Covid-19: Everything seems empty after nurses death

The death of an “outgoing” nurse who contracted Covid-19 has left his partner feeling “empty”.

Rob Healey had worked in various roles for North Bristol NHS Trust for 20 years before his death in December.

He met his partner of 25 years Colin Purnell through a lonely hearts club. Mr Purnell said he would now “find things very quiet”.

Mr Healey had been working most recently in the emergency department of Bristol’s Southmead Hospital.

When the pandemic began, the 56-year-old decided to leave his research job in the NHS to work as a nurse but he caught the infection which then led to a blood clot on his lungs.

“Rob was a very fun-loving person. Very outgoing and friends with absolutely everybody,” said Mr Purnell.

“He wanted to be on the frontline. He felt that he was of more use doing things like that than being in research.

“I think I’m going to find things very quiet. Everything just seems empty,” he added.

Southmead Hospital emergency department matron Anna Bell described Mr Healey as a “true gentleman, who always had a smile”.

“The outpouring we’ve had since his death. The messages on Facebook have been absolutely brilliant and they’ve helped me through it all,” said Mr Purnell.

“I don’t want anyone else to go through what I’ve gone through and I just hope that we come out of it soon,” he added.

Bristol resident Rachel O’Connor also lost her aunt Jan Docker to Covid-19 just before Christmas.

Ms Docker, aged 55, was a special needs teacher in London and had no underlying health conditions.

“I think people’s perception of Covid is that you get ill, there’s warning you’ll end up in ICU there’s time to hopefully recover, or say goodbye to loved ones but in our case it was sadly not to be.

“I’ve seen how bad it can be for people but it’s not until you lose a loved one that you realise how dangerous this virus actually is,” she said.

Tanya Roberts: Bond actress and Charlies Angel dies at 65

Former Bond actress and Charlie’s Angel Tanya Roberts has died in hospital in Los Angeles at the age of 65.

Roberts appeared with Sir Roger Moore in his final Bond film, 1985’s A View To A Kill, and had a recurring role in That ’70s Show.

She also starred in the final series of Charlie’s Angels on TV in 1980.

Her death was prematurely announced on Monday, only for doctors to say she was still alive. However, her death was then confirmed on Tuesday.

Roberts had collapsed while walking her dogs on 24 December and was admitted to Los Angeles’ Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre.

Her partner Lance O’Brien mistakenly thought she had died on Sunday after visiting her in hospital. After getting a call from doctors to say she was deteriorating quickly, he went to her bedside, her eyes closed and she “faded”, TMZ reported.

Devastated, he walked out of the room and then the hospital without speaking to medical staff before informing Roberts’ agent that he had “just said goodbye to Tanya”.

But while being interviewed for US TV show Inside Edition on Monday, Mr O’Brien got a call from the hospital to say she was alive.

The moment was captured on film, as he picked up his phone and said: “Now you’re telling me she’s alive? Thank the Lord.” However, she died Monday night.

Born Victoria Leigh Blum in 1955, Roberts grew up in New York before moving to Hollywood in 1977.

Her big break came when she replaced Shelly Hack in Charlie’s Angels, joining Jaclyn Smith and Cheryl Ladd as third ‘Angel’ Julie.

After the show’s cancellation, she appeared in such fantasy adventure films as The Beastmaster and Hearts and Armour.

She also played comic book heroine Sheena in a 1984 film that saw her nominated for a Golden Raspberry award for worst actress.

Roberts received another Razzie nomination for her role as geologist Stacey Sutton in 1985 Bond film A View to a Kill.

She admitted being “a little cautious” about taking the role, but said it would have been “ridiculous” to have turned it down.

Roberts’ subsequent films included Night Eyes and Inner Sanctum, erotic thrillers that did little to advance her career.

She went on to play Midge Pinciotti in more than 80 episodes of That ’70s Show between 1998 and 2004.

TalkRadio: YouTube reverses decision to ban channel

YouTube has reinstated TalkRadio’s channel on its platform hours after saying it had been “terminated” for breaking the tech firm’s rules.

It said the broadcaster had posted material that contradicted expert advice about the coronavirus pandemic.

But it explained its U-turn saying it sometimes made exceptions to guidelines that state repeat offenders face a permanent ban.

TalkRadio said it had yet to be given a full explanation for the affair.

The decision to ban TalkRadio had appalled digital rights campaigners, with one group – Big Brother Watch – claiming it was evidence that “big tech censorship is spiralling out of control”.

The Google-owned service has issued a brief statement explaining its actions.

“TalkRadio’s YouTube channel was briefly suspended, but upon further review, has now been reinstated,” it said.

“We quickly remove flagged content that violate our community guidelines, including Covid-19 content that explicitly contradict expert consensus from local health authorities or the World Health Organization. We make exceptions for material posted with an educational, documentary, scientific or artistic purpose, as was deemed in this case.”

YouTube has not published details of the offending posts.

But independent fact-checkers have repeatedly challenged some of the claims made by interviewees featured by the London-based radio station.

YouTube operates a “three strikes” policy, whereby channels that break its community guidelines three times within a 90-day period can be permanently banned, but other infractions lead to temporary restrictions.

Prohibited content includes “medically unsubstantiated claims” relating to Covid-19, and videos that contradict expert consensus from local health authorities such as the NHS.

“YouTube is making decisions about which opinions the public are allowed to hear, even when they are sourced to responsible and regulated new providers,” TalkRadio said in a statement this evening.

“This sets a dangerous precedent and is censorship of free speech and legitimate national debate.”

The broadcaster tweeted the statement minutes after YouTube’s change of heart. It did not appear to be aware that its channel had been reinstated at the time, but has since acknowledged the move.

TalkRadio has about 424,000 listeners, according to the latest figures from market research provider Rajar.

It uses YouTube as a means to livestream shows from its studios and to provide an archive of past broadcasts.

Its channel on the platform has 242,000 subscribers.

YouTube’s action had meant that TalkRadio’s website had featured articles featuring broken embedded clips for most of the day, and that users who had shared its clips would have been unable to view them.

The US firm has previously imposed a permanent ban against conspiracy theorist David Icke, and a one-week video suspension of right-wing outlet One America News Network’s ability to publish new clips – in both cases for breaches of its Covid rules.

Knife killer brought to justice for 1994 Manchester stabbing

A killer with a long history of mental health issues has been brought to justice for randomly stabbing a “blameless” man to death 26 years ago.

Geoffrey Strike, now 75, stabbed Jason Comerford, 21, after a short row in a side street in Manchester in 1994.

A cold case review in 2018 using new technology found a DNA match to Strike, Manchester Crown Court heard.

Strike, who admitted manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility was given an indefinite hospital order.

The court heard Strike, who had paranoia schizophrenia and had been drinking heavily, stabbed Mr Comerford in the throat with a lock knife in George Leigh Street, near to Great Ancoats Street, in Manchester.

Mr Comerford died in hospital hours later and a description of the offender, a man aged about 50 with grey hair and a scruffy appearance, was circulated.

The knife was recovered but only the DNA of the victim was found on the weapon.

However, in 2018 scientific advancements led to a DNA match with the defendant, who lived nearby at the time of the killing.

The likelihood of it being from someone other than Strike – or unrelated to him – was about a billion to one, the court heard.

Prosecutor Jacob Hallam QC said the circumstances behind the attack remained unclear but said Mr Comerford, who had been on a night out, was entirely blameless.

He was described in court as a “quiet, thoughtful young man” who “never got into trouble”.

The court heard that from 1993 to 1995, including the time of the killing, Strike had little contact with mental health services, did not receive medication and was essentially “lost” in the system.

His offending escalated and he committed 14 offences involving offensive weapons or blades, culminating in March 1997 when he was arrested for attacking a police vehicle with a sword and threatening an officer.

He was jailed and transferred to psychiatric care, where he has remained since.

Defending Strike, Charles Garside QC said his client had “deep regret” for what he did.

But Mr Justice Hilliard said he may now never be released from a secure mental health unit.

Mr Comerford’s brother, Darren, attended court but his parents have died.

The judge said Mr Comerford’s life was “cut short by a dreadful act of violence” and his parents had died “without seeing anyone brought to justice for his death”.

He commended the police and scientists for the way they “did not give up or close the investigation”.

Covid-19: Stay at home to become law in NI on Friday

An order for people in Northern Ireland to stay at home – to stop the spread of Covid-19 – will become legally enforceable from Friday.

The executive agreed the move after it met on Tuesday and tightened other measures.

It will mean people can only leave home for medical or food needs, exercise and work that cannot be done from home.

NI is in the second week of a six-week lockdown in which non-essential retail is closed.

It is understood ministers also agreed to a proposal from Health Minister Robin Swann to reintroduce enforcement powers for the PSNI to order people to go home if they are engaging in prohibited activity.

They did not take on board suggestions of a 10-mile (16km) travel limit in regulation, but have decided to reduce the number of people allowed to meet together.

Indoor and outdoor gatherings will be reduced from 15 people to six and only from one household, which will include children under 12 – exemptions will apply such as support bubbles.

Only up to six people from one household will only be allowed to meet in a private garden – but exemptions will apply there too, if a single household is bigger.

People will be allowed to take exercise outdoors with one person from another household.

The executive also supported a proposal from the health minister to make it a requirement for all employers to conduct a risk assessment where employees are required to work away from their home.

Ministers agreed the measures will last until 6 February, and be reviewed along with other lockdown measures on 21 January.

Discussions on exams took place but ministers agreed to revisit this issue, following a paper from Education Minister Peter Weir.

There is already set to be an “extended period of remote learning” – meaning schools will close to most children.

Many pupils will not return to school until after the half-term break in mid-February.

It has been confirmed that post-primary school transfer tests have been cancelled this month due to the surge in the number of coronavirus cases.

The first transfer test, used by many grammar schools to select pupils, was due to take place on Saturday, but a single Association for Quality Education (AQE) transfer test will be held on Saturday 27 February.

Read live updates: Executive to discuss new lockdown rules

The guidance for those who are clinically extremely vulnerable – and had to shield during the first lockdown in March – is not expected to change.

Ministers are due to brief the Northern Ireland Assembly on Wednesday.

Northern Ireland’s director of the Royal College of Surgeons warned the health service could soon struggle to deal with the number of people needing treatment.

“That’s not just the Covid patients – it’s the patients who have a heart attack, a stroke, the people who fall and break their hip,” said Dr Mark Taylor.

“But the difficulty is the more the system is pulled to deal with Covid, the less ability we have to deal with other aspects.

“The more Covid overwhelms the intensive care units then we’re into really difficult ethical decisions… which no doctor wants to make in terms of who requires that ventilator.”

On Tuesday, a further 18 coronavirus-related deaths – 11 in the past 24 hours and seven in the past week – were recorded by Northern Ireland’s health department, bringing its death toll to 1,384.

The department recorded a further 1,378 cases of the virus, with 577 confirmed patients in hospital, 45 of whom are in intensive care.

More than 12,000 cases have been reported in the past seven days, more than double the previous week.

In the Republic of Ireland on Monday, another 6,110 confirmed cases of Covid-19 were announced along with six more deaths linked to the virus.

Covid: Sir Keir Starmer calls for round the clock vaccinations

Sir Keir Starmer has called for a “round the clock” vaccination programme to tackle the rise in Covid cases.

As part of a televised speech, the Labour leader said the government needed to deliver “millions of doses a week by the end of the month”.

He said there were “serious questions for the government to answer” over the timing of the lockdown in England, but Labour would support the restrictions.

Boris Johnson said daily vaccination figures would be published from Monday.

The prime minister has also promised the four most vulnerable groups of people across the UK will receive their first dose by mid-February.

Both the PM and Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, have announced lockdowns this week.

Wales has been in a national lockdown since 20 December and Northern Ireland entered a six-week lockdown on 26 December.

England’s lockdown will become law from 00:01 GMT Wednesday and MPs will return to the Commons later that day to vote on the measures retrospectively.

The restrictions come into force as the number of new daily confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK topped 60,000 for the first time since the pandemic started.

On Tuesday, 60,914 had tested positive in the previous 24 hours and a further 830 people had died within 28 days of a positive test.

In an address to the nation on BBC One, in response to Boris Johnson’s televised address on Monday, Sir Keir said the UK had reached a “critical moment in our fight against coronavirus”.

The Labour leader said people were “angry at the mistakes the government has made” and ministers needed to answer questions on why they did not act sooner over locking down England.

He stressed that Labour would continue to hold the government to account, but added: “Whatever our quarrels with the government and with the prime minister, the country now needs us to come together.

“At this darkest of moments, we need a new national effort to re-kindle the spirit of last March – to come together and to do everything possible to stay at home [and] to protect the NHS and save lives.”

Sir Keir reiterated that Labour would support the new lockdown when it comes to the retrospective Commons vote on Wednesday and “join in this national effort”.

But he called for the government to use the lockdown to establish “a massive, immediate, and round the clock vaccination programme” to “deliver millions of doses a week by the end of the month in every village and town, every high street and every GP surgery”.

The Labour leader added: “This is now a race between the virus and the vaccine and if we pull together as a nation, we can win.

“We need a new contract between the government and the British people: The country stays at home, the government delivers the vaccine.”

Earlier at a Downing Street press conference, Mr Johnson said more than 1.3 million people across the UK had now been vaccinated with either the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines.

The figure included 23% of over-80s in England – part of a programme Mr Johnson said aimed to save “the most lives the fastest”.

The PM said there will “still be long weeks ahead”, but that he wanted to give “maximum possible transparency” about the vaccination roll-out.

More details will be announced on Thursday, with daily updates starting on Monday, “so that you can see day by day and jab by jab how much progress we are making”, he added.

Asked whether the target could be met, Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty, said the timetable was “realistic but not easy”.

Virgin joins Tui and Thomas Cook in cancelling holiday bookings

Virgin Holidays has become the latest travel firm to cancel holidays after new coronavirus lockdown restrictions were imposed.

The operator said schedules will be cancelled until mid-February, joining similar moves Tui and Thomas Cook.

The companies said customers would be contacted about their future travel options during what Virgin described as “these extraordinary circumstances”.

Thomas Cook said it will call customers to offer refunds or rebooking.

Tui said it was “cancelling all holidays in line with international travel restrictions”. It added that said customers due to depart from England, Scotland and Wales would be contacted to discuss options.

The company said that customers due to travel from an English airport before mid-February, or from a Scottish or Welsh airport up to 31 January, would not be able to do so.

Those customers will be contacted “in departure date order to discuss their options”, Tui said, which include rebooking “with an incentive”, getting a credit note, or a full refund.

“Customers currently overseas can continue to enjoy their holidays as planned and we will update them directly if there are any changes to their holidays,” Tui added.

In a statement, Virgin said: “In line with the new national lockdown restrictions we have reviewed the upcoming holiday schedule and will be cancelling all holidays up to and including 14 February 2021.

“To simplify the options and to provide immediate peace of mind for customers whose holidays will no longer be going ahead, we’re automatically providing a digital voucher for the value of their trip, redeemable up until 30 September 2021, which they can use to rebook a holiday, departing any time before 31 December 2022.”

Virgin added that customers “may also request a refund”.

Thomas Cook, which became an online-only travel brand in September after its earlier collapse, said: “Following the announcement of the latest lockdown, we are calling our customers to offer refunds or move their holidays to a later date.”.

Chief executive Alan French said: “We’ve seen over the festive period that customers are looking ahead to the summer and beginning to book in earnest for those important summer weeks in the sun.

“I am sure that after many more weeks spent at home – and with the progress of the vaccine rollout – we will see an even bigger demand for people to escape to the beach this summer.”

Last month, a number of countries suspended routes to the UK due to the rapid spread of a new variant of coronavirus.

The blanket travel ban to the EU was then lifted, but with rules varying from country to country. The suspension of flights between the UK and China remains in place.

Last year Tui was investigated by competition authorities after complaints that it had not given prompt refunds.

As of Tuesday afternoon, British Airways Holidays was still offering holidays to Barbados and St Lucia on its website.

The company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from the BBC.

Topshops flagship Oxford Street store up for sale

The building that houses Topshop’s Oxford Street store is up for sale.

The High Street chain’s owner Arcadia went into administration in November, putting 13,000 jobs at risk.

News of the sale of the three-storey building has prompted an outpouring of emotion on social media, with shoppers recounting how important the flagship store is to them.

The store, which boasted a DJ booth, nail bar and food stalls, was a retail sensation when it opened in 1994.

The sale of 214 Oxford Street, managed by agents Savills and Eastdil, follows the failure of Sir Philip Green’s retail empire to secure funding to pay its debts after sales slumped during the pandemic.

The Oxford Street building also houses Nike and Vans stores.

Arcadia said that although it was in administration, and so all its assets are to be sold, that did not mean the shops in the building would have to close.

People have been sharing their feelings about the London landmark, which was often used as a meeting point for friends and was a must-visit for fashion-loving tourists.

Arcadia, which also owns Miss Selfridge, Dorothy Perkins and Burton, had already closed other Topshop stores across the UK, citing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Its brands were struggling before the pandemic, partly due to competition from online-only fashion retailers such as Asos, Boohoo and Pretty Little Thing.

Transfer test: AQE to hold test in February

A single Association for Quality Education (AQE) transfer test will be held on Saturday 27 February, BBC News NI can reveal.

The AQE board is planning to go ahead with a single test paper following the cancellation of transfer tests in January.

AQE said they had taken the decision following a meeting with schools.

Thrity-four grammar schools were originally planning to use the AQE test to admit pupils for 2021.

In a statement to BBC News NI, the organisation said it was “acutely aware of the pressure on pupils, parents and teachers as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic and the decisions which the UK Government and Northern Ireland Executive have had to take in light of public health requirements”.

“Following a meeting with the schools which use the Common Entrance Assessment, produced by AQE Limited, it has been agreed that to enable the assessment to take place in the current circumstances, the assessment will be reduced to a single paper to be held on Saturday 27 February, provided it can take place in public health circumstances then prevailing,” it said.

“Inevitably, the question will be asked why the assessment has been rescheduled rather than scrapped, and in response the following considerations are relevant.”

The AQE board said that in the absence of academic criteria, many schools would be likely to be even more oversubscribed than in a normal year and academic performance in a test would be replaced by other more random criteria.

They said that would include “family ties, geographical proximity to a school or some form of lottery for places.”

“It is the view of the member schools that academic selection represents the fairest way of allocating grammar school places”, the AQE statement said.

“The schools who use the assessment are encouraged by communications from parents who have stated that their children are ready and willing to sit the assessment and they want the opportunity to do so.”

“The education provided by our variety of post-primary schools offers the best choice for parents and meets the needs of pupils of all ability levels much better than the postcode comprehensive system which operates elsewhere.”

AQE also said that unlike arrangements to provide grades for GCSEs, A levels and BTec qualifications in 2020, they did not have enough information from primary schools which could be used to match pupils to schools in the absence of a test.

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