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Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine triggers immune response among adults

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A test tube labelled vaccine is seen in front of AstraZeneca logo in this illustration taken, September 9, 2020.

Dado Ruvic | Reuters

LONDON — British pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca on Monday said its potential Covid-19 vaccine had produced a similar immune response in both older and younger adults.

Adverse responses to the vaccine among the elderly — the age group at highest risk from the coronavirus — were also found to be lower, AstraZeneca said. The drugmaker’s potential Covid-19 vaccine is being developed in collaboration with the University of Oxford.

The announcement is likely to boost hopes of a Covid vaccine being developed before the end of the year.

“It is encouraging to see immunogenicity responses were similar between older and younger adults and that reactogenicity was lower in older adults, where the COVID-19 disease severity is higher,” an AstraZeneca spokesman told CNBC via email.

“The results further build the body of evidence for the safety and immunogenicity of AZD1222,” the spokesman said, referring to the technical name of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Shares of the company rose around 0.8% on the news.

Drugmakers and research centers are scrambling to deliver a safe and effective vaccine in an attempt to bring an end to the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed over 1.15 million lives.

Dozens of candidate vaccines are in clinical evaluation, according to the World Health Organization, with some already conducting late-stage tests before seeking formal approval.

The vaccine being developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca is thought to be one of the frontrunners to secure regulatory approval.

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soirot has previously said the drugmaker’s vaccine would likely provide protection against contracting the coronavirus for about a year.


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Questions over HS2 and new roads as coronavirus prompts transport inquiry | Transport

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The case for a complete rethink of public transport priorities in the aftermath of Covid-19 – including a fresh look at arguments for and against the HS2 high speed rail line – is to be the subject of a major parliamentary inquiry beginning this week.

The pandemic has led to a dramatic fall in commuting into towns and cities, as well as a national financial crisis highlighted last Wednesday by the chancellor Rishi Sunak in his spending review. Pressure to reduce carbon emissions is also raising questions about the desirability of the £27bn road-building programme.

The issues will be central to an investigation entitled “Reforming public transport after the pandemic” by the all-party parliamentary select committee on transport which will begin taking evidence on Wednesday.

The committee’s Tory chairman Huw Merriman told the Observer that the pandemic had led to big changes in behaviour and attitudes to work, commuting and lifestyles that could have a permanent impact on demand for different types of public transport.

“Transport investment is at a pivotal moment. The pandemic has changed the way we travel,” Merriman said. “For meaningful numbers of us, it could change it for good. Our climate change commitments require us to shift away from diesel towards greener forms of energy. Changes to the way we appraise capital spending projects mean that the government no longer has to use value for money as the sole indicator.

“With so much uncertainty, pressing the accelerator too early could lead to vast transport infrastructure projects which are either not needed or are sited in the wrong parts of the country to level up.”

But he added that delaying big projects could also have economic costs. “The danger in putting the brakes on is that a ‘wait and see’ policy could starve the economy of a vital and immediate capital stimulus and lead to a loss of our skills base and supply chain – all for technology advances which never arrive and a pandemic which ended and saw commuters return to the office. It is absolutely vital that the government builds nimbleness into projects in order to keep up with the changes in consumer behaviour and technological advances.”

While Boris Johnson gave the go-ahead to the construction of HS2 between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds in February, weeks before the first Covid-19 lockdown, the increase in the number of people working from home and holding meetings remotely has caused opponents to questions its worth again.

Last night the former Tory cabinet minister David Lidington, a long-time opponent of HS2, said Covid-19 would almost certainly have cut the projected increase in business travel which was a major reason for building the line. It had, he believed, also created a greater “public reluctance” to cram on to trains to get to work that was likely to last some time.

Rishi Sunak’s spending review highlighted a national financial crisis.
Rishi Sunak’s spending review highlighted a national financial crisis. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

“These factors suggest that there is likely to be a fairly considerable drop in the demand for business travel between cities compared to the modelling that the department [for transport] had been using. It is likely that the case for an increase in passenger numbers is a lot weaker now than it is was. Are people in government looking at this now? They should be. The Treasury has always been very sceptical about HS2.” A report by the House of Lords’ economic committee in 2015 concluded that the case for HS2 was “heavily dependent” on increased business travel.

Among those giving evidence to the select committee this week will be the transport expert Stephen Joseph, now a visiting professor at the university of Hertfordshire. Joseph said: “Changes in travel during the pandemic have thrown previous transport patterns and ways of thinking up in the air, and the government needs to recognise this.

“Some of this may be temporary, but city centre office workers are unlikely to go back to 9 to 5, five-day-a-week commuting. Many business meetings can work better and more efficiently online. From now on we might see more flexible working, in local hubs and centres as well as at home, with more local travel. The risk is of a car-led recovery, which we are seeing now – that will generate congestion in cities, towns and villages and also isn’t compatible with decarbonisation, where transport is the biggest source.”

Andrew Adonis, the former Labour transport secretary and leading enthusiast for HS2 said the case for pressing ahead with the entire scheme would remain strong despite the pandemic.

He said: “I doubt long-term public transport demand will be much affected by Covid-19. Even in the short window between the two lockdowns, passenger numbers shot up quickly. Conceivably it will return to say 90% of former passenger demand, with more home-working. But even a 10% difference on current passenger numbers doesn’t affect freight demand, and changes in population levels and immigration are the biggest factors driving transport demand, where the trends are sharply upwards not downwards.”


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Philip Green profile: from ‘zero to hero’ and back again | Philip Green

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Sir Philip Green is most at home in a grey tracksuit pacing the decks of his £100m superyacht Lionheart floating in the tax haven of Monaco shouting into one, two or sometimes even three mobile phones simultaneously.

It is where he is this weekend ahead of what looks the end of the road for his Topshop fashion empire. And it is where the Guardian found the former self-crowned “King of the high street” when the newspaper tracked him down to ask him to reassure his 13,000 staff that he would look out for them the last time his business appeared to be teetering on the brink of collapse last summer.

Then, as now, Green – who has spent most of his career polishing his image with models, pop stars and celebrities – did not want to talk. He threatened reporters with a visit from the Monégasque police and “unpleasant things”.

Green, 68, whose family owns Arcadia Group – which includes Topshop, Burton, Dorothy Perkins and Miss Selfridge – is in crisis talks trying to secure emergency funding to stave off a collapse into administration. Accountants at Deloitte are said to have been lined up to take over as administrators as soon as Monday.

But there has been no word of concern from Green, 68, for his 13,000 staff whose jobs are at risk. Most of the employees are being supported by the taxpayer via the government’s furlough scheme.

While his workers face unemployment at Christmas, Green is reportedly planning a festive break at a luxury resort in the Maldives. Green is said to be booked into the One & Only Reethi Rah resort, where private villas costs up to £30,000-a-night and guests arrive by seaplane.

Other guests to have enjoyed the resort’s 12 pristine white sand beaches and three swimming pools are said to have included Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Gordon Ramsay and Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich. The Beckhams have also reportedly stayed for Christmas, taking an 11-night break said to have cost £250,000. A spokesman for Arcadia declined to comment when asked about the trip, or the progress of talks this weekend to save the business.

Green, who went to the now defunct private Carmel College, known as “the Jewish Eton”, but left at 16 with no O-levels, has become accustomed to a life of luxury and excess. For a large part of his career he spent weekdays living in a suite at the five-star Dorchester hotel, in Mayfair central London, before flying by private jet to join his family on Lionheart on Friday nights.

Seeking to avoid the coronavirus pandemic, Green has spent most of the past year permanently onboard the 300ft yacht, which features a helipad, pool, 15 crew cabins and room for 12 guests. It is the third yacht that Green has commissioned from Italian shipbuilder Benetti Yachts.

If Green pushes ahead with the trip to the Maldives, local people are likely to remember him from his previous visits. He picked the Indian Ocean archipelago as the location for his 55th birthday party, which lasted five days, and reportedly featured a troupe of topless dancers and performances by George Michael and Jennifer Lopez. It was said to have cost about £20m.

Anna Wintour, Sir Philip Green, Kate Moss and Lottie Moss attend the Topshop Unique show at London Fashion Week AW14 at Tate Modern in 2014.
Anna Wintour, Sir Philip Green, Kate Moss and Lottie Moss attend the Topshop Unique show at London Fashion Week AW14 at Tate Modern in 2014. Photograph: David M Benett/Getty Images

So many of his famous friends – including Kate Moss and the Vogue editor Anna Wintour – arrived by private jet that the local airport authorities refused to allow any more to park. The party for his 60th, billed as PG60, was held at the Rosewood Mayakoba resort in Mexico, with performances from Robbie Williams, Stevie Wonder and the Beach Boys. His presents have included a £7m Gulfstream jet and a £250,000 gold Monopoly set.

Green is not afraid to confront people who challenge him. They include the veteran MP Frank Field and a long list of journalists who questioned his business operations or tax affairs.

“When the king of the high street, Sir Philip Green, appeared before the Commons he said he regarded his workers as part of the family,” Field said this weekend. “The workers now need that family.”

In 2003 Green described the Guardian’s then financial editor Paul Murphy – born in Oldham and raised in Portsmouth – as a “fucking Irishman” who “can’t read English”. In the short conversation with the Guardian, which the newspaper printed in full, he said the words “fuck” or “fucking” 14 times.

Challenged later about his bad language, Green said: “Do I say fuck off? “Yes, if people don’t behave themselves,” according to a profile in Tatler.

Green is, by his own admission, not a modern man. He told Sunday Times journalist Oliver Shah in his unauthorised 2018 biography of Green titled Damaged Goods, that the #MeToo debate had gone too far. “Where’s this all going to end,” Green said. “There’s no stag parties, no hen parties, no more girls parading in the ring at the boxing. So they’re all banned?”

Perhaps it was not a surprise to Arcadia employees that Green was soon caught up in the #MeToo scandal with a string of sexual and racial harassment allegations, including claims he groped a female employee and told a black executive his “problem” was that he was still “throwing spears in the jungle”.

Two other female employees received hundreds of thousands of pounds each after alleging Green had grabbed one woman by the face and put another in a headlock. Green’s lawyers admitted he acted in a “tactile” way and has “prodded and poked individuals”. Green has repeatedly said he “categorically denies any unlawful … racist or sexual behaviour”.

Green will be forever associated with the downfall of BHS. He sold the department store chain to the former bankrupt Dominic Chappell for £1 in March 2015. The company collapsed with the loss of 11,000 jobs 13 months later, leaving a pension deficit of about £571m.

A high-profile parliamentary investigation into BHS’s demise concluded that the owners had systematically plundered the company, and described the hole in the pension fund as “the unacceptable face of capitalism”.

It led to calls for Green to be stripped of his knighthood, awarded by Tony Blair for services to the retail industry in 2006. Green had boasted that he had Blair on speed dial. Blair described Green as “the person who thought up the dream and dreamt the dream into reality”.

More than 100 MPs voted in favour of a motion for his knighthood to be cancelled and annulled by the honours forfeiture committee. It was the first time that MPs had proposed someone be stripped of a knighthood.

The threat was dropped when Green agreed to pay £363m into the BHS pension scheme in 2017. “Once again I would like to apologise to the BHS pensioners for this last year of uncertainty, which was clearly never the intention when the business was sold in March 2015,” he said at the time. “I hope that this solution puts their minds at rest and closes this sorry chapter for them.”

Tina Green, who said she thought her future husband was dreadful when she first met him at a party in 1985, lives in Monaco, where the family own a luxury apartment and Lionheart is often berthed.

She collected a £1.2bn dividend from Arcadia in 2005, the biggest in British corporate history. No tax was paid on the dividend because of her Monaco base. The Greens, who had once amassed a £4.9bn estimated fortune, fell off the UK’s list of billionaires in 2019.

Veteran retail analyst Richard Hyman said: “He’s gone from zero to hero, and now it looks like he’s going back to zero again.”


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Brexit: what will change for Britons in the EU on 1 January? | Brexit

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The end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December is looming, and with it some major changes for anyone going from the UK to continental Europe – either to holiday, work or live. Some have been confirmed but others are dependent on continuing negotiations over a deal.

UK state pensions

If you already live in the EU and draw a state pension from the UK, your payments will go up each year in line with the triple lock – that is the rate of inflation, average earnings or 2.5%, whichever is highest. Even if you do not claim a pension yet, when you start doing so you will get the same as if you lived in the UK and this will hold for your lifetime.

British in Europe, a coalition of campaign groups for British nationals settled or about to live in the EU, has put together a useful set of guides on benefits and their future.

Remember the rules will apply to any EU citizen, British or otherwise, who has paid their national contributions in the UK. If you have worked in several countries, your contributions will be aggregated and payable just as they are now under the withdrawal agreement signed in January.

For anyone who moves to the EU after January, you will still be able to claim your UK state pension, but how much you get will depend on the outcome of the talks. A draft agreement on social security drawn up by the UK government puts forward a system whereby pensioners in the EU will receive the same as if they had remained in Britain.

If you are moving to Ireland, you will still benefit from the annual rise.

Healthcare

One of the issues that has not been settled yet is that of reciprocal healthcare. UK citizens living in the EU before the end of 2020, and EU citizens living in the UK, will still be entitled to access healthcare as they do currently. But anyone relocating after that could find the situation is different unless a deal is agreed.

Only some groups will definitely continue to benefit from free healthcare. These are Irish citizens moving to the UK and UK citizens moving to Ireland; students studying in the EU; and people who hold an S1 form from the UK, which is for pensioners and people receiving certain state benefits.

Ehic cards

Currently anyone on a temporary stay in the EU should get a European health insurance card (Ehic) from the UK government; with this, you will be able to access treatment while in the EU. But after the transition period, an Ehic issued in the UK will not be valid.

This applies to EU nationals living in the UK as the entitlement flows from tax residency not birth nationality. The UK is seeking a like-for-like replacement scheme with the EU as a whole, but nothing has been signed off yet.

Ehics issued in the UK will no longer be valid
Ehics issued in the UK will no longer be valid. Photograph: Alamy

The good news is that after December 2020 the scheme will still work for some groups of people from the UK. These include students studying in the EU, who can get a card that is valid only in the country where they are studying. Also, if you are living in the EU before the end of 2020, you will be allowed an Ehic card issued in that country that will be valid in the UK and elsewhere.

Travel insurance

When it is possible to travel again without Covid restrictions, if there are no arrangements in place you will need to make sure you have travel insurance. Currently cheaper policies come with the proviso that you need an Ehic card, and the provider will not expect to pay out for treatment you could get using that. If you have an annual policy you plan to rely on, you need to make sure it is not affected.

The Association of British Insurers is warning consumers that travel insurance policies could be more costly if Ehic is not continued or replaced. Its website says: “In the absence of the Ehic or similar reciprocal health agreement, insurers will inevitably see an increase in claims costs – this could have a direct impact on the prices charged to consumers. This will vary depending on the provider.”

Driving in Europe

If you are planning a trip to Europe that involves driving, under current arrangements you will need some extra documents when you go. Anyone driving their own vehicle will need to have a so-called green card – this is proof that you are insured and you get it from your car insurer. Make sure you ask for it a month before you plan to travel.

You may also need an international driving permit (IDP) to drive in some countries, although it is not yet clear which states may ask for it – currently no EU countries are on the list. The IDP costs £5.50 and is available from post offices.

Pet passports

The UK has applied to become a “listed country”, which will allow pets to be moved between it and the EU almost as freely as now. But if this is not approved, travelling with your pet will become much harder if you live in England, Scotland or Wales. Moving a pet between Northern Ireland and the EU will continue to be as easy as it is now.

The current pet passport scheme is to end, and you will need to get an animal health certificate when you want to travel overseas. This will involve waiting three months after a blood sample has been taken from your pet, so journeys will involve a lot more planning.

Roaming charges

Under EU law mobile phone providers are not allowed to charge customers extra for making calls from a different country in the bloc. But as of January, customers from the UK will not be covered by this rule. The big providers, Three, EE, O2 and Vodafone, have all said they have no plans to introduce roaming charges, but if they wanted to change their policies this would be allowed.

The only protection travellers would have from big bills is under a new UK rule on unexpected charges – this applies a financial cap on mobile data usage overseas. Under the rule, which comes into force on 1 January, customers will not be able to spend more than £45 a month on mobile data services when roaming without actively opting in to use more. They will be alerted when they are at 80% and 100% of usage.

Customers in Northern Ireland will have an extra protection against inadvertent roaming in Ireland– this can happen near borders when a phone links to a mast in a different country. Providers will be obliged to help customers avoid these charges, and may offer special tariffs or messaging when people inadvertently roam.


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