Health Secretary Matt Hancock is due to announce any changes to the current tiered system in a statement to the Commons on Wednesday.

Follow the latest updates below….

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That’s all for today’s rolling coronavirus coverage

Check back in tomorrow morning for all the latest updates. Goodnight.

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Junior doctor ‘barely able to eat’ over Christmas as hospitals ‘overstretched’

A junior doctor has said his London hospital is “aggressively overstretched” by Covid patients and he expects the situation to worsen.

The doctor, who works in general medicine and wished to remain anonymous, said if the volume of Covid patients continues to increase his hospital will need to start rationing oxygen – which he expects it will.

“We’re just aggressively overstretched… shifts which previously would have been manageable are distinctly not,” the medic said.

“There’s just been a huge expansion in the number of Covid in-patients, the number of patients we’re admitting and the baseline sickness of the patients.

“We are close to or have exceeded maximum capacity already in terms of 100 per cent ideal care… if it goes beyond that then things would be bad.”

The doctor said the current situation in hospitals is as strained as it was in the first wave of Covid-19 earlier this year and he would be “very shocked” if things do not get worse.

He said he and fellow staff are suffering from exhaustion and many patients are being handed over to doctors on the next shift because staff “can’t get through them quickly enough”.

He knows colleagues at another London hospital who have had to lead treatment for multiple cardiac arrests from emergency vehicles because they could not fit them in A&E.

He said “a few” patients at his hospital have had their treatment started in ambulances.

“We haven’t had people being treated in corridors yet, but that partly reflects a fairly rapid rate of death… that clears out bed space, unfortunately,” he said.

The doctor said he sees a couple of patients die per shift and he is currently routinely working 70 hour weeks.

“I was barely able to eat on the nights over Christmas,” he added.

He said increased funding is needed for his hospital and others to rapidly raise staffing levels.

“That would make a huge difference… we may not have enough oxygen, enough machinery, but at least if you have enough nurses, enough doctors we can do as much as we can,” he said.

Asked what he would say to those looking to go out to celebrate on New Year’s Eve, the doctor added: “It’s very easy to be blase when you are young and not in touch with people who are sick and suffering.

“But there’s a direct link between what you’re doing and people dying, and you must think beyond your own actions for the greater benefit of many.”

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Scientists warn schools may have to remain closed to combat coronavirus

Schools may have to remain shut in order to control coronavirus transmission, senior scientists have warned.

Professor Neil Ferguson, a member of the Government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said there had been a “balancing act” since lockdown was initially eased between keeping control of the virus and maintaining “some semblance of normal society”.

But he said planned school reopenings from next week may have to be postponed.

He told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme: “Clearly nobody wants to keep schools shut. But if that’s the only alternative to having exponentially growing numbers of hospitalisations, that may be required at least for a period.

“There are no easy solutions here. My real concern is that even if universities, schools, do have staggered returns or even stay closed, how easy it would be to maintain control of the virus is unclear now, given how much more transmissible this variant is.”

Earlier, Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) members Professor Andrew Hayward and Dr Mike Tildesley signalled the possibility of a “slight delay” to having pupils back on site, with latest figures from NHS England on Tuesday afternoon showing a further 365 people who tested positive for Covid-19 had died, taking the total number of confirmed reported deaths in hospitals in England to 49,225.

The Government said it is “still planning for a staggered opening of schools” after Christmas but is keeping the plan under constant review.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman told a Westminster briefing: “We’re still planning for a staggered opening of schools and we are working to ensure testing is in place.

“As we have said throughout the pandemic, we obviously keep all measures under constant review.”

Earlier this month, the Government said exam-year students in England would go back to school as normal after the Christmas holidays, from January 4, but the majority of secondary school pupils would start the term online to allow headteachers to roll out mass testing of children and staff.

Schools in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will also use staggered returns for pupils in January, with some pupils participating in online classes before the gradual reintroduction of face-to-face teaching later in the month or in February for some age groups.

( Getty Images for V&A )
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Will the Nightingale hospitals be used now that patient numbers have reached record highs?

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Covid patients treated in ambulances outside hospital due to rising cases

Coronavirus patients at a hospital in Romford are having to be treated outside in ambulances before entering the building as rising numbers put “significant pressures” on health services.

Footage shared on social media of Queen’s Hospital in Romford appears to show dozens of emergency vehicles queueing outside the hospital.

A statement released by the Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the hospital, urged people to only contact ambulance services in the case of real emergencies.

“Along with the rest of the NHS, we are under considerable pressure as we look after a rising number of Covid-19 patients, some of whom are being cared for safely in ambulances before entering Queen’s Hospital,” it said.

“You can help us by calling NHS 111 if you need medical advice, and only coming to our emergency departments in a real emergency.”

Magda Smith, the Trust’s chief medical officer, said: “London’s NHS is under significant pressure from high Covid-19 infection rates and non-Covid winter demands, with staff in all services going the extra mile and we are opening more beds to care for the most unwell patients.

“It is more important than ever that Londoners follow Government guidance and do everything possible to reduce transmission of the virus.”

( Ambulances outside Queen’s Hospital in Romford / PA )
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Essex continues to see highest Covid-19 rates in England

Here’s a brief overview of the latest Covid-19 case rates for every local authority area in England.

The figures, for the seven days to December 25, are based on tests carried out in laboratories (pillar one of the Government’s testing programme) and in the wider community (pillar two).

The rate is expressed as the number of new cases per 100,000 people.

Data for the most recent four days (December 26-29) has been excluded as it is incomplete and does not reflect the true number of cases.

Of the 315 local areas in England, 238 (76 per cent) have seen a rise in case rates, 75 (24 per cent) have seen a fall, and two are unchanged.

Brentwood in Essex continues to have the highest rate in England, with 969 new cases recorded in the seven days to December 25 – the equivalent of 1,258.1 cases per 100,000 people.

This is up from 1,134.8 in the seven days to December 18.

Epping Forest, also in Essex, has the second highest rate, up from 1,179.3 to 1,256.0, with 1,654 new cases.

Thurrock, again in Essex, is in third place, where the rate has fallen slightly from 1,295.2 to 1,181.6, with 2,060 new cases.

The areas recording the biggest week-on-week jumps are Hertsmere (up from 598.6 to 864.5, with 907 new cases); Watford (up from 505.3 to 770.4, with 744 new cases); and Three Rivers (up from 506.8 to 769.4, with 718 new cases).

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79-year-old grandmother becomes first person in Ireland to get coronavirus vaccine

A 79-year-old grandmother from Dublin has become the first person in the Republic to receive a coronavirus vaccination.

Annie Lynch received the vaccine at St James’s Hospital in Dublin.

It was the first Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 jab to be administered at four hospitals across the country: St James’s and Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, Cork University Hospital and University Hospital Galway.

Mrs Lynch said: “I feel very privileged to be the first person in Ireland to receive the vaccine.

“Like everyone else I have been waiting for the vaccine and I really feel like there is a bit of hope there now. It’s brilliant that it’s here. Everything was explained very clearly to me beforehand.”

Mrs Lynch, who lives in Drimnagh and was born in Christchurch, grew up in The Liberties.

Her husband John died in September. She has three children and 10 grandchildren.

She is a resident at the Mercer’s Institute for Successful Ageing at St James’s.

Bernie Waterhouse, a clinical nurse manager on a Covid-19 ward at St James’s, was the first healthcare worker in Ireland to get the vaccine.

She said: “I wanted to get the vaccine to protect myself, and the people I work with and care for every day, from Covid-19.”

Around 10,000 doses of the vaccine arrived in Ireland on Saturday.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the first to be approved for use in Ireland by the European Medicines Agency.

Around 40,000 doses will arrive in Ireland every week throughout January and February.

It comes as Ireland recorded its highest ever daily number of cases with 1,546 confirmed in the past 24 hours.

There were nine further deaths related to Covid-19.

It brings the total number of Covid-19-related deaths in the country to 2,213.

( Annie Lynch, 79, said she felt ‘very privileged’ to be first in line for the vaccine / PA )
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Five out of England’s seven NHS regions report record patient numbers

Five of the seven NHS regions in England are currently reporting a record number of Covid-19 hospital patients: Eastern England, London, the Midlands, south-east England and south-west England.

The other two regions, north-east and north-west England, remain below peak levels that were set in mid-November.

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Patient numbers in London’s hospitals hit record high

The number of Covid-19 patients in hospital in London is now higher than levels recorded at the peak of the first wave of the virus.

A total of 5,371 hospital patients were confirmed as having Covid-19 as of 8am on December 29, according to the latest figures from NHS England.

During the first wave, the number of patients in London peaked at 5,201 on April 9.

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The words ‘stay at home’ don’t seem to register with some people…

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