Hancock to respond to Cummings’ claim he should have been fired over Covid

att Hancock will today face MPs over allegations made by Dominic Cummings that he lied to colleagues and performed “disastrously” during the Covid pandemic.

The Health Secretary on Wednesday night said he had not seen Mr Cummings’ seven-hour evidence to MPs as he was “saving lives” by dealing with the vaccination rollout.

He will answer a Commons urgent question and is due to lead a Government press conference, the day after a scathing attack by Mr Cummings who argued the Cabinet minister should have been sacked on 15 to 20 occasions.

The former de facto Downing Street chief of staff, who apologised for his own shortcomings, also claimed the Prime Minister was “unfit” for the job and that “tens of thousands of people died who didn’t need to die” because of the Government’s failings.

As he arrived at his north London home on Wednesday evening, Mr Hancock said: “I haven’t seen this performance today in full, and instead I’ve been dealing with getting the vaccination rollout going, especially to over-30s, and saving lives.

“I’ll be giving a statement to the House of Commons tomorrow and I’ll have more to say then.”

MPs will question Mr Hancock on the claims, which included that Health Secretary indulged in “criminal, disgraceful behaviour” in producing a target of carrying out 100,000 tests per day for coronavirus in April 2020.

A spokesman for Mr Hancock said “we absolutely reject” the criticisms made by Mr Cummings.

Boris Johnson meanwhile, is likely to face questions of his own about the explosive evidence from his once-closest aide when he visits a hospital on Thursday.

As well as being branded unfit for office, it was alleged Mr Johnson dismissed the pandemic as a “scare story” or the new “swine flu” in early 2020 as the global crisis loomed and wanted to be injected with Covid-19 on television in a bid to calm the nation.

Mr Cummings accused Mr Hancock of performing “disastrously” below the standards expected and that the cabinet secretary – the country’s top civil servant – recommended the Health Secretary should be sacked.

The Vote Leave strategist said he too recommended, sometimes on a daily basis, that Mr Johnson sack the Health Secretary but the Conservative Party leader was warned off the idea because “he’s the person you fire when the inquiry comes along”.

“I think the Secretary of State for Health should’ve been fired for at least 15, 20 things, including lying to everybody on multiple occasions in meeting after meeting in the Cabinet room and publicly,” Mr Cummings told MPs.

Downing Street said on Wednesday Mr Hancock continued to have the confidence of the Prime Minister and the pair were “working closely” to save lives.

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Australian Federal Police respond to disturbing child abuse investigation claims

A senior federal cop has slapped down claims federal police were unable to execute search warrants on potential child abuse offenders during the height of pandemic because of basic resourcing issues.

The emphatic response from Child Protection Operations Superintendent Paula Hudson came after a damning report declared “stretched” and “exhausted” law enforcement officers were struggling to keep up with an alarming surge in online child exploitation, abuse and grooming.

The University of NSW research had a global focus, but its lead author Michael Salter provided startling details about the impact to investigations in Australia.

“I’m aware that there were police forces in Australia who were not executing search warrants for a period of time during the pandemic simply because they didn’t have their infection control procedures in place to make it safe for police to be in the field,” the criminologist told NCA NewsWire.

“And we know that the child protection services had similar sorts of challenges – how do you go out and how do you investigate child abuse complaints when that puts your staff at risk of COVID-19 infection?”

But Superintendent Hudson insisted the pandemic was no barrier to targeting child exploitation offenders.

RELATED: Shocking spike in child abuse revealed

She said the Australian Federal Police’s Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) charged 187 people with 1966 child abuse-related offences in 2020.

“If the community thinks that COVID-19 restrictions have stopped the AFP and the AFP-led ACCCE from operational activity to protect children, they are wrong,” the senior cop told NCA NewsWire.

“Our investigators continue to operate on both the dark and clear net, ensuring that children are safe and our joint anti child exploitation Teams across the country are executing search warrants on a near daily basis arresting offenders.”

Another disturbing finding in the UNSW report, funded by the Australian eSafety Commission, was authorities across the world failed to ramp up operations as reports of offences surged, which Superintendent Hudson said didn’t relate to Australia.

“To ensure the protection of children during the COVID-19 pandemic, the AFP bolstered also resources within the ACCCE child protection triage unit and ACCCE covert online engagement team to address the increase in referrals received,” she said.

Dr Salter also highlighted significant and concerning ignorance from social media and online gaming platforms that he said let complaints and alerts of abuse go “unanswered”.

He said the “clear message” was technology companies needed to step up and take responsibility for the horrific rates of abuse occurring on their social media and online gaming platforms.

“We had a range of complaints from many agencies that they were dealing with the overflow from social media companies who just weren‘t responding to reports fast enough and hadn’t invested in online safety during the pandemic,” he said.

“So cases and complaints were just going unanswered but, more broadly, their platforms are just so unsafe for children that at a time of crisis there were no brakes to put on, there were no safeguards to raise.

“Children were abjectly at risk on these online platforms and there was just nothing that could be done about it.”

The criminologist said there was “absolutely no question the epidemic levels of online abuse and exploitation” during the pandemic was “a result of the lack of preventive measures from online platforms”.

“To a certain extent, they’ve tied their own hands behind their back because it’s crazy that the online profile of a user who is sexually exploiting children and the online profile of a legitimate user appear the same to the social media company,” he said.

“They haven’t designed their platform to make those distinctions.”

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Antony Blinken: US will respond to reckless Russian acts

The US secretary of state has told the BBC that the US will respond to reckless or aggressive acts by Russia.

Antony Blinken said the US was focused in US state actions – such as the treatment of opposition figure Alexei Navalny, the Solar Winds hack and election interference.

“We would prefer a more stable and predictable relationship,” he said.

Mr Blinken was in the UK for a meeting of foreign ministers of the G7 group of industrialised nations.

A communique issued after the two-day talks criticised Moscow for its “irresponsible and destabilising behaviour”, particularly against Ukraine, and for cyber-attacks.

Back in February US President Joe Biden said, in more headline-grabbing terms, that he had made it clear to President Vladimir Putin “that the days of the United States rolling over in the face of Russia’s aggressive actions… are over.”

His predecessor Donald Trump had at times seemed to avoid criticising the Russian leader.

Mr Blinken told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme that the Biden administration was not trying to hold China back, stressing that the US was in favour of upholding a rules-based international system.

He said countries needed to look very carefully to see if China was investing in their strategic assets.

The US has started formally withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan after almost 20 years. Mr Blinken said the US was “staying in the game” however, remaining engaged with the country.

He said Afghanistan’s neighbours might now have to “step up” and use their influence to try and keep it on a positive path.

Asked about a possible trade deal with the UK and the situation in Northern Ireland, Mr Blinken said peace in Ireland remained something that the administration was very focused on.

The secretary of state said that for President Biden it was important that “whatever is done, whatever we do, the gains of the Good Friday Agreement are sustained and we have the political and economic well-being of Northern Ireland in mind”.

Joe Biden has previously said that Brexit must not endanger the Good Friday Agreement.

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Emergency services respond to Risdon Prison incident

Emergency services respond to Risdon Prison incident.

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Police Respond to Scene of Deadly Long Island Supermarket Shooting

Nassau County Police said three people were shot at a Stop and Shop supermarket in West Hempstead, New York, on Tuesday morning, April 20, and said a person of interest was still at large. Officials confirmed one person was killed and two others were injured after several shots were fired around 11:20 am Tuesday. Police identified Gabriel DeWitt Wilson, who “was and may still be” a store employee as a “person of interest” in the shooting. He was still at large, according to Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder. Raymond Serano shared video from a nearby parking lot. “There’s cops everywhere,” he says in the video. “I hope a cop didn’t get shot.” Police said nearby schools were on lockdown as officials canvassed the area. Credit: Raymond Serano via Storyful

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Biden announces sanctions against Russia, Kremlin still weighing how to respond

Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Photo by ALEXEI DRUZHININ/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)

OAN Newsroom
UPDATED 3:40 PM PT – Friday, April 16, 2021

The Biden administration said it’s expelling a number of Russian diplomats and imposing sanctions on several companies in response to actions it says the Kremlin made against the U.S.

According to reports, the sanctions were meant as punitive action against Moscow after Russia allegedly interfered in the 2020 presidential election. It also came in response to the massive SolarWinds hack blamed on Russian intelligence agencies.

“Today, I have approved several steps, including expulsion of several Russian officials as a consequence of their actions,” Joe Biden said. “I’ve also signed an executive order authorizing new measures, including sanctions, to address specific harmful actions that Russia has taken against U.S. interests.”

According to Joe Biden, the U.S. is not looking to escalate tensions with Russia, however, if Russia seeks to “violate the U.S., it will respond.”

“The United States is not looking to kick off a cycle of escalation and conflict with Russia,” Biden added. “We want a stable, predictable relationship and if Russia continues to interfere with our democracy, I’m prepared to take further action to respond.”

The sanctions expelled 10 Russian diplomats from the U.S. and targeted six Russian companies that supported cyber efforts in the SolarWinds hack. Thirty-two additional individuals and entities were also named and accused of trying to influence the election and spreading disinformation.

There is no evidence, however, that Russia or any other influence changed votes or manipulated the outcome of the election.

The White House did emphasize the sanctions were not in response to a report that claimed Russia had paid the Taliban to attack U.S. forces in Afghanistan. In response, the Kremlin condemned the sanctions, saying President Vladimir Putin had not yet decided what action he would take.

“Our approach regarding the sanctions can not change,” Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said. “We condemn any such aspirations of sanctions. We consider them illegal, and in any case, the principle of reciprocity is still in place — reciprocity in such a way that we can best ensure our own interests.”

Officials said they were upset the White House announced the sanctions just two days after Biden spoke with Putin. They emphasized the need for a summit and a desire to normalize relations.

Both Biden and the Kremlin said they were warned, however, that measures were coming.

Russian citizens said the relationship between the two countries is getting worse and added, dialogue between the two leaders is needed to find the roots of the conflict.

“We need to approach this issue diplomatically, to initiate meetings between the two heads of our states,” Moscow resident Evgeniy Chirkov said. “I’ve heard that Putin and Biden will be meeting on the neutral territory. So yes, to meet and to find compromises in the relationship between our countries.”

According to experts, Putin will consider the impact of the sanctions, but the action is not likely to cause him to make a 180 degree pivot in behavior.

MORE NEWS: Russia Announces Expulsion Of 10 U.S. Diplomats

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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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Bad education. A mathematician, astrophysicist, publisher, and Wikipedia director respond to Russia’s draft law on ‘educational activity’ that could force new regulations on popular science and more

On Tuesday, March 16, the State Duma adopted the third and final reading of reforms to Russia’s education regulations, adding new restrictions to the “dissemination of knowledge outside formal academic programs,” such as popular-science initiatives and probably even Wikipedia and the mass media. Deputies from the country’s ruling political party, United Russia, used their supermajority in Parliament to force through the legislation without the support of any other faction. If the Federation Council and President Putin support the law, it will enter force on June 1, 2021. Meduza spoke to several educators and popular science communicators about the new reforms and how these restrictions will likely affect their fields. 

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Study finds specific brain regions respond opposingly to emotions related to loneliness and wisdom — ScienceDaily

Research over the last decade has shown that loneliness is an important determinant of health. It is associated with considerable physical and mental health risks and increased mortality. Previous studies have also shown that wisdom could serve as a protective factor against loneliness. This inverse relationship between loneliness and wisdom may be based in different brain processes.

In a study published in the March 5, 2021 online edition of Cerebral Cortex, researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine found that specific regions of the brain respond to emotional stimuli related to loneliness and wisdom in opposing ways.

“We were interested in how loneliness and wisdom relate to emotional biases, meaning how we respond to different positive and negative emotions,” said Jyoti Mishra, PhD, senior author of the study, director of the NEATLabs and assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

The study involved 147 participants, ages 18 to 85. The subjects performed a simple cognitive task of determining which direction an arrow was pointed while faces with different emotions were presented in the background.

“We found that when faces emoting anger were presented as distractors, they significantly slowed simple cognitive responses in lonelier individuals. This meant that lonelier individuals paid more attention to threatening stimuli, such as the angry faces.”

“For wisdom, on the other hand, we found a significant positive relationship for response speeds when faces with happy emotions were shown, specifically individuals who displayed wiser traits, such as empathy, had speedier responses in the presence of happy stimuli.”

Electroencephalogram (EEG)-based brain recordings showed that the part of the brain called the temporal-parietal junction (TPJ) was activating differently in lonelier versus wiser individuals. TPJ is important for processing theory of mind, or the degree of capacity for empathy and understanding of others. The study found it more active in the presence of angry emotions for lonelier people and more active in the presence of happy emotions for wiser people.

Researchers also noted greater activity to threatening stimuli for lonelier individuals in the left superior parietal cortex, the brain region important for allocating attention, while wisdom was significantly related to enhanced happy emotion-driven activity in the left insula of the brain, responsible for social characteristics like empathy.

“This study shows that the inverse relationship between loneliness and wisdom that we found in our previous clinical studies is at least partly embedded in neurobiology and is not merely a result of subjective biases,” said study author Dilip V. Jeste, MD, senior associate dean for the Center of Healthy Aging and Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

“These findings are relevant to the mental and physical health of individuals because they give us an objective neurobiological handle on how lonelier or wiser people process information,” said Mishra. “Having biological markers that we can measure in the brain can help us develop effective treatments. Perhaps we can help answer the question, ‘Can you make a person wiser or less lonely?’ The answer could help mitigate the risk of loneliness.”

The authors say next steps include a longitudinal study and an intervention study.

“Ultimately, we think these evidence-based cognitive brain markers are the key to developing better health care for the future that may address the loneliness epidemic,” said Mishra.

Co-authors include: Gillian Grennan, Pragathi Priyadharsini Balasubramani, Fahad Alim, Mariam Zafar-Khan, UC San Diego; and Ellen Lee, Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System.

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of California – San Diego. Original written by Michelle Brubaker. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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COVID-19 conspiracy theorists more likely to respond selfishly to pandemic, new study finds

COVID-19 conspiracy theorists are “more concerned” about themselves and “less concerned about the health of others”, a new report suggests.

The study – released today by the University of Queensland – states that coronavirus conspiracy theorists are more likely to respond selfishly to the pandemic, rather than as a society.

They are also more “likely to focus on ways of helping themselves” such as stockpiling, and less likely to respond to community-focused strategies like hand-washing and social distancing.

Police Officers watch as people queue for toilet paper in a Coles supermarket. (AAP Image/James Gourley) (AAP)

“Furthermore, people who believed conspiracies later reported more reluctance to take a COVID-19 vaccine, in part because of their relatively self-focused attitudes,” Prof. Jetten UQ School of Psychology said.

“COVID-19 conspiracy theories reported greater concerns about their own safety and lower concerns about the safety of close others, compared to people who didn’t endorse the conspiracy theories as strongly,” Prof. Jetten said.

Peter Collignon, professor of infectious diseases at the ANU Medical School said the report’s findings are not surprising.

“It doesn’t surprise me, but I think we have to be careful before labelling people self-centred, this group of people obviously are, but a lot are quite rightly concerned about their health,” he said.

“The overall issue with the conspiracy is that there’s no doubt COVID exists, no doubt that it spreads easily and no doubt it kills a lot people.

'QAnon Shaman' Jacob Chansley wants Donald Trump to pardon him for his crimes.
Well known conspiracy theorist ‘QAnon Shaman’ Jacob Chansley. (AP)

“For anyone to deny its existence, well I’m not sure what we can do about that because the evidence is overwhelming.”

Prof. Collignon added that those who deny the existence of COVID-19 are only harming themselves in the end.

“I think it’s a viewpoint that I think is not based on looking at all the information rationally,” he said.

“I do think we have to be careful not to be too derogatory to these people though, they’ve got views for whatever reasons.

“The only people that they’re hurting in the end are themselves.

“Some people will look at not only themselves but those around them and while others will look at only themselves.”

The research team surveyed 4245 people from eight nations.

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