Keir Starmer self-isolating for the second time after staffer tests positive

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starme
This is not the first time the Labour leader has had to go into self-isolation Credit:  House of Commons / PA

Today's headlines

 That's all from me today. Here are your headlines: 

  • Britain reported 15,539 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday and 397 new deaths.
  • Initial supplies of the Covid vaccine have arrived in Scotland and is currently on track to be administered on Tuesday, first minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted.
  • GP surgeries in England have been told to be ready to start staffing Covid-19 vaccination centres by 14 December.
  • Sir Keir Starmer has gone into self-isolation for the second time after a member of his private office staff tested positive for Covid-19.
  • Police forces will be patrolling the perimeters of some Tier 2 and 3 areas this weekend, in a bid to curb breaches of 'non-essential' travel rules. 
  • Moscow began distributing the Sputnik V Covid-19 shot via 70 clinics on Saturday, marking Russia's first mass vaccination against the disease, the city's coronavirus task force said. Scientists have raised concerns about the speed at which Russia has worked, giving the regulatory go-ahead for its vaccines and launching mass vaccinations before full trials to test its safety and efficacy had been completed.
  • Portugal will ease coronavirus rules over the Christmas period to allow people to visit loved ones but measures will be reinforced again a few days later to crack down on New Year's Eve parties.
  • Hospitals in Kinshasa are struggling to treat rising coronavirus cases because of a lack of oxygen supplies, health officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo said Saturday.
  • The World Health Organisation's chief has declared that positive results from coronavirus vaccine trials mean the world "can begin to dream about the end of the pandemic". But he said rich and powerful nations must not trample the poor and marginalised "in the stampede for vaccines".

Coronavirus world news - in pictures

A patient arrives outside Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York

Credit: BRENDAN MCDERMID / REUTERS

An actor dressed as the devil participates on the eve of Saint Nicholas Day in Prague, Czech Republic,

Credit: DAVID W CERNY / REUTERS

A health worker prepares a patients arm to inject Russia's 'Gam-COVID-Vac', also known as 'Sputnik V' vaccine.

Credit: Andrey Rudakov / Bloomberg

Government launches new anti-virus campaign video as England exits lockdown

The government has produced a new video remind Britons that 'every action counts' to stop the spread of Covid-19

With data suggesting as many as 1 in 3 people with the disease may not show symptoms, the film produced in conjunction with SAGE scientists and engineers, reminds the public to follow the core behaviours of Hands, Face, Space and ensuring indoor spaces are well ventilated to help protect those they love as social contact with people outside our households may resume.

The film shows two versions of the same scenarios. One shows how an individual following the key health behaviours can limit the spread of the virus, whilst the other demonstrates how ignoring these behaviours leads to an increased potential to infect others.

People are reminded that, as restrictions lift and they begin to socialise again, coronavirus remains highly contagious whether you have symptoms or not.

Crowds of shoppers descend on London's Regent Street

Crowds of shoppers were spotted swarming London's Regent Street after one month of lockdown on Saturday.

Credit: Yui Mok / PA

Regent Street and its adjoining roads are closed to cars today and will continue to be closed every Saturday in December to encourage shoppers into stores across the capital.

Shoppers on Oxford Street during the first weekend after lockdown in London

 See more below: 

Oxford's malaria vaccine begins final stage of human trials

The same Oxford team behind a successful coronavirus vaccine candidate are on the verge of entering the final stage of human trials in their jab against malaria.

In an interview with The Times, The Jenner Institute director Adrian Hill said the malaria vaccine will be tested on 4,800 children in Africa next year after early trials yielded promising results.

Prof Hill told the paper he hoped the jab could eventually combat the almost half a million annual deaths from the disease.

"Malaria is a public health emergency," he said. "A lot more people will die in Africa this year from malaria than will die from Covid. I don't mean twice as many - probably ten times.

"(The vaccine) is going to be available in very large amounts, it works pretty well. And it's going to be very low priced."

Prof Hill added the vaccine could be in use by 2024, should the final human trials be successful.

The Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine is currently awaiting regulatory approval for use in the UK.

UK reports 15,539 new cases

Britain reported 15,539 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday and 397 new deaths within 28 days of a positive test result, both falls on the previous day’s figures.

'Any chance you could get me the Pfizer vaccine?'

Don't talk while eating in restaurants, study warns

Don't talk while eating in restaurants, a study has warned, as it claims people can be infected by Covid-19 more than six metres away.

Diners should refrain from having "conversation during meals" as well as avoid "loud talking or shouting", according to researchers in Korea.

Their study claims that people who are 6.5 metres apart can still infect each other, and the window of transmission can be as little as five minutes.

Read more.

Vaccine supplies arrive in Scotland

Initial supplies of the Covid vaccine have arrived in Scotland and is currently on track to be administered on Tuesday, first minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted.

Portugal says it will ease Covid-19 rules over Christmas

Portugal will ease coronavirus rules over the Christmas period to allow people to visit loved ones but measures will be reinforced again a few days later to crack down on New Year's Eve parties, the government said on Saturday.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa told reporters a domestic travel ban would not be imposed between Dec. 23 and 26 but said movement between Portuguese regions would be prohibited again on New Year's Eve.

No street parties will be allowed on Dec. 31, outdoor gatherings will be limited to a maximum of six people and everyone must be home by 2 a.m., Costa said. 

Russia begins mass coronavirus vaccination programme - despite clinical tests still ongoing

Show love to family by not hugging them this Christmas, says scientist

The best way to show your love to your family this Christmas is to hold off from hugging them until it is safe, a scientist from the University of St Andrews has suggested. 

"It's a little bit like don't cross a road when cars are going either way. Wait until it's safe to do it," Professor Stephen Reicher told Sky News. 

"We have to make our own choices as to what is best for us, and perhaps in a season of pandemic the way you show your love for your family is to not hug them, he said. 

While it is hard, meeting virtually or outdoors will help slow the spread of transmission, he said, adding that "the best way in which you protect your family is to delay meeting up physically and hugging each other until the spring or the summer, when it's safe."

Wales records 1,645 new cases

There have been a further 1,645 cases of coronavirus in Wales, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 87,077.

Public Health Wales reported another 24 deaths, taking the total in Wales since the start of the pandemic to 2,695.

India has registered 36,652 confirmed coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours

India's health ministry on Saturday also recorded 512 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking total deaths to nearly 140,000. The pace of new cases has seen a downward trend, with single-day cases remaining below the 50,000 mark a month.

India has 9.6 million total cases, second behind the U.S. with 14.3 million. But globally it has one of the lowest deaths per million population, according to the Health Ministry.

India's home ministry has allowed states to impose local restrictions, such as night curfews. It has asked state officials to consult before imposing lockdowns at state, district or city levels.

The Covid vaccine hurdles Britain still needs to overcome

The race is on: can Britain secure and distribute enough vaccine to the right people before it is hit with a third wave of Covid-19?

Opinion divides sharply. Scientists are cockahoop with their collective achievement. Not only has ten years of vaccine development been squeezed into 10 months but an entirely new class of mRNA vaccines has been developed, boosting the prospects not just of future vaccines but a wide range of therapeutics. 

Others are more cautious. They worry about a series of potential hurdles and bear traps that could yet see lockdown extended to the summer and perhaps beyond. They say we should brace for a third wave of the virus after Christmas and warn that vaccine supply and distribution is likely to be a slower, more painful process than many anticipate. 

So how far away is something approximating a return to life as normal? 

Paul Nuki has more

Covid break out sends Melbourne flight into isolation

An entire Virgin Airways flight to Melbourne has been advised to isolate at home after two travellers failed to quarantine in Sydney.

The Department of Health and Human Services said that anyone who travelled on Virgin Airways flight VA 838 from Sydney at midday AEDT and arriving in Melbourne at 1.25pm on Saturday should “immediately quarantine at home and contact DHHS”.

The two travellers are now in mandatory quarantine in Victoria after arriving in Sydney from overseas earlier on Saturday.

“Anyone who has been at the Melbourne Airport domestic terminal on Saturday afternoon is advised to monitor for Covid-19 symptoms and to seek testing if symptoms develop,” the department said. Meanwhile, a change to mask rules and increased social gathering caps are expected to be announced for Victoria on Sunday.

DRC hospitals struggle with influx of Covid-19 patients

Hospitals in Kinshasa are struggling to treat rising coronavirus cases because of a lack of oxygen supplies, health officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo said Saturday.

"The number of cases is rising and the cases are more and more serious," said epidemiologist Jean-Jacques Muyembe, head of the team leading the country's response to the pandemic.

"The big problem for hospitals, it's the lack of oxygen," he added. The work of the factory in Kinshasa producing oxygen was being hampered by the capital's frequent power cuts, he said.

The country has so far recorded just over 13,400 cases of coronavirus, more than 10,000 of them in Kinshasa.

Since the first death recorded from the virus on March 10, the DR Congo's toll has risen to 342, and the number of cases being recorded daily has been rising in recent weeks.

How to host a virtual Christmas, from office Zoom party ideas to online games for the family

We’ve been thrown plenty of curveballs this year, but we’re not a nation of quitters: a recent YouGov survey showed that 47 per cent of us believe Christmas has never been more important. And while in previous years the festive period might have signalled a break from our virtual lives and respite from bothersome blue screens, in 2020 it’s hardly a surprise that much of the festive action has migrated online.

But even the hardened Zoom-quiz cynics among you may be interested to hear there’s some real festive fun to be had digitally.

Check out our guide to a very merry virtual Christmas here.

German court upholds ban on coronavirus demonstration

Germany's highest court upheld on Saturday a ban on a demonstration in the northern city of Bremen planned by opponents of lockdown measures aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus.

Lower courts had already denied permission for the protest, planned for Saturday afternoon, at which 20,000 demonstrators were due to convene in the city centre of Bremen.

Last month, German police unleashed water cannon and pepper spray in an effort to scatter thousands of protesters in Berlin angry about coronavirus restrictions.

Although most Germans accept the latest "lockdown light" to curb the spread of the coronavirus in a second wave, critics say the amendment endangers citizens’ civil rights.

The head of Germany's public health agency said on Thursday that the country's success in dealing with the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in March and April had led many people to doubt the virus's severity or even its existence.

Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases (RKI), said this meant many were now failing to take social distancing and quarantine rules seriously enough, leading to the high level of cases Germany is now seeing.

Care home hugging safety doubts are "mischief making" says Sage scientist

Those who have called into question use of lateral flow tests as a safe way to open up care homes are simply "mischief making," a member of the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has said.

While lateral flow tests are not as accurate as PCR testing, the rapid turn around of results gives the added benefit of catching infectious cases that may have otherwise slipped through the cracks, Callum Semple, Professor of Child Health and Outbreak Medicine at the University of Liverpool told the BBC Today programme.

"The problem with test, trace and isolate using the so-called gold standard of PCR is [...] that it takes three days to get the results over while people are still infectious and transmitting the virus," he said.

"Now we know that lateral flow is not as good as PCR – it's detecting probably two out of three people, which are the most infectious – but this still allows us to increase the safety of people visiting care homes." 

"It allows us to increase the pick up with people who are working in the care homes and really good modelling has shown that serial repeated testing of these two groups, for example, does beat hands down the performance of a PCR test that's done in one week and takes four days to get the result back."

Ultimately the most important thing is to break transmission chains and lateral flow tests are perfectly suited for vulnerable settings, such as care homes, he said.

Meet the modest man who is saving the world from Covid with the Pfizer vaccine

Archimedes had his bathtub, Isaac Newton an apple tree. For Dr Ugur Sahin and his wife Dr Ozlem Türeci, it was a breakfast table conversation about a mysterious virus spreading from the Chinese city of Wuhan that sparked one of the greatest scientific advances of the ages – hailed in some quarters as the most significant since Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin in 1928.

This week, as Britain became the first country in the world to grant approval for the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which has been invented by the couple’s firm, Dr Sahin was at home in their modest apartment in Mainz, Germany, where he has worked for much of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Next to his desk are a couple of pot plants and in the neighbouring room the spinning bike where he grinds out a few miles when he needs to clear his head. The occasional car drones along the street several floors below. Nobody looking up would guess this is the home of the couple who might have just saved the world.

Joe Shute spoke to Dr Ugur Sahin, one half of the power couple behind the Pfizer vaccine – which could also bring a cancer breakthrough, too. Read more.

Dr Ugur Sahin says British authorities did 'a fantastic job' in approving the Pfizer vaccine  Credit: Felix Schmitt / Agentur

Police patrolling English county borders this weekend to prevent 'non-essential' travel

Police forces will be patrolling the perimeters of some Tier 2 and 3 areas this weekend, in a bid to curb breaches of 'non-essential' travel rules. 

North Yorkshire Police confirmed this week that it would be increasing its presence on border areas, to discourage people from travelling to the county from surrounding Tier 3 locations. Automatic Number Plate Recognition technology (ANPR) is also being used to monitor cross-border traffic. 

North Yorkshire is currently under Tier 2 regulations, with all surrounding counties – except Cumbria – under Tier 3 rules. The Government currently advises against non-essential travel from Tier 3 areas, or visiting areas in a higher tier than your own. 

“It is our responsibility to keep the public of North Yorkshire safe,” said Superintendent Mike Walker of North Yorkshire Police. “So, until the threat this virus poses is eradicated, we will continue to play our part in containing it.”

Read more.

Oxford set to tell vaccine trial volunteers if they got a placebo once they are offered jabs by NHS

Volunteers in the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine trial are to be “unblinded” so they can receive potentially life saving Covid vaccinations quickly, the Telegraph has learnt.

Tens of thousands of people around the world who have participated in phase three trials of Covid vaccines remain unsure as to whether they received a placebo or the real thing.

It has posed a difficult ethical dilemma now the first vaccine has been approved for use, with scientists keen for trials to continue to collect added data, but participants worried that they may be forgoing protection which will soon be available to all.

At least one death has been reported among the placebo group of the Moderna phase three vaccine trial in the US, and others will inevitably follow in the months ahead.

While deaths were unavoidable at first, now that vaccines have been proved efficacious they are not. 

Sarah Newey has more on this contentious issue here.

Iran's coronavirus deaths surpass 50,000

Iran's total death toll from coronavirus surpassed 50,000 on Saturday with 321 new fatalities recorded in the past 24 hours, the health ministry said, as the number of cases in the Middle East's worst-affected country reached 1,028,986.

Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari told state TV that 12,181 people had been infected with the coronavirus since Friday. The death toll now stands at 50,016.

Senior government adviser defends mass testing following less than desirable results

A senior UK government adviser has defended mass use of rapid turnaround tests for coronavirus amid concerns a high level of “false negatives” is giving people a misplaced sense of reassurance, PA reports.

Government figures released earlier this week from Liverpool - where the mass rollout of the lateral flow tests was first piloted - showed they missed half of all cases and a third of those with a high viral load who were likely to be the most infectious.

It led to calls from some scientists for their use to be suspended amid fears some people who tested negative would go on to mix with others who may be more vulnerable because they wrongly believed they did not have the disease.

Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser to NHS Test and Trace, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme:

"What we are doing here is case detection. We are not saying people do not have the disease if their test is negative.

"We are trying to say (to people who test positive: ‘You do have the disease and now we want you to go and isolate for ten days’. That is a whole different game-changer.

"We have been very clear that this test finds people we couldn’t otherwise find. We are also very clear that until we get a much lower prevalence of disease in this country that we shouldn’t be changing our behaviours."

World can start dreaming of pandemic's end, declares UN health chief

The United Nations' health chief has declared that positive results from coronavirus vaccine trials mean the world "can begin to dream about the end of the pandemic". But he said rich and powerful nations must not trample the poor and marginalised "in the stampede for vaccines".

World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus cautioned that while the virus can be stopped, "the path ahead remains treacherous".

He said the pandemic had shown humanity at "its best and worst", pointing to "inspiring acts of compassion and self-sacrifice, breathtaking feats of science and innovation, and heartwarming demonstrations of solidarity, but also disturbing signs of self-interest, blame-shifting and divisions".

Referring to the current upsurge in infections and deaths, Dr Tedros said without naming any countries that "where science is drowned out by conspiracy theories, where solidarity is undermined by division, where sacrifice is substituted with self-interest, the virus thrives, the virus spreads".

In his address to the UN General Assembly's first high-level session on the pandemic he warned that a vaccine "will not address the vulnerabilities that lie at its root" - poverty, hunger, inequality and climate change, which he said must be tackled once the pandemic ends.

On vaccines, Dr Tedros said that "the light at the end of the tunnel is growing steadily brighter" but vaccines "must be shared equally as global public goods, not as private commodities that widen inequalities and become yet another reason some people are left behind".

Doctors in England told to prepare Covid-19 vaccination centres by mid-December

GP surgeries in England have been told to be ready to start staffing Covid-19 vaccination centres by 14 December.

In a letter sent out across England’s primary care networks, NHS England and NHS Improvement warned the “scale and complexity” of the immunisation programme would make it “one of the greatest challenges the NHS has ever faced”.

The vaccination sites must be ready to administer 975 doses of the vaccine to priority patients within three and a half days of delivery on 14 December.

Speed is of the essence with the vaccine, as it is usually stored at -70C and will only remain stable at fridge temperatures of between 2C-8C for a limited period.

There are 975 doses in each of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine packs, which has posed a logistical problem of how they can be broken up and distributed to other key sites, such as care homes.

The first people to receive the vaccine in the centres will be those aged 80 and over, as long as their other risk factors, “clinical or otherwise”, have been taken into account.

Moscow starts mass Covid-19 vaccination with its Sputnik V shot

Moscow began distributing the Sputnik V Covid-19 shot via 70 clinics on Saturday, marking Russia's first mass vaccination against the disease, the city's coronavirus task force said.

The task force said the Russian-made vaccine would first be made available to doctors and other medical workers, teachers and social workers because they ran the highest risk of exposure to the disease.

"You are working at an educational institution and have top-priority for the Covid-19 vaccine, free of charge," read a phone text message received by one Muscovite, an elementary school teacher, early on Saturday and seen by Reuters.

"Over the first five hours, 5,000 people signed up for the jab - teachers, doctors, social workers, those who are today risking their health and lives the most," Mayor Sergei Sobyanin wrote on his personal website on Friday.

The age for those receiving shots is capped at 60. People with certain underlying health conditions, pregnant women and those who have had a respiratory illness for the past two weeks are barred from vaccination.

Russia has developed two Covid-19 vaccines, Sputnik V which is backed by the Russian Direct Investment Fund and another developed by Siberia's Vector Institute, with final trials for the both yet to be completed.

Scientists have raised concerns about the speed at which Russia has worked, giving the regulatory go-ahead for its vaccines and launching mass vaccinations before full trials to test its safety and efficacy had been completed.

Russia reports record 28,782 new cases in a day

Russia reported a record high of 28,782 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, including 7,993 in Moscow, taking the national total to 2,431,731 since the pandemic began.

Authorities confirmed 508 deaths related to Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, pushing the official national death toll to 42,684.

Pubs in Tier 2 say it's not worth opening

Three-quarters of pubs are staying closed because it is not worth opening in Tier 2, the industry's association has warned.

The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) said many pubs that had reopened after lockdown were already planning to shut again because trade was so dire under the stringent revamped tier rules.

A survey of operators representing more than 8,000 pubs, conducted by the BBPA between November 24 and December 2, found that just 27 per cent reopened following the end of lockdown.

READ MORE: Three-quarters of pubs not reopening because of Covid tier restrictions, poll finds

San Francisco lockdowns to kick off on Sunday

The mayor of San Francisco has ordered new lockdowns and business restrictions across the Bay Area in the face of the Covid-19 surge, as political leaders nationwide ramp up pressure on Americans to stay home until vaccines can be distributed.

The new measures announced by Mayor London Breed, a first-term Democrat, apply across five Bay Area counties and are among the harshest of any major US city, closing all personal services, outdoor dining and most public gatherings.

"What we are seeing in our city, our region, our state and our country is a virus that is taking over," Ms Breed said in announcing the new clampdown.

California Governor Gavin Newsom, also a Democrat, said on Thursday he would impose similar stay-at-home orders statewide, to take effect region-by-region as intensive care beds reach capacity.

Ms Breed said she was unwilling to wait for Mr Newsom's mandate to take effect in the Bay Area, adding: "If you're not working to stay ahead of this virus you're falling far, far behind and very quickly."

Starting at 10pm this Sunday, San Francisco will close all outdoor dining, outdoor playgrounds, zoos and aquariums along with other measures.

Third wave clusters emerge in South Korea

South Korean authorities urged vigilance on Saturday as small coronavirus clusters emerged in a third wave, centred in the Seoul area, with infections near nine-month highs.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 583 new infections, down from the 629 reported on Friday, which was the highest since the first wave peaked in February and early March.

After implementing tighter restrictions on Saturday, the government will decide on Sunday whether to further tighten curbs in a country that had seen initial success through aggressive contact tracing and other steps.

Ford among US companies preparing for vaccine storage

With the imminent arrival of coronavirus vaccines that will need to be stored at ultra-low temperatures, American companies are gearing up for a massive logistical effort to aid their distribution.

Automaker Ford has ordered its own freezers while meat-processing giant Smithfield said it is ready to put the cold room at its abattoirs at the disposal of vaccine roll-out operations.

Companies specialising in insulated containers have been on a war footing for weeks after Pfizer and BioNTech said the vaccine they had jointly developed needs to be stored at -70C.

US logistics giant UPS is already producing 500kg of dry ice an hour in its depots and has developed portable freezers capable of storing the vaccines.

But companies not directly linked to the manufacture, storage or transport of vaccines are also stepping up.

"We have assessed our ultra-low freezer capabilities and capacity and are ready and willing to assist health agencies if storage capacity becomes constrained," Smithfield chief administrative director Keira Lombardo said.

The meatpacker, which suffered a large number of cases of Covid-19 in some of its slaughterhouses, said it now stands ready to help authorities distribute the vaccine.

Ford has ordered a dozen ultra-cold freezers in anticipation of the arrival of vaccines, to offer them to employees who want them when they are available.

When the virus began to spread in the spring in the US, the company had to temporarily close its factories. The group has since resumed its activities but with strict health precautions.

US records more than 225,000 new cases in a day

For the second day in a row, the United States on Friday notched a record number of coronavirus cases in 24 hours, reaching 225,201 new infections.

In that same period, the country recorded 2,506 Covid-related deaths.

The US - the country with the most coronavirus cases and deaths in the world - has seen a dramatic resurgence in its epidemic in recent weeks.

It surpassed 200,000 new daily cases three times in the past month, peaking at more than 210,000 between Wednesday and Thursday.

US health officials warned of a surge after millions of Americans travelled to celebrate last week's Thanksgiving holiday, despite pleas from authorities to stay home.

The country has recorded more than 14.3 million cases and 278,000 deaths.

Bahrain gives vaccine the green light

The island kingdom of Bahrain said it has become the second nation in the world to grant an emergency-use authorisation for the vaccine made by Pfizer/BioNTech.

The state-run Bahrain News Agency made the announcement on Friday night.

Bahrain did not say how may vaccines it had purchased, nor when vaccinations would begin.

The challenge for Bahrain would be the conditions in which the vaccine must be kept. It must be stored and shipped at ultra-cold temperatures of around minus 70 degrees Celsius (-94 degrees Fahrenheit). Bahrain is a Middle-Eastern nation that regularly sees temperatures in the summer of around 40C (104F) with high humidity.

Mexicans urged to cancel Christmas celebrations

Mexicans should cancel Christmas celebrations and even avoid exchanging presents to beat coronavirus, the president said on Friday, pitching a frugal festive season to one of the world's largest capital cities as infections scaled new heights.

"Let's leave Christmas presents for another time," President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said, urging people to scale down or forego traditional family gatherings over Christmas and New Year.

Pilgrims enter the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City on Friday. The basilica registered queues eight days before the anniversary of the Virgin Mary and only six days after its temporary closure, decreed to avoid crowds on the traditional day of celebration Credit: Mario Guzman/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Mr Lopez Obrador said people should stay at home unless they had something "truly important to do" as he announced hospitals would increase patient capacity, equipment and staff.

However, he said there would be no mandatory lockdowns.

Mexico reported 12,127 new infections on Friday, a record number for a single day rise, barring one day in October that the government said was due to a statistical blip. It was also the first time Mexico had recorded more than 10,000 new cases three days in a row.

Mexico has recorded just over 1.15 million cases and almost 110,000 deaths, the fourth-highest death toll worldwide. Officials acknowledge the true extent of the pandemic is likely significantly higher due to limited testing, while the World Health Organisation warned the country was in "bad shape".

Care homes accused of playing God by banning hugs

Care homes have been accused of "playing God" by denying access to relatives, as increasing numbers of providers refuse contact between loved ones.

Earlier this week, the Department for Health and Social Care performed a U-turn on its previous guidance, by announcing that care home residents will be allowed to hug and hold the hands of family members and friends.

The new guidance was drawn up after care home bosses called for clarity around visits during the festive period.

While the new guidance - which stipulated that visitors should receive a negative test and wear PPE - was welcomed as "good news" by elderly care charities, it has since emerged that some relatives in parts of England have been stopped from hugging their loved ones.

Read the full story here.

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