Hello, Iâ€™m taking over from Molly Blackall and Iâ€™ll be with you for the next few hours. If youâ€™d like to draw my attention to anything, your best betâ€™s probably Twitter, where Iâ€™m KevinJRawlinson.
Iâ€™m going to be handing over to my colleague Kevin Rawlinson shortly, but before I go, here is a brief summary of some of the key developments in the coronavirus pandemic so far this Monday:
- Donald Trump has signed a $900bn coronavirus relief package to help the US economy recover from the pandemic, after threatening to reject the bill last week.
- It is likely to be summer before herd immunity is reached through a coronavirus vaccine programme in the UK, respiratory disease expert Prof Calum Semple has said. Semple said between 70% and 80% of the population needed to be vaccinated before herd immunity could be achieved.
- GCSE and A-Level exams will â€œabsolutelyâ€ go ahead next year in England, cabinet minister Michael Gove has said, despite other UK nations either reducing or cancelling exams. England is still planning a staggered return for secondary school pupils after the Christmas holidays, but this may change following the spread of a new variant of coronavirus in England.
- Indonesia is set to ban international visitors for two weeks, beginning on 1 January, amid a spread of new strains of coronavirus elsewhere in the world.
- China has jailed a citizen journalist who reported on the early spread of coronavirus in Wuhan, where it broke out. A Chinese court handed a four-year jail term to Zhang Zhan on grounds of â€œpicking quarrels and provoking trouble,â€ her lawyer said. She is the first such person known to have been tried on this account, Reuters said.
- Ireland is likely to retain maximum Covid-19 restrictions for months until the most vulnerable population groups are vaccinated.
- The current Covid restrictions in Wales will need to be in place for at least three weeks to halt the exponential growth of the virus, Public Health Wales has said.
The current Covid restrictions in Wales will need to be in place for at least three weeks to halt the exponential growth of the virus, Public Health Wales has said.
Dr Giri Shankar, incident director for the Covid outbreak response at PHW, said the alert level 4 would need to remain even longer than that to bring cases back to â€œreasonably manageable levelsâ€.
Speaking on BBC Radio Wales, he said: â€œWe do have to brace ourselves for an incredibly challenging couple of months in January and February.â€
Shankar said the picture in Walesâ€™ hospitals remained â€œincredibly concerningâ€ with large numbers of patients suffering from Covid and other conditions â€“ plus a â€œsignificant proportionâ€ of staff off sick.
Ireland is likely to retain maximum Covid-19 restrictions for months until the most vulnerable population groups are vaccinated.
Leo Varadkar, the deputy prime minister, signalled on Monday that the current level five restrictions, the highest tier, may continue until spring.
â€œWith the vaccine now being available, I think there would be a case of saying to the Irish people that we should keep these restrictions in place until such a time that we have protected our healthcare workers and most vulnerable,â€ he told RTE.
The restrictions are to be reviewed on 12 January but Varadkar said he did not envisage relaxations because infections levels were not expected to start falling until mid January. Irelandâ€™s first vaccinations are to start on Tuesday in acute hospital settings, then expand to nursing homes on 4 January.
Northern Ireland last week started a six-week lockdown. The health minister, Robin Swann, urged people to stay home and shun new yearâ€™s eve parties which he said could be â€œsuper-spreaderâ€ events.
Ministers in both jurisdictions were to hold separate meetings on Monday to discuss the Brexit dealâ€™s impact on trade across the Irish Sea.