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Court Rules Government Can End Humanitarian Protections For Some 300,000 Immigrants : NPR


A panel of judges in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, pictured in San Francisco, ruled on Monday that the Trump administration can end humanitarian protections for immigrants from four countries, clearing a path for their eventual deportation.

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A panel of judges in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, pictured in San Francisco, ruled on Monday that the Trump administration can end humanitarian protections for immigrants from four countries, clearing a path for their eventual deportation.

Jeff Chiu/AP

A federal appeals court panel ruled on Monday that the Trump administration can end humanitarian protections for some 300,000 immigrants living in the United States, clearing the way for their potential deportation starting next year.

The 9th Circuit Appeals Court’s decision affects citizens from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan, many of whom have lived in the U.S. for decades, have U.S.-born children and are considered essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

At issue is the termination of Temporary Protected Status, a form of humanitarian relief created by Congress and administered by the Department of Homeland Security.

TPS provides a work permit and stay of deportation to foreign nationals living in the U.S. whose countries of origin are facing natural disaster, armed conflict or other “extraordinary and temporary conditions” that make it unsafe for them to return.

The Trump administration terminated TPS designations of El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan in 2017 and 2018. (It later ended TPS for Honduras and Nepal, and a separate case brought last year by citizens of those countries is ongoing.)

Several TPS beneficiaries from the four countries and their children filed a lawsuit challenging the terminations, both for procedural reasons and on the grounds that the rule was motivated by animus toward “non-white, non-European immigrants” that they said was evidenced by comments made by Trump and other administrative officials.

A district court previously issued a preliminary injunction. Monday’s decision by a three-judge panel of the appeals court lifts the injunction, meaning immigrants from the affected countries could be subject to removal starting in January.

Plaintiffs and their lawyers said on Monday that they are preparing to appeal the decision in the entire 9th Circuit.

Defining “temporary”

The National TPS Alliance, a grassroots advocacy group, said the ruling clears the way for the administration to “de-document and tear apart” some 400,000 families.

The group explains that TPS provides protection for short periods of up to 18 months, but the federal government has continuously extended it for the countries mentioned in the lawsuit “based on repeated findings that it remains unsafe to return.”

As a result, it said, most TPS holders have been living in the U.S. for more than a decade, contributing to their communities and raising their families.

Many of the more than 200,000 U.S.-citizen children of TPS holders have never been to the country their parents are from, and would have to choose between their families and their homes.

“This government has failed me and the other 250,000 US citizen children of TPS holders,” said Crista Ramos, lead plaintiff in the case.

The role of race

Two out of the three panel judges ruled that the plaintiffs failed to prove that racial animus was a factor when the administration canceled TPS.

According to a summary of the decision issued by the court:

The [judges] explained that, while the district court’s findings that President Trump expressed racial animus against “nonwhite, non-European” immigrants, and that the White House influenced the TPS termination decisions, were supported by record evidence, the district court cited no evidence linking the President’s animus to the TPS terminations—such as evidence that the President personally sought to influence the TPS terminations, or that any administration officials involved in the TPS decision-making process were themselves motivated by animus. 

Beth Werlin, the executive director of the American Immigration Council, expressed disappointment with the court’s refusal to acknowledge a connection between Trump’s remarks and the administration’s decision to end TPS.

“The racial animus that led to these decisions is real and cannot be ignored,” Werlin said.

Impact on families and communities

Immigration advocacy groups are slamming the court’s ruling, noting it will impact hundreds of thousands of TPS holders as well as their families and communities.

In a statement, Werlin said the decision will “plunge their lives into further turmoil at a time when we all need greater certainty.”

As the global pandemic stretches on, immigrants with protected status make up a large portion of the country’s frontline workers. More than 130,000 TPS recipients are essential workers, according to the Center for American Progress.

“TPS recipients have deep economic and social roots in communities across the nation,” said Ali Noorani, president and CEO of the National Immigration Forum. “And, as the U.S. responds to the COVID-19 pandemic, TPS recipients are standing shoulder to shoulder with Americans and doing essential work.”

Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, the largest property services union in the country, noted that thousands of such immigrants own homes and businesses, and clean and protect major properties as longstanding union members.

“It is deeply disturbing, and frankly enraging, that the Ninth Circuit is allowing the Trump administration to end Temporary Protected Status for El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan, opening the prospect of deportation for hundreds of thousands of people who have made the United States their legal home for decades,” said President Kyle Bragg.

Support for ending temporary status

The Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates for lower levels of immigration, welcomed the ruling as “a victory for the American people and an unmistakable rebuke to activist judges who seek to make immigration policy from the bench.”

“This ruling represents a win for the idea that the American people should be able to provide needed and appropriate temporary humanitarian relief, with the full expectation that their generosity will not be taken advantage of when the emergency is over,” FAIR president Dan Stein said in a statement.

El Salvador extension

TPS holders from El Salvador, one of the affected countries, already have a slightly longer window to stay in the U.S.

The Trump administration announced last fall it would extend the validity of work permits for El Salvadorans with TPS through Jan. 4 2021. It is also giving El Savadorans with protected status one extra year after the conclusion of TPS-related lawsuits to repatriate.

El Salvador has the highest number of TPS recipients in the U.S., while their home country has the world’s highest murder rate per capita, according to the National Immigration Forum. The group says Monday’s ruling will impact an estimated 300,000 Salvadorans, more than half of whom have lived in the U.S. for at least 20 years.



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UK government borrowing hits record high in April and retail sales slump – business live | Business






Full story: Borrowing surge amid crisis





Retail sales slump: What the experts say









Covid-19 fears and Hong Kong tensions hit markets





UK internet shopping hits record high









UK borrowing: What the economists say









Introduction: Government borrowing hits £62bn in April

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Top statistician accuses government of MISLEADING the public as pressure mounts on Matt Hancock


Health Secretary Matt Hancock is coming under mounting pressure over his handling of the coronavirus crisis as eminent statistician Professor David Spiegelhalter said his testing figures are ‘completely embarrassing’.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, he accused the government of misleading the public over the number of tests carried out daily by conflating the number done with the number posted out. 

It follows reports Hancock urged Boris Johnson to ‘give me a break’ in a furious bust-up over the coronavirus crisis, and his department’s continuing failure to hit its 100,000 tests-a-day target.

Today marked the eighth day Hancock’s department missed its target, falling 7,163 tests short at 92,837. It also marked a drop by 4,041 tests from yesterday’s total of 96,878. 

The escalating row – which raises questions over the beleaguered Minister’s Cabinet future – can be revealed as the Prime Minister prepares to use a televised address to the nation this evening to set out his roadmap for easing the national lockdown. 

The government has been criticised for its daily tests data, which conflates the number of tests carried out with the number posted to homes across the country

The government has been criticised for its daily tests data, which conflates the number of tests carried out with the number posted to homes across the country

The statistician, who chairs the Winton Centre at Cambridge University, said in a fiery interview: ‘We got lots of big numbers (at the most recent daily press briefing), precise numbers of tests done…

‘Well that’s not how many were done yesterday, it includes tests that were posted out.’

Bristling with criticism, he continued: ‘We are told 31,587 people have died – no they haven’t, it is far more than that. 

‘So I think it is not trustworthy communication of statistics, and it is such a missed opportunity. 

‘There is a public out there who are broadly very supportive of the measures, they are hungry for details, for facts, for genuine information.

‘And yet they get fed what I call number theatre, which seems to be co-ordinated much more by a No10 communications team rather than genuinely trying to inform people about what is going on.

‘I just wish that the data was being brought together and presented by people who really know its strengths and limitations and could treat the audience with some respect.’

Prof Spiegelhalter has also written a book on numbers, called The Art of Statistics.

The government has repeatedly referenced his article on global coronavirus data to suggest that UK deaths should not be compared to other countries. 

In a tweet on May 6, however, he rebuffed their claims writing: ‘Polite request to PM and others: Please  stop using my Guardian article to claim we cannot make any international comparison yet.

‘I refer only to detailed league tables – of course we should now use other countries to try and learn why our numbers are high.’

Matt Hancock is coming under increasing pressure over his handling of the coronavirus crisis. He is pictured above approaching Downing Street on VE day

Matt Hancock is coming under increasing pressure over his handling of the coronavirus crisis. He is pictured above approaching Downing Street on VE day

Number of coronavirus tests carried out since May 1 deadline 

May 1 – 122,347

May 2 – 105,937

May 3 – 76,496

May 4 – 85,186

May 5 – 84,806

May 6 – 69,463 (low since May 1)

May 7 – 86,583

May 8 – 97,029

May 9 – 96,878

May 10 – 92,837 

Hancock claimed the UK had reached his 100,000 tests-a-day target on May 1, with 122,347 completed, but numbers have dramatically slid backwards since then.

Yesterday Department of Health figures say just 96,878 tests were completed, 3,000 below the initial target. They fell to a low of 69,463 on May 6.

As criticism mounted it has also emerged that 50,000 coronavirus tests have been sent to the US for analysis following capacity issues in the UK. 

The government has blamed this on ‘operational issues’ while the Department of Health said it was among the ‘contingencies’ to deal with ‘problems’.

The prime minister will be announcing how the UK’s lockdown is set to continue after 7pm today. 

His plans include introducing a five-stage alert system – similar to that used to highlight the risk of a terrorist attack – to signal the risk of infection in different parts of the country.

While a green Level One alert would mean life carrying on normally, a red Level Five means that the NHS is in a critical state and on the brink of being overwhelmed.

No 10 is also preparing to launch a new slogan – ‘stay alert, control the virus, save lives’ – to replace advice to stay at home, indicating a gradual move to a less draconian set of restrictions.

But the Government will take a cautious approach after scientific advisers warned that Covid-19 is ‘ripping through care homes’.

The PM will speak to the nation at 7pm on Sunday outlining his five-step exit plan out of lockdown. This weekend, he is expected to announce that garden centres will be allowed to open from Wednesday and publish guidance for safer working in offices

The PM will speak to the nation at 7pm on Sunday outlining his five-step exit plan out of lockdown. This weekend, he is expected to announce that garden centres will be allowed to open from Wednesday and publish guidance for safer working in offices

A surge in the R-number, which measures how quickly the virus is spreading, came in a ‘chilling briefing’ from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) to the Cabinet.

A source said: ‘Sage say we are one wrong move away from R going back to where it was in March.’

Pressure intensified on Mr Hancock over his handling of the crisis last night after more than 25 million goggles were found to offer frontline NHS workers inadequate defence against the deadly virus.

The latest in a string of embarrassing Government failures over Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) came as senior sources suggested to The Mail on Sunday that Mr Hancock was now living ‘on borrowed time’ in the Cabinet.

One source claimed Boris Johnson had raised questions with Mr Hancock about his department’s grip on the crisis, only for the Minister to plead: ‘That’s not fair – give me a break.’ 

The 25.6 million pairs of Tiger Eye goggles bought for the NHS are not fit for purpose, according to the British Standards Institute: 15.9 million of them have already been distributed, with hospitals now being told to withdraw the remaining 9.7 million from use.

During another weekend of dramatic developments:

  • Mr Johnson is expected to confirm that garden centres will be allowed to open from Wednesday and publish guidance for safer working in offices – but tougher fines of up to £3,000 for breaches of the rules
  • Airports and travel companies reacted with fury to plans to impose two weeks’ quarantine on anyone arriving in the country, including UK citizens returning from holiday
  • The UK death toll rose by 346 to 31,587, including more than 200 healthcare workers. Globally, there have been almost 4 million cases with more than 276,000 lives lost
  • Ministers voiced suspicion that political opponents and union barons were colluding to block schools reopening until pay demands were met
  • Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced a £2 billion package to boost cycling and walking
  • Actress Miriam Margolyes faced fury for saying she had hoped Mr Johnson would die from coronavirus

Mr Hancock’s spokesman said Ministers were ‘furious’ about the mistake with the goggles, which they said had been ordered by Gordon Brown’s Labour Government in 2009.

A Health Department source dubbed them ‘Gordon’s goggles’ and added that they were bought against 2001 standards of protection which were superseded by the time they were purchased. ‘Even a decade on, we are still having to clear up Labour’s mess’, the source added.

Around 3 million eye protectors are used every day in hospitals, meaning more than eight days’ supply has been lost. But a Department of Health spokesman insisted the NHS had enough stock to be able to immediately stop using the Tiger Eye goggles.

However, the latest PPE fiasco will be damaging to the Health Secretary, coming days after it emerged that surgical gowns ordered from Turkey and flown into the UK amid great fanfare did not all meet British safety standards.

‘The feeling is that Hancock is on borrowed time,’ said a senior Government source.

‘He has fallen out with the most powerful figures in the Government, from the Prime Minister down. 

‘Nothing will change immediately. But once we have beaten this thing, expect him to be moved.’ 

A source close to Mr Hancock admitted tensions had run high in the run-up to the deadline for hitting a target of 100,000 tests a day, but said ‘the PM was full of praise for his performance’.  

‘We’ve been working incredibly well with the PM and the whole No10 team and have had nothing but total support from them,’ the source added. 

‘During Cabinet the PM praised Matt for doing an “amazing job in hellishly difficult circumstances.” ’ 

Mr Johnson will address the country after leading a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee this afternoon.

A No 10 source said: ‘This is a critical moment so, having assessed the evidence carefully, the Prime Minister will ask for the public resolve as we continue to do whatever is needed to defeat this devastating virus.’

In a similar way to how the level of terror threat is set by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre and MI5, the Covid alert level will be set by medical and data experts working for a new ‘Joint Biosecurity Centre’.

‘School prefect’ Matt Hancock ‘is living on borrowed time’ after clashes with Michael Gove, Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson

 Matt Hancock is living on ‘borrowed time’ as Health Secretary following clashes with the three most powerful members of the Government over the Covid crisis, The Mail on Sunday has been told.

Mr Hancock is understood to have pleaded ‘give me a break’ when Boris Johnson reprimanded him over the virus testing programme – leading to open questioning within Downing Street over Mr Hancock’s long-term political future.

His run-in with Mr Johnson follows battles with both Rishi Sunak and Michael Gove over the best strategy for managing the pandemic.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock is 'on borrowed time' after falling out with the three highest members of Government.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock is ‘on borrowed time’ after falling out with the three highest members of Government.

The Health Secretary is believed to have fallen out with Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove (pictured)

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak (pictured) is also believed to have fallen out with Mr Hancock

Mr Hancock’s clash with the PM follows battles with Chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove (left) and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak (right)

Shortly after Mr Johnson returned to work at No 10 a fortnight ago, he and Mr Johnson had a tense exchange about the the Health Department’s ‘grip’ on the crisis, during which Mr Hancock said to the Prime Minister, in what has been described as a ‘petulant’ tone: ‘That’s not fair – give me a break.’

He is also being blamed in some Government quarters – or scapegoated, according to his allies – for not moving quickly enough to do more to protect care homes from the epidemic. 

Officials in Whitehall knew as early as the first week of March that the projected death rate among the over-90s was expected to be as high as 50 per cent, leading to discussions about ‘cocooning’ the institutions from infection.

Mr Hancock has also been accused of not moving quickly enough to protect care-homes from the deadly virus

But as the infection rates started to climb later that month, care workers were still entering the homes – many of them having travelled in on public transport – without the necessary protective equipment.

With the reproduction rate of the virus now falling in the wider community, it is the continuing spread in residential care homes which has so far prevented Mr Johnson from lifting more of the lockdown measures. 

And Mr Hancock has annoyed Downing Street with his tendency to come up with spur-of-the-moment policies – such as his threat last month to ban all outside exercise, which he had to climb down over almost immediately.

One No10 source expressed irritation at what they described as ‘Hancock’s insistence on playing the big man’ during the crisis.

It has led to the Health Secretary being likened by some to a school prefect – but one ‘who never gets to be head boy’.

The Health Secretary was also described as a prefect 'who never gets to be head boy' by a Downing Street source. (Cartoon by Henry Davies)

The Health Secretary was also described as a prefect ‘who never gets to be head boy’ by a Downing Street source. (Cartoon by Henry Davies)

A senior Government source said: ‘The feeling is that Hancock is on borrowed time. He has fallen out with the most powerful figures in the Government, from the Prime Minister down. 

‘Nothing will change immediately. But once we have beaten this thing, expect him to be moved.’

As a Cabinet ‘dove’ who opposes an early relaxation of the lockdown rules, Mr Hancock has been engaged in running ideological battles with Chancellor Mr Sunak, who leads the Cabinet ‘hawks’ who are keen to pull the economy out of its Covid-inflicted nosedive as soon as possible. 

Although allies of both men insist they share the same aim of saving lives while protecting the economy, there is little doubt that they differ about how to achieve it – and have had ‘robust’ exchanges on the matter.

Mr Hancock is believed to have participated in several ideological battles with Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who is keen to quickly pull the economy out of its Covid-inflicted nosedive

Mr Hancock is believed to have participated in several ideological battles with Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who is keen to quickly pull the economy out of its Covid-inflicted nosedive

The Health Secretary has also fallen out with Mr Gove (left) over the supply of ventilators and protective equipment across the country

The Health Secretary has also fallen out with Mr Gove (left) over the supply of ventilators and protective equipment across the country

Mr Hancock has also made the mistake of crossing swords with Mr Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. 

The two Cabinet ministers – who each chair one of the four committees set up to tackle the virus, as well as sitting on the daily C-19 super-committee chaired by the Prime Minister, and the Cobra emergency committee – have clashed over the supply of ventilators and protective equipment.

Mr Gove was described by one colleague as being ‘much more across the detail’ than Mr Hancock – and ‘not shy about displaying it’.

Mr Hancock is also regarded with suspicion within Mr Johnson’s pro-Brexit inner circle because of his previous closeness to George Osborne, the Remainer former Chancellor. 

He ran for the leadership last year on a soft-Brexit ticket, only to pull out when he mustered just 20 votes. He switched to supporting Mr Johnson, the frontrunner, in the process shedding his soft Brexit views and dropping his opposition to Mr Johnson’s plan to suspend Parliament to force through Brexit.

At one point during Mr Johnson’s campaign, when Mr Hancock visited his Commons office to offer his support, Mr Johnson is said to have made an obscene hand gesture as Mr Hancock left.

Mr Hancock also attracted criticism last week for telling a female Labour MP to ‘watch her tone’ after she grilled him on the Government’s coronavirus testing strategy. His remark to Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, who also works as an A&E doctor, sparked uproar among MPs who accused him of sexism. 

The Health Secretary was also accused of sexism after he told Labour MP and A&E doctor Rosena Allin-Khan (left) to 'watch her tone' in a House of Commons session

The Health Secretary was also accused of sexism after he told Labour MP and A&E doctor Rosena Allin-Khan (left) to ‘watch her tone’ in a House of Commons session

In a spur-of-the-moment policy, Mr Hancock threatened to ban all outdoor exercise across the UK in order the combat the virus but pressure from Downing Street forced him to abandon this idea

Mr Hancock was forced to abandon his threat to ban all outside exercise under intense pressure from Downing Street. 

One official said at the time: ‘If he doesn’t dig himself out of this hole [at that day’s press conference] then we will do it for him’. Mr Hancock duly performed a sharp U-turn at the briefing.

A source close to Mr Hancock said: ‘We’ve been working incredibly well with the PM and the whole No 10 team and have had nothing but total support from them.’The source added that Mr Johnson had praised Mr Hancock for doing an ‘amazing job in hellishly difficult circumstances’.

MoS LAUNCHES £3MILLION FUND TO HELP SMALL FIRMS BEAT THE VIRUS

The Mail on Sunday today launches a £3 million support package to help small firms battle the coronavirus crisis.

The owner of the MoS, Daily Mail, Metro and the i is giving away £3,000 of advertising in its newspapers – and on Mail Online and metro.co.uk – to 1,000 small businesses.

The groundbreaking giveaway, launched in collaboration with the Federation of Small Businesses, will open for applications from Wednesday at grants.fsb.org.uk. 

It is The Mail on Sunday’s way of doing our bit to help firms that provide incomes for more than 17 million people and comes hot on the heels of the hugely successful Mail Force initiative. 

That charity, set up by MoS owner Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT) and its partners, has already raised over £6 million to fly in millions of items of vital protective equipment for NHS staff and care workers.

Today, a survey by accountancy software giant Sage finds one in three firms expect sales to be 50 per cent lower after lockdown is eased. Separate research from legal firm Buckworths found a quarter of small firms do not think the Government’s existing support measures will be enough for them to survive.

Mike Cherry, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: ‘Our members will be hugely grateful to The Mail on Sunday for this generous support. It’s fantastic.

‘The pandemic is likely to have an impact on businesses for months – if not years – to come and they’ll need a lot of help to get back on their feet.

‘It won’t be enough to rely on word of mouth to attract new customers. We urge every eligible member to apply for this advertising giveaway. 



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Government considers relaxing strict ‘stay at home’ rules to allow small groups to meet


An easing of lockdown rules could allow people to socialise with up to ten of their closest family and friends, it can be revealed today.

Ministers are looking at whether to relax the strict ‘stay at home’ advice to let small groups of households ‘cluster’ together.

It would allow close family members to meet for meals, or enable friends to share childcare. It could also allow couples who do not live together to see each other. 

In an idea reminiscent of BT’s ‘Friends and Families’ scheme, people would nominate a small list of those they want to be able to see, drawn from no more than one or two households.

Those involved would then be able to meet for meals and other social activities. But neither group would be allowed to mingle with others outside the ‘cluster’. 

Ministers are still grappling with how to enforce the new system and prevent a free-for-all that could allow the coronavirus epidemic to take hold again.

A Whitehall source said: ‘If we can find a way to allow a bit more flexibility without risking transmission of the disease running higher then we will do it.’ 

Belgium and Scotland are also looking at the idea. The move came as: 

  • Demand for new home testing kits saw a day’s supply of 5,000 run out in just two minutes as an online booking system was opened up to almost 11million key workers;
  • Boris Johnson prepared to return to Downing Street on Monday;
  • Motorists were set to be told to stay off roads unless their journey is essential after data showed a leap in traffic levels;
  • Councils agreed to reopen 340 parks and green spaces following an intervention by Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick;
  • Official figures showed another 768 people in UK hospitals had died of coronavirus, taking the death toll to 19,506;
  • Ministers received scientific advice suggesting outdoor settings are ‘much safer’ than previously thought, raising hopes garden centres could reopen;
  • Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty admitted contact tracing, which is now being ramped up, was abandoned last month partly because of a lack of resources;
  • Transport Secretary Grant Shapps revealed drones will be used to deliver medical supplies to the Isle of Wight next week as part of a trial;
  • No10 distanced itself from Donald Trump after he suggested researchers should look at whether injecting disinfectant could help protect people from the disease.
An easing of lockdown rules could allow people to socialise with up to ten of their closest family and friends. Crowds flocked to London's Hyde Park yesterday, pictured, to enjoy the sunshine despite the ongoing social distancing rules

An easing of lockdown rules could allow people to socialise with up to ten of their closest family and friends. Crowds flocked to London’s Hyde Park yesterday, pictured, to enjoy the sunshine despite the ongoing social distancing rules

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, pictured, yesterday warned the government would not ease lockdown restrictions until ministers were certain they could prevent a deadly second wave of infection.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, pictured, yesterday warned the government would not ease lockdown restrictions until ministers were certain they could prevent a deadly second wave of infection.

Revealed: Dominic Cummings is part of secretive SAGE group advising the government on coronavirus – but scientists insist that political appointees were NEVER on panel before 

Boris Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings is in the secretive scientific group advising ministers on the coronavirus, it emerged last night.

Mr Cummings’ name was on a leaked list of attendees of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies’ (SAGE) meetings as far back as February.

The list, which was seen by The Guardian, showed Mr Cummings was at a SAGE meeting with 24 others on March 23, the day Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the public to announce heightened lockdown measures.

The government’s former chief scientific adviser Sir David King told The Guardian political advisers were never on the equivalent committees of SAGE when he chaired them.

Mr Cummings was joined by Ben Warner, a data scientist who worked alongside him on the Vote Leave campaign in 2016, say other members of the group.

While both membership of SAGE and what is discussed during regular meetings has been kept a closely guarded secret, the news sheds uncertainty on the reliability of decisions that have been made.

Britain’s R0 IS below one: Chief medical officer reveals UK coronavirus sufferers are on average infecting less than one person in crucial milestone towards lifting lockdown 

Professor Chris Whitty has offered a chink of light out of the lockdown after revealing coronavirus infection rates have been wrestled down.

England’s chief medical officer said the reproduction number – or R0 – has been brought below 1, marking a critical achievement in the UK’s war on Covid-19.

It means coronavirus sufferers are on average infecting less than one person, meaning the disease will wind up as it can no longer spread.

Prof Whitty, who is part of the core team steering the government’s response and has become a staple in the briefings, suggested an easing of restrictions could happen relatively soon.

Speaking to MPs on the Science and Technology Select Committee, Prof Whitty said: ‘The R that we have at the moment is somewhere between 0.5 and 1.

‘Let’s say for the sake of argument it is in the middle of that range, which I think is likely, that does give a little bit of scope for manoeuvre and ticking some things off while still keeping it below 1.

‘But there are lots of ifs, buts and ands to that.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock yesterday warned the government would not ease lockdown restrictions until ministers were certain they could prevent a deadly second wave of infection. 

He said this would not be possible until the number of cases was driven ‘right down’. Mr Hancock said he understood the ‘economic pressures’ the lockdown was causing, but warned they would be even worse if the UK suffered a second peak of the epidemic.

He told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme: ‘I understand those voices who are saying we should move sooner but that is not something we are going to do.’

Mr Hancock said the lockdown could not be eased until ministers have the preliminary results of an Office for National Statistics study looking at how widespread the disease is in society. 

Downing Street said it was ‘conceivable’ this could be ready ahead of the May 7 review of the lockdown.

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith yesterday said it was time for the government to ‘bite the bullet’ on the issue and set out a plan for easing the lockdown.

‘The UK government now needs to recognise that the time is now,’ he said.

Privately ministers are gloomy about the prospect of any significant easing of the lockdown on May 7, given the need to meet five tests that include a major reduction in the number of cases and security of supply of personal protective equipment.

One insider said: ‘I don’t think anyone thinks we are going to pass the five tests in the next week or two.’ 

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she is considering relaxing the lockdown rules. 

She said: ‘I know from my own parents who are not seeing their grandkids just know, I understand the anguish of that.

‘We’re all missing seeing our loved ones so we all want to get beyond that as quickly as possible.

‘Every country is going through these decisions, none of us are through this pandemic yet, but some countries are starting to look at slightly expanding what people would define as their household – encouraging people who live alone to maybe match up with somebody else who is on their own or a couple of other people to have almost kind of bubbles of people.’

She added: ‘And the key thing there is, if you’re seeing maybe one or two more people outside your household, it’s got to be the same people on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis so you’re still limiting the ability for the virus to transmit.

‘Now, none of these are fixed decisions yet, but these are all the kind of things we’re trying to work through.

‘What we’re trying to do is to do is, how do we get a semblance of normality back into our lives because the lockdown – it is essential that people stick with it just now – but it’s having consequences of its own.’

It comes as Priti Patel  is today set to scold the rule-breakers ignoring the coronavirus lockdown after scenes of crowds pouring into public places sent alarm bells ringing through government.

The Home Secretary will underscore her warning to stay indoors with the threat of beefing up the police’s powers to enforce social distancing.

Unseasonably warm weather has caused many Britons to defy ministers’ instructions and head to parks, beaches and shopping centres in their droves.

A steady increase of traffic on the roads has also added to the growing unease in Downing Street that the country is becoming restless under the restrictions to everyday life.

Police chiefs have repeatedly begged the nation to obey the rules, while one force yesterday branded those flouting the lockdown as ‘selfish’.

However their message has been undermined by their own officers failing to observe social distancing during Thursday’s clap for carers on Westminster Bridge.

Mr Patel will this afternoon use the daily Downing Street press briefing to impress upon the public the seriousness of following the rules. 

A source close to the Home Secretary told the Daily Express: ‘We are seeing a worrying increase in people moving around.

‘Some industries which we did not advise to close are reopening, and we welcome that provided the social distancing rules are observed.

‘The vast majority of the public are still doing the right thing. However, transport use has ticked up in a way that suggests something more is going on and that has set off alarm bells.’

Ministers have come under pressure to publish a road map out of the lockdown, but have so far remained tight-lipped.

The lack of information from Whitehall has jarred with the approach taken in Scotland by Nicola Sturgeon, who published a plan to ease restrictions after promising to treat the public ‘like grown ups’.

At yesterday’s Downing Street press conference, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps praised the British people for largely following the rules.

He said: ‘The country has done incredibly well in adhering to social distancing and there is a danger as we go into yet another warm sunny weekend that people think that perhaps these graphs are showing that the peak is over.

‘It isn’t over, we’re riding perhaps, we hope, a downward trend but it is by no means, no means established yet. When people ask me when will the measures, the social distancing, the stay at home measures, be altered, my answer in some ways is that some of this lies in your own hands.

‘The more we adhere to it and are strict about the social distancing that is required, the faster that decision will be able to be made. But that decision will, of course, be made entirely on the advice of science and medical advice.’

Yet when the lockdown will end is still a focal point in the national conversation, and McDonald’s yesterday mooted re-opening.

The fast food giant, which is already operation again in coronavirus-stricken France, is in talks about opening its 1,249 restaurants across the UK, according to reports.

The burger chain could open for drive-thru and delivery orders as early as mid-May, say the Irish Farmers Journal.

A spokesperson for McDonald’s said: ‘Of course we are thinking about re-opening and having those conversations – but it’s unclear when that will be.’

It comes as figures reveal how Britain’s roads are becoming increasingly busy.

Data from sat nav makers TomTom shows how evening rush hour traffic in London reached 19 per cent for the last two days – the highest level it has been on a weekday since the lockdown came in.

Meanwhile, people have been pictured packed into busy open-air food markets and parks in London.

Brits enjoyed the warm weather yesterday at London Fields, pictured, despite continued government guidance to stay at home

Brits enjoyed the warm weather yesterday at London Fields, pictured, despite continued government guidance to stay at home

A woman wearing a face mask, pictured, cycles past Broadway Market in east London on Friday

A woman wearing a face mask, pictured, cycles past Broadway Market in east London on Friday

Cabinet ministers were warned last year to stockpile PPE for a about a coronavirus pandemic, told it could come in three waves, kill 65,000 people and cost £2.35TRILLION 

By Jack Elsom for MailOnline 

  • The National Security Risk Assessment predicted tens of thousands of deaths and spiralling economic costs
  • Foreboding the current coronavirus crisis, it recommended stockpiling personal protective equipment 
  • The 600-page report will further fuel accusations the government was caught flat-footed by the virus

Ministers were last year warned of the grave consequences a future pandemic would unleash on the UK, a leaked Cabinet Office briefing had revealed. 

Tens of thousands of deaths, crippling economic costs and creaking public services were predicted in the 2019 National Security Risk Assessment which mapped out how an outbreak would likely unfold.

Almost foreboding the current coronavirus crisis, it recommended stockpiling personal protective equipment and drawing up plans to repatriate stranded Britons abroad. 

The government was also told to shore up the infrastructure needed to conduct mass contact tracing, in a revelation that will pour petrol on the simmering row over the lack of testing. 

The 600-page report, which was leaked to the Guardian, will further fuel accusations the government was caught flat-footed by the health emergency because of a lack of long-term planning.

Chief scientific officer Sir Patrick Vallance, one of the key figures steering the Covid-19 response, signed off the report last year and impressed the need for ‘robust’ plans to deal with a pandemic. 

The assessment said a relatively mild outbreak of ‘moderate virulence’ could lead to 65,600 deaths and could cost the UK £2.35trillion.    

It is not clear if Boris Johnson was prime minister when the report was written, or whether it was given to ministers serving the previous administration under Theresa May. 

Labour last night asked why the government had not acted on the advice of the report and demanded ministers explain themselves. 

The bombshell revelations came as Britain braced for its coronavirus death toll to hit the grim 20,000 milestone.  

As the country continues to weather the social and economic effects of the virus, the leaked report revealed: 

  • Half the population would exhibit symptoms of the virus, while even more would be infected yet be asymptomatic; 
  • The pandemic would unfold over three waves, with each wave lasting roughly 15 weeks;
  • Once the pandemic eventually passed, the hit to public services would take years to repair;
  • A huge public backlash would skewer a government who were deemed to have bungled the crisis response. 
Ministers were warned last year that the Government needed robust plans in place to deal with a potential pandemic virus, according to a leaked Cabinet Office briefing which was signed off by chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance (pictured at Downing Street press briefing)

Ministers were warned last year that the Government needed robust plans in place to deal with a potential pandemic virus, according to a leaked Cabinet Office briefing which was signed off by chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance (pictured at Downing Street press briefing)

The document, marked 'official, sensitive', wargamed potential scenarios the government would have to respond to, depending on the severity of the virus

The document, marked ‘official, sensitive’, wargamed potential scenarios the government would have to respond to, depending on the severity of the virus

Chief medical officer explains decision to abandon mass testing 

England’s chief medical officer has told how contact tracing was abandoned in the UK as coronavirus spread as the thinking was it ‘wasn’t likely to add a huge amount at that particular point, given the resources we had’.

Speaking to MPs on the Science and Technology Committee, Professor Chris Whitty said the UK tried to initially contain the virus, as did other countries, but when it moved to a global pandemic, the thinking changed. 

Prof Whitty explained how the nature of Covid-19, with some people not displaying symptoms, made containing the virus difficult and it was spreading at speed.

He said: ‘Initially, the policy was ‘let’s see if we can contain this’ and every country in the world took different versions of this but broadly that’s what we were doing.

‘Once this became clearly a global pandemic…it was really going to come in, coming from multiple sources…

‘At that point, a combination of where the epidemic was in the UK, where the epidemic was in Europe, and our own capacity meant that trying to do this, and deploy all our resources to try to do this with the ratio of people who would be followed up where you couldn’t say We’ll start off with where you come from geographically”…

‘We’re going to have to do this on syndrome, with a very non-specific syndrome…(and) this is a very different disease spreading at phenomenal speed, doubling every three to four days at this stage, my technical view and our technical view collectively was it really wasn’t likely to add a huge amount at that particular point, given the resources we had.’  

Labour’s Shadow cabinet office minister Rachel Reeves said: ‘The revelations in this report are alarming and raise serious questions about the Government’s preparedness for a pandemic. 

‘Michael Gove must make a statement to Parliament on Monday explaining why its recommendations were not implemented.’

The document, marked ‘official, sensitive’, wargamed the potential risks posed by a pandemic and made recommendations to bolster Britain’s ability to fight it. 

An ‘influenza pandemic’, which is the closest to the coronavirus outbreak, was judged to pose a ‘very high’ risk. 

One of the recommendations made by Sir Patrick was to ensure a system of ‘disease surveillance and early detection’ – essentially the infrastructure needed for testing and contact tracing – was in place.

But a common criticism levelled at the government is that it downplayed the need for mass testing despite it proving a successful strategy in other countries to suppress the number of cases.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock is now trying to ratchet up capacity with the target of carrying out 100,000 tests a day by the end of April.   

The NSRA also warned a pandemic would heap strain on vital public services which would be overwhelmed in the surge in cases. 

It said: ‘Critical infrastructure may also be affected during peak periods. There would be a huge surge in demand for health and social care services.

‘Besides very severe levels of stress on the NHS, the level of excess deaths would stretch capacity within organisations involved in the management of deaths.

‘This would be felt on a national scale, with local capacity likely to start to be overwhelmed during the peak of the pandemic.’ 

Transport services, energy suppliers, the food industry, education and the finance sector would all be disrupted, the report warned.  

NSRA recommendations included stockpiling personal protective equipment (medics wearing PPE at a coronavirus testing site)

NSRA recommendations included stockpiling personal protective equipment (medics wearing PPE at a coronavirus testing site)

The Cabinet Office declined to comment on the report. A spokesman said: ‘We do not comment on leaks.’ 

According to the Guardian, the NSRA recommendations included stockpiling personal protective equipment, setting up advance purchase agreements for other essential kit and thrashing out a blueprint to manage a surge in deaths.

The need for plans to help British nationals abroad and repatriate them to the UK was also said to have been raised as a priority.

The NSRA looked at both the the risk of a viral flu pandemic and also a coronavirus outbreak – both Sars and Mers were coronaviruses – although this was considered less damaging.

The document included a series of ‘reasonable worst case scenarios’ for the spread of a flu-like viral pandemic.

It suggested it would play out in three waves – each expected to last 15 weeks and with the peak occurring in weeks six and seven of each wave.

Half of the population would be infected and experience symptoms of the disease during one or move of the waves.

While the actual numbers infected would be higher as some cases would be asymptomatic, a pandemic of ‘moderate virulence’ could lead to 65,600 deaths.

The document also spelled out the economic hits landed by the virus, and forecast costs could run to £2.35trillion.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has already delved deep into the Treasury coffers to fund £320billion in rescue loans, with the costs of shuttered business in lockdown also likely to contract the economy.

Even after the pandemic was over, it said that it could take months or even years for health and social care services to recover.  

Revealed: Dominic Cummings is part of secretive SAGE group advising the government on coronavirus – but scientists insist that political appointees were NEVER on panel before

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s adviser Dominic Cummings was at key meetings
  • The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) is made up of experts
  • Mr Cummings, a political adviser, has been at meetings as far back as February
  • He was joined by a data scientist who worked on the Vote Leave Brexit campaign

By Emer Scully for Mailonline and Jason Groves for the Daily Mail

Boris Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings is in the secretive scientific group advising ministers on the coronavirus, it emerged last night. 

Mr Cummings’ name was on a leaked list of attendees of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies’ (SAGE) meetings as far back as February. 

The list, which was seen by The Guardian, showed Mr Cummings was at a SAGE meeting with 24 others on March 23, the day Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the public to announce heightened lockdown measures. 

The government’s former chief scientific adviser Sir David King told The Guardian political advisers were never on the equivalent committees of SAGE when he chaired them.

Mr Cummings was joined by Ben Warner, a data scientist who worked alongside him on the Vote Leave Brexit campaign in 2016, say other members of the group. 

Dominic Cummings' (pictured at Downing Street today) is part of the secretive SAGE group advising the government on its coronavirus response

Dominic Cummings’ (pictured at Downing Street today) is part of the secretive SAGE group advising the government on its coronavirus response

While both membership of SAGE and what is discussed during regular meetings has been kept a closely guarded secret, the news sheds uncertainty on the reliability of  decisions that have been made.  

Sir David said he was ‘shocked’ to discover there were political advisers on SAGE.

He added that it was ‘critically important’ scientific advice was free from political influence.  

Sir David Lidington, who served as Theresa May’s deputy, also suggested the practice was unusual, adding: ‘I’m not aware of any minister or special adviser, certainly not in Theresa May’s time, ever having been involved in the scientific advisory panels.’

In a letter to MPs this month, Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, who chairs SAGE, said membership was kept secret on advice from the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure. 

Mr Cummings was joined by Ben Warner (pictured on March 14), a data scientist who worked alongside him on the Vote Leave Brexit campaign in 2016, say other members of the group

Mr Cummings was joined by Ben Warner (pictured on March 14), a data scientist who worked alongside him on the Vote Leave Brexit campaign in 2016, say other members of the group

‘This contributes towards safeguarding individual members’ personal security and protects them from lobbying and other forms of unwanted influence which may hinder their ability to give impartial advice,’ he added.

Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty, who co-chairs SAGE, has signalled a change in direction, telling MPs that he and Sir Patrick did not oppose publishing the membership.

Asked if revealing members’ names would boost public confidence in the scientific advice being given, he replied: ‘Yes.’

The revelation about Mr Cummings’s participation in the group will add to concerns surrounding decisions by SAGE, which has not published any minutes from its last 19 meetings on the pandemic.

Former members of SAGE were outraged a political fixer was on the committee, as others feared Mr Cummings could have twisted any advice offered during the meetings.

A Government spokesman told MailOnline: ‘Expert participants often vary for each meeting according to which expertise is required. 

Mr Johnson recorded a video message on Easter Sunday at Number 10 after release from the hospital (pictured)

Mr Johnson recorded a video message on Easter Sunday at Number 10 after release from the hospital (pictured) 

‘A number of representatives from government departments and No 10 attend also.’  

Downing Street has said Mr Cummings has attended meetings of SAGE but denied that he was a member. 

In a statement, a No 10 spokesman said: ‘It is not true that Mr Cummings or Dr Warner are “on” or members of Sage. 

‘Mr Cummings and Dr Warner have attended some Sage meetings and listen to some meetings now they are all virtual.

‘They do this in order to understand better the scientific debates concerning this emergency and also to understand better the limits of how science and data can help government decisions.

‘Occasionally they ask questions or offer help when scientists mention problems in Whitehall. 

‘Sage provides independent scientific advice to the government. Political advisers have no role in this.’

It comes just days after Sir Patrick Vallance, the Goverment’s chief scientific adviser and chairman of SAGE, revealed they will not publish key evidence until after the pandemic ends. 

SAGE’s advice to the Government has faced fresh scrutiny over a lack of widespread early testing and resistance to the idea of widespread facemask-use. 

In a letter to the Commons’ Science Committee, Sir Patrick said SAGE met 20 times before the start of April to discuss Covid-19.

‘Sage will commit to informing the Committee in advance when new evidence is due to be published,’ he said.

‘Once Sage stops convening on this emergency the minutes of relevant Sage meetings, supporting documents and the names of participants (with their permission) will be published.’

But MPs criticised the secrecy. Senior Liberal Democrat Layla Moran said: ‘It is incredibly disappointing to hear that the Sage evidence guiding the Government will remain secret.   

‘Only by publishing this evidence can ministers be scrutinised and held to account on their decisions. 

‘The tone and quality of the debate improved dramatically following the publication of the Imperial College modelling, on which decisions were being made.

‘I’m calling on the Government to think again.’

MPs last week called for the cast list of SAGE to be made public so that people can see exactly who ministers are getting their advice from.

The government has rejected the calls, with sources claiming the names cannot be published because of security concerns amid reports of some experts receiving death threats.

But former SAGE members have questioned that argument, insisting it is ‘perfectly reasonable’ for people to know who sits on the committee which Mr Johnson is relying on to guide the government’s response to the outbreak. 

However in his letter to committee chairman Greg Clark, Sir Patrick said: ‘The decision to not disclose SAGE membership for the time being is based upon advice from the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure and is in line with the standard procedure for COBR meetings, to which SAGE gives advice.

‘This contributes towards safeguarding individual members personal security and protects them from lobbying and other forms of unwanted influence which may hinder their ability to give impartial advice.  

‘Of course, we do not stop individuals from revealing that they have attended SAGE.’ 

Now coronavirus testing is in gridlock: Day one of new push to test millions sees 5,000 home kits run out by 6am and all 15,000 drive-through slots gone four hours later

  • Queues of cars were spotted at drive-through sites across the UK yesterday
  • Up to 11 million key workers and their households are now eligible for tests
  • Ministers are racing to hit their 100,000-a-day testing target by next Thursday
  • It came as the latest UK hospital death toll reached 19,506, up by 768 yesterday

By Larisa Brownand Kumail Jafferand Victoria Allen for the Daily Mail

A new website where key workers can book coronavirus tests buckled under an unprecedented demand from those with symptoms yesterday.

A total of 5,000 home testing kits ran out by 6.02am – two minutes after they were made available – leading to an apology from the Department of Health.

All 15,000 drive-through slots for Friday were taken by 10am.

Queues were spotted at drive-through sites across the country, with some arriving from neighbouring counties.

No 10 said it would ramp up the testing and planned to increase its capacity for home testing to 18,000 a day by the end of next week.

It came as the latest UK hospital death toll reached 19,506, up by 768 yesterday.

All 15,000 drive-through slots for Friday were taken by 10am. Pictured: Cars queuing for a drive-through slot at Wembley in London

All 15,000 drive-through slots for Friday were taken by 10am. Pictured: Cars queuing for a drive-through slot at Wembley in London

No 10 said it would ramp up the testing and planned to increase its capacity for home testing to 18,000 a day by the end of next week. Pictured: A queue at the drive-through testing area in Milton Keynes

No 10 said it would ramp up the testing and planned to increase its capacity for home testing to 18,000 a day by the end of next week. Pictured: A queue at the drive-through testing area in Milton Keynes

Up to 11 million key workers and their households are now eligible for tests if they have symptoms.

They include NHS and social care staff, police officers, teachers, social workers, undertakers, supermarket workers and those in food production.

Ministers are racing to hit their 100,000-a-day testing target by next Thursday, but only 23,560 tests were carried out in the 24 hours up to 9am on Thursday.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was confident the target would be reached, while admitting there were ‘no guarantees in life’.

At the Milton Keynes drive-through facility, key workers waited in queues for more than an hour.

Drivers were checked for their eligibility at one of two screening stations before being waved to the three tents for their test.

One woman was rejected, with testers holding up a sign claiming she did not meet the required criteria.

Teacher Vicky Egan, 38, from Northolt, west London, logged on to the Government website at 6am yesterday.

She was told that home tests were unavailable but booked a testing slot in Wembley for 3pm.

Ministers are racing to hit their 100,000-a-day testing target by next Thursday. Pictured: Malwina Lidak 34, from Hanwell visited a test centre at Wembley IKEA yesterday

Ministers are racing to hit their 100,000-a-day testing target by next Thursday. Pictured: Malwina Lidak 34, from Hanwell visited a test centre at Wembley IKEA yesterday

Pictured: Soroush and his wife Elmira from Collingdale visited the test centre at Wembley IKEA yesterday

Pictured: Soroush and his wife Elmira from Collingdale visited the test centre at Wembley IKEA yesterday

‘I’ve had symptoms so it has been a big worry not knowing whether I have the virus,’ she said.

‘Thankfully I haven’t had to teach but I would have liked to have been tested before now.’

Key workers can register on the gov.uk website for an appointment at a drive-through centre or can request a home test kit to be delivered by Royal Mail and Amazon.

The slots become available daily.

No 10 also said the Government was trusting that those applying for tests were key workers, with no eligibility checks in place for online bookings.

Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth said ministers should have been prepared for the demand for tests.  



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Netanyahu, Gantz sign coalition deal to form emergency government



Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz have announced that they have forged a deal to form an emergency coalition government, aimed to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. The announcement comes after months of political paralysis in the country.

“I promised the state of Israel a national emergency government that will work to save the lives and livelihoods of the citizens of Israel,” Netanyahu tweeted.

Under the three-year deal, both leaders will switch positions, with Netanyahu serving as prime minister for the first half, and Gantz taking the job for the second half. Gantz’s Blue and White party will take control of a number of senior government ministries, including foreign affairs and defence, while Netanyahu’s Likud party will gain influence over judicial appointments.

“We have prevented a fourth election. We will protect democracy. We will fight coronavirus and care for all Israel’s citizens”, Gantz said.

The deal comes after Gantz and Netanyahu missed the deadline to form a government, and president Reuven Rivlin asked the parliament to choose a new prime minister, giving it three weeks to agree upon a leader or push the country into a fourth election in about a year.

According to the deal, no laws are to be introduced that have nothing to do with the coronavirus. However, Netanyahu will be allowed to annex Jewish settlements and other land in the occupied West Bank. The settlements are widely considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

Palestinians condemned the formation of an “Israeli “annexation” government, saying the agreement would wreck hopes of peace.



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Capital spending deemed key to FF-FG coalition government


A new coalition between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will review the last government’s flagship national development plan, with capital spending seen as a priority for both parties.

The 10-year capital investment plan, which runs to 2027, will be reassessed if such a government takes office, senior sources have said.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin last week told a meeting of his Senators and MEPs that inadequate funding was set aside for the existing plan and all the projects contained in it.

Mr Martin said the Department of Public Expenditure had discussed the issue during early government-formation talks.

“The Department of Public Expenditure were basically saying these were very early estimates, not really worked out and that a fresher update of the NDP was required,” he said.

“That was parliamentary language from the Department of Public Expenditure to say that the NDP really wasn’t . . . that the monies available wasn’t corresponding to the projects that had been committed to.”



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LILLEY: Ford government announces new measures as cases spike


As the province announced more than 150 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, new social distancing measures are now in effect.

All social gatherings and events over five people are prohibited according to a press release issued Saturday evening.

Exceptions include private homes of five people or more, and authorized childcare facilities serving families of first reponders or front-line healthcare workers — provided it doesn’t exceed 50.

Funerals will also be permitted, but limited to 10 people.

Organized public events include parades, weddings, social gatherings and worship services.

This new order replaces a previous one limiting gatherings to no more than 50 people.

The new cases were reported by the province on Saturday, morning bringing the total to 1,144, including 8 cases deemed resolved and 18 more where the patient died.

The current death toll includes 2 cases awaiting official laboratory confirmation from a nursing home in Bobcaygeon, Ontario where three other residents have tested positive and 35 have shown symptoms.

The province remains on a mostly upward trajectory — there have been 453 new cases since Thursday.

Against the backdrop of an increasing number of cases and strain on hospitals, the province announced they were taking control of purchasing all key medical supplies needed in the COVID-19 fight.

Items such as ventilators, masks and swabs will now go through central purchasing and distribution to ensure adequate supplies arrive where and when they are needed.

“COVID-19 is impacting supply chains across Canada, and around the world,” said Lisa Thompson, Minister of Government and Consumer Services.

“That’s why we are proclaiming the Supply Chain Management Act to make sure we can deploy critical supplies, equipment and services to where they are needed most.”

Ford also announced the province would take aim at those attempting to make extreme profits off the crisis.

“I have zero tolerance for this kind of nonsense,” Ford said of the province’s new anti price gouging legislation.

“It’s un-Canadian, it’s wrong.

“If you’re selling face masks, protective gloves, cold medicine, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes and you’re hiking the price five times, ten times what it should be — you’re done, you’re gone because we’re coming after you.”

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Fines range from $750 for an individual to $500,000 for a company director, while corporations could face penalties of up to $10 million.

Jail time is also possible.

The premier encouraged anyone who spots price gouging to report it through the provincial hotline at 1-800-889-9768.

The premier said that the government understands the difference between a convenience store charging a couple more dollars for a product than large retailers, and said they would listen to all sides during investigations — including finding out if wholesalers are the ones responsible for gouging retailers.

Ford also ripped into a young woman facing charges for faking a COVID-19 diagnosis to get out of her shift at a Hamilton McDonalds.

After presenting her manager a forged doctor’s note, the restaurant sent all its employees home to self-isolate and engaged in an extensive and expensive cleaning.

“It’s disgusting,” Ford said.

“What human being would do stuff like this? We’re in a crisis and they’re going out there and lying and putting people in jeopardy.”

The 18 year-old woman now faces fraud, forgery and mischief charges.



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Disparities In Government Contracting Hurt Minority-Owned Businesses : NPR


Calvin Brandford (center) is a certified minority contractor who has run an excavation business north of Boston for almost 30 years. Brandford said getting state-funded work as a subcontractor is very hard and often comes with a serious drawback: not getting paid for 60 to 90 days.

Chris Burrell/WGBH


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Chris Burrell/WGBH

Calvin Brandford (center) is a certified minority contractor who has run an excavation business north of Boston for almost 30 years. Brandford said getting state-funded work as a subcontractor is very hard and often comes with a serious drawback: not getting paid for 60 to 90 days.

Chris Burrell/WGBH

State and local governments spend billions of dollars hiring contractors for goods and services, but most of those contracts go to white-owned businesses, not minority contractors — despite decades of affirmative action and other policies meant to make up for disparities.

A federal study released by the Minority Business Development Agency in early 2017 found the needle has barely moved on boosting minority business participation in public contracts.

Albert Shen, the former deputy chief of minority business development under President Obama, believes one reason is that government procurement officials just hire who they know.

“The people that manage these large projects are — to be blunt — very homogeneous. They don’t have diverse networks, so they don’t know who to reach out to,” Shen said. “[But] because they don’t know doesn’t mean they don’t exist.”

There are more than 11 million minority owned businesses in the U.S. In places such as Massachusetts, minority entrepreneurs are now getting a smaller slice of the pie when it comes to doing business with local government. Over the last two decades, adjusted for inflation, the value of Massachusetts contracts going to minority-owned businesses has fallen 24%. That’s $135 million less per year paid to minority entrepreneurs.

“The smart thing to do”

In Massachusetts and many other states, public projects are required to hire a certain percentage of minority and women-owned businesses.

But Larry Cole, who runs a trucking company in Springfield, Mass., said there’s very little oversight to make sure that happens. In 2007, a construction company promised him hundreds of hours of work as a minority subcontractor but Cole got only a fraction of the work – despite sometimes showing up onsite with trucks and drivers.

“You’ve got to feed a family. At that time, I had three kids in college, plus the trucks, the insurance, payroll taxes,” said Cole, remembering how he challenged the construction company when they turned him and his dump trucks away. “I said, ‘Wait, I’m supposed to be doing all the trucking here.’ Well, next thing you know, you’re not doing it.”

Lionel Henry (right), who works for a minority-owned contracting firm, repairs the roof of an outdoor hockey rink at Philadelphia’s Fishtown Recreation Center in December 2019. The project was part of a Philadelphia effort to expand participation of minority contractors in city-funded construction jobs.

Christopher Burrell/WGBH


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Lionel Henry (right), who works for a minority-owned contracting firm, repairs the roof of an outdoor hockey rink at Philadelphia’s Fishtown Recreation Center in December 2019. The project was part of a Philadelphia effort to expand participation of minority contractors in city-funded construction jobs.

Christopher Burrell/WGBH

Cole’s trucking company shrank, he said, partly because of his frustration of getting work in the public sector.

Massachusetts’ leaders began decades ago trying to fix economic disparities facing minority businesspeople such as Cole, passing laws and creating agencies to even the playing field. Last fall, Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito praised efforts to boost minority participation in building two casinos approved by the state.

“The one thing the Mass Gaming Commission did was to be intentional to diversify their workforce — setting these goals, holding everyone accountable, measuring progress,” she said.

James Jennings, an expert on race and politics and an emeritus professor at Tufts University, said the state’s efforts to increase fairness and equity for minority business owners aren’t cutting it.

“The pushing has been going on for 25 to 30 years now,” Jennings said. “I think leadership has to be more aggressive in saying we’re going to do something about this because it’s the right thing to do (and) it’s also economically the smart thing to do.”

Inclusive and equitable

Critics in Massachusetts have pointed to Philadelphia as a model for local government getting more aggressive about hiring minority contractors.

On a raw December afternoon in North Philadelphia, a dozen kids are chasing a soccer ball on a blacktop basketball court on a city-owned playground slated for renovation. It’s part of a $400 million initiative aimed at fixing up recreation centers, parks and libraries in low-income neighborhoods like this one.

The city of Philadelphia also intends to spend a third of that money hiring businesses owned by minorities to do the work.

“These poor communities that are mostly minority in the city of Philadelphia: It makes a lot of sense that if you have people coming in and working and fixing things and designing things, let them look like [local people],” said Cappy Sabir, an engineer and minority business owner whose company is working a new vision for this playground. “You’re giving a level of motivation and pride to the community. ‘See? I can be an architect. I can be an engineer, I can be a contractor.'”

Sabir is a co-owner of SRW Engineering & Architecture, which won five contracts with the city worth almost half a million dollars. City-wide, minority-owned businesses landed 23% of Philadelphia city contracts last year, totaling $166 million.

Iola Harper, who heads up Philadelphia’s office of economic opportunity, said Philadelphia’s mayor — now in his second term — has prioritized contracting with minority businesses.

“You really have to have buy-in from the top,” Harper said. “The boss of the city, not their boss, but their boss’s boss, expects that there’s going to be some inclusion. They know that part of my evaluation or part of what my boss is looking at is my ability to be inclusive and be equitable.”

Underlying this mandate is simple economics, said Harper, especially in a city with a poverty rate at 26% — one of the country’s highest for a big city.

“Businesses that are owned by people of color hire people who look like them,” she said. “That’s people that are going to be employed and that’s going to impact the poverty rate.”

Harper’s office also sets minority hiring goals and enforces compliance. Since 2017, Philadelphia has disbarred three vendors from working with the city that violated minority contracting regulations.

The city has also lowered barriers that have historically favored big contractors by offering assistance to smaller, minority-owned and women-owned firms before they even bid on projects.

Sabir’s company — with just 20 employees — took advantage of the city’s new rules and is now treated as a prime contractor, not just a subcontractor that has to lobby other private businesses for a share of the work.

“Opportunities come out from the city (were) worded in a way, structured in a way that is impossible for either for any minority, or woman-owned business to even have a chance,” Sabir said. “Offering the opportunity for minority firms to be primes? To us, that’s like Obama becoming president. It’s huge.”

The huge change that Sabir has welcomed in Philadelphia, though, is not happening across the country. The federal report at the end of the Obama administration analyzed 100 disparity surveys done by cities and states across the country. The majority of those places found minority-owned businesses face significant disparities.

President Trump’s budget for next year calls for cutting the Minority Business Development Agency budget by 76%.



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Government hopes for breakthrough in Wet’suwet’en blockades this week


The federal and provincial governments want to meet with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs this week in a bid to stop a series of crippling blockades in support of those chief’s anti-pipeline stance.

The move comes as local protesters prepare for an unknown action starting in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside on Tuesday afternoon.

On Monday, Scott Fraser, B.C.’s Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, and Carolyn Bennett, federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, met in Victoria to “talk about finding a peaceful resolution to the blockades across the country and other issues arising from the concerns of Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs.”

In a joint statement, Fraser and Bennett said last week’s string of Canada-wide blockades of rail-lines, government buildings and political offices were “a significant challenge.”

“We have reached out through a joint letter to the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs about meeting with us at the earliest opportunity and are hopeful we can all work together to establish a process for ongoing and constructive dialogue and action to address the issues at hand. Our primary focus is everyone’s safety and ultimately, a peaceful resolution to the situation.”

Postmedia News has seen the letter dated Feb. 16, 2020, sent to Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs (c/o Office of the Wet’suwet’en) in Smithers.

The letter states that it was the result of a request by Gitxsan hereditary chief Spookw to arrange a meeting between the two senior levels of government and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline being put through the Wet’suwet’en’s 22,000 square kilometre territory. Spookw is acting as a broker – the Gitxsan’s 33,000 square kilometre territory is north of the Wet’suwet’en.

Five of the six Wet’suwet’en reserve bands have signed on with Coastal GasLink, but 10 of the 13 Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have rejected the Coastal GasLink’s pipeline project outright. The hereditary chiefs opposed to the pipeline are Woos, Smogelgem, Knedebeas, Samooh, Way tah K’eght, Hagwilnegh, Madeek, Kloum Khun and Na’moks. All 10 chiefs are men.


Georgia St. blocked during an Indigenous led march to Victory Square in support of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in January, 2019.

Nick Procaylo /

PNG

According to the Council of the Wet’suwet’en (that represents the nation’s reserve bands, five clans and 13 hereditary chiefs) three chief seats are vacant. There are roughly 5,000 Wet’suwet’en. 

At least three wing chiefs (the deputy to the chief) are in favour of the pipeline and there are claims that two former hereditary chiefs were deposed because they supported the pipeline.

The Feb. 16 letter goes on to state: “We agree that dialogue is the best and preferred way to deal with these issues,” suggesting the government is not prepared at this point to use force against a well-organized nationwide protest movement. 

Local protest spokesperson Natalie Knight told Postmedia News that Wet’suwet’en chiefs were not responsible for the course of action the Metro Vancouver protesters took.

Knight said protestors were meeting on Tuesday at 2 p.m. at 380 East Hastings Street and would commence an action from there. She would not reveal what that action would be, however, last week her group blocked rail lines and two busy intersections.


Approximately 100 people march in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in their opposition to the GasLink pipeline project, along Grandview Highway Saturday, February 15, 2020.

Jason Payne /

PNG

The Feb. 16 letter came three days after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote to chief Spookw saying a cabinet minister would meet with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, and two days after B.C. Premier John Horgan made the same promise — although as part of that deal Horgan said the “blockade of the CN line will be removed to allow for a period of calm and peaceful dialogue.”

The blockade of the main CN Rail line in Northern B.C. (near New Hazelton) was taken down the same day. However, later in the week the West Coast Express commuter train was blocked, as was an East Vancouver rail line.

Protesters also continued to block rail lines as well as highways and bridges in different parts of the country on Monday.

Those included shutting down for the first time the Thousand Islands Bridge border crossing near Kingston, Ont. and a CN Rail crossing on Highway 75 in southern Manitoba.

Trudeau held an emergency, closed-door meeting with cabinet ministers in Ottawa on Monday to discuss the blockades.

He did not answer reporter’s questions after leaving the meeting.


The RCMP set up a checkpoint on the Morice West Forest Service Road on Jan. 13, 2020.

Submitted /

RCMP

Jen Wickham, a Wet’suwet’en band member who belongs to the Grizzly House of the Gitdumden Clan, has been active in ground zero of the conflict — the Morice Forest Road that leads to a Coastal GasLink work camp southeast of Houston.

Wickham said she was not surprised that the protest had become so widespread.

“I think that Indigenous people have been suffering colonization and the exploitation of our lands and resources since contact and Wet’suwet’en are in a very unique position because we have the Delgamuukw court decision that other nations have used to successfully gain title recognition,” Wickham said, referring to the 1997 Supreme Court of Canada decision that established Aboriginal title to unceded land.

Wickham said she was unsure how the three hereditary chiefs of her clan would respond to the letter issued on Sunday.

However, she said they “want a nation to nation discussion and they want the RCMP and CGL out of our territories.”

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Knight said that the Coastal GasLink pipeline protest was about more than the Wet’suwet’en and pipeline fight, and had spread to “the shared history of violence experienced by Indigenous people, and Punjabi and Chinese communities in so-called B.C. Both Punjabi and Chinese people were displaced from their own lands due to the violence of British colonialism and the parallels between this colonial violence and the violence experienced by Indigenous people here is clear and ongoing.”

The protest movement is backed by the David Suzuki Foundation, B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

Coastal GasLink is building the 670km underground pipeline to ship fracked natural gas to the LNG Canada plant being built in Kitimat. The pipeline is scheduled to be complete in 2023.

The company has promised to spend $1 billion of its $6.6 billion budget on contracts, grants and training opportunities for the 20 First Nations bands along the route that it has signed agreements with.

— with files from Canadian Press

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Ontario sees dramatic spike in number of parents seeking government compensation during teacher strikes


The province has seen a huge spike in applications from parents for child-care compensation in the wake of escalating teacher strike action, with payouts requested for almost half a million children.

In one day alone — from Tuesday to Wednesday — more than 100,000 applications were received, signalling a 34 per cent jump and making it the greatest increase in a single day since Education Minister Stephen Lecce launched the compensation program in mid-January.

On Wednesday — the same day the province blamed a computer glitch for an overpayment to some parents — the government had received applications on behalf of 458,466 children, a dramatic surge from Tuesday’s figures of 342,856. The initiative pays up to $60 per day per child. According to the ministry, 1.45 million children are eligible.

“The uptake in applications for our Support for Parents Initiative can be attributed to the increasing amount of frustration that families across the province face as they scramble for child care as a result of union-led escalation,” said the minister’s press secretary Alexandra Adamo on Thursday.

Adamo’s comments came on the same day Ontario’s public elementary schools were closed because of a provincewide strike by all 83,000 members of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), which has been running rotating strikes affecting different boards each day.

Job action by ETFO, which represents elementary teachers, early childhood educators and other educators, has left some parents having to find child care because of the teacher strikes, now in their third week. In Toronto, for instance, public elementary schools have been closed twice, and students will miss another day of classes Friday. Next week, the city’s public grade schools will be closed on Feb. 11 — part of a provincewide strike by ETFO — as well as the following day because the Toronto public board, along with several others, will be impacted.

In a media statement this week, ETFO president Sam Hammond said fair contract talks with the province must include appropriate funding for special education, a strategy to address classroom violence and fair hiring practices. All four of the province’s teachers unions are engaged in contract negotiations with the province and have launched work-to-rule campaigns. Unions representing Catholic elementary and secondary teachers in English schools (Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association), and public high school teachers (Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation), have also held walkouts, but have not scheduled future dates.

Unions say they are opposed to the province’s plan to introduce two mandatory online courses for secondary students and to boost high school class size averages, which will lead to fewer teachers jobs and courses. But Lecce insists the main sticking point is salary, with the province offering a one per cent increase, while unions want cost of living increases, or about two per cent.

The Progressive Conservative government announced the compensation program on Jan. 15, offering to pay parents for each day a school or school-based child-care centre is closed because of teacher strikes. The initiative was harshly criticized by some, including Hammond, who called it an attempt to “bribe” parents for support. Since mid-January, the number of applications has steadily risen, with jumps along the way whenever unions announced they were escalating job action. Some parents have said they applied for the funds and intend to donate them to schools or teachers unions.

This week’s dramatic one-day spike coincided with a Star story in Wednesday’s newspaper about the previous day’s application figures, which amounted to less than a quarter of those eligible for reimbursement. That meant millions of dollars were still on the table — the money for parents comes from unpaid teachers’ salaries on strike days. The story also noted that ETFO was ramping up job action for a fourth week.

Also on Wednesday, parents were on social media sharing stories of overpayment by the government, some saying they had been paid three or four times more than they should have been and assuming they were paid in advance for strike days that hadn’t yet occurred. It turned out that a systems problem resulted in school closures being miscalculated — the glitch has since been fixed — and led to some parents being overpaid, which the Star reported in Thursday’s newspaper. Figures for the number of parents who signed up for compensation on Thursday were not yet available at time of publication.

There is no cap on how many days parents will be paid for — so long as strike action continues, parents will be compensated. The province will pay $60 per day for children in a school-based child-care centre, and $40 a day for those in kindergarten, $25 for those in grades 1 to 7 and $40 for those with special needs up to Grade 12. Funds are paid per child and available to all families, regardless of financial hardship.

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The ministry says an additional 42,000 children not yet enrolled in school, may be eligible for the payout if their school-based child-care centre is closed.

In 1997, when teachers across Ontario hit the picket lines for two weeks to protest the education reforms of Bill 160, despite not being in a legal strike position, the Progressive Conservative government of Premier Mike Harris also provided funds to parents. Families with children under age 13, regardless of how many kids they had, were paid $40 a day, if a parent or guardian couldn’t stay home to care for them. Claims for the 10-day strike could not exceed $400 per family.

With files from Star archives

Isabel Teotonio





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