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Covid: UK at 'tipping point', top scientist warns - BBC News
England's deputy chief medical officer says the country will see more deaths over the coming weeks.
Covid-19: UK 'at tipping point' and hopes BCG vaccine could save lives - BBC News
Five things you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic this Sunday morning.
Black hole breakthroughs win Nobel physics prize - BBC News
Three scientists including the UK's Roger Penrose have been awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics.
Image copyrightNASAImage caption Recent visualisation of a black hole by Nasa Three scientists have been awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics for work to understand black holes. Roger Penrose, Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez were announced as this year's winners at a news conference in Stockholm. The winners will share the prize money of 10 million kronor (£864,200). Swedish industrialist and chemist Alfred Nobel founded the prizes in his will, written in 1895 - a year before his death. David Haviland, chair of the physics prize committee, said this year's award "celebrates one of the most exotic objects in the Universe". Black holes are regions of space where gravity is so strong that not even light can escape from them. UK-born physicist Roger Penrose, from the University of Oxford, demonstrated that black holes were an inevitable consequence of Albert's Einstein's theory of general relativity. Image caption From L-R: Roger Penrose, Reinhard Genzel, Andrea Ghez "The history of black holes goes way back in time to the end of the 18th Century. Then, through Einstein's general relativity, we had the tools to describe these objects for real," said Ulf Danielsson, a member of the Nobel Committee. But the mathematics of these objects was incredibly complicated to understand, and many researchers believed they were nothing more than mathematical artefacts that existed on paper alone. It took researchers several decades to realise that they could exist in the real world. "That's what Roger Penrose did," said Danielsson. "He understood the mathematics, he introduced new tools and then could actually prove that this is a process you can naturally expect to happen - that a star collapses and turns into a black hole." Penrose, he said, "laid the theoretical foundations to say: these objects exist. You can expect to find them if you go out and look for them". Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez provided the most convincing evidence yet of a supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy - the Milky Way. They found that this huge object, known as Sagittarius A*, was tugging on the jumble of stars orbiting it. American Prof Ghez, from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), said: "I'm thrilled to receive the prize and I take very seriously the responsibility of being the fourth woman to win the Nobel prize [in physics]." Reinhard Genzel, from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, and Ghez used the world's largest telescopes to see through huge clouds of interstellar gas to the centre of the Milky Way. Their discovery stretched the limits of technology and they had to develop new techniques to compensate for distortions to their observations caused by the Earth's atmosphere. Follow Paul on Twitter. Image copyrightESO / M KornmesserImage caption Artwork: Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz have won for their detection of the distant planet 51 Pegasi b 2019 - James Peebles, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz shared the prize for ground-breaking discoveries about the Universe. 2018 - Donna Strickland, Arthur Ashkin and Gerard Mourou were awarded the prize for their discoveries in the field of laser physics. 2017 - Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne and Barry Barish earned the award for the detection of gravitational waves. 2016 - David Thouless, Duncan Haldane and Michael Kosterlitz shared the award for their work on rare phases of matter. 2015 - Takaaki Kajita and Arthur McDonald were awarded the prize the discovery that neutrinos switch between different "flavours". 2014 - Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura won the physics Nobel for developing the first blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs). 2013 - Francois Englert and Peter Higgs shared the spoils for formulating the theory of the Higgs boson particle. 2012 - Serge Haroche and David J Wineland were awarded the prize for their work with light and matter.
Coronavirus: Australia opens 'travel zone' to New Zealanders - BBC News
It is the first opening of borders by either nation since Covid restrictions were imposed.
image copyrightGetty Images image captionAustralia's new scheme will begin in a fortnight New Zealanders are to be granted access to Australia in the first opening of international borders by either nation since Covid restrictions were imposed. People will be able to fly from New Zealand to New South Wales and the Northern Territory - and avoid mandatory quarantine - from 16 October. The nations closed their borders in March in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus. Officials say the risks are now low enough to justify a "travel bubble". "The establishment of a travel zone between Australia and New Zealand has been finalised," said Australian Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack. "This is the first stage in what we hope to see as a trans-Tasman bubble between the two countries, stopping not just at that state and that territory." At first, travel will be limited to New Zealanders. Mr McCormack said a decision on when Australians may be able to visit New Zealand would be up to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. image copyrightGetty Images image captionPeople from New Zealand will be able to travel to two Australian regions He said Australia had assessed New Zealand visitors as posing "a low risk of Covid-19 transmission" as it currently had no "hotspots". Australia defines a hotpot as any area with at least three local infections per day across a three-day rolling average, he added. New Zealand's most recent locally acquired case was reported on 21 August. Australia's Northern Territory has not recorded any infections in two months. New South Wales - which includes Sydney - has not seen a locally transmitted case since last week. Australia's federal government has pushed for domestic and international borders to be re-opened "as soon as practical" to help the economy, but some state governments - which have power over their own borders - have been more resistant. Victoria remains cut off from the rest of Australia, after an outbreak in the state capital Melbourne which is now abating. New Zealand has recorded 1,848 cases and 25 deaths, while Australia has seen over 27,000 cases and 888 deaths.
Covid: Vaccine will 'not return life to normal in spring' - BBC News
Leading scientists call for realism about what a vaccine against Covid can achieve next year.
Image copyrightReuters Even an effective coronavirus vaccine will not return life to normal in spring, a group of leading scientists has warned. A vaccine is often seen as the holy grail that will end the pandemic. But a report, from researchers brought together by the Royal Society, said we needed to be "realistic" about what a vaccine could achieve and when. They said restrictions may need to be "gradually relaxed" as it could take up to a year to roll the vaccine out. More than 200 vaccines to protect against the virus are being developed by scientists around the world in a process that is taking place at unprecedented speed. "A vaccine offers great hope for potentially ending the pandemic, but we do know that the history of vaccine development is littered with lots of failures," said Dr Fiona Culley, from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London. There is optimism, including from the UK government's scientific advisers, that some people may get a vaccine this year and mass vaccination may start early next year. However, the Royal Society report warns it will be a long process. "Even when the vaccine is available it doesn't mean within a month everybody is going to be vaccinated, we're talking about six months, nine months... a year," said Prof Nilay Shah, head of chemical engineering at Imperial College London. "There's not a question of life suddenly returning to normal in March." The report said there were still "enormous" challenges ahead. Some of the experimental approaches being taken - such as RNA vaccines - have never been mass produced before. There are questions around raw materials - both for the vaccine and glass vials - and refrigerator capacity, with some vaccines needing storage at minus 80C. Prof Shah estimates vaccinating people would have to take place at a pace, 10 times faster than the annual flu campaign and would be a full-time job for up to 30,000 trained staff. "I do worry, is enough thinking going into the whole system?" he says. Early trial data has suggested that vaccines are triggering an immune response, but studies have not yet shown if this is enough to either offer complete protection or lessen the symptoms of Covid. Prof Charles Bangham, chair of immunology of Imperial College London, said: "We simply don't know when an effective vaccine will be available, how effective it will be and of course, crucially, how quickly it can be distributed. "Even if it is effective, it is unlikely that we will be able to get back completely to normal, so there's going to be a sliding scale, even after the introduction of a vaccine that we know to be effective. "We will have to gradually relax some of the other interventions." And many questions that will dictate the vaccination strategy remain unanswered, such as:
- will one shot be enough or will boosters be required?
- will the vaccine work well enough in older people with aged immune systems?
Covid pushes New Zealand into worst recession in years - BBC News
The country saw early success in keeping out the virus, but strict measures have taken a toll.
Image copyrightGetty Images New Zealand is in its deepest recession in decades, following strict measures in response to the Covid-19 pandemic which were widely praised. The country's GDP shrank by 12.2% between April and June as the lockdown and border closures hit. It is New Zealand's first recession since the global financial crisis and its worst since 1987, when the current system of measurement began. But the government hopes its pandemic response will lead to a quick recovery. The nation of nearly five million was briefly declared virus free, and although it still has a handful of cases, it has only had 25 deaths. The economy is likely to be a key issue in next month's election, which was delayed after an unexpected spike in Covid-19 cases in August. Stats NZ spokesman Paul Pascoe said the measures implemented since 19 March have had a huge impact of some sectors of the economy. "Industries like retail, accommodation and restaurants, and transport saw significant declines in production because they were most directly affected by the international travel ban and strict nationwide lockdown," he said. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's government has said the success in suppressing the virus is likely to help recovery prospects. Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the GDP numbers were better than expected, and suggested a strong recovery ahead. "Going hard and early means that we can come back faster and stronger," he said. Some economists are also predicting a swift recovery, because of New Zealand's strong response to the virus. "We expect the June quarter's record-breaking GDP decline to be followed by a record-breaking rise in the September quarter," said Westpac Senior Economist Michael Gordon. But Treasury forecasts released yesterday suggested massive debt and continuing disruptions are likely to delay a full recovery. The opposition National party accused the government of a lack of pragmatism that made the impact worse than it needed to be. New Zealand recorded a steeper drop than neighbouring Australia, where the lockdown was less severe. But the state of Victoria has faced a second lockdown, which is likely to weigh on Australia's economic recovery.
Coronavirus: Rise in UK cases a great concern, Van Tam says - BBC News
England's deputy chief medical officer says the UK must start taking Covid-19 "seriously again".
Media captionPeople need to "start taking this very seriously again" Prof Jonathan Van Tam The latest "big change" in coronavirus infections across the UK is of "great concern", England's deputy chief medical officer has warned. Prof Jonathan Van Tam said people have "relaxed too much" over the summer and "we have got to start taking this very seriously again". If not, the UK will have "a bumpy ride over the next few months", he warned. He said that infections among younger people in EU countries had later filtered through to older age groups. France and Spain are among a number of European countries that have seen a sharp rise in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, after lockdown restrictions were eased and testing for the disease was ramped up. On Monday, Spain became the first country in western Europe to record 500,000 infections, after tallying more than 26,000 new infections over the weekend. Prof Van Tam's comments came as more parts of the UK are to face tougher restrictions following a rise in the number of cases. On Sunday UK authorities announced 2,988 new cases - the highest figure since 22 May, while a further 2,948 cases were reported in the 24 hours to 09:00 BST on Monday. Stricter rules on home visits will be extended to two more areas in the west of Scotland from midnight. In Wales, the county borough of Caerphilly is to be placed under a local lockdown from 18:00 BST on Tuesday. "People have relaxed too much, now is the time for us to re-engage, and to realise that this a continuing threat to us," Prof Van Tam said. Image copyrightPA Media He added that hospital admissions and deaths were "at a very low level" in the UK and the rise in cases was most prominent among those aged between 17 and 21 - but the country risks following the trajectory of some EU countries. "Where case numbers rise initially in the younger parts of the population they do in turn filter through and start to give elevated rates of disease and hospital admissions in the older age groups, and we know that then becomes a serious public health problem," he said. "The fact that 17 to 21-year-olds are not becoming ill means they are lucky, but they also forget because the disease is not severe for them that they are potent spreaders." Prof Van Tam added that the trend had moved away from "specific hotspots", such as the one that occurred in Leicester last month. Instead, "there is a more general and creeping geographic trend across the UK that disease levels are now beginning to turn up". He urged public health officials and politicians to think about how the virus is managed not in the short term, but over the next six months and "until the spring". The rise in cases we have seen over the past two days seems like quite a large jump. But it is still well short of where we were in the spring. The official figures show we hit 6,000 cases a day at points, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. Testing was only largely taking place in hospitals so virtually none of the infections in the community were being picked up. Estimates suggest there were about 100,000 cases a day at the peak. So the fact that we have got close to 3,000 a day now when mass testing is available (albeit clearly not picking up every case) means we are a long way from where we were. But there is alarm within government. While the majority of cases are in younger age groups, the more they rise the harder it becomes to keep the virus away from more vulnerable people. It comes after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced a change in England's quarantine policy, adopting an approach which allows islands to treated differently to a country's mainland. He said travellers arriving in England from seven Greek islands will have to self-isolate for 14 days from 04:00 BST on Wednesday. They are Crete, Lesvos, Mykonos, Santorini, Serifos, Tinos, and Zakynthos (also known as Zante).
Haverhill school closes as staff test positive for Covid-19 - BBC News
Samuel Ward Academy in Haverhill is closed as a "precautionary measure" and will be deep cleaned.
Image caption Samuel Ward Academy in Haverhill has closed for deep cleaning A school has closed after eight members of teaching staff tested positive for Covid-19. Samuel Ward Academy in Haverhill, Suffolk, said 90 students - three classes - had been told to self-isolate for 14 days. Unity Schools Partnership, Suffolk County Council and Public Health England said the closure was a "precautionary measure" and the school would undergo a deep clean. It is hoped it will reopen on Tuesday. Head teacher Andy Hunter said it was a "huge disappointment" but the safety of pupils and staff was his "biggest priority". He said: "I will be looking closely at the systems we put in place to try to understand how the transmission occurred and to make sure we do everything possible to limit the chances of the same thing happening again." Mr Hunter said the secondary school would be looking at a number of measures, including whether children should wear masks in public places and if staff meetings ought to be held virtually. Image caption Andy Hunter said everyone had been "so excited" about returning to school He said anyone who has been in close contact with infected staff has been contacted and told to self-isolate for 14 days - including 90 pupils. Stuart Keeble, director of public health at Suffolk County Council, said the news "may worry parents across Suffolk" but it was "important to remember that the risk of children contracting Covid-19 is still very small". Dr David Edwards, from Public Health England East, said the closure would enable contact tracing to be completed so anyone needing to self-isolate is informed before returning to school. Old Buckenham High School in Norfolk has also been closed after a member of staff tested positive for coronavirus. It said it would be deep cleaned and reopen as soon as possible. Find BBC News: East of England on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. If you have a story suggestion email [email protected]
Black holes: Cosmic signal rattles Earth after 7 billion years - BBC News
Gravitational waves arrive from a black hole collision that occurred half-way across the Universe.
Image copyrightLIGO-VIRGO CollaborationImage caption An artist's impression of the last moments before the merger of two black holes Imagine the energy of eight Suns released in an instant. This is the gravitational "shockwave" that spread out from the biggest merger yet observed between two black holes. The signal from this event travelled for some seven billion years to reach Earth but was still sufficiently strong to rattle laser detectors in the US and Italy in May last year. Researchers say the colliding black holes produced a single entity with a mass 142 times that of our Sun. This is noteworthy. Science has long traced the presence of black holes on the sky that are quite a bit smaller or even very much larger. But this new observation inaugurates a novel class of so-called intermediate-sized black holes in the range of 100-1,000 Sun (or solar) masses. The analysis is the latest to come out of the international LIGO-VIRGO collaboration, which operates three super-sensitive gravitational wave-detection systems in America and Europe. Media captionSimulation: The black hole collision produced a train of gravitational waves What is a black hole?
- A black hole is a region of space where matter has collapsed in on itself
- The gravitational pull is so strong that nothing, not event light, can escape
- Black holes will emerge from the explosive demise of certain large stars
- But some are truly gargantuan and are billions of times the mass of our Sun
- How these monsters - found at galaxy centres - formed is unknown
- Black holes are detected from the way they influence their surroundings
- They produce observable gravitational waves as they spiral in to each other
- Gravitational waves are a prediction of the General Theory of Relativity
- It took decades to develop the technology to directly detect them
- They are ripples in the fabric of space-time generated by violent events
- Accelerating masses will produce waves that propagate at the speed of light
- Detectable sources include merging black holes and neutron stars
- LIGO-VIRGO fire lasers into long, L-shaped tunnels; the waves disturb the light
- Detecting the waves opens up the Universe to completely new investigations
- A laser is fed into the machine and its beam is split along two paths
- The separate paths bounce back and forth between damped mirrors
- Eventually, the two light parts are recombined and sent to a detector
- Gravitational waves passing through the lab should disturb the set-up
- Theory holds they should very subtly stretch and squeeze its space
- This ought to show itself as a change in the lengths of the light arms
- The photodetector captures this signal in the recombined beam
NZ takes action over stock market cyber attacks - BBC News
The comments from New Zealand's finance minister come after trading was hit for the fourth day in a row.
Image copyrightGetty Images New Zealand's communications security bureau has been called in to help after its stock exchange was hit by cyber attacks for the fourth consecutive day. The exchange failed to open as planned on Friday due to so-called "distributed denial of service" (DDoS) attacks. The $135bn (£102bn) market, which is nearing a record high, has said the attacks came from overseas. The exchange's website was overwhelmed by the cyber attacks, forcing it to halt trading. I cant go into much more in terms of specific details other than to say that we as a government are treating this very seriously, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said in a media briefing. The stock market operator NZX said its networks had crashed due to the cyber attacks, which originated overseas. We are currently experiencing connectivity issues which appear similar to those caused by severe DDoS attacks from offshore this week, NZX said after the market failed to open at 10am Wellington time. Trading on the exchange eventually resumed three hours later. Media playback is unsupported on your device Media captionEXPLAINED: What is a DDoS attack? DDoS attacks are designed to knock a website offline by flooding it with huge amounts of requests until it crashes. Such attacks are relatively simple in nature and rely on their sheer scale to be effective. In November New Zealand cyber-security organisation CertNZ issued an alert that emails were being sent to financial firms threatening DDoS attacks unless a ransom was paid. The emails claimed to be from a well known Russian hacking group called Fancy Bear. But CertNZ said at the time the threat had never been carried out, beyond a 30-minute attack as a scare tactic. Other than saying that the attacks were from overseas, NZX has yet to comment on their source or whether any demands have been made. In June, technology giant Amazon said its online cloud, which provides the infrastructure on which many websites rely, had fended off the largest DDoS attack in history. The disruptions to trading in New Zealand have come at a particularly bad time for investors as it is currently in a busy company earnings season.