The Telegraph 2024-03-03 10:30:34


Ministers failed to consider long-term pain of lockdown, say scientists

The Government did not pay sufficient attention to the long-term collateral damage of lockdowns, a majority of British scientists surveyed believe.

A wide-ranging survey conducted by The Telegraph and Censuswide shows that nearly seven in ten (68 per cent) academics believe more consideration should have been given to the fallout caused by shutting down the country.

The views are in stark contrast to the public discourse at the height of the pandemic, when only a few dissenting scientific voices spoke out to highlight the health and economic risks from lockdowns.

While just over half (51 per cent) of scientists thought lockdowns were always proportionate and always justified, one third disagreed.

The survey also reveals that while 44 per cent of scientists believed pandemic modelling was “excellent” or “good”, some 37 per cent thought it was “average”, “poor”, or “very poor”.

Experts said the results show there was far less scientific consensus than the public was led to believe, and warned that many academics had felt unable to speak their mind at the time.

Scientists feared loss of patronage

Prof Robert Dingwall, a former government Covid adviser, from Nottingham Trent University, said: “It was always clear to those of us who were able to make evidence-based criticisms of ‘official science’ and government actions, that we enjoyed considerable tacit support in the scientific community.

“This was, however, muted by concerns about loss of patronage, access to research grants and difficulty in publication as the cost of speaking out.

“Others certainly paid a price for trying to voice loyal opposition. I don’t blame anyone for keeping their head down if they had a career to build, a family to support or a preference for a quiet life.”

Bob Seely, a Tory MP who during the pandemic spoke up against lockdowns, said: “At the time we were, understandably, focused on immediate risk.

“However, it was also clear that there was precious little thought as to the long-term damage to a society, especially in the development of young people. Schools should never have been shut. We are seeing a generation of young people damaged.

“There was too much politics from some scientists who were pushing a politicised agenda.”

He added: “The lack of interest in the origins of the virus seems bizarre.

“My fear is that at very least, lockdown will be seen to have been an ineffective way of dealing with the crisis. The lack of an open and science-led conversation during the crisis was, I felt, disturbing.”

A generation scarred

Last month, the World Bank warned that lockdown disruption to education would scar multiple generations of children who suffered serious developmental and learning delays.

NHS waiting lists soared to a record 7.8 million last September and there have been tens of thousands of extra non-Covid deaths since the pandemic, particularly among heart and cancer patients.

A study from University College London in February estimated that 12,000 years of life had been lost in Britain because of delays in diagnosing skin cancer during Covid lockdowns.

Gordon Wishart, chief medical officer at Check4Cancer, and visiting professor of cancer surgery at Anglia Ruskin University, repeatedly warned in 2020 and 2021 that delaying cancer diagnosis and treatment would lead to deaths, but said his fears were ignored.

“I did feel like my concerns were falling on deaf ears as far as the Government is concerned,” he said.

“I have real concerns that we would not do anything different if we have another pandemic, as the Covid Inquiry did not seem that interested in identifying what went wrong with our approach, and how we would change it next time.”

The Telegraph survey, taken between December and February by 198 scientists from universities across Britain, also showed that 70 per cent believed government decisions were not transparent or well communicated.

Just three per cent thought all scientific views had been considered by the Government, while a third believed officials had focused on only a minority of opinions.

Sunetra Gupta, professor of theoretical epidemiology at the University of Oxford, said it was important to prevent the “abuse and persecution” of scientists who were prepared to challenge the consensus.

“There are clearly systemic problems in academia that need to be addressed in order to permit a fuller debate of these critical issues,” she said.

“In future, I hope universities and institutions like the Royal Society, as well as the government and the media, will see fit to put on more debates and allow dissenting voices to be heard.”

The survey also showed that scientists are split over whether Covid-19 leaked from a laboratory, with the majority thinking that China has not been open and transparent about the origins of the disease.

Around one third believe that gain-of-function experiments – which increase the potency of viruses and bacteria – could spark a pandemic, while the same number think the work could help prevent future outbreaks.

Ravi Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge, said: “I think the survey shows that people believe in the ability of science to answer questions but some of those experiments carry a risk and they need to be regulated.

“Now the dust is settling, hopefully people are allowed to have a balanced discussion.”

The survey, which dealt with current contentious issues within science, also found that around six in 10 scientists think that sex is binary, while a similar number agree gender is fluid.

Responding to the survey, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Throughout the pandemic, the Government acted to save lives and livelihoods, preventing the NHS being overwhelmed, and delivered a world-leading vaccine rollout which protected millions.

“We have always said there are lessons to be learnt from the pandemic and are committed to learning from the Covid-19 Inquiry’s findings, which will play a key role in informing the Government’s planning and preparations for the future.” 


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Former EastEnders star told not to leave theatre because of pro-Palestinian protests

Actress Tracy-Ann Oberman has revealed she was advised against leaving a London theatre because of pro-Palestinian protests taking place outside.

The star, who is playing Shylock in a West End production of The Merchant Of Venice, is Jewish and has been a vocal campaigner against anti-Semitism.

On Saturday evening – a day after Rishi Sunak’s speech pledging to combat extremism – she said she had been told not to leave the Criterion Theatre due to the protests.

The Met made 12 arrests at nearby Trafalgar Square: one for the theft of an Israeli flag; one for assaulting an emergency worker; one for being drunk and disorderly; and nine for failing to comply with the section 35 dispersal order.

The former EastEnders star, 57 said in a tweet directed at the Prime Minister and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer: “Another Saturday post matinee and I have been asked not to step out the theatre because of all the demonstrations and marches going on.

“London 2024 – ridiculous isn’t it.”

Pro-Palestinian activists have called for Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer to be charged with aiding and abetting genocide just hours after the Prime Minister warned that democracy was being targeted by extremists.

A crowd of about 150 protesters made their way to the Houses of Parliament on Saturday and were heard chanting: “From the river, to the sea”.

About 30 officers watched on in central London as the protesters repeatedly shouted what the Campaign Against Antisemitism has previously described as “genocidal language”.

When The Telegraph asked one police officer why the chant was allowed, he said: “It depends on the context.”

The protest, organised by the fringe Palestinian Pulse organisation, was accompanied by a drum, trombone and trumpet band.

At one point, the protesters’ chant appeared to be directed towards the Prime Minister’s comments from Friday, as they shouted: “In our thousands and our millions, we are all Palestinians. We won’t be intimidated”.

One protester held aloft a piece of cardboard saying: “Rishi you are the extremists, not us”. They then began chanting: “Rishi Sunak, resign.”

The demonstration was organised just days after George Galloway was voted in as MP in Thursday’s by-election in the former Labour stronghold of Rochdale.

A group of six police officers was positioned to guard Westminster Pier, not far from where protesters were filmed throwing flour.

One placard referred to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, as “Satanyahu” and another accused the British government of being “complicit” in the deaths of “30,000 innocent Palestinians” in Gaza.

The central London protest was one of a number held across the country.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) singled out Barclays bank for its day of action, assembling at nearly 50 locations, including the branch on Tottenham Court Road in central London.

Protesters marched from Mornington Crescent to the Barclays branch, accompanied by the controversial “from the river to the sea” chant and flanked by a mass of police officers.

At the Barclays branch on Tottenham Court Road, the police ordered protesters to move across the road, citing Section 14 of the Public Order Act.

Among those was Peter Frankental, from Chingford, who carried a sign that read: “Aaron Bushnell: an act of bravery and courage that will not be forgotten”, referencing the member of the US Air Force who died after setting himself on fire outside the Israeli embassy in Washington in protest at the conflict in Gaza.

Asked whether he would condone a similar action outside the Houses of Parliament, he said: “Yes, certainly, it’s a supreme act for somebody to take their life in that way for what they believe in.

“Very few people would be prepared to do that and it communicates a strong message.”

Luca Salice, 67, co-chair of the Camden Palestine Solidarity Campaign, dismissed the Prime Minister’s rhetoric around extremists as an election ploy and said protesters were actually grateful for the police.

“Rishi Sunak is losing an election. He is scrambling”, Mr Salice said, adding: “I don’t think our protests are extremist. I don’t see how being in favour of human lives is extremist.”

Mr Salice, an Italian who now lives in Camden, added: “There could be one or two extremists who come into the protests. I can’t say that is impossible and luckily we have the police here, who are working with us.

“They are helping us organise this protest and making sure they are safe. And whenever they see the odd person who may do something wrong, it is up to them to arrest them.”

Mr Sunak warned that there had been a “shocking increase” in extremist activity in Britain in the wake of Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel.

The Campaign Against Antisemitism has said that weekly pro-Palestinian marches “made our capital city a no-go zone for Jews, and repel law-abiding Londoners”.

The PSC targeted Barclays branches in Croydon, Hammersmith, Haringey, Harrow, Newham, Redbridge, Southwark, Streatham, Tower Hamlets, Willesden and Wimbledon.

It comes after the Home Secretary James Cleverly said pro-Palestinian protesters had “made their point” and questioned: “What are these protests genuinely hoping to achieve?”

The group has called for a boycott of the British bank because it claims Barclays holds “substantial financial ties” with arms companies supplying weapons to Israel.

The protesters later moved on from the Houses of Parliament and the statue of Winston Churchill, where they passed by an anti-World Health Organization rally being led by Piers Corbyn, before turning up along Whitehall and past the Cenotaph.

They walked up the other side of Whitehall to Downing Street, passing by a rally of 30 Pakistanis supporting the country’s jailed former president Imran Khan.

Shadowed by 40 Met officers and with 13 police vans parked along the middle of Whitehall, the protesters chanted: “Rishi Sunak you’re a liar, we demand a ceasefire”. One protester wore a white and black striped prison uniform and a Keir Starmer cutout face mask.

Protesters climbed the platform around Nelson’s Column and continued chanting, with others gathering around the statue’s base.

At 4.50pm, three young girls not older than 10 years old took to the megaphone and started chanting: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”.

The crowd joined in and the trio were cheered.

Police issued a section 35 dispersal order at 5pm and started breaking up the protest at Nelson’s Column with at least 60 officers.

It came after Maytal Abramovich, a 44-year-old Israeli tourist from Jerusalem, started waving the Israel flag in a one-woman counter protest on the pavement on the road opposite Nelson’s Column.

As she told The Telegraph that if Hamas wanted peace “they could have had it”, a pro-Palestinian protester grabbed the flag from her hands and disappeared into the crowd of demonstrators.

Police made no attempt to get her flag back to her. “As you can see we’re trying to deal with quite a lot,” one officer said.

Mrs Abramovich confronted the protesters, and one shouted at her: “You’ve been killing people for 70 years” and one white woman said “you’re European, you look like me, Palestine is the Middle East, not Europe” in an apparent denial of her Jewishness.

“Our greeting is shalom, shabat shalom, it means peace,” Mrs Abramovich said.

There were at least five arrests made for breaching the dispersal order, and at least 100 uniformed officers were at the scene.

A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “These protests are why a staggering 90 per cent of British Jews say that they would avoid travelling to a city centre if a major anti-Israel demonstration was taking place there, according to our polling. Our urban centres have become no-go zones for Jews.

“It has now reached a point where a Jewish actress starring in an adaptation of a Shakespearean play about antisemitism is being told to stay indoors for her own safety. Which other demonstrations are having this kind of effect?

‘‘On Friday night, the Prime Minister made a speech demanding that the police finally take firm action against surging antisemitism and extremism in our country. If Britain is to remain a bastion of tolerance and decency, the authorities must restore order on our streets.”

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Soldiers harmed by anti-malaria drug launch landmark legal claim against MoD

Veterans and military personnel who suffered debilitating side-effects from the controversial anti-malarial drug Lariam have launched a groundbreaking legal battle against the Ministry of Defence.

Ten lead cases have been listed for trial at the High Court in March next year after hundreds who were given the drug sufferred from anxiety, nightmares, depression, hallucinations and suicidal thoughts.

The case is set to be one of the most significant class actions against a government department in recent years, with more than 450 claimants suing the MoD.

Legal sources say the overall compensation bill for a class action of this type would be in excess of £20 million.

The veterans’ lawyers have received over 9,000 enquiries from service personnel and veterans who have fallen ill as a result of Lariam.

However, many are time-barred as a result of the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Act 2021 which introduced an absolute maximum of 6 years to bring a civil claim over events that happened overseas.

Hilary Meredith-Beckham, chair of Hilary Meredith Solicitors, said: “Soon after Lariam was brought to international markets in the late 1980s, users began to experience shocking side-effects. Yet over the coming decades, as the drug became implicated in ever-increasing acts of unexplained violence, homicide and suicide, the MoD continued to give Lariam to thousands of unsuspecting troops deployed to some of the world’s most dangerous places. Our clients have suffered appalling side-effects.”

Lariam, developed by clandestine US  military research programmes, was given to British servicemen and women from 1991, but lawyers for the veterans claim that warnings about the drug’s side-effects were raised from when the British Army began to trial it among troops.

At least 17,368 British personnel were prescribed Lariam at least once between April 2007 and the end of March 2015.

Hallucinations

In October 2013, Lariam’s manufacturer, Roche, finally wrote to doctors in Britain warning that hallucinations, psychosis, suicide, suicidal thoughts and self-endangering behaviour had been reported among patients receiving the drug.

In 2016, a damning House of Commons Defence Select Committee report said Lariam should no longer be used in all but exceptional circumstances, confirming that many soldiers had discarded their prescription for fear of the consequences and that the MoD had neglected to follow manufacturers’ guidance.

The report castigated the MoD for its “lamentable failure” in its duty of care towards service personnel, with a number of suicides directly linked to the drug.

Veterans whose lives have been severely impacted by the side-effects of Lariam have accused the MoD of presiding over a cover-up.

Dr Andrew Marriott, MBE, a former infantry officer who gave evidence to the select committee after suffering years of nightmares since being required to take the drug when serving in Sierra Leone, said: “Successive ministers, service chiefs and army medical commanders have chosen to suppress the truth and enforce a clearly dangerous regime on unsuspecting and trusting personnel sent to some of the world’s most hazardous places.”

Freedom of Information

A freedom of information request has revealed that shortly before presenting oral evidence to the Defence Select Committee in January 2016 ministers and senior civil servants failed to discuss a key European Medicines Agency Report from 2014 which found evidence of a link between Lariam and neuropsychiatric side-effects and brain damage.

The then defence minister, Mark Lancaster, and the Surgeon General both gave evidence to the committee without referring to the report.

Lt Col Marriott said: “Roche would have known of this document as would the MHRA and, therefore, the Department of Health. It stretches credibility that MoD, and especially their senior doctors specialising in malaria, could have been unaware of it.

“The MoD, the Sec of State for Health and the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs have all refused to confirm when the Government first became aware of it. Nor will the Prime Minister, my constituency MP, discuss the report with me. It seems radioactive.”

Lt Col Marriott, the author of If You Wake at Midnight – The Lariam Wonder Drug Scandal, accused the MoD of prolonging the veteran’s agony by refusing to settle the case.

“They have decided to extend the misery of sufferers, defending the indefensible with millions of pounds of public money,” he said. “Their mantra of ‘deny until they die’ cannot be allowed to endure. Too many have gone already and countless others have been abandoned in a no-man’s-land of suffering.”

A recent freedom of information request by the firm revealed the MoD spent £20 million on legal costs defending claims from soldiers and veterans during the 2021/22 financial year.

Mrs Meredith-Beckham added: “The MoD is fighting the brave men and women who served their country, despite already being forced to admit that they made numerous failures in terms of risk assessments and warnings about the possible side-effects of the drug. There is still time for them to do the right thing.

“The taxpayers’ money the MoD is wasting on legal costs would be placed in the hands of those who need it the most – our injured soldiers and veterans.”

Dangers

The veterans’ solicitors have also questioned why Sir Nicholas Soames – who was Minister of State for the Armed Forces from 1994 to 1997 and had been director of Roche between July 1991 and April 1992 – failed to speak up over the dangers of the drug at the time.

Mrs Meredith-Beckham said: “He would have been well aware, or should have been, of the widespread concerns over Lariam. Why on earth did he remain silent? Our soldiers were taking a drug known to cause psychotic side-effects while operating tanks and firearms while our Minister of State for the Armed Forces, who was previously a director of Roche, the manufacturer, sat on his hands.”

An MOD spokesperson said: “It would be inappropriate to comment further on legal proceedings, however we have a duty to protect our personnel from malaria, a potentially fatal disease. We are represented on the Advisory Committee for Malaria Prevention (ACMP) and have stringent guidelines for malaria prevention.”

Whitehall sources said the MOD introduced a new policy on prescribing antimalarial drugs in September 2016 following the HCDC inquiry and that the “vast majority of personnel are not prescribed mefloquine [Lariam]” and then only after a face-to-face assessment has been conducted with a healthcare professional and an alternative antimalarial drug offered.

Lord Soames was approached for comment.

CASE STUDY

Almost as soon as Dave Rimmington took a Lariam pill after being deployed at short notice with 1 PARA Battle Group to Sierra Leone in 2000 he began to suffer bad dreams and hallucinations.

The symptoms, including nausea, night sweats and unexplained bouts of dizziness, continued throughout his time in Africa evacuating civilians from the height of the civil war and only worsened when he returned home and completed the course of Lariam.

Soon he was experiencing terrifying mood swings and violent outbursts.

Things became so bad that after bottling his problems up for a couple of years, Mr Rimmington tried to hang himself in his bedroom where he was found, just in time, by his young son.

Mr Rimmington said: “Within hours of taking my first 250mg Lariam tablet, I wasn’t feeling right. I was feeling dizzy and nauseous. When I got up or looked at the floor, I had a sense of spinning. It never crossed my mind that I might be experiencing adverse symptoms from Lariam. We certainly weren’t informed of any bad side-effects.

“Despite the continued feeling of nausea, unexplained bouts of dizziness, insomnia, night sweats, vivid dreams and mental symptoms, there was no way I would report sick whilst in theatre. I wasn’t going to let my teammates down or get labelled as being ‘weak’, ‘a biff’ or ‘malingerer’. So I just ‘cracked on’.

Fever-like sweats

“On return, despite feeling so relieved I’d made it home from Africa alive, things still weren’t right. I had fever-like sweats the whole time. I was constantly soaking wet, especially at night and couldn’t stop thinking about the deployment.”

But when Sergeant Major Rimmington reported the symptoms to his Medical Officer he was told: “There’s nothing wrong with you, stop wasting my time.”

Mr Rimmington said: “My girlfriend became increasingly concerned that something wasn’t right. My mood would change in a split second and I became increasingly enraged, frustrated and violent at home.

“It was like a switch was being flicked that allowed me to explode over nothing. I struggled to think rationally, and processing information became slow. These outward-facing feelings of aggression soon reverted inwards towards me, as I noticed self-destructive tendencies and had unwanted thoughts of taking my own life.”

Medical tribunal

A medical tribunal concluded that his ‘mental health problems’ had resulted from the neuropsychiatric symptoms of mefloquine (Lariam).

Colonel Orpen-Smellie, the panel’s military member, said that he fully supported Mr Rimmington’s  evidence and that he also had to deal with an “aftermath of issues” in the regiment following the use of Lariam.

But by the time a medical tribunal agreed in 2019 that he had Lariam toxicity his legal claim was time barred, meaning he could not pursue a case against the MoD.

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Beijing not open about Covid’s origins, scientists believe

Almost two thirds of UK scientists think China was not open and transparent about the origins of Covid, and more than a quarter think the pandemic leaked from a Chinese lab.

However, the majority (67 per cent) believe the virus was of natural origin and not deliberately engineered.

The results of the survey, conducted by the Telegraph and Censuswide, reveal a split in the scientific world over how the coronavirus pandemic emerged.

Very few scientists believe the virus is not natural (16 per cent) and most experts seemingly subscribe to one of two theories: either that the virus spread directly from animals into people, likely through the Huanan seafood market, or an animal virus being studied at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) was either deliberately or accidentally leaked.

An anonymous survey of almost 200 lecturers in all disciplines across UK universities revealed a close split between the “lab leak” and “not lab leak” schools of thought among the 125 people who gave an answer, with 41 per cent of them in favour of the former.

More than a third replied with either “no views” or “prefer not to say”.

The origin of the coronavirus pandemic has been a divisive topic ever since the first cases emerged in Wuhan at the end of 2019. Vicious arguments erupted between warring factions of scientists, often closing off constructive debate.

Conversation about the possibility of a lab leak was largely shut down in the midst of lockdown after a group of scientists wrote in the Lancet that they “strongly condemned conspiracy theories”.

Ongoing investigations, including from a US Congressional Inquiry, have found cause for concern around the biosecurity of the WIV, which was known to be storing and working on coronaviruses before the pandemic.

Prof James Wood, head of the department of veterinary medicine at the University of Cambridge, said although the survey sample size was small it “usefully” distinguished between the two lab-leak scenarios.

“There has been a lot of confusion or conflation between the lab-leak hypothesis and whether this was an artificially constructed virus. This survey pulls these separate questions apart,” he said.

Lab theory ‘plausible’

Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, added: “It always seemed entirely plausible to me that Covid escaped from a laboratory, but that doesn’t mean that it was deliberate or the result of nefarious activity.

“Labs like the one in Wuhan routinely collect and store samples of the pathogens they are studying, so Covid could have been collected from a wild animal, taken to the lab for study, but accidentally released because of a lapse in biosecurity.”

However, Professor Ravindra Gupta, an expert in clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge, said the prevailing belief is that the SARS-CoV-2 virus emerged naturally.

“The lay of the land among scientists is people saying it is most likely of natural origin through the market; there were a lot of animals there and there was evidence of the SARS virus, so most likely that is what happened.

“But we cannot ignore that laboratory work was going on at unsafe containment levels in Wuhan. It is possible it leaked from a Chinese lab and it should be taken seriously.”

Scientists also slammed China for its role in the pandemic, with two thirds agreeing that “China has not been open and transparent about the origins of Covid-19”.

Prof Wood said the slow release of information from China has likely increased uncertainty over Covid’s origins.

“Coupled with the fact that retrospective investigations of outbreaks can often fail to identify specific epidemic sources, even when there is complete official openness, it is not clear that further investigations now will ever be able to identify a source,” he added.

Prof Clarke agreed, saying: “We’ve probably missed the opportunity to investigate whether that’s what actually happened.”

‘China behaved badly throughout’

Prof Lawrence Gostin, distinguished university professor at Georgetown University in the US, and director of the O’Neill Institute, a WHO-collaborating centre on global health law, said China had “behaved badly throughout the pandemic”.

“It has not been a good global citizen and may be partially responsible for the failure of an early response to help contain the virus,” Prof Gostin said.

“China was late in reporting the outbreak to WHO, conveyed misleading information to the WHO suggesting there was limited human-to-human transmission, and blocked any attempt at an independent scientific investigation of Covid origins.

“Because of China, the world may never know the full truth. After all the world has suffered from Covid-19, China’s actions have been reprehensible.”

Controversial experiments

Scientists were also quizzed on the usefulness and risks of gain-of-function lab experiments, which take a virus and give it enhanced abilities, sometimes relating to mortality and transmissibility.

One third of those questioned (34 per cent) thought these experiments were needed to prevent future pandemics, but the same proportion said they “risk sparking future pandemics”.

“They are only justifiable if they have important and immediate public health benefits,” Prof Gupta said, adding they need to be “very tightly regulated”.

“I think the survey shows that people believe in the ability of science to answer questions, but some of those experiments carry a risk.”

Prof Gupta, who is also co-chairman of the Independent Task Force on Research with Pandemic Risks, recently presented a report to the UN, which stated Covid could have been caused by a research-related incident.

“This survey is an independent validation of what we have just put out,” he told The Telegraph.

“Scientists are saying, in an anonymous fashion, that they agree with what the report’s findings are. There are risks associated with doing this work, but also this sort of work is essential to be able to save lives in the future.”

However, Richard Ebright, professor of chemistry and chemical biology at America’s Rutgers University, disagrees, and thinks gain-of-function research “has zero civilian applications”.

He said: “It provides no information useful for preventing pandemics and no information useful for responding to pandemics. It is not required for, and does not contribute to, the development of any vaccine or therapeutic agent.”

Virologists at the WIV have previously dismissed claims of a lab leak.

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John Bercow banished from US version of The Traitors

Former Commons Speaker John Bercow has been banished from the US version of The Traitors.

Bercow, who quit as speaker in 2019 after a decade at the helm, described the psychological reality show as “much more complicated than politics”.

Politics is child’s play by comparison,” the 61-year-old said.

The show sees competitors split, with secret traitors tasked with “murdering” the other faithful contestants at a remote castle in the Scottish highlands to win a financial prize that has risen to $250,000 (£197,500).

During the episode, Bercow was seen opening an envelope that read: “By order of the traitors, you have been murdered”.

He anticipated his departure earlier in the episode, after repeatedly expressing that former The Real Housewives of Atlanta star Phaedra Parks was a traitor – to the dismay of other contestants.

“I’m not surprised in the slightest by my macabre fate,” he said after his exit.
”I was on to Phaedra and she wasn’t going to allow me to hang around any longer.”

Fellow contestant and TV star Trishelle Cannatella shed a tear, saying she was “entirely devastated” that Bercow had departed.

TV personality Chris “CT” Tamburello said: “I hope I am as functional as him when I am his age”, while Shahs of Sunset star Mercedes Javid joked: “I don’t think he’s old, I think people in England just don’t get Botox.”

The former MP for Buckingham was the seventh celebrity to be axed from the second US series of the reality show, hosted by Scottish actor Alan Cumming.

Bercow’s fate was chosen by Parks, who agreed with fellow traitor and Below Deck star Kate Chastain that she has the most chance of surviving the show without Bercow “because he’s most eloquent”.

“Oh god he talks so much,” Parks said, while Chastain added: “I know you miss the evening news but come on, you’re not the only speaker in this house.”

In 2022, a Commons Independent Expert Panel report upheld a finding that Bercow was a “serial bully” and said he should never again be allowed a parliamentary pass.

The ex-Speaker was accused of throwing a mobile phone and swearing at officials.

The second season of the UK version of The Traitors, hosted by Claudia Winkleman, was recently won by 22-year-old “traitor” Harry Clark who outwitted his fellow contestants to win more than £95,000.

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CofE to hire ‘deconstructing whiteness’ officer

The Church of England is hiring a “deconstructing whiteness” officer to combat racial injustice.

The £36,000-a-year role is part of a new 11-person “racial justice unit” being set up by the Diocese of Birmingham to work across the West Midlands.

The job advertisement comes just a week after the General Synod, the Church’s legislative body, approved a motion that told all parishes to draw up “race action plans”.

The Rt Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the Bishop of Dover, told Synod on Feb 25 that Anglicans needed to “further embed racial justice” and should not be afraid of being called “woke”.

But critics of the new racial justice unit – which will work across the dioceses of Birmingham, Coventry, Gloucester, Hereford, Lichfield and Worcester – accused the Church of “drinking the critical race Kool Aid” and indulging in “student politics”.

“The irony of many of these projects is they are importing American perspectives and overlaying them on a country that is incredibly tolerant,” the Rev Daniel French, vicar of Salcombe, Cornwall, and co-host of the Irreverend podcast, told The Telegraph.

“No less than 80 per cent of the worldwide Anglican Communion is black, and their black theology is very conservative. But you never see the Church paying any attention to that.”

Attempt to end racism

Proponents of “deconstructing whiteness” argue that white people are more privileged than those of other ethnicities, that there are characteristics and habits which are distinctly “white” and that these are deemed by society to be the norm.

They argue that “deconstructing”, or dismantling, these ideas is the only way to end racism.

The job, whose advertisement does not itself define “deconstructing whiteness”, is one of 11 being funded by the Church of England’s national “racial justice unit”.

That unit is part of the Archbishops’ Council, an executive body which is led by the archbishops of Canterbury and York.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, has previously called the Church, which he has led since 2013, “institutionally racist”.

The Rev Marcus Walker, rector of St Bartholomew the Great in the City of London and chairman of the Save the Parish campaign group, said: “It’s hard to overestimate how shocking this is.

“This is the Church, whose scripture tells us ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek but all are one in Christ Jesus’, telling a whole category of person that one of their intrinsic characteristics – their ethnicity – needs to be deconstructed.”

He added: “When yet another round of figures show that yet again the CofE has lost an even greater portion of the population, I wonder if any of those in charge will ask themselves what part they played in telling so many Anglicans that they are no longer welcome in their church.”

‘A Photoshop joke’

The Rev Leonard Payne said he thought the advert was a “joke, a Photoshop job” when he first saw it and that the Church should spend the funds on overstretched parish ministry instead.

“There does seem to be some theological illiteracy and I’m afraid the key players here are the bench of bishops who in their efforts to balance the books, over-reach in their destruction of parishes,” he said.

The national racial justice unit was set up by the Church of England after it was recommended in its From Lament To Action race report, which was commissioned in the wake of George Floyd’s death in May 2020.

It is led by the Rev Guy Hewitt, Britain’s former high commissioner to Barbados, who was a prominent campaigner for the Windrush generation of Caribbean migrants.

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Birmingham said: “The CofE Birmingham is seeking to respond to the Lament to Action report. The strong relationships between neighbouring dioceses in the Midlands have led to a collaborative joint response to the report. 

“This approach has enabled the larger regionally deployed team you have identified, enabling a far stronger response to the Lament to Action report across the Midlands dioceses.”

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Former EastEnders star told not to leave theatre because of pro-Palestinian protests

Actress Tracy-Ann Oberman has revealed she was advised against leaving a London theatre because of pro-Palestinian protests taking place outside.

The star, who is playing Shylock in a West End production of The Merchant Of Venice, is Jewish and has been a vocal campaigner against anti-Semitism.

On Saturday evening – a day after Rishi Sunak’s speech pledging to combat extremism – she said she had been told not to leave the Criterion Theatre due to the protests.

The Met made 12 arrests at nearby Trafalgar Square: one for the theft of an Israeli flag; one for assaulting an emergency worker; one for being drunk and disorderly; and nine for failing to comply with the section 35 dispersal order.

The former EastEnders star, 57 said in a tweet directed at the Prime Minister and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer: “Another Saturday post matinee and I have been asked not to step out the theatre because of all the demonstrations and marches going on.

“London 2024 – ridiculous isn’t it.”

Pro-Palestinian activists have called for Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer to be charged with aiding and abetting genocide just hours after the Prime Minister warned that democracy was being targeted by extremists.

A crowd of about 150 protesters made their way to the Houses of Parliament on Saturday and were heard chanting: “From the river, to the sea”.

About 30 officers watched on in central London as the protesters repeatedly shouted what the Campaign Against Antisemitism has previously described as “genocidal language”.

When The Telegraph asked one police officer why the chant was allowed, he said: “It depends on the context.”

The protest, organised by the fringe Palestinian Pulse organisation, was accompanied by a drum, trombone and trumpet band.

At one point, the protesters’ chant appeared to be directed towards the Prime Minister’s comments from Friday, as they shouted: “In our thousands and our millions, we are all Palestinians. We won’t be intimidated”.

One protester held aloft a piece of cardboard saying: “Rishi you are the extremists, not us”. They then began chanting: “Rishi Sunak, resign.”

The demonstration was organised just days after George Galloway was voted in as MP in Thursday’s by-election in the former Labour stronghold of Rochdale.

A group of six police officers was positioned to guard Westminster Pier, not far from where protesters were filmed throwing flour.

One placard referred to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, as “Satanyahu” and another accused the British government of being “complicit” in the deaths of “30,000 innocent Palestinians” in Gaza.

The central London protest was one of a number held across the country.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) singled out Barclays bank for its day of action, assembling at nearly 50 locations, including the branch on Tottenham Court Road in central London.

Protesters marched from Mornington Crescent to the Barclays branch, accompanied by the controversial “from the river to the sea” chant and flanked by a mass of police officers.

At the Barclays branch on Tottenham Court Road, the police ordered protesters to move across the road, citing Section 14 of the Public Order Act.

Among those was Peter Frankental, from Chingford, who carried a sign that read: “Aaron Bushnell: an act of bravery and courage that will not be forgotten”, referencing the member of the US Air Force who died after setting himself on fire outside the Israeli embassy in Washington in protest at the conflict in Gaza.

Asked whether he would condone a similar action outside the Houses of Parliament, he said: “Yes, certainly, it’s a supreme act for somebody to take their life in that way for what they believe in.

“Very few people would be prepared to do that and it communicates a strong message.”

Luca Salice, 67, co-chair of the Camden Palestine Solidarity Campaign, dismissed the Prime Minister’s rhetoric around extremists as an election ploy and said protesters were actually grateful for the police.

“Rishi Sunak is losing an election. He is scrambling”, Mr Salice said, adding: “I don’t think our protests are extremist. I don’t see how being in favour of human lives is extremist.”

Mr Salice, an Italian who now lives in Camden, added: “There could be one or two extremists who come into the protests. I can’t say that is impossible and luckily we have the police here, who are working with us.

“They are helping us organise this protest and making sure they are safe. And whenever they see the odd person who may do something wrong, it is up to them to arrest them.”

Mr Sunak warned that there had been a “shocking increase” in extremist activity in Britain in the wake of Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel.

The Campaign Against Antisemitism has said that weekly pro-Palestinian marches “made our capital city a no-go zone for Jews, and repel law-abiding Londoners”.

The PSC targeted Barclays branches in Croydon, Hammersmith, Haringey, Harrow, Newham, Redbridge, Southwark, Streatham, Tower Hamlets, Willesden and Wimbledon.

It comes after the Home Secretary James Cleverly said pro-Palestinian protesters had “made their point” and questioned: “What are these protests genuinely hoping to achieve?”

The group has called for a boycott of the British bank because it claims Barclays holds “substantial financial ties” with arms companies supplying weapons to Israel.

The protesters later moved on from the Houses of Parliament and the statue of Winston Churchill, where they passed by an anti-World Health Organization rally being led by Piers Corbyn, before turning up along Whitehall and past the Cenotaph.

They walked up the other side of Whitehall to Downing Street, passing by a rally of 30 Pakistanis supporting the country’s jailed former president Imran Khan.

Shadowed by 40 Met officers and with 13 police vans parked along the middle of Whitehall, the protesters chanted: “Rishi Sunak you’re a liar, we demand a ceasefire”. One protester wore a white and black striped prison uniform and a Keir Starmer cutout face mask.

Protesters climbed the platform around Nelson’s Column and continued chanting, with others gathering around the statue’s base.

At 4.50pm, three young girls not older than 10 years old took to the megaphone and started chanting: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”.

The crowd joined in and the trio were cheered.

Police issued a section 35 dispersal order at 5pm and started breaking up the protest at Nelson’s Column with at least 60 officers.

It came after Maytal Abramovich, a 44-year-old Israeli tourist from Jerusalem, started waving the Israel flag in a one-woman counter protest on the pavement on the road opposite Nelson’s Column.

As she told The Telegraph that if Hamas wanted peace “they could have had it”, a pro-Palestinian protester grabbed the flag from her hands and disappeared into the crowd of demonstrators.

Police made no attempt to get her flag back to her. “As you can see we’re trying to deal with quite a lot,” one officer said.

Mrs Abramovich confronted the protesters, and one shouted at her: “You’ve been killing people for 70 years” and one white woman said “you’re European, you look like me, Palestine is the Middle East, not Europe” in an apparent denial of her Jewishness.

“Our greeting is shalom, shabat shalom, it means peace,” Mrs Abramovich said.

There were at least five arrests made for breaching the dispersal order, and at least 100 uniformed officers were at the scene.

A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “These protests are why a staggering 90 per cent of British Jews say that they would avoid travelling to a city centre if a major anti-Israel demonstration was taking place there, according to our polling. Our urban centres have become no-go zones for Jews.

“It has now reached a point where a Jewish actress starring in an adaptation of a Shakespearean play about antisemitism is being told to stay indoors for her own safety. Which other demonstrations are having this kind of effect?

‘‘On Friday night, the Prime Minister made a speech demanding that the police finally take firm action against surging antisemitism and extremism in our country. If Britain is to remain a bastion of tolerance and decency, the authorities must restore order on our streets.”

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