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Joe Biden to the US: ‘America is rising anew’
President Joe Biden declared in his first address to a joint session of Congress that “America is rising anew” on the verge of overcoming the historic pandemic.
Looking to the future, he urged a 1.8 trillion dollar (£1.3 trillion) investment in children, families and education that would fundamentally transform roles the government plays in American life.

Mr Biden marked his first 100 days in office as the nation emerges from a menacing mix of crises, making his case before a pared-down gathering of mask-wearing legislators because of pandemic restrictions.

The speech took place in a setting unlike any other presidential address in the US Capitol, still surrounded by fencing after insurrectionists in January protesting his election stormed to the doors of the House chamber where he gave his address.

The nationally televised ritual of a president standing before Congress for the first time was one of the most watched moments of Mr Biden’s presidency, raising the stakes for his ability to sell his plans to voters of both parties, even if Republican lawmakers prove resistant.

Mr Biden said: “America is ready for takeoff. We are working again. Dreaming again. Discovering again. Leading the world again. We have shown each other and the world: There is no quit in America.

“100 days ago, America’s house was on fire. We had to act.”

This year’s scene at the front of the House chamber had a historic look: For the first time, a female vice president, Kamala Harris, was seated behind the chief executive. And she was next to another woman, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, both clad in pastel.

The first ovation came as Mr Biden greeted “madam vice president”.

He added: “No president has ever said those words from this podium, and it’s about time.”

The entire House setting was unlike any of Mr Biden’s predecessors, with members of Congress spread out, a sole Supreme Court justice in attendance and many Republicans citing “scheduling conflicts” to stay away.

There was no need for a “designated survivor”, with so many Cabinet members not there, and the chamber was so sparsely populated that individual claps could be heard echoing off the walls.

Mr Biden repeatedly hammered home how his plans would put Americans back to work, restoring the millions of jobs lost to the virus.

He laid out a sweeping proposal for universal preschool, two years of free community college, 225 billion dollars (£162 billion) for child care and monthly payments of at least 250 dollars (£180) to parents.

His ideas target frailties that were uncovered by the pandemic, and he argues that that economic growth will best come from taxing the rich to help the middle class and the poor.

Mr Biden said: “I can report to the nation: America is on the move again. Turning peril into possibility. Crisis into opportunity. Setback into strength.”

The president’s speech also provided an update on combating the Covid-19 crisis he was elected to tame, showcasing hundreds of millions of vaccinations and relief checks delivered to help offset the devastation wrought by a virus that has killed more than 573,000 people in the country.

He also championed his 2.3 trillion dollar (£1.7 trillion) infrastructure plan, a staggering figure to be financed by higher taxes on corporations.

Unimpressed, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina said in the Republicans’ designated response that Mr Biden was claiming too much credit.

“This administration inherited a tide that had already turned,” Mr Scott said. “The coronavirus is on the run.”

Mr Biden spoke against a backdrop of the weakening but still lethal pandemic, staggering unemployment and a roiling debate about police violence against black people.

He also used his address to touch on the broader national reckoning over race in America and called on Congress to act on prescription drug pricing, gun control and modernising the nation’s immigration system.

Published: 29/04/2021 by Radio NewsHub

Serving NI was ‘privilege of my life’, says resigning Foster
Arlene Foster has described serving the people of Northern Ireland as the privilege of her life as she announced her resignation as DUP leader and Stormont First Minister.
Mrs Foster will stand down as party leader on May 28 and as First Minister at the end of June after bowing to a major internal heave against her.

The 50-year-old Fermanagh and South Tyrone Assembly Member suggested an intent to quit politics altogether, with her resignation statement speaking of preparing to “depart the political stage”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was among those paying tribute to Mrs Foster.

“I want to thank Arlene Foster @DUPleader for her dedication to the people of Northern Ireland over many years,” he tweeted.

“She will continue to play a vital role as First Minister until June and I hope that she stays in public service for years to come.”

Irish Premier Micheal Martin noted the new ground she broke in becoming Northern Ireland’s first female first minister.

“She sent a strong message to women about what can be achieved in and through politics,” he said.

Mrs Foster’s announcement comes 24 hours after DUP colleagues unhappy with her leadership moved against her, with a majority of senior elected representatives signing a letter of no confidence.

Discontent at the DUP’s Brexit strategy was a major factor in the revolt, with party rank and file laying some of the blame for the emergence of an Irish Sea border at her door.

Traditionalists from the party’s religious fundamentalist wing also harboured concerns over positions Mrs Foster had taken on some social issues.

MPs Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Gavin Robinson, both viewed as moderates, and the more hardline Stormont Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots are among the names emerging as potential successors.

There is some speculation that when Mrs Foster does depart, the twin roles she currently occupies could be split going forward, with one politician taking on the role of party leader and another being appointed First Minister.

That would potentially allow an MP to lead the party from Westminster while an MLA takes on the First Minister’s job.

Mrs Foster, who has been leader for more than five years, said the staggered timeline for her departure was designed to “give space” for the process of electing a successor.

“It has been the privilege of my life to serve the people of Northern Ireland as their First Minister and to represent my home constituency of Fermanagh/South Tyrone,” she said.

Mrs Foster added: “For almost five-and-a-half years I have been incredibly humbled to have the opportunity to lead the Democratic Unionist Party.

“I have sought to lead the party and Northern Ireland away from division and towards a better path.

“There are people in Northern Ireland with a British identity, others are Irish, others are Northern Irish, others are a mixture of all three and some are new and emerging. We must all learn to be generous to each other, live together and share this wonderful country.

“The future of unionism and Northern Ireland will not be found in division, it will only be found in sharing this place we all are privileged to call home.”

Sinn Fein deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill was among those wishing Mrs Foster well.

“I have worked alongside Arlene Foster this past year in what has been a difficult and challenging time for everyone with the unexpected onset of the Covid pandemic,” she said.

“Throughout the pandemic I acknowledge the efforts Arlene Foster has made as First Minister, and the service that she has given in working with the rest of the Executive as we have battled the biggest health crisis in a generation.”

There has been growing unease among DUP members about Mrs Foster and the wider party leadership in recent months.

The primary source of concern is the handling of the Brexit process. The DUP is facing anger from the wider loyalist and unionist community for the introduction of an Irish Sea border.

Critics have accused Mrs Foster of failing to use the party’s influence at Westminster – particularly during its confidence and supply deal with the Conservatives – to secure a Brexit deal that saw Northern Ireland leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of the UK.

She has also been accused of not being vociferous enough in opposition to the contentious protocol, which governs the new Brexit trading barriers between NI and GB, ahead of its introduction at the start of 2021.

Poor recent polling numbers have exacerbated the discontent within the party faithful, who are mindful of next May’s looming Assembly election.

Aside from the Irish Sea border, Mrs Foster’s decision to abstain in a vote calling for a ban on gay conversion therapy last week appears to have further agitated sections of the party’s fundamentalist grassroots.

The majority of her party Assembly colleagues voted against the motion, having failed to amend it to include reference to religious protections.

Mrs Foster was among only five party members, including fellow Stormont Executive ministers Peter Weir and Diane Dodds, who abstained.

That episode pointed to tensions between Mrs Foster, a member of the Church of Ireland and former Ulster Unionist, and the more traditional Free Presbyterian wing of the DUP, who perceive her as potentially too moderate on some social issues.

Published: 29/04/2021 by Radio NewsHub

Motorists warned to prepare for traffic chaos this May Day bank holiday weekend
Drivers have been warned that they should plan ahead and travel at off-peak times this bank holiday weekend as millions of journeys are expected to take place.
Although the weather is likely to cool somewhat for the May Day weekend, many motorists are still planning on taking advantage of the recent easing of lockdown to see friends and family.

A survey of 1,050 motorists by the RAC suggests 14.8 million leisure trips will take place between Friday and Monday – the highest number since 2016. That’s also 62 per cent higher than the last bank holiday four weeks ago.

Despite the huge numbers, many are planning to stay home, with 19 per cent saying they won’t travel because of Covid-19.

RAC traffic spokesman Rod Dennis said: “After what was one of the quietest Easters on the roads in years our figures suggest the easing of Covid restrictions has made a dramatic difference with millions more drivers planning to hit the roads.

“It remains to be seen what effect the weather will have as meeting up in soggy parks and gardens may not prove quite so appealing. And if it’s too cold for a trip to the beach, then there could be a big uplift in visits to shops, cafes and restaurants with covered outdoor areas.

“Nonetheless, the prospect of queues on the roads – particularly leading to major shopping centres – looks far more likely this coming weekend, and we’d advise drivers to plan ahead and keep tuned to local traffic bulletins to find out if there’s any disruption.”

The research suggests Saturday will be the busiest day with 2.63m trips expected, followed by Friday with 2.3m journeys. Bank holiday Monday could see 1.97m and Saturday 1.64m, while over 6m people are planning to travel but don’t know which days yet.

Published: 29/04/2021 by Radio NewsHub

Only four in ten back Scottish independence – poll
Support for Scottish independence has slid to just 42%, the lowest level since the last general election, a poll suggests.
The Savanta Comres survey, for the Scotsman, suggests that if a referendum were to be held tomorrow the results would be similar to the 2014 poll when No took 55.3% of the vote.

The poll of 1,001 adults found 42% would back independence, 49% support a No vote and 8% were undecided and removing the undecideds would lead to a 54/46 split in favour of No.

Back in December 2019, 38% of those polled by YouGov for the Times backed independence with the lead for Yes as high as 13% in an Ipsos MORI/STV poll in October 2020.

Other findings in the survey suggest the Scottish National Party will lose two seats when compared with 2016 and be four seats short of a majority.

Chris Hopkins, associate director at Savanta ComRes told the Scotsman: “The direction of travel has been clear in the last few polls, with support for both independence and the SNP dropping ahead of the May elections. What this is down to remains unclear.

“It seems that the two major unionist parties, the Conservatives and Labour, have somewhat – but by no means completely – got their act together.

“This, coupled with a potentially more fragmented pro-independence List vote, means the SNP may fall short of their majority and not give Nicola Sturgeon the unequivocal mandate for a second independence vote that she so clearly craves.”

Meanwhile, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross will warn the “very future of our country is at stake” in a speech on Thursday.

A pro-independence majority will mean the country would “move straight from a Scottish Parliament election campaign into a second referendum campaign”, Mr Ross will claim.

Reacting to the poll, Scottish National Party Depute Leader Keith Brown: “This poll confirms the election result is on a knife-edge in terms of whether the SNP secures a majority.

“The only guaranteed way to ensure Nicola Sturgeon is re-elected as First Minister, to put recovery in our own hands and to prevent Boris Johnson from deciding Scotland’s future is to give both votes to the SNP on May 6th.”

Published: 29/04/2021 by Radio NewsHub

Jonathan Van-Tam: We are at or close to bottom of levels of Covid cases in UK
England’s deputy chief medical officer has suggested “we are at or close to the bottom” of levels of coronavirus cases in the UK as he hailed the public for sticking to lockdown measures.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said the numbers of people testing positive for Covid-19 were “in very low levels” and comparable to September last year, adding that the number of people in hospital due to the virus is expected to drop further.

Looking ahead, he said vaccines could reduce a third wave of the virus, making it a “third upsurge” instead, but said it was “inconceivable” that there will not be further bumps in the road.

It comes as it was announced an extra 60 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus jab have been secured for a booster vaccination programme in the autumn.

Speaking at a Downing Street press briefing on Wednesday, Prof Van-Tam said: “We are really in very low levels that are comparable to where we were in September last year.

“We are running as a typical seven-day average at just over 2,000 people testing positive per day.

“My sense is that probably we are at or close to the bottom at the moment in terms of this level of disease in the UK.”

Presenting data during the briefing, Prof Van-Tam added: “Most of the steady decline we have seen, the disappearance of our third wave, has been down to the efforts of the British people in following lockdown.

“The vaccine has undoubtedly helped in the later stages and there is good evidence that the death rate in the elderly has dropped faster than it has in the younger age groups and it has dropped faster than it did in the second wave, and that is undoubtedly a vaccine effect.

“What is important about these vaccines and the vaccine rollout is it really is the way out of getting into trouble of the same size and magnitude ever again, and that’s why it’s important that this job must get finished.”

Matt Hancock emphasised the importance of “protecting the progress that we have made” in the pandemic and said the extra doses would be used alongside other approved vaccines as part of a programme in the autumn.

The Health Secretary told the press conference: “That is all about protecting the progress that we have made.

“We have a clear route out of this crisis but this is no time for complacency, it’s a time for caution – so we can keep the virus under control while we take steps back to normal life.”

Mr Hancock will be among those getting their coronavirus vaccine on Thursday, after people aged 42 and over in England were called to come forward and book their jab.

The Health Secretary said that England was on track to release further restrictions next month, which includes allowing some indoor mixing between households and the reopening of indoor hospitality.

“The good news is that as far as the next step is concerned, which is in a few weeks’ time – and we’re going to keep monitoring the data – but as of today, we are on track for step three on May 17 and that is good news,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Government said that the UK is set to send further oxygen supplies to India in response to the spiralling coronavirus crisis in the country.

Three oxygen generation units, each capable of producing 500 litres of oxygen per minute and enough for 50 people to use at a time, will be sent from surplus stocks in Northern Ireland.

Officials are preparing a booster programme based on clinical need to ensure people have the strongest possible protection against the virus, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

This additional stock of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab – which has been rolled out in the UK since December – will be used alongside other approved vaccines for the booster programme.

The Government said it will publish further details on the booster programme in due course, with the policy informed by advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

Published: 29/04/2021 by Radio NewsHub

The Electoral Commission has announced it will investigate the refurbishment of Boris Johnson’s Downing Street flat
The Commission says it was “satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred”
Boris Johnson is preparing to be grilled by MPs as he battles allegations over the funding of refurbishments to his Downing Street flat and remarks over coronavirus lockdowns.

He will appear at Prime Minister’s Questions for the first time since former aide Dominic Cummings accused him of wanting donors to “secretly pay” for the renovations in a “possibly illegal” move.

Mr Johnson will face Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer on Wednesday as the Prime Minister also faces pressure over allegedly saying he would rather see “bodies pile high” than impose a third shutdown.

Downing Street has refused to say whether Mr Johnson received an initial loan from the Conservative Party to cover renovations to his residence in No 11.

Labour has accused him of having “lied” over the funding, and accused senior members of the Government of a possible “cover-up”.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps insisted a review into the controversy by Cabinet Secretary Simon Case will answer whether the Tory party gave Mr Johnson a loan, before the Prime Minister paid back the costs.

“I just don’t have the answer but the Cabinet Secretary will and it will be transparently produced in the annual report and the accounts of the Cabinet Office,” the Cabinet minister told Times Radio.

But Mr Shapps declined to say whether he would have approved the funding when he was party chairman, instead telling BBC Breakfast: “My side of things was the campaigning side of things, I didn’t get involved with the fundraising side of things.”

Prime ministers get a budget of up to £30,000 per year to renovate their Downing Street residency, but newspaper reports have suggested Mr Johnson has spent up to £200,000.

A No 10 spokeswoman has said that the costs “have been met by the Prime Minister personally” and that party funds “are not being used for this”.

But Downing Street has refused to answer whether party funds were used in the past, as the Electoral Commission looks into the controversy.

It is likely Mr Johnson will also face questioning over whether he said he was prepared to let “bodies pile high” rather than order a third shutdown, an accusation he has branded as “total rubbish” and one which has been denied by No 10.

But after the Daily Mail first reported the remarks, the BBC and ITV were among those to carry reports with their own sources confirming he made the comment in October.

Downing Street officials have been less firm on a Times report that Mr Johnson separately told aides in September he would rather let coronavirus “rip” than impose a second lockdown.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the reports “distort the actions” of Mr Johnson, but the defence did not amount to a denial.

The bombardment of allegations around the Prime Minister come as he is embroiled in a public row with Mr Cummings, who until last year was his senior adviser in No 10.

Mr Cummings hit out at his former boss in a blog post, saying he had fallen “below the standards of competence and integrity the country deserves” after No 10 sources – reportedly the Prime Minister himself – accused him of being behind a series of leaks.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for a “full and frank” explanation from the Prime Minister over the funding of the renovations.

“We really need to know who’s given the loan, who’s given the money, because we need to know who the Prime Minister, who Boris Johnson, is beholden to,” the Labour MP has told BBC Breakfast.

“To be honest, he lied yesterday – that’s not good enough.”

Published: 28/04/2021 by Radio NewsHub

Post-Brexit trade deal backed by European Parliament
Boris Johnson’s post-Brexit trade deal has cleared its final hurdle after the European Parliament overwhelmingly voted to back it.
MEPs in Brussels gave their consent to the deal by 660 votes to five, with 32 abstentions.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was the “final step in a long journey, providing stability to our new relationship with the EU”

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen welcomed the vote and said the Trade and Co-operation Agreement “marks the foundation of a strong and close partnership with the UK”.

But in an acknowledgement of EU concerns about the Prime Minister’s approach to deals with Brussels, she warned that “faithful implementation is essential”.

The UK and EU are at odds over the way the earlier Brexit divorce deal is being implemented in Northern Ireland.

There are a few remaining formalities which need to be completed before the deal struck by Mr Johnson and the EU on Christmas Eve last year is finally ratified.

The Prime Minister said: “This week is the final step in a long journey, providing stability to our new relationship with the EU as vital trading partners, close allies and sovereign equals.

“Now is the time to look forward to the future and to building a more global Britain.”

Brexit Minister Lord Frost said the vote was an “important moment”.

“Today’s vote brings certainty and allows us to focus on the future,” Lord Frost said.

“There will be much for us and the EU to work on together through the new partnership council and we are committed to working to find solutions that work for both of us.

“We will always aim to act in that positive spirit but we will also always stand up for our interests when we must – as a sovereign country in full control of our own destiny.”

European Council president Charles Michel said the approval of the deal “marks a major step forward” in UK-EU relations and “opens a new era”.

He said Brussels will work constructively with the UK as an “important friend and partner”.

Published: 28/04/2021 by Radio NewsHub

UK does not have ‘surplus’ Covid-19 vaccine doses to send to India, No 10 says
Downing Street has said that the UK does not have “surplus doses” of vaccines to send to India as the nation struggles to cope with a deadly surge of coronavirus infections.
The Foreign Office said 200 ventilators from Britain’s surplus medical supplies arrived in Delhi on Tuesday in the first shipment since Boris Johnson pledged support to India.

The assistance for the country’s health system will be much welcomed as it struggles to deal with a surge in 320,000 new cases on Tuesday and 2,771 reported deaths.

But India is also reportedly struggling to produce and deliver vaccines quick enough, as a wave of cases is driven by highly virulent new strains.

Asked if the UK would send vaccines to India, Downing Street noted that the Government committed to send excess doses to other nations through the Covax initiative.

“Right now we are moving through the UK prioritisation list for our domestic rollout and we don’t have surplus doses, but we will keep this under review,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.

Asked if the Government would cancel an order of five million AstraZeneca doses from India, the spokesman noted the “deeply concerning” situation in India and added: “Our priority right now is supporting the Indian government and the health authorities there to deal with the crisis.”

Mr Johnson had been due to visit India for a summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday but was forced to cancel the trip last week due to the worsening situation.

With Indian hospitals experiencing oxygen shortages, the Foreign Office said 95 oxygen concentrators were also in the shipment that departed the UK on Sunday.

Later this week, a further 400 of the machines are expected to arrive later.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted: “Good to see the first of our medical supplies have now arrived in India and will be deployed where they are needed most.

“No one is safe until we are all safe. International collaboration is key to fighting this global threat.”

Joe Biden’s White House was moving to share raw materials for the AstraZeneca vaccine by diverting some US orders to the Serum Institute of India.

Published: 28/04/2021 by Radio NewsHub

Private Florida school refuses to employ vaccinated teachers
A private school founded by an anti-vaccination activist in Florida has warned teachers and staff against taking the Covid-19 vaccine, saying it will not employ anyone who has received the shot.
The Centner Academy in Miami sent a notice to parents on Monday informing them of a new policy for its two campuses for about 300 students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

Teachers or staff who have already taken the vaccine were told to continue reporting to school but to stay separated from students.

Co-founder Leila Centner told employees in a letter last week that she made the policy decision with a “very heavy heart”. Centner asked those who had not received a Covid vaccine to wait until the end of the school year, and even then recommended holding off.

Centner stood by the decision on Tuesday in a statement sent to The Associated Press, which featured the biologically impossible claim that unvaccinated women have experienced miscarriages and other reproductive problems just by standing in proximity to vaccinated people.

“These vaccines are not live Covid virus,” Andrea Cox, professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told AP. “They can’t infect the people who receive them and they can’t be spread.”

Dr Cox also added vaccines had not caused miscarriages in anyone who attained them during pregnancy.

The Florida Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment on the school’s stance on the COVID-19 vaccine.

Published: 28/04/2021 by Radio NewsHub

Dyson denies trying to ‘extract favours’ from Johnson
Sir James Dyson said suggestions he was attempting to “extract favours” from Prime Minister Boris Johnson are “completely untrue”.
The billionaire inventor was embroiled in a lobbying row after Mr Johnson reportedly promised Sir James he would “fix” an issue over the tax status of his employees after he was directly lobbied by the entrepreneur.

The exchanges, carried by the BBC, took place last March at the start of the pandemic when the Government was appealing to firms to supply ventilators amid fears the NHS could run out.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Sir James said: “(The) characterisation of me as a prominent Conservative donor, or supporter, leveraging a position of power to extract favours from the Prime Minister, is completely untrue.

“I would change nothing about how Dyson reacted to this country’s Covid crisis. And you need only look at the UK’s vaccine programme to understand the value of independent action which can be swift, decisive and transcend global boundaries.

“Thousands of companies and millions of individuals have gone above and beyond in responding to this crisis. This should not be diminished by politically motivated mud-slinging after the event.”

Sir James said his first instinct when asked to develop ventilators for the NHS in March was to assist, and he engaged 450 people to work on the task.

He wrote there were “myriad questions”, including those relating to tax, and “It was in this context that we wrote formally to the Chancellor on March 15 for clarification on how UK tax rules would apply during this period of unprecedented upheaval”.

“We did not wait for a response and started work immediately,” he added.

Sir James added he was not seeking favours, and said his Singapore-headquartered firm passed up the opportunity of remuneration for the work.

He said: “We voluntarily forwent the chance to reclaim £20 million of costs from the Government.

“(Yet) it has been argued that, in the PM’s direct dealings with me, I was seeking some kind of preferment.

“What favours did anyone believe I was exacting from contact with the Prime Minister as part of a project where Dyson voluntarily donated £20 million of its resources?”

In the leaked messages, Mr Johnson promised Sir James he would “fix” a tax issue for Dyson staff working to develop ventilators.

Sir James wrote to the Treasury requesting that overseas staff would not have to pay additional tax if they came to the UK to work on the ventilator project.

But when he failed to receive a reply, Sir James reportedly took up the matter directly with the Prime Minister.

He said in a text that the firm was ready but that “sadly” it seemed no-one wanted them to proceed, to which Mr Johnson replied: “I will fix it tomo! We need you. It looks fantastic.”

The Prime Minister then texted him again saying: “(Chancellor) Rishi (Sunak) says it is fixed!! We need you here.”

Published: 28/04/2021 by Radio NewsHub

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