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UK Placed On Strict National Lockdown As COVID-19 Cases Continue To Spike

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A fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus that has hiked infections by a significant number in Britain has forced prime minister Boris Johnson to impose a strict new national lockdown that will be in effect till the middle of next month.

This lockdown will have significant impact on daily life in the country.  Schools and colleges will be shut, shifting them to remote learning.  Britons are urged to stay home, except for necessary activities outside the home, including essential work and shopping for food and medicines.

The new variant, said to be at least seventy percent transmissible, has been very active in London and south-eastern England, causing infection cases to rise to sixty thousand per day.  Hospitals are being overwhelmed.

It was Scotland that first announced a full-scale lockdown.  There, the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, had consistently acted faster and moved quicker to try to stunt the spread of the pandemic.

Cabinet secretary, Michael Gove, said he hoped the gradual lifting of restrictions could begin in mid-February, but that the government will do its best to ensure as many people as possible are vaccinated so lifting of restrictions could begin.

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Dog Spent Days Outside Turkish Hospital Waiting For Sick Owner

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A devoted dog has spent days waiting outside a hospital in northern Turkey where her sick owner was receiving treatment.

The pet, Boncuk (Bon-DJUK), which means bead, followed the ambulance that transported her owner, Cemal Senturk, to hospital in the Black Sea city of Trabzon on Jan. 14. She then made daily visits to the facility, private news agency DHA reported on Wednesday.

Senturk’s daughter, Aynur Egeli, said she would take Boncuk home but the dog would repeatedly run off and return to the hospital.

Hospital security guard Muhammet Akdeniz told DHA: “She comes every day around 9 a.m. and waits until nightfall. She doesn’t go in.”

“When the door opens she pokes her head inside,” he said.

On Wednesday, Boncuk was finally reunited with Senturk when he was pushed outside in a wheelchair for a brief meeting with his dog.

“She’s very used to me. And I miss her, too, constantly,” he told DHA.

Senturk was discharged from the hospital later on Wednesday and returned home with Boncuk. (AP)

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Hungary approves Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine

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Hungary has become the first country in the European Union to give preliminary approval to the Russian coronavirus vaccine, Sputnik V.

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff confirmed both the Russian jab and the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine have been approved.

Foreign minister Peter Szijjarto has been scheduled to travel to Moscow for further talks, where he is expected to discuss a shipment and distribution plans.

Hungarian health officials are also in Beijing for discussions on the approval and immediate delivery of one million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine, already being used in Serbia.

Sinopharm is a Chinese company that announced last month phase three trials of its jab showed 79% effectiveness.

At least 140,000 Hungarians have already been vaccinated with it.

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UK Stands Firm In Row Over EU Envoy’s Diplomatic Status

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The United Kingdom and the European Union are at logger-heads over the status of the bloc’s ambassador in London.

The UK is refusing to give Joao Vale De Almeida full diplomatic status granted to other ambassadors.

The foreign office is insisting he and his officials should not have the privileges and immunities afforded to diplomats under the Vienna convention.

This means the ambassador would not have the chance to present his credentials to the queen like other diplomatic heads of mission.

The issue is expected to be discussed by EU foreign ministers next Monday when they meet for the first time since the post-Brexit transition period ended last December.

The foreign, commonwealth and development office wants to treat the EU delegation only as representatives of an international organization.

This means EU diplomats would not have the full protection of the Vienna convention, giving them immunity from detention, criminal jurisdiction and taxation.

The EU argues it is not a typical international organization because it has its own currency, judicial system and the power to make law.

Former conservative minister for Europe, David Lidington, warned that “non-recognition could set a bad precedent for regimes that hate EU ambassadors speaking up for human rights defenders.”

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