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UK PM Johnson dismissed COVID-19 lockdown as only elderly would die, ex-aide says

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Dominic Cummings, former special adviser for Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, arrives at Downing Street, in London, Britain, November 13, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was not prepared to impose lockdown restrictions to stop the spread of COVID-19 to save the elderly and denied the National Health Service would be overwhelmed, his former top adviser said in an interview aired on Monday (19 July), writes Andrew MacAskill, Reuters.

In his first TV interview since leaving his job last year, excerpts of which were released on Monday, Dominic Cummings (pictured) said Johnson did not want to impose a second lockdown in the autumn last year because "the people who are dying are essentially all over 80".

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Cummings also claimed that Johnson wanted to meet Queen Elizabeth, 95, despite signs that the virus was spreading in his office at the start of the pandemic and when the public had been told to avoid all unnecessary contact, particularly with the elderly.

The political adviser, who has accused the government of being responsible for thousands of avoidable COVID-19 deaths, shared a series of messages from October that are allegedly from Johnson to aides. Read more.

In one message, Cummings said Johnson joked that the elderly could "get COVID and live longer" because most people dying were past the average age of life expectancy.

Cummings alleges Johnson messaged him to say: "And I no longer buy all this NHS (National Health Service) overwhelmed stuff. Folks I think we may need to recalibrate."

Reuters could not independently verify whether the messages were genuine.

A spokesperson for Johnson said the prime minister had taken "the necessary action to protect lives and livelihoods, guided by the best scientific advice".

Britain's opposition Labour Party said the revelations by Cummings strengthened the case for a public enquiry and were "further evidence that the prime minister has made the wrong calls time and again at the expense of public health".

Cummings told the BBC that Johnson told officials that he should never have agreed to the first lockdown and that he had to convince him not to take the risk of meeting the queen.

"I said, what are you doing, and he said, I'm going to see the queen and I said, what on earth are you talking about, of course you can't go and see the queen," Cummings said he told Johnson. "And he said, he basically just hadn't thought it through."

Despite questioning Johnson's fitness for his role as prime minister and castigating the government's fight against COVID-19, Cummings' criticism has yet to seriously puncture the British leader's ratings in opinion polls. The full interview was broadcast on Tuesday (20 July).

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Norway again postpones end to COVID lockdown

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A man wearing a protective mask carries shopping bags as he walks on the streets of Oslo following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Oslo, Norway. NTB Scanpix/Hakon Mosvold Larsen via REUTERS

Norway postponed for a second time on Wednesday (28 July) a planned final step in the reopening of its economy from pandemic lockdown, due to the continued spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19, the government said, writes Terje Solsvik, Reuters.

"A new assessment will be made in mid-August," Health Minister Bent Hoeie told a news conference.

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Measures that will be kept in place to halt the spread of COVID-19 include bars and restaurants being limited to table service and limits of 20 people on gatherings in private homes.

The government in April launched a four-step plan to gradually remove most pandemic restrictions, and had completed the first three of those steps by mid-June.

On July 5, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said the fourth step could come in late July or early August at the earliest because of concerns about the Delta coronavirus variant. Read more.

About 80% of adults in Norway have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 41% of adults are fully vaccinated, according to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

Thanks to an early lockdown in March 2020 and tight restrictions that followed, the nation of 5.4 million people has seen one of Europe's lowest rates of mortality from the virus. Some 800 Norwegians have died from COVID-19.

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EU signs deal with GSK for supply of potential COVID drug

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Company logo of pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline is seen at their Stevenage facility, Britain October 26, 2020. REUTERS/Matthew Childs/File Photo

The European Union has signed a contract with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L) for the supply of up to 220,000 treatments of its investigational monoclonal antibody therapy sotrovimab against COVID-19, it said on Wednesday (28 July), write Francesco Guarascio with additional reporting by Jo Mason, Reuters.

The drug, which is developed together with U.S. firm Vir Biotechnology (VIR.O), can be used for the treatment of high-risk coronavirus patients with mild symptoms who do not require supplemental oxygen, according to the Commission.

The deal is a boost to GSK work on potential treatments for COVID-19 after the company played a limited role in the development of vaccines. Rather than making its own coronavirus shot, GSK has focused on supplying its booster to other developers and has partnered with Sanofi (SASY.PA) to develop a jab.

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GSK confirmed the deal in a statement on Wednesday, saying it represented "a crucial step forward for treating cases of COVID-19" in Europe.

The drug is currently being assessed by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) under a rolling review.

It has received emergency authorisation in the United States to treat mild-to-moderate COVID-19 patients who are at high risk of developing a severe infection.

The contract has been backed by 16 of the 27 EU states, which can buy the drug only after it is approved by EMA or by national drug regulators. The price agreed for potential purchases has not been disclosed. A spokesman for the Commission declined to comment on the matter.

Monoclonal antibodies mimic natural antibodies that the body generates to fight infection.

The deal with GSK follows a contract the EU signed in April with Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche (ROG.S) to secure about 55,000 doses of a potential treatment based on a cocktail of monoclonal antibodies developed by Roche together with U.S. drugmaker Regeneron (REGN.O). Read more.

Apart from monoclonal treatments, the only other anti-COVID drug the EU has bought is Gilead's (GILD.O) remdesivir, an antiviral medicine. Last year, the EU reserved half a million courses after the drug obtained a conditional EU approval.

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Coronavirus disinformation: Online platforms take new actions and call for more players to join the Code of Practice

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The Commission has published the reports by Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Microsoft and Google on measures taken in June to combat coronavirus disinformation. The current signatories and the Commission are also calling on new companies to join the Code of Practice on disinformation as it will help broaden its impact and make it more effective. Values and Transparency Vice President Věra Jourová said: “The COVID-19 disinformation monitoring programme has allowed to keep track of important actions put in place by online platforms. With new variants of the virus spreading and vaccinations continuing at full speed, it is crucial to deliver on the commitments. We look forward to the strengthening of the Code of Practice.”

Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton added: “The EU stood by its promise to deliver enough doses to safely vaccinate every EU citizen. All stakeholders now need to assume their responsibility to beat vaccine hesitancy spurred by disinformation. While we are strengthening the Code of Practice with platforms and signatories, we are calling for new signatories to join the fight against disinformation”. 

For example, TikTok's campaign supporting vaccination, with the Irish government, reached over one million views and over 20,000 likes. Google continued to work with public health authorities to show information about vaccination locations in Google Search and Maps, a feature available in France, Poland, Italy, Ireland, and Switzerland. On Twitter, users can now train automated systems to better identify violations of the platform's COVID-19 disinformation policy.

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Microsoft extended its partnership with NewsGuard, an Edge extension that warns about websites spreading disinformation. Facebook cooperated with international health authorities to increase public awareness of vaccine efficacy and safety and with Michigan State University (MSU) researchers to better detect and attribute deepfakes. These joint efforts need to continue in view of the persisting and complex challenges that online disinformation still presents. The Commission's COVID-19 disinformation monitoring programme has been extended until the end of 2021 and reports will now be published every two months. The next set of reports will be published in September. Following the recently published Guidance, the signatories have kicked off the process to strengthen the Code and launched a joint call for interest for potential new signatories.

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