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COVID-19: Emergency coronavirus calls are slowing but wave of poor mental health is taking off

27 February

Let's start with the good news. COVID cases are gradually slowing down; they've become just another part of a shift for the paramedics in North Wales and the rest of the UK.

The Welsh Ambulance Service still has 89 soldiers helping them through the end of the winter peak but the COVID calls are usually now straightforward.
What is new, however, is the growing wave of mental health problems that have come as a consequence of the pandemic and life in lockdown.
"We can go whole shifts where that's all we deal with," 22-year-old paramedic Kieran McClelland told us.
Kieran has only been doing this job for 18 months, but like all his colleagues he has risen to face the challenge of their professional lives.
"It's taken its toll, all of this," he said as we waited to drop off another patient at Wrexham's A&E department.
Ambulance crews have always had to deal with people with complex mental health problems, but the view from this frontline is that it has grown drastically during the winter lockdown.
We were soon called to a young woman who had been found collapsed in the street by a team of road maintenance workers.
The paramedics quickly established she had taken an overdose after hearing that her dad had died from COVID-19 the night before.
In the back of the ambulance, the young woman grew agitated, prompting the team to calmly flick on the blue lights and get her quickly back to Maelor hospital.
Once there, the on-site security team were ready to help escort her inside, but she refused to go with them. It took almost an hour for security, along with the ambulance crew and two police officers, to gently coax her in for specialist help.
Careful reassurance from emergency medical technician Vicki Moran meant nobody was hurt in the process, and the patient got to safety - a good result in the circumstances.
"We are getting a lot of mental health jobs at the moment where people just aren't coping with the situation," Vicki said.
"It is sad... we've seen more suicides and people trying to take their own life; it's tricky, but we always do our absolute best to help.
"We are all going through this in different ways... my family worry about me, probably more than I worry about it."
The army, who are still supporting the effort across Wales, see soldiers paired up with paramedics to help them cope with staff shortages and demand.
Private Jason Perkins, from the Royal Logistics Corp who has been on this deployment since Christmas, told Sky News: "It's been extreme; some of the calls you get too are hard to understand.
"It has opened my eyes quite a lot when you're in these ambulances going to these houses seeing what it has done to them that's quite bad.
"We try to help them in whatever way we can… there are people on the edge but we try to give them the reassurance - I'm not trained really for this but we try to get them help."
"We are not heroes or nothing like that, we are just here to help our colleagues in the ambulance service and do the job we need to do."
It's the same picture in the relative calm of the control centres that handle emergency and non-emergency calls across Wales.
Ruth Lander, who is part of the training team for the non-emergency 111 service in North Wales, told Sky News: "What we perceive as straightforward symptoms, even something like a sore throat, even those calls are coming through with mental health issues.
"People are anxious and they are scared, and that's the benefit of this service because we can explain and help those patients.
"It has definitely increased the mental health aspects to the calls we get - they may be elderly and struggling with loneliness or a young mum who has lost her support network and is struggling."
Across the desks, her colleague Lynne Ryan said: "You just want to be able to hug some of the people who are on the calls."
The 111 service has lost four staff members to COVID; the funeral of one colleague was taking place as we were speaking to some of the team.
"It's hard," Lynne added. "Everyone has a story or someone they know and we see the fallout of that on these calls every shift."
Mental health support across the UK has undeniably improved in recent years, and while public awareness has also increased, the chief executive of the Welsh Ambulance Service believes the full effects of lockdown are only just emerging.
Jason Killens said: "We expect these problems to increase and for them to become even more complex as people suffer different stresses in their lives across our communities.
"Everyone has been touched by the pandemic in some way - many people have lost their jobs, of course, and that creates anxiety and mental health problems too.
"There is increasing recognition over recent years that mental health needs parity with physical health in terms of how we provide services and care for patients.
"We have got a small number of mental health clinicians within our service and we expect to expand that this year... we realise there is more that we can do and that we can do better."
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As the day shift came to an end in Wrexham, Andy Powell and Mal Evans, who decontaminate the vehicles after COVID jobs, were starting their meticulous wipe downs.
Every item is taken out of every bag whether it has been used or not, and then it's scrubbed down. The cleaning of just one vehicle takes the team at least an hour-and-a-half.
They do it on auto-pilot now but it's the kind of vital work that holds it all together. If COVID is there on a kit bag you can wipe it away - but the effects of the disease have spread to every community and are so much harder to deal with.
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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Rishi Sunak: UK economy to face 'enormous strains' following lockdown

27 February

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has warned that Britain's public finances will face "enormous strains" in the wake of the latest national lockdown.

Ahead of Wednesday's Budget announcement, Mr Sunak told the Financial Times a bill for the government's £280bn investment in coronavirus support will eventually have to be paid, with low interest rates leaving the nation's finances "exposed".
Mr Sunak said: "We now have far more debt than we used to and because interest rates... at least a month or two ago were exceptionally low, that means we remain exposed to changes in those rates.
"That's why I talk about levelling with people about the public finances [challenges] and our plans to address them."
While Mr Sunak did not reveal any details on specific tax measures, the Budget is expected to include a swathe of actions aimed at kickstarting the nation's economy as lockdown eases over the coming months.
These include a £126m boost for traineeships and a mortgage guarantee scheme aimed at helping aspiring homeowners with small deposits onto the property ladder.
Mr Sunak added that while there is a challenge facing the nation's economy, he believes the Budget will be a much-needed boon for those hit hardest by the pandemic.
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He said: "I stood up at the beginning of this [coronavirus] thing and said I will do whatever it takes to protect the British people through this crisis and I remain committed to that.
"We went big, we went early, but there is more to come and there will be more to come in the Budget. But there is a challenge [in the public finances] and I want to level with people about the challenge.
"Some 750,000 people have lost their jobs and I want to make sure we provide those people with hope and opportunity. Next week's Budget will do that."

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Son's plea for detained UK businessman 'caught in prisoner-swap with Princess Latifa'

27 February

The son of a British businessman detained in a notorious Indian prison has told Sky News he hopes that Boris Johnson will act to save his father.

Christian Michel, 59, was jailed in 2018 in the fallout of one India's biggest defence deal scandals.
His lawyers claim he was extradited from the UAE to India in a de-facto prisoner swap with Princess Latifa, the daughter of Dubai's ruler who attempted to leave the country in 2018.
Mr Michel is currently locked up in Tihar Prison in Delhi where he claims to have been kept in inhumane conditions, including being subject to solitary confinement for long periods and deprived of sleep.
On Friday, the United Nations demanded the immediate release of Mr Michel, stating his detention is unlawful.
In the family's first-ever interview, son Alaric Michel, 26, told Sky News how the UN's statement has brought hope to his family who have not seen Mr Michel in three years.
He said: "What's horrible is you only have two parents in your life. I thankfully have two amazing parents. Now, when one is taken away from you, it's tough to deal with, specifically at a young age.
"I have a little sister who's turning 17 now, she's been growing up without a father pretty much for quite some years now."
He added: "I think it's good that we're finally having the vocal and physical support of the UN, which is obviously something we need. Because if you have the UN's backing, then clearly there is something that's going wrong and it's not on our end."
Christian Michel, born in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, is accused of being involved in corruption relating to a multimillion-pound helicopter contract.
In 2010, a deal was struck between India and defence company AgustaWestland for 12 helicopters, worth more than 556 million euros.
Three years later, an investigation which named Mr Michel began in Italy. It examined alleged fraud regarding the contract between India and the English-Italian company.
The Italian investigation acquitted those accused, while an investigation in India led to Mr Michel being accused of paying bribes to Indian officials.
Alaric Michel is worried about his father's health and hopes that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will intervene.
"My one main concern obviously is my father's health... He's held in prison in some of the worst conditions.
"That's an aspect I'm still struggling to deal with."
He said he hopes Mr Johnson will help his father.
"I hope he will take into consideration that he is a UK citizen and a UK citizen under his protection as prime minister of our country. It's important for people to realise this is happening to my father but truly it could be anyone."
In 2018, Christian Michel was working in Dubai. That year he was arrested and extradited to India.
Speaking from a Dubai prison cell before his extradition to India, Mr Michel says in a video, previously unseen but recently viewed by Sky News: "In 2018, everything changed.
"An event happened in the Indian Ocean which completely changed my life and the proceedings that I was under."
He adds: "The daughter of the ruler made an attempt to escape from this country, Dubai, on the boat, and was captured in the Indian Ocean by the Indian coast guard on the request of the Ruler of Dubai to the Prime Minister of India.
"So now I'm sitting in a jail in Dubai facing extradition.
"None of this would even concern me, but for a number of meetings that took place in July, after the return of Latifa."
He claims he was repeatedly pressured in those meetings by Indian authorities to sign a statement claiming he had paid money to the Indian opposition party. He refused.
In December that year, he was finally extradited to India when the UAE upheld a second request from the Indian authorities.
Mr Michel's claim that he was given to India in return for the country's help in the Latifa case has been recognised by the UN.
In a statement, the UN Working Group into Arbitrary Detention said: "The Working Group notes with concern the submission by the source, which has not been disputed by either government, that the approval by the UAE of India's extradition request was a de-facto swap for India's capture and return of a high-profile detainee to Dubai reportedly authorised by the Indian prime minister..."
It added that "the appropriate remedy would be for the government of India to release Mr Michel immediately and for both governments to accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law".
Lawyer Toby Cadman, who is working pro bono to free Mr Michel, said: "The procedure followed in Christian's case can only be described as a flagrant denial of justice and a circumvention of the rule of law."
Lawyer Francois Zimeray, who is also representing Mr Michel and his family, told Sky News: "This is a rare and important decision that condemns two states together. No state should allow such methods, against any notion of justice and dignity."
The Indian authorities have rejected the UN's allegations that due process was not followed and told the UN it has an "independent and vibrant judiciary".
They also said that Mr Michel's "arrest and subsequent custody is in accordance with the judicial process established by law".
The Indian and UAE embassies did not respond to our requests for comment.
A UK foreign office spokesperson said staff are supporting Mr Michel and regularly raise his case with the Indian authorities, including with the Indian High Commissioner to the UK. They added that the UN Working Group's statement is being "noted" and "considered".
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Meanwhile, Ireland's former president Mary Robinson has admitted she made a "big mistake" and was "naive" in relation to Princess Latifa's case.
The former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had met Princess Latifa at a lunch following an invitation from Dubai's royal family in 2018 - months after she had attempted to flee the country. Ms Robinson later described her as a "troubled young woman".
Speaking to RTE on Friday, Ms Robinson said that she "100% believes Latifa now" and said she should be freed, adding: "I made a mistake. I let my heart lead my head. I went to help a friend. I was naive. I should have been more alert."

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Lady Gaga's French bulldogs found after being stolen by men who shot dog walker in chest

27 February

Lady Gaga's French bulldogs have been found safe and unharmed - two days after being stolen at gunpoint in Los Angeles.

Koji and Gustav were handed in at LAPD's Olympic Community Police Station on Friday evening by a woman who appears to be "uninvolved and unassociated" with the armed robbery.
It isn't clear how she came to have the animals, but both dogs have now been safely reunited with the pop star's representatives.
"I can confirm that the dogs have been located and are safe," Captain Jonathan Tippet said.
Her friend Ryan Fischer, who was shot while walking her three dogs, is expected to make a full recovery. A car had pulled up alongside him, with the men inside demanding he hand over the animals.
All three dogs were initially taken - but Miss Asia managed to escape and was recovered safely soon afterwards.
Gaga had been offering $500,000 ($360,000) for their safe return - and had written in a previous Instagram post that she was praying for their safe return because her "heart is sick".
No arrests have been made, but detectives are now appealing for help finding two men in their 20s who are wanted for questioning in connection with the attack.
They said the woman who handed the dogs in, and the location of where they were found, will remain confidential "due to the active criminal investigation and for her safety".
It is not clear if she will receive the reward money but Lady Gaga had said it was on offer with "no questions asked" if her dogs were returned, something police criticised as they said it incentivised other criminals to steal celebrity dogs and return them for exorbitant sums.
According to police, Mr Fischer had attempted to fight off the armed robbers - and one of the men was wielding a semi-automatic handgun.
In graphic footage of the moment he was attacked, he was heard repeatedly screaming: "Oh my god! I've been shot!"
He also cried "Help me!" and "I'm bleeding from out of my chest!".
Charley Walters, whose security cameras filmed the incident, said his boyfriend Carlos Pantoja called 911 - and they waited at the dog walker's side for police to arrive.
Lady Gaga, whose real name is Stefani Germanotta, is currently in Rome where she is shooting Sir Ridley Scott's film about the Gucci fashion industry.
She said: "I continue to love you Ryan Fischer, you risked your life to fight for our family. You're forever a hero."
In a statement, Ryan's family said that he had been the victim of a "horrible, violent crime" - but praised the "extraordinary care" that the 30-year-old was receiving in hospital.
His loved ones added: "We cannot possibly say enough to thank all of the first responders, nurses and doctors who have worked so tirelessly to care for Ryan.
"Of course, we also want to thank Lady Gaga who has shown nothing but non-stop love and concern for Ryan and our family right from the outset.
"Ryan loves Gustav and Koji as much as Lady Gaga does."

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Ethiopia: 24 hours of mass executions and unspeakable violence, as told by witnesses

27 February

Axum is a historical city - an ancient site of pilgrimage in the Ethiopian region of Tigray.

But a vicious conflict arrived in this community on the morning of 28 November, and it was signalled by the crack of gunfire from the surrounding hills.
These shots would mark the beginning of 24 hours of unspeakable violence and mass executions, according to Amnesty International.
The human rights group has compiled evidence and testimony from more than 40 witnesses and says the allegations contained within its report may constitute crimes against humanity.
Due to restrictions accessing Tigray, Amnesty said the report was based on interviews conducted with refugees in neighbouring Sudan as well as phone interviews with Axum residents.
Witnesses described house-to-house searches, mass executions and shelling and looting after Ethiopian and Eritrean troops had taken control of the city from Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF).
Eritrean soldiers systematically killed "many hundreds" according to the report - targeting civilians trying to flee, and lining up men and boys and shooting them in the back.
Sky News tracked down a number of witnesses including a man called Solomon based in the US. He said he was visiting with his relatives when the massacre began.
"On (28 November) there was a big exchange of gunfire and we didn't know who was fighting but we thought it was a local militia trying to take the (Ethiopian and Eritrean forces) out of the city."
Solomon said the Eritreans launched a brutal campaign of revenge.
He added: "In the afternoon, a division of Eritrean soldiers came into the city and they killed so many people, so many people. There were targeting young people especially and anyone they thought could be a (member of a) militia - so three people from one house, four siblings from one house along with their dad. They were killing them.
"No one was allowed to collect the bodies and see if it was your friend or your brother. You couldn't do that. They would shoot you."
"How long were the bodies left on the ground?" I asked.
"I would say two-and-a-half days," said Solomon.
Another witness, who called herself Woinshet, told Sky News that bodies were left strewn in the streets of Axum. Wild animals and birds, hyenas and vultures, began to pick at the corpses she said.
"That day was a nightmare day. The birds and the hyenas, oh my god, the hyenas (were) eating Axum (residents') bodies."
Solomon recounted a disturbing story about a 65-year-old woman who is related to his wife.
"They knocked on the door, her son opened it and they shot him and then the sister comes and they shot her and (the troops) left the compound. But what they didn't know was the mother was inside and when she walked out of the dining room she saw two children shot dead in her house. She was left inside for a day and a half because no one could help her. They were afraid. Nobody was going to (leave) their houses. Neighbours heard the shots but they couldn't check on her - so she was left in her house with her two dead children."
"Poor woman, she has some mental problems now," he added.
The Ethiopian government has acknowledged that the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission is investigating "allegations relating to the incidents in the city of Axum" - but in a lengthy statement, it cast doubt of the Amnesty International's "methodology" and said the report "depended on scanty information gathered from refugees... and phone interview with individuals in Axum".
A spokesman for Eritrean regime labelled the report "preposterous".
Amnesty called on the Ethiopian government to ensure unfettered access to humanitarian organisations and human rights monitors. Tigray has been largely cut off since the conflict began in early November. UN agencies and the organisations like the Red Cross have been unable to reach much of the region will some officials warning of "imminent starvation".
The president of the International Federation of the Red Cross, Francesco Rocca, told Sky News: "We are still struggling every day to have access to allow our trucks and medicine and additional support they deserve to get in and this is very frustrating, this is something that is the most difficult part (for us)."

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