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Coronavirus latest news: Unelected spin doctors had too much influence in charity funding, say MPs

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 08/06/2021 Global Health Security Team
Embargoed to 0001 Monday March 29 Coronavirus vaccines being prepared at Salisbury Cathedral, Wiltshire. Vacinations are continuing to be carried out in the cathedral and some patients are now reaching their second dose. Picture date: Saturday March 27, 2021. PA Photo. The cathedral's music team are to release Salisbury Meditations - Music for the NHS, a digital album of classical music played during the vaccination sessions as a fundraiser for NHS Charities Together. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: Steve Parsons/PA Wire - PA © PA Embargoed to 0001 Monday March 29 Coronavirus vaccines being prepared at Salisbury Cathedral, Wiltshire. Vacinations are continuing to be carried out in the cathedral and some patients are now reaching their second dose. Picture date: Saturday March 27, 2021. PA Photo. The cathedral's music team are to release Salisbury Meditations - Music for the NHS, a digital album of classical music played during the vaccination sessions as a fundraiser for NHS Charities Together. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: Steve Parsons/PA Wire - PA

Unelected spin doctors had too much influence in assigning government funding for charities during the coronavirus pandemic, a report by Parliament’s public accounts committee (PAC) has found.

MPs on the committee, which scrutinises government spending on behalf of Parliament, raised concerns about the role of Whitehall special advisers in the allocation of £513 million of public money to keep charities afloat.

In a report released on Wednesday, they also questioned why some organisations received money at all, since officials were unsure if they were actually "eligible for government funding in the first place," and suggested there was no clear rationale for paying external consultants £2 million to assess the bids on behalf of the Government.

The report said it was "unclear what influence special advisers had over some funding decisions, with some charities awarded government funding despite the department's officials initially scoring their bids in the lowest-scoring category, including four out of the five lowest-scoring applications".

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05:37 AM

Chinese students ferried to critical exams amid travel bans 

Teenage Covid-19 patients in southern China bent over test papers and scribbled answers alone in hospital rooms, taking the life-changing "gaokao" college entrance exams despite being in virus-induced isolation.

Guangdong, a populous province bordering Hong Kong, has reported dozens of Covid cases in recent days, prompting authorities to impose travel curbs and mass testing just ahead of the infamous exams, an annual moment of peak anxiety for students and parents.

The local government has dispatched hundreds of taxis and buses to ferry students from neighbourhoods affected by the outbreak to exam venues, with state broadcaster CCTV showing footage of drivers in hazmat suits spraying down their cars.

The gaokao - which began on Monday and ends Wednesday - is typically the most stressful point of a Chinese student's life, with results determining admission into universities and shaping career prospects.

a group of police officers standing in front of a car: Taxi drivers in protective suits prepare to pick up students who sit the 2021 National College Entrance Exam (aka Gaokao) at the isolated exam site on June 7, 2021 in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province of China. - Getty Images © Getty Images Taxi drivers in protective suits prepare to pick up students who sit the 2021 National College Entrance Exam (aka Gaokao) at the isolated exam site on June 7, 2021 in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province of China. - Getty Images

05:14 AM

Humanoid Grace designed to help relieve healthcare burden

The Hong Kong team behind celebrity humanoid robot Sophia is launching a new prototype, Grace, targeted at the healthcare market and designed to interact with the elderly and those isolated by the pandemic.

Dressed in a blue nurse's uniform, Grace has a thermal camera in her chest to take your temperature and measure responsiveness. She uses artificial intelligence to diagnose a patient and can speak English, Mandarin and Cantonese.

"I can visit with people and brighten their day with social stimulation ... but can also do talk therapy, take bio readings and help healthcare providers," Grace said as she stood next to her "sister", Sophia, in creator Hanson Robotics' Hong Kong workshop.

Grace's resemblance to a healthcare professional and capacity for social interaction is aimed at relieving the burden of front-line hospital staff overwhelmed during the pandemic, said founder David Hanson.

a person standing in front of a store: Humanoid robot Grace, developed by Hanson Robotics and designed for the healthcare market to interact and comfort the elderly and isolated people, especially those suffering during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, is seen at the company's lab in Hong Kong, China June 8, 2021 - Reuters © Reuters Humanoid robot Grace, developed by Hanson Robotics and designed for the healthcare market to interact and comfort the elderly and isolated people, especially those suffering during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, is seen at the company's lab in Hong Kong, China June 8, 2021 - Reuters

04:56 AM

Pharmacist jailed for tampering with hundreds of vaccines

A Wisconsin pharmacist who pleaded guilty to trying to spoil hundreds of  Moderna Covid-19 vaccine doses because he was skeptical about them has been jailed for three years, the US Justice Department said on Tuesday.

Steven R. Brandenburg, 46, was also ordered to pay about $84,000 (£59,000) in compensation to the hospital at which he worked, according to a statement from the US Attorney's Office of the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

Brandenburg had agreed to plead guilty to two counts of attempting to tamper with consumer products with reckless disregard for the risk that another person would be placed in danger of death or bodily injury.

Court documents showed he purposefully removed a box of COVID-19 vaccine vials from a hospital refrigeration unit during two successive overnight shifts in December last year, the Justice Department said.

a man wearing glasses: This booking photo provided by the Ozaukee County Sheriff's Office Monday, Jan. 4, 2021 in Port Washington, Wis., shows Steven Brandenburg, a former pharmacist in Wisconsin who purposefully ruined more than 500 doses of COVID-19 vaccine. © Provided by The Telegraph This booking photo provided by the Ozaukee County Sheriff's Office Monday, Jan. 4, 2021 in Port Washington, Wis., shows Steven Brandenburg, a former pharmacist in Wisconsin who purposefully ruined more than 500 doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

04:18 AM

Joe Biden's vaccination target set to fall short

For months, President Joe Biden has laid out goal after goal for taming the pandemic and then exceeded his own benchmarks.

Now, though, the US is unlikely to meet his target to have 70 percent of Americans at least partially vaccinated by July 4.

The White House has launched a month-long blitz to combat vaccine hesitancy and a lack of urgency to get shots, particularly in the South and Midwest, but it is increasingly resigned to missing the president's vaccination target.

The administration insists that even if the goal isn't reached, it will have little effect on the overall U.S. recovery, which is already ahead of where Biden said it would be months ago.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd: People line up to get a free Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine for everyone over 18, including tourists, at Penn Station, in New York city on June 8, 2021 - AFP © AFP People line up to get a free Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine for everyone over 18, including tourists, at Penn Station, in New York city on June 8, 2021 - AFP

03:42 AM

North Korea paying huge price for self-isolation

Behind its self-imposed coronavirus barricade, North Korea is more isolated than ever and authorities are reinforcing loyalty to the regime in the face of desperate times, analysts say.

The impoverished country - which is under multiple sets of international sanctions over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes - has long struggled to feed itself, suffering chronic food shortages.

The North was the first country to impose a strict lockdown when it sealed its border in January last year to stop the virus spreading from neighbouring China, where it first emerged.

Pyongyang insists it has yet to see any cases of the virus - a claim that analysts doubt - but it has paid a huge economic price for the blockade, with leader Kim Jong Un admitting his people's hardships and warning them to buckle down for the "worst-ever situation".

Read more: Kim Jong-un admits North Korea facing 'worst ever' crisis

a group of people in uniform: Soldiers wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus rally to welcome the 8th Congress of the Workers' Party of Korea in the Party at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea - AP © AP Soldiers wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus rally to welcome the 8th Congress of the Workers' Party of Korea in the Party at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea - AP

03:09 AM

Huge crowds tipped for Euro 2021 despite Russia surge

Thousands of fans are set to descend on Russia's former imperial capital Saint Petersburg for Europe's biggest football extravaganza, Euro 2021, even as coronavirus cases are surging in the city.

Russia's second city has been selected to host seven matches - including a quarter-final - in June and July after the tournament was postponed for a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Organisers have said necessary measures will be taken to protect players and spectators, but critics say the city - Russia's worst hotspot after Moscow - long ago threw caution to the wind.

Known for canals and Tsarist-era palaces, Saint Petersburg lifted most virus restrictions months ago and crowds have returned to the streets to enjoy long summer evenings after months of a punishing winter.

Read more: Euro 2021 teams, players and rankings

a large ship in the background: Banners are seen outside Krestovsky Stadium (also known as Saint Petersburg Stadium or Gazprom Arena), one of the venues of the forthcoming 2020 UEFA European Football Championship (UEFA Euro 2020). - Getty Images © Getty Images Banners are seen outside Krestovsky Stadium (also known as Saint Petersburg Stadium or Gazprom Arena), one of the venues of the forthcoming 2020 UEFA European Football Championship (UEFA Euro 2020). - Getty Images

02:37 AM

Melbourne hard lockdown to end as planned

Australia's second largest city Melbourne will exit a Covid-19 hard lockdown as planned on Thursday night, authorities said, although some restrictions on travel and gatherings will remain.

Residents will have more freedom to step outside their homes but must stay within 25 kilometres (15 miles) and there will be a total ban on house gatherings, Victorian Acting Premier James Merlino said.

Melbourne entered a snap lockdown on May 27 to quash its latest virus outbreak, forcing its five million residents to remain home, except for essential business. 

Read more:  Latest Australia travel advice as Qantas predicts UK bubble

a group of people walking in front of a building: A quiet Federation Square is seen in Melbourne, Australia, 09 June 2021. - Shutterstock © Shutterstock A quiet Federation Square is seen in Melbourne, Australia, 09 June 2021. - Shutterstock

01:32 AM

US in talks to restart international travel

The Biden administration is forming expert working groups with Canada, Mexico, the European Union and the United Kingdom to determine how best to safely restart travel after 15 months of pandemic restrictions, a White House official said on Tuesday.

Another US official said the administration will not move quickly to lift orders that bar people from much of the world from entering the United States because of the time it will take for the groups to do their work. The White House informed airlines and others in the travel industry about the groups, the official said.

"While we are not reopening travel today, we hope that these expert working groups will help us use our collective expertise to chart a path forward, with a goal of reopening international travel with our key partners when it is determined that it is safe to do so," the White House official said, adding "any decisions will be fully guided by the objective analysis and recommendations by public health and medical experts."

a group of people standing in front of a store: Travelers walk through John F. Kennedy (JFK) Airport ahead of Memorial day weekend on May 28, 2021 in New York City. - AFP © AFP Travelers walk through John F. Kennedy (JFK) Airport ahead of Memorial day weekend on May 28, 2021 in New York City. - AFP

12:49 AM

Rishi Sunak open to short lockdown extension

Chancellor Rishi Sunak was willing to accept a short delay to Step 4 of the road map to ending the lockdown amid a rise in cases, it is understood.

A Whitehall source pointed towards the Treasury having gone "long" on emergency coronavirus support packages in the Budget to cover the possibility of a delay to the plans.

It comes as Tory lockdown-sceptic Sir Charles Walker warned Prime Minister Boris Johnson against delaying the earmarked end to legal coronavirus restrictions.

The vice chairman of the 1922 Committee of Conservative MPs told BBC Newsnight: "There will be a huge wave of disappointment across the country if we don't open up on June 21.

a group of people looking at a laptop: Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak speaks at a meeting of finance ministers from across the G7 nations ahead of the G7 leaders' summit, at Lancaster House in London - Reuters © Reuters Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak speaks at a meeting of finance ministers from across the G7 nations ahead of the G7 leaders' summit, at Lancaster House in London - Reuters

12:15 AM

Government urged to scrap travel traffic light system

The "failed and damaging" traffic light system for international travel must be abandoned if the UK travel and tourism sector is to be saved from total collapse, an industry body has warned.

London-based World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) said the Government must scrap the system which has "wreaked havoc" among consumers and businesses in order to save hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The risk-based system with red, amber and green ratings for countries around the world determines the quarantine and coronavirus testing requirements people face when returning to the UK.

But Portugal being moved from the green to amber caught many holidaymakers by surprise and left thousands of UK tourists scrambling to get home before new quarantine rules came into force on Tuesday morning.

Read more: Travel traffic light Q&A

a person standing in front of a building: Travellers arrive at the Heathrow airport in London, Britain, 08 June 2021. Extra flights to the UK have been departing Portugal as holidaymakers scrambled to leave on the last day before the country moved to the amber travel list.  - Shutterstock © Shutterstock Travellers arrive at the Heathrow airport in London, Britain, 08 June 2021. Extra flights to the UK have been departing Portugal as holidaymakers scrambled to leave on the last day before the country moved to the amber travel list.  - Shutterstock

11:17 PM

Today's top stories

  • Andrew Lloyd Webber, the world’s most successful composer of musicals, is putting the finishing touches to his first new West End show in five years. He should be preparing to celebrate − the first preview is just over two weeks away, with opening night set to follow on July 14 − instead, he’s spoiling for a fight.
  • Fears are growing that lockdown laws could be replaced with a web of restrictive guidance later this month in what has been dubbed by critics a “smoke and mirrors” reopening.
  • Nearly six million people are being urged to minimise travel, as Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, insists the “goal” remains for the country to leave lockdown together.
  • Face masks should be reintroduced in classrooms, teaching unions have demanded as infections rise. 
  • Boris Johnson is refusing to offer MPs a vote on aid cuts in defiance of the Speaker, as the leader of a Tory-led revolt against the spending reduction branded it an “unethical and unlawful betrayal”.
  • Downing Street has declined to rule out the possibility that Boris Johnson could go on an overseas holiday this summer.
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