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COVID-19: China attacks PM after he suggests coronavirus could have spread from people grinding pangolin scales | Politics News

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COVID-19: China attacks PM after he suggests coronavirus could have spread from people grinding pangolin scales | Politics News

China has accused Boris Johnson of engaging in “groundless conjecture” after he suggested that coronavirus could have spread from people grinding up the scales of pangolins.

The prime minister speculated about the origin of COVID-19 during a speech to an environmental summit on Monday.

He said it was “the product of an imbalance in man’s relationship with the natural world”.

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December: One year on since coronavirus was spotted

The PM continued: “Like the original plague which struck the Greeks I seem to remember in book one of the Iliad, it is a zoonotic disease.

“It originates from bats or pangolins, from the demented belief that if you grind up the scales of a pangolin you will somehow become more potent or whatever it is people believe, it originates from this collision between mankind and the natural world and we’ve got to stop it.”

But Beijing’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said “careful and meticulous” studies were needed to discover the origin of the coronavirus outbreak.

“Groundless conjecture or hype-up of the issue will only disrupt normal international co-operation on origin-tracing,” he said.

Sky News has contacted Downing Street for a response to Beijing’s criticism of the PM.

Despite coronavirus first being detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, a World Health Organisation team will only be allowed to visit the city for the first time on Thursday.

The organisation has voiced frustration about late delays preventing its team from travelling to China last week.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said the scientists will focus on how the virus first jumped to people.

“Studies will begin in Wuhan to identify the potential source of infection of the early cases,” Dr Tedros said.

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UK targets ‘human rights abuses’ in China

COVID-19 has killed almost two million people around the world, according to Johns Hopkins University, with more than 90 million cases recorded.

The row between London and Beijing comes as the UK government publicly criticised China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims as “barbarism” and announced new measures to stop UK companies trading with Chinese firms connected to forced labour.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the Commons that there was clear evidence of “internment camps, forced labour, arbitrary detention, political re-education and forced sterilisation, all on an industrial scale. It is truly horrific”.

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COVID-19: Michael Gove says Tory MP ‘out of order’ to tell anti-vaxxers to ‘persist’ against restrictions | Politics News

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COVID-19: Michael Gove says Tory MP 'out of order' to tell anti-vaxxers to 'persist' against restrictions | Politics News

A Tory MP who urged anti-vaccination campaigners to keep going with their fight against coronavirus restrictions and told them NHS capacity figures were being “manipulated” is “wrong” and “completely out of order”, a senior minister has said.

Michael Gove told Sky News that Sir Desmond Swayne should apologise and retract his comments.

However, the Cabinet Office minister would not be drawn on whether he should lose the Conservative whip.

Sky News revealed Sir Desmond’s comments in an exclusive story on Wednesday.

Sir Desmond told Sky News he would not apologise for telling a group – who say vaccines are dangerous – to “persist” with their campaign against COVID-19 restrictions.

During an interview in November with Save our Rights UK, obtained by Sky News, he said: “It seems to be a manageable risk, particularly as figures have been manipulated… We’re told there is a deathly, deadly pandemic proceeding at the moment.

“That is difficult to reconcile with ICUs (intensive care units) actually operating at typical occupation levels for the time of year and us bouncing round at the typical level of deaths for the time of year.”

He also told the group, which has previously advanced false claims about COVID vaccines, in the interview: “As the last (House of Commons) Speaker used to say, (John) Bercow, he’d say ‘Persist! Persist!’ That’s my advice – persist.

“And I’ll persist too.”

There is no evidence of data being manipulated, and at the time of the MP’s comments, deaths were 14% above the five-year average – according to the Office for National Statistics.

Over three nights Sky News will host a series of special programmes examining the UK’s response to the pandemic.

Watch COVID Crisis: Learning the Lessons at 8pm on 9, 10 and 11 February

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COVID-19: WHO team leaves quarantine in Wuhan to begin coronavirus origins study | World News

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global team of scientists led by the World Health Organization arrived on Thursday (January 14) to China's central city of Wuhan, to investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

A World Health Organisation-led team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic is due to begin fieldwork in Wuhan after completing two weeks of quarantine.

The virus first emerged in the Chinese city in late 2019 and the United States has accused China of hiding the extent of the outbreak.

The mission has been plagued by delays, concerns over access and bickering between China and the US, which has criticised the terms of the visit, under which Chinese experts conducted the first phase of research.

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The team arrived in Wuhan on 14 January

Sky’s Tom Cheshire, in Wuhan, said investigations were due to start properly on Friday.

He explained the WHO has said it was unlikely it would find an origin of the disease on this trip but that it was a “crucial starting point” and “the best place to look”.

He said the team was facing some restrictions though, adding: “We don’t know if they’re going to have the freedom to move around. We don’t know if they’ll visit the Institute of Virology, for instance.

“A lot depends on what Chinese scientists will be telling them because they have been doing their own investigations. Will they share that data? How useful will that data be?”

Cheshire said the WHO team had a “tough” job trying to work with Chinese authorities “who may not want to show them everything”.

The team were seen leaving their quarantine hotel to be transported by bus to another hotel where they will remain for the investigation.

A relative of a coronavirus victim in China is demanding to meet the WHO team, saying it should speak with affected families who allege they are being muffled by the Chinese government.

Zhang Hai’s father died of COVID-19 in February 2020. He has been organising relatives of victims to demand accountability from officials.

Mr Zhang says he is worried the WHO probe might be used to provide cover for alleged Chinese mistakes in the early days of the outbreak.

The WHO says the visit is a scientific mission to investigate the origins of the virus, not an effort to assign blame.

On Monday, Dr Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease official in the US, told the World Economic Forum the origins of the virus were still unknown, “a big black box, which is awful”.

Keiji Fukuda, a public health expert at the University of Hong Kong and a former WHO official said “it all comes down to what will the team have access to. Will they really be able to ask the questions that they want to ask?”.

Analysis from Sky’s Asia correspondent Tom Cheshire, in Wuhan:

It was a two week wait for the WHO experts to clear quarantine – but the world has been waiting much longer than that for the investigation into the origins of COVID-19 to begin.

The question is: what will they find in Wuhan? Or, rather, what will they be allowed to find?

The WHO team will visit hospitals and the market linked to the first cluster of cases. More than a year on from the outbreak of COVID-19, those locations will offer no useful physical evidence.

Instead, the WHO will have to rely on interviews with doctors and Chinese scientists. They have been conducting their own investigations. The success of the WHO mission will depend on how full and frank that information sharing is.

Given the fact that COVID research has become a sensitive topic in China, with government approval required, that will be difficult. And the WHO have warned it is extremely unlikely that this trip alone will produce concrete results. Instead, it may set the terms for other points of inquiry.

But if things are difficult for the WHO on the ground, they are also not easy for China.

The government certainly wants to make the impression it is acting transparently by letting the WHO into China.

But if the experts are just given a Potemkin tour – perhaps even taken around the giant exhibition centre here in Wuhan that lauds the virus beating achievements of the Chinese Communist Party – the government will lose yet more credibility. And so will the WHO, accused by critics of being beholden to China.

To avoid that, they will have to produce substance, not just impression, in the end

Over three nights Sky News will host a series of special programmes examining the UK’s response to the pandemic.

Watch COVID Crisis: Learning the Lessons at 8pm on 9, 10 and 11 February

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COVID-19: CCTV at Rita Ora’s lockdown party was switched off, police say | Ents & Arts News

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Rita Ora arriving at the GQ Men of the Year Awards 2019 in association with Hugo Boss, held at the Tate Modern in London.

CCTV cameras had been switched off at the Notting Hill restaurant where singer Rita Ora held her lockdown birthday party to avoid her celebrity guests being filmed, police say.

Ora has previously apologised for her “spur of the moment” decision to throw a 30th birthday bash on 28 November – while the UK was in the midst of another coronavirus lockdown.

At the request of security staff, CCTV cameras at Casa Cruz in London had been switched off on the day of the party, according to the police.

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Ora has previously apologised for the breach of rules

Work is ongoing in trying to get the venue’s licence revoked as a result of the event ahead of a hearing on Thursday, with details of the party emerging in a licence review report.

In a statement to the council and police on 1 December, Scottie Bhattarai, a staff member at the venue, said he had given the event the green light.

Mr Bhattarai added that Ora’s team called him on his personal mobile phone at around 5.30pm on the day of the party, saying they wanted to use the venue for “drinks and nibbles”.

He said that the venue was offered £5,000 to host the bash and that because most staff had been furloughed, he went to Casa Cruz to “facilitate the event.” He apologised for being “greedy,” his witness statement said.

Mr Bhattarai added that the group arrived at 7pm with around seven or eight guests, but by 9pm there were roughly 17 people at the gathering.

Model Cara Delevingne and her sister Poppy were among those at the party, according to police.

“Security for the entourage” wanted no footage of them arriving, Mr Bhattarai told police, adding he turned off the CCTV between 6pm and 6.30pm.

Later, Mr Bhattarai said the camera system was faulty and had been scheduled for repair. No payment had been taken in relation to the event at the time of his statement, he added.

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Police say that the CCTV hard drives had been reformatted on 30 November, meaning no footage was available for the previous month.

Mr Bhattarai did not disclose any details of the party’s organiser to police, the report says.

PC James Larner said in a statement that he was on duty when he and a colleague answered a call about a potential breach of the lockdown rules.

Arriving shortly after 11.30pm, they could hear music playing – but the windows of the venue had been blacked out to prevent them from seeing in, the statement said.

PC Larner added that by using small gaps, they could see two maskless women sitting at a table, a man by the bar, and three other women sitting at a separate table, with glasses visible in the room.

The officers knocked on the door which then caused the music to stop and those inside disappeared from view – with no response from the occupants.

He said that the music stopping and the attendees leaving meant “it was likely that COVID regulations were being knowingly breached as the occupants did not wish to engage with officers”.

Apologising at the time, Ora said: “I feel particularly embarrassed knowing first-hand how hard people have worked to combat this terrible illness and being fully aware of the sacrifices that people and businesses have made to help keep us all safe.

“Even though this won’t make it right, I want to sincerely apologise.”

A representative for Cara Delevingne has been contacted for comment.

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