Covid-19: South America travel ban and NHS 'crisis' warning

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Here are five things you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic this Thursday evening. We'll have another update for you on Friday morning.

1. South America and Portugal travel ban

Travel from South America and Portugal to the UK is being banned, other than for British or Irish citizens and foreign nationals with residence rights. The new ruling is being brought in because of concerns about the new Brazilian coronavirus variant and comes into force from 04:00 GMT on Friday. The ban applies to people who have travelled from, or through, these countries in the 10 days before their departure for the UK: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Cape Verde, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela. Find out more about the new variants here.

Image source, PA Media

2. Key NHS services 'in crisis' in England

Doctors have warned that the recent surge in Covid hospital cases has left key hospital services in England in crisis. Accident and Emergency departments are facing rising delays in admitting extremely sick patients on to wards, NHS data shows. The total number of people facing year-long waits for routine treatments is more than 100 times higher than it was before the pandemic - and cancer specialists are warning of a "terrifying" disruption to their services that would cost lives.

Image source, Getty Images

3. Row over half-term meals plan

The government has told schools not to provide free meals to eligible pupils' families over half term, with food to be provided by councils under the Covid Winter Grant Scheme instead. The Department for Education said vulnerable families would continue to receive meals outside of term time through the welfare support they have made available. But councils say the government should be responsible for providing food vouchers during the February half-term, like it did over summer.

Image source, Reuters

4. Infections 'starting to level off'

A top scientist has said the coronavirus growth rate in the UK is slowing, with the number of infections starting to level off in some areas. Prof Neil Ferguson told the BBC that in some NHS regions there is a "sign of plateauing" in cases and hospital admissions. But he warned the overall death toll - currently standing at over 80,000 - would exceed 100,000. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the national lockdown measures in place across the UK are "starting to show signs of some effect" but warned that it was still early days.

Image source, PA Media

5. Pandemic baby surprise

Many people feel they've put on weight during the pandemic, due to staying indoors more and turning to comfort food. Samantha Hicks, from Portishead, North Somerset, thought she was one of them - but what she believed was a few extra pounds of weight was actually a baby. She gave birth to her daughter Julia just 10 days after discovering she was pregnant. Her pregnancy was even missed when she was taken to hospital in November with Covid-19. She said: "My tummy was a bit swollen but again, because I felt sick and I wasn't great, it never occurred to me I was pregnant."

Image source, Joe Hicks

And don't forget...

The UK travel rules have been updated again. Find out all the details you need here.

Find more information, advice and guides on our coronavirus page.

Image source, BBC

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