Covid: Quarantine hotel plans set to be announced

The government is expected to announce that some travellers coming to England will have to quarantine in hotels, over concerns about new Covid variants.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will make a decision after discussing the proposals with senior ministers later.

The new measures are likely to apply to UK citizens and those with permanent residency rights arriving from high-risk countries such as South Africa.

Most foreign nationals from high-risk countries already face UK travel bans.

The new requirement to isolate in a hotel for 10 days will apply to arrivals from most of Southern Africa and South America, as well as Portugal, because many flights from Brazil come via Lisbon, according to BBC Newsnight’s political editor Nicholas Watt.

He said there had been “no definitive decision yet” on arrivals from other parts of the world and this was “still a live issue”.

Whitehall sources said those quarantining in hotels would have to pay for the costs of their own accommodation.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will chair a meeting of the Covid operations committee attended by senior ministers later to discuss the options for new border controls.

However, it will not be possible to implement any new measures immediately, said BBC political correspondent Iain Watson.

Some ministers – including Home Secretary Priti Patel – have been pushing for more widespread use of hotel quarantine, arguing that too targeted an approach may prove ineffective, our correspondent reports.

Hotel quarantine is already in place in countries including New Zealand and Australia.

Under current travel curbs, almost all people must test negative for Covid-19 up to 72 hours before travelling to be allowed into the UK.

Even after this negative test, arrivals still have to quarantine for up to 10 days, although this can be done at home.

In England, this self-isolation period can be cut short with a second negative test after five days.

Quarantine rules are set separately in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – but have only tended to differ slightly.

On Monday, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed officials around the UK had discussed a “four nations” approach to the issue.

She added that hotel quarantine was “under active consideration” by Scottish ministers, and would be discussed at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

The Northern Ireland Executive is also expected to discuss travel rules when it meets on Tuesday.

In Australia, travellers are allocated a hotel room on arrival and taken there by bus. Often, entire flights are accommodated in the same hotel.

The New South Wales government pledges to make “every attempt” to find suitable accommodation for travellers and families. But availability of rooms means there are severe limits on the number of people who can arrive into the country on any given day.

The hotel quarantine lasts a minimum of 14 days up to 24 days, providing a person tests negative twice.

The cost of the quarantine is borne by the passenger – at around £1,700 per adult and £2,800 for a family of two adults and two children – and billed after the quarantine in completed.

Fees are waived for those who can prove they are unable to pay, and there are certain exemptions.

But not following the rules is a criminal offence, and in New South Wales carries fines of around £6,000 for individuals, six months in prison, or both with an additional £3,100 fine for each day the offence continues.

Joss Croft, chief executive of UKinbound, which represents the interests of the country’s tourism sector, said he hoped the hotel quarantine rules would cover as few countries as possible,

He told the BBC’s Newsnight that the industry had been “decimated” and the new measures were “the last thing we need”.

“We’ve got to start thinking once these conditions are put in then how are we going to wind our way back from that,” he added.

In a joint statement, the Airport Operators Association and Airlines UK said the country already had “some of the highest levels of restrictions in the world” and that introducing tougher rules would be “catastrophic”.

On Monday, Mr Johnson said ministers were “actively working” on the idea of quarantine hotels.

He said the UK already had “one of the tightest regimes in the world” but the government wanted to “protect this country from reinfection from abroad” and the spread of new variants during the rollout of vaccines.

The policy is among the measures credited with limiting cases of coronavirus in Australia – whose population is around 25 million – to just 28,777 positive cases during the entire pandemic.

This is a smaller number of new cases than are currently recorded in the UK every day – with a daily average of over 33,000 in the past seven days.

Ministers have been facing pressure to toughen up the UK’s borders in recent weeks, with Labour accusing ministers of “dragging their feet on setting vital protections”. The party’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds has backed the idea of using hotels to help “prevent the importation of further strains of the virus”.

Have you stayed in a quarantine hotel? Share your experiences.

Covid: Cancel developing countries debt, MPs urge

The UK government should cancel the debt owed by developing countries struggling with the impact of Covid-19, MPs have said.

The International Development Committee warned that the pandemic was fuelling extreme poverty and food insecurity.

It was also disrupting routine healthcare, such as tuberculosis immunisations, it added.

The Foreign Office said it was spending £1.3bn to protect livelihoods, improve health systems and distribute vaccines.

More than two million people around the world have died after contracting coronavirus, with almost 100 million cases reported.

The committee said that, due to disruption caused by the pandemic, millions of people in developing countries were more at risk from diseases such as tuberculosis because of missed immunisations.

Millions were more likely to lose their livelihoods because of the global recession and millions of women were more exposed to sexual violence.

The MPs want the government to provide more aid to address the problems and cancel long-term national debt that was diverting cash away from those in need.

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “We’ll only be safe from coronavirus when we’re all safe – which is why the UK is leading global efforts to fight this pandemic, committing up to £1.3bn of new UK aid to find and equitably distribute a vaccine, strengthen health systems, protect livelihoods and support the global economy.”

They added that the UK would use its 2021 presidency of the G7 group of leading economies “to help the world build back stronger and fairer after the pandemic”.

This would include “promoting open societies, championing gender equality and girls’ education, and setting out new international approaches to global health security and climate action”, the spokesperson said.

Poor whites in left behind towns miss out on uni

Poor white youngsters in England’s former industrial towns and those living on the coast are among the most likely to miss out on university, warns the watchdog for fair access.

“These are the people and places that have been left behind,” says Chris Millward of the Office for Students.

The watchdog has used a new measure to see which groups are likely or not to go to university.

MPs are investigating low attainment among white working class pupils.

The Office for Students has looked at overlapping factors – such as poverty, race, gender and where people live – which are indicators of whether someone is likely to go to university.

This combined measure found white youngsters on free meals or from disadvantaged areas were 92% of those in the bottom fifth, in terms of the likelihood of going to to university.

These were particularly concentrated in some areas – such as parts of Nottingham, Great Yarmouth, Barnsley, Sheffield, Stoke and Hull.

Mr Millward, director of fair access, warns that these communities, “over successive generations”, have missed out on the rise in access to universities.

“The expansion of educational opportunities, and the belief that equality of opportunity would flow from this, have not delivered for them. So they are less likely to see education as the way to improve their lives,” writes Mr Millward.

The research emphasises the importance of place, identifying particularly low entry rates in “former industrial towns and cities across the north and midlands, or coastal towns”.

But white students on free meals in London seemed to have bucked the trend, with an the entry rate that “has pulled away from that in other parts of the country” – and the capital overall has higher rates of going to university.

Figures from the Department for Education last year reported that “male white British free school meal pupils are the least likely of all the main ethnic groups to progress to higher education”.

The Education Select Committee is investigating why “left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds” seem to be underachieving in education.

Co-op and Morrisons see queues over payments outage

The Co-op and Morrisons have confirmed that there is an ongoing issue affecting card payments from being processed in some of their stores.

Long queues were seen outside some of the Co-op’s convenience stores from Sunday amid the snow, and customers were encouraged to pay using cash.

The BBC understands that the problem is due to an issue with a real-time payments processing provider ACI.

Multiple customers took to Twitter and Facebook to complain about the queues.

The issue comes as contactless payments have taken off in the UK during the pandemic, with fewer consumers using cash to pay for groceries.

The BBC has approached ACI for comment.

“We’ve experienced some technical difficulties with our card payments and are working hard to resolve this as quickly as possible,” said a Morrisons spokeswoman. “We are sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused.”

A Co-op spokesman told the BBC: “Our payment processing provider is working to correct an intermittent issue which has prevented a very small number of customer transactions from being processed.

“We would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

The BBC witnessed the card processing issue affecting some of The Co-op’s stores meant that self-service checkouts had to be closed, requiring customers to queue to be served at tills manned by staff.

At some stores, customers queuing outside were warned on Monday evening that transactions had to be “cash-only” due to the ongoing issue.

Some customers said they had to use the convenience store’s cash machine to withdraw money to pay for purchases.

However in other stores, the problem was intermittent, impacting some payment card brands, but not others.

Knackered and confused. Thats just the parents

Home schooling can be tough. It’s difficult to concentrate, there’s emotional exhaustion, boredom, a lack of motivation and it’s really hard not going out to see friends. And that’s just the parents.

This winter lockdown is taking its toll on families, now struggling even more on the black ice of uncertainty as no-one can say when schools in England are going to reopen for most pupils again.

“There’s a sense of fatigue,” says Jacqueline Smallwood, who is at home with three secondary-school children. She says her own “concentration levels have fallen dramatically”.

“It’s so repetitive that it just makes you feel tired,” she says of the latest lockdown and the “silent struggle” facing both parents and their children to try to get motivated.

There might have been some guilty enjoyment at the start of the year when the school term was initially delayed, not having to get up and out on cold January mornings.

Until it dawned on them that this was becoming something much longer than a few weeks.

It’s morphed from early January to half term in mid-February and now maybe Easter in early April or even later. And Jacqueline says, as a matter of “respect”, parents need to know what’s happening about schools.

The confusion over a return date seems to have further frayed the nerves of parents.

The mother, who lives outside Canterbury in Kent, says she worries about the pressures building up on young people.

For teenagers like her sons, she says this “should be a pivotal time in their lives,” when they’re beginning to get some independence and when social lives are hugely important – but instead they’re stuck inside with their parents.

“We can’t live like the Waltons forever,” she says, referencing the US TV series of a folksy family relying on each other.

The first lockdown created an unexpected sense of togetherness, an “enforced bonding” that she says turned out to be a “massive positive”.

But Jacqueline, who works as a writer, sees no such upside to the latest lockdown. There is a collective frustration – and she says it has been made even worse by the confusion about when schools will go back.

The online home-schooling seems to be working, she says, with teachers trying to boost the enthusiasm levels, but it’s no real substitute for being in school. And she wants much more clarity about when they will go back.

“I’ve tried not to be political about decisions being made, but you can’t help but feel disappointed. They don’t seem to understand how real people are living,” she says.

She says when politicians say maybe schools will or won’t be back by Easter, they don’t realise how much that uncertainty affects families trying to plan for what comes next.

Educational psychologist Dan O’Hare says the “key word is ‘uncertainty'”.

Not knowing what is coming next adds to the pressure, he says, and children out of school are already facing big unknowns such as what’s going to happen about exams or when will they see their friends and teachers.

“It’s really stressful for children and their families,” says Dr O’Hare, who is co-chair of the British Psychological Society’s division for educational and child psychology. “They need a sense of a plan.”

This lockdown is also in the depths of winter – and he says employers need to think about making sure staff working from home are able to take a break in daylight hours, so that families can get outside.

It’s no use asking parents to answer work emails all day and expect them to go out when it’s dark.

For some families it has got very difficult.

“It’s affected her emotionally a lot,” says Dave in Bolton, who is worrying about his six-year-old daughter, who has been crying because she misses her friends.

“It’s awful, you can’t put a positive spin on it. She’s at that age where she’s enjoying her friends, becoming more socialised,” he told BBC 5 Live.

“She’s quite a confident little girl and I can’t help worry that being stuck at home is going to impact her in the longer term.”

The father says many of her classmates are still going into school – and that makes it even harder when she sees her friends on school Zoom calls.

Jen Locke in Newcastle makes the point that women can often be “the most adversely affected by the decision to keep schools closed”.

She says home schooling has “fallen squarely on my shoulders”, helping her children in the day and then shifting her work with an IT company into the evening, so it’s an early start through to a very late finish.

“It’s a huge mental strain… I’m knackered from it all,” she says, right down to trying to get children to bed who aren’t tired because they’re not going out.

A lockdown weariness seems to be out there, despite the best efforts of schools.

Simon Armstrong in Bristol, whose son is in secondary school, says: “Virtual lessons, no matter how well delivered, are a woeful substitute for real lessons.”

“I am at the end of my tether,” he says.

The Department for Education said: “We are committed to reopening schools as soon as the public health picture allows, and will inform schools, parents and pupils of plans ahead of February half term.”

But Labour has accused the government of causing “chaos and confusion” for parents and schools.

The National Association of Head Teachers said: “Now is the moment for calm heads to decide on a sustainable return to school, not another chaotic and last-minute set of decisions that could easily result in a yo-yo return to lockdown.”

Scientists address myths over large-scale tree planting

Scientists have proposed 10 golden rules for tree-planting, which they say must be a top priority for all nations this decade.

Tree planting is a brilliant solution to tackle climate change and protect biodiversity, but the wrong tree in the wrong place can do more harm than good, say experts at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

The rules include protecting existing forests first and involving locals.

Forests are essential to life on Earth.

They provide a home to three-quarters of the world’s plants and animals, soak up carbon dioxide, and provide food, fuels and medicines.

But they’re fast disappearing; an area about the size of Denmark of pristine tropical forest is lost every year.

“Planting the right trees in the right place must be a top priority for all nations as we face a crucial decade for ensuring the future of our planet,” said Dr Paul Smith, a researcher on the study and secretary general of conservation charity Botanic Gardens International in Kew.

A raft of ambitious tree-planting projects are underway around the world to replace the forests being lost.

Boris Johnson has said he is aiming to plant 30,000 hectares (300 sq km) of new forest a year across the UK by the end of this parliament.

An African-led movement to plant a 5,000-mile (8,048km) forest wall to fight the climate crisis is set to become the largest living structure on Earth, three times the size of the Great Barrier Reef.

However, planting trees is highly complex, with no universal easy solution.

“If you plant the wrong trees in the wrong place you could be doing more harm than good,” said lead researcher Dr Kate Hardwick of RGB Kew.

All too often natural forests teeming with plants, animals and fungi are replaced by commercial plantations with row upon row of timber trees, which will be harvested after a few decades, she told BBC News.

“What we’re trying to do is to encourage people, wherever possible, to try and recreate forests which are similar to the natural forests and which provide multiple benefits to people, the environment and to nature as well as capturing carbon.”

The review of research, published in the journal Global Change Biology, found that in some cases, planned tree planting does not increase carbon capture and can have negative effects.

The 10 golden rules are:

Protect existing forests first

Keeping forests in their original state is always preferable; undamaged old forests soak up carbon better and are more resilient to fire, storm and droughts. “Whenever there’s a choice, we stress that halting deforestation and protecting remaining forests must be a priority,” said Prof Alexandre Antonelli, director of science at RGB Kew.

Put local people at the heart of tree-planting projects

Studies show that getting local communities on board is key to the success of tree-planting projects. It is often local people who have most to gain from looking after the forest in the future.

Maximise biodiversity recovery to meet multiple goals

Reforestation should be about several goals, including guarding against climate change, improving conservation and providing economic and cultural benefits.

Select the right area for reforestation

Plant trees in areas that were historically forested but have become degraded, rather than using other natural habitats such as grasslands or wetlands.

Use natural forest regrowth wherever possible

Letting trees grow back naturally can be cheaper and more efficient than planting trees.

Select the right tree species that can maximise biodiversity

Where tree planting is needed, picking the right trees is crucial. Scientists advise a mixture of tree species naturally found in the local area, including some rare species and trees of economic importance, but avoiding trees that might become invasive.

Make sure the trees are resilient to adapt to a changing climate

Use tree seeds that are suitable for the local climate and how that might change in the future.

Plan ahead

Plan how to source seeds or trees, working with local people.

Learn by doing

Combine scientific knowledge with local knowledge. Ideally, small-scale trials should take place before planting large numbers of trees.

Make it pay

The sustainability of tree re-planting rests on a source of income for all stakeholders, including the poorest.

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Chris Grayling leads MPs charge to save hedgehogs

A group of MPs is calling for hedgehog nesting sites to get the same protections as those for bats and badgers, in an effort to boost numbers.

Former Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has tabled an amendment to the Environment Bill, which he said would help “Britain’s favourite animal”.

The spiky mammals should be on developers’ “radar” when they are planning a project, he added.

A report in 2018 suggested UK hedgehog numbers had halved since 2000.

Rough estimates put the population at one million, compared with 30 million during the 1950s.

Mr Grayling’s amendment would add hedgehogs the list of protected animals under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

This would place a legal obligation on developers to search for the animals and take action to reduce the risk to them from building.

It is illegal to kill or capture hedgehogs using certain methods but Mr Grayling said: “It seems wrong to me, for example, that whenever a developer has to carry out a wildlife survey before starting work on a project that the hedgehog is not on anyone’s radar.

“It is Britain’s favourite animal, its numbers are declining and it should be as well protected as any other popular but threatened British animal.”

Former cabinet ministers Liam Fox, Andrew Mitchell and Dame Cheryl Gillan are among 13 fellow Conservative MPs supporting Mr Grayling’s amendment.

Labour’s Hilary Benn and Debbie Abrahams have also signed it.

The Environment Bill – which seeks to write environmental principles into UK law for the first time – will be debated in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

It includes setting targets for air quality, water, biodiversity and waste reduction.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the bill would help “improve the environment for future generations”.

It added that ministers were “ambitious” to “drive a world-leading programme of environmental reform”.

For Labour, shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard said the bill should be prioritised to complete its passage in this session of Parliament.

He added that the UK needed legislation that “recognises the urgency of the crisis and doesn’t go backwards”.

Brexit parcel price shock: I had to pay £30 for a gift

A couple of weeks ago Lili Piraki, a London-based journalist, was surprised by a text out of the blue from delivery firm DHL.

She was delighted to hear a friend had sent her a present: a pair of gold earrings from Greece. She was less impressed that she would have to pay nearly £30 in taxes to receive the gift.

The extra charges are a result of new post-Brexit rules that came into force on 1 January.

Despite the free trade deal agreed before Christmas, which promised to smooth the UK’s exit from the EU, new taxes and charges now apply to almost everything that goes back and forth between the two, including gifts, second hand items, products bought on Amazon or eBay and from private sellers.

After we reported recently on Londoner Ellie Huddleston’s shock at beings asked to pay £82 to receive a £200 coat, dozens of you got in touch asking why they were being charged extra.

So we asked some experts to run through five readers’ experiences to explain the new charges.

Londoner Sascha Grillo was trying to add to his model collection by ordering a new car from a seller in Germany, but when he typed into the website that he wanted delivery to the UK, the price leapt up from £50 to £62.

“I was shocked, because I thought that with the Brexit deal, this wouldn’t happen,” he said.

“I thought day-to-day commercial transactions would remain the same, but this is not the case.”

He decided not to buy.

Why was he charged more?

The free trade deal means there are no quotas or tariffs on the goods traded between the EU and UK, but that doesn’t mean there are no extra taxes or costs.

Since 1 January the UK is no longer part of the EU VAT regime, so the UK government is applying VAT (sales tax) at 20% on goods from the EU, explains Gary Rycroft, a partner at Joseph A Jones & Co Solicitors.

In Sascha’s case the new tax was applied at the “point of sale”, in other words when he clicked to order. That is how the system is supposed to work on all goods worth under £135, says Martyn James from risk management firm

UK VAT accounts for £10 of the extra £12 that Sascha was asked to pay. Sellers may also be charging higher delivery fees to cover any extra paperwork or border delays they may face.

Karishma Neog, an IT professional based in Bristol, has a weakness for designer handbags. In the first week of January she ordered two, one for her and one as a present, from a retailer in Paris, spending £600 plus £25 for delivery.

When they arrived she was charged an extra £123.

“I had no inkling it was going to be the case,” she says. There was no mention of it on the seller’s site.

Why was she charged?

As with Sascha’s cars, the charge was probably for UK VAT. But because Karishma’s handbags were worth more than £135 she wasn’t charged when she clicked to buy.

Instead, when you buy more expensive items the VAT is applied when the items reach you.

Michelle Dale from accountants UHY Hacker Young says the other possibility is that Karishma was charged customs duties.

If you’re buying something that comes from the EU, the free trade deal means you won’t pay any customs duties. But, while Karishma’s bags came from a seller in Paris, they may not be made from French materials, they might not even be made in France.

The devil is in the detail when it comes to these “rules of origin” says Gary Rycroft. But they only apply to items over £135 that come from outside the UK and EU.

So if you’re buying a pricier item, it is always worth asking if any additional customs charges will apply.

Lili Piraki isn’t the only one who was charged to receive a present. Even if the gift was wrapped and posted by a friend or relative it can still incur extra fees.

Some readers thought they’d avoided extra charges by posting before Christmas, but many deliveries ran late, and so – because they arrived after 1 January – came with an extra bill to pay.

The first thing Lili knew about the earrings from her friend was a series of texts from DHL asking for £28.85.

“I received a message from DHL saying in order to receive my gift I had to pay the taxes. I didn’t even know anyone had sent me anything.”

She checked all the details to be sure it wasn’t a scam, and then paid the charges.

Why was she charged?

Gifts worth less than £39 don’t attract any extra charges, explains Michelle Dale. But gifts over that, like gold earrings, are eligible for VAT and customs duties. And it’s always the recipient who receives the bill.

When former soldier Hamish Clarke was stationed in Germany in the 1970s he developed an interest in modern European pottery. He still adds to his collection, buying on marketplaces or direct from sellers in Germany and Belgium.

He spied four pieces of pottery he liked on eBay and agreed a price of €160 [£142] with the seller.

“When I tried to pay for it, it was asking for €191 euros,” he says.

He wondered whether the charges might have been avoided if he had bought directly from the seller.

Why was he charged?

There’s no way around the import VAT, says Michelle Dale, and it applies to second hand items as well as gifts, even if you’ve bought them from a private individual.

EBay already has its system set up to charge the extra VAT upfront. Amazon says VAT will always be charged at point of sale on its site too. But the system won’t be running smoothly yet everywhere, warns Martyn James.

Jemima Brown ordered a £150 pair of boots from a UK company to be delivered to her home in Auvergne, France.

“A week later I received an email from La Poste telling me that when the parcel was delivered it would only be handed over if I paid the €88 [£78] import duty,” she says.

The documentation said it was €43 for VAT, €30 for customs tariffs, and €15 handling fees.

She rang the company which said she could reject the delivery and receive a full refund.

Why was she charged?

Shoppers on the continent buying from UK firms face the same rules as UK shoppers do in reverse so Jemima would have had to pay VAT and customs charges, because the boots or the materials they were made from, originated from outside the EU.

Michelle Dale thinks Jemima was lucky to be able to reject the delivery so easily. Some firms are changing their terms and conditions so that customers have to cover the extra charges, even when goods are returned.

Gary Rycroft says if a retailer doesn’t make it clear that you might face extra fees, you could argue that these were “hidden costs” that you shouldn’t have to pay. But don’t expect that to be an easy battle to win.

Coronavirus: EU to tighten vaccine exports amid row with AstraZeneca

The EU has warned it will tighten rules on exports of Covid vaccines, amid a row with AstraZeneca over a cut in planned supplies to the 27-member bloc.

Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said the EU “will take any action required to protect its citizens”.

Last week, AstraZeneca told the EU it was falling behind on its supply target because of production problems.

The EU has been criticised for the slow rollout of the vaccines, which it buys on behalf of all member states.

The row could also affect supplies to the UK of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine developed by the US and Germany. Pfizer’s Belgian plant supplies the UK.

The UK government said it was in “close contact” with vaccine suppliers.

“Our vaccine supply and scheduled deliveries will fully support offering the first dose to all four priority groups by 15 February,” a government spokeswoman said.

Inoculation programmes in some EU members have already been slowed due to a cut in deliveries of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, with some nations threatening legal action.

Ms Kyriakides tweeted that Monday’s talks with AstraZeneca “resulted in dissatisfaction with the lack of clarity and insufficient explanations”.

“EU member states are united: vaccine developers have societal and contractual responsibilities they need to uphold”.

Ms Kyriakides said the EU had requested “a detailed planning of vaccine deliveries”, and the next meeting with AstraZeneca would be held on Wednesday.

The health commissioner warned that “in the future, all companies producing vaccines against Covid-19 in the EU will have to provide early notification whenever they want to export vaccines to third countries”.

AstraZeneca has so far made no public comments on the latest developments.

Last week, AstraZeneca said a production problem meant the number of initial doses available to EU member states would be lower than expected.

AstraZeneca had been set to deliver about 80 million doses to the 27 nations by March, according to an unnamed official who spoke to Reuters news agency.

Officials have not confirmed publicly how big the shortfall will be, but the official told Reuters that deliveries would be reduced to 31m – a cut of 60% – in the first quarter of this year.

The AstraZeneca vaccine has not yet been approved by the EU’s drug regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), but is expected to get the green light at the end of this month.

Facebook News feature launches in UK

Facebook News, the social network’s dedicated section for news content, is launching in the UK.

The UK is the second market to get Facebook News, which launched in the United States last year.

Several major news publishers, including Channel 4, Sky News, and The Guardian have signed deals with Facebook to provide content.

It comes as the tech industry’s relationship with the media comes under increased scrutiny.

Google last week threatened to pull out of Australia if forced by law to enter commercial agreements with news publishers – something about which Facebook has also expressed concern.

And French publishers recently agreed a deal with Google on how a new EU copyright law about news excerpts should be applied.

Facebook News is the social network’s own attempt to address the long-running friction between it and news publishers, as advertising spend has increasingly moved to the large tech firms instead of individual news outlets.

The new feature is set to go live on Tuesday afternoon, Facebook said.

The new feature is a dedicated tab within the Facebook mobile app, accessible by tapping the three-line icon for more options.

The tab features a mix of major daily news stories and “personalised” news selected for each reader based on their interests, as decided by Facebook’s algorithm.

Facebook says it pays publishers “for content that is not already on the platform”, and says the feature will also provide publishers with new advertising and subscription “opportunities”.

That may be partly based on data from the United States, which Facebook says shows more than 95% of traffic on Facebook News is from people who have not read those publications before.

The social network says the new product is a “a multi-year investment that puts original journalism in front of new audiences”.

And news organisations, for which new readers are often in short supply, are signing up.

In November, when it first announced the product was heading to the UK, major names such as The Economist, The Independent, and Cosmopolitan were already on board.

Ahead of Tuesday’s launch, The Daily Mail, Financial Times and Telegraph were also announced, among others.

BBC News has not signed a commercial deal with Facebook News, but may still appear on the tab through public posts it makes on the Facebook platform.

Facebook also says that this new product is a direct result of discussions with the news industry, with which it has often been at loggerheads.

The tech giant is responsible for driving a lot of traffic around the internet, and a story which performs well on Facebook will often attract more readers than one which does not.

But Facebook has also repeatedly made changes to its algorithms over the years which have affected news organisations, sometimes with little notice. It has also encouraged organisations to use its features such as instant articles, or to make video content for Facebook.

However, it envisions Facebook News as a better solution than earlier attempts, and one it plans to roll out to other countries – including France and Germany – in the near future.

“Our goal has always been to work out the best ways we can support the industry in building sustainable business models,” Facebook said in its blog post about the UK launch.

“As we invest more in news, and pay publishers for more content in more countries, we will work with them to support the long-term viability of newsrooms.”

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