Wednesday evening UK news briefing: EU must consider mandatory Covid vaccination, says Ursula von der Leyen

Evening briefing: Today’s essential headlines

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The big story: EU ‘must consider mandatory vaccines’

As the number of omicron cases rise, so does the level of scrambling to act.

Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission’s president, has said the European Union must consider mandatory vaccination to tackle the spread of the "highly contagious" variant. 

In a rallying cry, she urged the EU’s 27 member states to step up their vaccination campaigns, roll out booster doses and consider new travel restrictions in response to the emergence of the mutant strain in Europe. 

Mrs von der Leyen, a former medical doctor, said mandatory immunisations must be considered as a policy to counter the worryingly low take-up across the bloc, which has some 150 million people not vaccinated against the disease. 

It comes as Olaf Scholz, the incoming German chancellor, threatens to throw his country into chaos with his desire to treat everyone who fails to get a booster as unvaccinated. 

The new policy for vaccine passports to expire six months after people receive their second jabs could plunge millions of people back into effective lockdown through no fault of their own.

Ursula von der Leyen gives a press conference today in Brussels

Credit: OLIVIER HOSLET/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

On the flip side, Israel has said that early research suggests two to three doses of a Covid vaccine are effective against the new omicron variant.

Nitzan Horowitz, the country’s health minister, said that there was "room for optimism" that current vaccines worked on omicron based on "initial indications." 

Yet this has not deterred Scotland’s national clinical director from suggesting that Scottish families should adopt an informal version of the SNP Government’s vaccine passport scheme to decide who can attend Christmas dinner.

Our coronavirus live tracker allows you to search worldwide data on cases, vaccinations and deaths by country.

Team Boris v Team Jenny

Parliament debated and voted on the latest set of Covid restrictions on Tuesday, but only after they had come into force.

The country now faces at least three weeks of masks in shops and on buses and new self-isolation requirements that could go on for months.

Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs, warns that with each new set of restrictions, Britain moves further away from its traditions of liberty. 

In our Write to Reply series, Sherelle Jacobs responds to readers’ concerns about the omicron measures, suggesting the Prime Minister is failing to tame the Blob. 

Yet amid the debate about whether greater restrictions are right or wrong, Judith Woods reveals how it has created a split in her household between Team Boris and Team Jenny.

Borders tighten

Problems are also afoot for anyone who has made plans to travel for their first living-with-Covid Christmas. 

All travellers to the US may be required to complete a seven-day quarantine even if they are vaccinated or have a negative test, under proposals being considered by the White House. 

Meanwhile, everyone reaching France from outside the EU, including the UK, will have to present a negative Covid test less than 48 hours old, the government announced today. 

Non-vaccinated travellers from within the EU will have to show a negative test less than 24 hours old. 

In Britain, leaked minutes have revealed that Sage scientists are advising the Government to introduce day eight PCR testing for all arrivals to the UK to counter the omicron variant. 

Here is a reminder of how omicron symptoms differ and what protection vaccines offer.

Comment and analysis

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Around the world: Lukashenko’s nuclear ‘warning’

Russia’s foreign policy chief today described a surprise offer by the Belarusian dictator to host nuclear weapons as a "warning" to the West triggered by Nato’s hostile moves. Alexander Lukashenko has voiced concern about Nato’s increased activities near his country’s borders as the EU is scrambling to react to Europe’s latest migrant crisis that many in the West say was orchestrated by the Belarusian regime. "I will suggest that Putin bring back nuclear weapons to Belarus," Mr Lukashenko said, commenting on reports that Nato could be moving its nuclear arsenal from Germany to eastern Europe. This graphic shows how tensions are rising on the borders between Europe and Russia.

Wednesday interview

Christian Horner exclusive on Lewis Hamilton vs Max Verstappen

Max Verstappen, left, with Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner

Credit: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

The Red Bull principal is adamant his team are going to fight with every option available in the most exhilarating F1 title battle in years. He talks to Tom Cary about the Toto Wolff panto war and ‘biased’ Damon Hill

Read the full interview

Sport briefing: Konta retires from tennis, aged 30

Johanna Konta has announced her retirement from professional tennis. The 30-year-old, who won four titles on the WTA Tour, said she had "run out of steam" after a tough final season of a career which put British women’s tennis back on the map. Konta, who has been dogged in recent years by knee tendonitis, suggested in an interview that she was retiring because she was no longer willing to devote herself to the sport. She announced her retirement on social media with a message titled ‘Grateful’. Read how it comes at the end of a topsy-turvy year. Molly McElwee analyses how Konta may not have won a major – but she rejuvenated British women’s tennis after 30 barren years.

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  • Business briefing: HMRC’s umbrella firm crack down

    The Treasury is preparing to take action against "wild west" umbrella companies used by freelance workers as officials seek to claw back hundreds of millions of pounds lost in tax revenue. Ministers took the first step towards tougher curbs on umbrella companies that are accused of taking billions of pounds from contractors, breaching workers’ rights and avoiding tax. Read on for details. Meanwhile, local shops will become "cash machines" under a new scheme, following an alarming decline in access to physical money particularly for rural areas.

    Tonight starts now

    Trump on Farage | He was the hype man who tried to use his Brexit success to bolster Donald Trump’s re-election bid last year. Now Nigel Farage is calling in the favours after securing a world exclusive interview with the former US President to help boost the ratings of GB News. Slated for 7pm tonight on Farage’s eponymous show, the broadcasting event is finally securing headlines for GB News for the right reasons. After a volatile start punctuated by technical gaffes and the noisy exit of Andrew Neil, the BBC challenger aims to leave its early shortcomings behind. Ben Woods analyses how it comes at an opportune moment.

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    And for this evening’s downtime….

    Christopher Nolan’s greatest trick | The Prestige, the director’s drama about feuding Victorian magicians, appears to be one of his most straightforward films. But Susannah Goldsbrough explores the dark magic that reveals how appearances can be deceiving.

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