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Airbus looks to the future with hydrogen planes

Airbus's three ZEROe concept planes Image copyright Airbus

Aerospace giant Airbus has unveiled plans for what it hailed as the first commercial zero-emission aircraft.

The company said its hydrogen-fuelled passenger planes could be in service by 2035.

Airbus chief executive Guillaume Faury said the three ZEROe concept designs marked “a historic moment for the commercial aviation sector”.

The use of hydrogen had “the potential to significantly reduce aviation’s climate impact”, he added.

The concept of emissions-free aviation relies heavily on finding ways to produce large quantities of hydrogen from renewable or low-carbon sources.

Most large-scale production at the moment relies on fossil fuels, particularly methane, and is not considered to be low-carbon.

Analysts point out that it is not the first time that hydrogen has been touted as the saviour of modern air travel..

Its use in aviation goes back to the days of airships in the early 20th Century, but the Hindenburg disaster in 1937 brought that era to an end.

More recently, from 2000 to 2002, Airbus was involved in the EU-funded Cryoplane project, which studied the feasibility of a liquid hydrogen-fuelled aircraft.

After that, the idea fell out of favour again – until now.

‘Decisive action’

Unveiling its latest blueprints, Airbus said its turbofan design could carry up to 200 passengers more than 2,000 miles, while a turboprop concept would have a 50% lower capacity and range.

A third, “blended-wing body” aircraft was the most eye-catching of the three designs.

All three planes would be powered by gas-turbine engines modified to burn liquid hydrogen, and through hydrogen fuel cells to create electrical power.

However, Airbus admitted that for the idea to work, airports would have to invest large sums of money in refuelling infrastructure.

“The transition to hydrogen, as the primary power source for these concept planes, will require decisive action from the entire aviation ecosystem,” said Mr Faury.

“Together with the support from government and industrial partners, we can rise up to this challenge to scale up renewable energy and hydrogen for the sustainable future of the aviation industry.”

The new Airbus designs are the fruit of a joint research project that Airbus launched with EasyJet last year to consider hybrid and electric aircraft.

The airline’s chief executive, Johan Lundgren, said: “EasyJet remains absolutely committed to more sustainable flying and we know that technology is where the answer lies for the industry.”

Amazon criticised over ‘Black Lives Don’t Matter’ caps

By Charlie Jones
BBC News

the hat

image copyrightAmazon

image captionAmazon has since taken down the hats from sale and said sellers must follow their guidelines

A barrister has criticised Amazon for selling hats with the slogan “Black Lives Don’t Matter”, marketed as being elegant and a “nice present”.

Alexandra Wilson, from Essex, said it was “honestly embarrassing” the company was selling the caps and questioned whether it had any checks in place.

Amazon has since removed the hats, which were being sold by a third party.

Last week the retailer faced criticism for

selling T-shirts with the slogan “Let’s Make Down Syndrome Extinct”.

Ms Wilson, 25, who has previously been the subject of racist abuse, said it was “really disappointing” it took some time for the hats to be taken down.

She said she wanted to make sure the item was never sold again.

image copyrightLaurie Lewis
image captionAlexandra Wilson, who specialises in family and criminal law, reported the item to Amazon

“Multiple people reported it and racist material should be removed immediately,” she said.

“Websites like Amazon definitely need to have better checks in place for both their descriptions and photos because this isn’t the first time something like this has happened.”

The hat, which cost £12.96, was described by the seller as “high quality” with a “unique and fashionable” design which was “eye catching”. It said the hat’s “elegant” appearance made it a “nice present” for family and friends.

In a statement, Amazon said: “All sellers must follow our selling guidelines and those who do not will be subject to action including potential removal of their account. The product in question is no longer available.”

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  • Amazon
  • Race and ethnicity

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Dark Overlord hacker pleads guilty

Nathan Wyatt

image copyrightDavid Parker/ANL/Shutterstock

A Northamptonshire man who was a member of a hacking group which stole hospital patients’ records and Netflix shows has been sentenced to five years in prison in the US.

The Dark Overlord (TDO) hacking group stole data from a range of organisations, and demanded huge ransoms for its return.

Wyatt contacted victims to ask for payments, and was caught via a telephone number linking him to this.

The rest of the group remains at large.

It is unclear how many members there are.

Wyatt was arrested in 2017 in the UK and extradited to the US in December 2019. He had previously been investigated for hacking the iCloud account of Pippa Middleton, the sister of the Duchess of Cambridge, but was released with no further action taken.

The 39-year-old pleaded guilty in a federal court in St Louis to charges of identity theft and computer fraud. During the hearing, held via Zoom, he apologised and reportedly said that he never wanted to see another computer for the rest of his life.

He admitted that the group had obtained sensitive data from companies, and threatened to release the data unless the companies paid a ransom of between $75,000 (£58,000) and $350,000. No companies paid up, but he was ordered to pay £1.1m in compensation.

Acting US Assistant Attorney General Brian C Rabbitt said: “Nathan Wyatt used his technical skills to prey on Americans’ private data and exploited the sensitive nature of their medical and financial records for his own personal gain”.

The crimes the TDO has claimed responsibility for include:

  • hacking three healthcare organisations and selling more than 650,000 patient records on the dark web
  • hacking Netflix and leaking episodes of Orange is the New Black
  • selling more than 9.3 million patient records from an unnamed healthcare insurance provider

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  • Cyber-crime

  • Computer hacking

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TikTok writes to rivals over suicide clips

Theo Bertram

image copyrightParliament TV

image captionTikTok’s European head of public policy Theo Bertram said the firm had to “do better”

TikTok has written to social media firms asking them to join together to remove content that depicts self-harm or suicide more quickly.

It comes after a clip of a man killing himself was widely circulated on its platform and viewed by young children.

Theo Bertram, Europe’s public policy head, said the sharing of the video suggested a co-ordinated attack, possibly from bot accounts.

He declined to discuss ongoing negotiations on the future of TikTok.

Mr Bertram was being grilled by MPs on the Department of Digital Culture, Media and Sport who are investigating how social media platforms deal with online harms.

They were also keen to hear more about the future of the company outside China, in wake of President Donald Trump’s threat to ban the app in the US unless a deal is struck with American firms.

Owner ByteDance is currently in talks with Oracle and Walmart over its future, but reports suggest that China is unlikely to approve what it sees as an unfair deal.

Mr Bertram said he was not able to comment on the details of the ongoing negotiations.

“I think there are broader concerns around China and China’s role in the world. And I think that these concerns are projected on to TikTok and don’t think they are always fairly projected,” he told MPs.

Huge spike

When pressed on how the platform dealt with content sensitive to the Chinese government, such as protests in Hong Kong and the treatment of the Uighur Muslims, he told MPs: “TikTok is a business outside of China and is led by European management that have the same concerns and the same world view that you do and we care about our users.”

Some of those users have recently been traumatised by a clip circulating on the platform showing a US man killing himself, and Mr Bertram acknowledged that the firm had to “do better”.

Mr Bertram explained that the firm had seen a huge spike in the sharing of the clip a week after the broadcast took place on Facebook Live.

“Following an internal review, we found evidence of a co-ordinated effort by bad actors to spread this video across the internet and platforms, including TikTok.

“And we saw people searching for content in a very specific way. Frequently clicking on a profile of people as if they’re kind of anticipating that those people had uploaded a video.”

He said the firm had written to the chief executives of Facebook, Instagram, Google, YouTube, Twitter, Twitch, Snapchat, Pinterest and Reddit.

“What we are proposing is that, the same way these companies already work together around child sexual imagery and terrorist-related content, we should now establish a partnership around dealing with this type of content.”

And for TikTok itself, he promised “changes to machines learning and emergency systems” as well as how algorithms that detect such content can work better with the firm’s content moderators.

He was also asked about reports that TikTok had removed content around disabilities or LGBTQ.

He explained that “unfortunately” there had been a policy around not promoting content that might encourage bullying, which limited content from people with disabilities and LGBTQ content.

“That is no longer our policy,” he said.

He was less clear on whether the firm restricted the promotion of LGBTQ hashtags in Russia, saying: “Not as far as I’m aware… The only time we will remove that content is when we have a legal requirement to do so.”

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  • Social media

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Dark web drugs raid leads to 179 arrests

Graphic showing little red riding hood and a wolf

image copyrightEuropol

image captionThe dark web “is not a fairy tale” said Europol

Police forces around the world have seized more than $6.5m (£5m) in cash and virtual currencies, as well as drugs and guns in a co-ordinated raid on dark web marketplaces.

Some 179 people were arrested across Europe and the US, and 500kg (1,102lb) of drugs and 64 guns confiscated.

It ends the “golden age” of these underground marketplaces,

Europol said.

“The hidden internet is no longer hidden”, said Edvardas Sileris, head of Europol’s cyber-crime centre.

The operation, known as DisrupTor, was a joint effort between the Department of Justice and Europol. It is believed that the criminals engaged in tens of thousands of sales of illicit goods and services across the US and Europe.

Drugs seized including fentanyl, oxycodone, methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and MDMA.

Of those arrested 119 were based in the US, two in Canada, 42 in Germany, eight in the Netherlands, four in the UK, three in Austria and one in Sweden.

Police are getting better at targeting operations on the dark web – a part of the internet that is accessible only through specialised tools. This latest raid follows the takedown of the Wall Street market last year, which was then thought to be the second-largest illegal online market on the dark web.

Mr Sileris said: “Law enforcement is most effective when working together, and today’s announcement sends a strong message to criminals selling or buying illicit goods on the dark web: the hidden internet is no longer hidden and your anonymous activity is not anonymous.”

“With the spike in opioid-related overdose deaths during the Covid-19 pandemic, we recognise that today’s announcement is important and timely,” said FBI director Christopher Wray.

Kacey Clark, a researcher dark web monitoring specialist Digital Shadows said: “This is another further blow to organised cybercrime. The operation which took down the AlphaBay and Hansa marketplaces three years ago spooked cyber criminals, since it resulted in many follow up prosecutions as law enforcement pieced evidence together – often many months later.

“Wall Street market emerged from these ashes and was the most significant one in existence at the time. It would appear that law enforcement has followed the same pattern and that is why we are seeing arrests today.”

Will this truly herald the “end of the golden era of dark web marketplaces”?

In the short-term there could big impact as not only this operation but other recent incidents have shaken trust in dark web stores.

Last month another popular marketplace called Empire came to an abrupt close after a suspected ‘exit scam’.

It’s thought the administrators made off with members’ funds, leaving customers’ wallets empty and vendors needing to rebuild their shops somewhere else.

Three other major sites have also been linked to exit scams in the last 12 months – so the police operation comes at a time when many people may already be questioning their shopping habits.

However, as we’ve seen in the past with big takedowns like AlphaBay, the lure of buying drugs and other illegal items on the internet means there is always be a market for it.

Other sites will be trying to boost their security and anonymity and it’s likely more marketplaces will sprout up, potentially offering even more innovative systems to make it harder for law enforcement to find them.

Related Topics

  • Dark web

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United Nations general assembly: Xi rejects Trump’s ‘baseless’ Covid accusations – live

As Chile’s talk continues beyond the 15-minute deadline, Julian Borger has some analysis on China’s news-making speech:

Xi Jinping adopted the role of the adult superpower in the room in his address, presented in front of a painting of the Great Wall. Unlike Trump, he spoke the language of multilateral diplomacy. And he made news, declaring that China’s carbon dioxide emissions would peak by 2030 and the country would reach carbon neutrality by 2060, targets the EU has been urging Beijing to agree to.

Xi also announced some donations to UN funds – $50m to UN’s Covid-19 relief fund, and $50m to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.

As it was a pre-recorded speech, there was no reaction to Trump’s attack, but there were some digs at unilateralism without naming the US or its president.

No country should “be allowed to do whatever it likes and be the hegemon, bully or boss of the world”, Xi said, which is a bit rich given China’s military build-up in the South China Sea and its aggressive posture on the border with India, not to mention its mass incarceration of Muslims.

“Burying one’s head in the sand like an ostrich or trying to fight globalization with Don Quixote’s lance will go against the trend of history,” the Chinese leader said, with a western literary reference apparently aimed at Trump. “The world will never return to isolation and no one can sever the ties between countries.”

Some more analysis, this time from our diplomatic editor, Patrick Wintour, on Turkey’s talk:

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan used his general assembly address to set out Turkey’s bitter objections to its exclusion from the East Mediterranean, but said he was ready to resume talks bound by international law to address their contested maritime claims in the eastern Mediterranean and Aegean. By his recent rhetorical standards, the speech was one of Erdoğan’s mildest.

His speech came at a highly sensitive time in the talks process following a video conference earlier on Tuesday between Erdoğan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU Council President Charles Michel.

Merkel is trying to mediate a deal whereby Turkey and Greece restart bilateral talks on their disputed maritime claims, and in return Turkey at a meeting of the EU Heads of State later this week is given assurances about modernising the Turkey-EU customs union. In a bid to pave the way for talks, Turkey pulled back one of its navy surveillance ships for what it described as routine maintenance, but was clearly a diplomatic gesture.

Erdoğan told the UN his priority was to settle disputes by international law on an equitable basis. He warned no attack, harassment or intimidation of Turkey will be accepted.

The dispute has widened into a conflict between Turkey as upholder of the Palestinian cause, and the Arab Gulf States, such as the United Arab Emirates that have struck a peace deal with Israel. Turkey is also defending the rights of Turkish Cypriots on the divided island. Without mentioning France, Greece’s main supporter, he said futile attempts to exclude Turkey would have no chance of success, and blamed the dispute on Greece’s maximalists demands since 2003.

He also called for a regional conference in the Mediterranean including the Turkish Cypriots to promote a dialogue between the Med’s coastal countries. Turkey feels it was excluded when an East Med gas forum was set up last year that left out Turkey.

Before we get to the next speaker, here is some snap analyis on Trump’s address from my colleague, Julian Borger:

Trump’s speech was a barnstorming seven minutes, less than half the time he was allotted, and in a tone just short of yelling. It was a speech designed for a virtual campaign rally and that is its destiny, to be played on repeat on Republican social media.

Much of the speech was a ferocious attack on China. He named the country 11 times in all. In the first few seconds he had named Covid-19 the “China virus”, and called for Beijing to be held accountable.

Having dismissed the pandemic as affecting “virtually nobody” at a rally yesterday, he called the fight against it as a “great global struggle” comparable to the second world war. And Trump went on to make a series of false claims about what the US government was doing about the pandemic.

The first was the biggest. He said “we launched the most aggressive mobilization, since the second world war.”

In fact, the federal government has handed over leadership to the states, and its main impact was to broadcast misleading information, downplaying the threat. Trump was speaking just after the US passed the milestone of 200,000 dead from the pandemic – a statistic he did not mention.

There will be some relief in the UN, where there were fears that the US president would announce the severing of more US funding of the organisation. Instead the hostile fire was directed mostly on China. The brevity of the speech limited the number of targets.

Covid: Have local lockdowns worked?

A woman wearing a protective mask walks past a warning sign in Manchester, as the city and the surrounding area faces local restrictions in an effort to avoid a local lockdown being forced upon the area, amid the coronavirus disease Image copyright Reuters

After a summer of gradual relaxation, the UK faces the prospect of further nationwide restrictions. But about a fifth of the population already know what it’s like to go back into some form of lockdown.

So are these local lockdowns effective, and what can we learn from them?

Not all lockdowns are created equal

Since July, more than 10 million people have come under some form of new curbs to their freedom, from pub closures to a complete ban on mixing with other households.

Restrictions were brought in at different points in local outbreaks.

Given that many local restrictions have been implemented so recently, it is difficult to assess how effective they’ve been.

However, data from Leicester, Leicestershire and Greater Manchester, which have been subject to restrictions for longer periods, provide some insight.

In Leicester, action was taken fairly late, once cases had surpassed 140 per 100,000 people.

However, once they were brought in, the measures were stringent, preventing shops and pubs from opening, and households from gathering indoors.

And that lockdown had a visible impact on cases.

Allowing for the fact that some people might change their behaviour a little before or after a formal lockdown is announced, the rise and fall in case numbers tracks very closely with measures being implemented, and then eased again.

Pubs, restaurants, gyms and beauty salons were gradually allowed to reopen from the beginning of August to the start of September. There are still limits on gatherings across the city.

In Greater Manchester, a slightly different approach was taken.

Measures were brought in sooner than in Leicester – when cases hit about 80 per 100,000 people – but initially they were softer.

Gatherings with other households were banned, but shops, pubs and restaurants remained open.

And the pattern when it comes to cases is less clear.

Although Oldham saw a large weekly drop immediately after the restrictions were added, the trend has generally been upwards.

‘Confirmed’ cases

When we talk about cases, what we’re really seeing is how many cases are being confirmed through testing – and this can vary wildly depending on how much testing you do.

Testing has been troubled in recent weeks, but earlier in the summer huge resources were focused on areas with outbreaks, including testers going door-to-door to swab people, regardless of whether they had symptoms.

The government doesn’t publish a breakdown of testing by local authority, but Public Health England does publish regional positivity rates – the number of positive cases as a proportion of all tests carried out.

This makes earlier increases in cases look a little less steep than they do from confirmed cases alone.

But it shows that recent rises in case numbers have been genuine, and not just a result of more testing.

Hospital admissions

While case numbers are skewed by how many tests are being done, hospital admissions are a more consistent measure.

Looking at both hospital admissions and deaths in Leicester brings home how much impact its second lockdown had.

A rise in hospital admissions was stopped in its tracks and reduced – only to come back up again in recent weeks, as restrictions have eased.

Coronavirus deaths in the city also saw a sustained decrease, with Leicester recording fewer than five deaths a week in the month to 7 September.

In Greater Manchester, again the picture is less dramatic but hospital admissions do appear to have been kept at a low level following the introduction of restrictions.

It is possible the measures did something to protect the most vulnerable, even if they didn’t have as noticeable an impact on overall cases.

And, perhaps because some restrictions were brought in at an earlier stage, the rise in cases doesn’t appear to have led to higher death rates.

But local hospitalisation data has only been published up to 2 September. National data shows hospital admissions for Covid have been creeping up since then.

In fact, since 2 September the number of people in hospital with coronavirus in the north-west has tripled to 393 – the highest since 6 July.

That hasn’t yet translated to an increase in the number of people dying, but that will be the fear.

The data confirms that curbs in local areas can have a considerable impact, and the tighter they are, the bigger the impact on cases.

Fundamentally, the virus needs people to be in close contact and mixing between circles to spread through the population.

But it also indicates that the impact is far from permanent – relax the restrictions and allow more contact, and the virus will quickly start to spread again.

Unless and until a viable vaccine becomes available, government will be faced with the same choice: shut down large chunks of society or allow the virus to tear through communities, with little idea of the true toll that either will exact.

Flu jab ‘more important than ever’ this winter

Nurse in protective gear giving patient a vaccination Image copyright Getty Images

People are being advised to get a flu jab to help protect against the “double danger” of flu and coronavirus.

Research shows people can catch both diseases at the same time, with serious and sometimes deadly consequences.

More people will be offered a free flu vaccine this year – anyone over 50 in England is eligible.

A vaccine for coronavirus is not available yet and experts are worried the UK could see the virus rip through the population this winter.

Research from Public Health England looking at Covid-19 illness between January and April among nearly 20,000 hospital patients suggests risk of death is more than doubled for people who catch flu on top of coronavirus, compared to coronavirus alone.

Flu by itself can also be a serious condition – it kills around 11,000 people in England each year and hospitalises many more.

People at high risk from flu are also most at risk from Covid-19.

Who will be offered the flu vaccine in England?

  • people who were required to shield from coronavirus and anyone they live with
  • people with some medical conditions including diabetes, heart failure and asthma
  • pregnant women
  • pre-school children over the age of two
  • all primary school children, as last year, and, for the first time, Year 7 pupils
  • initially all people over 65, before the programme is extended to the over-50s
  • healthcare and social care staff
  • people living in a residential or nursing home
  • people who are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person

The NHS will get in contact with those who are eligible.

Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are running flu campaigns.

Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer for England, said: “Flu can be deadly and it is easily spread in children and adults. The vaccine is the best way to protect yourself from becoming ill with the flu, especially if you are in a vulnerable group.

“This winter with Covid still circulating, and the increased risk to life if you are ill with both viruses simultaneously, it is even more vital to get the free jab as soon as you can.”

People who are not eligible for a free jab could pay for one at pharmacies and supermarkets, although availability is limited currently while stocks are prioritised to those who need it the most.

Boots has temporarily suspended its bookings for anyone under the age of 65 and is temporarily limiting existing stocks to those at highest risk – people 65 and over.

NHS England confirmed there is no nationwide shortage of flu jabs, but that those eligible for the free vaccine would be immunised in phases, with the highest risk groups receiving it first.

It is unclear how bad flu might be this winter – some years are worse than others – but experts say the vaccine is a good match for the strain of flu that will be circulating.

Flu, like coronavirus, is a viral infection that is passed on through coughs and sneezes. Social distancing, masks and handwashing should help reduce the spread of both.

Most people with flu recover at home in a week, but people with chronic conditions or who are over 65 should call NHS 111.

If you think you have either flu or Covid-19, stay at home and self-isolate.

Book a coronavirus test if you have:

  • a high fever
  • a new. continuous cough
  • a loss of, or a change to your sense of smell or taste

Covid: School bus drivers fearful of coronavirus infection risk

A pupil wears a face covering getting off a school bus in Scotland Image copyright PA Media
Image caption Face coverings are required on school buses in Scotland, but not in other parts of the UK

School bus drivers have raised concerns about a lack of social distancing on services travelling at full capacity, with many children not wearing masks.

The Unite union said it was “extremely worried” drivers were at risk of catching Covid-19 on “packed” buses.

Social distancing is not mandatory on dedicated school buses under government guidance across the UK, although it should happen where possible.

The government says it is providing £40m to help increase capacity.

Government guidance for England says that, where possible, social distancing should be “maximised” between individuals or “bubbles” of children who stay together throughout the course of the day.

Other safety measures recommended include more frequent cleaning, maximising ventilation through opening windows and ceiling vents, and allocating seats to ensure children sit with their “bubble” if possible.

The guidance says the measures are an “appropriate balance” because the overall risk to children of serious illness from Covid-19 is very low, they do not mix with the general public on school buses, and services often carry the same children on a regular basis.

Similar guidance is in place for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Sheamus Greene, who drives a school bus in Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, which holds 45 children and travels at full capacity, says there is no social distancing on the service.

He says the bus carries children from eight different schools, who are on board for between 20 and 35 minutes.

Pupils over the age of 12 are advised to wear face coverings but Mr Greene says only around 50% on his bus do.

Unlike on public transport, face coverings are not compulsory on dedicated school buses in Northern Ireland, Wales or England, although they are recommended. However, they should be worn by children aged five and over on services in Scotland.

Mr Greene, who is also a Sinn Féin councillor, says a plastic screen was installed around his driver’s seat after he raised concerns with the education authority – but it is not airtight.

He says there is very little ventilation on the bus, with only one skylight window able to be opened and this has to be closed if it rains, which he fears will allow the virus to spread more easily.

Image copyright Sheamus Greene
Image caption Sheamus Greene says his bus is full to capacity

Children are at extremely low risk of becoming ill from Covid-19 but evidence on how likely they are to spread the virus is less certain.

Mr Greene, 55, says he is worried about transmitting the virus to family members at home, who have underlying health conditions making them more vulnerable to Covid-19.

“There’s an awful lot of drivers in this area in their 70s and mid to late 60s, and I know some of them have underlying health problems as well,” he adds.

“I don’t know of any other job where people have been expected to do what school bus drivers have been expected to do – sit in a confined space with up to 50 people for six hours a day.”

Mr Greene says he wants to see evidence that travelling without social distancing is safe – and, if it isn’t, he says capacity should be reduced.

A statement from the education authority said it had put in place a range of safety measures, in line with government advice, including distributing more than 150,000 items of PPE to drivers, installing screens and hand sanitiser dispensers on vehicles, and enhanced cleaning.

“Our drivers and escorts play a vital role in enabling children and young people to access education, and their health and wellbeing is important to us, so we are committed to keeping our guidance under review in line with government advice,” the statement said.

‘Colds are rife’

Michael – not his real name – drives a minibus for a special needs school in Surrey.

With children travelling in the vehicle for up to an hour-and-a-half each morning, Michael, who is 61 and asthmatic, says he is “very worried” about catching the virus.

“During the winter season colds are rife because they just go round and round the vehicle,” he says.

“If the common cold can whizz around a vehicle very easily, it does concern me enormously that coronavirus could also spread come cold season.”

The vehicle carries up to eight passengers but after Michael raised concerns with his employer the capacity was reduced to seven, allowing a one-seat gap between him and the next child.

While the children wear masks, Michael – who does not want to use his real name for fear of losing his job – says they are not worn properly, with the children’s noses often uncovered.

He wants capacity reduced to four passengers to enable social distancing and medical-grade masks for drivers.

A Surrey County Council spokesman said both the council and the Department for Transport had provided guidance to schools and bus operators on how to safely run school transport.

“It’s important that we all work together to ensure that appropriate measures are in place and the risk to passengers, drivers and passenger assistants is minimised, therefore we’re always willing to discuss any concerns with transport operators,” he said.

Image copyright Transport for London
Image caption Some buses in London have been designated for school pupils only

Unite’s national officer for passenger transport, Bobby Morton, says social distancing and face coverings should be mandatory on school buses.

He says a lack of consistency in guidance for public transport and dedicated school services means the situation varies across the country, with some buses “packed” full of children.

“I get call after call from drivers saying to me they’re very, very fearful,” he says.

“Not only could they be infected themselves but when they return home after their shift they could unwittingly be transmitting the virus to members of their family.”

Covid: Deaths near lowest level since March

person on ventilator in hospital bed Image copyright Getty Images

Coronavirus contributed to 1% of all deaths in England and Wales in the second week of this month.

That’s among the lowest figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) since March when the pandemic took hold.

It’s feared this will rise following recent increases in cases and hospitalisations.

Deaths from all causes in England and Wales were higher than average in the week to 11 September.

This is likely to be because the August Bank Holiday delayed reporting, however.

The north west of England had the most deaths from coronavirus.

The ONS counted registrations where “novel coronavirus” was mentioned on the death certificate.

Although coronavirus deaths remain relatively low, this week also marks the first time they have increased rather than decreased since the beginning of April.

The government is poised to introduce new restrictions on gatherings and hospitality, as cases of infection have begun to rise again.

Deaths hit their lowest point since mid-March in the week to 4 September, with 78 deaths certificates mentioning coronavirus as a factor.

But analysis from Oxford University suggests that the number of Covid-19 deaths could be even lower.

The ONS count includes any death certificate that mentions Covid-19.

The Oxford analysis suggests that an increasing proportion of these death registrations mention Covid-19 without saying that the disease was a direct or underlying cause of the death.

In total, there were 51,818 deaths in England and Wales where coronavirus was mentioned on the death certificate – making up 12% of all deaths this year.

The ONS also looked at deaths among the working-age population between March and June, before many lockdown restrictions were eased.

It found of just over 5,000 deaths – 72% – were likely to be the result of an infection acquired before lockdown came into force.

People working in factories, and in the care and leisure sectors, had a significantly higher risk of dying than the average population.

Coronavirus: ‘We’ve reached a perilous turning point’, says Boris Johnson

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Media captionBoris Johnson: “It would be tempting to think the threat had faded”

The UK has reached “a perilous turning point”, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said, as he set out a raft of new coronavirus restrictions for England which could last for up to six months.

Shop staff will have to wear face masks and weddings will be limited to a maximum of 15 people, under the rules.

Fines for breaking laws on gatherings and not wearing a mask will increase to £200 for a first offence.

He also warned “significantly greater restrictions” could come if necessary.

Mr Johnson said “similar steps” would be taken across the UK after he met with the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on Tuesday morning.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also announced a 22:00 curfew for hospitality businesses but went further on restrictions, banning the visiting of other households indoors.

In the House of Common, the prime minister told MPs: “We always knew that while we might have driven the virus into retreat, the prospect of a second wave was real. I’m sorry to say that, as in Spain and France and many other countries, we’ve reached a perilous turning point.”

The number of UK cases rose by 4,926 on Tuesday, government figures show, with deaths increasing by 37.

Mr Johnson said the government would provide police and local authorities in England with extra funding to enforce the regulations and the option to draw on military support.

He said the new rules were “carefully judged” to achieve the maximum reduction in the R number – which measures how quickly the virus is spreading – while causing “the minimum damage to lives and livelihoods”.

The prime minister said this was “by no means a return to the full lockdown of March”, with no general instructions to stay at home. Businesses, schools, colleges and universities will remain open.

Attendance figures show the number of schools in England sending home groups of pupils due to Covid-19 incidents quadrupled in a week, however.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionCovid restrictions: PM addresses the Commons, telling MPs of new hospitality and face covering rules

In the last fortnight, hospital admissions have doubled and Covid-19 is likely to spread faster in winter, Mr Johnson said, adding: “So this is the moment when we must act.”

If these restrictions fail to bring the R number below one – the point where the epidemic is no longer growing – “then we reserve the right to deploy greater fire power with significantly greater restrictions” he said.

The latest R estimate for the whole of the UK is between 1.1 and 1.4.

Mr Johnson said: “We will spare no effort in developing vaccines, treatments, new forms of mass-testing but unless we palpably make progress we should assume that the restrictions that I have announced will remain in place for perhaps six months.”

Under the new measures for England:

  • Penalties for not wearing a mask or gathering in groups of more than six will increase to £200 on the first offence
  • From Thursday, all pubs, bars and restaurants will be restricted to table service only. Takeaways can continue
  • Hospitality venues must close at 22:00 from Thursday – which means shutting then, not calling for last orders (in Scotland the same curfew rule comes into force on Friday)
  • Office workers are being told to work from home again if possible, the PM confirmed
  • The planned return of spectators to sports venues will now not go ahead from 1 October
  • Face coverings must be worn by shop staff, taxi drivers and passengers
  • Customers in indoor hospitality venues will also have to wear masks, except when seated at a table to eat or drink
  • Exemptions to the “rule of six” will be cut back, meaning indoor team sports such as five-a-side football matches will end.

Restating her support for people working from home, Scotland’s first minister also announced her government may impose a “legal duty” on employers to allow home working.

Ms Sturgeon said enforcement of coronavirus rules for the public in Scotland is “under review” but added: “Supporting people to do the right thing is much more effective than threatening harsh punishment if they cannot.”

The first minister also said the new restrictions on visiting other households would be reviewed every three weeks – and stressed that they would “not necessarily” be in place for as long as six months.

‘Tough calls are still to come’

The new restrictions in England amount to little more than a tinkering around the edges.

Last week there was talk of mini lockdowns and circuit breaks. But with hospital admissions and deaths still low, there is a window of opportunity to see what impact these new measures will have.

While the rapid growth put forward by the government’s chief pandemic advisers on Monday that cases could reach 50,000 a day by mid-October is unlikely to be realised, according to many, the chances are infection rates will continue to climb.

This is a virus which can be transmitted silently – people are infectious before symptoms develop, while some do not even develop any – and we are entering the time of year when respiratory illnesses circulate more and deaths start to increase.

If and when this happens, the government will need to decide how far it is prepared to go. The same applies for the rest of the UK nations despite the tighter restrictions there on visiting people’s homes.

A full lockdown is highly unlikely, but more significant steps such as closing hospitality venues, leisure facilities and curbing everyday activities from playing sport to travelling around the country remain options.

But the horrible question that will be asked is this: How much economic pain, disruption and damage to wider health and wellbeing is worth the lives that are at risk?

The really tough calls are still to come.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he supported “necessary” stricter measures, but added that families were worried “the government doesn’t have a strategy”.

“One day people were encouraged to work in the office, in fact more than encouraged they were openly challenged by the prime minister for not doing so. Today they’re told the opposite,” he said.

“This is a time of national crisis but we need clear leadership.”

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionLabour leader Keir Starmer accuses the government of not having a “clear strategy” for the pandemic

Sir Keir also said it would be a “disaster” to withdraw the furlough scheme – which is due to end next month – in “one fell swoop” with no additional support for people whose jobs might be at risk.

The governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, suggested some sectors may benefit from further targeted help.

The Confederation of British Industry, which represents business, said it was “desperately urgent” to announce a targeted replacement for the furlough scheme.

“It has saved thousands and thousands of jobs but there is a cliff-edge looming. And, now, with today’s announcement that is more urgent than ever,” said director general Dame Carolyn Fairbairn.

Some business owners said the new rules would make life even harder. Marc Gough, who runs a crockery and glassware business in the wedding and events sector, said the cut to the limit for weddings to 15 was “heart breaking”.

“I can’t earn a living because you’re restricting me to weddings of 15 people,” Mr Gough told BBC Radio 5 live, adding that the turnover of his business had fallen from £750,000 to £20,000.

“To walk into that warehouse, to put a smile on my face to the staff that I have left, to the clients that I deal with constantly, the brides, it’s truly heart breaking,” he said.

Are the new restrictions going to affect you? Will your wedding be affected? Share your experiences by emailing haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk.

Please include a contact number if you are willing to speak to a BBC journalist. You can also get in touch in the following ways:

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Satellite achieves sharp-eyed view of methane

Methane map
Presentational white space

There is a powerful new satellite in the sky to monitor emissions of methane (CH4), one of the key gases driving human-induced climate change.

Known as Iris, the spacecraft can map plumes of CH4 in the atmosphere down to a resolution of just 25m.

This makes it possible to identify individual sources, such as specific oil and gas facilities.

Iris was launched by the Montreal, Canada-based GHGSat company on 2 September.

It’s the pathfinder in what the firm hopes will be a 10-spacecraft constellation by the end of 2022.

The image at the top of this page is Iris’s “first light” – its first attempt to sense a significant emission of methane.

The observation was made over Turkmenistan, in a region where large plumes from oil and gas infrastructure have been noted before.

The detection, overlaid on a standard aerial image, shows the concentration of methane in the air in excess of normal background levels.

“Let me tell you there was a big hurrah from the team when the data came down because we could see the spectroscopy was there, the resolution was there – everything was as it should be,” recalled GHGSat CEO Stéphane Germain.

“We still need to work on the calibration, which will then allow us to verify the detection threshold and the final performance of the satellite. But as a first-light image – by any standard it’s phenomenal,” he told BBC News.

Methane’s global warming potential is 30 times that of carbon dioxide, so it’s imperative any unnecessary releases are constrained or curtailed.

Human-produced sources are many and varied, including not only oil and gas facilities, but agriculture, landfills, coal mines and hydro-electric dams.

Already, GHGSat is working with operators, regulators and other interested parties to characterise these emissions using a prototype satellite called Claire that it launched in 2016. The presence in orbit of Iris provides an additional stream of data for the company that it now intends to interpret at a brand new British analytics hub, to be set up in Edinburgh and London in the coming weeks.

“There’s world-class capability in what we do in the UK,” Dr Germain said, “not only in analytics but also in the spacecraft systems that we’re interested in.

“The UK is a jurisdiction where climate change is important to people, and we want to be where people are willing to participate in the growth of an enterprise that wants to address that worldwide.”

Image copyright ESA
Image caption Artwork: Sentinel-5P makes daily global maps of specific gases in the atmosphere

GHGSat has recently been strengthening its ties with the European Space Agency, which operates the EU’s Sentinel-5P satellite.

This also monitors methane, taking a global daily snapshot of the gas. But at a resolution of 7km, its data is much less resolved than that of Iris, or indeed Claire which senses the atmosphere at scales of 50m.

Put them all together, however, and they form something of a dream team for investigating CH4.

“They (Sentinel-5P) can see the whole world every day. We can’t do that. But we can see individual facilities. They can’t do that. So, really, it’s a fantastic combination, and it’s making for a very good relationship with the European Space Agency that I think we’re just at the beginning of growing into something much, much bigger.”

GHG’s next satellite, Hugo, is in testing and is expected to launch at the end of this year.

The company recently secured $30m (£23m) in extra financing, which enables it to build the three spacecraft that will follow Hugo into orbit.

Jonathan.Amos-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk and follow me on Twitter: @BBCAmos

The tech putting the beef into Australian cattle farming

Australia is the world’s second largest exporter of beef, and the farms are enormous – they can be the size of small nations – making it difficult for farmers to keep across all their livestock.

So there is an increasing reliance on technology to monitor cattle. The tech can check, weight, health, eating habits, when cows give birth and even ensure there is enough water to drink.

BBC Click’s Nick Kwek went to Rockhampton, the Beef Capital of Australia, to find out more.

See more at

Click’s website and @BBCClick

Twitter investigates racial bias in image previews

A split screen shows Mitch McConnell, left, and Barack Obama, right, with the Twitter logo between them

image copyrightUS Gov

image captionOne user found that Twitter seemed to favour showing Mitch McConnell’s face over Barack Obama’s

Twitter is investigating after users discovered its picture-cropping algorithm sometimes prefers white faces to black ones.

Users noticed when two photos – one of a black face the other of a white one – were in the same post, Twitter often showed only the white face on mobile.

Twitter said it had tested for racial and gender bias during the algorithm’s development.

But it added: “It’s clear that we’ve got more analysis to do.”

image copyrightTwitter

Twitter’s chief technology officer, Parag Agrawal, tweeted: “We did analysis on our model when we shipped it – but [it] needs continuous improvement.

“Love this public, open, and rigorous test – and eager to learn from this.”

Facial hair

The latest controversy began when university manager Colin Madland, from Vancouver, was troubleshooting a colleague’s head vanishing when using videoconference app Zoom.

The software was apparently mistakenly identifying the black man’s head as part of the background and removing it.

But when Mr Madland posted about the topic on Twitter, he found his face – and not his colleague’s – was consistently chosen as the preview on mobile apps, even if he flipped the order of the images.

His discovery prompted a range of other experiments by users, which, for example, suggested:

Twitter’s chief design officer, Dantley Davis, found editing out Mr Madland’s facial hair and glasses seemed to correct the problem – “because of the contrast with his skin”.

image copyrightTwitter

Responding to criticism, he tweeted: “I know you think it’s fun to dunk on me – but I’m as irritated about this as everyone else. However, I’m in a position to fix it and I will.

“It’s 100% our fault. No-one should say otherwise.”

‘Many questions’

Zehan Wang, a research engineering lead and co-founder of the neural networks company Magic Pony, which has been acquired by Twitter, said tests on the algorithm in 2017, using pairs of faces belonging to different ethnicities, had found “no significant bias between ethnicities (or genders)” – but Twitter would now review that study.

“There are many questions that will need time to dig into,” he said.

“More details will be shared after internal teams have had a chance to look at it.”

Late last year, a US government study suggested facial-recognition algorithms were much less accurate at identifying black and Asian faces than white ones.
In the UK, police officers last year raised concerns about algorithms “amplifying” prejudices and called for clearer guidelines on using the technology.
And, in June this year, similar concerns led IBM to announce it would no longer offer facial-recognition software for “mass surveillance or racial profiling”.

Related Topics

  • Racism

  • Twitter
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Facial recognition

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TikTok unaware of $5bn US ‘education fund’ request

Trump/TikTok graphic

image copyrightGetty Images

Bytedance, the owner of TikTok, says it has not heard about a $5bn (£4bn) contribution to a new education fund requested by US president Donald Trump, at a rally in North Carolina.

The firm released a statement on its Chinese language website.

It said it wanted to offer an “explanation of some false rumours” about its deal with Oracle and Walmart.

It also said there was no plan to transfer ownership of the valuable algorithms which power TikTok.

Donald Trump had threatened to ban the app in the US unless a sale was agreed with a US firm by the middle of September.

A deal was eventually struck to create a new division, TikTok Global, in partnership with Oracle and Walmart, based in the US.

  • Why does Oracle’s billionaire founder want TikTok?

  • Trump: Oracle’s TikTok deal ‘has my blessing’

Mr Trump said at the weekend that he had asked the companies involved to put up the money “so we can educate people as to the real history of our country”.

TikTok said the $5bn figure was “a forecast of the corporate income tax and other operating taxes that TikTok will need to pay for its business development in the next few years” and said it had not been finalised.

It added, in a statement made on social media: “We would like to clarify that this is the first time that we have heard the news about a $5bn education fund”.

Bytedance also claimed it would retain an 80% stake of TikTok Global.

“China has been determined to emphasise in recent months that the country still has full control of TikTok, amid nervousness at home over the company potentially being divested,” said the BBC’s China Media Analyst Kerry Allen.

“When Oracle agreed a deal with ByteDance last week so that TikTok could remain active in the States, Chinese media emphasised that the deal was “co-operative”, with both parties playing an equal part, rather than Oracle bailing out the Chinese tech giant.”

But China may yet decide that it does not approve of the deal, said Dr Richard Windsor, founder of research firm Radio Free Mobile.

That’s because while Bytedance may retain TikTok’s algorithm, it will still run on US Oracle’s infrastructure.

“If one flips the deal on its head and imagines a situation where a world-leading piece of US software was going to be run on Chinese servers where a Chinese company had full access to it, one can start to see why China might object,” he said.

Related Topics

  • TikTok

  • China
  • Donald Trump

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Microsoft buys Fallout creator Bethesda for $7.5bn

Bethesda's titles Image copyright Microsoft

Xbox-owner Microsoft has acquired the games company behind blockbuster titles including Doom, Fallout, Skyrim and Wolfenstein.

It is paying $7.5bn (£5.85bn) for Bethesda’s parent ZeniMax Media.

Xbox has said that the publisher’s franchises would be added to its Game Pass subscription package for consoles and PCs.

This could help make the forthcoming Xbox Series X more attractive than the PlayStation 5 to some players.

Both machines are due to launch in November.

Game Pass already gives players access to more than 200 games. Microsoft includes first-party titles at point of launch to those signed up to its “ultimate” package without further cost.

By contrast, Sony has opted to charge players up to £70 for its own major releases and does not intend to include new titles in its PlayStation Plus Collection service.

It is not yet clear how the takeover affects Bethesda’s plans to create The Elder Scrolls 6, Starfield and other unfinished games as cross-platform titles.

In a statement, Xbox chief Phil Spencer said the two firms “shared similar visions for the opportunities for creators and their games to reach more players in more ways”.

Pete Hynes, senior vice president at Bethesda Softworks, said the deal offered “access to resources that will make us a better publisher and developer”.

“We’re still working on the same games we were yesterday, made by the same studios we’ve worked with for years, and those games will be published by us,” he wrote in a blog.

Piers Harding-Rolls, research director from Ampere Analysis, described the deal as “a major coup”.

“Microsoft has often been criticised for its lack of heavy-hitting first-party games franchises when compared to Sony and Nintendo. This deal catapults Microsoft’s games portfolio into a much stronger position,” he told the BBC.

Coronavirus testing: Simple test gives results in 90 minutes

DNA Nudge kit Image copyright Imperial College London

A rapid test can accurately diagnose a coronavirus infection within 90 minutes without needing a specialist laboratory, say scientists.

The study by Imperial College London showed the “lab-on-a-chip” gave comparable results to current tests.

The device is already being used in eight NHS hospitals to quickly identify patients who are carrying the virus.

However, experts warn that the kit will not be a solution to the beleaguered Test and Trace programme.

The device, developed by the company DnaNudge, can be used by anyone capable of taking a swab of the nose or throat.

The swab is placed inside a disposable blue cartridge which contains the chemicals needed for the test.

This in turn is slotted into a shoebox-sized machine to perform the analysis.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media caption“A device this small is effectively a laboratory” – Prof Chris Toumazou, of DnaNudge, explains how the new test works

The study, published in the Lancet Microbe, compared results when samples from 386 people were given both the DnaNudge and standard laboratory tests.

“The performance was comparable, which is very reassuring when you’re trying to bring in a new technology,” said Prof Graham Cooke, from Imperial College London.

“Many tests involve a trade-off between speed and accuracy, but this test manages to achieve both.”

If the lab tests said the patient was free of the virus, so did the rapid test. If the lab tests said the patient had the virus, the rapid test agreed 94% of the time.

The UK has already ordered 5,000 of the Nudgebox machines and 5.8 million of the disposable cartridges.

However, there is a major drawback as each box can handle only one test at a time. So during a day, one box could perform around 16 tests.

Prof Cooke said: “They are useful in clinical settings when you are trying to make a rapid decision.”

He described a patient last week who was rapidly identified as having Covid and started on the drugs dexamethasone and remdesivir.

The tests could become even more useful for hospitals in the future as it is theoretically possible to test for coronavirus, flu and respiratory syncytial virus (a major reason young children are admitted to hospital) at the same time.

However, the capacity issue means the test cannot solve the problems with NHS Test and Trace or help with Operation Moonshot and the plans for 10 million tests per day.

Testing 60,000 people at a stadium ahead of a football match would require 60,000 boxes, but it may be useful at smaller venues.

Prof Lawrence Young, who was not part of the research and from the University of Warwick, said the technology was “innovative”.

He added: “The CovidNudge test could have an important role where near-patient, real-time decision-making is necessary, such as screening patients for admission to hospital or for surgery.

“[However,] this is not the answer to universal mass testing. “

Follow James on Twitter

Coronavirus: ‘Widespread virus growth across the country’

Coronavirus swab test Image copyright Getty Images

There is widespread growth of the epidemic across the country and the R number has risen to between 1.1 and 1.4, say the government’s scientific advisers.

Officials are warning of “far worse things to come” as cases are thought to exceed 6,000 a day in England.

And the scientist behind the Covid Symptom Study app said it appeared to be “the start of a second wave”.

The developments come as new England-wide restrictions are being discussed.

At least 13.5 million people, roughly one-in-five of the UK population, are facing some form of local restrictions.

Cases of the virus and hospital admissions for Covid-19 are doubling every seven to eight days in the UK. On Friday, there were 4,322 new lab-confirmed cases of the virus – a rise of nearly 1,000 on yesterday.

Although deaths remain at a very low level, Sage, the scientific body which advises the UK government on the epidemic, says the rise in the R number “shows that we are moving to wider spread growth in transmission at a faster rate”.

The R (reproduction) number describes how many people each infected person passes the virus on to. If it’s above 1, numbers of cases increase very quickly.

‘Worrying picture’

The sharp rise in UK cases over the last two weeks comes amid ongoing problems with the government’s test and trace programme, leading to people struggling to access tests.

Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England said there were “clear signs the virus is now spreading widely across all age groups”, adding she was particularly worried “by the increase in rates of admission to hospital and intensive care among older people”.

In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon said greater restrictions might be needed to “interrupt” the spread of the virus. Tighter measures are already in force in the west of Scotland.

The ONS infection survey, which tests thousands of people in random households whether they have symptoms or not, estimated there were around 6,000 new infections a day in the week to 10 September – up from 3,200 the week before.

It found infection rates were highest in the North West and London, and children aged two to 11 and young people aged 17 to 34 had most positive tests.

Where is this trajectory heading?

The government’s scientific advisers are clear coronavirus is no longer a local problem contained to hotspots.

Instead the rise in cases is now “widespread” across the UK.

Cases may be doubling every week, but they were quadrupling every week before lockdown and are currently at much lower levels than at the peak.

But the concern is where we are heading – it’s a question of trajectory.

If cases continue to double every week then the situation can rapidly get out of hand, that is why the government is contemplating a “circuit break” to control the spread.

But this is not just a question of government action, there is a responsibility on all of us.

Sage documents say only one in five people are fully self-isolating at home when they get symptoms.

The Covid Symptom Study app, which tracks the health of four million people in the UK, estimates there are around 7,500 new cases of Covid every day over the last two weeks.

Latest figures from the app show a rise in cases in London for the first time since June.

Prof Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London and app founder, said it was “a worrying picture”, adding it appears “to be the start of a second wave”.

ONS data from Wales suggests Covid-19 cases there are currently “relatively stable” – with an estimated one in 2,000 people testing positive.

But the First Minister Mark Drakeford said infection rates had risen from 20 per 100,000 to 35 per 100,000 in the past week and he was keeping a “close watch” on cases in Newport and Merthyr Tydfil.

Coronavirus: WHO sets rules for testing African herbal remedies

Related Topics

  • Coronavirus pandemic

Bottles of Covid-Organics

image copyrightAFP

image captionCovid-Organics was launched in Madagascar in April after being tested on fewer than 20 people over three weeks

The World Health Organization (WHO) has agreed rules for the testing of African herbal remedies to fight Covid-19.

Sound science would be the sole basis for safe and effective traditional therapies to be adopted, it said.

Any traditional remedies that are judged effective could be fast-tracked for large-scale manufacturing.

Madagascar’s leader has been promoting an untested product he says can cure the disease despite the WHO warning against using untested remedies.

The WHO said the new rules were aimed at helping and empowering scientists in Africa to conduct proper clinical trials.

  • President’s herbal tonic fails to halt Covid-19 spike

The move comes as the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide passes 30 million, with reported global deaths standing at more than 957,000. In Africa there have been more than 1.3 million cases and than 33,000 reported deaths.

Around 140 potential vaccines for Covid-19 are being developed around the world, with dozens already being tested on people in clinical trials.

‘Accelerating research’

Alongside these efforts, the green light has now been given for phrase three clinical trials using African traditional medicines.

A panel of experts, set up by the WHO, the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and the African Union Commission for Social Affairs, has agreed on the protocols.

Phase three trials usually test the safety and efficacy of a drug on larger groups of participants.

“The adoption of the technical documents will ensure that universally acceptable clinical evidence of the efficacy of herbal medicines for the treatment of Covid-19 is generated without compromising the safety of participants,” said Prof Motlalepula Gilbert Matsabisa, the panel’s chairman.

You may also be interested in:

media captionThe coronavirus diagnostics kit made in South Africa

“The onset of Covid-19, like the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, has highlighted the need for strengthened health systems and accelerated research and development programmes, including on traditional medicines,” the WHO’s Dr Prosper Tumusiime said in the statement.

In April, Madagascar’s President Andry Rajoelina launched Covid-Organics to great fanfare, saying it was a prevention and remedy. It had been tested on 20 people over a period of three weeks.

Mr Rajoelina stands by the herbal concoction, despite the Indian Ocean island having had 15,925 coronavirus infections and 216 Covid-19 deaths.

The drink, which has also been sent to dozens of African countries, is produced by the Malagasy Institute of Applied Research from the artemisia plant – the source of an ingredient used in a malaria treatment – and other Malagasy plants.

Dr Tumusiime said that via the WHO’s African Vaccine Regulatory Forum, there was now a way for clinical trials of medicines in the region to be assessed and approved in fewer than 60 days.

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UK could face 50,000 Covid cases a day by mid-October

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Media captionChief Scientific Officer Sir Patrick Vallance says measures must be taken to stop the spread of Covid-19

The UK could see 50,000 new coronavirus cases a day by mid-October without further action, the government’s chief scientific adviser has warned.

Sir Patrick Vallance said that would be expected to lead to about “200-plus deaths per day” a month after that.

It comes as the PM prepares to chair a Cobra emergency committee meeting on Tuesday morning, then make a statement in the House of Commons.

On Monday, a further 4,368 daily cases and 11 deaths were reported in the UK.

The number of deaths recorded tends to be lower over the weekend and on Mondays due to reporting delays.

Speaking at Downing Street alongside chief medical adviser, Prof Chris Whitty, Sir Patrick stressed the figures given were not a prediction, but added: “At the moment we think the epidemic is doubling roughly every seven days.

“If, and that’s quite a big if, but if that continues unabated, and this grows, doubling every seven days… if that continued you would end up with something like 50,000 cases in the middle of October per day.

“Fifty-thousand cases per day would be expected to lead a month later, so the middle of November say, to 200-plus deaths per day.

“The challenge, therefore, is to make sure the doubling time does not stay at seven days.

“That requires speed, it requires action and it requires enough in order to be able to bring that down.”

Prof Whitty added that if cases continued to double every seven days as Sir Patrick had set out, then the UK could “quickly move from really quite small numbers to really very large numbers because of that exponential process”.

“So we have, in a bad sense, literally turned a corner, although only relatively recently,” he said.

Prof Whitty and Sir Patrick also said:

  • The rising case numbers can not be blamed on an increase in testing as there is also an “increase in positivity of the tests done”
  • Around 70,000 people in the UK are estimated to currently have the disease – and about 6,000 per day are catching it (based on an ONS study)
  • Less than 8% of the population has been infected, although the figure could be as high as 17% in London
  • The rising transmission is a serious “six-month problem that we have to deal with collectively” – but science will eventually “ride to our rescue”
  • The virus is not milder now than in April, despite claims to the contrary
  • It is possible “that some vaccine could be available before the end of the year in small amounts for certain groups” but “the first half of next year” is much more likely

The government’s most senior science and medical advisers are clearly concerned about the rise in cases that have been seen in recent weeks.

The warning about 50,000 cases a day by mid-October is stark. We don’t know for sure how many cases there were at the peak in spring (as there was very limited testing in place) although some estimates put it at 100,000.

However, they were also at pains to point out it was not a prediction – for one thing the ‘rule of six’ which came in just a week ago has not had time to have an impact.

Even among the government’s own advisers there is disagreement over whether what we are seeing is the start of an exponential rise or just a gradual increase in cases, which is what you would expect at this time of year as respiratory viruses tend to circulate more with the reopening of society.

Spain and France, which both started seeing rises earlier than the UK, have not seen the sort of rapid trajectory that was presented by the advisers.

Instead, what was quite telling was the clear social messaging. Even those who are not at a high risk of complications should, they say, play their part in curbing the spread of the virus – because if it spreads then difficult decisions will be needed that have profound societal consequences.

But the big unanswered question is what ministers will do next. There is talk of further restrictions being introduced.

A couple of things are in our favour that were not in the spring. Better treatments for those who get very sick are now available, while the government is in a stronger position to protect the vulnerable groups.

Should ministers wait and see what happens? Or should they crack down early, knowing that will have a negative impact in other ways?

Prof Whitty also said that even though different parts of the UK were seeing cases rising at different rates, and even though some age groups were affected more than others, the evolving situation was “all of our problem”.

He added that evidence from other countries showed infections were “not staying just in the younger age groups” but were “moving up the age bands”.

He said mortality rates from Covid-19 were “significantly greater” than seasonal flu, which killed around 7,000 annually or 20,000 in a bad year.

The briefing comes as areas in north-west England, West Yorkshire, the Midlands and four more counties in south Wales will face further local restrictions from Tuesday.

And additional lockdown restrictions will “almost certainly” be put in place in Scotland in the next couple of days, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said.

“Hopefully this will be with four-nations alignment, but if necessary it will have to happen without that,” she said.

Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething added: “It may be the case that UK-wide measures will be taken but that will require all four governments to exercise our varying share of power and responsibility to do so.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke with leaders of the devolved administrations on Monday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced a new exemption to local restrictions in England for formal and informal childcare arrangements, covering those looking after children under the age of 14 or vulnerable adults.

“It does not allow for play-dates or parties, but it does mean that a consistent childcare relationship that is vital for somebody to get to work is allowed,” he told the Commons.

It is not a question of “if”.

Downing Street will have to introduce extra restrictions to try to slow down the dramatic resurgence of coronavirus.

You would only have to have dipped into a minute or two of the sober briefing from the government’s most senior doctor and scientist on Monday morning to see why.

What is not yet settled however, is exactly what, exactly when, and indeed, exactly where these restrictions will be.

Here’s what it is important to know:

The government is not considering a new lockdown across the country right now.

The prime minister is not about to tell everyone to stay at home as he did from the Downing Street desk in March.

Ministers have no intention at all to close schools again.

Nor, right now, are they planning to tell every business, other than the non-essential, to close again.

What is likely is some kind of extra limits on our huge hospitality sector.

Read more from Laura here.

On Sunday, the prime minister held a meeting in Downing Street with Prof Whitty, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Matt Hancock to discuss possible further measures for England.

Asked about reports of disagreements among cabinet ministers about whether or not to impose a second lockdown, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told BBC Breakfast: “A conversation, a debate, is quite proper and that is exactly what you’d expect.

“Everyone recognises there is a tension between… the virus and the measures we need to take, and the economy and ensuring people’s livelihoods are protected.”

Prof Peter Horby, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said there was a risk the UK could face a repeat of the “catastrophic events” around the world early this year, with intensive care units “rammed full of very sick patients”.

“I really don’t buy that argument that we should slow down… the mistakes that were made in March were nearly all being too cautious and too slow,” he told BBC Radio 4’s World at One.

However, Prof Karol Sikora, from the University of Buckinghamshire and former director of the World Health Organization’s cancer programme, said blanket restrictions were “not the way forward”.

“The most important thing is to target the groups that we need to protect and to let everybody else get on with their business – schools, shops and so on,” he told the programme.

Labour, meanwhile, has also urged the government to avoid a second national lockdown.

“This rapid spike in infections was not inevitable, but a consequence of the government’s incompetence and failure to put in place an adequate testing system,” shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said.

“The government must do what it takes to prevent another lockdown, which would cause unimaginable damage to our economy and people’s wellbeing.”

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