Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, said that the Omicron variant of coronavirus was spreading by community transmission in ‘multiple regions of England’. He gave the number of cases detected as 336 by 6 December, and the next day another 101 were found. Anyone coming from a foreign country would have to pass a coronavirus test within two days of catching a plane to Britain. A newlywed couple who had to pay £2,285 to stay in a quarantine hotel published photos of food such as a slice of quiche covered with sliced carrots in a plastic container. Sainsbury’s asked workers to postpone Christmas parties until the new year. Despite setbacks, more than 20 million booster vaccinations had been given. In the seven days up to the beginning of this week, 827 people had died with coronavirus, bringing the total of deaths (within 28 days of testing positive) to 145,551. (In the previous week, deaths had numbered 858.) Numbers remaining in hospital fell, as they had since the beginning of November, to about 7,300.
Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, was asked to explain how a party at 10 Downing Street on 18 December 2020 met coronavirus restrictions. The question was brought home by a video from four days later of Allegra Stratton, his press secretary at the time, running through a practice press conference trying to justify the staff gathering. Hunting with hounds remained legal in Northern Ireland after Sinn Fein whipped its assembly members to vote against a private member’s bill to ban it. The Attorney General was to review the sentences of 29 years for Emma Tustin for murder and 21 years for Thomas Hughes for the manslaughter of his son Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, aged six, after terrible abuse of him. All but 500 of thousands whose electricity was cut off by a storm in Scotland and northeast England had power restored after 11 days, in time for another storm, named after Barra Best, a BBC weather presenter in Northern Ireland.
The government sketched a ten-year drugs strategy, allocating £300 million for combating 2,000 county-lines gangs; the middle classes were invited to believe their passports would be taken away if they were caught with drugs. House prices rose by 3.4 per cent in the three months to the end of November. The Dowager Duchess of Grafton, who had been Mistress of the Robes to the Queen since 1967, died aged 101.
President Joe Biden of the United States held talks by video link with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, amid fears of an invasion of Ukraine as thousands of Russian troops massed on its eastern frontier. Bob Dole, the unsuccessful Republican candidate for the US presidency in 1996, died aged 98. Volcanic ash and hot mud from an eruption of Mount Semeru engulfed villages, leaving at least 34 dead, on the island of Java in Indonesia. Beekeepers on the island of La Palma in the Canaries, where the Cumbre Vieja volcano has been erupting since 19 September, found that colonies had survived by sealing themselves in and consuming stored honey.
Bill de Blasio, the Mayor of New York, declared that 184,000 private businesses must vaccinate employees, beginning on 27 December. In Malaga, 68 doctors and nurses, mostly working in the hospital’s intensive care unit, contracted Covid, without symptoms, after a pre-Christmas party for 170. The total in the world reported to have died with coronavirus reached 5,212,793 by the beginning of the week. Aung San Suu Kyi, 76, the Burmese leader held since a coup in February, was sentenced to two years in prison on 11 charges such as possessing unlicensed walkie-talkies. The United States and Mexico agreed the revival of a scheme introduced under President Donald Trump to send back asylum-seekers found in America to Mexico to await their cases being heard. In Burundi dozens died in a fire at Gitega prison, which had capacity for 400 prisoners but held 1,539.
President Emmanuel Macron of France met Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, during a tour of the Gulf in which he sold 80 Rafale warplanes to the United Arab Emirates for €16 billion. A Saudi Arabian man, Khaled Aedh Alotaibi, was arrested at Charles de Gaulle airport on suspicion of involvement in the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. China said it would take ‘resolute counter-measures’ after America said it was imposing a diplomatic boycott on the Winter Olympics in Beijing. Fears about debt repayment by the Chinese property giant Evergrande saw its shares fall again.
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