Covid: NHS staff sickness closes maternity services

Staff sickness has led to the closure of two NHS birth centres.

Aneurin Bevan University Health Board is temporarily closing its midwife-led birth centres in Newport and Abergavenny from 17 December until 4 January.

A desperate call for extra staff was also issued by Cardiff and Vale University Health Board.

“Staffing critical care is currently proving extremely challenging for us,” it posted on Facebook.

“Therefore, we are seeking registered nurses, ODPs and paramedics, who would be willing to join us temporarily and on a flexible basis to support with some shifts.

“We would very much appreciate your help as pressure builds on our services.”

Aneurin Bevan University Health Board said its other maternity services would continue to operate, such as midwife-led care at Ysbyty Ystrad Fawr, the Alongside-Midwife-led Birth Centre at the Grange University Hospital and a home birth service.

But “due to high levels of staff sickness”, the health board said it had no choice but to temporarily close its centres at the Royal Gwent and Nevill Hall hospitals.

“We must prioritise the safety of the mums and babies we care for,” it said on Facebook.

Lockerbie bombing: New suspect soon to be charged – US media

The US is due to unseal charges against a Libyan man suspected of making the bomb that blew up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988, US media say.

They say US prosecutors will soon press for the extradition of Abu Agila Mohammad to stand trial in the US.

He is currently being held in Libya, according to the Wall Street Journal. This has not been confirmed by the Libyan authorities.

The terrorist attack killed 270 people over the Scottish town.

Most of the victims on board the flight from London to New York were American citizens.

Libyan national Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was the only man convicted over the bombing in 2001.

Megrahi, who always proclaimed his innocence, unsuccessfully appealed against his conviction.

But he was subsequently allowed to return home after it emerged that he had terminal cancer. He died in 2012.

The US Department of Justice is expected to unseal a criminal complaint against Mr Masud in the coming days, the Wall Street Journal is reporting quoting senior department officials.

It says this will open a new chapter in one of the world’s longest and most sprawling terrorism investigations.

Meanwhile, the New York Times says Mr Masud’s exact whereabouts are unknown. But it adds that he was jailed in Libya at one point for unrelated crimes.

Mr Masud is alleged to have been a top bomb-maker for late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Neither the US justice department nor the Libyan authorities have publicly commented on the issue.

US and British investigators indicted Megrahi in 1991 but he was not handed over by the Libyans until April 1999.

May 2000 – A special trial under Scots law starts on neutral ground at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands.

31 January 2001 – Former Libyan intelligence officer Megrahi is found guilty of mass murder and jailed for life with a minimum term of 27 years.

March 2002 – Megrahi loses an appeal against his conviction.

September 2003 – The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) is asked to investigate Megrahi’s conviction.

June 2007 – The SCCRC recommends that Megrahi is granted a second appeal against his conviction.

18 August 2009 – Megrahi’s move to drop his second appeal is accepted by judges at The High Court in Edinburgh.

20 August 2009 – Megrahi, who has terminal prostate cancer, is released from prison on compassionate grounds.

May 2012 – Megrahi dies at his home in Tripoli, aged 60.

July 2015 – Scottish judges rule that relatives of the Lockerbie bombing victims should not be allowed to pursue an appeal on Megrahi’s behalf. Courts had previously ruled that only next of kin could proceed with a posthumous application.

July 2017 – Megrahi’s family launched a new bid to appeal against his conviction.

March 2020 – The Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission said Megrahi’s conviction can be taken to a fresh appeal.

Covid: 11,000 positive Covid tests missing from Welsh figures

An extra 11,000 positive Covid tests are currently missing from official figures in Wales, meaning recent cases are significantly higher than has been reported.

Public Health Wales (PHW) said that due to “planned maintenance” of some IT systems there was a “significant under-reporting” of positive tests.

The problem relates to tests processed in “lighthouse labs”.

The Conservatives said the news was “staggering”.

The 11,000 extra positive tests were mostly taken between 9 and 15 December. They will be added to PHW’s dashboard, which records the figures, on Thursday.

103,098 people have tested positive in Wales since the pandemic began, meaning the 11,000 additional cases that will be reported on Thursday will represent more than a 10% of the new total.

Plaid Cymru health spokesman Rhun sp Iorwerth said: “With positive cases in Wales rising to record levels it is crucial that the reporting of data is both timely and robust.

“The public need a complete and current picture of the situation to realise the gravity of what we are facing.

“We need urgent reassurance that the failings have been addressed.”

On Wednesday, it was reported that 30 more people had died with coronavirus in Wales and 530 more cases were announced.

PHW’s Wednesday figures take the total deaths in Wales to 2,921, with 6,193 tests carried out on Tuesday

The latest numbers follow an announcement on Wednesday that Wales will go into lockdown from 28 December.

Eight of the deaths reported on Wednesday were from the Cwm Taf health board area, seven from Cardiff and Vale and six from Aneurin Bevan.

The Hywel Dda health board area reported three, whilst Betsi Cadwaladr, Powys and Swansea Bay all reported two each.

The seven-day case rates are being published accounting for a time lag of four days, allowing for late results to be included, which PHW said will improve the accuracy of its dashboard.

Acute patients from Powys are usually treated across the border at hospitals in England, so deaths of Powys residents usually only appear in registrations reported later by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Those ONS figures – which are higher – also count both confirmed and suspected cases of Covid, as well as deaths in all settings, including care homes, hospices and people’s own homes.

PHW reports new deaths daily, but these are usually from previous days.

Find out how the pandemic has affected your area and how it compares with the national average:

If you can’t see the look-up click here.

The postcode search has been updated to replace data for health boards in Scotland with data for local councils. In England, data for county councils has been replaced with data for district councils. Figures for boroughs and unitary authorities remain unchanged.

11,000 positive Covid tests missing from Welsh data

An extra 11,000 positive Covid tests are currently missing from official figures in Wales, meaning recent cases are significantly higher than has been reported.

Public Health Wales (PHW) said that due to “planned maintenance” of some IT systems there was a “significant under-reporting” of positive tests.

The problem relates to tests processed in “lighthouse labs”.

The Conservatives said the news was “staggering”.

The 11,000 extra positive tests were mostly taken between 9 and 15 December. They will be added to PHW’s dashboard, which records the figures, on Thursday.

103,098 people have tested positive in Wales since the pandemic began, meaning the 11,000 additional cases that will be reported on Thursday will represent more than a 10% of the new total.

Plaid Cymru health spokesman Rhun sp Iorwerth said: “With positive cases in Wales rising to record levels it is crucial that the reporting of data is both timely and robust.

“The public need a complete and current picture of the situation to realise the gravity of what we are facing.

“We need urgent reassurance that the failings have been addressed.”

On Wednesday, it was reported that 30 more people had died with coronavirus in Wales and 530 more cases were announced.

PHW’s Wednesday figures take the total deaths in Wales to 2,921, with 6,193 tests carried out on Tuesday

The latest numbers follow an announcement on Wednesday that Wales will go into lockdown from 28 December.

Eight of the deaths reported on Wednesday were from the Cwm Taf health board area, seven from Cardiff and Vale and six from Aneurin Bevan.

The Hywel Dda health board area reported three, whilst Betsi Cadwaladr, Powys and Swansea Bay all reported two each.

The seven-day case rates are being published accounting for a time lag of four days, allowing for late results to be included, which PHW said will improve the accuracy of its dashboard.

Acute patients from Powys are usually treated across the border at hospitals in England, so deaths of Powys residents usually only appear in registrations reported later by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Those ONS figures – which are higher – also count both confirmed and suspected cases of Covid, as well as deaths in all settings, including care homes, hospices and people’s own homes.

PHW reports new deaths daily, but these are usually from previous days.

Find out how the pandemic has affected your area and how it compares with the national average:

If you can’t see the look-up click here.

The postcode search has been updated to replace data for health boards in Scotland with data for local councils. In England, data for county councils has been replaced with data for district councils. Figures for boroughs and unitary authorities remain unchanged.

Fed: Brighter forecast but challenging months still ahead

Prospects for the US economy have brightened since September, despite a recent surge in coronavirus cases, America’s central bank said on Wednesday.

Federal Reserve officials said they expected growth of roughly 4.2% next year, better than previously forecast.

They forecast a fall in the unemployment rate from 6.7% to 5%.

The update comes as US medical authorities begin to distribute vaccines against Covid-19.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell warned that the coming months would be “particularly challenging,” as the US battles a surge in coronavirus cases, while businesses and the unemployed face deepening hardship.

But he said he was hopeful that widespread distribution of the vaccines would enable a strong rebound in the second half of 2021.

“You have to think that sometime in the middle of next year, you will see people comfortable going out and engaging in a broad range of activities,” he said. “The issue is more the next four or five months.”

Policymakers said they expected to keep interest rates near zero and continue other stimulus until they saw “substantial” progress toward recovery.

In recent weeks, hiring has slowed and retail sales have dropped, as consumers avoid restaurants and cut back spending.

Officials in some places such as California have re-imposed strict lockdowns, while others, such as New York City have warned of such steps.

Meanwhile poverty rates have surged as government virus assistance expires.

Mr Powell said there was need for more support and he was optimistic that Congress would approve additional aid, describing the roughly $900bn (£666.9bn) package being debated in Washington as “substantial”.

Analysts have also said they expect the US economy to improve as vaccines become more widely available.

“Until then it is going to be a long bleak winter,” wrote Paul Ashworth, chief US economist at Capital Economics.

As the recovery shows signs of faltering, some analysts had suggested the Fed might move to increase its support for the economy by altering its bond-buying programme, which the bank uses to keep financial markets steady, easing the flow of money and credit to households and businesses.

At their meeting this week, officials opted against increasing the bank’s purchases of US debt and mortgage-backed securities or changing the composition of the programme.

However, the statement from the bank on Wednesday did tie the programme to economic goals, with officials saying they would continue the programme until there was “substantial” progress to recovery.

Some analysts said the new wording was a signal the programme could continue for longer than expected, but others worried the Fed had missed an opportunity to do more.

“We’re surprised to see no reference to the deterioration in the near-real-time data,” wrote Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.

“We appreciate that the start of vaccination makes the 2021 outlook brighter – not that it gets a mention here – but in the near term, the economy needs all the help it can get.”

In September, Fed leaders had said they expected growth of roughly 4% in 2021, with the unemployment rate falling to 5.5%.

Boohoo boss promises to make Leicester right

Executives of the online fashion chain Boohoo have said they are “fixing” things at the firm, which has come under fire over workers’ pay and conditions and its ultra-low pricing.

The firm’s co-founder, Mahmud Kamani, who rarely speaks publicly, said he wanted to “make everything better”.

“I want to make Leicester right, I promise you’,” he said.

Mr Kamani was being questioned by MPs looking into the environmental impact of “fast fashion”.

The term is used to describe companies selling clothes very cheaply, that are often disposed of quickly as trends change, causing pollution and waste.

But as well as facing questions around the environmental impact of its business model, Boohoo has been accused of tolerating widespread abuses of employment law at some of its suppliers in Leicester. Investigations earlier this year suggested workers were being paid below the minimum wage.

In September, an independent review of the claims, by Alison Levitt QC, found a series of failings. It concluded that although Boohoo didn’t intentionally profit from the poor working practices, the firm’s monitoring of these factories was ‘inadequate”.

Mr Kamani told MPs on Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee that the last 12 months had been “very difficult” and that he was as concerned as everyone else about what had been uncovered.

“We are fixing this,” he said. “We will make a better Boohoo.”

Boohoo’s Responsible Sourcing and Product Operations Director, Andrew Reeney, told the committee that the company had exited arrangements with 64 suppliers and factories after finding violations of its code of conduct.

Mr Kamani said he supported complete transparency, but that Boohoo couldn’t fix all the problems on its own. A collaborative effort was needed, he said.

Asked whether he would meet with the shopworkers’ union, Usdaw, Mr Kamani refused, although he said unions were free to campaign outside Boohoo’s sites and workers were free to join them.

Mr Kamani pointed out that it would be very easy for Boohoo to move its production offshore.

“We are here to support the industry,” he told MPs. “Sometimes we feel we’re getting punished for it.”

Boohoo executives were also asked about textile waste and the company’s recent “Black Friday” promotions, which included a crop top for 6p and a bikini selling for 8p.

They defended the “99% off” deals, describing it as a one-off sale in an unprecedented year.

Boohoo’s commercial director Kelly Byrne said everyone knew it was loss-leading and a marketing strategy.

Covid: 11,000 positive tests to be reported due to backlog

11,000 positive Covid tests will be announced on Thursday due to a lag caused by system maintenance.

Public Health Wales (PHW) said their figures for the past few days are a “significant under-estimation” and they will be higher on Thursday as a result.

On Wednesday it was reported that 30 people have died with coronavirus in Wales, while there have been another 530 cases.

This takes total to 103,098 cases in Wales since the pandemic began.

PHW’s Wednesday figures take the total deaths in Wales to 2,921, with 6,193 tests carried out on Tuesday

The latest numbers follow an announcement on Wednesday that Wales will go into lockdown from 28 December.

PHW said: “Today’s figures only include a very small number of results from tests processed in the Lighthouse Laboratories and therefore represent a significant under-estimation of the true picture. We ask everyone who is using these figures to be fully mindful of this caveat.”

The seven-day case rates are being published accounting for a time lag of four days, allowing for late results to be included, which PHW said will improve the accuracy of its dashboard.

Eight of the deaths reported on Wednesday were from the Cwm Taf health board area, seven from Cardiff and Vale and six from Aneurin Bevan.

The Hywel Dda health board area reported three, whilst Betsi Cadwaladr, Powys and Swansea Bay all reported two each.

Acute patients from Powys are usually treated across the border at hospitals in England, so deaths of Powys residents usually only appear in registrations reported later by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Those ONS figures – which are higher – also count both confirmed and suspected cases of Covid, as well as deaths in all settings, including care homes, hospices and people’s own homes.

PHW reports new deaths daily, but these are usually from previous days.

Find out how the pandemic has affected your area and how it compares with the national average:

If you can’t see the look-up click here.

The postcode search has been updated to replace data for health boards in Scotland with data for local councils. In England, data for county councils has been replaced with data for district councils. Figures for boroughs and unitary authorities remain unchanged.

Facebook pours fuel on Apple privacy row

Facebook has launched a public offensive against Apple, dragging a long-simmering row between the two tech giants into the public sphere.

Earlier this year, Apple announced it planned to ask users if they want their data to be shared for targeted, personalised advertising.

The move is likely to hurt Facebook, which has warned it could cut the money earned through its ad network by half.

But Facebook is portraying itself as “speaking up for small businesses”.

A blog post from Dan Levy, vice-president of ads, suggested that Facebook needs it to be possible to track users’ activities across other apps and websites, in order to help its advertisers target their posts at those people who would most likely be responsive.

As a result, he said, preventing this from happening “truly impacts” not Facebook, but local businesses – like a coffee shop, small retail, or a start-up event planner – because they would not be able to afford campaigns that would need to be seen by more people to generate the same amount of sales.

“Yes, there will be an impact to Facebook’s diversified ads business, but it will be much less than what will befall small businesses,” Mr Levy wrote.

The tech giant took out full-page adverts in some print newspapers as part of its PR blitz. It also hosted a news conference in which it presented small business owners making its case.

Facebook alleged Apple’s move is about forcing people to use Apple’s own advertising platform, which it claims is exempt from the new rules – something Apple denies.

It also argues that digital content like apps will need to move to payments and subscriptions instead of advertising – which Apple takes a 30% cut of on iPhones.

Apple refutes such allegations, and believes Facebook is trying to deflect attention from scrutiny of its own businesses practices.

“Some companies are going to do everything they can to stop the App Tracking Transparency feature… or any innovation like it, and to maintain their unfettered access to people’s data,” said the firm’s software chief Craig Federighi in a recent speech.

“To say that we’re sceptical of those claims would be an understatement.”

But one expert warned both businesses were taking a risk by making this row public.

“Both companies may be playing with fire here,” commented Stephanie Hare, author of the forthcoming book Technology Ethics.

“Facebook is already being sued by the Federal Trade Commission, 46 states and two jurisdictions for antitrust, and so is trying to play the victim here.

“But if it can make a case that Apple is also abusing its position, we could see another Big Tech company in the regulators’ crosshairs.”

Apple has, for years, promoted privacy as one of the key features of its phones and other products, making small adjustments and bringing in new features it says improve user privacy.

The latest of these are notices in its App Store that list what data each product collects, which in Facebook’s case has led to a very lengthy list.

But its decision to ban one type of tracking has the potential to upend a part of the advertising market when it arrives early next year.

In testing earlier this year, Facebook said it found that revenue for publishers dropped 50% when personalisation was not an option in ad campaigns.

And as part of its campaign against Apple, Facebook enlisted a series of small business owners as case studies, claiming the ability to run personalised ads had been key to their business success.

Full page ads in newspapers and a press conference featuring heartrending stories from small business owners saying they would not have got through the pandemic without using Facebook’s targeted ads – the social media giant obviously means business in its battle with Apple.

“This is about control of the internet,” said a Facebook executive at the press conference, referring to Apple’s motives for putting enhanced privacy controls in its latest operating system. But many will see this as the social media giant battling to preserve a business model for the internet that favours its bottom line at the expense of users.

“Save our personalised ads” may be a battle cry for small businesses but it won’t have much resonance for the millions of Facebook users who worry about just how their data is used – or for the newspapers whose classified ad business has vanished since Mark Zuckerberg came up with a bright idea to connect people.

Whether Apple’s motives are pure in its battle to make our online activities more private is questionable – its App Store makes vast revenues from commission on in-app purchases rather than ads. But in the court of public opinion, a war between a social media company with a major trust deficit and a business promising to put people back in charge of their data is only likely to end one way.

Covid in Scotland: What are the latest rules on Christmas bubbles?

The Scottish government has updated its guidance on forming household bubbles over the festive period.

The original advice covered how many people would be able to meet in Scotland and the rules on where that can happen.

However the latest instructions say people should limit these interactions as much as possible and that the guidelines should be seen as the “legal maximum”.

The current Covid rules will be relaxed between 23 and 27 December to allow people to travel within the UK and spend Christmas together. This five-day period is to be seen as a “window of opportunity, not a recommended time”.

The Scottish government recommends meeting people in your bubble on no more than one of those days.

Up to three households can form a bubble, however the first minister said two households “would be better”.

The Scottish government initially recommended that these bubbles should contain a maximum of eight people – although children under the age of 12 do not count towards that total, and do not need to physically distance from others. The updated guidance said people should keep “as far within” this limit as possible and “the smaller the better”.

Everyone else is encouraged to keep 2m (6ft 6in) away from those outside their own household as much as possible to lower the risk of transmitting the virus.

You can only be in one Christmas bubble, and cannot change to a different one.

The government says anyone thinking of creating a bubble should carefully consider the risks. It stresses that people do not have to meet other people or feel pressured to spend Christmas with another household.

The advice is to keep in touch using technology wherever you can, limit the number of times that you meet in person – and to gather outside if possible. For example, go for a walk rather than having a meal together.

Those in extended households can form a bubble, but it can only contain one extended household.

Where parents do not live in the same household, children can still move between their homes if they are in different bubbles.

Those in a bubble can only gather in a private home, outdoors or at a place of worship – but should minimise the length of time spent with the bubble, especially indoors.

For those meeting in someone’s home, it is possible to stay overnight but the government has warned against doing this “unless it is unavoidable”.

If you are meeting in someone’s home it is recommended that you:

People should not mix with other households elsewhere. If you are going to a pub, restaurant or a leisure or entertainment venue, you are urged to stay within your own household.

The opening hours for hospitality venues will follow the rules which apply in that area at the time.

The government says people in a bubble should not stay in tourist accommodation together as a group.

In addition, you should not go shopping with those in your bubble, and should shop on your own wherever possible.

Travel restrictions will be relaxed from 23 to 27 December to allow people to travel between local authority areas and the four UK nations to join a bubble.

Again, the latest guidance warns against all travel, particularly between areas of high to low prevalence of the virus.

Nicola Sturgeon said: “That means avoiding travel to or from Scotland and tier three areas in England, and to or from any level four areas in Scotland (of which there are currently none).”

You must follow the travel rules for the area you are staying in when you arrive – for example in level three areas in Scotland, you should avoid non-essential travel outside the local authority.

If you are using public transport, the advice is to book ahead where possible and follow the rules on wearing face coverings while travelling.

Anyone travelling to or from a Scottish island should make their journey within the five-day period from 23 to 27 December.

Once you have arrived, you should then follow the travel guidance which applies in the area where you are staying. If that is in level three or four, for example, you would have to avoid any non-essential travel outside that council area.

People living in level three and four areas must not travel abroad and those in level one and two areas are “strongly advised” not to.

Students who return home at the end of term will be part of the household they have returned to. Plans are already in place to allow students return home over Christmas if they return two negative Covid-19 tests.

People other than students who live in a shared flat or house are considered a household.

The government is urging them not to split up and enter separate bubbles over the festive period.

If people are joining different bubbles, they should isolate from their flatmates for about a week both before and after joining the bubble.

The government says anyone who has previously been advised to shield because they are at highest clinical risk from Covid-19 should “take time to think” about forming a bubble because it would bring greater risks.

It says people should not feel pressured to enter an environment which makes them anxious.

People can still go into another household to provide care and support for a vulnerable person.

However, if you visit someone in a hospital, hospice or care home the government says the safest way to spend Christmas would be not to form a bubble with another household.

That is because doing so would increase the risk of being exposed to Covid-19 and passing it on to other people, and those in care homes, hospitals and hospices can be particularly vulnerable.

If someone in a bubble develops Covid-19 symptoms, everyone within the bubble must isolate immediately if they met that person any time between two days before and 10 days after their symptoms started.

If that person tests positive, all members of the bubble must self-isolate for 14 days from the start of symptoms or their most recent contact.

UK government guidance for people in England does not set a limit on the number of people in a bubble, but says this should be kept “as small as possible”.

It adds that the rules on meeting people outside your home will depend on the regulations which apply in the tier you are staying in.

In Wales, Christmas bubbles will be limited to two households.

Following a joint meeting of the four nations on Thursday, Boris Johnson urged people to keep Christmas celebrations “short” and “small” to reduce the risk of spreading Covid over the festive period.

People can travel to or from Northern Ireland on 22 and 28 December. The NI executive is meeting on Thursday to discuss the rules for the festive period.

Use the form below to send us your questions and we could be in touch.

In some cases your question will be published, displaying your name and location as you provide it, unless you state otherwise. Your contact details will never be published. Please ensure you have read the terms and conditions.

If you are reading this page on the BBC News app, you will need to visit the mobile version of the BBC website to submit your question on this topic.

1 2 3 10