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Russia reports new record high of daily Covid-19 cases

MOSCOW (XINHUA, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) – Russia registered 25,173 Covid-19 cases over the past 24 hours, a new all-time high, as the pandemic worsened in the cold season, said the country’s Covid-19 response centre on Monday (Nov 23).

The national tally of cases has grown to 2,114,502, including 36,540 deaths and 1,611,445 recoveries, the centre said in a statement.

Moscow, the country’s worst-hit region, reported 6,866 new cases over the past day, bringing the city’s total to 560,579.

So far, more than 72.9 million tests have been conducted in the country.

Russia has been working on a coronavirus vaccine and earlier this month said its Sputnik V vaccine is 92 per cent effective at protecting people from Covid-1, based on interim trial results.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund, which has been backing Sputnik V’s development, said the Russian trial would continue for six months.

Dr Alexander Gintsburg, director of the Gamaleya Institute which developed the vaccine, said the interim results demonstrated that Sputnik V was effective and mass vaccinations would be rolled out in Russia in the coming weeks.

In later comments, aired by Rossiya-24 state TV channel, he said at least 1.5 million people in Russia were expected to receive the shot by the end of the year. He added that around 40,000 to 45,000 Russians had already been vaccinated.

Russia has the fifth-most cases globally, after the United States, India, Brazil and France.

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Grandma dies of Covid as she becomes third charity worker to lose life to virus

Tributes have poured in after a loving grandmother became the third worker at an autism charity to die from coronavirus.

Tracey Donnelly, 53, died in hospital in Sunderland, the North East Autism Society said.

Her death follows those of Sue Gargett, 53, and 66-year-old Margaret Blyth – but the charity said there was no evidence of them contracting the disease at work.

Tracey was a much loved mum and grandma whose death has “ripped the heart” out of the team, her widow said.

Her grieving husband, George, described his late wife as an “extra special person in every way”, Chronicle Live reported.

He said: “I loved her the first time I saw her, and I always will.”

Tracey joined the NEAS five years ago and was the care manager of several residential homes across Sunderland.

George, said: “She was so proud to be part of the North East Autism Society, working alongside a fantastic team, and caring so much for the service-users. All she ever wanted was the best for them.”

“The one bit of comfort I’ve been able to draw is the number of private messages I’ve had from her colleagues, along with a letter from the parent of one of the service-users. That shows what she meant to everyone.”

Chief executive John Phillipson said there was "shock and sadness" at Mrs Donnelly's death.

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Paying tribute to his former colleague, he said: "There is genuine shock and sadness across the society at this bitter loss. Tracey was dedicated, very popular, well respected, and will be greatly missed by us all.”

The charity, which has 850 staff, has been hit especially hard by the pandemic with three members of staff now dying having tested positive for the disease.

However, there is no evidence that any of them were infected while carrying out their duties.

Tracey leaves behind four sons – Steve, Christopher, Ben and Jack. She also had three step-children – Hayley, Jonathan, and Emma – and eight grandchildren.

At least 199 health and care workers have died due to coronavirus, according to estimations.

Yesterday England’s death count rose by another 398 yesterday, bringing the grim total to 55,025.

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Sunak: no return to austerity in new spending plan

LONDON (Reuters) – British finance minister Rishi Sunak said there would be no return to austerity in a spending plan he will announce on Wednesday, even as the coronavirus crisis pushes Britain’s further above 2 trillion pounds ($2.7 trillion).

Sunak, who has rushed out massive government spending increases and tax cuts equating to about 10% of economic output, said he would announce “quite a significant” increase in funding for public services.

“You will not see austerity next week,” Sunak told Sky News on Sunday, saying his priority in the one-year spending plan was to fight the health and economic crises.

More than 3 billion pounds will be set aside in extra help for the health service.

Sunak is also expected to commit to existing pledges to increase spending on police, nurses and schools, the Treasury (finance ministry) said.

Economists think Britain will borrow about 400 billion pounds ($530 billion) this year, approaching 20% of gross domestic product, the most since World War Two.

It would be nearly double the hit from the global financial crisis, which took a decade to work down, and some lawmakers in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party want more fiscal restraint now.

Sunak said forecasts to be published on Wednesday would show the “enormous strain” on the economy and now was not the time to cut back on spending or raise taxes.

“Once we get through this crisis we need to think more about returning to a more normal path,” he told Times Radio.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, Sunak said he hoped that, by the spring, with progress on vaccines and testing for COVID-19, he would be able to “look forward” to the job of tackling the public finances.

Though yields on government debt remain close to record lows, Sunak is expected to announce on Wednesday a freeze on public sector pay to offset some of his spending.

“When we think about public pay settlements, I think it would be entirely reasonable to think about those in the context of the wider economic climate,” he said.

Sunak also said he would announce longer-term measures to boost infrastructure spending, part of Johnson’s promise to spread economic growth to regions that lag behind London and the southeast.

Capital investment that will be confirmed includes 3.7 billion pounds for 40 hospitals, 1.5 billion pounds for further education colleges and schools, and 4 billion pounds for more than 18,000 additional prison places in England and Wales over the next four years, the finance ministry said.

Britain also faces the risk of an economic shock if it fails to strike a trade deal with the European Union in time for the Dec. 31 expiry of its post-Brexit transition.

Sunak said the government wanted to get a deal but the short-term impact of not doing so would pale by comparison with the hit from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Fears Covid mutations will make vaccines useless as experts monitor new strains

Scientists are braced for an explosion in new strains of coronavirus – as the vaccination could force it to mutate into an even deadlier strain.

British scientists have had a cash injection worth millions of pounds to fund research into new strains of the killer bug that could be resistant to vaccines and treatments currently in production.

Viruses often mutate after the release of a vaccine, but the deadly potency of Covid-19 has left researchers concerned.

The Sun reports that it is believed that there are currently 4,000 new strains that could directly affect the UK.

Professor Sharon Peacock, director of the Covid-19 Genomics UK, said: "Once we start to use vaccines in the general population, that will put an evolutionary driver, a selection pressure, on viruses.

"Viruses are going to want to escape the effect of vaccines because that’s what evolution is about."

She explained that monitoring new strains was important as many of the vaccines target the same spike protein on the virus surface.

It's estimated there are now tens of thousands of mutations circulating globally since the virus first took hold last year.

While not all mutations thrive, Prof Peacock says that mutations that involve the spike protein in the genetic formula of coronavirus are most worrying.

  • Psychic 'who predicted Covid and Trump's defeat' warns pandemic 'will last until 2022'

This needle-like part of the virus allows it to attack the human body – and it is this section that Pfizer and Moderna have used to make their successful vaccines.

A change to the spike could make vaccines less effective, or even totally useless.

In Denmark, a mutated strain of coronavirus has infected humans after spreading from mink kept at huge fur farms.

Politicians ruled to cull 15 million mink at more than 1,100 farms in a bid to stop it spreading further.

Six countries have now reported Covid outbreaks linked to mink farms after the mutant strain was discovered in Denmark.

The Netherlands, US, Spain, Sweden and Italy have also found coronavirus cases in minks, the World Health Organisation has confirmed.

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Health

Boris Johnson to end England’s coronavirus lockdown on Dec. 2, implement tiered system

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to end an England-wide lockdown as scheduled on Dec. 2 and will announce a return to regional restrictions as statistics show that coronavirus infections have stabilized.

Johnson’s office also confirmed plans to begin a nationwide COVID-19 vaccination program next month, assuming regulators approve a vaccine against the virus. The government also will increase mass testing in an effort to suppress the virus until vaccines can be rolled out.

Johnson’s office said late Saturday that the government plans to return to using a three-tiered system of localized restrictions in England, with areas facing different lockdown measures based on the severity of their outbreaks. More communities are expected to be placed in the two highest virus alert categories, it said.

The government put England under a four-week lockdown that started Nov. 5. The Cabinet is to discuss the plans Sunday, and the prime minister aims to give Parliament the details on Monday, according to the statement.

The U.K. as a whole has the worst virus death toll in Europe, at over 54,700 deaths.

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Johnson announced the lockdown in England on Oct. 31 after public health officials warned that an exponential rise in new daily coronavirus infections was threatening to overwhelm the National Health Service as the winter flu season approached. The lockdown closed non-essential business like many shops, gyms, bars, restaurants — although takeout was permitted. It also banned most social gatherings but schools remain open.

New known cases of COVID-19 have started to drop across the U.K., with the number of positive tests during the past seven days falling 13.8 per cent from the week before. Some 2,861 COVID-related deaths were reported over the last 7-day period, 17 fewer than a week earlier. Still, the infection rate remains high, at 244 cases for every 100,000 people.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told reporters Friday that the lockdown has been successful in slowing the spread of the virus, though he stressed that people needed to keep following the rules to keep cases down.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, the government’s deputy chief medical officer, warned that any gains from the November lockdown could be quickly lost to a virus that takes “just seconds” to spread.

People should “keep up the pressure on this virus and push down on it as much as we can right to the end of the period (of lockdown),” he said.

The government’s scientific advisory group, known as SAGE, is expected to publish reports on Monday showing that Johnson’s earlier three-tiered strategy wasn’t strong enough and recommending tougher restrictions when it returns.

Under that system, a “medium” alert level requires restaurants and pubs to close at 10 p.m. and prohibits residents from mixing in groups larger than six. The “high” level prevents people from gathering indoors with anyone not in their household or extended “support bubble.”

In areas under a “very high” alert, pubs and bars only can remain open and serve alcohol only if it comes with a hearty meal. People are advised not to travel in or out of those areas.

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Delta casts doubts on New York-London travel corridor: FT

FILE PHOTO: Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines, speaks during a keynote address at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. January 8, 2019. REUTERS/Steve Marcus

(Reuters) – Delta Air Lines Chief Executive Ed Bastian said the travel corridor between New York and London is complicated and it would be easier to relaunch transatlantic flights to “just about any” other European capital, Britain’s Financial Times (here) reported on Sunday.

Americans can travel to the UK but have been required since the spring to spend two weeks in quarantine on arrival. The same rule applies for passengers arriving in the United States from London.

“I think New York-London is complicated”, Bastian told the newspaper, casting doubt over hopes of opening an air corridor for the previously lucrative route for several airlines including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.

“I think you will find on the continent several countries that are more open.”

Major airlines want the U.S. and British governments to launch a trial of coronavirus testing for passengers flying between London and New York to pave the way for resuming more international travel.

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No normal UK Christmas but families may be able to get together – Sunak

FILE PHOTO: A woman walks past Christmas trees on Oxford Street, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in London, Britain, November 21, 2020. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

LONDON (Reuters) – Britons will not be able to enjoy a normal Christmas this year due to the second wave of COVID-19, but the government is looking at ways to enable families to get together, Finance Minster Rishi Sunak said on Sunday.

“Frustrating as it is for all of us, Christmas is not going to be normal this year,” he told Sky’s Sophie Ridge on Sunday.

“But that said, the Prime Minister is, for example, looking at ways to see how families can spend time with each other.”

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U.S. FDA authorizes emergency use of experimental antibody drug Trump took

U.S. health officials Saturday agreed to allow emergency use of a second antibody drug to help the immune system fight COVID-19, an experimental medicine that U.S. President Donald Trump was given when he was sickened last month.

The Food and Drug Administration authorized use of the Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. drug to try to prevent hospitalization and worsening disease from developing in patients with mild-to-moderate symptoms.

The drug is given as a one-time treatment through an IV. The FDA allowed its use in adults and children 12 and over who weigh at least 88 pounds (40 kilograms) and who are at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 because of age or certain other medical conditions.

Emergency authorization allows use of the drug to start while studies are continuing to establish safety and effectiveness. Early results suggest the drug may reduce COVID-19-related hospitalization or emergency room visits in patients at high risk for disease progression, the FDA said.

Regeneron said that initial doses will be made available to roughly 300,000 patients through a federal government allocation program. Patients will not be charged for the drug but may have to pay part of the cost of giving the IV.

Initial supplies will likely be vastly outstripped by demand as the U.S. has surged past 10 million reported cases, with the country facing what health experts say will be a dark winter due uncontrolled spread of the virus.

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Antibodies are proteins the body makes to target and help eliminate viruses, but it can take weeks for the best ones to form after an infection occurs. The drugs are concentrated versions of ones that proved best able to do this in lab and animal tests, and in theory help the body start to fight the virus right away.

The Regeneron drug is a combo of two antibodies to enhance the chances it will prove effective. Earlier this month, the FDA gave emergency authorization to a single-antibody drug from Eli Lilly that also is still being studied.

There’s no way to know whether the Regeneron drug helped Trump recover; he received a host of treatments and most COVID-19 patients recover on their own.

FDA regulators authorized the Regeneron drug using their emergency powers to quickly speed the availability of experimental drugs and other medical products during public health crises.

In normal times the FDA requires “substantial evidence” to show that a drug is safe and effective, usually through one or more large, rigorously controlled patient studies. But during public health emergencies the agency can lower those standards and require only that an experimental treatment’s potential benefits outweigh its risks.

The emergency authorization functions like a temporary approval for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. To win full approval, Regeneron will have to submit additional research to fully define the drug’s safety and benefit for patients.

___

AP health writer Matthew Perrone contributed to this report.

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Will S'poreans, migrant workers take different roads after pandemic?

You learn new rituals in a pandemic. Before we start our weeknight shifts at the migrant workers’ clinic, we don our personal protective equipment (PPE).

I tug the tight straps of the N95 mask over my head and pinch the metal strip over my nose. Sanitiser. Then the protective gown, closed up at the back with masking tape. More sanitiser. Hairnet, face shield. One pair of gloves, taped around my wrists to form a makeshift seal. Second pair of gloves. More sanitiser.

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Coronavirus: Trudeau’s effort to bring rivals onside falters in face of new modelling

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau‘s effort to try and bring rivals onside to help communicate the dramatic implications of rising COVID-19 infections appears to have faltered.

While Trudeau stood in front of his home Friday and implored Canadians to stay in theirs, opposition leaders didn’t echo that message.

Trudeau had given them a briefing late Thursday on the new modelling data, which predicts new cases could hit upwards of 20,000 a day if Canadians don’t take greater care to limit their contact with people outside their households.

The rare briefing — which those inside the room described as technical, with chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam doing the talking — was intended to encourage cross-partisan unity on the subject.

Within minutes of the briefing, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole instead issued a scathing assessment of the soaring case numbers, laying the blame squarely on the Liberal government and its failure to approve rapid test kits, among other things.

Then Friday, O’Toole pivoted to campaign-style events held virtually. His office said he had nothing to say in response to Trudeau’s dramatic and lengthy plea to Canadians.

At a news conference Friday just as Trudeau was finished speaking, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the new projections are terrifying, and pointed to multiple failures within the system.

He said everyone backs the science that drives the public health measures and, in turn, there is cross-partisan support for that advice.

“But my job is to make sure that it’s followed, to make sure it’s actually in touch with what people are going through,” Singh said.

That means prodding the government to ensure there are adequate supports to ensure people can afford to follow public health advice. Othewise, Singh said, the advice is “meaningless.”

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In the past, Singh has made videos on the social media platform TikTok focused solely on encouraging people to do their part to slow the spread of the virus.

O’Toole has used his own experience getting the novel coronavirus as evidence people need to be cautious.

That they focused instead on the government even in the wake of the alarming new numbers is how democracy works, Trudeau suggested Friday.

“And that’s how it should work, because the government needs to be on its toes every time, ” he said.

The pandemic needs to be bigger than politics, and Canadians need to be able to believe their leaders are working together, he said.

Still, he took a swipe at Conservatives for going down what he called “rabbit holes” of conspiracy theories.

In recent days, Conservative MP, Pierre Poilievre, as well as conservative pundits, has seized upon remarks Trudeau delivered earlier this year where he called the pandemic an “opportunity for a reset” as part of a speech to the U.N.

Trudeau’s detractors have sought to link that with what’s known as the “Great Reset,” a World Economic Forum program that suggests the pandemic opens up an avenue to revamp “all aspects of society” to avoid a pandemic-induced depression that could cripple the globe.

To some, the notion suggests a plot to upend the current global order without meaningful consent from voters, and posts suggesting one is afoot have been gaining widespread traction online for days.

“Canadians must fight back against global elites preying on the fears and desperation of people to impose their power grab,” reads a petition from Poilievre that now has close to 80,000 signatures.

Trudeau said Friday that the pandemic does provide an opportunity to rethink how the most vulnerable in society are supported and to create better outcomes for all.

But he cautioned opponents — and all Canadians — against seeing things that aren’t there.

“I think we’re in a time of anxiety where people are looking for reasons for things that are happening to them … It’s nice to be able to try and find someone to blame, something to point to, something to get mad at,” he said.

“I think we’re seeing a lot of people fall prey to disinformation and if Conservative MPs and others want to start talking about conspiracy theories, well that’s their choice.”

The Green party is asking for an emergency debate in Parliament, hoping to find some way to create a more unified message.

Earlier this week Leader Annamie Paul asked for a national task force of scientists to guide messaging and responses so there is a more cohesive approach.

“There is a lack of collaboration and coordination at all levels of government,” Paul said Friday.

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