By Michael Le Page
, Clare Wilson
, Jessica Hamzelou
, Sam Wong
, Graham Lawton
, Adam Vaughan
, Conrad Quilty-Harper
and Layal Liverpool
Passengers at Heathrow airport in west London on 15 January
Latest coronavirus news as of 4pm on 15 January
Concern grows about new coronavirus variant identified in travellers from Brazil
Travellers from countries in South America, as well as from Portugal, Cape Verde and Panama, are now banned from entering the UK amid growing concern about a new variant of the coronavirus that was first identified in people who travelled to Japan from Brazil. The ban came into force at 04:00 GMT on Friday. As with the other coronavirus variants identified in the UK and South Africa, the new variant contains mutations in the coronavirus spike protein, which the virus uses to enter human cells. Both of these new variants are highly transmissible, which has prompted concerns that the variant first found in travellers from Brazil to Japan may also spread rapidly. 
UK transport minister Grant Shapps told BBC Radio 4 on Friday that the variant of concern is not as far as we are aware already in the UK. In the Brazilian Amazonas state, where the new variant is thought to have first emerged, hospitals are becoming overwhelmed. The city of Manaus has seen a surge of coronavirus cases and deaths, and there have been reports of severe oxygen shortages in some hospitals in the city. There is no oxygen and lots of people are dying, a local healthcare worker said in a video posted on Twitter. If anyone has any oxygen, please bring it to the clinic. There are so many people dying.
Other coronavirus news
Some severely ill covid-19 patients are being transferred from hospitals in London to Newcastle, due to intensive care units in London running out of capacity. Moving intensive care patients long distances across country is a clear indicator that the NHS in London has been overwhelmed by covid-19, Lucy Watson, chair of the Patients Association, told the Guardian. At such a worrying and frightening time, the role of family liaison workers maintaining contact between patients, their families and clinicians will be all the more important, said Watson. This will be particularly so for those whose loved ones die far away.
Pfizer will temporarily decrease deliveries to Europe of its covid-19 vaccine, developed in partnership with BioNTech, while it undergoes upgrades to increase its production capacity. We had expected 43,875 vaccine doses from Pfizer in week 3 (next week). Now it appears that we will get 36,075 doses, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) told Reuters on Friday. This temporary reduction will affect all European countries, the FHI said, adding that it isnt currently clear when Pfizer will return to maximum production capacity. Many European Union nations have complained that they are receiving fewer supplies than expected.
China is constructing a medical isolation centre in Hebei province to help contain a new covid-19 outbreak. The centre is expected to have space for 3000 makeshift wards with a capacity for several thousand people. China reported its highest daily increase in coronavirus cases in more than 10 months on Friday, with 144 new cases. More than 28 million people are living under new lockdowns in Hebei and Heilongjiang provinces.  
Coronavirus deaths
Matthew Rowett
The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 1.99 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 93.2 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.
Essential information about coronavirus
Everything you need to know about the pandemic
Where did coronavirus come from? And other covid-19 questions answered
What is covid-19?
You could be spreading the coronavirus without realising youve got it
Which covid-19 treatments work and how close are we to getting more?
What will it take to get a covid-19 vaccine to the world?
What to read, watch and listen to about coronavirus
The New York Times is tracking hospital bed occupancy in England in an interactive graphic.
Panorama: The Race for a Vaccine is a BBC documentary about the inside story of the development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine against covid-19.
Race Against the Virus: Hunt for a Vaccine is a Channel 4 documentary which tells the story of the coronavirus pandemic through the eyes of the scientists on the frontline.
The New York Times is assessing the progress of different vaccine candidates and potential drug treatments for covid-19, and ranking them for effectiveness and safety.
Humans of COVID-19 is a project highlighting the experiences of key workers on the frontline in the fight against coronavirus in the UK, through social media.
Belly Mujinga: Searching for the Truth is a BBC Panorama investigation of the death of transport worker Belly Mujinga from covid-19, following reports she had been coughed and spat on by a customer at Londons Victoria Station.
Coronavirus, Explained on Netflix is a short documentary series examining the on-going coronavirus pandemic, the efforts to fight it and ways to manage its mental health toll.
New Scientist Weekly features updates and analysis on the latest developments in the covid-19 pandemic. Our podcast sees expert journalists from the magazine discuss the biggest science stories to hit the headlines each week from technology and space, to health and the environment.
COVID-19: The Pandemic that Never Should Have Happened, and How to Stop the Next One by Debora Mackenzie is about how the pandemic happened and why it will happen again if we dont do things differently in future.
The Rules of Contagionis about the new science of contagion and the surprising ways it shapes our lives and behaviour. The author, Adam Kucharski, is an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK, and in the book he examines how diseases spread and why they stop.
Previous updates
Lines of ambulances and a steady stream of patients arriving at the Royal London Hospital, UK
Mark Thomas/Shutterstock
14 January
Record number of people waiting for non-covid-19 NHS treatment in England
The coronavirus pandemic is having a calamitous impact on other medical treatment in England, the president of the Royal College of Surgeons, Neil Mortensen, has said, as data published by NHS England revealed millions of people were waiting for hospital treatment unrelated to covid-19. About 4.46 million people were waiting to start hospital treatment in England in November last year, the highest figure ever recorded. When we eventually emerge from this crisis, we will need sustained investment to treat all those who have been waiting patiently for treatment, said Mortensen. NHS England figures also show that 192,169 of those people had been waiting 52 weeks or more by November 2020, compared to just 1400 people the previous year. 
Other coronavirus news
The majority of people who have had covid-19 and recovered are protected from getting it again for at least five months, according to a study of healthcare workers by Public Health England. In Public Health Englands SIREN study, 20,787 healthcare workers were regularly tested for the coronavirus between 18 June and 24 November. Those who tested positive for coronavirus antibodies at the start of the study 6614 of the participants had an 83 per cent lower risk of reinfection, compared to those who tested negative at the start.
A World Health Organization team has arrived in Wuhan, China, where it will investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. On Thursday, China recorded its first death from covid-19 since May 2020 in Hebei province. The area is experiencing a new outbreak and tens of millions of people are under newly imposed lockdowns.
UK ministers are expected to announce a ban on travel from Brazil, following the discovery of a new coronavirus variant in people who travelled from Brazil to Japan.
Coronavirus deaths
Matthew Rowett
The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 1.98 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 92.5 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.
Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist
Vaccine boost: A positive outlook, even just on the day of receiving a vaccine, as well as strong social ties and a happy relationship can help increase antibodies made in response to a shot.
A worker wearing a protective suit walks at a cemetery in Chislehurst, on the outskirts of London, UK
REUTERS/Hannah McKay
13 January
UK reports record 1564 deaths in a single day
The UK reported 1564 deaths from covid-19 within 28 days of a positive test on Wednesday, the highest daily increase since the pandemic began. The country also reported 47,525 new coronavirus cases. UK prime minister Boris Johnson said the government plans to open 24/7 covid-19 vaccination centres as soon as we can. We have a huge network of 233 hospitals, 1000 GP surgeries, 200 pharmacies and 50 mass vaccination centres and they are going […] exceptionally fast, he told parliament on Wednesday. At the moment the limit is on supply. On Tuesday, 223,726 people received a dose of covid-19 vaccine, up from 165,844 on Monday. 
Thousands of hospital patients in England could be discharged early and sent to hotels in order to free up beds for severely ill covid-19 patients, the Guardian reported. Some covid-19 patients could also be discharged directly from hospitals into care homes, without a negative test if they have isolated for 14 days and shown no new symptoms. This is a dire situation, in which the NHS often has no good options available. Discharging patients early from hospital is likely to be one of few options open to the NHS to manage the scale of the current need, chair of the Patients Association, Lucy Watson, told the Guardian.
Other coronavirus news
The US recorded 4327 deaths from covid-19 on Tuesday, the countrys highest daily increase since the start of the pandemic. On the same day, US officials recommended that states broaden vaccination eligibility to people 65 or over who have chronic health conditions that make them more vulnerable to covid-19.
China saw its biggest daily rise in coronavirus cases in more than five months on Tuesday. There were 115 new confirmed cases reported in the mainland on 12 January the largest daily increase since 30 July, according to its National Health Commission.
There are concerns about a new variant of the coronavirus first detected in people travelling  to Japan from Brazil. Boris Johnson said he was concerned about the variant and that steps were being taken to protect the country from new infections entering from abroad. The new variant is different from the highly transmissible variants identified in the UK and South Africa.
Israels health ministry reported that initial data suggests the vaccine developed by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech reduces infections by 50 per cent after 14 days. Israel has so far vaccinated almost 2 million people about 20 per cent of the countrys population.
Coronavirus deaths
Matthew Rowett
The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 1.96 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 91.8 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.
Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist
UK variant: The faster spreading coronavirus variant first identified in the UK has officially reached nine US states and could soon cause a massive surge in covid-19 cases that makes the post-holiday spike look minimal, an expert has warned.
Delaying vaccine doses: To vaccinate more people quickly, the UK is making people wait up to three months for a booster shot rather than the few weeks tested in trials. Here’s what the evidence says about the situation.
A nurse works on a patient in the Intensive Care Unit at St George’s Hospital in Tooting, south-west London
Victoria Jones/PA Images
12 January
Pandemic caused UK excess deaths to rise to highest level since second world war
The UK has recorded the largest increase in excess deaths in the country since 1940 during the second world war. Last year there were approximately 697,000 deaths in the UK, almost 91,000 more than would have been expected based on the average in the previous five years. This does not account for the impact of deaths in December 2020, as figures are only available until November. The UK has one of the highest rates of excess deaths in the world, with more excess deaths per million people than most other European countries or the US, Richard Murray, chief executive of health charity the Kings Fund, told the BBC. It will take a public inquiry to determine exactly what went wrong, but mistakes have been made. 
Other coronavirus news
Despite record numbers of people in hospitals in England, the pressure on the NHS may not peak until next month, MPs have been told. That is because the infection rate will not decrease as fast as it did after the first lockdown in March. Its going to go down more slowly because of the increased transmissibility of the new strain, said Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents all NHS trusts in England. Hopson was referring to the highly transmissible B.1.1.7 variant, first identified in the UK in September. It now looks like the peak for NHS demand may actually now be in February, he said. If thats right, thats going to basically mean theres a higher level and a more extended period of pressure on the NHS than we were expecting even a week ago.
Germanys lockdown could last another eight to 10 weeks, as concerns about the spread of the UK variant in the country grow.
Israel may start vaccinating children over the age of 12 against covid-19 within the next two months, if pharmacological research shows this is safe, according to a local health official.
David Attenborough has been vaccinated against covid-19. The natural historian and TV presenter is 94 years old. 
Coronavirus deaths
Matthew Rowett
The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 1.95 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 91 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.
Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist
UK variant spreads: Authorities in Australia have responded swiftly to contain potential outbreaks of a highly transmissible coronavirus variant. The more contagious B.1.1.7 variant, first sequenced in the UK in September, has now reached at least 45 countries.
Missing vaccine data: Demographic data about vaccination programmes could reveal problems early on. So far, no figures about ethnicity have been released in England, even though people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are at greater risk from covid-19.
Englands chief medical officer, Chris Whitty
11 January
Hospitals in England struggle to cope with growing numbers of covid-19 patients
Englands chief medical officer on Monday issued a stark warning about what the country can expect in the coming weeks and urged people to avoid all unnecessary contact with others. The next few weeks are going to be the worst weeks of this pandemic in terms of numbers into the NHS, Chris Whitty told the BBC. He said there were more than 30,000 people with covid-19 in hospitals in England, compared to about 18,000 during the peak of the first wave in April last year. Hospitals around the country are taking exceptional measures to cope with the influx of people with covid-19, including putting trainees on wards and making nurses responsible for a greater number of patients than usual. Southend Hospital in England has been forced to reduce the amount of oxygen it uses to treat patients, because the hospitals oxygen supply has reached a critical situation, according to documents seen by the BBC.
We need to really double down, this is everybodys problem, any single unnecessary contact you have with someone is a potential link in a chain of transmission that will lead to a vulnerable person, said Whitty. Weve all got to, as individuals, help our NHS, help our fellow citizens, by minimising the amount of unnecessary contacts we have.
Other coronavirus news
UK prime minister Boris Johnson said 2 million people have been vaccinated against covid-19 in the country so far, including about 40 per cent of people over the age of 80 and 23 per cent of older care home residents. Later, UK health minister Matt Hancock said 2.6 million doses of covid-19 vaccine had been given to 2.3 million people in the country. The UK has now published full details of its vaccination programme, including its plan to be administering at least two million vaccinations per week in England by the end of January, and to have vaccinated 15 million people by mid-February. Its a race against time, because we can all see the threat that our NHS faces, said Johnson. 
A highly transmissible variant of the coronavirus first identified in the UK accounted for almost half of the most recent sample of positive tests in Ireland, according to local authorities. 
Coronavirus deaths
Matthew Rowett
The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 1.93 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 90.4 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.
Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist
UK vaccination target: UK prime minister Boris Johnson has set a target of 15 February by which 13.9 million vulnerable people should be vaccinated against covid-19, but manufacturing, safety checks and distribution logistics will make that difficult.
Covid-19 puzzle: The coronavirus is a riddle on many levels, but what we do know is that the time for underestimating it is over.
Nurses in the Intensive Care Unit in St Georges Hospital in Tooting, south-west London on 7 January
Victoria Jones/PA Wire/PA Images
8 January
London mayor Sadiq Khan urges Londoners to stay at home to protect our NHS
London mayor Sadiq Khan has declared a major incident in London in response to surging coronavirus cases and hospitalisations in the city. More than 100 firefighters have been drafted in to drive ambulances in London, to help cope with the increased demand. Khan said the London Ambulance Service is currently taking up to 8000 emergency calls per day, compared to 5500 on a typical busy day. Londoners continue to make huge sacrifices and I am today imploring them to please stay home unless it is absolutely necessary for you to leave, said London mayor Sadiq Khan in a statement. If we do not take immediate action now, our NHS could be overwhelmed and more people will die. Stay at home to protect yourself, your family, friends and other Londoners and to protect our NHS, said Khan. A major incident is one that presents a serious threat to the health of the community or that causes significant numbers or types of casualties requiring special arrangements to be implemented. Previously, major incidents have been declared in London for the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 and for terror attacks at Westminster Bridge and London Bridge. 
In London more than 7000 people are in hospital with covid-19, making up more than half of the capitals occupied beds. The Office for National Statistics estimates that one in 30 people across the city had the virus on 2 January. Infections in London, as well as in England and in the UK as a whole, are estimated to be growing by up to 6 per cent each day. Across the UK the most recent official estimate of the R number is between 1.0 and 1.4, which means every 10 infected people infect an average of 10 to 14 others.
Other coronavirus news
Preliminary research suggests the covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech is effective against the highly transmissible new variants of the coronavirus identified in the UK and South Africa. Antibodies isolated from the blood of 20 people who had received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine were still able to neutralise viruses containing one of the key mutations in laboratory tests. The research has not been peer-reviewed. Concerns that covid-19 vaccines will not work against the variant identified in South Africa prompted the introduction of testing for new arrivals into England and Scotland from abroad, according to UK transport minister Grant Shapps.
A third covid-19 vaccine has been approved for use in the UK. The UK has ordered an additional 10 million doses of the mRNA vaccine developed by US company Moderna, on top of 7 million which it pre-ordered last year, but supplies for the additional doses are not expected to arrive until spring. 
More than 4000 people in the US died from covid-19 in a single day for the first time since the start of the pandemic. The country recorded 4033 deaths due to covid-19 on Thursday, according to the COVID Tracking Project, passing its previous record of 3903 deaths on 30 December.
Greater Brisbane in Australia was put under a strict lockdown after one case of the highly transmissible UK variant was detected on Thursday.
Coronavirus deaths
Matthew Rowett
The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 1.90 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 88.3 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.
A healthcare worker walks past a line of ambulances at the Royal London Hospital in London, UK
NEIL HALL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
7 January
England hospitals cut back on services as nearly a third of patients have coronavirus
There are 26,467 covid-19 patients in hospital in England, accounting for nearly a third of all people in hospital. Many hospitals have had to cancel routine operations to accommodate a growing number of people with covid-19. The BBC reported that there are indications this is beginning to happen for cancer care as well. The impact of the pandemic is taking care away from other illnesses such as cancer and heart disease, Rupert Pearse, an intensive care consultant at the Royal London Hospital told the BBC. Were really struggling to provide the quality of patient care that we think patients deserve, said Pearse. 
The number of covid-19 patients in England hospitals has increased by more than 50 per cent since Christmas, with average daily hospitalisations now exceeding 3000 per day three times the usual winter rate for respiratory conditions.  
Other coronavirus news
Birmingham could run out of stocks of the coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech as soon as Friday, according to local leaders. The city has not yet been supplied with the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford in partnership with AstraZeneca. Birmingham leaders called for more clarity on the covid-19 vaccination programme in their city in a letter to UK health minister Matt Hancock. It remains unclear who is responsible for overseeing the vaccination programme in Birmingham, and whom we should hold accountable for progress and delivery, it said. In a briefing on Tuesday, UK prime minister Boris Johnson said 1.3 million people in the UK had been vaccinated with a first dose so far and data from NHS England published today revealed 308,541 people received a jab in England in the week ending 3 January. The government aims to vaccinate 13 million people in four priority groups by mid-February. 
Almost half of the residents in an East Sussex care home in England died from covid-19 over the Christmas and New Year period, with more than a third of the staff also testing positive during the outbreak, the Guardian reported. Of the 27 residents at Edendale Lodge care home in Crowhurst, 13 died with confirmed or suspected covid-19 since 13 December. Prime minister Johnson told parliament on Wednesday that 10 per cent of care home residents and 14 per cent of staff had so far been vaccinated against the disease. That clearly needs to be stepped up, he said.
As coronavirus vaccines continue to be rolled out across the US, health officials have stressed that the risk of severe illness and death from covid-19 still outweighs the risk of developing a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine. In the US, 29 people have so far developed anaphylaxis after being vaccinated against covid-19 and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it currently appears that cases are occurring at a rate of about 5.5 per 1 million vaccine doses administered.
Coronavirus deaths
Matthew Rowett
The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 1.88 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 87.3 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.
Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist
Why covid-19 has been such a nightmare: Humans have faced pandemics before, but some unusual features of covid-19 and modern society have conspired to create the perfect storm this time.
Two covid-19 advisors patrol an empty High Street in Worcester city centre, England
Max Willcock/EMPICS Entertainment/PA
6 January
UK reports 1041 deaths from covid-19 in a single day 
The UK reported 1041 deaths from covid-19 within 28 days of a positive test on Wednesday, the highest daily figure since 21 April, when 1224 deaths were reported. There were 62,322 new cases of coronavirus reported on Wednesday. This upward trend of cases (and hospitalisations and deaths) is likely to continue for another 2-3 weeks as the impact of social mixing during Christmas/New Year continues to be felt, said Julian Tang at the University of Leicester in a statement.
A quarter of all deaths in England and Wales in the week leading up to Christmas were due to covid-19. New figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that 2912, or 25 per cent, of the 11,520 deaths registered across England and Wales in the week ending 25 December mentioned covid-19 on the death certificate. Wales has been under a lockdown since 23 December and England and Scotland both entered nationwide lockdowns on Tuesday. 
Other coronavirus news
A World Health Organization (WHO) team sent to China to investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic has been denied entry to the country. Speaking at a news conference in Geneva, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “I’m very disappointed with this news, given that two members had already begun their journeys and others were not able to travel at the last minute, but had been in contact with senior Chinese officials.  
Coronavirus cases and hospitalisations are surging in California. The state recorded more than 74,000 new coronavirus cases on Monday and 21,597 people were hospitalised, both record daily increases since the start of the pandemic. It is getting harder and harder for healthcare workers to care for those coming to the hospital with gunshot wounds, heart attacks, strokes and injuries from car accidents, Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis told the Los Angeles Times.
People arriving in the UK from abroad may soon be required to show a negative coronavirus test in order to enter the country. A spokesperson for the Department for Transport told the BBC: With a new strain of the virus on the loose in South Africa and a more infectious variant already widespread in the UK we need to do more. The Department for Transport said full details of additional measures, which may also include testing before departure, remain to be agreed. Certain travellers, such as haulage drivers, may be exempt.
The European Medicines Agency has recommended a covid-19 vaccine developed by US company Moderna for authorisation in the EU. The vaccine has already been authorised for emergency use in the US.
Coronavirus deaths
Matthew Rowett
The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 1.87 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 86.7 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.
Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist
Mutant viruses: Mutated variants of the coronavirus making their way around the world are causing covid-19 to spread faster, and one may be able to evade current vaccines.
Disrupted senses: Loss of smell and taste is one of the most consistent symptoms of covid-19, and this anosmia reveals important details about how the coronavirus works. 
A pigeon on an empty Deansgate in Manchester, UK
Anthony Devlin/Bloomberg via Getty Images
5 January
Lockdowns imposed in England and Scotland to try to curb surging virus cases
Strict new nationwide lockdowns came into force in England and Scotland, which cabinet office minister Michael Gove said could last in some form until March. UK prime minister Boris Johnson announced the new lockdown rules for England during a televised address on Monday evening, saying that vaccination of key groups of people by mid-February could allow the restrictions in England to be eased. But on Tuesday, cabinet office minister Michael Gove told Sky News: We cant predict with certainty that well be able to lift restrictions in the week commencing [15 to 22 February]. What we will be doing is everything we can to make sure that as many people as possible are vaccinated, so that we can begin progressively to lift restrictions. I think its right to say that, as we enter March, we should be able to lift some of these restrictions but not necessarily all. The top four priority groups for vaccinations include older care home residents and their carers, people over 70, frontline health and social care workers, and clinically extremely vulnerable people.
The UK reported 60,916 new daily coronavirus cases on Tuesday, surpassing 60,000 daily new cases for the first time since the start of the pandemic. One in 50 people in England and one in 30 in London are estimated to have the coronavirus, according to the most recent data from the Office for National Statistics, Englands chief medical officer Chris Whitty said during a televised briefing on Tuesday. By comparison, one in 900 people were infected in early September. 
In Tuesdays press conference, Johnson said that 1.3 million people in the UK have so far received the first dose of a covid-19 vaccine. However, more than 4 million doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech were delivered to the UK before the end of 2020, the Financial Times reported, prompting questions about the gap between the number of vaccine doses secured and the number of people who have been vaccinated. Asked about the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca in partnership with the University of Oxford, of which the government has said it hopes to have 2 million doses a week by the end of January, NHS England director Stephen Powis told the Financial Times: Certainly this month well be able to get up to that sort of number but that would depend on supplies. Well be delivering it as soon as we get it.
Other coronavirus news
Researchers in South Africa are investigating whether a new variant of coronavirus spreading in the country might be resistant to existing covid-19 vaccines. Its a theoretical concern. A reasonable concern […] that the South African variant might be more resistant, Shabir Madhi, who led trials of the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine in South Africa, told the BBC. Madhi said it was unlikely that the mutation in the South African variant would render current vaccines useless but said it might weaken their impact.
Germany will extend its nationwide lockdown until at least the end of January. After a partial lockdown introduced in early November failed to sufficiently reduce infections, Germany entered a second nationwide lockdown on 16 December, which was originally due to be lifted on 10 January.
Coronavirus deaths
Matthew Rowett
The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 1.85 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 85.8 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.
Paramedics transport a patient to the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, London on 4 January
James Veysey/Shutterstock
4 January
England expected to tighten restrictions and Scotland announces national lockdown
Much of the UK faces new lockdown measures as Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there is no question that restrictions in England will be tightened, and Scotlands first minister Nicola Sturgeon announced a strict new lockdown in Scotland starting at midnight on 5 January. Johnson is expected to announce tougher restrictions in England this evening in a televised appearance, which could include schools being closed and Tier 4 restrictions across the country. The UK recorded 58,784 new coronavirus cases on Monday and 407 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test, and the Joint Biosecurity Centre is expected to be raising the countrys covid-19 threat level to 5 the highest level.
Most primary schools in England reopened today, despite calls from teaching unions and some councils to keep schools shut. Primary schools in London and south-east England remain closed until 18 January. Council leaders in many areas including Manchester and Birmingham said they would support the decision of head teachers who think it is unsafe to reopen their schools.
First Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines administered in the UK
An 82-year-old man became the first person to receive the coronavirus vaccine developed by the University of Oxford in partnership with AstraZeneca, as part of the UKs mass vaccination programme. Brian Pinker received the jab at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford and 530,000 doses were ready for use on Monday. AstraZeneca has said it expects to supply about 2 million doses of the vaccine every week by the middle of January in the UK.
Other coronavirus news
Coronavirus cases in the UK are continuing to surge, with concern growing about a variant of the virus first detected in South Africa. Im incredibly worried about the South African variant, and thats why we took the action that we did to restrict all flights from South Africa, UK health minister Matt Hancock told BBC radio. Its even more of a problem than the UK new variant, he said. John Bell at the University of Oxford told the Telegraphthere was a big question as to whether existing vaccines would be effective against the South Africa variant, which contains mutations that affect part of the virus that is recognised by antibodies. However, he added that it should be possible to make new vaccines quickly, if this or any future variant of the coronavirus emerges that is resistant to the current ones. It might take a month, or six weeks, to get a new vaccine, so everybody should stay calm. Its going to be fine, he said. Were now in a game of cat and mouse, because these are not the only two variants were going to see. Were going to see lots of variants.
India approved two coronavirus vaccines for emergency use on Sunday, including the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and a vaccine called Covaxin being developed by Indian company Bharat Biotech. Gagandeep Kang at the Christian Medical College, Vellore in India expressed concerns about Indias approval of Covaxin, as phase III trials of the vaccine havent yet been completed. Kang told the Times of India newspaper that she had never seen anything like this before, adding that there is absolutely no efficacy data that has been presented or published.
Coronavirus deaths
Matthew Rowett
The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 1.84 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 85.2 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.
Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist
Inaccessible vaccines: Many African countries applied for covid-19 vaccines through the COVAX initiative, but lack of funding could leave them without enough vaccines to reach herd immunity until 2024.
The bigger emergency: We’re all hoping 2021 will see the end of the pandemic. How we reboot the world after covid-19 will help shape our fate as an even bigger emergency looms dangerous climate change. 
A shopper walks past an Evening Standard newspaper stand in central London on 16 December, as new guidance on Christmas during the coronavirus pandemic was announced by the government
TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images
17 December
Regions in the east and south-east of England face tier three rules from Saturday
Almost 70 per cent of Englands population will be living under strict tier three coronavirus rules from Saturday as pressures on the NHS remain, said UK health minister Matt Hancock on Thursday. Regions in the east and south-east of the country, including Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Hertfordshire will move into tier three one minute after midnight on Saturday 19 December, as will parts of Surrey, East Sussex, Cambridgeshire and Hampshire. I know that tier three measures are tough, but the best way for everyone to get out of them is to pull together, not just to follow the rules, but to do everything they possibly can to stop the spread of the virus, Hancock told parliament. There will be 38 million people in the country living in tier three from Saturday, including other parts of England already under tier three rules.
Hancock said cases in the south-east of England had risen by 46 per cent in a week, with hospital admissions up by more than a third, while cases in the east of England had gone up by two-thirds in a week and hospital admissions had risen by nearly half. He also announced that Bristol and North Somerset would be able to move down to tier two on Saturday and that Herefordshire would also be able to move down, to tier one. I think this is a wise precautionary measure to damp down virus transmission in the lead up to the Christmas 5-day relaxation and afterwards, to restrict wider virus  transmission coming out of this break, said Julian Tang at the University of Leicester, UK, in a statement. 
Yesterday, the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments released a joint statement with advice on household mixing during Christmas. The safest way to spend this Christmas is with your own household or your existing support bubble in your own home and we strongly recommend that this is what you do if at all possible, the statement said. It also stressed that scientific advice is clear: the longer you meet others for, the higher the risk of you catching and spreading the virus and that if you do intend to form a bubble, you should keep the bubble small and your visits short. 
Other coronavirus news
Two healthcare workers in Alaska developed allergic reactions after receiving the coronavirus vaccine developed by US company Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, including a woman who did not have a history of allergies to vaccines and who was admitted to hospital. Both individuals received treatment and have recovered. The womans reaction appears to be similar to the allergic reactions experienced by two healthcare workers who were vaccinated in the UK last week. Following the two allergic reactions in the UK, US Food and Drug Administration officials said they would require Pfizer to monitor severe allergic reactions and submit data on this later on.
French president Emmanuel Macron tested positive for the coronavirus. In a statement, the Élysée Palace said Macron would self-isolate for seven days in line with the health protocol applicable to everyone and that he would continue to work remotely. 
Coronavirus deaths
Matthew Rowett
The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 1.65 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 74.4 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.
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