."

  10. BreakingUK records 53,945 new cases

    A further 53,945 coronavirus cases have been recorded in the UK, official figures show.

    It is the highest daily total since 17 July, when 54,674 were recorded.

    There have also been a further 141 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test result.

  11. Minister moves Christmas party to Zoom

    Zoom Christmas party

    We've been hearing a lot about Christmas parties today and whether companies should host them this year.

    A UK minister who says it is up to individual businesses to decide whether to have a Christmas party this year says he has cancelled his own.

    Science minister George Freeman earlier told LBC Radio: "I can tell you that my parliamentary team and I normally have a Christmas party.

    "We've decided this year that it is probably sensible to do it by Zoom and wait for the spring. It won't be the best party in the world.

    "But... we don't want to be telling every individual business what they should or shouldn't be doing. It is a matter for them."

    It comes after the prime minister and health secretary said there was no need to cancel Christmas parties.

    Sir Martin Sorrell, of advertising agency S4Capital, is urging the government to offer clear guidance to businesses who he says are seeing a "sharp series of cancellations" in Christmas parties since the emergence of the Omicron variant.

  12. Mandatory vaccination in Germany may be only way out - ICU doctor

    Coronavirus sign in Germany

    Mandatory vaccinations may be needed to combat the spread of Covid cases in Germany, an ICU doctor tells the BBC.

    Chancellor Angela Merkel says a vaccine mandate could be imposed from February next year, if approved by parliament.

    Dr Hans Bodeker, a hospital consultant in Dresden, Saxony - which has the highest infection rate in the country - says a rise in hospitalisations is being driven by unvaccinated people. The surge has made him change his mind about forced vaccinations.

    "If you had asked me a few weeks ago, I would have said no I don't want that. [But] at the moment I think it's the only way to get out of the situation is vaccinating, vaccinating, and probably it needs to be mandatory to heighten rates," he tells the BBC World Service's OS programme.

    Bodeker says scepticism about the government and mainstream media is making young people unsure about getting jabbed.

    "People are living in their social media bubble - and they think the danger is coming not from the virus but from the vaccination. It's horrible."

  13. Norway announces new restrictions after Omicron found

    Norway has announced strict new Covid measures in Oslo and nearby areas after a suspected cluster of Omicron cases was found in the capital.

    People have been ordered to wear masks in public places and work from home where possible. Travellers arriving in Norway must do a Covid test within 24 hours of arrival.

    The measures come as officials raise alarm over a possible Omicron cluster among dozens of people who attended a Christmas dinner in the capital.

    Up to 50 people who were at the event have since tested positive, and at least one of them has the new variant, city officials say. If the new strain is detected among all of them, it would be the one of the largest known outbreaks of the new variant in Europe.

  14. Mining giant proposes mandatory jabs for its 95,000 workers

    A worker for Anglo American

    Mining company Anglo American, which employs 95,000 people worldwide, is the latest business to propose making vaccination mandatory.

    The Daily Telegraph reported that internal documents said workers who refused to get jabbed could be fired "as a last resort".

    The company said it is consulting with staff on the policy, after encouraging workers over the last 18 months to get vaccinated and setting up facilities to give the jab at some of its sites.

    "Requiring vaccination for access is the next step, given that vaccination is the best defence available," Anglo American said.

    The company has a large presence in southern Africa, where the new coronavirus variant Omicron was found to be circulating last week. It also has its headquarters in London and employs about 1,300 workers at the Woodsmith mine project in North Yorkshire.

    Anglo American said the policy may vary according to local laws and requirements.

  15. Vaccination rates 'dangerously low' in Africa

    People call for vaccines in South Africa

    Vaccination rates in Africa are still dangerously low, a leading World Health Organization (WHO) official said.

    "It is almost one year since the world's first Covid-19 shot was given. Yet, Africa has made little inroads in the path to providing vaccine protection," said Dr Salam Gueye, the WHO regional emergency director for Africa.

    Only 102 million people in Africa - just 7.5% of the continent's population - are fully vaccinated, he said.

    More than 80% have not received even a single dose, he added.

    "This is a dangerously wide gap," he said, adding that there has been a welcome increase in vaccine supplies in the last three months.

  16. 'No red flags yet' with Omicron - South African epidemiologist

    Professor Salim Abdool Karim, who is a South African epidemiologist and a member of the Africa Task Force for Coronavirus, tells the BBC there are no "red flags" yet with the new Omicron variant.

    Although transmission rates are high, the new strain appears to be similar to previous variants, Karim tells Newsday.

    But he cautions that as yet the evidence is only anecdotal, "so it needs to be taken with a lot of caution".

    He says doctors are seeing cases "that are very similar to what we have seen before".

    Doctors are not seeing as many cases with loss of smell or taste, but mainly more common symptoms, he says, adding severe cases could come a bit later.

    "By the time people get so sick they need to be hospitalised, it's three or four weeks later. We haven't seen that picture yet," he says.

    "But the feedback we're getting from the ground is that we are not seeing any red flags, we are not seeing anything dramatically different."

  17. Reality Check

    Why is there a low uptake of vaccines in South Africa?

    Back to South Africa now.

    While there have been problems with uneven supplies of vaccines in South Africa, the fact its government has had to delay the delivery of doses suggests there is also something else going on.

    South Africa's Health Minister Joe Phaahla suggests "fake news" is playing a role in making people - especially younger age groups - unsure about the vaccine.

    There is a lot of fear - sometimes driven by misinformation or a lack of good information - about the safety of the vaccine.

    Serious complications are extremely rare, based on evidence from wide-scale clinical trials and the billions already jabbed, and pale in comparison to the complications from Covid, even in younger people.

    Some of the claims circulating are outright false, but some are based on an element of truth - that you can still get Covid after being vaccinated, for example.

    Research in partnership with South Africa's health department found this has led some people to believe vaccines don't work.

    But that's not the case - you may still catch Covid, but for most people it will be far milder because the vaccine reduces symptoms, keeps people out of hospital and massively reduces deaths from the virus.

    Read in full: Does southern Africa have enough vaccines?

  18. New Covid rules are act of national solidarity - Merkel

    Angela Merkel and Olaf Scholz
    Image caption: Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to hand over power to her successor Olaf Scholz next week

    The Covid measures just announced by Germany are an "act of national solidarity" in order to "get the infection rate down and take the pressure off our health system", Chancellor Angela Merkel says.

    "The number of infections has stabilised, but on a far too high a level," she adds.

    On Thursday, Germany recorded 73,000 new Covid cases and 388 deaths.

    Just under 70% of Germany's population is vaccinated against Covid - lower than several European countries, including France and the UK.

    Germany is also restricting the number of people who can meet inside and the country is closing nightclubs in regions with high numbers of cases.

    Merkel announced the new measures alongside her successor Olaf Scholz, who is set to formally take over as chancellor next week.

    Scholz says Germany is in a "very, very difficult situation" and getting unvaccinated people to get the jab is crucial to halt a new wave of infections.

  19. German Parliament to vote on mandatory vaccines

    Jenny Hill

    BBC Berlin correspondent

    Angela Merkel is preparing to retire from office as Germany faces the worst wave of infection it's experienced so far in the pandemic.

    A situation which most experts agree is due – in part – to the millions of Germans who’ve not yet been vaccinated.

    Today Merkel and her soon-to-be successor Olaf Scholz said the German Parliament would vote on whether to make vaccination mandatory.

    There’s no date, but Merkel suggested that – if approved – such a measure could be in place by February of next year.

    She also announced further restrictions on unvaccinated people who’ll be banned from many businesses and shops and prohibited from meeting more than two people from another household.

    Angela Merkel has always resisted mandatory vaccination, saying it was the responsibility of government to persuade citizens.

    But, asked today whether she now supported the measure, she replied: "If I were a member of parliament, I would vote for it."

  20. BreakingGermany bans unvaccinated people from shops and bars

    Germany has announced sweeping new restrictions for people who have not been vaccinated against Covid.

    Chancellor Angela Merkel says unvaccinated people will be barred from many public places, including non-essential shops and events, unless they have recently recovered from Covid.

    "Culture and leisure nationwide will be open only to those who have been vaccinated or recovered," Merkel says.

    "We have understood that the situation is very serious and that we want to take further measures in addition to those already taken," she adds.

    Merkel also says a nationwide vaccination mandate could be imposed from February 2022, after it's been debated in parliament.