UK happenings thread #2 (miscellaneous style)

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NOTICE: This thread resumes where "UK happenings thread #1" left off:

Brexit opens the door to tougher anti-smoking measures

RELEASE: Brexit offers the UK opportunities to strengthen its world-leading tobacco control measures, by creating greater flexibility to respond to industry action and market developments, according to new research from the University of Bath. The UK is currently bound by EU rules, but will enjoy greater freedom to adopt types of tobacco tax that are more effective at lifting the price of cheap tobacco products, as well as more direct pricing policies such as minimum prices or the imposition of price caps. Higher prices are one of the most effective tobacco control measures.

Furthermore, with 96 per cent of UK tobacco products originating from the EU in recent years, a no-deal Brexit is likely to raise cigarette and tobacco prices. HM Treasury has committed to apply new UK import tariffs on tobacco from the 1 January next year which, if passed on to consumers, would increase the average price of a typical 20-pack of cigarettes by around 30 pence and a 30g pouch of roll-your-own tobacco by £1.77.

"Since higher prices are one of the most effective tobacco control measures, this might be a rare positive from having to trade with the EU on WTO terms. Brexit offers the chance to improve public health in the UK, but equally poses a threat to public health if rules are relaxed," said Dr Rob Branston of the University's School of Management, lead author of the study 'What does Brexit mean for UK tobacco control?' newly published in International Journal of Drug Policy.

The benefits of Brexit related flexibility will not extend to Northern Ireland, which will be considered to be part of the EU customs union, following EU rules, and where imports to and from the EU will be tariff-free. Northern Ireland will also retain the current photo health warning labels on tobacco packaging, whereas the remainder of the UK will switch to using Australian imagery.

An additional potential benefit of Brexit for tobacco control is an end to the import of cheap EU duty-paid tobacco and reduced smuggling due to tougher border checks. The cigarette allowance for travellers from the EU will fall from 800 cigarettes currently, or 1kg of roll-your-own tobacco, to a duty-free allowance of 200 cigarettes or 250g of tobacco. "Duty-free allowances, tariffs, or regulatory differences will require customs checks at the UK border. Such checks might have the benefit of reducing the rate of illicit tobacco in the UK, boosting revenue to the UK government, and the effectiveness of UK tobacco tax policy," Branston said. He estimates higher tariffs would raise in the region of an additional £820 million per annum for the government.

However, the authors assert that the potential benefits of Brexit for UK tobacco control will only come to fruition if the government seizes the opportunity by continuing to prioritise policy to address tobacco harms. Dr Allen Gallagher, from the University of Bath's Department for Health, notes that senior members of the current UK government have links to neoliberal and free-market 'think tanks' like the tobacco-industry funded Institute of Economic Affairs which risks leading the administration to de-prioritise tobacco control.

"Ultimately, even if good trade agreements are reached, the benefits of Brexit for tobacco regulation will only be realised if there is the political intent to capitalise on the newly gained flexibility. There is a risk that this government's prioritisation of business interests means that the negative health impacts of tobacco will be less of a priority for the government post-Brexit and that tobacco regulation in the UK will suffer as a result." he said.

Co-author Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of Action on Smoking on Health (ASH) said: "With 14.1% of the UK population smoking as of 2019, tackling tobacco use must remain a public health priority if government aims to make our country 'smokefree' in the next decade are to become a reality. "With the COVID-19 pandemic occupying most current health-related attention, it could easily be overlooked that smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death in the UK, and causes more deaths each and every year than the pandemic has to date."
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One in six parents want to cancel Christmas this year

EXCERPTS: A charity has found that one in six parents in the West Midlands region would cancel Christmas preparations this year if they could due to money worries. The Action for Children survey found that a new wave of parents who have never needed help were now struggling financially due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on their livelihoods.

The survey of over 1,000 parents and 1,000 children, aged six to 15, was carried out in partnership with YouGov across the UK. It found that more than half of the children thought their parents were worried about making it a happy time for the family.

Caroline Rose and Neil Tugby, who live in Sandwell, had always been in work since their teens, but were both made redundant from the same manufacturer shortly after the spring lockdown. [...] Miss Rose said: [...] “I’m dreading Christmas as I’m struggling with my mental health, and Neil’s hair and beard is falling out from all the stress too..." (MORE - details)

Rare 'thundersnow' storm mistaken for explosion in Scotland's capital

INTRO: Worried locals in the Scottish capital Edinburgh were woken overnight on Thursday evening by what some thought was a series of explosions. Except, the city wasn't being hit by blasts. Instead, it was at the centre of a rare weather phenomenon: so-called "thundersnow".

That is when thunder and lightning occur at the same time as snowfall. Police said they received a number of calls from residents in the area who thought they were hearing an explosion. According to the UK Met office, thundersnow can only occur during a few months of the year when the weather conditions are right. The storm can produce spectacular sights; the forks of lightning appear brighter as they reflect off the falling snowflakes.

The snow also muffles the sound of the thunder meaning you can only hear it if you're within two or three miles (three or five kilometres) of the lightning - in a normal rainstorm, you can hear the thunder from much further away... (MORE)

Times apologises over Reading knife attack slur

EXCERPTS: The Times has apologised after incorrectly suggesting an organisation supported a man who killed three men in a knife rampage in a Reading park. The newspaper will pay damages to advocacy group Cage and its outreach director Moazzam Begg after suggesting they excused Khairi Sadallah's actions.

Sadallah has admitted three counts of murder but denies the stabbings in Forbury Gardens were terror-related. Cage said it was awarded £30,000 in damages by The Times.

The apology centres over a June story in response to Cage and Mr Begg commenting on police and media reaction to the attack. The Times said it incorrectly accused them of excusing Sadallah's actions by reference to failings by the police and others.

[...] Cage said it would use the damages to "expose state-sponsored Islamophobia and those complicit with it in the press"... (MORE - details)

COVID-19 immunity 'could last three months after infection or vaccination'

INTRO: People who receive a COVID-19 vaccination may have immunity for 90 days, the government’s scientific advisers have said. In a paper considered by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), the experts say that the length of immunity from "natural infection or vaccination is currently not known". However, they say that "waning immunity" is believed to partly cause other coronaviruses to reinfect after one to two years... (MORE)

For Boris Johnson, a Week to Exorcise the Demons of 2020

INTRO: Britain’s approval of a coronavirus vaccine this week, beating every other Western country, would be a political gift for any leader. But perhaps none needs it as much as Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

A successful vaccine rollout could be the last chance for Mr. Johnson’s government to show competence, after botching virtually every other step of its response to the pandemic, from tardy lockdowns to a costly, ineffective test-and-trace program — all of which contributed to the country having the highest death toll in Europe.

It also comes just as Britain has reached a climactic stage in its long negotiations with the European Union for a post-Brexit trading relationship. Allies of Mr. Johnson were quick to claim that the swift approval of the vaccine vindicated the Brexit project.

That claim was quickly debunked. Nevertheless, the mass vaccination program will be an early test of how well Britain works once it is fully untethered from Europe... (MORE)

Brexit talks paused as negotiators identify "significant divergences" between sides

EXCERPTS: Brexit negotiations have been temporarily paused as the conditions for reaching an agreement have not been met after a week of talks in London. Chief negotiators for the UK and the EU have issued a joint statement to say that there are “significant divergences” in the arrangements the two sides are seeking.

[...] Brexit talks have been underway in London this week, with one UK Cabinet minister saying this morning that the trade talks were in a “difficult phase”. Business Secretary Alok Sharma said that there were a “number of tricky issues” that remained to be worked out. A senior source in the UK government said earlier that a “breakthrough is still possible in the next few days but that prospect is receding”.

Fishing rights have been a “major bone of contention” in post-Brexit trade talks between the UK and the EU, with the UK seeking to assert control of its waters. The issue of the “level playing field” relates to aims to prevent unfair competition on state subsidies and standards.

The Brexit transition period is due to end on 31 December... (MORE)
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Pound tumbles on no-deal Brexit fears as Boris Johnson signals he may walk away over EU demands
  • The pound fell 1.3% against the dollar on Monday after Prime Minister Boris Johnson signalled he might pull out of a Brexit trade deal over EU demands.
  • Investors were readying for an imminent trade deal between the UK and EU over the weekend.
  • But negotations failed to break the deadlock, fueling fears over a no-deal Brexit.
  • "Things can go horribly sideways pretty quickly if EU members pack their bags and go home or PM Johnson leaves the negotiating table," a chief market analyst said.
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90-year-old woman and William Shakespeare get the UK’s first Covid-19 vaccines

EXCERPTS: A 90-year-old woman in the United Kingdom is now the first person in the world to receive a government-approved Covid-19 vaccine backed by robust clinical trials, marking the start of the country’s national mass vaccination campaign.

Margaret Keenan, a grandmother who turns 91 next week, received the first of the UK’s 800,000 doses of Pfizer and BioNTech’s mRNA-based Covid-19 vaccine early Tuesday morning at the University Hospital in Coventry. “I feel so privileged to be the first person vaccinated against Covid-19,” Keenan said, according to the UK’s National Health Service. “It’s the best early birthday present I could wish for because it means I can finally look forward to spending time with my family and friends in the new year after being on my own for most of the year.”

[...] After Keenan, the second dose went to, appropriately, William Shakespeare, an 81-year-old man from Warwickshire — giving the internet the chance to break out a lot of Bard jokes in addition to celebrating this historic moment. (And yes, he’s probably a relation.) “It could make a difference to our lives from now on, couldn’t it?” Shakespeare said after getting the shot... (MORE - details)

Boris Johnson to dine with EU chief in Brussels to try to find breakthrough

EXCERPTS: Boris Johnson will fly to Brussels on Wednesday to try to reach a breakthrough on a post-Brexit trade deal over dinner with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. The Prime Minister and the EU chief will continue their talks in person after the UK Government dropped controversial plans that would have allowed ministers to break international law.

[...] Meanwhile, Brussels’ chief negotiator Michel Barnier warned EU foreign ministers that he now believes a no-deal departure is more likely than a trade agreement being brokered in time, the PA news agency understands. But both sides have set the stage for a potentially make-or-break meal in the EU Commission’s Berlaymont headquarters on Wednesday... (MORE - details)
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More than half of Brits are 'uncomfortable' touching card readers and using public toilets, according to Sagentia

RELEASE: Hygiene concerns related to Covid-19 have left 58% of the GB population uncomfortable using public devices such as card readers, with 54% feeling the same way about public toilets. These findings come from a survey of 2,160 adults conducted by Sagentia, a science, product and technology development company. The research aimed to discover how people's attitudes, behaviours and priorities have changed, to establish how industry can adapt and innovate to maximise consumer trust.

Alongside the consumer research, Sagentia ran an industry study asking businesses how they would respond to consumer behavioural change. Of those surveyed, 73% expect changes prompted by Covid-19 to influence R&D priorities. Almost half anticipate innovation in areas such as chemicals and materials science, for instance to develop antiviral coatings. Almost a third (32%) expect advancements in mechanical or physical technologies to improve hygiene, with 20% saying this is likely to involve energy or light-based sanitisation.

Paul Wilkins, MD, R&D Consultancy at Sagentia comments: "as businesses respond to heightened concerns surrounding hygiene, we can expect to see new products, new public devices and entirely new business models emerge. "Many new ideas will be based on the need to minimise contamination risk or reduce contact with others. As a science-based innovation consultancy, we help businesses create solutions to meet changing customer needs. So, understanding exactly what consumers care about, or feel concerned about, is crucial."

Sagentia is a global science, product and technology development company, and part of Science Group plc. More information is available at
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When Boris met Ursula (parody)

INTRO: A transcript of the conversation between Boris Johnson and EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen during their Brexit trade deal dinner date in Brussels on Wednesday has been leaked... (MORE)

UK Royal Navy Is Ready to Guard British Waters in Case of No-Deal Brexit, Report Says

INTRO: As the transition period expires in less than a month, Britain is possibly heading for a no-deal exit, since no agreement has been reached so far on post-divorce trade regulations.

Four Royal Navy vessels are set to patrol Britain's fishing waters, as there are no positive prospects for an EU-UK post-Brexit deal. The 80-metre boats are expected to guard British waters from European vessels, The Guardian newspaper reported, citing Naval sources.

An unnamed source told Reuters that the British Ministry of Defence has prepared “a standby package of 14,000 personnel” for “a range of scenarios” after the end of the transition period... (MORE)

Britain to exit EU in three weeks without a trade deal

INTRO: Britain is likely to complete its journey out of the EU in three weeks without a trade deal, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday. Britain quit the EU in January but remains an informal member until December 31 — the end of a transition period during which it has remained in the EU single market and customs union.

Both sides say they want to agree arrangements to cover nearly $1 trillion in annual trade but negotiations are at an impasse, with Britain standing to lose zero-tariff and zero-quota access to the huge European single market.

“It’s looking very, very likely we’ll have to go for a solution that I think will be wonderful for the UK, we’ll be able to do exactly what we want from January 1, it will obviously be different from what we set out to achieve,” Johnson told reporters. “If there’s a big offer, a big change in what they’re saying then I must say that I’m yet to see it,” said Johnson, the face of the “leave” campaign in Britain’s 2016 Brexit referendum.

Von der Leyen was quoted by an EU official as telling leaders of the bloc’s 27 member states attending a summit in Brussels on Friday that prospects for a deal had worsened. “The probability of a no deal is higher than of a deal,” the official said on condition of anonymity... (MORE)

Brexit: EU nations ‘told not to ease pressure on UK’ to force Johnson back to negotiating table in 2021

INTRO: As hopes for a Brexit trade deal fade, Brussels has reportedly told EU member states not to entertain the prospect of any individual agreements with the UK that could ease its hardship if it crashes out of the bloc in three weeks.

The alleged aim is to force a chastened Boris Johnson back to the negotiating table in 2021 by allowing the UK to suffer the brunt of leaving without a deal.

Citing a diplomatic note from a Friday meeting of the EU’s working party on the negotiations, the Financial Times reported that a Brussels official told the assembled diplomats that an “incentive must be maintained” for the UK to return “as soon as possible” to the negotiating table in the event of no deal.

Those present were reportedly told not to do anything that could replicate the benefits of EU membership for the UK beyond the four steps set out in the European Commission’s contingency plans, published on Thursday – which Downing Street has not yet said whether it will accept... (MORE)
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The more they wait to finalize Brexit, the more the EU thinks it has leverage and the worse any deal will be for the UK.
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What you need to know about the new variant of coronavirus in the UK

INTRO: On 14 December, the UK’s health minister, Matt Hancock, told parliament that a new variant of the coronavirus associated with faster spread had been identified in southeast England. This has led to widespread concern, spurred by newspaper headlines about “super covid” and “mutant covid”. Here’s what you need to know about this new variant... (MORE)

'Alarmingly high' vitamin D deficiency in the United Kingdom

RELEASE: Over 50 per cent of Asians living in the UK are severely deficient in vitamin D, leaving them more vulnerable to respiratory infections such as COVID-19 and musculoskeletal disorders, according to a large-scale population study published this week.

The journal Clinical Nutrition also reports that more than a third of Black Africans living in Britain have high levels of vitamin D deficiency, and lower socio-economic groups are more at risk.

Led by the Australian Centre for Precision Health, University of South Australia, using data from 440,581 UK Biobank participants, the study strengthens calls for a mandatory vitamin D fortification program in the United Kingdom. Unlike most other high latitude western countries, the UK does not fortify any staple food items with vitamin D, aside from a small amount added to margarine.

The hormone is naturally synthesised in the body through sun exposure, but long winter months and less time spent outdoors have contributed to alarmingly high vitamin D deficiency in pockets of the UK, with overall levels falling below the most conservative global recommendations.

First author, UniSA PhD student Joshua Sutherland, says the findings show that certain ethnic and socio-economic groups, as well as those living in the northern areas of the UK, are far more likely to be vitamin D deficient.

"The reason that people with darker skin are more at risk is because higher levels of melanin, which increases skin pigmentation, can lessen the skin's ability to make vitamin D," Sutherland says. "But this, combined with spending more time indoors and consuming lower vitamin D-containing foods, can foster severe deficiency. Of almost half a million people surveyed, we found that 57 per cent of Asians were severely deficient in vitamin D (levels below 25 nmol/L) in winter/spring and 50.8 per cent in summer and autumn. Black Africans were the next most vulnerable (38.5 per cent deficient in winter and 30.8 per cent in summer), followed by mixed race people and Chinese participants. White Europeans had the lowest prevalence of vitamin D deficiency but many are still affected."

Vitamin D is a hormone that controls calcium levels in the blood and helps build strong bones, regulates immune and muscle function and contributes to overall health. Regular consumption of oily fish has a protective effect, but Asians are less likely to eat fish or use vitamin D supplements compared to other ethnicities, the researchers found.

There was a clear seasonal contrast in vitamin D levels among white Europeans, with 17.5 per cent showing a deficiency in winter, compared to 5.9 per cent in summer. The seasonal variations were not as marked in other cultural groups.

Time spent outdoors, and high levels of TV and computer use were all strongly associated with a greater chance of vitamin D deficiency in white Europeans, but this association was much weaker for other ethnicities.

Nearly one third of study participants living in Edinburgh and Glasgow recorded low vitamin D levels in winter, while southern UK residents, from comparatively higher socio-economic regions, had less winter deficiency and were also more likely to take vitamin D supplements and eat more oily fish.

"These findings highlight the continuing need for effective health interventions to reduce the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in the UK, both at the population level and within at-risk groups," Sutherland says.

"Fortification of a single food item, such as the proposed wheat fortification program, is tricky because some South Asian groups are more likely to eat millet and rice than wheat. It's clear the UK requires targeted public health measures to mitigate deficiency risk in all affected populations," he says.

The study was led by Professor Elina Hypponen, who is one of the world leading experts on vitamin D. "The rate of severe deficiency was much higher in most population groups than we would have expected, so these results are really very alarming," says Prof Hypponen.

"The severity of vitamin D deficiency is concerning, especially with the high rates of COVID-19 infections in Europe and elsewhere in the northern hemisphere this winter. Clinical trials have shown that vitamin D supplements are beneficial in the prevention of respiratory infections and even mortality.

"Vitamin D is not expensive and the doses which have shown the greatest benefits are those that we can all acquire over the counter from the local pharmacy. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, now is really the time for all who may be affected to take action," Prof Hypponen says.

India is right to bet on a post-Brexit UK

EXCERPTS: India recently invited the United Kingdom (UK)’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson as chief guest for Republic Day 2021. Johnson, on Tuesday, officially accepted the invitation, and UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab’s ongoing visit to New Delhi is meant to set the agenda. The visit will take place less than a month after the UK leaves the European Union — with or without a deal. The timing and occasion of the visit signals intent on both sides to develop a genuine partnership.

For decades, India-UK relations remained suboptimal. This was because neither side was invested in truly understanding what the other valued. In India, London’s motivations were — incorrectly — viewed as a former colonial power’s desire to weigh in on regional issues such as Kashmir and the Afghan war by tilting towards Pakistan...

[...] In London, New Delhi’s lack of appreciation for the UK’s security concerns about troops in Afghanistan and radicalisation at home — both of which necessitate a security partnership with Pakistan — remained an irritant.

[...] Johnson’s visit offers an opportunity for a reset. Though difficult to achieve in the short-term, both countries have an incentive to explore the viability of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

[...] In addition to economic incentives, London’s sharp downturn in relations with Beijing since the introduction of the draconian national security law in Hong Kong imparts strategic synergy to India-UK relations. The UK’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development, and Foreign Policy 2021 has indicated that London must tilt towards the Indo-Pacific. The aim is to augment the UK’s presence in the Indian Ocean Region and work with powers such as India, Japan, and Australia, along with the EU and the US, to counter China.

To this effect, the India-UK Defence Logistics Pact will work as a lubricant in advancing dialogue on other issues. True, India has such pacts with other countries including France and the US, and it remains unclear under what conditions and to what extent India can militarily capitalise on British bases. But, given where these two countries stood just a few years ago, this is a step forward.

Collaboration in sectors such as digital technology, the climate crisis, and vaccine development will also see a fillip. [...] Finally, there has been a shift away from making this relationship hostage to the “Pakistan question”. ... There are miles to go before this partnership realises its true potential, but it is set to become “poll-proof” as India bets on a post-Brexit UK... (MORE - details)
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(Dec 16, 2020 02:20 AM)C C Wrote: What you need to know about the new variant of coronavirus in the UK

INTRO: On 14 December, the UK’s health minister, Matt Hancock, told parliament that a new variant of the coronavirus associated with faster spread had been identified in southeast England. This has led to widespread concern, spurred by newspaper headlines about “super covid” and “mutant covid”. Here’s what you need to know about this new variant... (MORE)

Guess what? A virus only adapts due to pressure, like extreme lock downs starving it of readily available hosts. It can only survive by either becoming less deadly, but potentially more vulnerable to antibodies, or becoming more transmissible. You did this to yourselves, Brits.
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UK, US sign post-Brexit customs agreement

RELEASE: Britain and the United States on Wednesday signed an agreement on customs processes to keep trade flowing smoothly between the two countries when Britain fully leaves the orbit of the European Union at the end of the year.

"This is an important agreement that ensures continuity post EU exit, and demonstrates the strength of the US-UK customs relationship," British Treasury minister Jesse Norman said in a statement.

"This deal will allow us to continue to cooperate in combatting customs offences by sharing information and good practice, and provides the legal underpinning for schemes to ease trade flows for importers and exporters."

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