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Matt Hancock’s ex-neighbour under investigation by UK’s medical regulator

Exclusive: MHRA investigating former publican Alex Bourne who won £30m of work producing Covid test vials

The former publican and neighbour of Matt Hancock who secured lucrative work producing millions of vials for NHS Covid tests is under investigation by the UK’s medical regulator, the Guardian can reveal.

Alex Bourne, who used to run the Cock Inn near the health secretary’s old constituency home in Thurlow, won about £30m of work producing the test tubes despite having no prior experience in the medical devices industry.

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from Coronavirus | The Guardian
via COVID-19 Alerts

What British politicians won’t admit – we need to transform the welfare state | John Harris

Nearly 80 years on from its creation, the benefits system has been exposed by Covid to be broken beyond repair

I found an anecdote towards the end of The Road to 1945, the late historian Paul Addison’s history of how the second world war changed Britain. It centres on Winston Churchill, Ernest Bevin – then minister of labour in the wartime coalition government – and thousands of soldiers setting off to mainland Europe. In June 1944, two days before the D-day landings, Churchill and Bevin went to Portsmouth to say farewell to the troops. “They were going off to face this terrific battle,” Bevin recounted, “with great hearts and great courage. The one question they put to me when I went through their ranks was: ‘Ernie, when we have done this job for you are we going back on the dole?’… Both the prime minister and I answered: ‘No, you are not.’”

Despite the self-evident caveat that wars and pandemics are very different things, the parallels between the uneasy historical moment that story captures and the current phase of the Covid crisis are obvious. The past 12 months have seen a mixture of unprecedented deaths and huge collective sacrifice. Moreover, as the crisis has gone on, profound social questions that have been rattling around British politics for at least a decade – about poverty, inequality, work, and housing – have roared into the foreground. If some people are asking questions about a return to “normal” and the dashed hopes that would represent, that hardly seems unreasonable.

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from Coronavirus | The Guardian
via COVID-19 Alerts

Vaccine vials and a virtual hug: a history of coronavirus in 15 objects

How will we tell the story of Covid-19 to future generations, capturing all the fear, horror and hope? Around the world, museums have begun to answer that question

Museums all around the world are collecting Covid-related material. At one level, this is hardly surprising: this is a global transformative event and future generations will need to see what it did to us, how we tried to cope. But they should also be given praise for doing it at a time when they are all locked down. For most, the collecting process – usually an online callout for objects allied to more proactive spotting of themes and requesting of material – started in March or April last year at just the time museums were closing their doors and curators were taking to their laptops at home.

The example of how not to do it is the great flu pandemic of 1918-20, another global transformative event that killed tens of millions but does not figure much in museum collections. People were either too exhausted after four years of war or too traumatised by having another catastrophe to cope with to record it. “The collection I look after has over 150,000 objects covering many different areas,” says Natasha McEnroe, keeper of medicine at the Science Museum in London, “yet you could count the items relating to Spanish flu on one hand.”

The Science Museum and other institutions were determined to do better this time round, although this too has had its own challenges. McEnroe says she and her team haven’t been able to make the usual site visits to look for objects that scientists might take for granted but which, to a curator, are gold dust. She also worries about the ethics of bothering researchers at this critical moment. “Our address books are full of people who are experts in viruses,” she says, “but suddenly, no matter how important I think collecting Covid-related pieces is, developing a vaccine is an awful lot more important, and should I really be stopping them by ringing up and chatting?”

The items shown here have been collected by museums around the world. They range from high science to objects that show how ordinary people tried to tame the virus by representing it, and how they adapted their behaviour to help others. Many express the social solidarity people felt in the first phase of the pandemic in spring 2020 – a feeling of togetherness that is now fraying. It will eventually be the job of museums to show how our response to the virus, just like the virus itself, mutated over time. The clapping stopped; the rainbows in windows faded; we wanted to know when it would be our turn to have the vaccine.

Curators have barely begun to think about how to periodise the pandemic. We don’t even know yet how long it will continue or what form it will take in the future. For the moment, they continue to collect objects and document what they gather; the documentation will be crucial in giving historians and the general public context for the objects when they view them 50 years from now. Why were people wearing Black Lives Matter masks? How did Chinese communities respond to being attacked? Why did touch become so toxic, distance when you held a conversation so crucial? How did toilet rolls become symbols of panic buying? What was the obsession with crochet?

Should there be a central museum of Covid? Most of these institutions think not, though it may at some point be possible to gather together material from individual collections in one place online. The pandemic is proving to be a universal experience, but local and regional variations matter, and curators want their collections to reflect what is happening to people in their area. “Our aim is to document how people reacted to the crisis and what strategy they found to cope with daily life,” says Martina Nussbaumer, curator of cultural history and the history of everyday life at Vienna’s Wien Museum.

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from Coronavirus | The Guardian
via COVID-19 Alerts

How Cuba’s artists took to the kitchen to earn their crust in lockdown

As Covid pushed the island’s economy to the brink of collapse, musicians and film-makers found another way to be creative – cooking, baking and selling

Not far from Havana’s Plaza de la Revolucion, where Che Guevara stares out nine storeys high from the side of Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior, Julio Cesar Imperatori perches on the edge of a table in the kitchen of a shuttered restaurant.

“We started to run out of money,” he says of himself and two friends, Osmany and Wilson. “Everyone was closing down. No one was buying pictures. So we decided to do something. We thought, everyone’s gotta eat and my grandmother, Eldia, she has a recipe for pie. And so … the American Pie company.”

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from Coronavirus | The Guardian
via COVID-19 Alerts

Sage expert calls for children to get Covid jab as schools set to reopen

Prof John Edmunds warns reopening schools in England on 8 March could lead to a resurgence of virus

One of the UK government’s scientific advisers has called for children to be vaccinated for Covid-19 and warned that opening schools now could lead to a resurgence of the virus.

Prof John Edmunds confirmed nervousness among some members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), of which he is one, about the government’s plan to reopen all schools on 8 March.

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from Coronavirus | The Guardian
via COVID-19 Alerts

Jo Whiley fears vaccine offer for sister too late as she fights Covid in hospital

DJ talks about ‘worst week of our lives’ after sister, who has learning disability and diabetes, caught virus

Jo Whiley has said her sister, who has a learning disability and diabetes, has finally been offered a Covid vaccine, but it may have come too late as Frances is “fighting for life” in hospital.

The BBC Radio 2 DJ said it had been “the worst week of our lives” and 24 hours ago medical staff were discussing palliative care for her sister, although on Saturday “she rallied round” and her oxygen levels were beginning to rise.

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from Coronavirus | The Guardian
via COVID-19 Alerts

Hybrid houses: could the UK parliament remain partly virtual?

House Lords has embraced Covid-safe representation more than Commons, but many MPs support change

When the House of Lords began holding virtual proceedings during the first lockdown last spring, there was a spate of videos popular on social media showing peers struggling with mute buttons or interrupted by computerised voices. But, 10 months on, it could be the upper house that has the last laugh.

While the Commons and the Lords now hold so-called hybrid sittings, where members can participate in the chamber or by video link, it is the Lords – with an average age of 70 – that has seemingly embraced the modern era more thoroughly.

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from Coronavirus | The Guardian
via COVID-19 Alerts

Political leaders must discard rusted-on ideologies and embrace compassion, Albanese says

Inclusive spirit shown during pandemic has dispelled ‘dangerous fantasies’ of individualism, Labor leader says

Anthony Albanese says political leaders must not “walk past those who are in need or suffering” while declaring the Covid-19 pandemic has dispelled some “dangerous fantasies” about individualism.

In a speech aiming to reach out to faith groups on Monday, the Labor leader will cite the parable of the Good Samaritan and say that “our care for others should be neither conditional nor transactional”.

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from Coronavirus | The Guardian
via COVID-19 Alerts

Some businesses are insisting employees get vaccinated for Covid. Should yours? | Gene Marks

Whether it means firing workers who refuse, offering incentives or taking a laissez-faire approach, it’s worth having a policy

This week a New York City restaurant made news because it allegedly fired an employee because she refused to get vaccinated.

According to the New York Times, the waitress, who worked in Brooklyn’s Red Hook Tavern, did not want to get a Covid vaccine shot because she was concerned that the vaccine might affect her chances of becoming pregnant in the future. “I totally support the vaccine,” she said. “If it wasn’t for this one thing, I would probably get it.”

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from Coronavirus | The Guardian
via COVID-19 Alerts

This UK lockdown must be the last. Here’s how we can achieve that | Susan Michie

Yo-yoing in and out of lockdown has harmed health and livelihoods. In 2021, we need to do something different

  • Susan Michie is on the Sage subcommittee advising on behavioural science

As the UK has yo-yoed in and out of multiple lockdowns, restrictions have harmed people’s livelihoods, businesses, mental and physical health and their quality of life. In the first and second lockdowns, these restrictions proved insufficient to permanently drive down the prevalence of Covid-19. This time, we have been promised that all adults will have received their first vaccine dose by July – but its level of effectiveness, coupled with the potential emergence of new strains of the virus, means the vaccine rollout will not be a complete solution to the pandemic.

The government’s forthcoming roadmap for easing restrictions should be focused on avoiding the mistakes of the past 12 months. The UK must learn from what has worked in other countries that are now successfully returning to everyday life, such as Australia, New Zealand, China, South Korea, Singapore, Vietnam and Finland. They locked down early and hard, driving down transmission until it reached a level that could be managed by an effective system of test, trace and supported isolation.

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from Coronavirus | The Guardian
via COVID-19 Alerts