Coronavirus latest as Omicron “probably most significant threat to public health since pandemic began”, according to health chief; there is currently “astounding, unprecedented’ demand for testing in UK; Boris Johnson facing PMQs from 12pm.
Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer will clash at Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons.
Their exchanges are sure to be dominated by COVID, amid the continuing spread of the Omicron variant.
We’ll have updates from the chamber and analysis on what’s said.
A Cobra meeting is to take place this afternoon between Communities Secretary Michael Gove and the leaders of the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The meeting is expected to take place at around 5pm.
The Omicron variant will likely be dominant in Ireland by next week, according to deputy prime minister Leo Varadkar.
Mr Varadkar, who is a medical doctor, said the new variant makes up 14% of cases in the country – up from 1% a week ago.
He added that he expects health chiefs to recommend tighter measures on social mixing and international travel this week.
Peter Bone, one of the Conservative MPs who rebelled against Boris Johnson last night during a vote on COVID Plan B measures, says he wants parliament to be recalled next week so MPs can be updated on the COVID situation.
Parliament is due to rise for Christmas tomorrow.
Speaking to Sky News, Mr Bone said: “I would pick a date now, for next week, and say ‘we’re going to come back that day and we’re going to have a COVID update’.
“And if there are new measures the government thinks are necessary, we can debate them and vote on them.”
Comedian Jethro has died after contracting COVID-19, his manager has said.
A statement on his Facebook page said the 72-year-old comedian, from Cornwall, died on Tuesday.
“It is with tremendous sadness that we announce the passing of the well known and popular Cornish comedian Jethro,” the statement said.
The comedy star was double jabbed and had received a booster vaccination, Sky News understands.
Paul Burton, the chief medical officer at Moderna, which produces one of the COVID vaccines, says that antibodies in people who have a booster shot “quickly rise”.
Speaking to Sky News, Mr Burton says simple measures like masks, hand-washing and distancing, alongside booster vaccines, should be enough to “protect people” in the winter month.
He goes on to say that testing on a new vaccine designed to target Omicron will begin in the new year – with data and results expected around the start of Q2 2022.
UK Health Security Agency official Jonathan Mogford has told MPs there have been “unprecedentedly high rates” of positive COVID cases among travellers quarantined from the red list countries
“The latest figures are suggesting that nearly 5% of people in the hotels are positive,” he told the Commons Transport Committee.
Of those, “at least 1% are Omicron-positive but probably as much as 3%”, he added.
Mr Mogford told MPs there have been “roughly 5,000 guests through in this round of red listing”.
In total, 5% of that figure would mean around 250 people with COVID-19.
Dr Jenny Harries says there is currently an “unprecedented demand” for testing.
Dr Harries says the country was prepared for winter, but not for the Omicron variant.
She tells MPs that “we have more PCR tests coming onboard” and that “there are tests available”.
She said in London testing sites “were quite full” on Tuesday, but that people can still order home tests.
“We do still have sufficient tests, both for PCRs and LFDs (lateral flows).”
Calling demand “astounding”, she continued: “This morning, between six and eight o’clock, 200,000 packs of seven LFTs were ordered.
“Yesterday I think we were running at +83% compared with the same day last week.
“Some of this is clearly because of changes in policy, so that we can support individuals to be in work, which is actually critical when we have a new variant wave and people are more likely to be a contact as there’ll be so many cases and people off sick. So we recognise that.
“One of the really important things to know is it wasn’t that we don’t have tests in country, it’s actually about getting them delivered.”
She added that Royal Mail “have been brilliant” and will be “allowing us to more than double our delivery capacity from Friday, so going from 400,000 home deliveries out to nearly 900,000”.
The European Medicines Agency, which regulates medicines for the European Union, has approved the Janssen – also known as the Johnson & Johnson – vaccine to be used as a booster.
Initially intended as a single-dose regimen, people aged 18 and over will now be eligible for a follow up two months after their first injection.
It can also be given after two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
People are continuing to queue for their booster and third vaccine doses in the UK.
Lines snaked around Chester Cathedral this morning, despite the winter weather.