COVID-19: People in England urged to celebrate New Year’s Eve at home in new ad campaign | UK News

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People planning to celebrate the end of 2020 have been told to avoid parties because “COVID loves a crowd”, amid warnings of extra policing to stop mass gatherings.

The government has launched a campaign urging people in England to “See in the New Year safely at home”, with adverts running across radio, print media and out of home advertising.

The initiative by Public Health England reminds the public how easily coronavirus can spread.

New Year's Eve
Image: The ad campaign is running across radio and print media

It says that one in three people have no symptoms and that they “should act like they have the virus to avoid spreading it without realising”.

The advertising reiterates people should not meet up with friends or family indoors, unless they are in the same household or support bubble, and they should avoid large gatherings of any kind.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, said: “With our NHS under pressure we must all take personal responsibility this New Year’s Eve and stay at home.

“I know how much we have all sacrificed this year and we cannot let up. Over 600,000 people have now been vaccinated and we are close to beating this virus.

“Now more than ever, we need to pull together to save lives and protect our NHS.

“If we continue to do our bit by staying at home, we can get through this together.”

New Year's Eve
Image: Public Health England wants people to stay at home tonight

London’s annual New Year’s Eve firework display over the River Thames is cancelled this year and no public gatherings are allowed.

However, Big Ben, which has been largely silent since 2017 while its clock tower is restored, will sound 12 bongs at midnight.

The Metropolitan Police issued a warning to potential revellers to “celebrate the New Year in the comfort of their own homes, not the homes of family and friends”.

Those who break the rules could face fines starting from £100 to potentially £10,000.

Big Ben being tested ahead of New Year's Eve to ensure it can issue its 12 bongs to mark the new year
Image: Big Ben being tested ahead of New Year’s Eve to ensure it can issue its 12 bongs to mark the New Year

Commander Paul Brogden, who is leading this year’s operation, said: “The public can expect to see officers deployed across the capital, supporting communities and focusing strongly on the few people intent on breaching and ignoring the guidance put in place to keep everyone safe.

“Officers will also be paying attention to parts of London that are experiencing the highest infection rates.”

NHS England’s medical director Professor Stephen Powis said that marking the New Year at home with just your nearest and dearest and within the rules would “reduce infections, relieve pressures on hospitals” and help to save lives.

“COVID loves a crowd,” he said. “So please leave the parties for later in the year.”

Huge swathes of England joined London in the strictest COVID-19 restrictions on Boxing Day, with a further 20 million plunging into Tier 4 restrictions on 31 December.

The new measures mean millions of people can only gather outside with one other person who is not in their household.

Nearly everyone in Scotland and Northern Ireland are also subject to the highest level of restrictions – which means large gatherings, even outside, will be banned.

For the first time in its history, Scotland’s flagship Hogmanay event is moving online – where it will be headed by actor David Tennant.

People gathered for the annual Hogmanay Street Party in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK on December 31, 2014. Hogmanay is the Scots word for the last day of the year, synonymous with the celebration of the New Year in the Scottish manner. Photo by Guy Durand/ABACAPRESS.COM
Image: Hogmanay is the Scots word for the last day of the year

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “I take no pleasure in saying this but we should ring in 2021 in our own homes.”

The prime minister also had similar concerns over New Year’s Eve celebrations.

He said: “I must ask you to follow the rules where you live tomorrow night and see in the New Year safely at home.

“That means not meeting up with friends or family indoors, unless they’re in the same household or support bubble, and avoiding large gatherings of any kind.”

It comes as deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said the NHS had yet to see the impact of household mixing over Christmas.

He said the situation in the UK is “precarious in many parts already” and urged the public to “play your part from bringing us back from this very dangerous situation”.

“It is almost certainly true that the NHS has not yet seen the impact of the infections that will have occurred during mixing on Christmas Day and that is also unfortunately rather sobering,” Prof Van-Tam said.

New Zealand is one of the first countries to ring in the New Year, with Auckland pushing ahead with its traditional celebration at the Sky Tower and Harbour Bridge landmarks.

A few hours later, Australia will celebrate the beginning of 2021 with a fireworks display, however, people are banned from gathering near to Sydney Harbour Bridge under COVID rules.

Brexit trade deal can be ‘unifying moment’ for country, chancellor says | Politics News

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The Brexit trade deal agreed on Christmas Eve can be an “enormously unifying moment for our country”, the chancellor has said.

Rishi Sunak said he hoped it would “bring people together after the divisions of the past few years”.

Anyone worried about the economic implications of the breach with Brussels should be “enormously reassured about the comprehensive nature” of the agreement, he added.

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Johnson’s Christmas message on Brexit deal

The deal gives that reassurance, he said, because it provides a “stable regulatory co-operative framework”.

The chancellor added that the UK would “maintain tariff-free access to European markets” while being able to “capitalise on new opportunities”.

Mr Sunak said the UK’s financial services industry would remain open for new relationships and trading.

But he said there would be changes in the financial world, because leaving the EU means we can “do things a bit differently”.

He added: “We will remain in close dialogue with our European partners when it comes to things like equivalence decisions.”

There is light at the end of the tunnel, Mr Sunak said, and we can look forward to a brighter future.

Boris Johnson and EU leaders celebrate making a deal over Zoom. Pic: Number 10
Image: Boris Johnson and EU leaders celebrate making a deal over Zoom. Pic: Number 10

His comments echo those of the prime minister, who has described the trade deal as the beginning of a “better relationship and a healthier relationship” with the EU.

“It’s the end of a long and fractious period, in which we kept trying to pretend to ourselves that we could go along with all sorts of things we didn’t really want to do for the sake of keeping up with the great project of European union,” Boris Johnson told The Sunday Telegraph.

“Freedom is what you make of it,” he added. “It’s up to us now to seize the opportunities, but we have a very big challenge with COVID-19.”

He added that he hoped voters would be “deeply reassured” that a resolution had been found to “an issue that has bedevilled our politics for decades”.

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PM urges Tory MPs to back Brexit deal

The prime minister also maintained that a no-deal outcome had been a possibility.

He said that he and his chief Brexit negotiator, Lord Frost, had reached the “conclusion several times that things were going in the wrong direction and that our best bet was to go for no deal”.

Mr Johnson added: “We made that clear to the EU. I really would have done it, believe me.”

The PM said his government would not diverge from the EU “for the sake of diverging”.

But he said the UK would begin to go its own way “where that’s useful for the British people”.

“This Government has a very clear agenda to unite and level up and to spread opportunity across the country,” he said.

In the area of business taxes and regulation, Mr Johnson said the chancellor is “doing a big exercise on all of this”.

Regarding the pandemic, Mr Sunak said the government had “made good” on its promise to provide the NHS with everything it needs.

The UK is making “really good progress” on rolling out the coronavirus vaccine, he added.

His comments came as the pharmaceutical boss behind the Oxford vaccine said researchers had found a “winning formula” to improve the jab’s efficacy.

Flash Gordon gets stereotype warning for ‘dubious, if not outright offensive’ Ming the Merciless | Ents & Arts News

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UK film censors have added a warning about racial stereotypes to Flash Gordon, saying the character of Ming the Merciless is “dubious, if not outright offensive”.

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) said it now has to bear in mind discriminatory depictions that are “no longer acceptable to modern audiences” when older films come in for reclassification.

Ming was “coded as an East Asian character due to his hair and make-up” in the 1980 film but was played by the late Swedish actor Max von Sydow.

BBFC senior policy officer Matt Tindall spoke about the issue in a podcast looking back at the year in film.

Max von Sydow
Image: Von Sydow was a Swedish actor also known for his work in The Exorcist and more recently, Game Of Thrones

“Flash’s arch nemesis, Ming the Merciless, is sort of coded as an East Asian character due to his hair and make-up,” he said.

“But he’s played by a Swedish actor in the film, he’s played by Max von Sydow, which I don’t think is something that would happen if this were a modern production.”

Mr Tindall said the BBFC was aware this is something that viewers “may find dubious, if not outright offensive”.

He continued: “Let’s just say that attitudes towards the acceptability of discriminatory racial stereotypes have moved on considerably since then and rightly so, of course.”

The organisation has reclassified Flash Gordon as a 12A – stricter than its original A rating, which is roughly equivalent to a PG today – due to scenes of violence “that go beyond what you’d expect in the lower category”, “moderate bad language” and “some verbal sex references” that exceed PG level.

Mr Tindall said the presentation of Ming in the film is not a “category defining issue” but that the organisation had added a warning due to the “potential it has to cause offence”.

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He said: “This is something that we have to bear in mind often when we see older films coming in for reclassification, films that might contain discriminatory depictions or stereotypes that are not acceptable to modern audiences, including films where discrimination wasn’t the work’s intent, just a reflection of the period in which it was made.

“And this is an issue that we’re currently planning to explore more through research next year.”

Earlier this year, the 1939 American Civil War epic Gone With The Wind was temporarily removed by US streaming service HBO Max, later returning with a warning over its “racist depictions” that were “wrong then and are wrong today”.

In the UK, comedy show Little Britain was removed from some streaming services over the use of blackface in some of its sketches.

COVID-19: Fitness industry calls for change to ‘baffling and unfair’ rules | UK News

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The government is under pressure to change “baffling and unfair” coronavirus guidelines that have forced hundreds of fitness studios to close.

Official guidance states that indoor group exercise is banned in Tier 3 areas, meaning fitness studios which specialise in spinning and yoga, must shut.

But gyms can remain open because individual exercise – or exercise in single households and support bubbles – is still permitted.

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COVID-19: What will be the cost of Christmas?

This move is expected to have an impact on 45,000 jobs across the country, according to UK Active, the fitness industry’s leading body.

Sinead Chandiram, a freelance senior fitness instructor, told Sky News how challenging these closures have been.

“I think I’m quite a mentally strong person and I’ve just struggled so much,” she said.

“It’s been really tough, to lose your livelihood, to lose your job, your purpose, I mean how do you deal with that?”

She added: “Gyms being open and our studios having to close, that’s hard to deal with.

“You just never expect your profession to be taken away from you, and especially as unfairly as it seems on this third time of us closing.”

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Ms Chandiram said “it’s a scary place to be”, entering the new year with no income and no end in sight.

UK Active said women in particular rely on indoor exercise classes, and raised concerns about the considerable impact these closures will have on physical activity during winter.

Clare Gribble, finance director at Psycle London, told Sky News that studios “have a really important part to play” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We know that people are most able to commit to a healthy lifestyle and be really consistent when they find something they love to do,” she said.

“In taking that away from people, I think we risk losing that consistency and being unable to support people’s mental and physical health at this really important time.”

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Grandparents finally meeting new babies

Dario Carabba, owner of The Fort Gym, told Sky News “there is no great logic in differentiating” between his studio which has had to close while his gym remains open.

“We’ve got supermarkets, retail, hospitality, universities and schools, all carry a far greater risk than gyms all the evidence shows, and yet the messaging has not supported that.”

UK Active told Sky News that these restrictions are “baffling and unfair”.

Huw Edwards, CEO of UK Active said: “We continue to work alongside our sector partners to understand the rationale for the ban on indoor group activities and exercise classes in Tier 3, and to see it reviewed and changed.

“Indoor group exercise classes do not compromise any element of the government’s safety guidelines, by operating at reduced capacity, with adapted booking and queuing systems to maintain social distancing, and using stringent ventilation and sanitisation processes.

“January is a vital time for our sector, and we urge the government to provide tailored financial and regulatory support for its recovery, including a combination of business rate relief, VAT exemptions, and incentives that not only help to rebuild, but also encourage more people back into physical activity.”

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2 November: Gym chain sweats on hibernation support

A petition to the government to allow fitness studios to reopen in Tier 3 areas has reached more than 22,000 signatures.

The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “The rationale is clear on this – this is all about the higher transmission risk of coronavirus when people are within close proximity in indoor settings, with restrictions depending on the alert level that applies to your local area.

“That’s why in Tier 1, group activities such as training sessions and exercise classes can take place in larger numbers, provided that people are in separate groups (up to six people) which do not mix.

“In Tier 2 areas, people can take part in group activity like exercise classes as long as there is no mixing between households. People can play certain sports which do not involve close proximity or physical contact against one person from another household, such as a singles tennis match or badminton match.

“In Tier 3 areas, indoor sport will be restricted to within your household only, and there should be no group activity such as exercise classes.”

COVID-19: Greenwich council backs down in fight with government over closing schools due to rising coronavirus rates | Politics News

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The leader of a London borough has said he has “no choice” but to tell schools to stay open following threats of legal action from the government.

Greenwich council’s Danny Thorpe said he “cannot agree that this is the correct choice” but added: “I also cannot justify the use of public funds to fight the decision in the courts.”

It follows an order yesterday by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson that schools must stay open.

Live updates on coronavirus from UK and around world

Several schools in the capital, which is going into Tier 3 – the highest band of coronavirus restrictions from tomorrow – have said they want to move to online learning for the rest of the term due to rising COVID-19 rates.

Infections are said to be rising quickest among children aged 10-19, with the government promising to roll out mass testing to schools in some boroughs to counter the spread in the run up to Christmas.

But that is taking time and there are fears children could pass on the virus to vulnerable family members during the five day rule relaxation where people from three households can socialise at home together from 23-27 December.

Three London councils – Greenwich in the south, Islington in the north and Waltham Forest in the east – have urged schools to shut early to help curb a resurgence of cases.

And mayor Said Khan said Prime Minister Boris Johnson should consider letting all secondary schools and colleges in the city close early and allow them to re-open later in January.

But the government has resisted those calls, with Mr Williamson saying yesterday: “It is simply not in children’s best interests for schools in Greenwich, Islington or elsewhere to close their doors.”

Now Mr Thorpe has said schools in Greenwich should stay open.

“The action we took on Sunday was based solely on doing the right thing for our borough, not a protracted legal argument with the Government, which absolutely nobody needs at the end of an extremely difficult term,” he explained.

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Joseph McCann and Reynard Sinaga: Notorious rapists whose crimes ‘shocked the nation’ have jail terms increased to 40 years | UK News

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Two notorious rapists whose crimes “shocked the nation” have had their minimum jail terms increased from 30 to 40 years.

The decision to extend the sentences of Joseph McCann and Reynard Sinaga was made by the Court of Appeal.

In a statement after the ruling, Solicitor General Michael Ellis QC said: “Both offenders carried out some of the most heinous and depraved sexual attacks that shocked the nation.

Sinaga is seen on a security camera in the hallway outside his flat
Image: Sinaga is seen on a security camera in the hallway outside his flat

“I am grateful for the guidance the court gave about whole life orders and I am pleased that the court imposed a longer minimum term.

“I hope this brings some solace to the victims of these despicable crimes.”

McCann, 35, was given 33 life sentences at the Old Bailey last December for a string of sex attacks on 11 women and children – one aged 11 – during a 15-day cocaine and vodka-fuelled rampage.

The next month, 37-year-old Reynard Sinaga was handed a life sentence at Manchester Crown Court on conviction of more than 150 offences committed against 48 men – although police have linked him to more than 190 potential victims.

The Attorney General’s Office referred the 30-year minimum jail terms handed to both of them to the Court of Appeal earlier this year for being “unduly lenient”.

At a hearing in London in October, Solicitor General Michael Ellis QC argued the pair should either have been given whole life terms or longer minimum terms for their crimes, which were among “some of the worst and most violent that this country has ever witnessed”.

Reynhard Sinaga used to pick up men that he later raped from the Fifth night club in Manchester
Image: Sinaga picked up men from the Fifth night club in Manchester

A panel of five judges refused to impose whole life terms on McCann and Sinaga, but increased their minimum sentences to 40 years.

Giving the ruling, Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett said that while their offending was “very serious indeed… it does not, in our judgment, call for either to receive a whole life tariff.”

“This is not to minimise the seriousness of their offending, but instead to ensure that the most severe sentence in our jurisdiction is reserved, save exceptionally, either for the most serious cases involving loss of life, or when a substantive plan to murder of similar seriousness is interrupted close to fulfilment.”

Police believe that Sinaga gave his victims a drink laced with a 'date-rape drug'
Image: Police believe Sinaga’s victims drank alcohol laced with a ‘date-rape drug’

Lord Burnett said that McCann and Sinaga’s crimes were some of the most serious rape offences the senior judges on the case had ever dealt with in England and Wales.

He added: “Neither man has shown any remorse and the long-term psychological damage for at least some of the victims in both trials is profound and will only be understood in the years to come.”

Whether either man is ever released will depend on the parole board’s assessment of the risk they pose after serving their minimum terms.

McCann committed a string of sex attacks in London and the North West in April and May 2019, two months after the convicted burglar was wrongly freed from prison following “major failings” by probation staff.

Screengrab taken from CCTV issued by the Metropolitan Police of Joseph McCann at the Phoenix Lodge Hotel in Watford on the afternoon of April 25, as he left two women, his alleged victims, in his car outside.
Image: McCann is seen at a Watford hotel as two of his victims were in his car

He was described by sentencing judge, Mr Justice Edis, as a “classic psychopath”.

Sinaga – the UK’s most prolific serial rapist – preyed on lone, drunk young men around nightclubs near his flat in Manchester, posing as a Good Samaritan who offered them a floor to sleep on or promised them more alcohol.

The Indonesian student drugged the men, then filmed himself sexually violating them while they were unconscious, with many having little or no memory of the assaults.

Judge Suzanne Goddard QC, who sentenced him to a minimum of 30 years, described Sinaga as a “monster” and “an evil serial sexual predator”.

COVID-19: Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine could be airlifted to UK if Brexit trade talks collapse | Politics News

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COVID-19 vaccines could be airlifted to the UK next year if Brexit trade talks collapse and cause delays at Channel crossings.

The government is hoping to receive millions of doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine by the end of the year, with the first vaccinations due to begin this week.

However, the NHS doesn’t expect to vaccinate the majority of people until next year.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is produced in Belgium before being transported to the UK and distributed among hospitals.

The logo of US multinational pharmaceutical company Pfizer, is pictured at a factory in Puurs, where Covid-19 vaccines are being produced for Britain, on December 3, 2020. - Britain on December 2, 2020 became the first western country to approve a Covid-19 vaccine for general use, while Japan and Italy pledged free inoculations for all even as the global death toll rose towards 1.5 million. (Photo by Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP) (Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images)
Image: The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is produced in Belgium

The Road Haulage Association has warned a failure to agree an EU-UK trade deal by the end of this month, when the Brexit transition period ends, could see “significant disruption” up to 12 months.

But Foreign Office minister James Cleverly told Sky News the government had plans to “absolutely ensure” the continued supply of coronavirus vaccines, even in the event of a no-deal outcome.

He told Kay Burley: “We’ve got extensive plans in place to ensure the protection of that vaccine supply.

“As you can imagine, that is the absolute priority product and we are committed to make sure that we will get that vaccine supply to the UK.

“We have looked at use of non-commercial flights, we’ve got border arrangements in place.”

Mr Cleverly did not set out the details of the government’s border plans, but said that “everyone understands the significance of vaccines”.

He added: “These are people’s lives at stake.

“I have no doubt that the EU will help us to facilitate their travel, we’ve got our own independent transportation plans to ensure that vaccine supply.”

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Batches of COVID vaccine arrive at hospital

Asked whether he was fully confident the EU would assist the UK in supplying COVID vaccines, even if trade talks ended acrimoniously, Mr Cleverly said: “I don’t have that degree of cynicism towards the EU.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are due to speak on Monday evening, when they will assess whether a trade deal is still salvageable after months of deadlocked negotiations.

Without a trade deal being agreed by the end of this month, the EU and UK are likely to have to trade on World Trade Organisation rules with tariffs imposed in both directions.

COVID-19: Gavin Williamson boasts vaccine approval speed proves UK ‘much better country’ than others | Politics News

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Britain was the first country to approve a coronavirus vaccine because it has “much better” regulators than France, Belgium and the US, a senior minister has claimed.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson boasted that “we’re a much better country than every single one of them” – after some international disquiet surfaced following the breakthrough jab news.

Government ministers and scientific advisers have said no corners were cut in the approval of the Pfizer/ BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and that it has fully met all safety standards, meaning rollout can begin next week.

Live COVID updates as UK prepares for vaccine rollout

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But Dr Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the US, said regulators there follow a “gold standard” while the UK “did not do it as carefully”.

“If you go quickly and you do it superficially, people are not going to want to get vaccinated,” he cautioned.

Dr Anthony Fauci predicts Thanksgiving may have made the pandemic worse
Image: Dr Anthony Fauci said moving too quickly would damage people’s trust

It follows Germany’s health minister, Jens Spahn, saying the UK used an emergency process to authorise a coronavirus vaccine and that politicians there had decided against such a strategy to boost confidence in the jab’s safety.

Dismissing the criticism, Mr Williamson told LBC: “Well I just reckon we’ve got the very best people in this country and we’ve obviously got the best medical regulators.

Gavin Williamson is asked if he will have coronavirus vaccine on live television
Image: Gavin Williamson said he would take the vaccine live on TV

“Much better than the French have, much better than the Belgians have, much better than the Americans have.

“That doesn’t surprise me at all because we’re a much better country than every single one of them, aren’t we?”

The Pfizer vaccine is being bought from Belgium, with 40 million doses on order and 800,000 of those expected to arrive soon.

Mr Williamson also volunteered to get vaccinated live on air, when he spoke to Sky News.

“I’m sure your viewers have better things to watch than me having a vaccine live on TV,” he told Kay Burley.

“And by the time it gets to my turn to have the vaccine, I imagine I’ll be pretty far down the pecking order. As there’s a lot more important people to have the vaccine before me.

“But if you really think your viewers would be that interested to see me have a vaccine I’m sure I would do it.”

The prospect was raised of Boris Johnson also getting the jab on TV, when he is eligible to.

How COVID-19 vaccines ordered by the UK compare
Image: How COVID-19 vaccines ordered by the UK compare

Allegra Stratton, the prime minister’s press secretary, said: “We all know the character of the prime minister, I don’t think it would be something that he would rule out.

“But what we also know is that he wouldn’t want to take a jab that should be for somebody who is extremely vulnerable, clinically vulnerable, and who should be getting it before him.”