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The Government is scaling back its testing advertising after running into capacity issues (PA)


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The Government has been scaling back advertising for coronavirus testing as a way of dealing with a level of demand that is outstripping capacity. 

Amid numerous stories in recent days of people across the country being unable to book into a drive-through centre or order a home kit, the health secretary Matt Hancock told the Commons today that “capacity for testing is at a record high”.

And in response to an LBC report yesterday saying there were no tests available in any of the top 10 UK hotspots for Covid-19 infections, Number 10 said it was “wrong to say that testing is not available in these areas”, declaring the capacity was there.

However, a government source has told PoliticsHome the Department of Health has stripped back its advertising campaign for testing in the face of a level of demand that is outstripping capacity. 

It is understood that this is just one of several measures being adopted in the face of the testing crisis, with changes to the booking website, and the scaling back of testing appointments in low-prevalence areas among them.

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth asked Mr Hancock about the lack of testing in areas of high infection during an urgent question in Parliament.

The Cabinet minister replied: “Well, the good news, in responding to that, is that capacity for testing is at a record high. 

“The honourable gentleman raised the issue of testing in the top 10 local authorities – well, I have got the figures here.  

“Yesterday, we processed 9,278 tests just in pillar 2 – so outside of the NHS testing capacity – in just those top 10 local authority areas.”

Mr Ashworth said Mr Hancock was “losing control of this virus” after the Cabinet minister acknowledged it might be “a matter of weeks” before the problems are resolved.

Although the health secretary did admit there had been “operational” challenges to the testing system, he claimed there was a hold up of “less than a day’s capacity” – currently around 225,000 for swab tests.

Asked about testing shortages, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We would say that it is wrong to say that testing is not available in [hotspots]

“Our capacity continues to be targeted to where it is most needed, which is why booking slots and home testing kits are made available daily for people with symptoms.”

The spokesman added: “We are working hard to increase capacity. We have recently announced a new lab in Leicestershire, which will process around 50,000 antigen tests a day in the next few weeks, and we have also opened a new lab at Newport.”

And home secretary Priti Patel said: ”Tests are available, you’ve heard me say, particularly in local lockdown areas, I’ve seen this myself, I’ve seen the teams that have been working on this.

“Mobile testing is going in, capacity is going into local areas where lockdowns have been undertaken and are taking place.

“I think it is wrong to say tests are not available, new book-in slots are being made available every single day, mobile testing units are being made available.”

The Department for Health and Social Care has not responded to requests for comment.

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Poisoned Navalny plots his return, but Russia’s opposition activists wonder who might be next

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It’s not just Navalny who has been under attack.

Just one day after he emerged from his medically-induced coma, at least three volunteers linked to his team were targeted at their office in Novosibirsk, Siberia.

Two masked men were recorded by security cameras, bursting in to the office of “Coalition Novosibirsk 2020,” which is also headquarters of Navalny’s local team.

One of them threw a bottle containing an unknown yellow liquid — described to CNN as a “pungent chemical”, “unbearable” by witnesses — at volunteers who were there for a lecture about the upcoming local elections, before running off.

The Kremlin has denied having anything to do with the attacks, but analysts are skeptical.

“Russia has a track record of sudden deaths among the Kremlin’s critics: Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko and Boris Nemtsov, to name but a few,” says longtime Russia analyst Valeriy Akimenko from the Conflict Studies Research Centre, an independent research group. “If this wasn’t a murder plot or assassination attempt, it was an act of intimidation.”

Which raises an important question: How much immediate danger is Navalny in, if and when he does return to Russia?

“I don’t think the words safety or security apply to anyone who is opposition in Russia,” says Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian opposition politician and chairman of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom, who has been poisoned twice in the past five years.

“I can have as much protection as I like, but I have to touch doorknobs and breathe air,” he says. “The only real precautionary measure I’ve been able to take is to get my family out of the country.”

The Kremlin has denied any involvement in either of the attacks on Kara-Murza, though his wife has directly accused the Russian government of bearing responsibility.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle has also denied any involvement in Navalny’s poisoning, but Akimenko points out that the language coming from the Kremlin in the weeks since has hardly been reassuring, given the near-death of a prominent politician.

“Just look at what’s been coming out of Russia,” he says. “Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying no need for Putin to meet Navalny; Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov saying no legal grounds for a criminal inquiry; Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin talking instead about an investigation into possible foreign provocation; and on state TV, ceaseless attempts to muddy the waters by blaming anyone but the Russian state.”

As if being an outspoken opponent of the government wasn’t enough of a risk for Navalny, other Putin critics believe that what is being seen as a failed assassination attempt, in order to scare opponents, might have backfired.

“Now that Alexey Navalny has survived, this may prove to be a spectacular miscalculation that only empowers the opposition and Navalny,” says Bill Browder, a prominent financier who became a thorn in the side of Putin after leading the push for a US sanctions act named after Browder’s lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who died under suspicious circumstances in a Russian prison.

Kara-Murza points out that in the very area of Siberia where the campaign office attack took place, Navalny’s allies made gains against Putin’s ruling United Russia in elections this past weekend.

“When Russians have a real choice, they are very happy to demonstrate how sick they are of Putin’s one-man rule,” he told CNN.

Whenever he does return to Russia, the risk both to him and his supporters is likely to remain very high; has this affected the opposition’s morale?

“Putin rules by symbolism,” says Browder. “To take the most popular opposition politician and poison him with a deadly nerve agent is intended to scare the less popular ones into submission.”

So, will it work?

Kara-Murza says the Putin critic Boris Nemtsov, who was assassinated near the Kremlin in February 2015, just days before he was due to take part in an anti-government protest in Moscow, used to tell his allies: “We must do what we must and come what may. Of course, we understand the dangers, but we are determined, not scared.”

And while Akimenko says: “If Russia’s opposition leaders aren’t worried, they should be,” he adds that: “They have been fearless in the face of both personal physical attacks against Navalny and persecution disguised as prosecution.”

The Navalny episode revealed the dangers of political opposition in Russia to the world.

But for those actively involved in that fight, it has merely underscored the threat they already knew existed, says Kara-Murza

“I was poisoned twice,” he said. “Both times I was in [a] coma. Both times doctors told my wife I had 5% chance of living. Boris Nemtsov had 0% when he was shot in the back. But it’s not about safety; it’s about doing the right thing for our country. It would be too much of a gift to the Kremlin if those of us who stand in opposition gave up and ran.”

CNN’s Mary Ilyushina contributed to this report from Moscow

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Engel subpoenas head of government’s foreign broadcast media agencies

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Pack has previously insisted his personnel changes were a routine part of new leadership at a large organization.

A spokesperson for U.S. Agency for Global Media on Friday said Pack couldn’t attend due to a conflict with the original hearing date.

“Michael Pack is disappointed that the Committee has decided to escalate the situation,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “Pack is eager to testify before the Committee to talk about the critical work of USAGM and to answer Members’ questions.”

Engel recently subpoenaed the State Department for documents connected to GOP Sen. Ron Johnson’s investigation of Joe Biden’s relationships in Ukraine, a probe that Democrats say is politically motivated and potentially tainted by Russian disinformation.

Engel is also probing Trump’s decision earlier this year to fire State Department inspector general Steve Linick.

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Every Local Authority Subject To New Restrictions Across Great Britain

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Some areas of the UK are currently subject to stricter coronavirus restrictions (PA)


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Coronavirus hotspots across the UK have been subjected to localised lockdown restrictions in a bid to slow the spread of the virus—use PoliticsHome’s interactive map to find out what restrictions apply where.

 

Each of the UK’s four nations sets its own public health policies, meaning restrictions differ between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland

Selected postcodes in Northern Ireland are subject to localised restrictions as of 10 September. Visit nidirect.gov.uk to view the affected areas

Postcode areas may be added and removed from the local restrictions as the patterns of infection change, and further interventions and restrictions could be added as necessary.

Face coverings are compulsory on public transport, in shops and supermarkets, and in selected other indoor settings. They are also advised wherever social distancing is not possible. 

Individuals are advised to stay one metre apart from each other as of 29 June. Up to 15 people from different households can meet outdoors, and up to six people from two different households indoors.

Indoor settings such as non-essential retail, hairdressers, libraries, places of worship, and museums and galleries have been allowed to reopen.

There are no restrictions on domestic travel, except in some areas experiencing localised lockdowns. Those arriving from selected international destinations are required to self-isolate for 14 days. 

England

Face coverings are compulsory on public transport, in shops and supermarkets, and in selected other indoor settings such as museums, cinemas, galleries and places of worship. They are also advised wherever social distancing is not possible. 

Individuals are advised to stay two metres apart from each other but, where this is not possible, one metre is advised. 

Gatherings of more than six people are illegal both indoors and outdoors as of 14 September. Weddings and funerals can still go ahead with a limit of 30 people if conducted in a Covid-secure way.

Indoor settings such as non-essential retail, hairdressers, libraries, places of worship, and museums and galleries have been allowed to reopen. Nightclubs have not been allowed to reopen.

People are no longer encouraged to work from home as of 1 August, but workplaces must follow Covid-secure guidelines if they plan to reopen.

There are no restrictions on domestic travel, except in some areas experiencing localised lockdowns. Those arriving from selected international destinations are required to self-isolate for 14 days. 

Scotland

Face coverings are compulsory on public transport, in shops and supermarkets, and in selected other indoor settings. They are also advised wherever social distancing is not possible. 

Individuals are advised to stay two metres apart from each other. Gatherings of more than six people are illegal both indoors and outdoors as of 14 September, except for children under 11.

Indoor settings such as non-essential retail, hairdressers, libraries, places of worship, and museums and galleries have been allowed to reopen.

There are no restrictions on domestic travel, except in some areas experiencing localised lockdowns. Those arriving from selected international destinations are required to self-isolate for 14 days. 

Wales

Face coverings are compulsory on public transport, in shops and supermarkets, and in selected other indoor settings. They are also advised wherever social distancing is not possible. 

Individuals are advised to stay two metres apart from each other. People can only gather in groups of up to six indoors and must all belong to the same extended household group. Up to four households are able to join together to form an extended household. Children under 11 are exempt.

Indoor settings such as non-essential retail, hairdressers, libraries, places of worship, and museums and galleries have been allowed to reopen.

There are no restrictions on domestic travel, except in some areas experiencing localised lockdowns. Those arriving from selected international destinations are required to self-isolate for 14 days. 

 

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