China has jailed a citizen journalist who reported on the spread of coronavirus in Wuhan, where it broke out.
A Chinese court handed a four-year jail term on Monday to Zhang Zhan on grounds of â€œpicking quarrels and provoking trouble,â€ her lawyer said.
Her reports from Wuhan relayed first hand accounts of crowded hospitals and empty streets, painting a bleaker picture than the official narrative from the Chinese government.
â€œWe will probably appeal,â€ the lawyer, Ren Quanniu, told Reuters. â€œMs Zhang believes she is being persecuted for exercising her freedom of speech,â€ he had said before the trial.
Thailand recorded 3,065 foreign tourists in November, its second month of receiving long-stay visitors after a ban was imposed in April to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
The figure is a fraction of the 3.39 million arrivals in the same period last year. In October, there were 1,201 foreign visitors.
In the January-November period, the number of foreign visitors slumped by 81% from a year earlier.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has not ruled out the whole of England being moved into Tier 4 restrictions.
â€œWe review which tiers parts of the country should be in on the basis of scientific evidence.
â€œThe Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) will be making a recommendation to ministers, but I canâ€™t pre-empt that because it obviously has to be a judgment based on the medical situation,â€ he said. â€œAs you quite rightly point out, the NHS is under pressure and these are difficult months ahead.â€
However, he said that the UK should be able to lift some coronavirus restrictions when the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is rolled out.
Gove said that the independent regulator had to assess the vaccine, but if it was approved there would be a â€œsignificant increaseâ€ in vaccine available. Britain is already rolling out a vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.
â€œIf we do get the authorization for that vaccine, and the rollout goes according to plan, then we will be able to progressively lift some of the restrictions, which have made life so difficult for so many,â€ he told Sky News.
Indonesia is set to ban international visitors for two weeks, beginning on 1 January.
Foreign minister Retno Marsudi announced the ban, citing concerns around the new strains of coronavirus. So far, the two most alarming strains are currently spreading in England and South Africa.
The new regulation applies to all foreign visitors with the exception of high-level government officials, Marsudi said.
The announcement comes days after Indonesia banned travellers from the Britain and tightened rules for those arriving from Europe and Australia to limit the spread of the new strain. Indonesia banned all tourists earlier this year, but some exemptions have been made for business travellers.
England is still planning a staggered return for secondary school pupils after the Christmas holidays, but this may change following the spread of a new variant of coronavirus in England, cabinet minister Michael Gove has said.
The current plan is for students taking GCSEs and A-levels this year, alongside the children of key workers, to return to school next week, with other secondary school students returning the week after. However, Gove suggested this could be changed.
â€œWe do keep things under review, and weâ€™ll be talking to head teachers and teachers in the next 24, 48 hours just to make sure that our plans… are really robust,â€ he told Times Radio.
The president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine in the UK has said hospitals were â€œwall to wallâ€ with Covid-19 patients on Christmas Day.
â€œWe see patients who are coming in who have Covid symptoms and then we have other people coming in with other symptoms who turn out to be Covid positive,â€ Dr Katherine Henderson told BBC Breakfast. â€œBetween that, thereâ€™s a great deal of difficulty getting those patients through into the wards.â€
Henderson said she thought that the NHS would be able to cope with the increased pressure, but that it would come at a â€œcostâ€ – â€œthe cost is not …being able to keep non-Covid activities goingâ€.
Henderson said that the health service was experiencing staff shortages, with many off sick or isolating, but insisted the NHS would â€œstretch staffâ€ with measures including double shifts and bringing people to work during their annual leave.
She also said there would be a â€œbigâ€ delay before the impact of tier 4 restrictions would be felt in the NHS.
â€œAll the people we are seeing at the moment were infected two weeks ago,â€ she said.
Henderson also implored people not to â€œtake a chanceâ€ on New Year, saying â€œitâ€™s incredibly important that we donâ€™t get another surgeâ€.
The president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow has warned that there will be a â€œcostâ€ for allowing household mixing on Christmas Day in Scotland.
â€œWhen there is increased mixing we know there is likely to be increased transmission, (Scotlandâ€™s) levels have never fallen to the kind of levels that we would have wished, so we are starting from a higher base,â€ Prof Jackie Taylor said on BBC Breakfast. â€œIn addition, the new variant strain we are seeing does appear to be significantly more transmissible and that does give us great cause for concern, when we add that to the usual winter pressures we are really very anxious for the potential of a further huge surge of cases.â€
However, Taylor did not condemn the Scottish governmentâ€™s decision to relax the rules for a day during the festive season, saying that it was important to remember â€œhow important it is for some people to have had the ability to be with family even for a short timeâ€.
She also warned that non-urgent treatment in the NHS Scotland would have to delayed due to the pandemic.
â€œAs healthcare professionals, we want to be able to treat everyone, we want to ensure everyone gets the best of care, but unless we get a grip of Covid and really get on top of this then we wonâ€™t be able to open up the other services again,â€ she said. â€œWe have to focus on getting on top of the acute problems we have at the moment.â€
Taylor urged people to avoid mixing with members of other households over new year, and to continue handwashing, social distancing and mask wearing.
The Japanese prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, has told his ministers to stay ready to implement further coronavirus restrictions, after the number of daily cases hit record highs in recent days.
â€œThe virus recognises no year-end or new year holidays. I ask each minister to raise the level of their sense of urgency and thoroughly carry out counter measures,â€ Suga told a meeting of the governmentâ€™s taskforce on coronavirus on Monday.
GCSE and A-Level exams will â€œabsolutelyâ€ go ahead next year in England, UK cabinet minister Michael Gove has said.
Gove said the exams were â€œcritically important in making sure students have a chance to show what theyâ€™ve learnt and what their skills areâ€ and gave them â€œrobust, independently verified qualificationsâ€ which were a â€œpassport to a better futureâ€.
This differs dramatically from the rest of the UK:
In Scotland, higher and advanced higher exams will not go ahead, and will be replaced with teacher assessed grades based on evidence of the studentâ€™s attainment.
In Wales, there will be no end of year exams for those taking GCSE, AS level and A level qualifications approved by Qualifications Wales and delivered by WJEC in summer 2021.
Northern Ireland is set to reduce their exams, but not cancel them entirely.
It is likely to be summer before herd immunity is reached through a coronavirus vaccine programme in the UK, respiratory disease expert Prof Calum Semple has said.
Semple said between 70% and 80% of the population needed to be vaccinated before herd immunity could be achieved.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Prof Semple said: â€œObviously there is an urgency about this and we know that it is difficult to vaccinate lots of people at the same time – weâ€™ve got a population of just under 70 million people and weâ€™re going to move through them in an orderly fashion vaccinating people most at risk.â€
â€œThe people that have been vaccinated will be protected within a matter of weeks and thatâ€™s very important,â€ he added. â€œOn an individual basis these vaccines are so good that they will protect individuals, so we donâ€™t have to wait for this nonsense about herd immunity developing through natural infection, we can start to protect the individuals.
â€œTo get the wider community herd immunity from vaccination rather than through natural infection will take probably 70% to 80% of the population to be vaccinated, and that, Iâ€™m afraid, is going to take us right into the summer I expect.â€
Donald Trump has signed a $900bn coronavirus relief package to help the US economy recover from the pandemic, after threatening to reject the bill last week.
The aid package was agreed by Democrats and Republicans in Congress late last Sunday, after months of negotiations. But Trump unexpectedly demanded that the package, which had already been passed by the House and Senate and was believed to have Trumpâ€™s support, be revised to include larger relief checks and scaled-back spending on foreign aid.
What does the bill offer?
The aid package includes $286bn in direct economic relief, with more than half going on payments of $600 to individuals.
The US government will also restart pandemic unemployment benefits at $300 a week, which will last until 14 March. However, this is a drop in the amount offered from the $600 payments that expired in July.
It includes funding for businesses, the arts, and foreign aid.
You can read more about what it offers here:
Hello everyone, Iâ€™m Molly Blackall. Iâ€™ll be bringing you the latest updates in the coronavirus pandemic in the UK and around the world over the next few hours.
If you spot something you think we should be reporting on in this blog, you can drop me a message on Twitter. Tips and pointers are always much appreciated, so thanks in advance!