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COVID-19: Warning of UK cases spike if vaccinated people break coronavirus rules

19 January

People could become less strict at sticking to coronavirus rules as more of the population is vaccinated, scientists have warned.

It could lead to a spike in cases that outweighs the gains made by rolling out the jab, according to government advisory body SAGE.
Minutes from their meeting last month say "there is a risk that changes in behaviour could offset the benefits of vaccination, particularly in the early months of vaccine rollout".
While the jab should prevent sickness, it is still unclear whether the vaccines stop people catching and spreading the infection.
SAGE scientists believe there should be a public awareness campaign with "timely intervention" if people begin flouting the rules - believing they are no longer a risk to others, or that older people and family members are now safe.
Twenty-nine percent of people admitted they will stick to the rules less closely once they are vaccinated, according to a YouGov survey mentioned in the SAGE minutes and reported in the Daily Telegraph.
Eleven percent say they will "probably no longer follow the rules" at all.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock urged people not to "blow it now" during a Number 10 news conference on Monday.
The NHS England medical director, Professor Stephen Powis, has also said it's "absolutely critical" people stick to social distancing and "don't rely yet on vaccines coming to our rescue".
More than four million people, including more than half of over-80s, have now had a vaccination in the UK.
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The government says it is on course to give the jab to around 15 million people in the highest risk categories by the middle of February.
Around that time, once the vaccines have had time to take effect, ministers will consider whether lockdown measures can be eased.
But the prime minister has warned that there will not be an "open sesame" moment when the rules are all suddenly dropped.
Mr Johnson said mid-February was the time to "take stock of what we've achieved", and that any loosening of restrictions would be "gradual".
A return of the tiers system is widely expected.
That prospect is still a long way off though, with a record 37,475 people in hospital with the disease in the UK, including 15,000 admitted since Christmas Eve.
Daily cases show improvement however, with the seven-day average on a downward slope and now at about 45,000 cases from around 58,000 the previous week.
While the UK and many developed countries vaccinate millions, the World Health Organisation has said it's "not right" that many younger and healthier people will get the jab before older generations in poorer countries.
"Just 25 doses have been given in one lowest income country - not 25 million, not 25,000 - just 25," said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday.
"I need to be blunt: The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure."
A WHO spokeswoman later identified the country as Guinea.
In contrast, UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab has said that all adults - more than 50 million people - should be offered their first dose by September.
Questioned by Sky News on Monday, the health secretary said he agreed with the concerns of the WHO director-general.
Matt Hancock said he looked forward to working with international bodies to "get enough vaccine to be able to vaccinate the whole world - certainly the whole world's adult population".

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Trump scraps UK and Brazil COVID travel bans - but Biden set to ignore the order

19 January

Donald Trump has scrapped a travel ban on people from countries such as the UK and Brazil - but incoming president Joe Biden intends to ignore it.

Mr Trump said the ban would end on 26 January, the same day a new system comes in requiring everyone flying from outside the US to show a negative COVID-19 test or proof they have recovered from the virus.
The president, who's entering his last full day in office, said he had made the decision on the advice of his health secretary.
He issued a proclamation stating that it would enable "travel to resume safely" while still "protecting Americans from COVID-19".
Mr Trump said the ban would also be lifted on people coming from Europe's Schengen travel area and Ireland, but that it would remain for China and Iran because they had failed to share "timely, accurate" information.
Mr Biden's team responded quickly, with spokesperson Jen Psaki tweeting that "on the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26".
The restrictions have blocked nearly all non-US citizens who have been in the restricted countries, amid fears over the spread of new COVID variants.
Mr Biden - who is sworn in tomorrow - "plans to strengthen public health measures around international travel", added his spokesperson.
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As soon as he is in power, Mr Biden has authority to revoke Mr Trump's order.
The outgoing president is also believed to be planning to reveal around 100 pardons and commutations later on Tuesday.
However, he is said to have decided against the extraordinary step of pardoning himself - if such a step is constitutional.
Mr Trump was last week impeached for a second time after being accused of inciting the US Capitol riots and faces a political trial in the Senate.
Dr Salomon Melgen, a Florida eye doctor jailed for multiple counts of health care fraud, is expected to be on the clemency list, according to CNN.
Former model and actress Pamela Anderson claimed on Monday that the president was "debating" the seemingly unlikely move of pardoning WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange - who has fought a long battle to avoid extradition to the US.
Intense security preparations for the inauguration are continuing in Washington, with masses of National Guard in place to prevent any potential violence after the FBI warned of concerning online "chatter".
The FBI is also vetting all 25,000 National Guard for any links with extremism over fears of an insider attack, and the bureau's former boss has told Sky News he is worried about the threat of "armed, disturbed people".
On Tuesday, the Capitol complex was put into lockdown for a time after a nearby fire sparked a security alert.
Donald Trump has decided to break with tradition and not attend the inauguration and will instead be relocating to his Florida home as his turbulent four years in power end.
The showpiece ceremony will see Mr Biden take the presidential oath, with Lady Gaga singing the national anthem.

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COVID-19: 4 million jabs delivered but Boris Johnson warns there will be no 'open sesame' of lockdow

19 January

Four million people have now received a coronavirus jab, the prime minister has revealed, as he warned the public there will be no "open sesame" of lockdown easing.

Speaking during a visit to the manufacturing facility for the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, Boris Johnson said the UK was rolling out COVID-19 vaccines "as fast as we can".
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"I think we've done more than half of the over-80s, half of the people in care homes, the elderly residents of care homes," he said.
According to the latest figures from Public Health England, a total of 4,062,501 people in the UK have received the first dose of a vaccine.
Those over the age of 70 and any adult classed as being clinically extremely vulnerable will, from today, also start being offered a jab.

And Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News earlier that 24-hour vaccination sites will be piloted in London before the end of the month.
Asked about when restrictions could begin to be relaxed, the prime minister said it would be a gradual process and would depend on successfully rolling out the vaccine and no new concerning variants of the virus emerging.
"I understand completely that people want to get back to normal as fast as we possibly can. It does depend on things going well," Mr Johnson stressed.
"It depends on the vaccination programme going well, it depends on there being no new variants that throw our plans out and we have to mitigate against, and it depends on everybody, all of us, remembering that we're not out of the woods yet."
The prime minister said the government would be able to "take stock of what we've achieved" in the middle of next month - the deadline set to offer a first dose of the vaccine to the most vulnerable.
"That's the time to look at where the virus is, the extent of the infection and the success that we've had," said Mr Johnson.
"It's only really then that we can talk about the way ahead and what steps we can take to relax.
"I'm afraid I've got to warn people it will be gradual, you can't just open up in a great open sesame, in a great bang, because I'm afraid the situation is still pretty precarious."
Mr Johnson again maintained that things would look "very different" by spring.
He said: "That doesn't mean we are not going to be living with the consequences of the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic for a while to come - the economic consequences and the threat to our health as well.
"We have to remain vigilant about this for a long time."

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COVID-19: Hunger, cold, poverty and loneliness make for a bleak midwinter

19 January

The snow is falling in thick clumps on Blackpool's promenade and the freezing cloud hangs so low that the top of the famous tower is almost completely obscured.

The so-called "Golden Mile" of trinket shops and amusement arcades is closed. The town, like most places right now, feels lifeless.
Usually, the famous lights of the annual illuminations attract four million visitors to Blackpool, boosting the local economy by around £284m.
But in November they were turned off for the first time since the Second World War. And two weeks ago, Britain entered a third lockdown.
And for many, this time around has been the toughest.
Mark Butcher sees up close the impact that the pandemic is having here.
"The weather is bleak and some people are feeling bleak," he tells me.
Mark is a former addict turned evangelist who now runs Amazing Graze, a place where people can come to be fed. Mark usually helps the homeless, but it's different now.
"We've got desperate people turning up at the soup kitchen every day. We've got families who have never come to see us before. Taxi drivers who have lost all of their business. People who have just got no money. They just can't afford to live."
I first met Mark a year ago. He's a tall, lean marathon runner who now runs the local church.
He bobs around on his feet when he talks. He's enthusiastic and passionate about helping people. He's never struck me to be downbeat.
Always positive. But even Mark can't help but reflect just how deep this pandemic is cutting, especially in places like Blackpool.
Because even before the pandemic struck, this town was struggling. Eight of the 10 most deprived neighbourhoods in England are here.
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It is in the top 10 for suicide and drugs deaths, and the seasonal economy means the summer has to be busy otherwise the winters are long and hard.
"The first lockdown was bad enough. The second one was incredibly hard. Now, I just don't see and end to it."
We walk towards Mark's church as light fades and already a queue has formed outside.
"These people are queuing for food. Can you imagine how it feels to queue for food because you haven't got a chance of eating if you don't."
Sarah is a mother of five and she has come to the soup kitchen because money is extremely tight. She says she lost her job in April and began to claim Universal Credit but ever since then has struggled.
"I never thought I'd have to do this. It's really bad at the moment. If it wasn't for this place I don't know what we'd do. It just seems everywhere you go in this town right now there are people who are at rock bottom.
"I've come for some bread and milk and some vegetables. And I'll be back next week."
Sarah used to work in restaurants and behind bars and was usually busy during the summer. But those jobs aren't available during lockdown.
Inside the church packing food is volunteer Rachel Walmsley.
"We're getting more families. Families that are struggling either because they've been furloughed or they've lost jobs and they just can't make ends meet at the moment. They are waiting for the town to open up again and that seems a long way off at present.
For everyone, lockdown has been a struggle. Two weeks into the tightest set of regulations we've lived under since March, we've been speaking to people about how they've been coping.
Alice
Alice is 42 and lives alone in the northwest of England. In the first six months of the pandemic, the charity Rethink Mental Illness saw a 183% increase in the number of people seeking help about anxiety disorders.
Alice has lived with mental illness throughout her adult life and is now shielding with severe asthma.
"Art is one of those things that can really help people when they're anxious and it makes a real difference to people's lives if they've got something to focus on other than anxiety," she says.
Most days Alice sits and paints in a small timber shed at the bottom of her garden. This studio is now a sanctuary to fend off the effects of lockdown.
Two slightly abstract figures on the canvas have their hands entwined. They are Alice's parents and she's barely seen them in the last year.
"I have a mental health condition called schizoaffective disorder. I've experienced it since I was 20. It means sometimes I hear voices that aren't there and see things that aren't there.
"I get very frightened and paranoid. So that's been quite a big impact on my life. But it's also taught me stuff as well."
Before Christmas, Alice says her mental health began to deteriorate.
"I felt quite suicidal just before Christmas, which isn't a good thing. When that happens, I take as many walks as I can and try to make contact with other people.
"It's the support and kindness of other people and your ability to support and be kind too, that makes a difference to everyone.
"Out of really hard stuff sometimes comes a bit of a revelation as to how to survive things.
"I know loads of people are having a very difficult time, not just mental health - so many people are so poorly and so many people are losing people that I just feel lucky that I'm still here."
Jo and Simon
Jo and Simon run a café in Buxton in Derbyshire. They employ 12 people but when the pandemic struck the business was thrown into doubt.
During the first lockdown Simon made food and delivered to customers, but as the regional tier restrictions were introduced running a business became more and more unpredictable and so they decided to close until the restrictions ease.
Simon said: "We always knew the winter would be bad so it wasn't done under the impression that it would be open by July or even October. But I didn't think it would be this bad. I didn't think it would be this long.
"I am always, always stupidly optimistic. I really am," Jo says.
"I haven't felt doom and gloom, but I can't help but think about how long this is going to go on for and how much is this going to affect us and our business.
"I look at businesses closing - businesses like ours - and I wonder whether we're going to manage this. How will we cope? How will be survive this?
"Then I think about how we are going to have a busy cafe again and people are going to come back in droves because people will have missed going for coffee. And so I end up thinking that maybe we're going to be OK."
Dee and Vera
Vera Hart is 89 and has been shielding with her daughter Dee in Blackpool since March. Dee hardly leaves the house and has been relying on grocery deliveries and local charities.
"I am terrified," says Dee. "I am terrified to leave the house in case I catch the virus and pass it on to my mum. The last few months have been horrendous.
"It's a lot harder now in the winter months. This is tough. We cannot wait for this to be over."
Dee gets a food delivery twice a week - a hot meal that means one less trip to the supermarket. In the summer months Dee used to take her mum for a walk along the sea front.
But Vera can't manage it in the cold.
So they stay indoors.
Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org in the UK.
In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK

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Capitol protester accused of trying to give Pelosi laptop to Russian intelligence

19 January

The FBI is investigating whether one of the Capitol protesters stole a laptop or computer hard drive from the office of House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and tried to pass it to Russian intelligence.

According to court papers, the case against Pennsylvania woman Riley June Williams was outlined in an affidavit filed with the US District Court for the District of Columbia by an unnamed FBI agent.
As well as being accused of breaching the Capitol building and directing people to Ms Pelosi's office, the affidavit says the Bureau received a tip from someone claiming to be a former romantic partner of Ms Williams saying she "intended to send the computer device to a friend in Russia, who then planned to sell the device to SVR, Russia's foreign intelligence service".
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The affidavit stated that according to the tip off, "the transfer of the computer device to Russia fell through for unknown reasons and Williams still has the computer device or destroyed it".
The theft of electronic devices during the 6 January invasion of the Capitol has been a persistent worry for US security services with Acting US Attorney Michael Sherwin saying some of the thefts might have potentially jeopardised what he described as "national security equities".
Two days after the Capitol siege a spokesman for Ms Pelosi, Drew Hammill, confirmed that a laptop used for presentations had been stolen from a conference room in the Speaker's office.
According to the FBI, it appears Williams has fled an address near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, that she shared with her mother, deactivated her phone number, and taken down social media accounts.

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