NI mother-and-baby homes: Investigation promised into 'significant wrongs'

The first minister promises an independent investigation following a report into the homes.

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Breaking quarantine may constitute health protection violation, lead to fine or prison term

A FAILURE TO COMPLY with a quarantine order issued by a physician of infectious diseases may constitute a health protection violation in Finland, reports Helsingin Sanomat.

If the person is ruled to have transmitted the new coronavirus to others deliberately, their actions may be punishable under other sections of the criminal code – as, for example, endangerment of health or even assault.

Reports from Thursday suggest that the British variant of the new coronavirus has caused a large cluster of roughly 30 further infections and 400 quarantine decisions. Taneli Puumalainen, the head of infectious diseases control at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), said the carrier had neglected to follow quarantine instructions following their return to Finland from Great Britain.

“The quarantine instructions weren’t followed, but there was a get-together of young people,” he was quoted as saying by Helsingin Sanomat.

Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services Krista Kiuru (SDP) on Friday said the government would convene at the start of this week to weigh up adopting sanctions for quarantine violations. Helsingin Sanomat on Monday asked Kimmo Nuotio, a professor of criminal law at the University of Helsinki, to specify the punishments that can be handed down for quarantine violations.

Nuotio reminded that although the legislation as a whole has taken infectious diseases into consideration, it also assumes that people act responsibly and, as a result, does not place too much emphasis on criminal law in the context of infectious diseases.

A self-monitored quarantine is recommended, for example, for people returning from regions with a high incidence of coronavirus infections and people waiting for the results of a coronavirus test. An official quarantine, on the other hand, is ordered by a physician of infectious diseases and entitles the quarantined person to sickness allowance.

Violating the official quarantine may constitute a health protection violation, which carries the penalty of fine or up to three years in prison. If the person is ruled to have transmitted the virus on purpose, their actions could be interpreted as endangerment of health or aggravated endangerment of health, which carry the maximum penalties of four years and 10 years in prison, respectively.

“The health endangerment offence would require you to spread out your handkerchiefs on the metro or sneeze in a bus,” told Nuotio. “The person would have to know their own status and behave in a way that they know they’re spreading the disease.”

“Aggravated endangerment of health would mean that you’re actually causing a serious health risk to a large group of people on purpose.”

Violating a quarantine could also constitute attempted assault or assault, according to Nuotio. “Assault is directed more at an individual. Applying that [offence] would require that the other person gets sick and their health deteriorates.”

A person breaking the quarantine could also be committing imperilment, which is defined as placing another in serious danger either intentionally or through gross negligence and carries the maximum penalty of two years in prison.

“These are fairly different clauses, but they all require a degree of deliberation – except for imperilment. Even imperilment requires that the person has inferred that they have Covid-19,” said Nuotio.

“You could theoretically think of deliberation as someone intentionally being unaware of their infection – someone inferring that they have an infection but not getting tested.”

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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Covid: Dutch curfew riots rage for third night

Police describe it as the worst unrest in the Netherlands for decades, with more than 150 arrests.

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Giuseppe Conte to Resign as Italian Prime Minister

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of Italy will offer his resignation on Tuesday, his office said on Monday evening, likely triggering the collapse of Italy’s teetering government and plunging the country deeper into political chaos as it faces a still-spiraling coronavirus epidemic and a halting vaccine rollout.

“Mr. Conte will go see the President, Sergio Mattarella,” following a cabinet meeting tomorrow morning, the prime minister’s office said in a statement, adding that the purpose of the visit would be “to tender his resignation.”

Mr. Conte’s resignation will put Italy back in the familiar situation of government instability, but in extraordinary times, with tens of millions of Italians struggling to stay healthy and get by under restrictions designed to reduce the country’s spread of infections.

More than 80,000 Italians have died from the coronavirus. The government, which was making slow but steady progress in vaccinating its public health workers, has hit a speed bump and threatened to sue Pfizer for a shortfall in vaccines. The political crisis has struck many Italians as unnecessary, and one of the country’s leading virologists has compared the politicians to musicians playing on the Titanic.

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Invaluable bivalves – How clams help keep Polish water clean | Europe

A WATER PUMP known as Gruba Kaska (Fat Kathy) is a local landmark in Warsaw. To get there, you must walk 300 metres through a slimy tunnel under the Vistula river. There you will find eight clams hooked up to computers. They are monitoring the city’s drinking water.

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The system is nifty. When the molluscs encounter heavy metals, pesticides or other pollutants, they close their shells, explains Piotr Domek of Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, who has worked on the project for three decades. To create a natural early-warning system, Mr Domek and his colleagues collect the clams from rivers or reservoirs, and attach a coil and a magnet to their shells. Computers register whether their shells are open or closed by detecting changes in the magnetic field.

“In the case of a terrorist attack, an ecological disaster or another contamination of the water supply, the clams will close,” says Mr Domek. This, in turn, will automatically cut off the water supply. The clams, he thinks, are life-savers. “If contaminated water goes straight to our taps, we will get poisoned,” he says in “Fat Kathy”, a short film that celebrates the invaluable bivalves.

Today 50 Polish waterworks (and one in Russia) use clams in this way. There are drawbacks. Clams, as the proverb reminds us, cannot talk. So they never reveal which toxin is causing them to clam up. Also, it seems that they may be less good at detecting dangerous pharmaceuticals. Still, Piotr Klimaszyk, who leads the team that developed the system, thinks it ought to be used everywhere. It is cheap: all you need is clams and computers. “It allows you to check the water quality hour by hour, minute by minute, so why not?”

Mr Domek is now so fond of clams that he tries to deter people from eating them. He mischievously suggests that they “have a negative effect on [sexual] potency”. Julia Pelka, the film-maker behind “Fat Kathy”, has also stopped gobbling them. We use them “to protect ourselves from ourselves”, she says.

This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the headline “How clams fight pollution”

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Boris Johnson’s other Scottish headache – POLITICO

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LONDON — Boris Johnson has a second headache in Scotland to go with the nationalists’ push for independence — Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross.

The Moray MP has long been a thorn in the side of his political sparring partners, including people in his own camp. He caused headaches for Conservatives and administration chiefs when he served on a local council more than a decade ago, and intensified the turmoil in Downing Street when he quit the government over Johnson’s refusal to sack his top aide Dominic Cummings after he broke lockdown rules.

Since becoming Scottish leader, Ross has locked horns with Johnson on countless issues, and racked up a number of wins in the process. His allies paint him as a determined campaigner who will stop at nothing for what he believes.

Ross, who also battles football fans as a high-profile referee, wears his rebellious nature as a badge of pride. “This isn’t just something that I’ve developed since I became leader of the Scottish Conservatives in the summer of 2020,” he told POLITICO. “I’ve taken what people would describe as sometimes rebellious positions because I believe they were absolutely the right decisions to be taken for the people I was representing at the time.”

The question is whether his single-mindedness and determination can help roll back the growing support for Scottish independence. The Scottish National Party, which has been in power in Edinburgh for more than a decade, is on course to win big at Holyrood elections in May, while a string of polls have suggested Scots would now back independence if another referendum were held. 


For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

As leader of the main opposition party in Scotland, Ross has a big job on the frontline of the unionist fight. The scale of the challenge is immense, with Ross struggling for attention north of the border and the Conservatives still slipping in opinion polls. But numerous supporters interviewed for this piece argue his uncompromising nature makes him the perfect person to take the fight to the nationalists. 

“He’s as hard as nails,” said his former boss in government, Scotland Secretary Alister Jack. “He’s his own man. And when he takes a stand on something, he’s very principled on it.”

Mary Scanlon, a former member of the Scottish parliament who Ross worked for as an aide — his first job in politics — argued he had the steel for the independence fight: “He’s the one to bring the party forward, to face down the SNP, to face down independence and to move Scotland forward.”

Ross’s political opponents paint him as a “chameleon” who is most interested in his own career. But Ross points out that taking principled stances to serve his constituents, including quitting the U.K. government, are not the approach of a careerist politician. 

“I got involved in politics because I was passionate about standing up for people in my area,” he said. “And I think I can take that passion and enthusiasm that I have for improving Scotland from a local level to a national level.” He is so committed to Scotland, he insists he would remain living there even if it voted for independence.

His supporters agree. Annie Wells, the former co-deputy of the Scottish Conservatives, who Ross sacked when he got the new gig (although she holds no grudge), said he comes at politics more from the perspective of right and wrong than as a Conservative ideologue.

A rebel with various causes

Ross caused strife for his colleagues as soon as he entered the debating chamber. “Douglas was a rebel long before he met Boris Johnson,” said Scanlon, who recalls his battles with the council in Moray, where he and other Conservatives formed an administration with independents in 2007. “He’s not frightened to stand up to his own group.”

Indeed, his allegiance didn’t last long. He quit in 2009 after finding himself at odds with the leadership over numerous local issues. He re-joined following an election, but continued to vote against the administration, and was ousted again in 2014 in a row about school closures, during which he helped topple Conservative council boss Allan Wright.

In addition to being the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Douglas Ross is also a football assistant referee | Pool photo by Willie Vass/Getty Images

Stewart Cree, an independent who was convenor of the council at the time, had countless run-ins with Ross. He said the councillor appeared to enjoy the confrontations, although he had “exemplary self-control” and would remain calm while those around him grew enraged. 

“I had quite a lot of experience in managing people,” Cree said, noting his 31 years as a senior police officer. “But I never found a way of dealing with Douglas.” He added: “Douglas is not a team player. I sometimes think that’s why he’s a referee. Douglas is very much his own man … he won’t compromise.”

Later, when Ross took a seat in the House of Commons, Cree smiled when he saw his former foe sitting in the same place as he did in the Moray council chamber. He would skulk “in a strange little island all on his own,” Cree said, “as far to the back and as far to the wall as you can get.”

When Ross later quit over the Cummings row, Cree sent him an email to congratulate his old sparring partner on giving his political allies a fresh kicking.:“I was most impressed.” Ross too remembers the note with affection.

Scanlon said the resignation, and Ross’s history of rebellion, will help him in the fight against independence, proving he will “stand up for Scotland” over seeking promotion or patronage. “He’ll argue the case for Scotland at every possibility, and I think he’ll stand no nonsense from Boris if there are policies that Douglas feels are detrimental to Scotland.”

Political frenemies

The prime minister has faced the wrath of Ross on numerous occasions since he became Scottish Conservative leader (unopposed) in August 2020. Claims that the pair have good relations are less than convincing.

The Scot has kicked up a fuss about (among other things) post-Brexit agricultural standards; Scots’ access to furlough cash during the coronavirus pandemic; and most recently over border turmoil for fishing businesses. He has delivered public criticism of Johnson’s presentational approach, and took the PM to task after he branded devolution a “disaster.”

But Ross insists the pair are on good terms — although he dodges the chance to describe them as friends: “Given how rebellious I’ve been I think a number of people you’ve spoken to would probably never call me a mate.”

The two of them “have a really robust discussion” in meetings and over messages and “have a very good professional relationship,” Ross said. “I will continue to work with him where I think it’s right for Scotland. And where I think it’s wrong, or where I think we can do more for Scotland, I’ll stand up and say that as well.”

“They get on very well, genuinely,” said Jack, the Scotland secretary. “They have a healthy respect for each other and a mutual respect for each other.” He added that Johnson “understands that Douglas is the leader in Scotland … We have different policies in Scotland on certain things.”

Douglas Ross meeting Chancellor Rishi Sunak, right, at Wemyss Bay, on the west coast of Scotland, on August 7, 2020 | Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images

Indeed, it is expected that the leader of the Scottish Conservatives will clash with Westminster from time to time. It is its own force with its own manifesto and agenda. “You can’t be leader of the Scottish Conservative Party and just go along with everything the U.K. government’s doing if you don’t agree and it doesn’t fit in into Scotland,” said Jack’s predecessor in the Scotland Office, David Mundell.

Nevertheless, the attacks from Ross appear more frequent than those from predecessors, and bite harder because he can make them in the Commons chamber direct to the prime minister. Ross is the first Scottish Conservative leader to be an MP — although he plans to return to Holyrood as a Highlands and Islands MSP at the May elections.

Observers point out that being at odds with Johnson — who is deeply unpopular in Scotland — could be no bad thing for taking the fight to the nationalists. “Distancing himself against Boris gives him a little bit of armor against Boris’s Scottish reputation,” said Cree. 

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “The PM works closely with Douglas Ross and all Conservative colleagues across Scotland as we continue to strengthen the Union.” But asked to comment on the degree of license Ross has to fight for Scottish issues, even if it means going against the Westminster government’s approach, the spokesperson declined.

How to save a Union

The battle plan for saving the Union includes numerous strands. Taking on Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP over their record in government north of the border is high on the agenda. Ross used all opportunities during the interview to pivot back to attacks on his opponents.

But he also hopes to present the Scottish Conservatives as a credible government in their own right. Other Conservatives point out the need to promote expected opportunities from Brexit (which 62 percent of Scots rejected in 2016) and argue that an independent Scotland will be ineligible for EU membership.


For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

Downing Street also hopes to champion the work of the Westminster government for the whole of the U.K., including through the pandemic, as well as make the economic argument against independence (although Ross insists “it shouldn’t be ‘Project Fear.’ That would be wrong” — a reference to the SNP’s characterization of the unionist campaign during the 2014 independence referendum).

The holding line is that the Westminster government will refuse a fresh independence referendum no matter what — but there are questions about whether that is tenable if the SNP wins big in the spring. “The line should be let’s wait and see what happens in the election in May,” Ross said. “Because while I wouldn’t put a number on how many seats I think the Conservatives will win, we don’t know what the outcome is going to be.”

He refused to set out what progress would be needed at the Holyrood elections for him to remain in the job, but suggested he was playing the long game, noting that once — albeit a long time ago — the SNP and the independence movement were struggling for support. The long game appears to be his only option, with the first struggle the task of making himself known to the Scottish public. That’s particularly tough when the pandemic and daily broadcasts from Sturgeon are sucking up all the political oxygen.

Ross feels the weight of the job of saving the Union on his shoulders. He even admits to losing sleep over it. “When you take on the responsibility of leading the Conservatives, you’re also taking on this responsibility for the Union,” he said. “It’s a hugely important election that we’re going to face in Scotland in a few months time.”

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The Swiss art of automata now part of UNESCO’s intangible heritage

In his snow-bound workshop, Swiss automaton master Francois Junod’s moving mechanical artworks whir into action: birds whistle, historical luminaries write poetry. This is traditional craftsmanship newly recognised as being among the world’s cultural heritage.

The region’s historical pre-eminence in a field combining science, art and technology has also been given a boost by the United Nations.

In December, the craftsmanship of mechanical watchmaking and art mechanics in the Juras were jointly added to UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

They now sit on a par with Argentine tango, Belgian beer culture, Chinese calligraphy, French cuisine, Indian yoga, Japanese Kabuki theatre, Mexico’s Day of the Dead and Spanish Flamenco.

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COVID-19: Boost for teachers’ vaccine hopes but uncertainty over schools reopening | Politics News

Teachers have a “good shout” to be “very high” on the next priority list for a coronavirus vaccine, the health secretary has told Sky News.

Matt Hancock said discussions are under way about which groups will be prioritised for vaccinations once the elderly and clinically extremely vulnerable have all been inoculated.

So far, more than five million people have had their first dose – with the UK government and devolved administrations aiming to hit 15 million by mid-February.

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Most pupils are learning remotely at the moment

Asked about the second phase of the vaccines rollout, Mr Hancock said: “There is a perfectly reasonable debate to be had about who should go in what order next, where teachers have got a good shout to be very high on that list.”

Only vulnerable pupils and children of key workers are currently able to attend school, and the prospect of classrooms reopening again next month appears remote.

In a blow to parents, Mr Hancock said he wasn’t sure even if schools in England will reopen by Easter.

Asked if he could promise they will, he told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “We have got to look at the data, we have got to look at the impact of the vaccination programme.

“The education secretary has said that we will ensure schools get two weeks’ notice of return.

“I don’t know whether it will be then or before then. We have got to watch the data.”

It comes as The Sunday Times reported the government is preparing to rule out children returning to the classroom after the February half-term holiday, with the prospect of home schooling continuing for several months.

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Hancock ‘worried’ about new COVID variants

The paper quoted a government source as saying: “We are in this for the long haul.”

Officials told Sky News it was too early to say when schools would re-open due to the “unpredictable” nature of the pandemic.

However it is understood that pupils are likely to return to the classroom based on the wider strategy in which restrictions are lifted.

More details are expected to be set out in the next two weeks.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We continue to keep plans for the return to school under review and will inform schools, parents and pupils of the plans ahead of February half term.”

They added: “We will continue to work to reopen schools as soon as possible.”

A classroom is set out with socially distanced seating for year 6 pupils but remains empty due to lack of pupils returning in that year group, at Greenacres Primary Academy in Oldham, northern England on June 18, 2020. (Photo by OLI SCARFF / AFP) (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)
The government said it wants schools back ‘as soon as possible’

The case for teachers and other professions who may be more at-risk of catching COVID-19 getting vaccinated sooner was also boosted in comments by Prof Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

He said one key piece of information scientists don’t know yet is how much the jabs stop someone passing on coronavirus.

“If studies do show they prevent transmission, it could be a whole new board game in terms of who you vaccinate and in what order,” Prof Harnden explained.

“But at the moment our clear focus is trying to prevent hospitalisations and deaths.”

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Covid: Vaccinated people may spread virus, says Van-Tam

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Prof Jonathan Van-Tam stressed that scientists “do not yet know the impact of the vaccine on transmission”.

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Every fifth Finn would like to have a hybrid or electric car

In addition to dreamers, five per cent of Finns intend to buy a hybrid or electric car this year, as shown by a survey commissioned by Pohjola Insurance. The electric revolution of motoring has only just started, and major growth is expected during the current decade.  

According to a survey commissioned by Pohjola Insurance, up to 20 per cent of Finns dream about a hybrid or electric car. Yet only five per cent intend to buy one this year. Correspondingly, a half of this dream about a combustion engine car, and seven per cent of Finns intend to buy one this year.  

– The results show that there is interest in hybrid and electric cars, but many people are still considering the matter before making a purchase decision. As the largest insurer of fully electric cars in Finland, we can see from our statistics, however, that the popularity of electric cars is increasing at an accelerating pace, says Kristian Hiljander, Director for Motor Vehicle Insuring at Pohjola Insurance. 

The increasing growth in the popularity of electric cars also shows in the statistics of the Finnish Transport and Communications Agency Traficom: there were already almost 48,000 rechargeable hybrid and fully electric cars in Finland at the end of September 2020, and their number has almost doubled compared with the corresponding period in 2019.    

Pohjola Insurance’s insurance portfolio for fully electric cars has increased by six-fold in just two years. The number of insured electric cars has increased both in absolute terms and compared with the entire insurance portfolio. 

The European Commission aims to have 30 million electric cars in traffic by 2030. At the national level, Finland is committed to halving its traffic emissions by 2030 from the level of 2005, and road traffic is considered to offer the biggest reduction potential. 

– Electrification is one of the biggest megatrends in road traffic both in Finland and globally, and we believe that a major change will be seen in the vehicle stock during the current decade. Big car manufacturers are bringing more and more electric and hybrid models onto the market at the same time as the recharging network is expanding. In addition, the growing consciousness of Finns regarding their own environmental impacts is increasing their willingness to buy alternative vehicle models, Kristian Hiljander concludes. 

The above information is based on a survey conducted in an online panel, which received responses from 2,011 Finnish adults. The survey was conducted for Pohjola Insurance by Taloustutkimus. The error margin of responses is +/-2 per cent. 



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