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A spokesperson for the National Health Service (NHS) told CNN on Saturday that those in charge of the field hospitals — hastily set up during the first wave of the pandemic but largely mothballed since — were asked on December 23 to “get services ready to use.”

Some London hospitals are now almost two-thirds full with Covid-19 patients, President of the Royal College of Physicians Andrew Goddard said Saturday.

His warning came as the UK recorded its highest daily rise in coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, with 57,725 new cases registered Saturday and a further 445 deaths, according to the government’s dashboard.

In an interview with CNN affiliate ITV News, Goddard said: “If you look at the data, some of the hospitals in London at the moment… almost two-thirds of their beds that are available are filled with Covid patients and that is just a staggering statistic and has to make us wonder if this is going to happen across the whole of the UK.”

“There is no doubt the new variant is more transmissible and the escalation of cases that we’ve seen in South Wales, London, Essex and the South East has been at a much greater rate than we’ve seen with the previous strains,” Goddard added.

The emergency field hospitals which may soon come into play are called NHS Nightingale, after the pioneering nurse Florence Nightingale. In London, the huge ExCel convention center in the Docklands area was converted to offer up to 500 beds equipped with ventilators and oxygen. But only a few dozen patients received treatment there in the spring.
Questions have previously been asked about how the Nightingale hospitals will be staffed given that hospitals are already struggling to meet demand.

According to the government’s latest healthcare data on January 1, there were 22,534 coronavirus patients in hospitals across England. This is higher than the almost 19,000 during the April peak.

Doctors have made impassioned appeals to the public to stay at home and follow government guidelines on social distancing as hospitals and other health care services come under intense pressure.

Intensive care doctor Rupert Pearse, at the Royal London Hospital in east London, tweeted Saturday that he was working on the Covid ICU again. “Almost all my patients are less than 60 years old and previously fit. Some are very young. If you think this disease can’t touch you then think again,” he said.

In another message posted Thursday, Pearse said: “Media reports of pressures on the NHS are all true. The situation in London is now MUCH worse than the first wave, and still deteriorating. Sad to see long queues of ambulances outside the hospital where I work.”

Ambulances are parked outside the NHS Nightingale hospital at the ExCel centre in east London on January 1, 2021.

‘Record numbers’ of Covid patients

London Mayor Sadiq Khan told CNN that the capital’s hospitals were dealing with “record numbers” of Covid-19 patients on top of the normal, non-Covid winter surge in demand.

“We now have in the hospitals in London more Covid patients than at any time during this pandemic and the NHS in London, hospitals in London and our fantastic health workers in London are stretched,” Khan said Thursday.

Khan said he was “concerned” about hospitals becoming overwhelmed but added that the NHS had the flexibility to increase capacity, for example by canceling certain routine, elective surgeries.

“But the big worry we do have is, if we continue to see an increase in the virus spreading, it’s possible that hospitals won’t have the ability to cope and that’s particularly the concern because we have not yet reached the normal January, non-Covid peak,” he said.

Asked whether the military could step in to help with new patients, UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told Times Radio on Thursday: “Of course we stand ready to help with Nightingales if the critical pressures go beyond the capacity of the existing NHS.”

He said the Army currently had about 5,000 personnel deployed in the Covid-19 response.

A general view of social distancing signs displayed at Coldfall Primary School in Muswell Hill on January 2, 2021 in London, England.

Most of England is now under the toughest level of restrictions to try to limit the virus’ spread.

Amid the worsening situation, ministers were forced to reverse a decision to reopen some primary schools in London next week, after coming under pressure from local authorities and teaching unions. All schools in London will now switch to remote learning from Monday, when the new term starts, with only vulnerable and critical worker children allowed to attend in person.

The change of course came only two days after the UK Department for Education said nine London boroughs and the City of London would keep primary schools open, while those in 23 other boroughs would remain closed. Khan tweeted Friday that the government had “finally seen sense and U-turned” on its plan to open schools in some areas.

Vaccine roll-out plan

The UK government is pinning its hopes for a route out of disaster on a swift roll-out of the two vaccines now approved for use by the national regulatory agency.
UK chief medical officers defend delay of second Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine doses

More than half a million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine will be available from Monday, according to UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock, with millions more to follow in the coming weeks.

Batches of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine began arriving Saturday at hospitals in England, the PA news agency reported. Among the first to receive a batch was the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath, West Sussex.

Dr. George Findlay, chief medical officer and deputy chief executive for the Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, said the hospital expected to give the vaccine to hundreds of people a day starting from next week.

The vaccine is cheaper and easier to distribute than the Pfizer/BioNTech jab, approved for use in the UK in early December, because it can be kept at regular refrigerator temperatures for at least six months.

Plans announced Wednesday by the head of the UK’s medicines regulator, MHRA, to delay giving second doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in order to prioritize first doses for as many vulnerable people as possible have prompted opposition from doctors’ groups.

The new strategy means that the interval between doses could be extended to up to 12 weeks, instead of the three weeks previously stipulated. However, Pfizer has said it has no data to show that just a single dose of its vaccine would provide protection against the disease after more than 21 days.

More than 1,000 fines issued after illegal New Year's party in France breaches coronavirus restrictions

The deputy chairman of the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, Anthony Harnden, defended the dosing strategy in an interview Saturday with the BBC.

“We’re not saying you shouldn’t have a second dose. We’re saying the second dose can be temporarily delayed to get more people vaccinated,” Harnden said. “We’re in a dire situation in this country at the moment, the virus is rapidly spreading and the more vaccine we can get into these priority groups, the more deaths and hospitalizations we can prevent.”

UK regulators have also advised giving the second dose of the newly approved Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine four to 12 weeks later.

Public Health England’s Head of Immunisations Dr. Mary Ramsay said Saturday that mixing Covid-19 vaccines is not recommended. Her comment clarified the UK’s position on vaccine mixing after an update to the government’s vaccine playbook on December 31 said the interchangeability of Covid-19 vaccines was a “reasonable” option.
Members of the public are seen on a quiet Princess Street on Hogmanay on December 31, 2020 in Edinburgh, Scotland.

New variant more prevalent in under-20s

Even if the government achieves its aim of swiftly inoculating millions of elderly and clinically vulnerable people, thereby reducing Covid-related hospital admissions, the UK faces some tough weeks ahead.

“It is a pretty grim and depressing picture at the moment” in England, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van Tam told a Downing Street press conference on Wednesday.

“It is almost certainly true that the NHS has not yet seen the impact of the infections that will have occurred during mixing in Christmas and that unfortunately is rather sobering.”

As of January 1, at least 30 countries, including the United States, had reported cases of the more infectious variant of the coronavirus first detected in the UK.

A study authored by a collaborative team from Imperial College London, University of Edinburgh, Public Health England and others confirmed that the variant had greater transmissibility and was more prevalent in people under 20 years of age.

While the study, released Thursday, found that people aged under 20 make up a greater proportion of cases of the new variant of the virus, its authors said it was too early to determine the reasons for this, adding that further research was ongoing.

There’s no evidence that the variant is any more deadly or causes more severe disease, according to health officials.

CNN’s Sarah Dean, Eleanor Pickston, Sharon Braithwaite and Hira Humayun contributed to this report.

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Pelosi to move forward with impeachment if Pence doesn’t act to remove Trump

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“In protecting our Constitution and our Democracy, we will act with urgency, because this President represents an imminent threat to both,” Pelosi said in the letter to Democrats on Sunday night laying out next steps.

The House will try to pass a measure on Monday imploring Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, through which he and the Cabinet declare Trump “incapable of executing the duties of his office, after which the Vice President would immediately exercise powers as acting president.” If Republicans object, as is virtually certain, Democrats will pass the bill via a roll call vote on Tuesday.

“We are calling on the Vice President to respond within 24 hours,” Pelosi wrote. “Next, we will proceed with bringing impeachment legislation to the Floor.”

But it’s not clear when exactly the Senate will take up the House’s measure. The Senate isn’t scheduled to return until Jan. 19, but will hold pro forma sessions on Tuesday and Friday. In theory, a senator could try to pass the House resolution by unanimous consent, but as of now it appears unlikely that it would pass.

On Monday, multiple House Democrats plan to introduce impeachment resolutions that would become the basis of any impeachment article considered by the House later this week.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who will introduce an article of impeachment against Trump on Monday, said on Sunday that roughly 200 Democrats have co-sponsored the measure.

Currently, 211 voting members (plus three nonvoting members) support Cicilline’s legislation, and they are hoping to reach 217 voting members by Monday morning, enough for the House to impeach Trump, one Democratic source familiar with the matter told POLITICO.

A small number of Democrats have opted not to co-sign the bill, but privately say they will vote to support the resolution on the floor, the source added.

The impeachment effort in the House is likely to be bipartisan, with Democrats expecting at least one GOP lawmaker — Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — to sign on. A handful of other House Republicans are seriously weighing it, according to several sources, though those lawmakers are waiting to see how Democrats proceed, and some are concerned about dividing the country even further.

Among the GOP members whom Democrats are keeping an eye on are Reps. John Katko of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington.

Across the Capitol, at least two Republicans — Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have called on Trump to resign. On Saturday, Toomey told Fox News, “I do think the president committed impeachable offenses,” but told CNN the next day that he does not believe there is enough time to impeach.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has also said he would consider articles of impeachment.

Another option has emerged among some Republican and moderate Democratic circles — censuring Trump — though it remains highly unlikely to advance.

A censure resolution would gain far more support in the GOP than impeachment. Some Republicans have privately been pushing for that route and are trying to get Biden on board, according to GOP sources. That group of Republicans is also warning that impeachment could destroy Biden’s reputation with Republicans.

But censure is considered a nonstarter in an incensed House Democratic Caucus, where members see it as a slap on the wrist that gives Republicans an easy out.

The Democrats’ enormous step toward impeachment on Sunday comes after Pelosi and other top Democrats held a private call on Saturday night in which they discussed the potential ramifications that a lengthy impeachment trial could have on Biden’s presidency.

Democratic leaders discussed several options to limit the political effects on Biden’s first 100 days, with one option — floated by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) — for the House to delay the start of an impeachment trial in the Senate by holding on to the article of impeachment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sent out a memo to senators explaining that the Senate could not take up impeachment until Jan. 19 at the earliest, absent unanimous consent.

A final decision has not been made, and House Democrats will discuss the matter on a 2 p.m. caucus call on Monday.

Lawmakers are already privately expressing concerns about returning to the Capitol for multiple days this week, worried about both a potential coronavirus outbreak and whether the building is secure, given how easily an armed pro-Trump mob invaded on Wednesday.

The Capitol physician urged House lawmakers and staff to get tested in a memo Sunday, saying they might have been exposed to someone who had the virus while huddling for safety in a large committee room for hours on Wednesday. During the hourslong lockdown, several Republican members refused to wear masks despite being offered them by Democrats worried about the spread of the deadly virus.

Melanie Zanona, Olivia Beavers and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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Matt Hancock Scraps “Unnecessary Training Modules” Blamed For Slowing Vaccine Rollout

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Matt Hancock has agreed to remove some of the training modules required for volunteers to sign up to deliver the Covid-19 vaccine (PA)

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Matt Hancock said people will no longer need to undertake training including an anti-terrorism course to give the coronavirus jab after MPs said “bureaucratic rubbish” was delaying mass vaccination.

It comes as MPs called for the government to produce targets for the number of people given immunity before lockdown can be lifted.

The health secretary said a series of “unnecessary training modules” are being scrapped to speed up the process of getting people qualified to deliver the jab.

Speaking in the Commons, Sir Edward Leigh said he was shown by his fellow the Tory MP, a qualified GP, the “ridiculous form” he had filled out to start delivering the vaccine.

“When he’s inoculating an old lady, he’s not going to ask her if she’s come into contact with Jihadis or whatever, so the Secretary has got to cut through all this bureaucratic rubbish,” he said.

In response Mr Hancock said: “I am a man after Sir Edward’s heart and I can tell the House that we have removed a series of the unnecessary training modules that had been put in place, including fire safety, terrorism and others.

“I’ll write to him with the full panoply of the training that is not required and we have been able to remove, and we made this change as of this morning and I am glad to say it is enforced.

“I am a fan of busting bureaucracy and in this case I agree with him that it is not necessary to undertake anti-terrorism training in order to inject vaccines.”

Dr Fox had earlier challenged Boris Johnson to drop the “bureaucracy” and “political correctness” of the forms vaccine volunteers must fill out.

He told MPs: “As a qualified but non-practising doctor, I volunteered to help with the scheme and would urge others to do the same. 

“But, can I ask the Prime Minister why I’ve been required to complete courses on conflict resolution, equality, diversity and human rights, moving and handling loads and preventing radicalisation in order to give a simple Covid jab?”

Mr Johnson said he had been “assured by the Health Secretary that all such obstacles, all such pointless pettifoggery has been removed”.

The government has been attempting to recruit thousands of volunteers to help with a mass vaccination programme, and with the recent approval of the more easily deliverable Oxford/AstraZeneca version has today revealed the location of seven mass vaccination centres set to open next week.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told journalists at a briefing they would be at Robertson House in Stevenage, the ExCel Centre in London, the Centre for Life in Newcastle, the Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester, Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey, Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol and Millennium Point in Birmingham, and it is expected they will be run with a combination of NHS staff and volunteers.

But so far the government has not said how many people need to be inoculated before it has an impact on the coronavirus restrictions.

Mr Hancock was asked by a number of MPs if the measures could be eased once the top few tiers in the vaccine priority list had been clear.

Former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper said once the top four groups, which includes care home residents and staff, frontline NHS workers, the clinically extremely vulnerable and everyone over 70 “we’ve taken care therefore of 80% of the risk of death”.

Adding: “What possible reason is there at that point for not rapidly relaxing the restrictions that are in place on the rest of our country?”

The health secretary replied: “We have to see the impact of that vaccination on the reduction in the number of deaths, which I very much hope that we will see at that point, and so that is why we will take this – an evidence-led move down through the tiers, when we’ve broken the link, I hope, between cases and hospitalisations and deaths.”

The ex-Tory minister and another doctor, Andrew Murrison, said: “The logic of anticipating what is going to happen in two or three or four weeks’ time from the number of cases we are getting at the moment is that we can do the same in reverse.

“That is to say, when we have a sufficient number of people vaccinated up we can anticipate in two or three or four weeks’ time how many deaths have been avoided. 

“That means, since it cuts both ways he will be able to make a decision on when we should end these restrictions.”

Mr Hancock replied: “The logic of the case that Dr Murrison makes is the right logic and we want to see that happen in empirical evidence on the ground.

“This hope for the weeks ahead doesn’t take away, though, from the serious and immediate threat posed now.”

The Cabinet minister said the challenge for the government is to increase the amount of doses available, claiming “the current rate-limiting factor on the vaccine rollout is the supply of approved, tested, safe vaccine”.

He added: ”We are working with both AstraZeneca and Pfizer to increase that supply as fast as possible and they’re doing a brilliant job.”

But Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for the government to ramp up its vaccination programme to six million doses a week.

He told the Commons: “The Prime Minister has promised almost 14 million will be offered the vaccine by mid-Feb. That depends on around two million doses a week on average.

“Both [Mr Hancock] and the Prime Minister have reassured us in recent days that it’s doable based on orders.

“But in the past ministers have told us that they had agreements for 30 million AstraZeneca doses by September 2020 and 10 million of Pfizer doses by the end of 2020.

“So, I think people just want to understand the figures and want clarity. Can ministers tell us how many of the ordered doses have been manufactured?”

Mr Ashworth added: “Two million a week would be fantastic but it should be the limit of our ambitions, we should be aiming to scale up to three, then five, then six million jabs a week over the coming months.”

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How South African police are tackling pangolin smugglers


Quiet, solitary and nocturnal, the pangolin has few natural enemies, but researchers believe it is the most trafficked mammal in the world. The tough scales covering its body are sought after for use in Chinese medicine, in the erroneous belief that they have healing properties.

The animal has also been of interest to researchers during the coronavirus pandemic. Related viruses have been found in trafficked pangolins, though there is continued uncertainty around early theories that pangolins were involved in the transmission of the virus from animals to humans.

After South African police seized a pangolin from suspected smugglers, BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding witnessed how vets tried to save the animal’s life.

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