this is bbc news broadacsting to viewers in the uk and around the world. i'm martine croxall. our top stories... scientists cautiously welcome uk studies suggesting that the highly—contagious omicron covid variant is milder than previous versions. britain's health secretary warns that the sheer number of infections could still lead to hospitals being overwhelmed. we do know with omicron that it does spread a lot more quickly, it's more infectious than delta, so any advantage gained from reduced risk of hospitalisation needs to be set against that. new south wales proposes to charge unvaccinated people for covid medical costs — the doctors�* union says it's unethical. president putin again insists the west must give russia guarantees that nato won't expand eastwards to admit ukraine
and says he's initiated high—level talks with the us. translation: if we are plunged in a conflict? i but we don't want that. it is not our choice. this is why i responded to president biden�*s proposal. hello and welcome. tighter restrictions against coronavirus have come into effect in some european countries, amid concerns over the highly infectious omicron variant that continues to spread rapidly. there's a fear that a wave of omicron infections could overwhelm health services , despite preliminary studies suggesting that omicron is milder and that the risk of being hospitalised is up to 75 percent lower. we'll look at mainland europe in a moment, but let's start here in the uk. over 1.3 million british people were infected with covid in the week ending the 16th of december — the highest level of infections
recorded since the pandemic began. here's our health correspondent, dominic hughes. the last few days before christmas have brought some better news. early studies of the omicron covid variant suggest it may lead to fewer hospitalisations than the previous delta wave. that's the good news — but researchers say the true number of people getting infected is much higher than the official figure and there will be some challenging days ahead. so we're picking up asymptomatic infections as well as symptomatic infections, so a different bunch of people than may be reporting for testing through the national programme, so all that's telling us that there is a lot of cases, but for any individual it might be less severe, but at the population level there's going to be very severe pressure, i think, on the health service.
as covid infections continue to soar, health leaders have been warning of a looming staff crisis. nhs workers are just as vulnerable to the highly infectious omicron variant as the rest of us, and with staff falling ill, hospitals, ambulances and community services are all being hit. the impact of staff absences is on top of existing staff shortages and normally trust leaders would be looking to fill the gaps through bank and agency staff. that's getting harder to do. the latest data from nhs england shows what a dramatic impact the rise in infections is having on staff absence. on one day, the 19th of december, nearly 19,000 nhs staff in england were off work due to covid — that's up by 54% when compared to the week before. the biggest increase was in london, the epicentre of this outbreak, where covid—related absence, sickness or isolation almost doubled to around 3,900. the nhs workforce was already under
pressure before omicron came along. there's increased pressure there, as we are seeing in many workforces at the moment, especially if someone needs to isolate if they have a positive case, but some of the recent moves we've had from moving to 10—day to 7—day isolation if you take tests in the last two days, i think all of this will help. between 30 and 40. these are the ages of some of the people fighting - for the life on a covid ward. a graphic illustration of the pressures the health service is facing from liverpool city council. filmed in the intensive care unit of the royal liverpool, it shows how every patient needing treatment is relatively young and unvaccinated. the message is clear — get vaccinated. - in wales too, where waiting lists for planned procedures have hit a record high, there are warnings, too, nearly one—fifth of staff could be off with covid in january. nhs england's top doctor says the health service is now on a war footing and the best weapons in the fight against the omicron variant remain vaccines and boosters.
dominic hughes, bbc news. the uk government has ruled out introducing new restrictions before christmas. prime minister borisjohnson is yet to announce if england will see post—christmas restrictions, but other parts of the uk have announced their return. in northern ireland, nightclubs will be closed from boxing day, from the 27th of december hospitality will return to table service only with no more than six people allowed to sit together, and people will be advised to reduce indoor mixing to a maximum of three households. in wales, restrictions introduced include a return of the rule of six in pubs, cinemas and restaurants. two—metre social distancing rules will also be reintroduced in public places. nightclubs will close from boxing day. in scotland, from boxing day, there will be limits on the size from the following day,
nightclubs will close for three weeks, while pubs, bars and other hospitality venues will return to table service only with one—metre social distancing and no more than three households in each group. let's look at london now, where the number of people in hospital with covid but because of something else, has more than doubled so far in december and now stands atjust over 400. meanwhile, sage has been advising the government that we should expect to see between i—2,000 people in hospital by the end of the year, and 3,000 in hospital at omicron�*s peak. bbc�*s head of statistics robert cuffe gave me his assessment on the models informing government's decision making. you look at the models and you can certainly find examples of doom and gloom but you can also find examples of optimism. i think these models are pretty
complicated, and if you think about what they were trying to do a week ago, when what we knew about omicron was that it was, kind of, custom—designed to avoid the first line of your body's defences in your nose and in your throat when you're first hit with an infection. you want to play that all out, you've got to work out, well, what it does in those cells, then what does the rest of your body do, your immune system do to try to fight it off or overreact and how will that make you sick? and then you've got to work that out for a whole population, so people who are sick, people who are well, people who are vaccinated, people who've been infected, people who have strong immune systems, weak immune systems. then, on top of that, you've got to add, well, what's going to happen over christmas and how is our mixing going to change? and how is that going to change when we've heard about how bad omicron might be? on top of that uncertainty, you got to add, you know, other factors like the weather. are we all going to go outside in order to mix or are we going to be driven inside by rain? so when you've got all of those bits of uncertainty — and you can see that there's a huge range on the projections that they make. i think one early on in the omicron
wave was that the peak was going to be somewhere between half as bad as last january and twice as bad as last january. the issue is, really, we can't use these models instead of data. they can give us a sense of where we might end up but you can only use the data, like the figures we gave you a couple of seconds ago about what's happening in london hospitals, to really tell us what's coming. so, talk us through, if you would, the latest figures from today. well, in london, as you've said, we've seen an increase in people going into hospital because of covid and an increase in people going in with covid. proportionally it's probably going up a little bit faster for the with covids. but, still, the majority, about 75% of people who are in hospital in london at the moment in a covid bed are there because the covid put them there. but what we're seeing in the, kind of, the trends and the changes over time is what you might hope to see — or you might expect to see — was something like omicron if indeed it does cause milder infections but still has the power to put people in hospital. — was something like omicron if indeed it does cause milder infections but still has the power to put people in hospital. because you will see more people, if there's loads of virus london, loads of people who go in maybe
with a broken leg and they pick up covid when they're in there or you spot that they have covid when they're in there. so, that's going up. and, of course, that does put pressure on hospitals. if someone's in there with covid you need to, kind of protect them from the vulnerable people in hospitals so that you don't get an outbreak, but it's a different kind of pressure than the one you get from lots of people sick with covid and the pressure that puts on respiratory care. but you are also seeing an increase, eventually, as we see more and more infections, that does lead to more people going into hospital because covid is putting them there, so we're seeing an increase in pressure on both fronts. the fact that it's going up slightly faster for with covid rather than of covid it probably consistent with the mild signs, so there's some good news there, but increases all round, they're probably not the best news coming into christmas. and that's the interesting thing, isn't it, that we still don't quite know yet, what's the balance between the increasing number of people getting omicron, because it's so highly transmissible and whether they're really going to be that poorly with it. the news we had, you know, yesterday about the mildness of omicron of the fall in severity is really good because the models we had that we were looking weak ago
or more, they didn't have those assumptions built in, and we were assuming that any fall in omicron severity was just because more people were immune or had been vaccinated in the past and now what we're saying is there is hope that the numbers might be even lower than that, that we might not be heading to the doomsday scenarios you can get if you look at the worst cases of the models, so the question is more about how they will balance out. we'll probably see an increase in people in the hospital as a result of the omicron wave, possibly quite a substantial one, and it is just getting into those fine numbers now of exactly where we're going to end up, and we will probably get more information on that in the coming days. the bbc�*s head of statistics robert cuffe. let's look more at what's happening in europe now. as we mentioned, amid rising infections, a number of countries are re—introducing coronavirus restrictions. aru na iyengar reports. countries across europe are responding in different ways to the rapidly spreading omicron virus. belgium, as it emerges from a fourth wave of covid infections, is bracing for a fifth. theatres and entertainment venues will have to close their doors on december the 26th, their busiest time of the year.
translation: i absolutely agree that we should not take _ risks with public health. but, with these measures, we threaten the mental health of a lot of people. in spain, the government of pedro sanchez has increased the vaccination roll—out, extending this to children under the age of 12. mask—wearing will become compulsory outdoors for the second time. and, in the netherlands, with shops, restaurants and cinemas closed by dutch people and businesses face a very bleak christmas. rising cases mean hospitals have had to cancel other types of surgery. there are now 600 at the icus. but it was at the cost of that we postponed the urgent surgeries for a lot of patients, and what we also did see in last weeks is that the number of people that died, in the total in the netherlands, was higher than expected. italy, the first western country to be hit by the covid—i9
pandemic earlier last year, said omicron infections now account for 28% of cases, but daily caseloads of coronavirus remain well below some other european countries, such as britain and germany. aruna iyengar, bbc news. meanwhile — the pandemic is causing further disruption in the world of top flight football. two more premier league games have been called off due to the ongoing problems with the pandemic. liverpool's game with leeds and wolves�* match at home to watford have been postponed because the number of positive covid cases means some teams have insufficient players to fulfil their fixtures. it brings the total number of games cancelled this month in the premier league to 12. to australia now where the omicron variant is also spreading fast. in new south wales — the country's most populous state — the number of hospitalised covid patients has nearly doubled over the last week. and the state government has proposed charging unvaccinated people for their covid medical care. the idea would be a departure from australia's system of universal health care, and has been widely criticised.
here's our australia correspondent, shaimaa khalil. this idea was mentioned by the new south wales state health minister, brad hazzard. he was speaking to local media, and he was saying that the new south wales state government is considering whether to force people who are unvaccinated to pay for their medical bills if they required hospitalisation for covid—i9. he did not mention any further details. he didn't say how far along they are in those conversations. but, if implemented, this is going to be extremely controversial, because it is going to be a drastic change from australia's universal health care system. it has already come under fierce criticism from australia's top medical association, the australian medical association, and its president said that this was unethical, to charge people for medical care
based on previous health choices, that it was a shame to deny people health care, to deny people medical care in the middle of a pandemic, and that this was, you know, it was a lack of compassion, really, at a time when people need it the most. and also, where do you draw the line by the same logic? do you then charge smokers? new south wales has, of course, eased its restrictions. it's come out of lockdown. it's opened both its domestic and international borders for australians and for visa—holders, and there was an expectation that these cases were going to rise, but that number has sharply risen in the last week or so. today, the state has reported more than 5,700 covid—i9 cases. about 80% of that is of the omicron variant — and these are big numbers in an australian context,
so i think even if it's just an idea that's being floated, even if it's just being discussed, it's going to make that divide between the vaccinated and unvaccinated even deeper, and i think it also shows you a certain nervousness from the local government or from the state government's side about whether or not the health care is going to handle more cases. shaimaa khalil in australia. in lebanon, the country's tourism ministry has ordered restaurants, hotels, fitness centres and entertainment venues to require visitors to present either a certificate of covid vaccination or a negative pcr test before entering. the ministry said it is requiring such establishments to enforce the new rules until 9th januray. nada melhem is associate professor of infectious diseases and microbiology at the american university of beirut. she also sits on lebanon's national committee of communicable diseases. thank you much forjoining us here on bbc news. first of all, could you just give us a picture, a broad sort of idea of how lebanon is being infected at the moment by covid—i9?
thankfully, the cumulative number of daily cases has doubled since the beginning of september compared to those that we have seen earlier during the summer and we are currently at the daily number of cases and the incidence rate has also doubled as well. the mortality rate is currently at 3% and with more than 86% of these cases being unvaccinated, so we have approximately an average of 17—19 people dying from covid—i9. unfortunately, 78% of our icu beds are currently vaccinated and 98% of these occupants are not vaccinated. —— are currently occupied. there is also an increase positivity rate and now we're at an average during the
past ia days of ii% and so lebanon has been affected not only by the pandemic but also by an economic an economic crisis that left the country at large and the health care system specifically vulnerable and currently our health care authorities are understaffed. we are suffering from lack of many medications and, as i mentioned, 78% of our icu beds are occupied so the situation is that at the moment. haw situation is that at the moment. how would ou situation is that at the moment. how would you characterise the vaccine roll—out in lebanon? how much of the lack of vaccination is to do with hesitancy rather than access? 50. hesitancy rather than access? so, the ministry _ hesitancy rather than access? so, the ministry of — hesitancy rather than access? srr, the ministry of public hesitancy rather than access? sc, the ministry of public health hesitancy rather than access? s513, the ministry of public health in lebanon advanced and implemented its vaccination strategy in february 2021 and at the beginning, you know, that strategy was basically similar to other once globally implemented,
whereby we had priority groups and the first groups were, of course, the first groups were, of course, the health care workers followed by elderly and individuals at high risk of contracting sask cough to as well as individuals with pre—existing medical conditions. later on, with the —— sars—cov—2. later on with the increased supply of vaccines the lebanese government started to offer the vaccine to people aged 12 and above and we also started administering the booster shots last month to those who received their second dose of covid—19 vaccines five months ago. now, despite this, we are still at 35% of the population being fully vaccinated when the who ceiling was set for countries to be at a0% and we do have, while we have lack of
representative studies on vaccine hesitancy but early and before the implementation of the vaccination campaigns, small study showed that we had a0%, you know, of adults that are resistant to vaccines. we do have also hesitancy among syrian refugees and displaced populations and preliminary studies also show... so there is clearly work to do to reach the aspirations that have been set out. we will keep an eye on it with your help, hopefully. doctor from the american university of beirut, thank you very much your time. ., russian president vladimir putin has held a wide—reaching annual end—of—year press conference in moscow. in more than four hours of questions from journalists, he covered everything from covid vaccines to his thoughts on father frost — the russian version of santa claus — but there was a lot
of focus on ukraine. he insisted that russia has a historical right to be involved in eastern ukraine, and blamed nato for bringing missiles to russia's doorstop. but he said he does not want to see an escalation in conflict. translation: i've been talking about our welfare, health care l and infrastructure measures. will they mean a lot if we are plunged in a conflict? but we don't want that. it is not our choice. this is why i responded to president biden�*s proposal. the ball is in their court now and they should respond, and by and large we are seeing positives. olga ivshina from bbc russia was monitoring the news conference. she told me more about what we heard form president putin. we need to remember that this press conference is first of all oriented full internal russian audiences and this was exactly the message full internal audiences. this was exactly the message full internalaudiences. in this was exactly the message full internal audiences. in a way, mr putin is creating these dangerous dragons, you know? blaming it all in the western saying that russia is
only responding to build—ups from the west and then he is, sort of, gloriously defeating those dragons, or at least that is what he is showing for his internal audience. but for an external audience it is also very important, you know, in the way he is sending a message. he said that he is looking forward for negotiations with the west that are due injanuary and definitely negotiations with the west that are due in january and definitely the due injanuary and definitely the military build—up of russian troops is giving him some strong position during those negotiations and the same is with this gas prices in europe. again, you know, bush is an important gas supplier —— blusher is an important gas supply. this gives putin additional strength during these negotiations and that is exactly what he wants. he also addressed _ exactly what he wants. he also addressed the _ exactly what he wants. he also addressed the crackdown - exactly what he wants. he also addressed the crackdown on i exactly what he wants. he also i addressed the crackdown on press freedom and political opposition in russia. tell us more about what he said. ., ~' ., russia. tell us more about what he said. ., ~ ., ., ., ,, ., , russia. tell us more about what he said. ., ~ ., ., ., ,, ., said. you know, for many years now aaivin said. you know, for many years now giving putin's _ said. you know, for many years now giving putin's press _ said. you know, for many years now giving putin's press conference - giving putin's press conference questions are not less important than the answer is because for most
of the time, you know, it is the only and do much chance in the year when the russian audience can hear certain things, hear certain questions. for example, my colleague managed to ask a question about alexei navalny and about press freedom, she said. mr putin never pronounce the name of alexei navalny and he was twist questions about press freedom. that is likely what he did today. addressing the question about, you know, crackdown on press freedom in russia hejust said that, you know, there were global laws about foreign agents and many other countries including the united states. what he forgot to mention was that in the united states, for example, this law only applies to those media organisations who get funding from state budgets of other countries and which don't criticise their own government. in russia, many, you know, those rules are way more weird, weight less clear, and so that is why so many people are getting this from an agent tag which is very devastating
for any media organisation or journalist operating in russia at the moment. i will correspond it from bbc russia. a well—known statue commemorating the deaths of students protesting in beijing's tiananmen square has been removed from a university campus in hong kong. it was one of the few remaining public memorials in the semi—autonomous region. hong kong's freedoms have been greatly eroded under a national security law imposed by beijing. russell trott reports. an iconic piece that stood tall in hong kong for decades, the pillar of shame commemorates the tiananmen square massacre, speaking volumes with bodies piled to represent the pro—democracy protesters killed by the chinese authorities in 1989. it had been at the forefront of annual vigils, but it too has been silenced. in the university — so—called with the most freedom of expression or freedom of speech.
and they try to become the first one to remove every history, or parts of history, inside the campus. under cover of darkness, construction workers dismantled the eight—metre statue. the university of hong kong ordered its removal in october, saying the decision was based on external legal advice and risk assessment in the best interests of the university. i would ask, if they don't give me the sculpture, i will sue them. because they have destroyed an artist's work in hong kong, they have kept it for 25 years and now destroyed. of course, they must give it to me, even in pieces. so i want to take it back to denmark and put it together and make an exhibition. this pillar was one of the few remaining public memorials to tiananmen square in hong kong, where the anniversary was marked annually until being banned by the authorities in 2020. they cited covid measures as the reason, but with china forbidding any public recognition of the massacre, questions have been raised over attempts to erase history
in this semi—autonomous region. the prince of wales and the duchess of cornwall will be with the queen on christmas day. the queen will be staying at windsor for her first christmas without her late husband the duke of edinburgh, rather than travelling to sandringham as usual. the queen took the decision to remain at windsor as a "precautionary" measure following rising covid—19 case numbers. meanwhile, the duke and duchess of sussex have sent their best wishes to supporters in a message featuring the first publicly—released photograph of their baby daughter lilibet. the card shows harry and meghan smiling at lilibet as the duchess holds her aloft, while their son archie sits on his father's knee.
don't forget you can get in touch with me and some of the team on twitter — i'm @martinebbc two premier league matches on boxing day have been postponed due to the increasing impact of covid on football. earlier this week the clubs agreed to try and continue with the festive fixtures. but liverpool against leeds and wolves against watford won't be happening. it's actually the away teams that asked the league if they could delay the games, as both have multiple cases. watford now having a fourth game postponed. only 1a games in the whole of football league have survived. it's actually the two away teams that asked the premier league if they could delay their games, as both have multiple cases, and watford now having a fourth game postponed. it means that 12 premier
league matches in total have been affected, and all but four clubs. one boxing day game still going ahead is everton's trip to burnley, although rafa benitez says they have just nine fit outfield players with the injury and cases we had expected the game would be postponed and with a loss to the game is trying to keep the integrity of the league because we are now losing so many players i now have to think about if i have 11 players fit and well we can put them so i am very surprised that we're this game. so i am very surprised that we are playing this game. eoin morgan will captain a 16—man squad for england's t20 series against west indies next month. morgan will have a few new names and a different coach, with paul collingwood standing in for the five games in barbados. the squad includes 11 players who were in the uae for the world cup in november. uncapped left arm bowlers george garton and david payne have also been called up. well garton was in action today — playing in the big bash for the adelaide strikers — but it was another englishman
who took the headlines. playing for the brisbane heat, ben duckett scored 78 offjust a7 balls as they set the strikers 209 to win. garton didn't manage a wicket with the ball, but fared a little better with the bat, hitting three sixes in a row before being out for 19 as the strikers finished on 169—8. a0 runs short of their target. ireland's cricketers have suffered a shock defeat to the usa in their opening t20 international in florida. it was the first time the americans had faced a top side on home soil... and they were 16—a inside five overs but then they rallied to post 188—6. ireland, who are 17 places higher in the world ranking, fell well short, losing by 26 runs. the sides play one more t20 game, then a three—match one—day series. australia bowlerjosh hazlewood will miss the third ashes test in melbourne as he continues to recover from a side strain. mitchell starc has been declared fit as they go into the boxing day test 2—0 up in the series. and, according to coachjustin langer, not yet thinking of a whitewash.
i know how quickly test cricket can turn around. i know how quickly these things can change and everyone in the squad knows that respects that. respect test cricket is tough, we respect england have got a number of very, very good players and their team in it changes quickly so the mission, if you like, was to win the ashes in australia. we've won two test matches, got one to go and hopefully from our point of view that happens this test match. two years after tearfully suggesting it would be his final appearance at the australian open... andy murray will be back in melbourne for the 2022 tournament. the former world number one has been given a wild card after missing the most recent edition because he'd tested positive for covid. he last played at the event in 2019 when he thought it might be his last match as a professional because of injury.
and, finally, something of a remarkable comeback in the nba. a0—year—old joejohnson got a call from his agent on tuesday. 2a hours later was back playing for his former team the boston celtics. johnson is one of many players getting opportunities to return as the league is ravaged by covid. he became the second—oldest player to turn out in the nba in the celtics' win over cleveland and it's been 20 years since he made his debut. he is the only current player to have been on the court, as this picture proves, with the legendary michaeljordan. we'll have more sport for you later here on the bbc news channel. but it's goodbye for now. this is bbc news, the headlines... new studies suggest the omicron variant could be milder than previous variants, with fewer people needing hospital treatment. but there are warnings huge numbers of new infections could still overwhelm hospitals. president putin has again insisted that the west must give russia guarantees that nato won't expand eastwards to admit ukraine. mr putin says he's initiated high—level talks with the us to