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29% of Britons think China likely to have spread Covid on purpose, poll says | The far right

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More than a quarter of Britons believe that Covid-19 was likely to have been a biological weapon intentionally spread by the Chinese state, according to new polling highlighting the spread of conspiracy theories.

The findings are contained in a major report by the campaign group Hope Not Hate (HNH) warning that the rise of Covid conspiracy theories and the anti-lockdown movement are fuelling the recruitment of young people to far-right ideas and movements.

It also says the economic hardship of the past year and worries about the future have created an environment in which far-right activists may return to the streets.

The same polling – commissioned to form part of the annual State of Hate report – highlighted that faith in democracy and the political establishment is extremely low. A total of 1,492 people were surveyed by Focaldata on 25-26 February, though it remains to be seen whether Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may have an impact on support for democratic values.

More than half of people (57%) were not satisfied with the way democracy is working in the UK, while 58% believed that getting involved in politics was “a waste of time because nothing changes”.

In terms of how conspiracy theories had infiltrated the mainstream, the polling found 6% thought it was definitely true that “coronavirus is a bio-weapon intentionally spread by the Chinese state”, with a further 23% thinking it was probably true. The findings echo those about the reach of the same conspiracy theories in other states, though levels of belief were even higher in countries such as the US.

Nick Lowles, the CEO of Hope Not Hate, said: “After years in the political wilderness, the crises we’ve collectively faced over the past two years have emboldened cynical far-right activists to exploit our fears and uncertainties and return to traditional methods of campaigning.”

“In 2021, we saw far-right activists marching on our streets, leafleting, and now they are preparing to stand in local elections.”

While the country had “moved on” from Brexit, which had marginalised the British far right, he said there had been a loss of confidence in political leaders amid vaccine hesitancy, growing opposition towards lockdowns, the Partygate scandal and a looming cost of living crisis.

“This has all created fertile ground for far-right activists to exploit people’s fears and twist narratives to suit its hateful ideology,” he added.

Other polling by Focaldata for HNH – surveying 1,082 people of black and minority ethnic heritage carried out between the 17 December and 4 January 2022 – found that racism remained an everyday experience for many people of colour.

More than half of respondents had witnessed (24%) or experienced (28%) racial abuse in the last year. Two-thirds of people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds believe black and Asian people face discrimination in their everyday lives.

Hope Not Hate, which campaigns against racism and fascism and has also mounted campaigns against Islamist extremism and antisemitism, says in the report it is particularly worried about the growing numbers of young people being attracted to far-right politics and dangerous conspiracy theories.

New trends which it highlighted included moves by the far right to recruit via online fitness groups, whose popularity soared during the pandemic.

As far-right activists began to emerge on to the streets again conducting leafleting campaigns, the report also recorded that during 2021 there were 125 protests outside hotels, hostels and other accommodation centres housing refugees and asylum seekers.

But it also said that, as “deplatforming” of far-right activists on more mainstream social media platforms had increased, many had moved across to alternative social media spaces where they are out of reach of regulators.

Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – who calls himself Tommy Robinson – remained the best known far-right figure in the UK, with 57% of the British public having heard of him, according to HNH’s research. He was singled out as having the biggest reach, with more than 180,000 followers on the alternative platform GETTR, 155,000 followers on Telegram and 28,000 subscribers on the video-sharing platform BitChute.

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Solar storms may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in a given year

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In an approximate 11-year cycle, the sun blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field, which may disrupt our body clock and ultimately affect our heart



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17 June 2022

A solar storm

Jurik Peter/Shutterstock

Solar storms that disrupt Earth’s magnetic field may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in the US in a given year.

The sun goes through cycles of high and low activity that repeat approximately every 11 years. During periods of high activity, it blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field.

These so-called solar storms can cause glitches in our power grids and bring down Earth-orbiting satellites. A handful of studies have also hinted that they increase the risk of …

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UK Covid infection rate rising, with more than a million cases in England | Coronavirus

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Coronavirus infections are rising in the UK, figures have revealed, with experts noting the increase is probably down to the more transmissible BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), based on swabs collected from randomly selected households, reveal that in the week ending 11 June an estimated one in 50 people in the community in England are thought to have had Covid – around 1.13 million people.

The figure is even higher, at one in 45, in both Wales and Northern Ireland, while it was highest in Scotland where, in the week ending 10 June, one in 30 people are thought to have been infected.

While the figures remain below the peak levels of infection seen earlier this year, when around one in 13 people in England had Covid, the findings are a rise on the previous week where one in 70 people in England were thought to be infected. Furthermore, the data reveals increases in all regions of England, except the north-east, and across all age groups.

Experts say that a key factor in the increase is probably the rise of the Covid variants of concern BA.4 and BA.5.

“Infections have increased across all four UK nations, driven by rising numbers of people infected with the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants,” said Kara Steel, senior statistician for the Covid-19 Infection Survey.

While Steel said it remained too early to say if this was the start of another wave, others have warned it may already have begun, with increased mixing and travelling among other factors fuelling a rise in cases.

Among concerns scientists have raised are that BA.4, BA.5 and another variant on the rise, BA.2.12.1, replicate more efficiently in human lung cells than BA.2.

Prof Azra Ghani, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, said the latest figures were not surprising, and might rise further.

“This increase in infection prevalence is likely due to the growth of the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, which as we have seen elsewhere in Europe, appear to be able to escape immunity generated from previous Omicron subvariants,” she said.

“It is therefore possible that we will continue to see some growth in infection prevalence in the coming weeks and consequently an increase in hospitalisations, although these subvariants do not currently appear to result in any significantly changed severity profile. This does however serve as a reminder that the Covid-19 pandemic is not over.”

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NHS to offer women in England drug that cuts recurrence of breast cancer | Breast cancer

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Thousands of women in England with breast cancer are to benefit from a new pill on the NHS which reduces the risk of the disease coming back.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has given the green light to abemaciclib, which cuts the chance of breast cancer returning after a patient has had surgery to remove a tumour.

Trials showed that patients who had the drug with hormone therapy had a more than 30% improved chance of their cancer not coming back after surgery, compared with hormone therapy alone.

“It’s fantastic thousands of women with this type of primary breast cancer will now have an additional treatment option available on the NHS to help further reduce the risk of the disease coming back,” said Delyth Morgan, the chief executive of charity Breast Cancer Now.

“The fear of breast cancer returning or spreading to other parts of their body and becoming incurable can cause considerable anxiety for so many women and their loved ones.

“New effective treatments such as abemaciclib, which can offer more women the chance to further reduce the risk of the disease recurring, are therefore extremely welcome and this is an important step change in the drug options available for this group of patients.”

The twice-a-day pill is suitable for women with hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative, node-positive early breast cancer at high risk of recurrence who have had surgery. About 4,000 women will benefit initially, Nice said.

Helen Knight, the interim director of medicines evaluation at Nice, said the draft recommendation came less than a month after abemaciclib received its licence.

“The fact that we have been able to produce draft recommendations so quickly is testament to the success of our ambition to support patient access to clinically and cost effective treatments as early as possible,” said Knight. “Until now there have been no targeted treatments for people with this type of breast cancer.

“Abemaciclib with hormone therapy represents a significant improvement in how it is treated because being able to have a targeted treatment earlier after surgery will increase the chance of curing the disease and reduce the likelihood of developing incurable advanced disease.”

Abemaciclib works by targeting and inhibiting proteins in cancer cells which allow the cancer to divide and grow. It normally costs £2,950 for a packet of 56 150mg-tablets, but the manufacturer, Eli Lilly, has agreed an undisclosed discounted price for NHS England.

“Thanks in part to this latest deal struck by NHS England, NHS patients will be able to access another new targeted drug for a common and aggressive form of breast cancer,” said Prof Peter Johnson, the cancer director of NHS England.

“Abemaciclib, when used alongside a hormone therapy, offers a new, doubly targeted, treatment option, helping to increase the chances of beating the cancer for good, as well as meeting the NHS’s commitment to delivering improved cancer care under our long-term plan.”

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