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Chief Adviser to Boris Johnson in Hot Water for Breaking Lockdown Measures He Helped Create

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Source: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

  • Politicians and citizens in the United Kingdom are calling for Dominic Cummings, chief adviser to the Prime Minister, to be fired after breaking strict lockdown measures that he helped create.
  • Days after those measures went into effect, Cummings drove his young son and wife, who was experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, 260 miles north from London to Durham.
  • As Cummings explained on Monday, this was to allow his parents to care for his son in case he came down with symptoms, too.
  • A day later, he did. Eventually, so did his son, who was later taken to the hospital. 

Cummings Travels 260 Miles After Lockdown Restrictions

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing calls to fire his chief adviser Dominic Cummings after Cummings broke lockdown measures he helped create.

On March 23, the United Kingdom imposed strict lockdown orders that barred nearly all travel; however, on March 27, Cummings drove 260 miles from London to his parents’ home in the northern city of Durham.

Notably, he also brought his 4-year-old son as well as his wife, who was experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. The next day after arriving in Durham, Cummings developed symptoms. It was also later learned that eventually, so did his son, who had to spend a night in the hospital.

Only a couple of weeks after experiencing symptoms, Cummings and his family then reportedly visited a local castle.

According to the government’s stay-at-home orders—which Cummings reportedly helped directly create—people with children were told to comply “to the best of your ability.”

While England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer warned that “if you have adults who are unable to look after a small child, that is an exceptional circumstance,” she also added that people without child care or family support should contact their local authorities for help. That is something Cummings didn’t do. 

In fact, Cummings also failed to tell Johnson he was making this trip. 

Because of that, many have used social media to rail at Cummings for seemingly flouting his own rules.

One Twitter user said, “he has COVID symptoms so he drives the length of the country to deliver a potentially contagious child to a household of two elderly people, and he wants to keep his job?”

Many others, including journalist Piers Morgan, have shared personal stories of being unable to visit their elderly relatives. Some have even noted that they obeyed lockdown orders in lieu of comforting dying family and friends or attending funerals.

A number of politicians in parliament have also called for Johnson to fire Cummings, including more than 35 Conservatives in Johnson’s own party. 

Still, following this, Johnson defended Cummings, saying he “followed the instincts of every father and every parent.”

Cummings Addresses His Travel

On Monday, Cummings held a news conference in the garden of 10 Downing Street, the office of the prime minister. More than 3.7 million people tuned in to listen to Cummings address the mounting criticism.

At the conference, Cummings defended his actions. Originally, he said that he, his wife, and his son had all quarantined together, but when they began to suspect that his wife might have had the coronavirus and could possibly spread it to him, they left. 

Cummings argued this was so that his extended family would be able to care for his son if both of them became ill. 

Notably, he said he didn’t stop on the way up to his father’s farm.

Cummings went on to say that because he needed to ensure childcare for his son, that constituted an “exceptional situation” granted under the lockdown orders.

“I don’t regret what I did,” Cummings said. “As I said, I think reasonable people may well disagree about how I thought about what to do in the circumstances, but I think that what I did was actually reasonable in these circumstances.” 

Regarding why he visited the castle, Cummings claimed that this was to test his eyesight to see if he could drive back to London, this because he said he had experienced vision loss from the coronavirus. 

As to why he didn’t tell Johnson about his trip to Durham, Cummings said it was because Johnson had just fallen ill himself and had other issues to worry about. Johnson tested positive for COVID-19 on March 27.

Still, Cummings did admit that he had made a mistake in not telling Johnson. 

“I think lots of people would be very angry and I completely understand that,” he said, “but I hope and think that, today, when I’ve actually explained all the circumstances about it.”

“I think people realize that this was a very complicated, tricky situation. I was trying to weigh out a lot of different things. Some people might have behaved differently in some ways. As I said, you know, arguably, it was a mistake that I didn’t call Prime Minister on the Friday night, but I just did what I thought was the right thing to do. But I make decisions like that everyday.” 

MP Resigns from Government Post

If Cummings hoped that the masses would be understanding after his explanation, he was wrong. While some people have certainly approached the situation from the perspective of a desperate parent wanting to do anything to protect their child, others have remained critical. 

In fact, Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, Douglas Ross, announced that he was resigning from his post following Cummings’ conference.

According to Ross, while that conference “clarified” Cummings’ actions, “these were decisions many others felt were not available to them.”

“I have constituents who didn’t get to say goodbye to loved ones; families who could not mourn together; people who didn’t visit sick relatives because they followed the guidance of the government. I cannot in good faith tell them they were all wrong and one senior advisor to the government was right,” he added.

Ross, who is also a Conservative member of parliament, will continue in that role without resigning. 

Essentially, this move is meant to put extra pressure on Johnson, as Ross’ Under-Secretary of State position was a function of the prime minister’s cabinet.

Whether that pressure or any pressure will actually lead to Johnson firing Cummings is a big question that remains unanswered, though Johnson has indicated thus far that he doesn’t plan on firing Cummings. 

As The Washington Post points out, Johnson may think that he needs Cummings, this because Cummings is “focused on doing whatever is necessary to get his policies through.” 

In fact, because of that, Cummings has been described as “arguably the second-most powerful man in Britain.” 

Still, if Johnson loses the support of his party over this, there is the possibility that Conservative members of Parliament could trigger a leadership contest. As to how likely such a situation would be, that may become more clear in the coming days. 

See what others are saying: (CNBC) (BBC) (The Guardian)

International

U.K. Court Rules Julian Assange Can Be Extradited to U.S.

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The judgment overrules a lower court decision that blocked the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition on the grounds that his mental health was not stable enough to weather harsh conditions in the American prison system if convicted.


New Developments in Assange Extradition Battle

A British court ruled Friday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States to face charges of violating the Espionage Act that could land him in prison for decades.

Prosecutors in the U.S. have accused Assange of conspiring with former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 to hack into a Department of Defense computer network and access thousands of military and diplomatic records on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The information obtained in the hack was later published by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011, a move U.S. authorities allege put lives in danger.

In addition to a charge of computer misuse, Assange has also been indicted on 17 espionage charges. Collectively, the charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 175 years.

The Friday decision from the High Court overturns a lower court ruling in January, which found that Assange’s mental health was too fragile for the harsh environment he could face in the U.S. prison system if convicted.

Notably, the January ruling did not determine whether or not Assange was guilty. In fact, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser explicitly rejected the defense’s arguments that the charges against him were politically motivated and that he should be protected under freedom of press.

However, she agreed that the defense had provided compelling evidence that Assange suffers from severe depression and that the conditions he could face in the U.S. prison system were “such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.”

The U.S. appealed the ruling, arguing that Assange’s mental health should not be a barrier to extradition and that the psychiatrist who examined him had been biased. 

In October, the Biden administration vowed that if Assange were to be convicted, he would not be placed in the highest-security U.S. prison or immediately sent to solitary confinement. Officials also said that the native Australian would be eligible to serve his sentence in his home country.

High Court Ruling

The High Court agreed with the administration’s arguments in its ruling, arguing that the American’s assurances regarding the conditions of Assange’s potential incarceration were “sufficient.” 

“There is no reason why this court should not accept the assurances as meaning what they say,” the ruling stated. “There is no basis for assuming that the USA has not given the assurances in good faith.”

Assange’s fiancé, Stella Moris, said in a statement that his legal team would appeal the decision to the British Supreme Court at the “earliest possible moment,” referring to the judgment as a “grave miscarriage of justice.”

The Supreme Court will now decide whether or not to hear the case based on if it believes the matter involves a point of law “of general public importance.” That decision may take weeks or even months.

If the U.K. Supreme Court court objects to hearing Assange’s appeal, he could ask the European Court of Human Rights to stay the extradition — a move that could set in motion another lengthy legal battle in the already drawn-out process.

Assange and his supporters claim he was acting as an investigative journalist when he published the classified military cables. They argue that the possibility of his extradition and prosecution represent serious threats to press freedoms in the U.S.

U.S. prosecutors dispute that Assange acted as a journalist, claiming that he encouraged illegal hacking for personal reasons.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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International

Early Data Indicates Omicron is More Transmissible But Less Severe

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The studies come as Pfizer and BioNTech claim that preliminary research shows a third shot of their COVID vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the new variant, but two doses alone may not.


More Information About Omicron

Several preliminary studies published in recent days appear to show that the new omicron COVID-19 variant may be more transmissible but less severe than previous strains.

One recent, un-peer-reviewed study by a Japanese scientist who advises the country’s health ministry found that omicron is four times more transmissible in its initial stage than delta was.

Preliminary information in countries hit hard by omicron also indicates high transmissibility. In South Africa —  where the variant was first detected and is already the dominant strain — new COVID cases have more than doubled over the last week.

Health officials in the U.K. said omicron cases are doubling every two or three days, and they expect the strain to become dominant in the country in a matter of weeks.

In a statement Wednesday, World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that while early data does seem to show high transmissibility, it also indicates that omicron causes more mild cases than delta.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevent Director Rochelle Walensky echoed that sentiment, telling reporters that of the 40 known omicron cases in the U.S. as of Wednesday, nearly all of them were mild. One person has been hospitalized so far and none have died.

Studies on Vaccine Efficacy 

Other recent studies have shown that current COVID vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness and death in omicron patients, and boosters provide at least some added protection.

On Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that laboratory tests have shown a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the omicron variant, though two doses may not.

According to the companies, researchers saw a 25-fold reduction in neutralizing antibodies for omicron compared to other strains of the virus for people who had just two Pfizer doses. 

By contrast, samples from people one month after they had received a Pfizer booster presented neutralizing antibodies against omicron that were comparable to those seen against previous variants after two doses.

Still, Pfizer’s chief executive also told reporters later in the day that omicron could increase the likelihood that people might need a fourth dose earlier than previously expected, which he had initially said was 12 months after the third shot.

Notably, the Pfizer research has not yet been peer-reviewed, and it remains unclear how omicron will operate outside a lab, but other studies have had similar findings.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Bloomberg) (NBC News)

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40 Camels Disqualified From Beauty Contest After Breeders Inject Their Faces With Botox

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The animals were barred from competing for $66 million in prizes at this year’s King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia.


Camels Booted From Beauty Contest

More than 40 camels were disqualified from a beauty contest in Saudi Arabia this week after judges found artificial enhancements in their faces, marking the biggest crackdown on contestants in the competition to date.

The animals were competing for $66 million in prizes at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, a month-long event that is estimated to include around 33,000 camels.

However, according to The Guardian, they were forced out of the contest when authorities found that breeders had “stretched out the lips and noses of the camels, used hormones to boost the animals’ muscles, injected heads and lips with Botox to make them bigger, inflated body parts with rubber bands, and used fillers to relax their faces.”

Those types of alterations are banned since judges look at the contestant’s heads, necks, humps, posture, and other features when evaluating them.

An announcement from the state-linked Saudi Press Agency said officials used “specialized and advanced” technology to detect tampering.

“The club is keen to halt all acts of tampering and deception in the beautification of camels,” the SPA report added before warning that organizers would “impose strict penalties on manipulators.”

While it’s unclear what that actually entails, this isn’t the first time people have tried to cheat in this way.

In 2018, 12 camels were similarly disqualified from the competition for injections in their noses, lips, and jaw.

See what others are saying: (Insider) (The Guardian) (ABC News)

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