Covid-19: Vaccine passports ‘unethical’, church ministers warn

More than 1,200 church ministers in the UK have urged PM Boris Johnson not to introduce coronavirus vaccine certificates, saying they are an “unethical form of coercion”.

In an open letter, Anglican and Catholic ministers warned passports could create a “surveillance state”.

A government review is looking into whether people should have to prove they have been vaccinated.

The UK equality watchdog said passports could create a “two-tier society”.

Government ministers have said that certificates would allow people to show if they have been vaccinated, had a negative test or had natural immunity from a confirmed infection in the previous six months.

As restrictions ease, certificates could play a role in reopening theatres, nightclubs and mass events like festivals, plus allow social distancing to be relaxed in hospitality venues, the government has said.

But in the letter to the prime minister, church ministers warned that introducing the passports would create a “medical apartheid”.

“This scheme has the potential to bring about the end of liberal democracy as we know it and to create a surveillance state in which the government uses technology to control certain aspects of citizens’ lives,” the letter states.

“As such, this constitutes one of the most dangerous policy proposals ever to be made in the history of British politics.”

The ministers said that, regardless of the government’s final decision, they would not refuse entry to their churches to anybody without a vaccine passport – or any other certificate which they have labelled “proof of health”.

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Prince Philip funeral ‘a profound chance for Queen to say goodbye’

The Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral will be a “profound” chance for the Queen to say farewell to her husband of 73 years, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

“She will behave with the extraordinary dignity, extraordinary courage that she always does,” Justin Welby said.

Prince Philip’s funeral will take place at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle at 15:00 BST on Saturday.

The duke’s children will walk alongside his hearse during the procession.

At the ceremony, there will only be 30 mourners in line with coronavirus restrictions.

Buckingham Palace said the Queen had faced “some very difficult” decisions in selecting the mourners from the 800-strong congregation originally planned, and she wanted all branches of her husband’s family to be represented.

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Welby said: “We really have to avoid judging from anything external. She’s the Queen. She will behave with the extraordinary dignity, extraordinary courage that she always does.

“And at the same time she is saying farewell to someone to whom she was married for 73 years. I think that must be a very, very profound thing… in anybody’s life.”

The archbishop, who will pronounce the blessing at the funeral service, suggested that people of faith could pray for the Queen, or alternatively “sympathise and in their hearts offer their condolences to her and the hope for her to find strength in what must be an anguished moment”.

Meanwhile, the Earl and Countess of Wessex and their daughter Lady Louise Windsor have been viewing flowers and cards left in memory of Prince Philip at Windsor Castle.

Earlier, the head of the UK’s armed forces said the funeral will have the duke’s “fingerprints [all] over it” and it “reflects his wide interests and his attention to detail”.

“It’s obviously been slightly affected by Covid, but nonetheless it will reflect military precision,” said Gen Sir Nick Carter, chief of defence staff.

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Families need cannabis prescriptions support, say MPs and peers

MPs and peers are calling for funding for families forced to buy medicinal cannabis for their children privately.

The treatment was made legal with a prescription in 2018 for those with an “exceptional clinical need”.

But a cross-party letter from 100 politicians says only three NHS prescriptions have been given out since, forcing families to spend thousands on private treatments.

The government said it sympathised with those facing hard-to-treat conditions.

The change in law came about after the high profile cases of Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell, who had both been denied access to cannabis oil to treat their rare forms of epilepsy.

The Home Office later granted the boys licences to access the treatment.

But after a review by experts, the then home secretary Sajid Javid introduced legislation to make it legal for specialist doctors to provide prescriptions for cannabis-derived medicinal products in “exceptional circumstances”.

Over two years have passed since the law changed, but the All Parliamentary Group on Access to Medical Cannabis Under Prescription said dozens of families were not seeing the benefit.

In a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the group’s chair, Labour MP Tonia Antoniazzi, said instead, parents were having to fund raise up to £2,000 a month to pay for the treatment privately.

“In any circumstance, this is a severe financial burden for families already having to cope with very sick children and Covid restrictions have rendered most fund-raising impossible,” she added.

“The reasons for the lack of NHS prescriptions appear to be complex and will inevitably take time to resolve. However, the families to which we refer simply do not have time.

“They are emotionally and financially broken and their children are at risk of being without their life-transforming medicine within weeks.”

Backed by 100 MPs and peers from all parties, Ms Antoniazzi appealed to the PM to “grant access to some form of compassionate funding until the wider issues can be resolved”.

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Scott Morrison wants overseas vaccination travel plan

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is urgently asking medical experts to formulate a plan on how vaccinated Aussies can travel overseas and skip hotel quarantine upon return.

The PM said the country’s “main goal” was vaccinating the most vulnerable parts of the population, but said an international travel plan was “what I’d like to see happen next”.

“This is what I’ve tasked the medical experts with, is ensuring that we can know when an Australian is vaccinated here with their two doses, is able to travel overseas and return without having to go through hotel quarantine,” he told 6PR Perth Radio.

“I think we’re still some time away from that. The states, at this stage, I’m sure wouldn’t be agreeing to relaxing those hotel quarantine arrangements for those circumstances at this point in time.

“But what we need to know from the health advisers is what does make that safe and what does make that possible.”

Mr Morrison warned reopening the international borders now could result in more than 1000 cases of coronavirus a week.

“Vaccinations are not a silver bullet. We’ve never said they are,” he said.

“Australians have become very used to the fact … of having zero case numbers and zero community transmission.

“I don’t think Australians … would welcome restrictions and closures and borders shutting and all of those things, again, out of states concerned about the rising numbers of case numbers.

“So everyone needs to get on the same page with that. And so they’re the important threshold issues we’ve got to work together through as a national cabinet.

“And that’s why I’m calling them back together again to work on that same operational tempo that we were during the pandemic, because these are the challenges we need to solve together now.”

Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton backed the PM’s plan and said he hoped for a home quarantine setup for vaccinated Aussie travellers “soon rather than later”.

“As quickly as we can and as the Prime Minister pointed out, if people have had properly recognised the vaccine, if they are living in London or the United States or anywhere else in the world and they want to come back home and see family or see their grandparents, bring their newborn grandchild back home, then we want to facilitate that as quickly as possible,” he told the Today show on Friday morning.

“But we just need to do it in a safe way.

“And if we are having a situation where people are coming back and bringing the virus back with them, then we will see community transmission – So again it is trying to get that balance right.

“But if we can get people away from hotel quarantine into home quarantine and people do the right thing, then you can scale up the numbers obviously much more significantly than if we are just relying on hotels.”

But Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said Australians should have been home already.

“There are more than 40,000 Australians still stranded overseas,” Mr Albanese said.

“Scott Morrison said that Australians would be home by Christmas; that‘s Christmas 2020.”

Australia slammed its borders shut in March last year when the global coronavirus pandemic first began to unravel.

Just two weeks ago, Australia entered into an agreement with New Zealand allowing travel between the two countries.

Mr Morrison hinted at a travel bubble agreement with more countries ahead of the trans-Tasman travel arrangement’s official start on April 19.

“I think I can see a future where we could be in a similar arrangement with Singapore and we’re working on that now,” he said.

“Other Pacific countries, that’s possible. But when you’re talking about countries, you know, for example, like Indonesia or India or Papua New Guinea or countries where we know that the virus is in a very strong form, including in Europe and even still the United Kingdom, the United States. Australians, I don’t think would welcome the incursion of the virus into the country. So we have to weigh all of that up.”

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Wales’ most wanted man: Police chase new leads on Mohammed Ali Ege

Police hunting a fugitive wanted in connection with the 2010 murder of a 17-year-old boy in south Wales are following up new information.

Aamir Siddiqi was hacked to death at his home in Cardiff 11 years ago after his killers went to the wrong house.

Mohammed Ali Ege, 43, fled to India before detectives in Wales could arrest him in connection with the murder.

South Wales Police say he is Wales’ most wanted man and released new images of him earlier this week.

Mr Ege was arrested in India in 2011 on suspicion of conspiracy to commit murder.

But he escaped custody in 2017 while in a New Delhi railway station toilet as police officers prepared to extradite him back to the UK.

Officers said the pictures of Mr Ege, who is from the Riverside area of Cardiff, were taken while he was in custody in 2013 and they were released earlier this week with an appeal for information.

It comes 11 years after Aamir was murdered in front of his parents as he waited for his Quran teacher at his home in Roath.

“Information has been received as a result of a recent public appeal and South Wales Police wishes to thank those individuals who have taken the time to make contact,” South Wales Police said in a statement.

Jason Richards and Ben Hope were jailed for a minimum of 40 years in 2013.

The pair had been paid £1,000 by a businessman, angry over a collapsed property deal, to kill a father-of-four who lived in a neighbouring street.

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Greensill: Cameron says he will ‘respond positively’ to MPs’ lobbying inquiry

David Cameron has said he will “respond positively” to any requests from MPs for him to give evidence about Greensill Capital.

The former prime minister has faced criticism for lobbying on behalf of the finance firm, which recently collapsed.

It has sparked a wider row over private companies’ attempts to influence ministers and officials.

The government has asked a senior lawyer to conduct a review into the issue and to report by the end of June.

But on Wednesday the Commons Treasury committee announced plans for its own probe, with other committees reportedly planning to do the same.

A spokesman for Mr Cameron said he would “respond positively” to requests to give evidence “when the terms of reference of each inquiry are clear”.

It is not yet clear whether the former Tory leader will be asked to appear in person, or to provide a committee with evidence such as documents.

Labour had wanted a “full” probe, including public hearings by a cross-party panel of MPs – but the government rejected this, and voted down the plan.

Meanwhile, the head of a watchdog which advises former ministers and officials on outside employment will make a long-planned appearance in front of MPs later on Thursday.

The Conservative peer Lord Pickles chairs the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba).

The Greensill affair has led to renewed focus on the regulator, which has previously been described as “toothless” by a committee of MPs.

Current rules ban former ministers from lobbying government for two years after they leave office – a rule Mr Cameron appears to have followed.

But critics of the current system, including former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown, have suggested a longer ban is required.

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Welsh election: Independent Wales would borrow to furlough, Adam Price says

An independent Wales would have run its own furlough scheme for the pandemic, Plaid Cymru’s leader has told the BBC.

Asked if the job retention scheme was an example of the UK’s strength, Adam Price said an independent Wales would have funded an equivalent by borrowing.

He also claimed it would have “money to spare” by not buying nuclear weapons.

Tory MP Andrea Leadsom said he should consider the “cost of borrowing of an independent Wales, versus the cost of borrowing for the United Kingdom”.

Plaid Cymru has promised to hold an independence referendum in Wales within five years if it takes power in May’s Senedd election.

Speaking on the BBC’s Politics Live programme, Mr Price said the pandemic suggested a “very different story” on the strength of the UK union and claimed “support for independence has surged”.

Asked about the hundreds of thousands of Welsh jobs supported by the UK government furlough scheme, the Plaid Cymru leader said: “They funded it by borrowing.

“An independent Wales would have done the same,” he added.

Mr Price also said that an independent Wales would have had “money to spare because we wouldn’t waste £200bn on a trident nuclear missile system”.

In response, former Conservative cabinet minister Ms Leadsom said she thought the “majority of people in Wales” continue to believe “we are very much different groups of people who are much stronger as a United Kingdom”.

“He needs to look at the cost of borrowing of an independent Wales versus the cost of borrowing for the United Kingdom,” she added.

Responding for the Liberal Democrats, Cadan ap Tomos accused Mr Price of “clearly struggling with his sums”.

“One moment he says Wales needs to borrow to fund certain projects, yet a moment later he says we’d would have money to spare,” he said.

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‘Mix and match’ UK Covid vaccine trial expanded

A major UK trial looking at whether Covid vaccines can be mixed with different types of jabs used for first and second doses is being expanded.

Combining vaccines might give broader, longer-lasting immunity against the virus and new variants of it, and offer more flexibility to vaccine rollout.

Adults over 50 who have had a first dose of Pfizer or AstraZeneca can apply to take part in the Com-Cov study.

Their second dose could be the same again, or a shot of Moderna or Novavax.

Chief investigator on the trial, Professor Matthew Snape, from the Oxford Vaccine Group, said he hoped to recruit 1,050 volunteers who have already received one dose on the NHS in the past 8-12 weeks.

More than 800 people are already taking part in the research and have received two doses of either Pfizer, AstraZeneca or a mix.

Results of this first stage are expected next month, and the expanded trial should have some reportable findings by June or July – although the study will run for a year.

Health experts generally agree that the mixing and matching of the vaccines should be safe. The trial will check for any side-effects or unwanted reactions.

Participants will have blood taken to check how well the vaccines trigger an immune response – in the form of antibodies and T cells – to combat Covid.

Prof Snape said: “If we can show that these mixed schedules generate an immune response that is as good as the standard schedules, and without a significant increase in the vaccine reactions, this will potentially allow more people to complete their Covid-19 immunisation course more rapidly.

“What I’m hoping is that we won’t rule out any combinations.

“That’s how we need to look at it: are there any combinations we shouldn’t be giving, because they don’t generate a good immune response? And I’m hoping that won’t be the case.”

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Tamara Ecclestone burglary: Italian man admits £26m celebrity raids

An Italian man has been convicted over his role in one of the biggest domestic burglaries in English legal history.

Watches and jewellery belonging to Frank Lampard, Tamara Ecclestone and the late Leicester City chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha were among the items taken during a series of burglaries in December 2019.

Alessandro Donati, 43, from Milan, pleaded guilty at Isleworth Crown Court to conspiracy to burgle.

He will be sentenced at a later date.

Donati was arrested in Italy under a European Arrest Warrant in October and extradited to the UK the following month.

With the assistance of an Italian interpreter, he admitted to conspiring to burgle dwellings between 30 November 2019 and 18 December 2019.

The home of the former Chelsea manager and England international Mr Lampard was the first to be raided on 1 December.

A diamond watch, cufflinks and a clock worth an estimated £60,000 were taken.

Then on 10 December, a Knightsbridge property belonging to the Srivaddhanaprabha family was targeted.

It was duty free billionaire Leicester City owner Mr Srivaddhanaprabha’s home before his death in a helicopter crash outside the King Power Stadium in October 2018.

This time, 400,000 euros in cash was taken, as well as expensive watches.

The final burglary, on the palatial home near Kensington Palace that socialite Ms Ecclestone shares with her husband Jay Rutland, saw about £25m worth of valuables stolen.

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World’s wealthiest ‘at heart of climate problem’

The world’s wealthy must radically change their lifestyles to tackle climate change, a report says.

It says the world’s wealthiest 1% produce double the combined carbon emissions of the poorest 50%, according to the UN.

The wealthiest 5% alone – the so-called “polluter elite” – contributed 37% of emissions growth between 1990 and 2015.

The authors want to deter SUV drivers and frequent fliers – and persuade the wealthy to insulate their homes well.

The authors urge the UK government to reverse its decision to scrap air passenger duty on UK return flights.

And they want ministers to re-instate the Green Homes Grant scheme they also scrapped recently.

The report comes from the UK-based Cambridge Sustainability Commission on Scaling Behaviour Change.

It’s a panel of 31 individuals who study people’s behaviour relating to the environment. They were tasked to find the most effective way of scaling up action to tackle carbon emissions.

Their critics say the best way to cut emissions faster is through technological improvements – not through measures that would prove unpopular.

But the lead author of the report, Prof Peter Newell, from Sussex University, told BBC News: “We are totally in favour of technology improvements and more efficient products – but it’s clear that more drastic action is needed because emissions keep going up.

“We have got to cut over-consumption and the best place to start is over-consumption among the polluting elites who contribute by far more than their share of carbon emissions.

“These are people who fly most, drive the biggest cars most and live in the biggest homes which they can easily afford to heat, so they tend not to worry if they’re well insulated or not.

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