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COVID 19: Northern Ireland reduces five-day Christmas bubbling to one day | UK News

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COVID 19: Northern Ireland reduces five-day Christmas bubbling to one day | UK News

The Northern Ireland Executive has agreed to reduce the five-day Christmas bubbling arrangements in the region to one day, according to Stormont sources.

The relaxation of COVID-19 rules to allow three households to gather together will now be limited to Christmas Day.

However, flexibility will be afforded to people working on December 25 to enable them to bubble on another day over the festive period.

The decision was made by Stormont ministers during an emergency virtual executive meeting on Sunday evening in response to the new variant of coronavirus that has taken hold in London and the South East.

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Ministers also debated amending the 1967 Public Health Act to introduce a temporary ban on travel from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein supported the move however practical issues were raised around how quickly such a ban could be introduced, given the time it would likely take for the Department of Health to draw up regulations to bring it into effect.

The DUP position was that UK internal travel is already banned from Tier 4 areas in England, so there is no need for added Stormont legislation to enforce that.

The party believes the responsibility for stopping flights and ferries within the UK is an issue for the UK government and has also raised concern that Stormont could leave itself open to compensation liabilities if it was to legislate on the issue.

It is understood the Health Department is to seek further legal advice on the issue ahead of the executive resuming discussions on Monday.

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Deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill says COVID crisis ‘quite dire’

On Sunday, Northern Ireland’s Department of Health confirmed another 13 people with COVID-19 had died in a 24-hour period, bringing the death toll to 1,196.

A further 505 new cases of the virus were also reported in the region. There were 421 patients with COVID-19 in hospitals, including 30 in ICU.

The Northern Ireland Executive decided last week to impose a six-week lockdown from 26 December.

The new restrictions will include the shutting of all non-essential shops as well the closure of pubs, bars and restaurants apart from takeaway services.

The first week of the new lockdown will also see even stricter measures, with all sporting activity to be banned and essential shops told to close at 8pm.

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Donald Trump’s farewell address: ‘Our movement is only just beginning’ | US News

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Donald Trump's farewell address: 'Our movement is only just beginning' | US News

Donald Trump will say he will “pray for the success” of Joe Biden’s administration in his farewell address later but that the political movement he created “is only just beginning”.

Before he leaves office tomorrow, the outgoing president said everyone in the US had been “horrified” by the rioting at the Capitol in Washington DC earlier this month.

In extracts released by the White House, he said: “Political violence is an attack on everything we cherish as Americans. It can never be tolerated.”

He added: “As I prepare to hand power over to a new administration at noon on Wednesday, I want you to know that the movement we started is only just beginning.”

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Biden inauguration: Watch and follow events on Sky News from 1pm on Wednesday, with the ceremony starting at 4pm

Mr Trump also said he would pray for the success of the new administration in keeping America safe and prosperous, but he did not mention Joe Biden by name.

“We did what we came here to do – and so much more,” he claimed.

He went on: “Our agenda was not about right or left, it wasn’t about Republican or Democrat, but about the good of a nation, and that means the whole nation.”

He said his administration had “restored American strength at home – and American leadership abroad”, and it “built the greatest economy in the history of the world”.

Under his leadership, Mr Trump claimed the US had “revitalised our alliances and rallied the nations of the world to stand up to China like never before”.

And he said: “As a result of our bold diplomacy and principled realism, we achieved a series of historic peace deals in the Middle East. It is the dawn of a new Middle East and we are bringing our soldiers home.”

He also said he was “especially proud” to be the first president in decades who has “started no new wars”.

Mr Trump will not attend tomorrow’s inauguration – the first outgoing president to skip the ceremony since Andrew Johnson more than a century and a half ago.

Before leaving Delaware for Washington DC, Mr Biden addressed dozens of supporters in an emotional sendoff in the state where he was a senator for decades.

As the US exceeded 400,000 coronavirus deaths, the president-elect said: “These are dark times. But there’s always light.”

The president-elect flew to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on a chartered plane.

This was in contrast to his predecessor, who arrived at the base in 2017 on a government aircraft.

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COVID-19: ‘Real-world’ analysis of vaccine in Israel raises questions about UK strategy | World News

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Care home staff receive the Pfizer/BioNtech covid-19 vaccine in Belfast

The first real-world analysis of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine suggests it is matching its performance in clinical trials, but raises serious questions about the UK’s decision to delay the second dose.

Scientists in Israel – which is leading the COVID-19 vaccination race – have told Sky News that they are “very hopeful” having studied preliminary data from 200,000 vaccinated people.

But crucially they say their results do not show efficacy at a level close to that used by the UK to justify delaying the second dose of the Pfizer jab.

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The UK has chosen to delay the second dose of the jab

Professor Balicer is a physician, epidemiologist and chief innovation officer for Clalit, the largest health care provider in Israel. He is also an adviser to the World Health Organisation.

“We compared 200,000 people above the age of 60 that were vaccinated. We took a comparison group of 200,000 people, same age, not vaccinated, that were matched to this group on various variables…” prof Balicer said.

“Then we looked to see what is the daily positivity rate… And we saw that there was no difference between vaccinated and unvaccinated until day 14 post-vaccination.

Ran Balicer
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Ran Balicer is an adviser to the World Health Organisation

“But on day 14 post-vaccination, a drop of 33% in positivity was witnessed in the vaccinated group and not in the unvaccinated… this is really good news.”

However, UK scientists said in December that trial data had suggested it would be 89% effective after one dose.

A document issued by the UK government’s vaccine advisers, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, to justify delaying the second dose for up to 12 weeks said: “Using data for those cases observed between day 15 and 21, efficacy against symptomatic COVID-19 was estimated at 89%, suggesting that short term protection from dose 1 is very high from day 14 after vaccination.”

This is much more optimistic than the new real-world Israeli data suggests.

Responding to the UK government strategy, prof Balicer said: “The data and estimates I gave are what we have.

“We could not see 89% reduction in the data we reported. Further data and analyses will be released in peer reviewer scientific format.”

He added: “The practise in Israel is to provide the second vaccine at three weeks.

Ronni Gamzu
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Ronni Gamzu said he understood why compromises have to be made

“And so it is impossible for us to tell what would be the impact of not providing the second dose…”

Israel is following Pfizer protocol in giving the second dose of the coronavirus vaccine three weeks after the first.

It has a smaller population and a regular supply from Pfizer. In return it’s providing detailed data to Pfizer.

In contrast, the UK with a much larger population is prioritising the first jab – arguing that one dose given to as many people as possible is better than two to fewer people.

“We have already covered some 25% of our population and over 75% above the age of 60 in the last four and a half weeks.

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One-in-five Israelis now vaccinated

“And so we are one of the first countries to be able to witness the sheer impact in big numbers of vaccinating such a large proportion of the population,” prof Balicer said.

“By being able to manipulate this data in real time, to clean it and to use proper epidemiological methodology, we are able to provide answers to the most pertinent questions right now.”

The Israeli scientists believe their 33% figure will rise when data is compiled from younger age groups and the fact that the data is real-life adds to their confidence.

“This is not the ideal setting of a randomised controlled trial where everything from coaching maintenance to selection of the population of interest is done in a very meticulous way.

“This is the real-world. And so by seeing the real world impact so early on in the same direction and in the same timing as we’ve seen in the clinical trials is something that makes us very hopeful.”

Israel's vaccination programme has been a real success story
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Israel’s vaccination programme has been a real success story

Tel Aviv’s Sourasky hospital, one of hundreds of vaccination centres, is inoculating hundreds of people an hour.

Ronni Gamzu is the hospital director. He served as the government “corona tsar” – a rotating advisory role – until last month.

“I believe, truly believe, this is the beginning of the end because the vaccine creates the immune response.

“We see that clearly and we see a change in the people that are becoming severely ill with coronavirus and moderately ill. People that have got the vaccine are more protected,” professor Gamzu said.

Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu receives his vaccination
Image:
Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu receives his vaccination

Asked about the UK strategy of delaying the second dose, he said the 89% figure seemed “very optimistic” but understood why compromises needed to be made.

“If you are short of vaccines, this is a good idea… We believe that if you take the booster shot, even after six weeks, then you will have an effect, the effect is coming and growing gradually.

“We do not know that for sure because the studies were done for 21 days for Pfizer and 28 days for Moderna. But there is a clear logic behind postponing it when you are short on vaccines.”

In a previous statement on the decision, the JCVI said: “With most vaccines an extended interval between the prime and booster doses leads to a better immune response to the booster dose.

“There is evidence that a longer interval between the first and second doses promotes a stronger immune response with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“There is currently no strong evidence to expect that the immune response from the Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines differ substantially from each other.

“The committee advises initially prioritising delivery of the first vaccine dose as this is highly likely to have a greater public health impact in the short term and reduce the number of preventable deaths from COVID-19.”

Sky News has contacted the JCVI for comment.

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Mitch McConnell: Capitol rioters ‘provoked’ by Donald Trump | US News

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Mitch McConnell

One of the most senior US Republicans has accused Donald Trump of feeding supporters lies that led to the deadly Capitol riot.

Mitch McConnell, leader of the GOP in the Senate, accused the outgoing president on his last full day in office of having “provoked” those who stormed the building where legislators narrowly escaped a baying mob.

And in a further snub to Mr Trump, who has claimed without evidence held up in court that last November’s election was rigged, Mr McConnell vowed the inauguration of Joe Biden on Wednesday will be “safe and successful”.

The intervention comes ahead of tomorrow’s transfer of powers in the White House, with a markedly different ceremony than usual planned for Mr Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

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Mitch McConnell said the mob which broke its way into the Capitol building was ‘fed lies’

Coronavirus and the serious security breaches that led to five deaths two weeks ago mean participation at the event in Washington DC will be drastically reduced.

Ahead of it, Mr McConnell opened the Senate on Tuesday – also his final day as Majority leader, before Ms Harris takes over and swings its political make-up in favour of the Democrats.

“The mob was fed lies,” he declared about the Capitol riot.

“They were provoked by the president and other powerful people, and they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of branch of the federal government.”

Mr McConnell added that “we’ll move forward” after Mr Biden’s inauguration on the Capitol’s West Front – what he noted former president George HW Bush has called “democracy’s front porch”.

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