Today's news: Latest headlines for the UK on Tuesday 22 December

Matilda Long
·4 min read

If you would like today’s top stories straight to your inbox every day, sign up to our daily ‘Catch-up’ newsletter. You can also visit our Today’s News section, which gets updated daily.

A pedestrian wearing a face mask or covering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, walks past a COVID-19 sign asking people to social distance as they walk on Oxford Street in central London on December 22, 2020. - UK government borrowing continued to soar in November on emergency action to support the virus-hit economy which nevertheless rebounded stronger than expected in the third quarter, official data showed Tuesday. Government borrowing last month hit £31.6 billion ($41.8 billion, 34.2 billion euros), a record for November -- taking public sector net debt to £2.1 trillion, the Office for National Statistics said in a statement. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
A social distancing sign in central London. (Getty)

— Today's top story in 60 seconds —

UK records 691 deaths as mutant strain spreads

What happened?

A further 691 people have died within 28 days of testing positive for COVID-19, the highest number since mid-April during the UK's first lockdown. Some 36,804 people tested positive, the highest number ever recorded in a single day, and a 61.2% weekly increase. It comes as the UK battles to contain the spread of the new mutant coronavirus, which is understood to be up to 70% more infectious.

New variant spreads across the UK

Genomic researchers have found the new and more infectious variant has already spread around the UK, with cases identified in Wales and Scotland. The COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium sampled cases around the UK and found the variant is also in the South West, Midlands and north of England, areas that are under Tier 2 and 3 restrictions.

Is the new strain more dangerous?

Sharon Peacock, director of COG-UK and a professor of public health and microbiology at the University of Cambridge, said there was no evidence to suggest the new variant caused higher mortality, and no reason to believe the vaccine being rolled out in the UK will not be effective. Professor Tom Connor, a genomics expert from Cardiff University, warned not enough time has passed to know whether the variant leads to a worse outcome for infected people. He said: “When you’re talking about outcome you’re normally looking at 28 days after the person has been diagnosed – with a lot of these cases popping up in late December we’re not at that point where you would have that outcome information to do that analysis yet.”

Read more about it

UK records highest daily surge of coronavirus cases yet (Evening Standard)
Latest weekly COVID-19 rates for local authority areas in England (PA Media)
Ministers ignored own scientists' advice to cut Christmas relaxation to one or two days (HuffPost)

The big coronavirus stories today—

Army to test lorry drivers

The army could be brought in to test lorry drivers in a bid to unblock travel between France and the UK. The solution would involve rapid turnaround lateral flow tests being conducted on lorry drivers with the help of the military, according to Sky News. More than 1,500 hauliers are stuck following France's decision to stop anyone entering from the UK. Read the full story here

EU urges countries to lift travel ban

Travel from the UK to the European Union should be “discouraged” due to fears about the mutant variant of coronavirus but bans on movement should be lifted, Brussels has said. The European Commission recommended a joint approach after countries imposed emergency restrictions. Read the full story here

Coronavirus finally reaches Antarctica

Coronavirus has now been reported on every continent on Earth after the first cases were identified in Antarctica. The Chilean army announced that 36 people linked with a base on the planet's southern pole had tested positive for COVID-19. Read the full story here

Royals inadvertently breach rule of six

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their children have been pictured inadvertently breaching of the rule of six. William and Kate took their family to a night-time woodland walk and were photographed walking at a distance from the Earl of Wessex and his family. Read the full story here

— Have your say —

— What else happened today? —

Grace Millane’s killer raped another tourist

The man who murdered British backpacker Grace Millane after meeting her on a dating app raped another British tourist months earlier, it has emerged. A New Zealand court ruled that killer Jesse Shane Kempson's identity and other convictions can now be revealed. Read the full story here

PM gives peerage to Tory donor

Boris Johnson is facing a cronyism row after he appointed a Tory donor as a life peer despite concerns from watchdogs. Johnson brushed aside objections from the House of Lords Appointments Commission to elevate Tory former treasurer Peter Cruddas to the upper house. Read the full story here

Johnson holds secret Brexit talks

Boris Johnson has been holding secret one-on-one talks with the EU Commission president in a bid to break the Brexit deadlock. EU officials say the pair have held multiple phone calls since the start of the week to discuss trade talks, as well as the shutdown of the UK's link to the continent. Read the full story here

River first to gain bathing status

A popular swimming and paddling spot in Yorkshire has become the first designated river bathing site in England. The stretch of the River Wharfe, between Main Bridge and Beanlands Island in Ilkley, will be added to the list of waters in England granted bathing status by the government from 2021. Read the full story here

— Our editors curate stories each day from our own reporters and our media partners to help you stay informed and feel prepared. Download the newsletter here —

Watch: What is long COVID?

(Yahoo News)
(Yahoo News)