People with Omicron significantly less likely to develop severe symptoms, according to analysis; government will not announce any post-Christmas restrictions this week; government’s chief scientific adviser says it is not SAGE’s job to take policy stances.
The UK has recorded 122,186 new cases of coronavirus and a further 137 deaths
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Pope Francis – not wearing a mask – has celebrated Christmas Eve Mass at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Those attending the service – an estimated 2,000 people – were asked to use face coverings.
Francis is believed to have received a third booster vaccine.
A rise in cases of COVID-19 in Italy – see post below – has led to a new vaccine mandate at the Vatican, covering all staff except those who have recovered from coronavirus.
France reported 94,124 daily COVID infections on Friday – a new daily record.
The number of those being treated in hospital reached almost 16,200 – a seven-month high.
Italy, meanwhile, reported 50,599 new cases – the second successive daily record.
On Thursday it was 44,595.
Fatalities were down on Friday, however – to 141 from 168 on Thursday.
Millions of text messages will be sent on Sunday urging people to get a booster – or third – COVID vaccination.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “We are texting this Boxing Day for all eligible adults to get boosted now.
“It has never been as important to get protected with the booster, so whether it is in between turkey sandwiches or before the Boxing Day fixtures, whatever your traditions make the booster a part of them this year.
“Millions of vaccine slots are available through the festive calendar so if you’re not boosted and you get this text, take up the offer and get vaccinated.”
A further 605,561 booster vaccinations were administered on Thursday, taking the total to 32,290,487, or 56.1% of the population aged 12 and over.
Care workers are to be added to the shortage occupation list, following a recommendation from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has said.
The MAC said earlier this month that the change was needed “immediately” to help tackle “severe and increasing difficulties” the sector is facing with recruitment.
Workers from overseas will be able to move with dependents, including partners and children, and the visa offers a path to settlement in the UK, the DHSC added.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “The care sector is experiencing unprecedented challenges prompted by the pandemic and the changes we’ve made to the health and care visa will bolster the workforce and help alleviate some of the pressures currently being experienced.”
There are 377 local areas in the UK and 98% have seen a week-on-week rise in cases.
The top 17 areas are all in the capital, led by Lambeth, Wandsworth, and Hackney and City of London.
The figures are for the seven days to Monday.
In Lambeth, 10,220 new cases were recorded – the equivalent of 3,175.8 per 100,000 people, up from 1,264.4 in the previous seven days.
Areas close to the capital are also showing high infection levels.
They include Elmbridge, Thurrock, St Albans, Reigate and Banstead, Guildford and Watford.
Carlisle, Scarborough, Bradford and Sunderland are among those at the bottom.
There has been an outbreak of COVID-19 on a cruise ship based in Florida.
As a result, the Carnival Freedom was denied access to Bonaire and Aruba, Carnival Cruise Line said.
It is carrying 2,497 passengers and 1,112 crew.
Passengers had to be vaccinated and were tested before leaving Miami last Saturday, the company added.
“Carnival Freedom is following all protocols and has a small number on board who are in isolation due to a positive COVID test,” it said.
“Our protocols anticipate this possibility and we implement them as necessary.”
The Miami Herald said Florida reported an additional 32,869 infections and 83 deaths on Thursday.
The newspaper said it was the “largest multi-day increase of newly reported cases since 6 Sept, which saw 46,105”.
Edinburgh restaurateur Marshall Milne, who runs the Mussel & Steak Bar in the Grassmarket, said “it’s been terrible” since new Scottish COVID regulations were announced on Wednesday.
From Boxing Day, large-scale outdoor public events are now allowed, which will affect Hogmanay celebrations on New Year’s Eve, with many called off.
For three weeks from December 27, pubs and other venues selling alcohol will be required to offer table service only.
Indoor hospitality and leisure venues need to ensure one-metre social distancing between groups of people who are attending together.
Mr Milne said the restaurant is running at 50% of usual income for this time of year and January, February and March will be “horrendous”.
“The only way forward is to start doing home deliveries, I can’t see any other way forward,” he told Sky News.
“I don’t see people coming out to restaurants on Saturday night, they’re staying home.”
A total of 386 COVID-19 hospital admissions were recorded in London on 22 December, new NHS England figures show.
That is up 92% week-on-week and the highest number for a single day since 1 February.
London’s admissions during the second wave peaked at 977 on 6 January.
Across England, 1,246 admissions were recorded on December 22, up 55% week-on-week and the highest number for a single day since February 16.
The second-wave peak was 4,134 admissions on 12 January.
The UK Health Security Agency said there have been 23,719 more confirmed Omicron cases in the UK.
That brings the total to 114,625.
Deaths from Omicron in England now total 29.
Hospital admissions for people with Omicron have risen to 366.
A total of 122,186 new COVID cases were reported across the UK on Friday, up from 119,789 the day before.
Government data showed there were 137 new deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test – down from 147 on Thursday.