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COVID-19: Schools in England may not reopen after February half-term, Boris Johnson suggests | Politics News

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COVID-19: Schools in England may not reopen after February half-term, Boris Johnson suggests | Politics News

Schools in England may not reopen after the February half-term, the prime minister has suggested.

Boris Johnson said the government’s priority was to get pupils back in the classroom “as soon as possible”, but that whether this would happen after half-term in the middle of next month depended on a “number of things”.

The PM told MPs on the Liaison Committee that the determining factors would be the success of the COVID-19 vaccination programme, the effect of new variants, any other possible changes in the virus, and the success of lockdown measures.

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Will kids go back to school before summer?

“What we’re seeing today, as I speak to you, are some early signs of progress in restraining the growth of the virus – some signs perhaps of flattening, of levelling off in some parts,” Mr Johnson said.

“But it is far, far too early to say this means we can go into any kind of relaxation in the middle of February.”

Schools in England have been closed – except for vulnerable children and the children of key workers – since a third lockdown was introduced by the government last week.

Announcing the shutdown in an address to the nation, the PM spoke of his hope the country would be able to “steadily move out of lockdown” once the most vulnerable had been offered a vaccine jab, which would involve “reopening schools after the February half-term and starting, cautiously, to move regions down the tiers”.

As well as schools being closed, GCSEs and A-level exams have been cancelled for a second year in a row.

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Homeschooling starts and exams cancelled

It emerged earlier on Wednesday that students could still be given “externally set tasks or papers” despite the cancellation of formal exams.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson set out how he wants exams regulator Ofqual to jointly consult with his department on “alternative arrangements” for the awarding of qualifications this year.

In a letter to Ofqual chief regulator Simon Lebus, Mr Williamson said grades should be awarded “based on teacher assessment” using a “breadth of evidence”.

Meanwhile, there has been anger over some free school meals parcels sent to some families during lockdown.

Families eligible for free school meals have the option of food parcels or vouchers while schools are shut.

An image by Twitter user @RoadsideMum has sparked debate about the quality and quantity of food given to children, with many slamming the parcels as inadequate.

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COVID-19: BAME groups far less likely to take coronavirus vaccine, SAGE finds | UK News

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COVID-19: BAME groups far less likely to take coronavirus vaccine, SAGE finds | UK News

People from minority ethnic backgrounds are far less likely to take the coronavirus vaccine, according to documents from the government’s scientific advisers.

An undated document released by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) found vaccine hesitancy was highest in Black or Black British groups, with 72% stating they were unlikely/very unlikely to get the jab.

Pakistani/Bangladeshi groups were the next most hesitant, with 42% unlikely/very unlikely to be vaccinated.

Other White ethnic groups, including Eastern European communities, also had higher levels of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy than White UK/White Irish ethnicity.

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Coronavirus worries for BAME people

Among the barriers to the vaccine uptake are the perception of risk, low confidence in the jab, and lack of endorsement from trusted providers and community leaders, the paper said.

It said to overcome the barriers, “multilingual, non-stigmatising communications should be produced and shared”.

These would include “vaccine offers and endorsements from trusted sources to increase awareness and understanding and to address different religious and cultural concerns”.

Leeds-based Imam Qari Asim, who is chair of the Mosque and Imams National Advisory Board, is running a campaign to encourage Muslim communities to take the coronavirus vaccine and dispel some of the myths around the procedure.

He cited misinformation being spread by far-right groups, as well as religious concerns that the vaccine might contain gelatine or other animal products and is not halal – or that it can result in modification of DNA.

Around 100 mosques are using Friday prayers to raise COVID awareness and dispel myths around vaccinations.

Imam Asim said: “Misinformation can result in someone losing their life and it is one of the core principles of Islam that protection of life is extremely important.

“My message to Muslim communities is that it is our ethical obligation, moral duty to take the vaccine whenever the opportunity arises.

“Don’t miss the opportunity to take the vaccine and save lives.”

He said Muslim scholars, as well as medical experts, have looked into concerns from their communities but are “confident” the vaccine is permissible under Islamic law.

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National Rifle Association: US gun advocacy group files for bankruptcy | US News

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The National Rifle Association (NRA) has announced it has filed for bankruptcy petitions in a US court as part of a restructuring plan.

The gun rights advocacy group said it would restructure as a Texas nonprofit to exit what it described as “a corrupt political and regulatory environment in New York”, where it is currently registered.

It comes four months after the New York Attorney General filed a lawsuit to dissolve the organisation over allegations of financial misconduct.

In a message issued to its members and supporters on Friday, the group said the decision to file voluntary chapter 11 petitions in the United States Bankruptcy Court was not due to financial problems.

“You know that our opponents will try to seize upon this news and distort the truth,” the statement said.

“Don’t believe what you read from our enemies. The NRA is not ‘bankrupt’ or ‘going out of business’. The NRA is not insolvent. We are as financially strong as we have been in years.”

The message suggested the decision had been taken as a direct result of the lawsuit in New York.

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“We are leaving the state of an attorney general who, just a few months ago, vowed to put us out of business through an abuse of legal and regulatory power,” it said.

“Subject to court approval, the NRA is pursuing plans to reincorporate in the State of Texas.”

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The group has fought against gun controls despite a succession of mass shootings in the US, including the 2019 killing of 20 people in El Paso, Texas

A separate statement from the organisation said the “move will enable long-term, sustainable growth and ensure the NRA’s continued success as the nation’s leading advocate for constitutional freedom – free from the toxic political environment of New York”.

NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre said: “Obviously, an important part of this plan is dumping New York.

“The NRA is pursuing reincorporating in a state that values the contributions of the NRA, celebrates our law-abiding members, and will join us as a partner in upholding constitutional freedom.”

The NRA has previously faced allegations it wields disproportionate influence on American politics through extensive lobbying.

New York State Attorney General Letitia James speaks during a news conference announcing the lawsuit
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New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced her move to dissolve the group in August

It has played a key role in preventing tighter restrictions on gun sales, despite a series of deadly mass shootings and opinion polls repeatedly showing a significant majority of Americans favour stricter controls on weapons.

Announcing her move to dissolve the group in August, New York Attorney General Letitia James accused it of siphoning millions of dollars from its charitable mission for personal use by senior figures.

“The NRA’s influence has been so powerful that the organisation went unchecked for decades while top executives funnelled millions into their own pockets,” she said.

“The NRA is fraught with fraud and abuse, which is why, today, we seek to dissolve the NRA, because no organisation is above the law.”

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US Capitol riots: Police break silence on ‘brutal, medieval style combat’ | US News

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Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump face off with police during a "Stop the Steal" protest outside of the Capitol building in Washington D.C. U.S. January 6, 2021. Picture taken January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

Police involved in protecting the Capitol building last week have spoken for the first time describing what happened as “brutal, medieval style combat”.

The officers were outnumbered by hundreds of rioters, who federal prosecutors claim were intending to “capture and assassinate officials”.

Officer Daniel Hodges was nearly crushed to death in the violence. Disturbing video shows him trapped by a metal door, bloodied and screaming for help.

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Supporters of Donald Trump face off with police before breaching the Capitol building

“They were calling us traitors, shouting at us, telling us to remember our oath, and eventually, they attacked us,” he said.

“At that moment in the hallway where I was pinned, I was there to do my best to keep them out, obviously, and the way I was doing that was with my body.”

At times, he said, he thought he wouldn’t survive.

“There was chaos, someone managed to get his thumb in my eye and start gauging my eye,” he said.

“That was the second time I thought it might be the end, or I might be maliciously disfigured.”

The police officers’ accounts of the chaos and the violence brings a chilling new understanding to what the world witnessed.

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Nancy Pelosi has spoken of visiting Auschwitz – and then seeing anti-Semitic T-shirts among Capitol rioters

The footage is still being carefully studied by investigators.

In one video, police officer Michael Fanone can be seen being pulled from the building.

He was then beaten by the pro-Trump thugs on the steps of America’s seat of democracy.

He said: “Guys were grabbing at my gear, I had my badges ripped off, my radio was ripped off, one of my ammunition magazines was stripped from my belt and guys were trying to grab my gun and they were chanting: ‘Kill him with his own gun’.

“I thought… I could shoot them, they’re trying to kill me and I’m justified, but if I did that I’d provide them with the justification they needed to kill me.

“So then I thought I could appeal to someone’s humanity and I just started yelling that I have kids.”

A supporter of Donald Trump carries a Confederate battle flag in the US Capitol
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A supporter of Donald Trump carries a Confederate battle flag in the US Capitol

Another police officer, Eugene Goodman, has also been feted for his bravery and is now in line for the congressional gold medal.

In video that has emerged he can be seen armed with just his baton and, at great risk, diverting the insurrectionists away from the unguarded entrance to the Senate, allowing members to escape.

But as some police officers are lauded for their heroism, others are being investigated. It is thought some had a role in the chaos.

The wider investigation is beginning to gather pace and so far there have been nearly 100 arrests.

Authorities are still trying to identify more suspects, including the man wanted in connection with the murder of police officer, Brian Sicknick.

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And it is feared there could be more attacks in the days leading up to the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

Thousands of National Guard troops are fanned out across the capital, fortifying institutions.

This city now has all the hallmarks of a war zone. It is a sad reflection of the state of politics in a country which feels increasingly under siege.

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