December ‘horrendous’ for hospitality industry, says Sturgeon

The First Minister admitted that businesses were 'at the sharp end' of new coronavirus restrictions.

Hospitality:  Businesses suffer under latest restrictions. Tonywestphoto via Getty Images
Hospitality: Businesses suffer under latest restrictions.

Nicola Sturgeon has said December was “horrendous” for hospitality businesses, as an industry body warned most were no longer viable.

The First Minister admitted that firms were “at the sharp end” of new coronavirus restrictions, which shuttered most businesses in the central belt of Scotland throughout December and enforced strict opening times on those elsewhere.

The Scottish Hospitality Group (SHG) said on Thursday that its members took just 20% of last year’s earnings during the Christmas trading period, losing £12,000 per week per premises on average.

The group also said that support during the pandemic had been “completely inadequate” and had often taken months to arrive.

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When asked at the coronavirus briefing in Edinburgh if she believed the support had arrived quickly enough, Sturgeon said: “I always want things to happen more quickly.

“I want to see the money, the substantial amounts of money we are rightly making available to businesses that are impacted, get to those businesses as soon as possible.

“There’s more than £2bn gone to businesses already and with hospitality in particular, where businesses are closed for a lengthy period, the money is paid every few weeks, so it’s an ongoing support.”

Sturgeon also pointed to “top-up” payments announced before Christmas for hospitality to help recoup some losses from the festive trading period.

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“We will continue to work with local authorities to speed the provision up as much as we possible can,” she added.

But SHG spokesman Stephen Montgomery accused political leaders of “squabbling” with one another.

“Without Christmas, when we earn around 30% of our entire annual income, most hospitality businesses just aren’t viable,” he said.

“We’ve had the worst December’s trading in living memory and we’re facing the worst start to a year ever. Instead of helping, our political leaders are squabbling with each other. It’s like arguing about who throws the lifebelt when someone’s already underwater.”

SHG said that during lockdown, businesses continued to spend on average nearly £6000 per week per premises on fixed costs and contributions to the furlough scheme.

The organisation, which represents businesses including the DRG Group, Signature Pubs and G1 Group, called on the Scottish and Westminster governments to work together to support the sector.

Mr Montgomery said: “The continued furlough scheme is welcome but it’s there to protect jobs rather than businesses, and we still have to pay all sorts of fixed costs.

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“Even those businesses that survive will seriously struggle to recover this year. Not only is the support completely inadequate, in many cases what little is available hasn’t appeared months after it was promised.”

Mr Montgomery said the group would soon be proposing “specific, realistic measures” that would help to give the sector a “fighting chance” of getting back to normal by 2022.

A spokesman for the Treasury said: “We’ve taken swift action throughout the pandemic to protect lives and livelihoods, and this week’s cash injection will ensure we continue to support businesses and jobs through to the spring.

“We’ve already extended the furlough scheme until April, providing certainty for businesses as they navigate the months ahead.

“And we’ll have a Budget in early March to take stock of our wider support, and set out the next stage in our economic response.”


Scientists warn against easing lockdown amid mutant Covid

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson says new variant of the virus may be associated with 'a higher degree of mortality'.

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The mutant coronavirus variant found in England may be more deadly than the original strain.

Scientists have warned there can be no early easing of lockdown rules after evidence the mutant coronavirus variant which emerged in the south-east of England may be more deadly than the original strain.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday the new variant may be associated with “a higher degree of mortality”.

He said the UK Government could have to bring in further restrictions on travel following a warning that other new variants found in South Africa and Brazil may be more resistant to the vaccines that have been developed.

Meanwhile, the British Medical Association has reportedly written to chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty calling for the gap between doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to be reduced to six weeks.

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The private letter, seen by the BBC, said the current plans of people waiting up to 12 weeks for a second dose – which Health Secretary Matt Hancock said is supported by data from an Israeli study – are “difficult to justify”.

It said: “The absence of any international support for the UK’s approach is a cause of deep concern and risks undermining public and the profession’s trust in the vaccination programme.”

At a No 10 news briefing on Friday, the UK Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said early evidence suggested the new UK variant could increase mortality by almost a third in men in their 60s.

His warning followed a briefing by scientists on the Government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) which concluded there was a “realistic possibility” that it was associated with an increased risk of death.

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It was already known that the new variant was up to 70% more transmissible than the original – leading to a tightening of restrictions across the UK from late December onwards.

Rowland Kao, professor of veterinary epidemiology and data science at the University of Edinburgh, said the latest findings suggested it was responsible for the “unexpectedly high” numbers of hospital admissions, especially around London.

“While the recent results showing declining case numbers is good news, and suggest that the variant is controllable via existing measures, these results on deaths imply that burden in hospitals will continue to be high requiring a more prolonged period of restrictions,” he said.

Professor Sir Mark Walport, a former government chief scientific adviser and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said even stricter measures may be needed if cases do not continue falling “at pace”.

“Decisions are going to have to be made on the basis of the evidence,” he told BBC News.

“If the evidence shows that the decrease in cases isn’t continuing, then clearly policymakers will have to consider much tougher measures.”

Johnson said the case numbers remained “forbiddingly high” and that it would be a mistake to unlock in England if it were to lead to “another big rebound” in the disease.

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On another bleak day, with a further 1,401 deaths across the UK of people who had tested for Covid-19 in the previous 28 days, there was some good news with evidence the various lockdown measures in place across the country were having an effect.

A sub-group of Sage said the reproduction number, the R, for coronavirus had fallen to below one across the UK, suggesting a retreating epidemic.

The Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M) put the R, which represents how many people an infected person will pass the virus on to, at 0.8 to 1.0, down from 1.2 to 1.3 the previous week.

It said the number of new infections was shrinking by between 1% and 4% every day.

However, Professor Whitty said the situation across the UK remained “extremely precarious”.

“A very small change and it could start taking off again from an extremely high base,” he said.

“If that happened again, we would be in really, really deep trouble.”

Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist at Warwick Medical School, suggested the more serious concern was the evidence that the South African and Brazilian variants may be less susceptible to the vaccines.

“The other virus variants identified in South Africa and Brazil are more worrying as they carry more changes in the spike protein of the virus,” he said.

“It is important that we now determine the neutralising ability of antibodies against virus variants generated in response to vaccination and study the immune response in individuals infected with virus variants.”

Sir Patrick said the evidence remained uncertain and there was no sign either the South African or Brazilian variants had any “transmission advantages” over those in the UK and so would not be expected to spread more quickly or “take over”.

Meanwhile, a year has passed since the first people in Scotland were tested for coronavirus.

The Scottish Government confirmed on January 23, 2020, that five people were being examined after presenting with symptoms of the illness.

Two of them had been diagnosed with influenza after travelling to Wuhan, China, where the virus originated.

The first confirmed coronavirus patient in Scotland came on March 1, and was from Tayside.

On March 13, the first death related to the virus was recorded.

The UK entered full lockdown for the first time on March 23, but less than a month later Scotland’s chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood resigned after making two trips to her second home.

A route-map out of the coronavirus restrictions was first published by the Scottish Government on May 21.

This has been updated throughout the pandemic and includes rules on school closures, business operations and personal freedoms.

Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow, has seen the highest volumes for coronavirus infections and deaths – more than 31,700 and 863 respectively.

There have been almost 170,000 positive Covid-19 cases and 5,628 related deaths north of the border, as of Friday.

Scottish Government figures show 358,454 people have received the first dose of the Covid vaccination, and 4,689 have received the second dose

Cameron House fire started by ashes left in cupboard

Hotel owner admits charges over fire which killed two men in December 2017.

Crown Office via email

A fire at Cameron House hotel which killed two men was started after a night porter left ashes in a cupboard.

Simon Midgley and his partner Richard Dyson died after the blaze at the hotel, next to Loch Lomond, on December 18, 2017.

The fire ripped through the five-star resort at around 6.40am.

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Hotel: A family-of-three had to be rescued from the fire.

Mr Midgley died at the scene. Mr Dyson was taken to the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley, where he was pronounced dead.

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More than 200 guests were evacuated from the building, including a family of two adults and a child who were rescued from the second-floor.

Cameron House Resort (Loch Lomond) Ltd, the owner and operator of the hotel, pleaded guilty on Friday to two charges of safety failures under the Fire Scotland Act, while night porter Christopher O’Malley admitted breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Dumbarton Sheriff Court heard he emptied ashes and embers from an open fire in the main reception into a plastic bag before putting them in a cupboard.

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Damage: The hotel is currently closed for refurbishment.

Shortly before 6.40am an initial fire alarm sounded, to which staff noticed smoke coming from the cupboard. O’Malley opened the door, to which the flames took hold and spread into the hallway.

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O’Malley and another two members of staff tried to battle the blaze with extinguishers, however they were overcome by the flames.

Firefighters arrived at the hotel by 6.51am, however they later had to withdraw from the building as it was showing signs of structural instability.

The fire was not brought under control until the early hours of December 19.

Tragedy: The couple died because of the fire.

Mr Dyson, 38, from Wetherby in West Yorkshire, was a TV producer, while Mr Midgley, 32, of Worksop, Nottinghamshire, was a freelance journalist for the London Evening Standard while also running his own PR firm.

Peter Gray QC, representing Cameron House, said the failings were not deliberate breaches, but occurred “as a result of genuine errors”.

He said an absence of formal procedures for dealing with ashes and embers meant staff had to improvise.

Mr Gray said: “I am instructed to extend my deepest sympathies from the accused to the families of Mr Midgley and Mr Dyson.

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“Cameron House Hotel is one of the leading hotels in Scotland, it takes pride in its reputation and sets itself the highest standards in relation to all that it does and endeavours to ensure the safety of its guests.

“It takes its duties to ensure the safety of its guests extremely seriously.”

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Fire safety: The hotel’s ash bins were full.

The court heard the hotel operator had been warned of the risks of keeping combustibles in the cupboard during a fire safety audit, and the general manager had then highlighted the issue to staff.

Storage bins for the ash collected from open fires were kept in the rear yard of the hotel, however they had not been emptied since the October and were found to be rusty and not fit for purpose.

The court heard a plastic bag was used to dispose of ashes on December 15 and again on December 18, the latter with tragic consequences.

Cameron House was said to have cooperated fully with the investigation and all safety procedures were reviewed.

The hotel remains closed for refurbishment and is expected to open in the second part of this year.

Jackie Baillie, the MSP for Dumbarton, previously called for a quick and thorough investigation into the cause of the fire and has worked closely with Jane Midgley, Mr Midgley’s mother, in her campaign to be given answers as to why her son passed away.

Baillie said: “This is completely heartbreaking for all involved – not least for the families of Simon and Richard.

“After three long, painful years these families finally have the answers that they need as to why their beloved sons and brothers died in this fire.

“It is deeply concerning to learn that this fire could have been avoided, had the staff involved been given the proper training needed, and more importantly, had the hotel owners heeded the prior warnings given to them about their safety standards.

“The length of time that it has taken for this case to be concluded has caused the families involved undue stress and pain, during what is already an unimaginably difficult time for them.

“Going forward, steps must be taken by Cameron House to ensure that failings of this magnitude never happen again. We now know that these deaths were avoidable.

“My sympathies continue to be with families and loved ones of Simon and Richard.”

Sentencing will take place next week.


‘After my mum died of breast cancer, I found a lump’

Nicole Little was diagnosed with breast cancer at 27 after her mother Celine died of the disease in 1999.

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Cancer: Nicole discovered she had breast cancer at just 27.

A breast cancer survivor whose mother died from the disease is urging people to support World Cancer Day. 

Nicole Little was 27 when she was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer after discovering a lump in her right breast. 

The ambulance dispatcher from Bathgate, West Lothian, carries the faulty BRCA1 gene, which is known to increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Specialists estimate that around 70% of women with a faulty BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene will develop breast cancer by the age of 80.

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Nicole said: “Most people are lucky enough to grow up with a mum but I was so young when cancer took my mum away.

Nicole Little via Email
Nicole’s mother Celine died in 1999 from breast cancer.

“I still miss her every day and when it was me in the hospital room being told I had cancer, my first thought was for my mum. I feared at first it was like history repeating itself. 

“I said to the doctor, ‘that’s what killed my mum’. But the doctors quickly explained there have been huge advances in treatment for breast cancer since my mum went through it in the 1990s. 

“My mum didn’t know she had the faulty BRCA1 gene as tests weren’t available to her then. 

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“That’s so unfair. They’re so much better at treating breast cancer today thanks to research, something which gave me hope. 

“Now I want to support research, not just for me and for future generations but in honour of my mum too.”

Nicole was supported by her dad Andy Little when her hair began to fall out following chemotherapy sessions.

Nicole said: “Dad helped me shave off my hair as it was coming away in handfuls every time I went for a shower.

“At times I felt angry with my life but my dad was brilliant. At night when I couldn’t sleep he’d get up with me and we’d talk. Other times we’d just sit and do a jigsaw together. I felt like a child again. 

“Dad is bald. He’d say to me: ‘I always told you, bald is beautiful’.”

Nicole Little via Email
Nicole’s dad told her ‘bald is beautiful’ when her hair fell out following treatment.

Nicole’s best friend Kelsey Robertson also supported her through treatment. 

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The pair have been best friends for 21 years after meeting on Nicole’s first day at Balbardie Primary School.

Nicole started at the new school following the death of her mum Celine on January 21, 1999.

“The first thing I ever said to Kelsey in the classroom on that first day was, ‘Hello, my name is Nicole and my mum’s just died’,” Nicole said.

“It was quite an introduction but Kelsey looked after me from day one. Years later – after we’d grown up and Kelsey lost her own mum Christine to lung cancer aged 52 – I was there for Kelsey. 

“When I faced cancer, Kelsey was right there for me again. She made me a glass jar full of inspirational quotes. Every day I had the chance to pick out a quote from the jar. It made a big difference. She really has proved my guardian angel not once but twice.”

‘Going through cancer made me realise how lucky I am to have people in my life who love me.’

Nicole Little

Last year, Nicole endured an operation to remove her ovaries and just days after lockdown across Scotland began she had surgery to remove both her breasts, followed by reconstruction.

Now back at work, Nicole is in remission and believes going through cancer has changed her perspective on things.

Nicole said: “All my life I worried that I’d get breast cancer like my mum.

“I felt angry when it finally happened but I got through it and I’m still here. Going through cancer made me realise how lucky I am to have people in my life who love me. 

“Now I’d like to make them all proud by doing what I can to help other families have more time with their loved ones.”

Nicole is urging people to mark World Cancer Day by making a donation to Cancer Research UK or wearing the charity’s Unity band.  

“Just by wearing a Unity band or making a donation, everyone can help make a real difference to people with cancer,” she said.

The band is available online in three different colours and can be worn in memory of a loved one, to celebrate people who’ve overcome cancer or in support of those going through treatment.

Unity bands can be purchased from the Cancer Research UK website.

Call to help tackle ‘vaccine hesitancy’ among minorities

Equalities minister writes to community leaders amid concerns that misinformation about the jab could spread.

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Concerns over 'vaccine hesitancy' among ethnic minority groups.

Community leaders are being asked to help tackle “vaccine hesitancy” among ethnic minority groups in Scotland, a minister has said, amid concerns that misinformation about the jab could spread.

It came as an equalities group called on the Scottish Government to ensure that translated public health information reaches older people in minority communities who may have language or literacy issues.

The Edinburgh and Lothian Regional Equality Council (Elrec) said older South Asian people often rely on family networks for information and may encounter “foreign messages” spreading false claims.

Equalities Minister Chistina McKelvie said there is an overlap between the groups who are most hesitant about the vaccine and those most affected by Covid-19.

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Elrec chairman Foysol Choudhury said: “There hasn’t been official translated information made available to minority groups, specifically to those with language and literacy issues which is quite prevalent amongst the older BAME (blame and minority ethnic) generations.

“People not being able to understand something is daunting as it is but if it relates to their health and wellbeing then it’s an actual risk to them.

“Many older South Asians living in Edinburgh and Lothians rely on friends and family to relay information to them, and this doesn’t always happen so they are left to rely on foreign messages which may not always be correct.

“Misinformation in these circumstances can be just as deadly as the virus. People need to know factual information about every aspect of the pandemic.”

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He continued: “I call on the Scottish Government to ensure the facts regarding the vaccine are communicated to the BAME community in a way that reassures them.”

McKelvie said she has written to community leaders “asking for their help in developing and delivering targeted messages to communities, to address specific barriers they may have to taking up the vaccination”.

“We are keen to explore how local community leaders, or people who are visible and well known in those communities, can help encourage people to take up the vaccine, and that’s why we’ve written to over 100 representative organisations including Elrec, providing ideas and support to make that happen,” she said.

“We also know that there is a significant overlap between the groups disproportionately affected by Covid-19 – which include minority ethnic people – and those most likely to be vaccine hesitant.”

She said an expert group had been set up earlier in the pandemic to advise the Government on how to meet the needs of minority communities.

Oldest community radio station saved from collapse

Heartland FM in Pitlochry has raised £32,000 to remain on air after financial crisis.

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Graham Howie will keep presenting on Heartland FM after the station raised enough money.

The UK’s oldest community-owned radio station is to remain on air after a crowdfunding campaign saved it from collapse.

Heartland FM in Pitlochry was facing a financial crisis after coronavirus forced many of the area’s tourism-based businesses to cut back on advertising.

A fundraising target of £25,000 was set to help secure its future and after receiving more than 300 donations of support, the station banked £32,000.

Heartland FM has been broadcasting from Highland Perthshire for almost 30 years, having launched in 1992, and bosses said the fundraising drive meant its connection with the community “had never been stronger”.

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Graham Huggins, Heartland FM chairman, said: “We are in place to entertain, inform and engage with everyone who connects with us for the foreseeable future.

“Once businesses can see a way forward we will need their support once again, which will help ensure our longer term future.

“There is a really warm feelgood factor surrounding us all now, which is something we are all very proud of.

“Local radio is a huge asset to any community and that has now been recognised, here in Highland Perthshire, in a very flattering way.”


Another 71 deaths from coronavirus registered in Scotland

The First Minister said the total number of coronavirus deaths in Scotland now stands at 5628.

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Scotland has recorded a further 71 deaths from coronavirus, the First Minister has said.

At Friday’s daily briefing, Nicola Sturgeon said the total number of deaths after confirmed coronavirus in Scotland now stands at 5628.

There were 1480 new cases of Covid-19 reported, with 2053 people currently in hospital with the virus.

Of that number, 161 people were in intensive care.

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She added that 169,699 people have now tested positive in Scotland, up from 168,219 the previous day.

The daily test positivity rate is 6.9%, down from 7% on the previous 24 hours.

Sturgeon added that 358,454 people have now received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

During the briefing, the First Minister announced extra funding to support health and social care workers.

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Nicola Sturgeon said £500,000 would be given to health boards and health and social care partnerships to implement requests from staff, such as free hot drinks or snacks during breaks.

The First Minister said it “could be the little things that help quite a lot”.

She added: “I’m flagging this up today just as a way of underlining how much we owe our health and care workers, but also as an example of what we’re trying to do to support them in practical ways while they continue to perform such an incredible service for all of us.

“I don’t think we’ll ever be able to repay those on the front line of health and social care for everything they have done and everything they have suffered over the duration of this pandemic.

“But in every way we can, it’s important to support them and to show our gratitude.”


GP says sorry to grieving family after diagnosis blunder

Widowed partner complained about care and treatment after spouse died.

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The GP surgery has apologised to a bereaved family.

A medical practice has apologised to a widowed partner for an “unreasonable failure” after a patient’s death.

The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) asked an NHS Ayrshire and Arran GP surgery to apologise to a family after their loved one died following a botched diagnosis.

The deceased’s spouse, referred to as C in the SPSO report, complained about their care and treatment from the practice.

C had arranged an appointment for their partner, known as A, after they took ill over the weekend but A became too sick to attend.

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C asked the practice for a house visit but a triage phone call took place instead, with A’s symptoms being noted and advice and medication prescribed.

But A’s condition deteriorated the next day, C said, and they asked if a doctor could come out. Arrangements were made but A became increasingly unwell.

The GP practice arranged an emergency ambulance to take A to hospital, where they died shortly after.

The primary cause of death was found to be diabetic ketoacidosis (a complication of diabetes mellitus) and respiratory tract infection.

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SPSO took independent advice from a GP and found that “at the time of the triage phone call, there was an unreasonable failure to take an adequate history and further assess A” by visiting them or by hospital admission.

SPSO’s report said the practice provided “some evidence of reflection and learning” since the incident.

C also complained about how the GP surgery dealt with their complaint, but SPSO did not uphold this aspect of the complaint.

Vicki Campbell, NHS Ayrshire and Arran head of primary and urgent care services, said: “In addition to a formal apology to the family of A, I can advise that the practice concerned has fully accepted the recommendation in the SPSO report.

“The practice has addressed the issue highlighted and made the appropriate changes, ensuring clinical staff have received further training and guidance on the care of patients presenting with diabetic emergencies in primary care.

“In order to ensure learning across the organisation, the practice concerned completed an analysis of the incident which was shared with other clinical primary care colleagues.”

Cancer sufferer’s concerns over Covid impact on treatment

Liz McAinish contracted coronavirus while undergoing breast cancer treatment in 2020.

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A woman living with cancer who contracted coronavirus, needed a hip replacement and suffered a neck fracture in just five months is concerned the pandemic is impacting cancer services. 

Liz McAinish has been treated for primary and secondary breast cancer for the last five years.

However 2020 brought a whole host of new problems for the former police officer, after she contracted coronavirus in early March when little was definitively known about the virus. 

In May, a scan revealed a hip fracture which required hip replacement surgery.

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And then in July she received radiotherapy for a neck fracture.

“It’s just like getting hit with a tsunami, you just don’t know what to think,” she said.

“Surprisingly my symptoms in terms of Covid were quite insignificant. I just had a slight cough, not a significant cough at all and my temperature never went too high either. It was only about 37.5C.

“But I became more tired, really tired and I started getting really breathless. I actually thought it was the new cancer treatment that I was on. So I phoned up the cancer treatment helpline and they said well you better go to the hospital. 

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“So they assessed me for Covid and I said ‘I’ve not got Covid, it’s just my cancer treatment’. I expected to go to the cancer ward but I had a positive Covid test and spent some time feeling really unwell.”

With the help of friends and family, Liz has battled through and is now rebuilding her strength.

But she is concerned about what the pandemic means for cancer sufferers.

“I’ll never know what impact Covid had, because I had to stop my cancer treatment when I was in hospital. That was really worrying,” she said.

“I’m slightly concerned about the fact that the number of trials that used to be going ahead, it’s not the same number. So they certainly have reduced.

“So as somebody who has secondary breast cancer, where the trials are really important, that certainly worries me.”

On Friday, Macmillan Cancer Support revealed 15% of cancer patients in Scotland are worried disruption due to the pandemic could reduce the likelihood of their treatment being successful.

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Janice Preston, Macmillan’s head of services in Scotland, said: “This is a time of almost unprecedented challenge for people with cancer.

“For many, the pandemic feels like the worst possible Groundhog Day, but we want everyone with cancer to know that they aren’t alone.

“We will keep doing whatever it takes to ensure people with cancer do not feel forgotten in this crisis and we want everyone to know that we’re here for them.”

Fast-spreading coronavirus variant ‘may be more deadly’

Prime Minister says there's evidence the UK variant of Covid-19 is causing more deaths.

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There is “some evidence” that the new UK variant of coronavirus may be more deadly than the original strain, the Prime Minister has said.

Mathematicians have produced early findings by comparing death rates in people infected with either the new or the old versions of the virus.

However, Boris Johnson said evidence showed vaccines being rolled out across the UK were working against the variant, which first emerged in the south of England.

Its fast-spreading nature significantly contributed to the decisions to put Scotland and the other UK nations back into lockdown.

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More than 600 coronavirus-linked deaths have been registered in Scotland over the past ten days, while 1480 new cases of Covid-19 were reported on Friday, with 2053 people currently in hospital with the virus.

In England, there are currently more than 38,000 people in hospital, with 1401 deaths recorded on Friday.

The Prime Minister told a Downing Street press conference: “We’ve been informed today that, in addition to spreading more quickly, it also now appears that there is some evidence that the new variant, the variant that was first identified in London and the south-east, may be associated with a higher degree of mortality.”

But he insisted the vaccines being rolled out across the UK still appeared to work on the variant.

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Johnson said: “All current evidence continues to show that both the vaccines we’re currently using remain effective both against the old variant and this new variant.”

Scientists are concerned the mutant coronavirus strain which emerged in south east England may be more deadly than the original.

The UK’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said the coronavirus variant which emerged in Kent is “a common variant comprising a significant number of cases” and transmits between 30% and 70% more easily than the original virus.

He told a Downing Street press conference on Friday that among people who have tested positive for Covid-19, there is “evidence that there is an increased risk” of death for those who have the new variant compared with the old virus.

Vallance said: “(For the original version of the virus), if you took a man in their 60s, the average risk is that for a thousand people who got infected, roughly 10 would be expected to unfortunately die … with the new variant, for a thousand people infected, roughly 13 or 14 people might be expected to die.

“That’s the sort of change for that sort of age group.”

His comments come after Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London, told Robert Peston: “It is a realistic possibility that the new UK variant increases the risk of death, but there is considerable remaining uncertainty.

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“Four groups – Imperial, LSHTM (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine), PHE (Public Health England), and Exeter – have looked at the relationship between people testing positive for the variant vs old strains and the risk of death.

“That suggests a 1.3-fold increased risk of death.

“So for 60-year-olds, 13 in 1,000 might die compared with 10 in 1,000 for old strains.

“The big caveat is that we only know which strain people were infected with for about 8% of deaths.”


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