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Schools to receive £40m in funding to set up socially-distant transport networks



The government is to provide £40m in funding to help local schools and colleges establish socially-distant transport for pupils.

Local authorities will be allocated the money dependent on the number of young people in their area and how far they have to travel, and includes anyone escorting them to school.

It is hoped the funding will allow hundreds of thousands of students to avoid public transport, making it easier for the education system to enforce Covid-secure guidelines.


Those who can walk, cycle or use a scooter to get to school are also being strongly urged to do so, in line with the government’s £2 billion “active travel” plans.

The initiative aims to help deliver Downing Street’s goal of getting all children and young people back into full-time education by September, the Department for Education (DfE) said.

It also applies to 16 to 19-year-olds travelling to training.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson urged everyone to “play their part” in ensuring “everyone is able to get to school safely and on time”.

“For those that have no other option than public transport, this investment for local authorities will mean more students will be able to travel on dedicated home-to-school-and-college transport, creating even more capacity where it is needed most,” he added.

The DfE said local authorities will still be obliged to provide free school transport for all children who are eligible.

This comes as the government extended emergency Covid-19 funding for bus and tram operators in England ahead of expected increases in demand over the next month.

Some £218.4 million will be available for bus services over the coming eight weeks.

This will be followed by investment worth up to £27.3 million per week “until a time when the funding is no longer needed”.

Tram services have access to £37.4 million of Government investment over the next 12 weeks, after which their funding will be reviewed.

Bus networks are running more than 80 per cent of normal services – but weekday demand outside London is only around 37 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, according to the latest Department for Transport figures.

The latest round of funding will support services in September when schools are set to fully reopen and brings the total support during the pandemic for bus and tram networks in England to at least £700 million.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “Buses are a vital lifeline – from getting to work, seeing the doctor or doing the shopping. Today’s extra funding will keep services running as we continue to recover from the impact of Covid 19.”

Additional reporting by PA



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Nasa astronauts set for splashdown aboard Crew Dragon capsule


Two Nasa astronauts who took the first commercial trip to orbit have left the International Space Station and are scheduled to return home on Sunday.

Astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley traveled to the space station in May aboard a Crew Dragon capsule built and run by SpaceX, the private rocket company started by Elon Musk.

The Crew Dragon undocked from the space station at 7.35 p.m. EDT on Saturday, with brief thruster firings pushing the spacecraft back.

As the capsule backed away from the station, Mr Hurley thanked the current crew of the space station and the teams on the ground that helped manage their mission. “We look forward to splashdown tomorrow,” he said.

If the weather remains favourable, it will splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico off Pensacola, Florida, at 2.41pm. on Sunday, Nasa announced.

A safe return would open up more trips to and from orbit for future astronaut crews, and possibly space tourists, aboard the spacecraft.

Storm Isaias is forecast to sweep up along the Atlantic coast of Florida over the weekend. Nasa and SpaceX have seven splashdown sites in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic, but the track of the storm ruled out the three in the Atlantic. – New York Times



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China set for historic Mars rover launch


China is making preparations to send its Tianwen-1 Mars rover to the Red Planet.

The rover, which will be China’s first to reach the Martian surface, will be carried into space on a Long March-5 rocket.

The carrier rocket has been moved into position and is due to blast off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center, in the southern island province of Hainan, in late July or early August, according to scientists involved in the project.

NASA’S MARS 2020 PERSEVERANCE ROVER: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Citing unofficial estimates, Space.com reports the launch could occur around July 23.

In this Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019 file photo, a Mars lander is lifted during a test for its hovering, obstacle avoidance and deceleration capabilities at a facility at Huailai in China's Hebei province.

In this Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019 file photo, a Mars lander is lifted during a test for its hovering, obstacle avoidance and deceleration capabilities at a facility at Huailai in China’s Hebei province.
(AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Tianwen means “questions to heaven” and is the name of a poem by ancient Chinese poet Qu Yuan.

“The Tianwen-1 probe, with a mass (including fuel) of about 5 tonnes, comprises an orbiter and a lander/rover composite,” explains the mission’s chief scientist and his team in a recent paper published in the journal Nature Astronomy. “The orbiter will provide a relay communication link to the rover, while performing its own scientific observations for one Martian year.”

A Martian year lasts 687 days.

UAE MAKES MARS LAUNCH, SENDS HOPE ORBITER TO THE RED PLANET

The probe is expected to reach Mars seven months after its launch. “The lander/rover will perform a soft landing on the Martian surface some 2–3 months after arrival of the spacecraft, with a candidate landing site in Utopia Planitia,” the chief scientist explains in the paper. In 1976, NASA’s Viking 2 Lander also landed in Utopia Planitia.

In this Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019 file photo, the Mars lander's hovering, obstacle avoidance and deceleration capabilities are tested at a facility at Huailai in China's Hebei province.

In this Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019 file photo, the Mars lander’s hovering, obstacle avoidance and deceleration capabilities are tested at a facility at Huailai in China’s Hebei province.
(AP Photo/Andy Wong)

In 2011, China launched its Yinghuo-1 Mars exploration mission, but the orbiter was stranded in near-Earth orbit following a malfunction on the Russian Phobos-Grunt mission carrying it into space. NASA noted that the Chinese and Russian spacecraft reentered Earth’s atmosphere on Jan. 15, 2012.

This is a busy time for Mars launches. The United Arab Emirates recently launched its Amal orbiter to the Red Planet. Amal, which is Arabic for Hope, will not land on Mars, but is the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission.

NASA’S NEXT MISSION TO MARS WILL HONOR THOSE FIGHTING AGAINST COVID-19

NASA is also getting ready to launch its Mars 2020 Perseverance rover on an epic mission to the Red Planet. The launch window for the spacecraft that will carry the Perseverance rover to Mars opens on July 30 and closes on Aug. 15 of this year.

Launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the rover is scheduled to land on Mars’ Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021. The mission’s duration on the Red Planet’s surface is expected to last at least one Martian year.

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So far, the U.S. has been the only country to successfully put a spacecraft on Mars, doing it eight times. Two NASA landers are operating there, InSight and Curiosity. Six other spacecraft are exploring the planet from orbit: three U.S., two European and one from India.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers





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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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Israel set for unprecedented third election amid political gridlock



Israel is heading towards an unprecedented third election in one year after both Benjamin Netanyahu and his centrist rival failed to form a government and were unable to agree a deal for a unity coalition.

As a midnight deadline passed, there was no last-minute deal between the two sides and MPs instead voted through a bill to send Israelis to the polls for a third time in 11 months on March 2, 2020.

By a vote of 94 in favour to none opposed, lawmakers approved a motion dissolving parliament and setting the new election date.

Mr Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, the leader of the centrist Blue & White party, blamed each other for what has become the worst stalemate in Israeli political history.

Mr Gantz said the prime minister was dragging the country into new elections to try to win a Right-wing majority which would grant him immunity from the criminal corruption charges he faces. He denies wrongdoing. 

“It now seems that we will be going into a third election cycle today because of Netanyahu’s attempt to obtain immunity,” Mr Gantz said. 

Mr Netanyahu said Mr Gantz and his allies had never seriously entered into negotiations on a unity government.

“It’s time that for one day, for the citizens of Israel, we sit and have a serious discussion about forming a broad unity government,” he said. 





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Finland’s Sanna Marin Set To Become World’s Youngest Sitting Prime Minister : NPR


Sanna Marin celebrates after winning her party’s prime minister nomination on Sunday. The 34-year-old will be Finland’s third female government head.

Vesa Moilanen/AP


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Vesa Moilanen/AP

Sanna Marin celebrates after winning her party’s prime minister nomination on Sunday. The 34-year-old will be Finland’s third female government head.

Vesa Moilanen/AP

Sanna Marin is set to become Finland’s third female prime minister — and its youngest — leading a coalition of four other parties, all headed by women.

At just 34, she will also stand out on the world stage by being the world’s youngest sitting prime minister.

Marin was nominated Sunday by her Social Democratic party after its leader, Antti Rinne, stepped down after losing the confidence among his coalition government over his handling of a postal strike.

Marin, a former transport and communications minister, will be the country’s third-ever female prime minister, according to NPR’s Rob Schmitz. However, she told reporters the focus shouldn’t be on her identity.

“She brushed away questions about her age and gender, saying she has never thought about either,” Schmitz says. “Instead, she told reporters, she thinks about the reasons she got into politics and the things for which her party has won the trust of the electorate.”

Finland’s Social Democrats have led the country’s left-wing coalition since earlier this year, but has faced strong opposition from the rising populist right-wing Finns Party, according to the Helsinki Times. Ahead of the party election, Marin promised to continue supporting welfare programs and an “equal and fairer society.”

A left-leaning progressive, Marin was first elected to Parliament in 2015. She wrote on her website that her party’s values of “equality, freedom and peace” appealed to her when she first involved herself in politics.

“For me, human rights, equality, or equality of people have never been questions of opinion but the basis of my moral conception,” she said. “I joined politics because I want to influence how society sees its citizens and their rights.”

Marin won the party’s nomination over Antti Lindtman, a 37-year-old Parliament member, by a vote of 32-29.

As prime minister, Marin would maintain an alliance between the Social Democrats and four other center-left parties — all of which have women in leading ministerial positions. Among the five leaders, four, including Marin, are under 35.

Once sworn in, Marin will be Finland’s youngest-ever head of state. However, she is not the youngest in world history. Conservative British politician William Pitt, for example, became prime minister at the age of 24 in 1783.

Finland currently holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, and members of parliament are likely to approve the new government ahead of an EU summit in Brussels Thursday.

Paolo Zialcita is an intern on NPR’s News Desk.





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Putin and Ukraine’s Zelensky set for Paris one-on-one: Kremlin


Moscow (AFP) – Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky are likely to have a one-on-one meeting during four-way summit talks in Paris next month, the Kremlin said Wednesday.

Putin and Zelensky plan to join French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on December 9 for a summit aimed at resolving the five-year conflict in eastern Ukraine, where Moscow-backed separatists have carved out breakaway statelets.

Putin’s top foreign adviser Yury Ushakov said Wednesday that a separate meeting between the Russian and Ukrainian leaders was likely on the cards, too.

“It appears that a separate meeting will be held,” Ushakov said, Russian news agencies reported, while adding that the programme of the summit was still being finalised.

A Ukrainian diplomatic source, when asked about the possibility of the one-on-one, told AFP: “We still don’t know.”

Speaking to reporters in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, Zelensky said he was ready for meetings with every state leader present at the Paris summit, if necessary.

The United States voiced solidarity with Ukraine and called on Russia to implement a 2015 plan that called both for a ceasefire and political resolution of the conflict.

“Our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty is unwavering, and we are committed to working with our Allies and partners to keep pressure on Russia to live up to its commitments,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus praised the “prudent but difficult steps towards peace and reform” taken by Zelensky.

The 41-year-old former comedian came to power in May on the back of pledges to bring peace while regaining control of the breakaway regions.

But Zelensky has yet to meet with Putin, 67.

The encounter would attempt to end a conflict which saw pro-Moscow separatists declare unrecognised breakaway republics in the Ukrainian eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk and has left more than 13,000 dead since 2014.

Zelensky said in Vilnius he did not expect the war to end tomorrow.

“But as president of Ukraine, I want a clear understanding when and how we can stop this war,” he said.

Ukraine and its Western allies accuse Moscow of giving financial and military backing to separatists, which Russia denies.

The summit has been held up by numerous obstacles that highlight the difficulty of resolving the conflict.



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Alibaba shares set to rise 6.3% in Hong Kong debut



Alibaba Group’s Hong Kong shares are set to rise 6.3% in their debut after marking the city’s biggest share sale in nine years, Trend reports citing Reuters.

Alibaba has raised at least $11.3 billion from the secondary listing and could go as high as $12.9 billion if an over-allotment option is exercised.

The company sold the shares at HK$176, which was a 2.9% discount to the company’s closing price in New York last Tuesday. Each American Depository Receipt (ADR) represents eight Hong Kong shares.

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