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COVID news live: People should avoid 'snogging under the mistletoe' at Christmas, says cabinet minister – Sky News

Coronavirus latest as UK records 53,945 daily cases, the highest since 17 July; “good news” in early data on Omicron; nothing to stop festive parties and no guidance on who you should kiss at Christmas, Number 10 says; UK approves new Sotrovimab drug that could work against new variant.
A member of the public asks if extra precautions should be taken for the clinically vulnerable with the new emergence of the Omicron variant.
Dr Rosemary Leonard advises to “carry on doing what you are doing – we don’t know if this new variant is more dangerous for the clinically vulnerable than the Delta variant”.

She says vulnerable people should have had three COVID vaccinations by now, and should contact their doctor if they could be eligible for a fourth dose.
Dr Leonard advises people to take a lateral flow test before attending Christmas gatherings and parties this year.
Professor Adam Finn says wearing a mask will reduce the chances of you infecting other people, with COVID and other infections.  

Dr Bharat Pankhania, who is also on our Coronavirus Q&A panel of experts tonight, says that looking at the history of viruses – random mutations can happen at any time and any place in the world.
But he says the probability of having variant emerge is more likely in areas where there is more infection, prolonged infection and people with suppressed immune systems. 
He says: “This is a global issue, we are not well until all of us are not well.
“We have failed in this task of immunising ourselves and others like Africa, and other parts of the world.”
The richer nations and the WHO need to work a lot harder to suppress infections globally, he adds.
He says this will reduce the chances of new mutations emerging.
Dr Pankhania says the Omicron variant is of concern, but we should still be protected by the vaccines and booster shots. 
“The best thing you can do is be fully immunised, including your booster”, he says.
Sky News Q&A panellist Dr Rosemary Leonard says it will only be possible to know when travel will be freed up again when scientists know more about the new Omicron variant of COVID-19.
She says right now we have to be patient and wait until more data and information emerges.
Prof Adam Finn, also on the panel, says colleagues in South Africa have been vigilant by bringing the new variant to the world’s attention – but he can see why travel restrictions have been brought in due to what happened when other variants emerged in the past year. 
An expert panel is answering your questions about the new Omicron COVID-19 variant in a Q&A on Sky News. 
The first question is about the effect of the Omicron variant on young children.
Professor Adam Finn says we are still just learning about Omicron but, and reassures the parent asking the question that “one thing we have seen consistently through this pandemic is that coronavirus mildly affects children”.
Dr Rosemary Leonard said we know that in young children, serious illness from COVID is “extremely rare”.

With so many unknowns and conflicting reports on the new variant, Sky News is once again hosting a live Q&A with an expert panel from 7pm.

We will be answering your questions about the Omicron variant with Professor Adam Finn, Dr Bharat Pankhania, and Dr Rosemary Leonard. 
You can submit a question about Omicron, the new restrictions or anything else related to COVID via email at or Whatsapp on 07583 000 853.
Last night’s Q&A can be found here…
Eyewitness by Alex Rossi, national correspondent
There is no let up. Patients keep arriving putting pressure on a system running at over-capacity.
The cubicles here at the emergency department in Warrington were full hours ago.
New arrivals wait in whatever space is left.
Liam Ball is typical. He was admitted this morning with bruising to his chest after he was in a car crash.
It’s late afternoon now and he’s still waiting in the nurses’ station for a bed on a ward.
For the medics the day blurs into a constant rush making sure everyone gets treatment, eventually.
Read more…
Analysis by Adam Parsons, Europe correspondent
There were two very big calls by the Germans today, and both of them are hugely controversial.
Which was the bigger? Probably the spectre of mandatory vaccination. Germany isn’t the first European nation to announce such a plan, with neighbouring Austria already saying its citizens must have taken the jab by February. 
But in Germany, this is combustible. It’s not so long since Angela Merkel said she wanted vaccination to be voluntary. Now that’s been turned on its head, just as she is about to leave office. 
Her successor, Olaf Scholz, has given the Bundestag a free vote on the issue but is clearly putting his weight behind it. It seems likely to pass. And then what? How do you police mandatory vaccinations? The rest of Europe is watching, interested in the precedence.
Then there’s the lockdown of the unvaccinated, a measure that’s clearly divisive and obviously stigmatises a slice of society. Pretty much everyone knows this is an uncomfortable space for any government to occupy but, as with many other countries, there is a desperate desire to increase the percentage of the population that is vaccinated. This isn’t subtle – more of a flying kick than a gentle nudge – but both Merkel and Scholz seem to agree that a desperate desire can only be met by desperate measures.
Merkel or Scholz are not renowned for big, bold, Boris Johnson-style bits of theatre. Neither of these moves will have come easily to either the new or old Chancellor. That tells you a lot about how worried Germany is.
Sajid Javid has said it has got “nothing to do with the government” who people kiss, after a Cabinet minister suggested “snogging under the mistletoe” should be minimised over Christmas.
The Health Secretary told ITV News: “People can snog who they wish. I’ll certainly be kissing my wife under the mistletoe – it’s a Javid family tradition. 
“It’s got nothing to do with the government who you kiss or anything like that. But the only thing is just – there’s guidance already out there – just be cautious and enjoy yourselves.” 
Yesterday, Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey told ITV’s Peston programme that “we should all be trying to enjoy the Christmas ahead of us”. 
But she said “snogging under the mistletoe” should be avoided with “people you don’t already know”.

Analysis by Sam Coates, deputy political editor
The arrival of the new Omicron variant, announced by Boris Johnson, has had a measurable chilling effect on people’s behaviour and hospitality company profit – but not by as much as might be presumed. 
One company that takes online bookings on behalf of bars and pubs, DesignMyNight, has said cancellations jumped 15% after the prime minister’s first intervention on Saturday night. Another event management company reports some clients asking about switching from live parties to virtual ones. 
This is terrible news for a stricken hospitality sector – but does not mean the public has taken fright en masse. It only takes one member of a party to cancel a booking. And big corporations are the most likely of all to exercise caution out of the fear of mass staff infections, not automatically because their staff are scared.
Indeed the wider public appears to be less keen on dramatic changes, echoing Mr Johnson’s approach. 
Pollster YouGov has found the impact of the new variant to be the public adopting a noticeable but not hugely dramatic extra degree caution compared to the height of summer. 
Just after final restrictions were removed in late July, YouGov found 65% of people wanted social distancing in pubs – now that figure is 69%. In the summer 50% wanted to close nightclubs, now that figure is 55%. Some 43% wanted to prevent large entertainment and sports events, now that is 46%. 
Dramatic fresh restrictions, being resisted by the PM, is also apparently being resisted by the public too. 
British travellers in South Africa face the prospect of spending Christmas in quarantine hotels as there are not enough rooms to accommodate the number of people currently trying to return.
Many also face costs amounting to thousands of pounds as they are forced to re-book flights and extend their stays around the limited room availability.
One woman has been told there are no rooms free until 22 December and other families who have found themselves stranded have described the sudden change of rules and quarantine hotel booking system as “chaotic” and “not fit for purpose”.
Read more on this story…
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