Covid: Relaxing restrictions could trigger third wave, NHS bosses warn

Relaxing Covid restrictions could trigger a third wave of the virus during the busiest time of year for hospitals, NHS bosses have warned.

In a letter to the PM, NHS Providers, which represents hospital trusts in England, urged “extreme caution” in moving any area to a lower tier.

England’s three-tier system is due to be reviewed on 16 December.

The government said it “will not hesitate to take necessary actions to protect local communities”.

Decisions on tiers are made by ministers, based on the latest available data and advice from public health experts, a spokesperson added.

On Saturday the UK reported a further 519 deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid test and 21,502 new cases.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, told the BBC: “We’re about to hit our busiest time of year so people are really worried that if we relax the restrictions now the NHS simply won’t be able to cope with all of the work that it needs to do in late December, January and February.”

In its letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, NHS Providers said while there were “good signs of progress” in some parts of the country, there was a “worrying increase in infection rates across a wide range of areas”, including Essex, Kent, London and parts of Lincolnshire.

It called for areas to be moved into tier three – the highest level of restrictions – “as soon as this is needed, without any delay”.

Earlier this week, some health experts called for the capital to be placed in tier three “now” after official figures showed Outer London had a higher infection rate than some areas already in the top tier.

NHS Providers added that “the evidence of the second wave suggests that unless infection rates fall to a very low level, as they did in London after the first wave, the virus will spread again quickly as soon as restrictions on social contact are relaxed”.

“Trust leaders are worried that if infection rates remain as high as they are at the moment, relaxing the restrictions will trigger a third wave,” it said.

The letter warned of “significant pressure” on hospital beds, with 13,000 patients in hospital with Covid-19 on Thursday, compared with 500 at the beginning of September.

“Over each of the last five winters, demand for NHS beds has significantly outstripped capacity,” it said.

“Yet we are now facing the extremely concerning prospect of the NHS having 10,000 fewer beds (9%) in operation than last year, due to infection control measures, and many thousands of the remaining beds occupied by Covid-19 patients.”

It added that trust leaders were “very worried about the task they face between late December and February”, as they try to balance large numbers of Covid patients, alongside winter pressures and the new demands of the coronavirus vaccination programme.

A government spokesperson said: “We have introduced strengthened local restrictions to protect the progress gained during national restrictions, reduce pressure on the NHS and ultimately save lives.

“On top of our record NHS investment, this winter we are providing an extra £3bn to maintain independent sector and Nightingale hospital surge capacity and a further £450m to upgrade and expand A&Es.”

Although the letter stopped short of arguing for a review of the temporary relaxation of restrictions over Christmas, it urged the prime minister to “personally lead a better public debate about the risks inherent in the guidance”.

Between 23 and 27 December, three households will be able to form a “bubble”, allowing them to mix indoors and stay overnight.

Citing evidence of a rise in infection rates following Thanksgiving celebrations in the US, NHS Providers warned “a relaxation of restrictions on social contact, combined with the natural desire to come together for a traditional festival, will inevitably increase the spread of the virus”.

“We are concerned that the current public debate on these rules is ignoring the significant extra risk involved in this temporary relaxation,” it said.

“The prevailing public perception is: ‘Thank goodness we can celebrate Christmas.’ We believe it is vital for the public to understand that any extra social contact, particularly with those who are vulnerable to the effects of the virus, is risky and that they need to think very carefully before initiating such contact over the Christmas period.”

A government spokesperson said: “We know that Christmas cannot be normal this year, but we have worked closely with devolved administrations to reach agreement on a single set of UK-wide measures to help people come together with their loved ones in a way that is as safe as possible.”

Covid-19: Welsh ambulance patient waits 19 hours outside hospital

A 73-year-old man has been waiting more than 19 hours in an ambulance outside a hospital following suspected sepsis or a stroke, his family has said.

Ted Edwards was at his home in Monmouthshire when paramedics were called at about 00:55 GMT, the Welsh Ambulance Service (WAS) confirmed.

He was still waiting outside Grange University Hospital at 20:30, leaving his family “really concerned”.

Aneurin Bevan Health Board said Covid meant it faced “significant pressure”.

The WAS said it was “facing high demand” across the country “with acute pressure” around Grange University Hospital leading to “some long delays with patients on our ambulances”.

Poppy Vaughan Winter, from Bristol, said she was “really concerned” for her uncle’s welfare and was waiting on an update on whether he had been admitted.

The 25-year-old said her aunt, who lives near Monmouth, has been calling “non-stop” for an update on her husband’s condition.

“We’ve just been told his condition’s not changed, but he is still waiting in the ambulance,” Ms Vaughan Winter said.

The health board said the hospital was dealing with a “very high number of Covid patients” which has led to pressure on services.

It was “struggling to identify beds for our patients” and confirmed there were “a high number of ambulances waiting outside the hospital”.

The average weekly Covid case rate in Wales is 430.1 per 100,000 and in Monmouthshire it was 327.7 per 100,000 in the past seven days.

Earlier it appealed to the public to only dial 999 “if absolutely necessary”. It follows a critical incident declared by the WAS over high demand on 3 December.

Last month, the £350m Grange University Hospital in the Llanfrechfa area of Cwmbran became a major accident and emergency centre for almost 600,000 people in the old greater Gwent area.

A spokeswoman from the health board said the pressure on its hospitals were having a “significant impact on our staffing levels”.

“This is a very serious situation and we are experiencing this demand on our services before we see the normal increase in demand as the result of cold weather and flu in the winter.”

WAS gold commander Bob Tooby said: “We now have over 1,900 Covid 19 patients at hospitals across Wales.

“This has included some long delays with patients on our ambulances, but it would not be appropriate for the patients or indeed their families for us to provide the specific details at this time.”

Mr Tooby said the service is appealing to the public to consider first seeking advice from 111 services and NHS Direct Wales “unless it is a serious life-threatening illness or traumatic injury”.

Carol Sutton: Steel Magnolias actress dies from Covid-19

Celebrated US actress Carol Sutton, 76, has died from coronavirus complications in her home city of New Orleans where she began her career on the stage.

She was being treated in hospital and died on Thursday night.

For half a century, she appeared in Hollywood films and TV series including Steel Magnolias, Queen Sugar, and True Detective.

Stars, directors and politicians who knew Sutton have been paying tribute to her.

“We celebrate the life of the stellar Carol Sutton. It was our honour to welcome this veteran actress of stage and screen to our show,” tweeted Ava DuVernay, who directed the series Queen Sugar with Oprah Winfrey as executive producer.

The series, which began in 2016, addresses themes of racial profiling, slavery and inequality facing African-Americans.

“May she rise and rest in peace and power,” Ms DuVernay added.

Sutton’s career began in New Orleans when she was invited to join the city’s Dashiki Project Theatre in the late 1960s.

The company’s goal was to present “an accurate portrayal of the black experience for the black community” in the city, which had a large African-American population.

She starred in plays including The Last Madam, Native Tongues, and A Raisin in the Sun.

Sutton’s on-screen debut was in 1974 with The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman which portrayed the life of a black woman born into slavery and became part of the US civil rights movement.

One of her more famous roles came in 1989 when she played Nurse Pam in Steel Magnolias which also starred Dolly Parton and Julia Roberts.

More recently she played Cora in The Help alongside an ensemble cast including Viola Davis and Emma Stone. The 2011 film focused on the relationship between a young white woman and two black domestic servants in the 1960s.

In 2014 she appeared in an episode of crime drama True Detective.

In recognition of her contribution to the arts in the city, Sutton received a New Orleans Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.

She told director Tommye Myrick in 2019 that she never considered leaving her hometown.

“When everyone else left, I never had a desire to leave New Orleans. I never wanted to go to Los Angeles or New York,” she said, adding that the city offered everything she needed for her work.

The city’s mayor, LaToya Cantrell, paid tribute to the actress in a statement on Friday.

“Carol Sutton was practically the queen of New Orleans theatre, having graced the stages across the city for decades,” she wrote.

“We will always remember her commanding stage presence, her richly portrayed characters and the warm heart she shared with her fellow cast,” she added.

Her abilities as a performer were widely praised by those in the industry.

“Among actors in New Orleans, there was Carol Sutton – and there was everybody else,” said David Cuthbert, a critic for the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper. “She opened her mouth, and out came truth. Wherever she was on stage, that was centre stage.”

And New Orleans actor John Bostic described her performances as “mesmerising”.

“She was incredibly adept at her craft. The thing about a great actress like Carol is that when you see her on stage, you don’t see Carol; you see whom she’s portraying. She could do anything, pretty much.”

Actor John Boyega tells the BBC about his “unbelievable” 2020.

Not enough climate ambition shown by leaders

The UK minister tasked with leading UN climate talks says world leaders are failing to show the necessary level of ambition.

Alok Sharma was speaking at the conclusion of a virtual climate summit organised by the UK, UN and France.

He said “real progress” had been made and 45 countries had put forward new climate plans for 2030.

But these were not enough to prevent dangerous warming this century, Mr Sharma explained.

Taking place on the fifth anniversary of the Paris climate agreement, the virtual meeting heard the UN Secretary General warn that every country needed to declare a climate emergency.

Around 70 heads of state and government took part in the meeting, outlining new pledges and commitments to curb carbon.

China’s contribution was eagerly awaited, not just because it is the world’s biggest emitter, but because it has recently promised to reach net zero emissions by 2060.

Achieving net zero means that emissions have been cut as much as possible and any remaining releases are balanced by removing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere,

But while President Xi Jinping outlined a range of new targets for 2030, many analysts felt these did not go far enough.

India brought little in the way of new commitments but Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his country was on track to achieve its goals under the Paris agreement and promised a major uptick in wind and solar energy.

According to the UK, some 24 countries had outlined net zero commitments and 20 had now set out plans to adapt and become more resilient to rising temperatures and their impacts.

But despite these commitments, Mr Sharma said not enough had been achieved.

“Have we made any real progress at this summit? And the answer to that is: yes,” he said.

“But they will also ask, have we done enough to put the world on track to limit warming to 1.5C, and protect people and nature from the effects of climate change? To make the Paris Agreement a reality.”

Mr Sharma re-stated a commitment made last year to double the UK’s international climate finance spend. This will bring it to at least £11.6bn over the next five years.

“Friends, we must be honest with ourselves, the answer to that, is currently: no. As encouraging as all this ambition is. It is not enough.”

Earlier on Saturday, UK Prime Minister Mr Johnson said advances in renewable energy technologies would “save our planet and create millions of high-skilled jobs”.

He added: “Together we can use scientific advances to protect our entire planet – our biosphere – against a challenge far worse, far more destructive even than the coronavirus. And by the promethean power of our invention, we can begin to defend the Earth against the disaster of global warming.”

Meanwhile, UN Secretary General António Guterres criticised rich countries for spending 50% more of their pandemic recovery cash on fossil fuels compared to low-carbon energy.

Mr Guterres said that 38 countries had already declared a climate emergency and he called on leaders worldwide to now do the same.

On Covid recovery spending, he said that this is money being borrowed from future generations.

“We cannot use these resources to lock in policies that burden future generations with a mountain of debt on a broken planet,” he said.

Over 70 world leaders have been speaking at the meeting organised by the UK, UN and France. It is taking place after the pandemic caused the postponement of the annual Conference of the Parties (COP) meeting, which had been due to take place in Glasgow this year.

The UK has announced an end to support for overseas fossil fuel projects, and has today deposited a new climate plan with the UN.

It’s the first time that Britain has had to do this, as it was previously covered by the European Union’s climate commitments.

The UK pointed to its new commitment on overseas fossil fuel projects as well as a new carbon cutting target of 68% by 2030, announced last week by the prime minister.

The EU also presented a new 2030 target of a 55% cut in emissions, agreed after all-night negotiations this week. “That is now Europe’s calling card,” said Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission. “It is the go-ahead for scaling up climate action across our economy and society.”

China’s President Xi Jinping reiterated a previous commitment to reach peak CO2 emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

He announced that China would reduce its carbon emissions per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) by over 65% compared with 2005 levels. The country will also increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption by about 25%. And President Xi pledged to increase forest cover and boost wind and solar capacity.

But Manish Bapna, executive vice president and managing director of the World Resources Institute (WRI) said: “The strengthened renewable energy, carbon intensity, and forest targets are steps in the right direction, but recent WRI analysis shows that China would benefit more economically and socially if it aims higher, including by peaking emissions as early as possible.”

Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, said the country’s renewable energy capacity was on target to reach 175 Gigawatts by 2022, and it would aim to boost this to 450 Gigawatts by 2030. He added that India was on track to exceed the targets in the Paris Agreement.

Although President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the Paris pact, the summit saw statements from the Republican governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, and the Democrat governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, who said the US was “all-in” on tackling climate change.

Pope Francis said the Vatican had committed to reaching net zero emissions, similar to carbon neutrality, before 2050. “The time has come to change course. Let us not rob future generations of the hope for a better future,” he said.

A number of big emitters, including Australia, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Mexico, are not taking part, as their climate actions were not deemed ambitious enough.

Some observers believe this hard line on some countries is justified.

“From a kind of symbolic procedural point of view, it’s good to have everybody on board,” said Prof Heike Schroeder from the University of East Anglia.

“But from a proactive, creating some kind of sense of urgency approach, it also makes sense to say we only get to hear from you if you have something new to say.”

The five years since the Paris agreement was adopted have been the warmest on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), and emissions have continued to accrue in the atmosphere.

But many countries and businesses have started the process of decarbonisation in that time.

The progress they’ve made now needs to be acknowledged and encouraged, says former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres.

“For this Saturday, they are focusing on the reduction of emissions, and that is a good thing because that progress that’s been seen in the real economy has to be reflected and incentivised further by those additional commitments.”

One area that yielded little progress at this meeting was the question of finance. Rich countries had promised to mobilise $100bn a year from 2020 under the Paris agreement – but the commitments on cash are not forthcoming.

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Four men arrested over anti-lockdown protest

Four men have been arrested and charged following an anti-lockdown protest in Edinburgh.

A group of about 70 marchers moved from outside the Scottish Parliament to the first minister’s official residence at Bute House on Saturday.

Police Scotland said marches were currently illegal under coronavirus measures.

The men, aged 37, 31, 53 and 31, are due to appear at Edinburgh Sheriff Court at a later date.

Some of those marching held up signs promoting conspiracy theories about the virus.

Police said they had taken appropriate action against the march.

Ch insp Murray Starkey said: “Today people marched in contravention of legislation.

“We would urge people to find alternative ways to protest, such as online and on social media.

“Our approach throughout the pandemic has been to engage with the public, explain the legislation and guidance, and encourage compliance, only using enforcement as a last resort.

“Our response today has been measured and appropriate.”

Climate fight will create millions of jobs – Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson has said that tackling climate change will create millions of new jobs around the world.

Speaking at a virtual summit on the fifth anniversary of the Paris climate agreement, he said a green recovery from Covid would generate opportunities for high-skilled workers.

Despite high hopes, China made measured carbon-cutting pledges, which some campaigners branded as underwhelming.

The UN’s chief called on all countries to declare a climate emergency.

UK Prime Minister Mr Johnson said: “We know that scientific advances will allow us, collectively as humanity, to save our planet and create millions of high-skilled jobs as we recover from Covid.”

He said the year was coming to an end with “a certain amount of scientific optimism” because “barely 12 months after the start of the pandemic, we’re seeing the vaccine going into the arms of the elderly”.

He added: “Together we can use scientific advances to protect our entire planet – our biosphere – against a challenge far worse, far more destructive even than the coronavirus. And by the promethean power of our invention, we can begin to defend the Earth against the disaster of global warming.”

Meanwhile, UN Secretary General António Guterres criticised rich countries for spending 50% more of their pandemic recovery cash on fossil fuels compared to low-carbon energy.

Mr Guterres said that 38 countries had already declared a climate emergency and he called on leaders worldwide to now do the same.

He said the emergency would only end when carbon neutrality was reached. Carbon neutrality means that emissions have been reduced as much as possible and any remaining ones are balanced by removing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere,

On the Covid recovery spending, he said that this is money being borrowed from future generations.

“We cannot use these resources to lock in policies that burden future generations with a mountain of debt on a broken planet,” he said.

The secretary general praised those countries who have come to today’s meeting with new targets and plans.

Over 70 world leaders have been speaking at the meeting organised by the UK, UN and France. It is taking place after the pandemic caused the postponement of the annual Conference of the Parties (COP) meeting, which had been due to take place in Glasgow this year.

A number of big emitters, including Australia, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Mexico, are not taking part, as their climate actions were not deemed ambitious enough.

The UK has announced an end to support for overseas fossil fuel projects, and has today deposited a new climate plan with the UN.

It’s the first time that Britain has had to do this, as it was previously covered by the European Union’s climate commitments.

The UK pointed to its new commitment on overseas fossil fuel projects as well as a new carbon cutting target of 68% by 2030, announced last week by the prime minister.

The EU also presented a new 2030 target of a 55% cut in emissions, agreed after all-night negotiations this week. “That is now Europe’s calling card,” said Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission. “It is the go-ahead for scaling up climate action across our economy and society.”

China’s President Xi Jinping reiterated a previous commitment to reach peak CO2 emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

He announced that China would reduce its carbon emissions per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) by over 65% compared with 2005 levels. The country will also increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption by about 25%. And President Xi pledged to increase forest cover and boost wind and solar capacity.

But Manish Bapna, executive vice president and managing director of the World Resources Institute (WRI) said: “The strengthened renewable energy, carbon intensity, and forest targets are steps in the right direction, but recent WRI analysis shows that China would benefit more economically and socially if it aims higher, including by peaking emissions as early as possible.”

Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, said the country’s renewable energy capacity was on target to reach 175 Gigawatts by 2022, and it would aim to boost this to 450 Gigawatts by 2030. He added that India was on track to exceed the targets in the Paris Agreement.

Although President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the Paris pact, the summit saw statements from the Republican governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, and the Democrat governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, who said the US was “all-in” on tackling climate change.

Pope Francis said the Vatican had committed to reaching net zero emissions, similar to carbon neutrality, before 2050. “The time has come to change course. Let us not rob future generations of the hope for a better future,” he said.

Australia had held out the promise of not using old carbon credits to meet future cuts in emissions.

But the UK felt that this didn’t go far enough and the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison won’t be taking part.

Some observers believe this hard line on some countries is justified.

“From a kind of symbolic procedural point of view, it’s good to have everybody on board,” said Prof Heike Schroeder from the University of East Anglia.

“But from a proactive, creating some kind of sense of urgency approach it also makes sense to say we only get to hear from you if you have something new to say.”

The UK wants the focus to be on the countries who are set to make new net zero announcements, or present new plans for 2030.

The five years since the Paris agreement was adopted have been the warmest on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), and emissions have continued to accrue in the atmosphere.

As many leaders were keen to stress at the summit, many countries and businesses have started the process of decarbonisation in that time.

The progress they’ve made now needs to be acknowledged and encouraged, says former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres.

“For this Saturday, they are focusing on the reduction of emissions, and that is a good thing because that progress that’s been seen in the real economy has to be reflected and incentivised further by those additional commitments.”

One area that’s unlikely to yield any progress at this meeting is the question of finance. Rich countries have promised to mobilise $100bn a year from 2020 under the Paris agreement – but the commitments on cash are just not forthcoming.

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First same-sex religious wedding in Northern Ireland

The first same-sex wedding in Northern Ireland has taken place.

Chris McNaghten and Jon Swan were married at a wedding venue in Larne, County Antrim, on Saturday, by Pastor Steve Ames.

It follows legislation introduced by the Northern Ireland Office in July.

“For most people, your wedding day is known as being the best day of your life – for us, it’s a dream come true that growing up we thought we would never have,” said Mr McNaughten.

He said his “praise goes out to all those involved in this battle for equality over the years”.

The couple had been forced to cancel their previous wedding plans twice due to coronavirus restrictions.

On Saturday they were joined by their close friends and family after a relaxation of restrictions.

Same-sex marriage has been legally recognised in Northern Ireland since January but did not extend to ceremonies in churches or to religious bodies.

The new law will protect religious freedom and churches will not be “compelled nor prevented” from offering same-sex ceremonies.

Mr McNaughten said: “Jon and I wouldn’t see ourselves as having strong religious beliefs.

“However, our family minister is someone with whom we are close and trust, and some of our family take comfort from a religious ceremony.”

Director of Amnesty International in Northern Ireland, Patrick Corrigan, said it has been a “momentous week” for equal marriage.

“With Chris and Jon’s wedding today, following the first civil partnership conversions on Monday, we now reach the end of the long campaign for marriage equality here.

“For those couples who want a church wedding or another religious dimension to their wedding ceremony, the recent law change is hugely significant.”

Blakeney Point little terns have best season in 26 years

A colony of one of the country’s rarest seabirds has had its most successful season for more than 25 years, the National Trust has said.

Nesting pairs of little terns fledged more than 200 chicks at Blakeney Point, off the north Norfolk coast.

The bird has been in serious decline nationally since the 1980s, with fewer than 2,000 pairs now left in the UK.

Rangers counted 154 pairs of little terns nesting over the summer months and 201 chicks – the most since 1994.

The National Trust, which manages Blakeney Point, believes the success was in part due to fewer people visiting the site at the beginning of the breeding season, during the first national lockdown.

The little terns nested at the far end of The Point, which is further away from the mainland, with fewer visitors walking that far along.

There were fewer predators affecting the little terns this year, rangers said.

They believe this could be because the birds nested further away from the watch house, and were all together, meaning there was some safety in numbers.

Staff kept watch on the site to ward off predators using techniques such as laying out food sources away from the colony.

They also used clay decoys to encourage nesting in suitable areas of the shoreline.

Countryside manager Chris Bielby said: “Little terns have been rapidly declining in the UK for the past few decades, so it’s particularly rewarding to see so many of these tiny seabirds fledging the nest.

“The species is still very much at risk and we’ll need to keep up our efforts to make sure they have safe places to breed.

“But for now, it’s good to be able to celebrate a successful season given what a challenging year 2020 has been.”

Common terns had a similarly successful year at Blakeney Point, with 289 pairs fledging at least 170 chicks, the most since 1999.

Rangers believe the colony relocated from other nesting sites which flooded during bad weather in June.

Sandwich terns were late arrivals to the site but arrived in high numbers, almost triple that of the previous year.

Newborn baby found dead in Weston-super-Mare garden

A newborn baby has been found dead in a garden.

The body was discovered by a member of the public in a private garden of a property in Victoria Quadrant, Weston-super-Mare at about 08:50 GMT.

Police are treating the baby’s death as unexplained and are “extremely concerned” for the mother’s welfare.

Det Ch Insp Mike Buck said it was “very sad and distressing” and North Somerset Children’s Services, appealed to the mother to come forward.

Amanda Braund from children’s services said: “Please get in touch with the police by calling 999 or your nearest hospital.”

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