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why this was a disaster ten years in the making


There would have been no demand for masks, visors or droplet repellent PPE. Mass testing and track and trace systems would have been next to worthless. And there would have been no need for lockdown.

Why? Because an influenza pandemic would have been unstoppable. Just as was shown by Excercise Cygnus in 2016 when ministers simulated a flu pandemic, many tens of thousands would have died but there would have been nothing much to do, other than bury the dead.

This is the narrative pushed by Jeremy Hunt, the former Health Secretary, and Sally Davies, the former chief medical officer, who were responsible for Britain’s pandemic planning, but it will never survive the scrutiny of the public inquiry to come.

As epidemiologists like Prof Francois Balloux, director of the Genetics Institute at University College London, have pointed out, past pandemic strains of influenza and SARS-CoV-2 are extraordinarily similar. Both are droplet spread, if anything Covid spreads faster than influenza, both cause asymptomatic infections and both have similar infection fatality rates.

“SARS-CoV-2 behaves in most ways like a pandemic influenza strain,” wrote Prof Balloux in a recent Twitter thread. “The only major epidemiological difference between COVID 19 and flu pandemics is the age risk distribution, with influenza being highly dangerous to young children in addition to the elderly. At this stage, COVID 19 is really ‘like pandemic flu’, but not like ‘seasonal endemic flu'[which is much less lethal]”.

Mr Lesh says the real problem in Whitehall was “failure of imagination” and a ­misjudgment about society’s  tolerance for risk.

He said: “The thinking was, as with previous pandemics and Excercise Cygnus, you would let it run through and manage the deaths. They thought people’s tolerance for risk was higher, and that people would also be far less tolerant of social distancing measures.”

“If they looked at the SARS outbreak for example, my guess is they thought we would never accept that sort of mitigation in the west. So in some ways, you could say it was a benign assumption – that western publics would not be willing to make the sacrifices of the relatively more collectivist societies of Asia”.

Group think and western ­exceptionalism were certainly part of the problem but, as Mr Davies points out it was money too. The Institute for Government’s report on the pandemic finds that “failures in planning and funding cuts meant public services were not well prepared to handle the coronavirus crisis”.

Years of austerity overseen by former chancellor George Osborne saw the NHS protected but the capacity of its sister public health services dramatically cut.

“The Treasury is very effective at controlling spending but has historically been less good at understanding what it is getting for its money”, said Mr Davies.

“Also, the priority of governments since 2010 has been to keep tax as low as they can and – within public spending – to focus on efficiency over resilience.

“Those are perfectly reasonable political judgments to make, but clearly that has come back to bite us.”

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Coronavirus latest news: Leicester in the dark over local lockdown measures



Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday that he was confident a coronavirus flare-up in Sydney, the country’s biggest city, was under control, but he acknowledged a larger spike in cases in Melbourne remained a challenge.

The state of Victoria, whose capital Melbourne is under a reimposed six-week lockdown, reported a record 723 new infections on Thursday followed by 627 on Friday.

The state now accounts for more than half of the country’s 190 deaths from the coronavirus and about 60 per cent of the nation’s 16,304 cases.

The majority of Victoria’s fresh cases are in Melbourne, Australia’s second biggest city.

“The level of community outbreak and community transmission in Victoria is the great challenge down there,” Mr Morrison said on 2GB radio. “And there’s still a lot of work to do and we’re not on top of it yet.”

He said New South Wales, home to Sydney, had contained the spread of the virus from outbreaks at pubs, restaurants and aged-care homes thanks to better contact tracing than in Victoria.

“The key difference is that in NSW … there are no cases that have an unknown source. None,” he said, noting that Victoria has had around 50 cases a day with no known source.





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Boris Johnson admits he is concerned by Leicester outbreak as lockdown looks set to remain in the city



There has been more than one million cases of Covid-19 in the 22 countries of the World Health Organization’s Eastern Mediterranean region, the WHO confirmed on Sunday.

As of 11:00 on Sunday, 1,025,478 cases and 23,461 deaths have been recorded from the region, which spans from Morocco to Pakistan.

While cases in Europe have been largely declining, several countries in the region have been seeing increases in the number of cases and deaths. Countries recently reporting increases in cases include Iran, Iraq, Libya, Morocco, occupied Palestinian territory and Oman.

The WHO said it is especially concerned about the spread of the virus in war-torn countries such as Syria, Yemen and Libya due to poor infrastructure and fragile health systems vastly weakened by conflict. In all countries, it said, there is still a clear need for expansion of testing and more accurate reporting of cases and deaths to inform targeted responses.

Dr Ahmed Al-Mandhari, the WHO’s regional director for the region, said: “This is a very concerning milestone. As shops, restaurants, mosques, businesses, airports and other public places begin to open up, we need to be more vigilant and cautious than ever before. One million people have been infected, tens of thousands have died, and many more are still at risk in our region.

“We cannot relax our efforts. In fact, many countries lifting restrictions are seeing marked increases in cases, which signifies the need to accelerate public health response measures. Communities must remain vigilant and play a key role in keeping themselves and their countries safe.”





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Donald Trump clashes with reporters



A group of California prisoners tried to infect themselves in a futile bid to win freedom, a senior police official said on Monday.

Inmates at a facility in Castaic, north of Los Angeles, were filmed sharing a disposable cup and sniffing a used face mask while crowded together.

“Somehow, there was some mistaken belief among the inmate population that if they tested positive, that there was a way to force our hand and somehow release more inmates out of our jail environment – and that’s not going to happen,” said county sheriff Alex Villanueva.

Some 21 prisoners tested positive in the prison section where the video was shot “as a result of the behaviour”, he added.

The activity came to light as prison officials investigated a broader spike in Covid-19 cases behind bars, with nearly 40 percent of those incarcerated in Los Angeles County now in quarantine.





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UK deaths soar past 8,000 as 866 recorded in last 24 hours in England alone



The Philippines has banned doctors, nurses and other health workers from leaving the country to work overseas in a bid to throw more resources at its own coronavirus outbreak, reports Patrick Sawer.

With the pandemic threatening to overwhelm Phillipine’s fragile healthcare system the Government says it requires all available medics and support staff to remain in the country.

Thousands of health professionals leave the Phillipine to work overseas, many travelling to the UK to work in NHS and private hospitals and in social care.

More than 30,000 doctors, nurses and medical technicians left the Philippines in 2010, according to the latest available data.

But the country has one of the lowest ratios of doctors per population in the region, leaving it ill prepared to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration has now barred healthcare professionals travelling to work abroad for the duration of the nation’s state of emergency.

The ban covers 14 jobs defined as “mission critical”, including doctors, nurses, microbiologists and pharmacists.

It also includes hospital equipment repair technicians, nursing assistants and laboratory technicians, all of whose skills “reflect the primary function of the organization without which mission critical work cannot be completed and which skills are internally developed and require extensive training, thus, not easily replaceable,” states the order.

The Philippines had 4,076 coronavirus cases as of Thursday, with deaths reaching 203. More than 200 health workers have been infected, with at least a dozen dying from the virus.

According to the World Health Organization there are only six doctors for every 10,000 people in the Philippines, compared to Singapore’s ratio of almost 23 and Malaysia at 15.36.





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RNLI blames trapped tourists and beach selfies as call-outs double over festive period in four years



Tourists hunting beach selfies on perilous stretches of coast have helped fuel an almost doubling in call-outs to the RNLI over the festive period, it has been claimed. 

The lifeboat charity revealed it is now 600% busier over the Christmas break compared to 40 years ago – with launches also up from 85 in 2014 to 155 in 2018.

Rescue crews have reported the rise appears to be linked to the increasing number of people visiting the coast for a break, who are unfamiliar with the dangers they can face. 

While a common source of call-outs in the 1980s was embattled fishing vessels, lifeboats are now more likely to be deployed to tourists trapped by the tide, the charity said. 

It is believed the rise of social media may have inspired visitors to seek out beauty spots to serve as the backdrop for a family Christmas picture they can post online. 

However, although a large expanse of sand can be alluring as the setting for a festive selfie, the changing tide can leave areas of the beach impassable within minutes. 

“We believe more and more people are staying in the country in the festive period; more and more people are going to the seaside and are not aware of the dangers of the sea,” a spokesman for the RNLI told the Telegraph.

“We had a lot of wind recently and people know that the wind is dangerous, but on a calm winter’s day people think it is nice and safe, they walk around the headland and, figures reveal, there are a lot of people who are not necessarily in the water but are on a cliff edge, walking, something like that.

“With camera phones these days, people go out and want a nice Christmas Day picture, they want a nice family selfie (but find themselves in trouble). 

He added: “Even if you go back five years, cameras with selfies have since come in and then you’ve got all your Instagram and things for your best pictures – everyone has different means and motives for visiting the coast.” 

The RNLI is expecting this Christmas to be just as hectic for its volunteer crews and has launched a fundraising drive to help preserve its future.

Phil Eaglen, a volunteer for the crew in Wells, said: “The RNLI has experienced a shortfall in funds, but we are rescuing more people than ever before.”





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Stranded strike passengers can make claims for hotel costs, South Western Railway confirms



The strikes began after talks between RMT and SWR broke down last week, over whether human guards should operate the opening and closing of train doors.

As the strike got underway passengers complained of “dangerously overcrowded” carriages and “scrums” ensuing as commuters struggled to board trains.

One passenger, Rachel Lonergan, tweeted SWR to say: “The train I was on this morning was dangerously overcrowded with fare-paying passengers feeling very unwell.”

Another, IT manager Karl Lawson, who is waiting for a knee replacement operation, spoke of how he had to bring a foldout chair to aid his commute.

The 59-year-old from Basingstoke said: “It has been very difficult. I need a knee replacement and cannot stand for more than half an hour.

“I had to bring my own chair even though I paid for a seat. I used it on the platform and on the train.

“It is a scrum to get to the train. There is no such thing as politeness. We were told there would be queues but everyone was just fighting to get on the train.”

Other passengers were also asking on social media whether they would be eligible for refunds on their season tickets during the strike.

During previous walkouts, such as on the Northern Rail lines, passengers have been able to claim back a day’s worth of fares if they did not travel due to strike action. 

SWR said that any season ticket holder wanting to make a claim should contact their customer services and those claims would also be “reviewed individually”.





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Australian police find body of man in search for missing British backpacker



Australian police have found a body they believe to be that of Aslan King, a British backpacker who went missing from a campsite at the weekend.

The body has not yet been formally identified, but local authorities believe it is that of King, 25, who has been missing in the state of Victoria since Saturday.

King, an illustrator from Brighton, was last seen at a camping ground in Princetown, on the Great Ocean Road, at about 2am on Saturday. His disappearance prompted an intensive search.

King had been camping with friends near the Twelve Apostles, about three hours southwest of Melbourne, when he suffering a suspected seizure and hit his head, before suddenly running into bushland.

Fearing King – who had been on holiday in Australia – had become disorientated and lost in the bush, police deployed a helicopter, horses, motorcycle riders, specialist rescue teams and volunteers to find him.

“The body was located about 10:15 am this morning in a creek just over a kilometre from the camping ground where Aslan was last seen,” police said.





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