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A hard lesson for Novak Djokovic: patience with vaccine sceptics is wearing thin | Gaby Hinsliff

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This weekend, Novak Djokovic should have been warming up for yet another grand slam.

But instead the world No 1 tennis champion – and noted vaccine sceptic – is cooling his heels in an Australian quarantine hotel, while an international row rages over whether he should be kicked out of the country altogether. Djokovic had boasted on social media of securing an exemption, for medical reasons he has not explained, to the rules that all players in the Australian Open must be double-jabbed. But hours later he was stopped at the airport, his visa cancelled, and he was unceremoniously threatened with deportation. His lawyers are challenging that ruling, meaning the outcome of this particular tournament may now be determined in a court – rather than on one. Not since the actor Johnny Depp and his then wife, Amber Heard, flew their two dogs, Pistol and Boo, into the country by private jet without the necessary paperwork has the power of celebrity met the force of Australian biosecurity requirements with quite such explosive results.

In fairness to Djokovic, this farce may not be entirely his fault. Someone somewhere, either in his camp or in Australian tennis, may have screwed up by allowing a situation to arise where the tournament’s biggest box office draw was seemingly given a free pass to compete in the country, but not actually to get there. Yet few tears will be shed for the man now inevitably known as “Novaxx” Djokovic.

Around the world, patience with those who are wilfully unvaccinated is running out in the face of yet another viral surge. Just over a month ago, I wrote about how the mood might harden as intensive care beds filled with patients realising too late that they should have got the jab, while restrictions once again loomed over people who had done what was asked of them. Now that scenario is unfolding, with France’s President Macron playing to the gallery by vowing to do everything he can to “piss off” those who are unjabbed, while angry callers to British radio phone-ins demand anti-vaxxers be stripped of their right to NHS treatment if they get sick.

Elsewhere in sport, the Premier League, facing a stubborn minority of unvaccinated top-flight footballers and fears of cancelled fixtures, has reportedly discussed making those who are unjabbed travel separately to games or eat their meals away from other players. It’s an uncomfortably divisive idea, stopping only just short of making them carry a bell and shout: “Unclean! Unclean!” But what if the alternative is double-jabbed players growing increasingly resentful at having to sit matches out because they’re isolating, after contact with infected teammates? Balancing the incontrovertible human right to refuse a vaccine against the rights of others not to be held hostage by that decision is the single biggest challenge of this stage of the pandemic, and that’s what makes Djokovic’s case resonate far beyond tennis.

There is an undeniably ugly undercurrent to some of this hostility towards the unvaccinated, who are disproportionately likely to be poor, marginalised and from minority-ethnic backgrounds. Punishing people who often have deep-seated reasons not to trust the authorities for failing to get their jabs not only risks heaping discrimination upon discrimination, but represents a profound failure to understand why they didn’t want to comply in the first place, which makes it impossible to convince them to change their minds.

But there’s nothing obviously marginalised about a millionaire sportsman arrogantly demanding the right to jet into a country suffering record infection rates in hopes of lifting yet another lucrative trophy. Australians have endured restrictions so draconian that thousands of them stranded abroad at the start of the pandemic weren’t even allowed back into their own country. Djokovic has less in common with an agonised British care worker, on minimum wage, facing the sack if they don’t get the jab, than with a frequently more middle-class form of anti-vaxxer who slips under the radar. He is a believer in “natural” healing who once suggested that polluted water could be cleansed by the power of positive thinking, insisting that science had proved “that molecules in the water react to our emotions”. He’s entitled to hold whatever wacky beliefs he likes, of course, but he doesn’t have a God-given right to escape the professional consequences of them, and still less does he have the right to impose consequences on others. The clout he wields as an international sportsman, meanwhile, makes it all the more important that he be seen to follow the rules.

“One rule for them, another for the rest of us” remains the single most toxic charge of the pandemic, whether levelled against Downing Street aides tucking into convivial Christmas wine and cheese at a time when ordinary mortals weren’t even allowed to see their own parents, or against big-shot Hollywood names granted entry to Australia for film and TV work when most people were barely allowed to leave their own homes.

It taps into a sense of grievance about elites getting away with things the little guy can’t that is arguably never far from the surface of politics, visibly inflamed by a pandemic in which too many powerful people have been caught ducking the rules so painfully obeyed by others. No wonder Scott Morrison, the Australian prime minister criticised for his own handling of the pandemic, leapt at the chance to declare that “rules are rules” and apply to everyone. Unlike tennis, fighting a pandemic is a team effort. If he doesn’t want to be booed off the next court he actually gets to play on, Djokovic would do well to remember that.

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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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