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COVID-19: No hugs or kisses and a warning to St Nick – how Europe is spending Christmas | World News



Accounting for a quarter of the world’s coronavirus cases and deaths, it was inevitable Europe would be having a much more muted Christmas this year.

The UK has announced up to three households can form a “bubble” for five days over the Christmas period, meaning families will be able to come together over the festive period.

But with cases rising in many countries across Europe, leaders are still grappling with tough decisions over how far restrictions can be peeled back.

Rue Saint-Honore in Paris is decorated with illuminations for Christmas
Rue Saint-Honore in Paris is decorated with illuminations for Christmas


Faced with one of the worst second waves of the pandemic in Europe, Christmas will look very different in France this year.

Paris will not be holding its Christmas market or opening ice rinks, and much of the hospitality industry – including restaurants, cafes and bars – will remain shut until 20 January next year.

The Champs Elysees lit up in Paris, France
The Champs Elysees lit up in Paris, France

However, in an announcement that would have brought sighs of relief for retailers, President Emmanuel Macron said in a televised address that France would begin easing its lockdown this weekend to allow shops, theatres and cinemas to reopen by Christmas.

He also said people will be able to spend the holiday with their families and are free to travel across the country to see loved ones on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

There will still be no public gatherings allowed on these evenings and ski resorts will remain closed until January.


Many of us associate the festive season with German-style Christmas markets, complete with twinkly wooden huts selling gingerbread, bratwurst and festive crafts.

But Germany has been forced to cancel many of its markets this year to avoid a spike in infections.

Some people have instead got creative with their festivities, with one Bavarian innkeeper opening a drive-through Christmas market.

A drive-through Christmas market in Landshut, Germany
A drive-through Christmas market in Landshut, Germany

Chancellor Angela Merkel has said families should be able to spend time together at Christmas, “perhaps with protective measures”, despite a record 410 COVID-19 deaths being reported on Wednesday.

Germany has agreed to extend and tighten its “lockdown lite” until at least 20 December but ease rules over the holidays to allow loved ones to celebrate together.

The country will reduce the number of people allowed to meet to five from two households, but gatherings of up to 10 people will be allowed over Christmas and the New Year.


The country has yet to decide its plans for the Christmas period, but Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has said he is considering limiting celebrations to six people.

Spain has reported more than 1.8 million COVID-19 cases – western Europe’s second-highest tally after France – and Mr Sanchez has spoken of the balancing act governments face.

People walk through the Botanical Garden of Madrid in Spain
People walk through the Botanical Garden of Madrid in Spain

“We have two wishes: To be with and embrace those we love the most; and the obligation to protect them,” he said.

“Because without a doubt our greatest aspiration is to be able to live and share many more Christmases in the company of our loved ones.”

On Tuesday, Spanish newspaper El Mundo reported the government would recommend that office gatherings be held on restaurant terraces, outside, or in a place with “no more than two walls”.

The paper has also said the start of the night-time curfews in force would be moved to 1am from 11pm on 24 December and 31 December.

As for the Three Wise Men processions which are held in January and are popular among children, El Mundo said the government could recommend holding “static” processions instead.


In one of the hardest-hit countries in Europe, the government is worried about a third wave of infections.

“Either we break a third wave at Christmas or we make a third wave at Christmas,” said Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, who is planning to celebrate only with his wife and two children.

A light installation in Brussels, Belgium, last year
A light installation in Brussels, Belgium, last year

To bring home its message, the Belgian government has written to “St Nicholas”, who visits children with presents on 6 December.

“Keep your distance, wash your hands regularly and wear a mask when necessary,” the letter urged him.

Meanwhile, the famous Christmas market in Brussels has been cancelled.

To keep some Christmas spirit alive, the city is still going ahead with putting up an 18-metre tree and nativity scene in the middle of the Grand Place.


In Norway, where the main celebrations are traditionally held on 24 December, the government has said being able to go home for the holiday is of “high value”.

Christmas decorations in a street in Lillehammer, Norway, last year
Christmas decorations in a street in Lillehammer, Norway, last year

But Prime Minister Erna Solberg has said the country “must see a clear decrease in infection and get better control before we consider opening (for) more social contact”.

The Norwegian government has just extended its national measures for another three weeks, which include closing theatres, cinemas and swimming pools.

Bars and restaurants are also no longer able to serve alcohol.


The country’s famous love of hugging and kissing friends will be curbed this holiday season.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte warned last week: “We will have to spend the festivities in a more sober way. Big parties, kisses and hugs will not be possible.”

A shopping street in Rome, Italy
A shopping street in Rome, Italy

He also told Italians not to ski during the holidays, after clusters of coronavirus cases at resorts helped to spread infections across Europe during the first wave.

Many regions in Italy are still in partial lockdown, with restrictions expected to stay in place until at least 3 December, but retailers and restaurants are pinning their hopes on the revival of business around the Christmas period.

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Donald Trump like a ‘mob boss’ but he shouldn’t be prosecuted, says ex-FBI boss Comey | US News



Donald Trump needs the same level of affirmation as a toddler – but prosecuting him would only give him the attention he craves, says former FBI chief James Comey.

Mr Comey, who was controversially fired by the president in 2017, told Sky News launching a criminal case could lead to several more years of the “Donald Trump show”.

He said it could overshadow efforts by Joe Biden to unite America and is “probably what [Trump] would want the most”.

“I have never seen an adult with a greater hunger for affirmation than Donald Trump,” he told Sky News.

“I’ve seen it in two-year-olds and three-year-olds. Affirmation is like air, he needs it constantly.

“I’d like to see some of the lights go out and he can stand on the front lawn at Mar-a-Lago and shout at cars in his bathroom and none of us will hear it.”

James Comey and Donald Trump shake hands
Donald Trump controversially fired Mr Comey as FBI director in May 2017

As president, Mr Trump is “constitutionally immune” from prosecution – but that ends in days, raising the possibility he could in future be charged if crimes were committed before or during his term.

Mr Comey agrees, though, with this week’s historic second impeachment of the president.

“I don’t think that anybody can disagree, there has to be the letter ‘i’ tattooed on him again, and ideally I’d like to see him convicted by the US Senate and barred from ever holding public office again,” said Mr Comey.

The 60-year-old was fired by the president while the FBI was investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election – and is now a vociferous critic of Mr Trump.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump leaves after giving an economic policy speech to the Detroit Economic Club, Monday, Aug. 8, 2016, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Mr Trump is the ‘dictionary definition of a demagogue’, says Mr Comey

He said the outgoing president was “the dictionary definition of a demagogue”, who “aimed not just to lie to people but really to destroy the notion that the truth exists”.

“There’s a menace to him in private that you don’t pick up in public,” added Mr Comey.

“But I have felt it sitting close to him, that constantly reminded me of a mob boss because I’ve known mob bosses and helped put them in jail.

“That menace coupled with that hunger for affirmation is a really dangerous recipe.”

Donald Trump supporters storm the US Capitol
Mr Comey says law enforcement should have seen the riot coming

Mr Trump has just a few days left before Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday – but it has not stopped politicians voting to impeach him on charges of inciting the deadly riots at the US Capitol.

The storming of the building – the heart of US democracy – on 6 January caused widespread shocked America, with Trump supporters running amok and five people left dead.

Mr Comey told Sky News the danger remains and that he is worried about the potential threat from “armed, disturbed people” on inauguration day.

Many Trump supporters believe his unsubstantiated claims of fraud in November’s election and the FBI has identified more than 200 people threatening violence in “concerning online chatter”.

Mr Comey said the danger had “to be taken very, very seriously”, and that people involved in the previous chaos must be dealt with “swiftly and severely”.

Security has been ramped up at the Capitol building ahead of Joe Biden's inauguration
Security has been ramped up at the Capitol building ahead of the inauguration

“I’m worried because there are armed, disturbed people who are in this state of mind where they believe their country is being taken from them,” said Mr Comey.

“So it’s a threat law enforcement in the States has to take very seriously.

“At the same time, I know that we have the capability, investigative and the tactical capability on scene, to protect these locations and so I am optimistic that the threat will be neutralised, but it has to be taken very, very seriously.”

The National Guard has also been descending on Washington to guard government buildings ahead of inauguration, when officials say 21,000 will be on hand.

Police were hugely outnumbered by the Capitol rioters and have been criticised over how it easy it was for the mob to seize control.

Several National Guard members are pictured lying on the floor of the U.S. Capitol
Some 21,000 members of the National Guard will be in Washington for the big day

Mr Comey told Sky News he was “sickened” by the violence and angry at the failure to defend the building, despite the obvious threat.

“I was angered by the apparent failure to defend a hill, it [the Capitol] sits on a hill with 2,000 officers assigned to it on a daily basis, the failure to defend the hill. It just mystifies and angers me.

“It is going to be important for our country to understand that failure.”

He added: “9/11 we were told was a failure of imagination, we didn’t anticipate the way the terrorists might come at us; this didn’t require imagination.

“This was all over the internet and the group literally walked slowly down Pennsylvania Avenue towards the Capitol so it was just a failure and we need to know why at all levels so that we don’t let it happen again.”

Mr Comey has just released a new book, Saving Justice: Truth, Transparency, and Trust, described as a “clarion call for a return to fairness and equity in the law”.

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COVID-19: US intelligence claims Wuhan lab researchers had coronavirus symptoms before first reported cases | World News



The US says it has intelligence that researchers in a Wuhan lab became sick with COVID-19-like symptoms in autumn 2019 – before the first identified case of the outbreak. 

A new statement from the US Department of State accuses the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) of “deadly obsession with secrecy and control” and claims the Wuhan Institute of Virology had been conducting experiments with a virus genetically similar to the new coronavirus.

The first cases of the outbreak were identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan and were initially thought to have originated from a wet market.

Wuhan Institute of Virology
The new claims centre around the Wuhan Institute of Virology

While most scientists believe the virus first transmitted naturally from animals to humans, others have raised the possibility it could have leaked accidentally from the secretive Wuhan lab.

The Trump administration has been particularly critical of China, especially since the new coronavirus outbreak.

According to the US government, researchers at the lab had been experimenting on RaTG13 – the bat coronavirus identified as the closest sample to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 – “under conditions that increased the risk for accidental and potentially unwitting exposure”.

Several researchers then fell ill with symptoms “consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses”, it claims.

However, officials admitted they did not know for sure where, when or how the virus initially transmitted to humans.

This photo taken on February 22, 2020 shows medical staff checking notes in an intensive care unit treating COVID-19 coronavirus patients at a hospital in Wuhan, in China's central Hubei province. - China on February 26 reported 52 new coronavirus deaths, the lowest figure in more than three weeks, bringing the death toll to 2,715. (Photo by STR / AFP) / China OUT (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
Medical staff check notes at an ICU in Wuhan

“We have not determined whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan, China,” the statement said.

“The virus could have emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals, spreading in a pattern consistent with a natural epidemic.

“Alternatively, a laboratory accident could resemble a natural outbreak if the initial exposure included only a few individuals and was compounded by asymptomatic infection.”

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Sky team stopped from investigating COVID origins

The lab has denied all claims of a leak, while China has also claimed in recent months the pandemic could have originated in another country.

The state has been accused of covering up the initial outbreak and delaying the release of crucial information which allowed the virus to spread.

It has also moved to silence some in China providing first-hand accounts of the outbreak, including doctors who shared information between each other about a new respiratory illness at the start of the epidemic.

Zhang Zhan, a citizen journalist who reported on the outbreak in Wuhan, was jailed in December for four years for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”.

A team from the World Health Organisation (WHO) has been sent to Wuhan to investigate the source of the pandemic, although there have been some concerns the trip will be heavily controlled by Chinese authorities.

 global team of scientists led by the World Health Organization arrived on Thursday (January 14) to China's central city of Wuhan, to investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
Members of the WHO team arriving in Wuhan

WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic told Sky News the team will “look into different aspects of the early days of the pandemic”.

Asked whether the team would investigate whether the virus was produced in a laboratory, he said: “We will follow wherever science leads us.

“The majority of scientists believe there is a natural origin of the virus, we know that bats are a natural reservoir of other coronaviruses, we really want to go and see and get the data.”

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NASA’s ‘megarocket’ roars into life – but only briefly, putting launch in jeopardy | Science & Tech News



NASA’s deep space exploration rocket has briefly ignited its four engines for the first time.

The test was a crucial step towards a debut unmanned launch later this year under NASA’s Artemis programme, the Trump administration’s mission to return US astronauts to the moon again by 2024.

The rocket, built by Boeing, roared into life for just one minute and 15 seconds at the test facility in Mississippi.

The engines generated 1.6 million pounds of thrust, consuming 700,000 gallons of propellants while on NASA’s largest test stand, which is 35 storeys tall.

It was well short of the roughly four minutes that were needed to keep its development on track for it first launch in November.

NASA said: “All four RS-25 engines ignited successfully, but the test was stopped early after about a minute.

“At this point, the test was fully automated.

“During the firing, the onboard software acted appropriately and initiated a safe shutdown of the engines.

“During the test, the propellant tanks were pressurised, and this data will be valuable as the team plans the path forward.

“In coming days, engineers will continue to analyse data and will inspect the core stage and its four RS-25 engines to determine the next steps.”

Despite the test being cut short, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine was still positive, saying: “Saturday’s test was an important step forward to ensure that the core stage of the SLS rocket is ready for the Artemis I mission, and to carry crew on future missions.

“Although the engines did not fire for the full duration, the team successfully worked through the countdown, ignited the engines, and gained valuable data to inform our path forward.”

“We got lots of data that we’re going to be able to sort through,” he added, talking about whether the November launch is still possible.

If it is not possible, it could push the debut into 2022.

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