Supermarkets Most Common Covid Exposure Site
New data from Public Health England (PHE) has indicated that supermarkets are the most common exposure setting for contracting Covid-19 in England. Using data collated by the NHS Test and Trace app, PHE analysed contacts and retraced the steps of 128,000 people who tested positive for the virus between 9th and 15th November. It found that under recent national lockdown measures in England – during which non-essential retailers have remained closed – supermarkets have become the primary setting for transmission of the virus. According to the data, the second most common location for transmission is secondary schools, followed by primary schools and hospitals.
Meanwhile, new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show Covid-19 rose to become the third most common cause of death in England and Wales in October. According to the agency, 3,367 – or 7.8% – of the 43,265 deaths in England last month were linked to the virus, making it the third most common cause of death after Alzheimer’s and dementia, and heart disease. In the previous month of September, Covid-19 was not even among the ten most common causes of death. However, while England’s coronavirus mortality rates did increase in October, they remain significantly below those registered in April and May.
PM PLEDGES £16BN MILITARY BOOST
The prime minister has unveiled plans for a £16.5bn boost to UK defence spending. Addressing the Commons via video link on Thursday, Boris Johnson said the funding would help provide “once-in-a-generation modernisation” for the armed forces, as well as restoring the UK as “the foremost naval power in Europe” and safeguarding hundreds of thousands of defence industry jobs. “I have decided that the era of cutting our defence budget must end, and it ends now,” Johnson added. Downing Street has heralded the announcement as the biggest investment in British defence since the end of the Cold War. It said the programme would include spending on combat drones, artificial intelligence and a new “space command”.
The prime minister has described the spending pledge as being worth £16.5bn over four years. However, the Institute of Fiscal Studies has labelled this description as “misleading” and said it was more accurate to say “that by 2024-25, defence spending will be £7bn higher than it would have been under previous plans”. While Labour has welcomed the increased funding, party leader Sir Keir Starmer questioned its source on Thursday – asking the prime minister whether the cash would be raised through tax rises or spending cuts. Johnson did not directly respond to Starmer’s question, but claimed the Labour leader’s record of support for the British military was “very thin indeed”.
Steve Mowle, honorary treasurer of the Royal College of General Practitioners, speaks out as doctors begin preparing for the mass roll-out of Covid-19 vaccinations. NHS England medical director Stephen Powis has confirmed GPs, pharmacies and large vaccination centres are likely to be involved in the inoculation programme. The two vaccines set to be considered for regulatory approval have been given codenames by government planners – with the jab developed by Pfizer/BioNTech known as ‘Courageous’ and the inoculation from Oxford University and AstraZeneca nicknamed ‘Talent’.
Both the Talent and Courageous vaccines are showing “robust” immune responses in those aged over 65, raising hopes that they could offer protection for older adults most at risk from the virus. According to health secretary Matt Hancock, if the jabs receive regulatory approval, they could begin being rolled out as early as 1st December. “The challenge of this task is even bigger than the flu immunisation programme,” Mowle, a practising GP, said. “There’s going to be some nationally organised vaccine immunisation centres… probably run with military involved, etc. But GPs are well placed.”
In other news
AUSTRALIAN WAR CRIMES REPORT PUBLISHED
A major report investigating the actions of elite Australian troops in Afghanistan has revealed soldiers were responsible for murdering dozens of civilians. Led by Maj Gen Justice Paul Brereton, the report examined allegations involving Australia’s Special Air Service and commandos. It found special forces were responsible for the unlawful killing of 39 Afghans, including prisoners, farmers and other civilians, between 2005 and 2016. All of the murders took place outside the “heat of battle” and the vast majority were deliberately covered up. Nineteen current and former troops are facing criminal prosecution in the wake of the inquiry.
UN URGES BRITAIN TO ACCEPT REFUGEES
The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has urged the UK government to restart its flagship refugee programme after the number of people resettled in safe countries plummeted. According to the latest data from the UNHCR, just 15,425 refugees were safely resettled between January and September this year, compared with 63,726 in 2019 and 55,680 in 2018. Resettlement flights to the UK were suspended in March in response to the coronavirus pandemic. While ministers insist the flights will resume soon, the UK’s vulnerable persons resettlement scheme is now nearing completion. The UNHCR has urged the UK to launch its new replacement programme, which was initially announced in June 2019, to ensure “huge and growing” need for resettlement is met.
BREXIT TALKS SUSPENDED
Post-Brexit trade talks were suspended in Brussels on Thursday after a member of the EU negotiating team tested positive for Covid-19. In a tweet, the bloc’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said he had agreed to temporarily suspend face-to-face talks with his UK counterpart David Frost. It remains unclear how severely this will impact negotiations in Brussels. In Belgium, coronavirus rules dictate that anyone who has come into contact with an infected person must quarantine for ten days. The disruption comes just six weeks before the end of the Brexit transition period on 31st December. If a trade deal is not agreed before this date, the UK will leave the EU’s single market and customs union and default to trading under World Trade Organization rules.
PRINCE WELCOMES BBC INVESTIGATION
Prince William has welcomed the BBC’s decision to hold an independent investigation into Panorama’s 1995 interview with Diana, Princess of Wales. William described the probe, which will examine how BBC journalist Martin Bashir obtained the interview with Diana, as a “step in the right direction”. “It should help establish the truth behind the actions that led to the Panorama interview and subsequent decisions taken by those in the BBC at the time,” the prince added. The investigation, which will be led by former supreme court judge Lord Dyson, comes after Diana’s brother Earl Spencer accused Bashir of deceiving the Princess of Wales and exploiting her paranoia to land the interview.
PLAYSTATION LAUNCH CRASHES WEBSITES
Demand for the PlayStation 5 has crashed websites and overwhelmed couriers following the console’s launch in the UK on Thursday. Webpages for the new PlayStation went down across John Lewis, Tesco and Game’s websites on Thursday morning, with John Lewis reporting “extremely high levels of demand”. Several major retailers, including Currys, John Lewis and Argos, said they had sold out of the console by 10:10am on Thursday, while Game said some deliveries were likely to be delayed as a result of courier “capacity issues”. Meanwhile, thousands of consoles have been listed on eBay for more than double the retail price of £449 – with some priced at more than £1,000.
Mince pies from Asda and Iceland have topped a festive taste test run by consumer group Which?. Budget-priced pies from both supermarkets netted a 73% score in blind taste tests, resulting in a first-place tie for the accolade of ‘Best Buy’. Asda’s Extra Special Mince Pies scored highly for overall flavour, texture and appearance and were praised for their “crisp” pastry, while Iceland’s Luxury All Butter Mince Pies were said to taste “like a more expensive product”. Unveiling the results on Thursday, Which? magazine editor Harry Rose said: “While this year Christmas might be a little different, we want to make sure that at least your mince pies don’t disappoint.”