this is bbc new. these are the latest headlines in the uk and around the world. millions of people face tougher covid restrictions as rule changes come into force. as the uk grapples with a new strain of coronavirus, there are now confirmed cases in france, spain and sweden. millions of americans face losing unemployment benefits as the standoff between donald trump and congress over a coronavirus stimulus package continues. former mi6 officer and soviet spy george blake has died aged 98 in moscow.
hello and welcome if you're watching in the uk or around the world. 6 million people in the east and south east of england have joined those living under the strictest coronavirus restrictions in tier 4. those restrictions now affect around 2a million people in england — more than 40% of the population. the toughest measures mean the closure of all nonessential shops as well as hairdressers, swimming pools and gyms. a national lockdown has also started in northern ireland and measures have been reimposed in wales after being eased for christmas. all of mainland scotland has moved into the toughest level of coronavirus restrictions with the rest of scotland in tier 3 restrictions. france, spain and sweden have confirmed their first cases of the coronavirus variant recently identified in the uk. millions of americans face going without unemployment benefits
after saturday amid a political standoff over a $900 billion coronavirus stimulus package. our first report is on the millions entering the toughest set of restrictions in england. here's daniela relph. harsher restrictions have returned, and it shows. with christmas day done, the centre of southampton is empty as new areas of southern and eastern england now find their lives restricted by even tighter rules. it's very, very quiet. it's unusual at this time of the year. so, yeah, it's strange and different. some people are totally not seeing their family. it's caused frictions in families. it would be nice if it could all come to an end and we could all be back to normal.
the blue areas on the map are all now in tier 4, where you must stay at home unless you need to travel for work or education. you may only meet one person at a time outside. nonessential retail closes and you shouldn't leave a tier 4 area. but elsewhere, there is a familiar look to boxing day. the prime minister had warned people to think carefully and avoid sales crowds. in leeds, though, still in tier 3, the prospect of a bargain drew some people out. i always go to the sales on boxing day for bargains and i don't like doing it online, so i want to support the shops as well. enjoying it so far, just a shame we can't have a cup of coffee somewhere or perhaps a glass of wine. it's a lot quieter than we were expecting, it's all a bit eerie, but we got what we needed and it was nice but the staff all looked a bit not as festive as well. it's a different feeling. there is one activity the hardiest can still do despite restrictions. open water swimming here in somerset has been a lockdown comfort for many. it'sjust addictive,
it'sjust something that for your mental health, to keep you sort of balanced and a reset from a busyjob. it'sjust perfect. across the uk, harsher rules are now in force. mainland scotland has moved into its toughest level of restrictions, and northern ireland, along with wales, is now in full lockdown. daniela relph, bbc news. as we've been hearing, in northern ireland, a six—week lockdown has begun with nonessential shops forced to close. hair salons must also shut while pubs cafes and restaurants are restricted to takeaway and delivery services. the measures will be reviewed in four weeks' time. here's our ireland correspondent, chris page. as soon as christmas day ended, the lockdown began. there are no seasonal sporting events in northern ireland on this 26th of december. racecourses and stadiums are silent.
one festive tradition that is allowed is brisk and breezy walk. oh, i think it's very necessary. it's a good thing and anything to keep us safe. i think it's best everybody stays safe. we just have to do it. i think it's ok. lockdowns are in place from today until early february. pubs and restaurants have been hit particularly hard at what is usually a popular time of year to eat out. i know the health of people is just paramount and it protects the nhs, but we were given very, very short notice on some of the lockdowns and we had got a lot of stock in, staff had to be organised and it has a very big financial impact on all hospitality trade. the devolved government has said it had no option but to take strong action because infections, hospitalisations and deaths have been rising throughout this month.
everyone in this part of the uk is hoping this lockdown will be the last. chris page, bbc news, belfast. you can find out what the rules are in yourarea by you can find out what the rules are in your area by entering your postcode in our interactive tool which you can find online. as the uk tackles a new strain of coronavirus, france, spain and sweden have now confirmed cases of the variant. france's health ministry says a patient arrived on french soil from london on the 19th of december and four cases have been found in spain. dr daniel lopez acuna is a public health physician and former consultant to the world health organization. he told me the new variant is concerning. i think we should be concerned in all countries about this new variant of the extent that this new variant seems to be more contagious and can spread more rapidly and then create
a steep increase in the incidence of the disease. we are concerned in spain. i think it is important that we do continue having the restrictions in terms of the people travelling from the uk, but even more important than that is to do retrospective tracking of the people who have travelled in the last two oi’ who have travelled in the last two or three weeks to identify whether oi’ or three weeks to identify whether or not they are asymptomatic positives. you can see the vaccine being unboxed right now, does this variant have implications for the vaccine? so far, the information that has been provided is that the vaccine is not compromised by this new variant by the mutation of the virus. still pfizer, the baxter
operating in the us and will be soon available and the eu, so far as pfizer one, have stated that the vaccine is efficacious against this new strain of variant of the virus. —— the vaccine. we need to continue testing ensure this is the case, but the very important thing is to proceed with the vaccination as soon as possible. it is essential to undertake this huge effort of vaccinating almost 5 million people per month to reach the proportion of the population that has to be covered to have appropriate herd immunity. millions of americans face going without unemployment benefits after saturday amid a political standoff over a $900 billion coronavirus stimulus package. direct payments of up to $600
per person, eviction protection measures and a paycheck protection programme were all approved by congress on monday, but president trump has refused to sign the bill into law. aaron safir reports. the 60—vote threshold having been achieved, the motion to concur is agreed to. in a year where the deep divisions in american politics were laid bare... today is a good day. ..monday saw a moment of hope. democrats and republicans passed a $892 billion coronavirus relief bill and funded the federal government until september 2021. the measures are a lifeline to america's battered economy and its millions of struggling people. two unemployment programmes, a $300 weekly federal boost for the jobless until mid—march and direct payments of up to $600 per person. after months of difficult negotiations and compromise, all that's needed now
is president trump's signature. mr president, what do you say to those who are waiting for covid aid? but so far, he's refused, saying that he has holding out for bigger direct payments. and while he went to florida for christmas, democrats in washington tried to amend the bill so that workers would receive $2,000. republicans countered with proposals to cut the foreign aid bill. it is christmas eve, but it is not a silent night. all is not calm. for too many, nothing is bright and, for too many, they are not sleeping peacefully. president trump returned to the topic on christmas day, tweeting... the bill has even been flown to florida for the president
to sign, but he's not budging, and time is running out. the last of the jobless benefits will go out tomorrow to individuals who've been on unemployment for many weeks already and for those who had the eligibility because of the carers act, because of the earlier relief package, so those two groups, tomorrow's the last day, and the president absolutely has to sign it to get those back on track, and all of the rest that's in the relief package. the democrats have promised another attempt at upping the stimulus cheques on monday, meaning republican lawmakers will have to decide whether or not to defy their president. but the wheels of government can move slowly and, even if the president does sign the bill on the weekend, many americans will likely suffer a break in payments of several weeks. aaron safir, bbc news. the former mi6 officer george blake, who became one of the cold war‘s most infamous double agents, has died according to
russian media reports. he was 98. as as a soviet spy, blake handed over information that betrayed at least a0 british agents in eastern europe. our moscow correspondent, steve rosenberg, reports. he had a russian home, a russian wife, even a russian name. but george blake was a british intelligence officer who became one of the most notorious double agents of the cold war. he spied for the soviets for nearly a decade. blake had spent three years in captivity in north korea and, by the time he returned to britain in 1953, he was a committed communist. posted to berlin by mi6, he became a kgb mole. he would take the train to the soviet sector, hand over data on western intelligence operations and western agents, and then drink champagne with his kgb handler.
maybe 500, 600. agents, you betrayed 500 or 600 agents? maybe. blake convinced himself that what he was doing was morally right. i looked upon it like a sort of voluntaryjob. you know, like people... oxfam? something like that. he was eventuallyjailed in britain for 42 years. he was able to escape and smuggled to germany and spent the rest of his life in moscow cocking a snook at the brits who had not succeeded in catching him. in 2012 he told a russian tv channel that he had not changed sides because of blackmail or torture. he had offered his services voluntarily. in a message of condolence, president putin described him as courageous, an outstanding professional, adding that his memory it would remain in russian hearts for ever.
russia gave him medals and much praise, but to britain he is the cold war traitor who escaped justice. we can speak to tom bower who spent five months with the spy. you spend so five months with the spy. you spend so much time with george blake, what are your thoughts on hearing this news? lived without regrets. i spent many months with him, day and night, and he was a genial, intelligent man who had no regrets and was very proud for what he had done, he was defensive about the fate of the agency betrayed, most of whom were executed, but he had no regrets about switching from the west to support communism. did you get any
sense of guilt at all about those agents that he betrayed, many of whom were executed as a result of the information he gave? no regrets at all although when i get him he denied they had been executed but of course they had been. he was rather proud, he had betrayed some of the most valuable secrets the west had in those days, the tunnel are breaking to the radio traffic, telephone traffic in east berlin, he betrayed lots of reparations, he betrayed lots of reparations, he betrayed a similar tunnel in vienna, he was an unbelievably successful spy he was an unbelievably successful spy and even more successful that he actually escaped, it was astonishing, though he was looked up at the top security prison in wormwood scrubs and he got over the wall and was spirited away onto a bed ina wall and was spirited away onto a bed in a camper van to east berlin, it was astonishing. that's astonishing, what did he say about that and how much of a propaganda
coup wasn't for the soviets? they we re coup wasn't for the soviets? they were not involved in helping him get out, where they? it was all organised by him and an irish republican. he was amazingly proud of that, it was all done by him, he just outwitted the prison authorities. but he was furious that he had been given 42 years. as he told me, why did kim for big get away with it and anthony blunt and so away with it and anthony blunt and so many other of the cambridge circuit get away with it for only he was sent to prison for their unprecedented period ? was sent to prison for their unprecedented period? he saw it as the establishment getting there revenge against a foreignjewish person, he had furious thoughts against britain and he had no thoughts about betraying them after that and then cocking a snoop by
escaping. and his parents were jewish refugees who escaped the german occupation of czechoslovakia? his parents were dutch, hejoined the resistance and made his way from holland through gibraltar and england and volunteered in joined the british royal navy as a samaritan, he was then recruited to mi6. the great mistake of the british and of mi6 was that after his captivity in north korea, he actually was then taken back into mi6 as if nothing had happened. they had no suspicions are told that he had no suspicions are told that he had been turned while in captivity. that was a terrible mistake by mi6. i spent a lot of time researching not only blake put all these things, i wrote a book, and it was through thick white who forced blake into a confession, he confessed to being a spy confession, he confessed to being a spy when he could have denied it, but somehow he felt he had to relieve himself of his proud and is,
of having been a spy and also his guilt, and he just of having been a spy and also his guilt, and hejust blurted out in an interview in carlton gardens, it was astonishing. of course he regretted that terrible error. how much sense that terrible error. how much sense that you get of his ideological motivation in the conversations you had? what did he say about how strongly he believed in the course of communism? he undoubtedly was a communism. he converted to it while undergoing a russian course in cambridge university prior to being sent to korea, and he already felt very disillusioned by western capitalism and by britain and by the west, so it was he that volunteered. ididn't west, so it was he that volunteered. i didn't believe him. i went over it many times with him. he volunteered to the kgb while on a north korean prison to spy for him if they let him go back to britain. while he was in britain he betrayed lots of agents, he would do an exchange with
the kgb in belsize park. he would slip them the microfilm and you will see him describe those tense minutes when he would photograph the documents while everyone else was out at lunch, which was then the mi6 headquarters. in the end, i saw him after the fall of the wall in 89, by then, he had realised the shortcomings of communism, but i think hejust felt shortcomings of communism, but i think he just felt he was happy, and although he never became russian and became disillusioned with the corruption of communism, i did that he regretted his life at all. president putin has paid tribute to him, as courageous, how was he seen in russia, what were his latter yea rs of in russia, what were his latter years of life? they weren't happy because he was going blind but they looked after him. he felt content there. in the end, he had no home, he was not british or dutch, and he did feel at home to some extent in moscow although whenever i went to
see him, i would come back to include regulator to collect food, andi include regulator to collect food, and i was brought him food, he loved fortnum & mason's earl grey tea, he loved me bringing him mars bars, all sorts of things, so he realised that shortages of communism could be compensated by visiting capitalism! absolutely fascinating to hear your memories of george blake, tom bower who made a documentary bbc about george blake, thank you. scrutiny of the brexit trade agreement with the european union has begun after the full document was published less than a week before it is due to be implemented. the agreement runs to more than 1,200 pages and will be put to an emergency vote in parliament on wednesday. our political correspondent leila nathoo has the story. in brussels yesterday, a christmas day briefing for eu ambassadors on the deal by the man who led the negotiations for their side. mission accomplished.
what's in that blue folder sets out how the eu and uk will trade and co—operate from january, a success for both sides to have more than 1,200 pages of text setting out a new relationship. writing in the times this morning, the cabinet office minister michael gove says the deal will allow the uk and eu to enjoy a special relationship as sovereign equals. he was one of the key figures in the leave campaign. he writes that the debate over brexit was at times ugly and he hopes the agreement will allow british politics to move into a better place. the deal was done in the nick of time with the uk already out of the eu and transition arrangements expiring within days. mps and peers will have until wednesday to digest the detail before being called back to parliament for a debate and vote. the eu is now weighing up how the future looks with the uk outside. member states will be reviewing the legal text in the coming days before what's on paper becomes a reality. leila nathoo, bbc news.
the met office has warned of severe gales and heavy rain as storm bella approaches the uk. yesterday, more than 1,000 people in bedfordshire were advised to leave their homes because of flooding. evacuation centres have been set up to help those affected. anisa kadri reports. a rise in the river levels here caused rising anxiety. 1,300 households were told to evacuate after heavy rainfall with people urged to stay elsewhere. police said the flooding situation overrides the requirement to stay in your own home, according to tier 4 coronavirus restrictions. with the restrictions, we were all kind of eating in our own homes and so forth. so, yeah, we've ended up doing kind of what we've done in the past few years anyway, so oddly enough it's ended up being a more sociable christmas than we were planning on. debbie ward had police turn up at the door late on
christmas eve telling her she should evacuate, but she chose not to. our toilets aren't working, we've not been able to have a shower. our pet, we've had to rehome her to our daughters because she can't go in the garden because it's completely flooded, and obviously just, you know — you worry, you panic. it was rising quite fast and has come up, but luckily it's not reached the top of our step and come in the house. bedford international athletic stadium was one of the emergency assistance centres set up for people who had nowhere else to go out. people have had a terrible time. we've had all of the measures in place to protect people from the spread of the virus. it was christmas day yesterday, boxing day today, obviously, and our hearts just go out to people that have now, with all of that going on, have now had some of the highest level floods for over 20 years thrown at them. well, you can see the river's water levels have risen.
the water is seeping onto this path here and the bin submerged in the water is proving to be quite the photo opportunity this morning. the environment agency and other authorities are keeping a close eye on the situation. more rain's expected as different parts of the country prepare for a storm bella. anisa kadri, bbc news. thousands of shops across the uk won't be opening for the traditional boxing day sales today because of the lockdowns in wales and northern ireland and tough new restrictions in england and scotland. it follows a difficult year for the retail industry, which is calling for more government support. vivienne nunis reports. end—of—year sales have been attracting crowds for decades. newsreel announcer: they're here again — the sales and the queues. you can't afford to miss a good bargain these days. some all—night queuers receive a welcome surprise — an early morning cuppa to warm them up for the battle ahead. but in 2020, with tier 4 restrictions in england, restrictions in scotland and lockdown in northern ireland
and wales, many of the uk's high street stores will be empty today, leaving scores of boxing day bargain hunters forced to shop online. for many retailers, the key christmas trading period has been severely disrupted. footfall for december is down by 45% compared with 2019. the retail industry body is calling for government support to continue beyond next april. we have seen some administrations, some job losses, some store closures, so making sure that that support is targeted to those businesses as we move into 2021 is going to be really vital, you know, to ensure that we don't see more job losses and more store closures. stores in manchester and birmingham will be among those to open today, some with a cap on customer numbers and digital queueing systems in place. for those looking to find a good deal, the biggest discounts
are expected to be in fashion as retailers look to offload excess stock. but after a year of rolling sales from many of the stores, retail analysts say some shoppers may be experiencing sale fatigue — more bad news for an industry that's endured a year like no other. vivienne nunis, bbc news. it's been difficult 2020 for many of us but, for one baby boy in the uk, 2020 was extraordinarily special. ethan had been awaiting a heart transplant. well, this year, he got one. tim muffett caught up with the family as they prepared for a very different christmas to the one they faced last year. relief, despair, sadness and joy — it has been an extraordinary yearfor all of us. but for ethan and his family, 2020 has been truly remarkable. it's been a long year and a rollercoaster. the last year, he has lived in great ormond street hospital
on the urgent heart transplant list, waiting for a transplant. we met richard and roselelia 12 months ago. their son ethan was born with a heart defect and was reliant on an artificial heart machine, but time was running out. in the summer, we received that call and ethan was given a second chance, and, yes, it was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. when you received that call, what went through your mind? it's hard to talk or say anything. i rang my mum, and i was... i could barely tell you. i was practically bawling, and i only said the word heart, and my mum and my sister thought something had happened to ethan. they thought he had actually died, they thought that was what i was ringing to say. and i finally got myself together and said, no, no, he's got a heart, and they started crying. we're crying because it is relief, but then we're crying because someone has lost their little one. they have lost their whole world.
what do you say to that family today? i don't even think words can describe it. thank you is not enough. i think i need to come up with another word — i don't know what it is, but, yes, just thank you so much. thank you. what is it like, having ethan back? amazing, and i'm very excited. i love him lots and lots. it is not the first time this family has been so grateful for an organ donation. two years ago, richard also had a heart transplant. we've both just been so lucky with donors saying yes and giving us that chance at life, and i got a chance to be a dad. someone has given me the chance to carry on being a dad. in may, the law in england changed so that most adults are now considered to be potential organ donors unless they specifically opt out.
that has been the case in wales for five years. scotland will follow suit in march. now, many welcome the change, but it does not apply to children. what do you think about that? everyone has their own opinion on what they want to do. just have those discussions today. studies have found that families after have said that, if they could go back, they would have said yes. but at that moment in time, that was the first time that they had ever thought about it. are you able to, if you wanted to, make contact with the donor family? so, we are able to write a letter to them. we would send that letter via the transplant team at great ormond street. they would then pass that on to the family, and it would be for the family, if they want to make contact, to respond back to us. i hope that they do because i would love them to meet us and meet ethan. this year, so many gifts given and received will feel extra special, but sometimes appreciation and gratitude goes beyond words. tim muffett, bbc news.
now it's time for a look at the weather with susan powell. we have a rough night ahead, courtesy of storm bella. this deep area of low pressure sinking from iceland. heavy rain sweeping all areas of the uk, strong winds which could be damaging and disruptive, particularly to the south and then to the north, colder airfollowing m, to the north, colder airfollowing in, showers turning wintry with the risk of ice first thing sunday in northern ireland, northern england and scotland. the wind is the primary concern, potentially gusting up primary concern, potentially gusting up to 80 mph along the southern coast of england and wales, widely 50 to 60 mph inland across england and wales. they will start to ease as we move through sunday morning