this is bbc news with the latest headlines for viewers in the uk, on pbs in the us and around the world. new records for covid in the uk: the highest number of daily cases since the pandemic began — and an estimated 1.7 million people are reported to have had the virus on a single day last week. millions around the world face travel disruption over christmas, as the surge in omicron cases sees more than 2,000 flights cancelled globally due to staff shortages. at least 39 people are killed after a packed ferry caught fire in southern bangladesh. the most powerful telescope to ever be launched into space is due to blast off on christmas day. and the queen is expected to give a very personal christmas message this year,
her first since the death of her husband prince philip. and a christmas midnight mass is celebrated at the church of the nativity in bethlehem. the uk has again recorded its highest number of daily coronavirus cases since the pandemic began — more than 120,000. it's the third day in a row that cases have topped 100,000 — with 122,186 cases recorded today. a separate survey from the office for national statistics found that on december 19th, an estimated one in 35 people in the uk had coronavirus — the equivalent of 1.74 million. in london the ratio is much higher —
one in 20 people were likely to have tested positive for covid. but despite soaring cases, early findings suggest that the 0micron variant is milder than delta, and leads to less hospitalisation — the head of the uk health security agency drjenny harries called it a "glimmer of christmas hope". european countries are also reporting record numbers of cases today — 94,000 in france, and more than 50,000 in italy, which hasjoined greece and spain in introducing mandatory face coverings outdoors. elsewhere, thailand has reported its first 0micron cluster — 21 infections, an outbreak traced to a belgium couple who had travelled to the country earlier in the month. here's our health editor hugh pym. london is the epicentre of the surge, and new figures suggest that one in 20 people in the city now have the virus, either the omicron
or delta variants. the data comes from the office for national statistics, which tests people from tens of thousands of households, picking up those who don't have symptoms. its latest survey points to a faster spread around the uk. well, we are seeing a really quick increase in prevalence right across the country and across all ages, significantly for the very first time, all of the numbers are at the moment very, very small in the over 70s. this chart shows how rapidly infections in the uk were rising as measured by the 0ns at the end of last week and into the weekend — to more than 1.7 million people with the virus. there were differences around the uk, though, in england, it was one in 35 people, in northern ireland one in a0 in wales, one in a5. while in scotland, it was one in 65 people with the virus. 0micron cases are rising rapidly, but it's less likely than delta
to put people in hospital according to new research, and officials say that's reassuring. there is a glimmer of christmas hope in the findings that we published yesterday, but it definitely isn't yet at the point where we could downgrade that serious threat. i think the findings have showed on some very, very preliminary analysis and very small numbers, which i want to reinforce, that individuals compared to delta are around 30—a5% less likely to attend a&e. but it's finely balanced, if there are a lot more omicron cases that will still make some people ill enough for hospital treatment as well as increasing staff sickness, adding to the already considerable pressure on the nhs. there is the increase in absence rates, the cueing at hospital, the hearing our control staff call out for any ambulances that are available, and there just aren't any left, that is taking its toll on front line staff.
while ministers work out what further steps to take them efforts are being made to get the booster programme into the heart of the local communities here in an asian restaurant in bradford. we are creating access where our communities are, so a resturant is the best place for the time of year to come and bring the vaccines to make it as easy and as accessible as we can. boosters will be available on christmas day and boxing day in england, though not in the rest of the uk. and in basingstoke today, there was no shortage of takers for a christmas eve jab. it's an interesting one, but i want to get it done because i want to see family. it'sjust easy peasy, it's around the corner. it's good, yeah, it made sense to do it, so i did my bit for the community and everybody else. but as people enjoy christmas attractions, the prospects for new year and beyond remain highly uncertain. hugh pym, bbc news.
the uk government is relaxing immigration rules so that social care workers from abroad can help to alleviate staff shortages in britain. the temporary measures are expected to take effect in the new year and will be in place for at least 12 months. care providers are experiencing high vacancy rates and turnover, and pressure on staffing is being made worse by the recent spread of 0micron. the omicron variant is spreading fast in parts of europe. as we heard a little earlier, on thursday, france reported a new record high in the number of daily infections. and in spain, where the wearing of facemasks outdoors is compulsory again, the 73,000 cases recorded on thursday represented the third consecutive high in as many days. so a curfew will be in force from tonight in catalonia in northeastern spain, where residents are banned from leaving their homes between one o'clock and six in the morning. dr quique bassat is a research professor at the barcelona institute for global health, with more
on what the situation is like there. we are very concerned about the situation. we are witnessing an unprecedented increase in the number of cases, with 25,000 more cases today than we had two days ago, with more than 100 points in the incidence increased between two days ago and today. with increasing pressure to the health system, we are getting warnings from the emergency departments, the intensive care units, that we are seeing many more cases being admitted. even if this new variant is predominantly less severe, because we also have a predominately very well vaccinated population, with over 80% of the population having received two or more shots, we are seeing lots of pressure to the health system and lots of cases that require hospitalisation. what is happening is that this huge increase in the number of cases, even though the new cases may be less severe, it is having a toll in the cases that end up being severe.
we do recognise that the vaccine is protecting against severe disease, but because of the enormous amount of new infection that we are seeing, there is a small proportion of those infections that do require hospitalisation. so it is important that the population understands that even though we are safer with the vaccines, we are not completely safe and we are not completely protected against hospitalisation. coronavirus has thwarted many christmas plans this year, and it's continuing to wreak havoc on international travel. more than 2,000 flights around the world have been cancelled today due to staff shortages. 0n the first christmas in two years that australians could travel between states over the holidays, more than 100 domestic flights from sydney and melbourne to other cities were cancelled, as were hundreds of us flights, with united airlines saying that 0micron cases had had a "direct impact on theirflight
crews and the people who run their operation". passengers flying with the airlines delta and lufthansa have also been affected. at boston's international airport, people expressed mixed feelings about boarding their flights. well, i'm glad to be back with people doing what we do, it kinda feels good. i mean, i'm still worried about the variants, omicron and all of that, but at the same time, i'm just like, you know what, let's get back to living our lives a little bit. i'm very scared to be flying, to be honest. i'm glad to see everyone looks pretty masked up, ijust hope people on the plane are respectful of those around them. 0ur north america correspondent nomia iqbal has been giving us the latest from the us. well, airliners are trying their best to inform passengers of what's happened. delta and united, the main airliners, said that they did send text messages and they're trying to help passengers who are stranded. but 0micron has really taken hold in this country — so it's three weeks ago when it was first detected, and now it counts for more than 70% of new coronavirus
cases, as well. and so, there was a warning to americans by dr anthony fauci, america's top infectious disease expert, that this very into it spread very quickly. it is transmissible, we know that and we are now seeing that, and it's had a huge impact on travel. and i think many americans, like people across the world, were hoping that christmas 2021 would not be the same as christmas 2020. millions had plans to travel not just by plane, but also by car — and that's now been all upended because of this variant. and, as you heard that, some people are trying to be cautious about it, and there are lots of restrictions now back in place — but it does look like this christmas will be a repeat of last christmas. absolutely, nomia, disappointing for many people who thought, "well, at least 39 people have been killed after a packed ferry caught fire
in southern bangladesh. the ferry had sailed from the capital, dhaka, and was bound for the southern town of barguna, with hundreds of passengers on board. at the time of the fire, the ferry was near the town othalakati. the bbc�*s akbar hossein reports from dhaka. the fire is believed to have started in the engine room at around three o'clock in the morning, when most of the passengers were sleeping. it spread quickly as the ferry travelled along the sugandha river in the early hours of friday. the fire went on for hours before it was doused. as many as 500 people were reportedly on board. some of the victims drowned afterjumping into the water. translation: my father, | myself, my six-month-old nephew and my sister were travelling together. when the fire broke out, i gave the baby to a man, he was trying to save the baby, but now we can't find them. please, let us know if you learn their whereabouts. i was on the first floor of the ferry. suddenly, the rear side caught fire.
the engine had problems earlier. the ferry's windows had curtains, and these curtains trapped the smoke, which killed most of the people. ferry accidents are not uncommon in bangladesh, with mishaps blamed on poor maintenance, lax safety standards and overcrowding. the accident was the latest in a string of similar incidents in the delta country — hundreds have drowned in the country's rivers in the past ten years — but the fire that engulfed this ferry adds a new layer of horror to the story. akbar hossein, bbc news, dhaka. let's turn now to the former soviet republic of georgia — where far right groups have started to emerge as a powerful force. earlier this year, a gay rights march was attacked — leaving several people badly injured — but no—one has faced prosecution. and symbols left by those groups still stand outside government buildings. 0ur correspondent rayhan demytrie sent this report from
the capital, tbilisi. 0njuly the 5th, georgia's far right groups attacked the offices of pride, they were here to stop the lgbt activists from holding their march. it was described as one of the darkest days for georgian democracy. that was the most scary day, and i knew that if they would catch me, they would kill me, definitely. what happened on the 5th ofjuly was against humanity, against our citizens interests, against democratic values. activists managed to escape while the angry mob turned on journalists. 53 were attacked, including a cameraman, who later died. the authorities blamed an alleged drug addiction.
this is the leader of the far—right group alt—info inciting violence days before the gay pride. they now have their own tv channel and political party. can i simply ask you one question? do you justify violence? beatings? there are situations when you protect something, which is not only your words but with force. alt—info supporters say they were defending orthodox christian values by putting up a cross outside parliament. then in protest against liberal values... ..they tore down the eu flag.
this cross is a lasting reminder of whose values are respected here. the georgian government says it wants closer ties with the eu, but its western partners have criticised it over the events injuly and most recently for the mistreatment of the country's former president. dragged by prison guards, the ex—president stands accused of corruption and abuse of power. he spoke of his degrading treatment at a recent court hearing, and in a letter to the bbc, he called his trial a case political revenge. we asked the georgian government for an interview but no one was available. so far, nobody has been charged with organising the july violence. its victims are still waiting for justice.
let's take a look at some of the other stories making the news. 11 people are now known to have died when a boat carrying migrants sank off a greek island, in the early hours of friday morning. another 90 people have been rescued from the island of antik—ithera — a search and rescue operation is still continuing. ecuador has begun its programme of compulsory vaccination against covid. everyone over the age of five has to be jabbed, unless they can provide a medical reason. people wanting to go to restaurants, shopping malls or other indoor public places will have to show proof of vaccination. the queen is expected to give a very personal christmas message tomorrow — her first since the death of her husband, prince philip. she'll speak beside a framed photograph of the couple taken during their diamond wedding anniversary in 2007 — and she'll wear the same sapphire brooch that she wore on her honeymoon. there are some flashing images in this report from our royal correspondent nicholas
witchell. rehearsing at windsor for their part in the queen's christmas broadcast, the central band of the royal british legion will play the national anthem which begins the broadcast. this year's christmas message — a still from which has been issued by buckingham palace — will be an unusually personal one. the queen is wearing a brooch which she wore on her honeymoon, and on the desk beside her, a photograph of her and prince philip taken in 2007, when they celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary. it's eight months now since philip's death. so far, the queen has not spoken publicly in any detail about how much he meant to her. her broadcast will be an opportunity for her to do so. within the royal family, mindful that this will be the queen's first christmas without her husband, arrangements have been adjusted so that she won't be alone. the prince of wales on the duchess of cornwall will be with her at windsor,
other members of the family, the wessexes and the gloucesters will also be there. absent, of course will be the duke and duchess of sussex. from their home in california, they've issued this photograph wishing their supporters happy holidays. it shows harry and meghan with their son, archie, and their daughter, lilibet, pictured for the first time. and so, at the end of a year touched by personal sadness, and some family tensions, thoughts will start to look ahead to next year and the celebrations to mark the queen's 70 years on the throne. uppermost in the minds of the palace planners, of course, will be the question of the queen's health. it's always a sensitive matter. it has particular significance after the recent concerns, and given that next year is the year of her platinum jubilee. the queen will certainly want to be involved in thejubilee as fully as possible, and there will be another event of special significance to her — a service of thanksgiving for the life of the duke
of edinburgh, which, it has been announced, will take place at westminster abbey in the spring. nicholas witchell, bbc news. christmas eve celebrations have been taking place in bethlehem, including an annual procession led by the head of the roman catholic church in the region. this is the scene now at the church of the nativity, built on the spot where christians believejesus was born, where as you can see they are currently celebrating christmas mass. a scaled—back affair compared to last time because thousands of pilgrims who there before the pandemic are not there in that same numbers as they were previously. earlier, our middle east correspondent went to bethlehem to find out how important this time of year is to the people there. in manger square, they wait
for the biggest night of the year — a christmas procession follows the route believed to have been taken by mary and joseph. it's a march of faith. but this season's greetings are mainly between the locals. the scout bands are a fixture of christmas in manger square and you can feel the energy. but what is missing are the international visitors and pilgrims that would usually be thronging the square here, and that is a devastating blow for the second year running because bethlehem needs tourism to keep surviving. the glimmers of tourism restarting last month have gone derailed by border closures due to the new covid variant. people trying to find joy and happiness from nothing. so it's very interesting, very impressive. since the beginning of 2020, everything is closed, hotels are empty. it's very, very difficult -
for people, especially those who are working in tourism sector. they are selling somej of the land to houses. the characters of christmas come to life. in this factory, ibrahim is the only worker here today. normally, he'd be joined by four more. for palestinian christians in this part of the west bank, life has been a challenge, says nabeel, whose family has run the shop for decades. we could keep our workers till the moment, but i don't know. you know, it's hard. i have two shops, one is here, the one on the manger square. it's been like 2a months, zero income. it's sad, it's not normal to see bethlehem this way. but at christmas, there's always light to look up to. as this town celebrates, it remains a year of hope against the odds. tom bateman, bbc news, bethlehem. the final preparations are under way for the rescheduled launch
of a space telescope that could transform our understanding of the universe. the rocket carrying the james webb space telescope will take off from french guiana on christmas day. it's the successor to the hubble space telescope — and it will give us a much deeper understanding of our universe and how it came about. 0ur science editor — rebecca morelle — reports. it's taken 30 years to develop, cost more than $10 billion and has involved thousands of scientists. now the james webb space telescope is finally ready to launch to begin the most ambitious astronomy mission ever attempted. this telescope is absolutely the biggest and most complex and most powerful telescope that we've ever attempted to send to space. all of us astronomers are extremely eager to get this telescope into space. but i think it's going to work and i think it's going to, again, just completely revolutionise how we understand the cosmos. the telescope is a successor to hubble, which has
given us amazing images. butjames webb is much more powerful. its mirror is almost three times bigger, which means it can reveal parts of the cosmos we've never seen before. gazing up into the heavens can help us to answer some of the biggest questions like where we come from and how did we get here? this space telescope will help us to look further back in time than ever before to 13 and a half billion years ago, revealing the light from the very first stars to shine. the final preparations have been under way. it's an incredibly tight fit, as the rocket is tentatively lowered over the folded telescope. this is high stakes science, but if it works, it could lead to discoveries that scientists haven't even dreamt of. rebecca morrell, bbc news. to the vatican where the pope has been holding the traditional catholic christmas eve mass. the head of the catholic church urged vatican cardinals and bishops to embrace humility this christmas
season, saying their pride, self—interest and the "glitter of our armor" was perverting their spiritual lives and corrupting the church's mission. here's a taste of events at taking place there. they sing pictures there from the vatican where the pope has been holding christmas eve mass. you can get in touch with me and some of the team on twitter — i'm @luxmy—g. lukwesa burak is next with your headlines at top of hour. you're watching bbc news.
hello. if you have been following our forecast for christmas in the lead—up to it, you'll know it's all been about the battle between cold air to the north—east of us and milder, wetter weather trying to come in from the south—west. that's exactly how this christmas weekend will shape up. this is how christmas day is looking — weather fronts moving in from the south—west with the rain into the colder air to the north—east, and throughout the weekend, the further north—east you are, the colder a christmas it's going to be. to the south—west, it's mild. in between the two, it's fairly chilly, especially in the breeze, more noticeable on christmas day. a cold, frosty start in scotland but plenty of sunshine to follow. for england, wales and northern ireland, cloudy, misty in places, and outbreaks of rain slowly pushing further north and east during the day. we may see some snow into snowdonia and the peak district later on. it is mild to the south—west, it's coldest in scotland despite the sunshine.
elsewhere feeling quite chilly in the breeze. it's quite windy, particularly around the coasts of northern ireland and south—west scotland, as it will be going into boxing day. and here we go, overnight and into boxing day, wet weather moving north into the cold air, and some snow breaking out into the pennines, the southern uplands and, in fact, into the cold air, by boxing day morning, we could see some of that snow to relatively low levels, but the higher accumulations will be into the higher ground, blowing around in strong winds as well. so travel could be difficult on the higher routes and then we see that snow pushing further north across scotland, mainly into the hills as we get on through boxing day. behind that, plenty of cloud and a few showers and the brighter skies into at least south wales and south—west england, where it's still mild, whereas elsewhere, it's still feeling quite chilly, particularly in the breeze. now, as we look at the picture overnight and then into monday, there's a little gap between weather fronts. we do have an area of low pressure that mayjust push along southernmost areas of the uk, particularly into southern england, through the channel islands,
but there's some uncertainty about exactly how far north any rain will come. a lot of cloud around. there could be some mist and fog to start the day, and that may be reluctant to clear, so, for monday, it is looking rather grey in many places, and top temperatures — they're a little higher in scotland compared with the start of the christmas weekend. now, this is the picture going into tuesday. it looks fairly messy, doesn't it? it looks like an area of low pressure coming in from the atlantic will feed rain—bearing weather fronts further north and east during the day. we may still see a little snow to the highest ground in scotland for a time out of that. behind this weather system, you can see the direction of the wind here. it's coming in from the southwest. there may be some brighter skies for a time, but that is the source of the mild air, lifting temperatures more widely by tuesday into double figures. it's very much a sign of things to come, because overnight and into wednesday, driven by low pressure to the west of us, there are warm fronts moving in the leading edge of milder air. that's going to take some rain, and quite a bit of rain, on wednesday. it looks very wet in places.
it's behind that we start to bring the mild air right the way north across the uk, so quite a change in the feel of the weather and particularly in scotland, wednesday and indeed into thursday. but look at these temperatures by wednesday, reaching into the mid—teens in places, and that is very mild for the time of year. low pressure to the west of us, further spells of rain coming in as we end the year, but we are in that mild air. there is no battleground between mild air and cold air. as we end the year and start 2022, we're very much in the mild air. for how long? keep watching weather for the week ahead. bye— bye.
the headlines — new records for covid in the uk — the highest number of daily cases since the pandemic began, and an estimated 1.7 million people are reported to have had the virus on a single day last week. millions around the world face travel disruption over christmas, as the surge in 0micron variant cases sees flights cancelled due to staff shortages. united airlines says it's contacting impacted passengers ahead of them coming to the airport. at least 39 people have been killed after a packed ferry caught fire in southern bangladesh. the number of casualties is likely to increase as many of the passengers have severe burns. christmas celebrations have been taking place in bethlehem, including a mass at the church of the nativity. the church was built on the spot where its believed jesus was born. lukwesa is with you at the top of the hour, but now on bbc news,