Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi has insisted the government is "on target" to deliver its pledge of having the most vulnerable people in the UK inoculated against the coronavirus by "mid February".
Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi has insisted the government is "on target" to deliver its pledge of having the most vulnerable people in the UK inoculated against the coronavirus by "mid February".
An email to frontline workers, seen by HuffPost UK, reveals new directions to avoid precious Covid-19 jabs expiring.
Boris Johnson faces growing pressure from Tory MPs to set out an exit strategy from lockdown based on vaccine rollout forecasts and using March 8 as the target date to start easing the restrictions. Conservatives in the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group (CRG) highlighted scientific suggestions that the most vulnerable Britons will achieve a significant level of immunity from the virus three weeks after receiving their first dose of the jab. Since the Government has pledged to vaccinate the 14 million most vulnerable Britons by February 15, ministers should prepare to ease the rules three weeks later on March 8, the MPs said. Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, reiterated this week that the mortality rate is expected to fall by 88 per cent once the most vulnerable cohort, which includes all adults over 70 and the clinically extremely vulnerable, has received an initial dose of the vaccine by the middle of next month.
Border Force officers are to get powers to make migrants give their fingerprints in France to make it easier to deport them from the UK. On Tuesday, the Home Office laid regulations in Parliament that will give officers powers to use "reasonable force" to get fingerprints in Calais and Dunkirk if migrants caught trying get to Britain from the ports refuse to do so. Such biometric data is critical if migrants subsequently manage to reach Britain either hidden in lorries or by using small boats to cross the Channel. Immigration officials can use the fingerprints to prove that the migrants passed through "safe" countries, including France, before coming to the UK – which means those countries are then legally obliged to take them back. Under the agreements, migrants are expected to apply for asylum in the first safe country they enter, and those countries are required to consider their applications. The move will help border force officers to enforce new laws, introduced after the Brexit transition period, which make any asylum claim inadmissible if the migrant has travelled through a safe third country before arriving in Britain. Ministers are also banning migrants from making UK asylum claims at sea after Brexit under a new law that paves the way for border force vessels to intercept them and return them immediately to France. The law removes the current right of migrants to claim asylum when they are rescued at sea by Border Force or Navy vessels. The immigration minister Chris Philp said: "Today's move builds on steps we have already taken to reform the asylum system, to strengthen border controls and reduce illegal migration. "It builds on the inadmissibility rules laid before Parliament last month, with fingerprints collected by Border Force at the juxtaposed controls expected to form an important part of the evidence base in determining inadmissible cases. "These measures will help reduce the strain on asylum staff, allowing them to focus on processing genuine claims from those in need of help. This Government is fixing our broken asylum system to deliver a firmer and fairer system." A record 8,410 migrants were intercepted making the treacherous Channel crossing by small boat last year, more than four times the 1,850 who made the journey in 2019. Tougher measures to combat sea crossings have seen the numbers attempting to get into Britain in lorries increase. Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, is also preparing a Sovereign Borders Bill to reform asylum, including curbing "litigious" human rights claimants who seek to delay their deportation from Britain after their cases are refused. Under the proposed changes, judges will be expected to place more weight on asylum seekers' criminal records when considering their appeals against deportation. Currently, serious criminals including killers and rapists trump deportation orders in the courts by claiming their human rights will be infringed if they are sent back to their home countries. Ms Patel is also planning to tighten the appeals system for non-criminal claimants. They will have to lodge all their arguments at the beginning of a case so they cannot make a series of legal claims to delay deportation.
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Israel’s coronavirus tsar has warned that the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine offers less protection than expected, as he blamed the country’s surge in Covid cases partly on the new British variant. Nachman Ash said many Israelis had caught Covid in between their first and second doses of the Pfizer vaccine, suggesting that the first jab is “less effective than we thought,” according to Army Radio. His remarks underline the importance of receiving a second vaccine dose, which according to recent studies is more than 90 per cent effective in protecting against coronavirus. Israel has already given the first of two jabs to nearly 30 per cent of the population and on Tuesday announced it would extend eligibility to those aged 40 and over. But Mr Ash is said to have warned at a cabinet meeting that a new strain of Covid originating in Britain was hampering efforts to tackle the pandemic, as it was responsible for nearly 40 per cent of new cases. It comes after two studies by Israeli healthcare providers found that the first dose of the vaccine reduced the risk of infection by between 30 and 60 per cent. And according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, a survey by the health ministry found that around six per cent of 189,000 citizens who had received the first jab tested positive for Covid within two weeks. It also stated that 69 people from the sample had tested positive for coronavirus after receiving their second dose of the vaccine. Another study of a hundred people in Israel found that 98 per cent were protected from the disease once the second dose was administered. That research, carried out by the Sheba Medical Center, also said that a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine significantly refused the risk of spreading the virus to others.
Electric cars have gradually become as quick, as good-looking and almost as cheap as their petrol-powered counterparts. But there are still some convenience issues to overcome. Along with making batteries smaller, lighter, safer and more compact, improving charging technology is one of the main barriers to mass electric car uptake - a key part of the UK's climate change plan. While filling up at a petrol pump takes a matter of minutes, charging an electric car is currently a more time-consuming undertaking. On standard home chargers, it can take eight hours or longer for a drained electric car battery to fill up. Most commercial chargers are much faster than this, though. In the UK, the most commonly-found Rapid chargers, which operate at 50 kW, can charge a battery to 80 per cent full in between 20 minutes and an hour. 50kw is not widely considered to be particularly fast, and most UK chargers are even slower than this, so more powerful chargers will certainly help. But even Tesla’s fastest superchargers, which operate at 250kw, require drivers to hang around for more than half an hour to get their empty battery to 100 per cent. The main engineering challenge is not the power available from the charger, but the battery itself. There's a trade-off between producing longer-range cars which can travel further on a single charge and batteries that charge more quickly.
The Duke of Cambridge is set to lose a second key aide in a year. Christian Jones, who replaced Simon Case as William’s private secretary last March after he was poached by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, is leaving the royal household to join the private equity group Bridgepoint as a partner. The 31-year-old, who was previously William and Kate’s communications secretary, will head up corporate affairs for the £18 billion company. It is understood he will remain an advisor to the royal couple, whom he is credited with protecting from the fallout from “Megxit”, helping them to maintain a visible presence throughout the coronavirus crisis. A royal source said: “Whereas Simon was credited with making the Duke a statesman - Christian has really helped them to steer them through their public-facing role during the pandemic. He’s helped them to grow in confidence by gently pushing them out of their comfort zone.”
A saltwater crocodile with an unlucky prey animal in its mouth walked across the road before a park ranger at Northern Territory’s Kakadu National Park, footage from January 14 shows.According to the post from the park, crocodile traps were placed around the swamp after the crocodile was seen near the Mudjinbardi Outstation Causeway, close to a popular fishing area. Signs were placed around the causeway for fishermen and visitors to be aware of the reptiles.There are roughly 10,000 crocodiles in Kakadu, making up 10 percent of all the crocodiles in Northern Territory, according to the park. Credit: Kakadu National Park via Storyful
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Rebekah Vardy has leapt to the defence of her husband Jamie after some critics suggested he looked “miserable” during his brief appearance on Dancing on Ice. The mother-of-five took to Instagram to thank her followers for their support following her Sunday night skating debut on the ITV show, which also stars Myleene Klass, Denise Van Outen and Colin Jackson. In the comments, a few fans suggested her husband - Leicester City player Jamie Vardy - should have “smiled” more when he appeared on the show.
Frustrated GPs are being forced to cancel patients' Covid vaccination appointments thanks to lack of supply despite hundreds of thousands of doses lying unused, Nicola Sturgeon has been warned. Declaring the roll-out was going to plan, the First Minister said around 100,000 people per week were now being vaccinated in Scotland and all over-80s would be reached by the start of February. Between 15 and 20 per cent of Scots aged over 80 have been vaccinated so far, compared to more than half in England, but Ms Sturgeon said care homes had nearly been completed and the roll-out would now accelerate. But she was forced to deny her government is failing to distribute the vaccine to GPs quickly enough after it emerged only 284,582 doses out of Scotland's allocation of 717,000 had been administered. Challenged repeatedly to explain why GPs were running out when more than 400,000 doses were unused, she hit out at the UK Government for leaking the figure and accused it of having a "hissy fit" over her administration publishing confidential supply statistics last week. However, Dr Andrew Buist, who chairs the British Medical Association's Scottish GP committee, said family doctors were frustrated by the "bumpy" supply and they were being kept in the dark over why they had not received shipments. He said: "The workforce is there and that's why it's so incredibly frustrating when the patients want the vaccine, we're very keen to give it to our patients but we just don't have the vaccine in our fridge." Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said GPs in his Fife constituency had been forced to cancel vaccination appointments because they had not been provided with the necessary supply.
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No one knows if the family of four who died in November in the square outside Musan train station were victims of the cold or of starvation but the bodies were reportedly removed by North Korean security officials. Other accounts from within the North’s borders tell of gangs of orphans stealing from outdoor markets to stay alive and hunger finding its way into the normally relatively plentiful enclave of Pyongyang. Diplomats and all but two international aid workers have in recent months been either evacuated or ordered out of the country by the regime of Kim Jong-un, meaning that the United Nations and other aid and human rights organisations are relying on a tenuous network of North Koreans who operate as “citizen reporters” for dissident media outlets in South Korea and Japan. Organisations that previously had a degree of access to those most at risk in the North say the reports, relayed over the border into China by mobile phone, have proved to be consistent and reliable. And now, they say, they are painting a particularly bleak picture of a nation on the brink of a food crisis that is comparable to the four-year famine in the mid-1990s - a time that North Koreans refer to as the Arduous March. Some put the death toll from that tragedy - brought on by drought, flooding and chronic economic mismanagement - as high as 3.5 million of the north’s 22 million people. And the experts warn that those conditions are once again stalking the nation, but have been made significantly worse by a global pandemic that has forced the regime to close its borders to outside trade, including food. “Information on food security is only trickling out of the North”, said Imesh Pokharel, who heads the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Seoul. “Very few humanitarian groups have been able to operate there this year and there have been far fewer defectors for us to speak with, so we have been speaking with the groups that have ‘reporters’ inside the country,” he said. Mr Pokharel admits the situation is “not ideal”, but in the absence of people on the ground and Pyongyang’s refusal to cooperate with the international community, they are his “best option”. “Put it like this”, he said. “I trust these people more than anyone else”. Some external analysis of the situation is possible, but that too points to worrying findings, he said. The US, for example, uses satellites to monitor crops in the North and has determined that as a result of the country being badly affected by typhoons and widespread flooding in the harvest season, the 2019 crop was smaller than in 1994, the first year of the Arduous March. Taken together, the food situation for many North Koreans is clearly extremely precarious, Mr Pokharel told the Telegraph. “We know from trade data that imports of food and medicine are far below previous years and our estimation is that we cannot say there is famine in North Korea yet, but we can definitely say that an acute food crisis is looming”, he said. In mid-December, the Japan-based AsiaPress news agency reported that hungry residents of the North’s cities, including children, are heading out into the countryside on a daily basis to scavenge for food. In the 11 months since the border with China was closed, ostensibly to halt the spread of the coronavirus but also an effective way of halting more defections, trade and tourism have slowed to virtually nothing, while production in the North for export has also halted. As a result, an AsiaPress “citizen reporter” in the North claimed, “The most vulnerable people in cities, including the elderly, are dying of malnutrition and disease.” The Daily NK, which is based in Seoul and relies on contacts in the North for its coverage, reported that many people in the border regions have lost any income due to the border being closed, “and now complain of hardships even worse than those of the Arduous March”. “If you’re eating two meals a day, you are doing well”, the source said. “Most people are eating just a single meal of porridge or rice mixed with radish leaves a day. “Nowadays, you find a lot of dead homeless people in the mornings around Hyesan or Wiyon train stations, near university dormitories or construction sites”, the source said. “With people starving to death all around, the atmosphere is bleak.” The reports also tally with sporadic communications between defectors and the families that they left behind in the North, either through letters that are illicitly taken over the border or mobile phone contacts, although the North is cracking down hard on all attempts by its citizens to find out about the world beyond their borders. “We are hearing that while the price of rice is holding steady in the markets, people who used to earn a living through smuggling across the border are running out of money because of the extra troops they have stationed on the border,” said Song Young-chae, an activist with The Worldwide Colaition to Stop Genocide in North Korea. “Other crops were badly affected by the flooding and the typhoons, so people are using up what little savings they had to secure food”, he said. “But they only have a limited amount of money.” Sokeel Park, director of research for Liberty in North Korea, said: “The information black hole of North Korea has become even darker this year. “I've only been able to hear second-hand from defectors who are in contact with people inside that things are indeed tough because of restrictions not just on trade with China but also on internal movement”, he said. “That means market trade is disrupted and prices are volatile.” He added: “It seems that rich and poor North Koreans alike will be suffering this year, but the government there has been very invested in pushing to their people a narrative that it is worse in South Korea and the rest of the world, so this is necessary suffering and that things could be worse.” State media have indeed gone to some lengths to report on the problems caused by the pandemic in other countries, whilst insisting that there have been no cases of the coronavirus in the North. With access to outside agencies denied, it is impossible to verify that claim, although experts say it is very unlikely. The dissident reports all contrast with the official North Korean narrative, however, which insists that while there have been challenges this year, the outlook is rosy. In a summary of the recently concluded “80-day labour battle”, local media declared, “The agricultural front is alive with the successful conclusion of farming for this year and preparations for next year”. Threshing is 74 percent completed, it added, while agricultural workers are “stepping up the autumn ploughing and production of manure in preparation for farming next year”. There has been no reporting in domestic media about food shortages or deaths attributable to the worsening crisis. Protect yourself and your family by learning more about Global Health Security
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A British QC hired by the Hong Kong government to lead a case against tabloid media magnate Jimmy Lai and several other democracy activists has pulled out after coming under pressure in Britain, the city's Department of Justice said on Wednesday. David Perry QC was being brought in to handle the trial of Lai, a publisher and high-profile critic of the Chinese state, and eight other campaigners accused of organising an illegal anti-government march. Lee Cheuk-yan, the organiser of the annual Tiananmen Square vigil in Hong Kong, Martin Lee Chu-ming, a Hong Kong politician and barrister who is the founding chairman of the United Democrats of Hong Kong and its successor, the Democratic Party, Hong Kong's flagship pro-democracy party and is known as the territory’s 'Father of Democracy', and veteran activist 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung are among the defendants. All of the accused have been charged with organising an unauthorised assembly, and knowingly taking part in an unauthorised assembly on August 18, 2019. Lai has since been charged with offences under the city's sweeping new national security law, sparking foreign condemnation. The Department of Justice noted "growing pressure and criticism" of Mr Perry within Britain for taking the case. Mr Perry, a Queen's Counsel, had "concerns about such pressures and the exemption of quarantine" and "indicated that the trial should proceed without him", the department said in a statement. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told Sky TV in an interviewer on Sunday that Perry had handed the Chinese government a "PR coup" and had behaved in a "pretty mercenary way". Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, co-chairman of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (Ipac), was blunt in his appraisal: “It’s appalling.” The British barrister, who practises at the London chambers 6KBW College Hill, has taken part in a number of high profile cases in Hong Kong. He has also appeared for the UK Government at the European Court of Human Rights. Mr Perry could not immediately be reached for comment. The department said it had hired another lawyer to prosecute the case. It is not yet known if that lawyer is also foreign. Under Hong Kong's independent Common Law-based legal system, foreign lawyers are sometimes used by both the defence and prosecution sides in cases. Lai, 73, owns the Apple Daily - which has a reputation of being fiercely critical of the city government - and is the highest profile figure to be charged under the national security law that Beijing imposed on the city on June 30 last year after months of pro-democracy protests across the global financial hub. The law sets out tough punishment for terrorism, subversion and colluding with foreign forces while allowing some suspects to be taken to mainland China for trial in complex cases. Critics say the law threatens the vaunted judicial independence in the former British colony.
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