Disease expert optimistic of Covid-free Scotland by Christmas

Professor Hugh Pennington said he was 'sceptical' of a new report from the Academy of Medical Sciences.

Covid-19: The fight to stop the spread of the deadly virus goes on. Getty Images
Covid-19: The fight to stop the spread of the deadly virus goes on.

By Jenness Mitchell and Ross Govans

A renowned expert is “reasonably optimistic” that coronavirus will be wiped out in Scotland by Christmas.

Professor Hugh Pennington, an emeritus professor of bacteriology at the Aberdeen University, said he was “sceptical” of a new report from the Academy of Medical Sciences.

It warned a second wave of coronavirus infections could potentially see 120,000 hospital deaths across the UK between September and next June in a “reasonable worst-case scenario”.

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Speaking to STV News, Professor Pennington said: “I’m a bit sceptical that there will be a second wave of that kind of magnitude.”

He said there may be further outbreaks, but believes on that scale is “unlikely” as there was now a “good system” in place for detection and self-isolation.

Prof Pennington said: “We may have cases trickling along, because that’s what’s been happening for the last couple of months, but the number of cases is falling, so I’m reasonably optimistic that before Christmas we’ll pretty well have seen the virus off.”

Expert: Hugh Pennington, an emeritus professor of bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen.

Prof Pennington said research teams had learned a lot about the virus by “bitter experience”.

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Thanks to data published across the globe and studies carried out in Scotland, scientists are now able to fingerprint the virus.

Experts believe Covid-19 will behave like flu, which gets busier just before Christmas and hangs around until February time, however Prof Pennington cautioned: “Only time will tell, I’m afraid to say.”

However, research teams do know the places where the virus likes to spread.

Prof Pennington said: “It likes places where there’s a lot of heavy breathing, let’s put it like that, you know. 

“Rowdy sort of pubs – a good place for the virus, a bad place for the people who are in there.”

The warning comes ahead of lockdown restrictions easing further in Scotland on Wednesday to allow people to return to pubs, restaurants, hotels, hairdressers and places of worship.

The official death toll in Scotland stands at 2490, however weekly figures on suspected Covid-19 deaths suggest the most up-to-date total is now more than 4100.

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Across the UK, more than 44,000 people have died after testing positive for the virus.

Academy of Medical Sciences report

The Academy of Medical Sciences report, from 37 scientists and academics, acknowledges there is a high degree of uncertainty about how the Covid-19 epidemic will evolve in the UK over the coming months, but sets out a “reasonable worst-case scenario” that would see the ‘R’ rate rise to 1.7 from September.

The team also looked at less serious scenarios of what may happen, with an R rate of 1.1 leading to 1300 hospital deaths between September and June.

The R refers to the number of people an infected person can be expected to pass the virus on to.

The academic modelling suggests there could be a peak in hospital admissions and deaths in January and February 2021, similar to or worse than the first wave in spring 2020. 

It does not include deaths in the community or care homes.

The figures also do not take account of government intervention to reduce the transmission rate, or the use of the drug dexamethasone in intensive care units, which has been shown to cut deaths.

Professor Stephen Holgate, a Medical Research Council clinical professor of immunopharmacology, who led the study, said: “This is not a prediction, but it is a possibility.

“The modelling suggests that deaths could be higher with a new wave of Covid-19 this winter, but the risk of this happening could be reduced if we take action immediately.

“With relatively low numbers of Covid-19 cases at the moment, this is a critical window of opportunity to help us prepare for the worst that winter can throw at us.”

Prof Holgate recommended a number of actions to be taken before winter sets in – including flu vaccination for the vulnerable and health and social care workers.

He said testing and tracing must be “upscaled in the winter”, highlighting that more people will need to be tested as winter illnesses can often have similar symptoms to Covid-19.

He also called for a “rapid system of monitoring” in the UK to stop local outbreaks when they occur.

Professor Azra Ghani, chairwoman in infectious disease epidemiology at Imperial College London, also worked on the study and said many things could push the R up to 1.7 – including more contact taking place in schools and people returning to work.

She said the virus was known to spread more easily indoors and highlighted people spend more time inside during the winter.

She added: “In addition, we’re less likely to have our windows open, doors tend to be closed to keep out the cold, and that will again enhance transmission.

“It’s also possible that the virus itself could survive for longer in colder conditions.”

Plans in place for NHS boards

Scotland’s health secretary said plans to deal with a possible surge of coronavirus cases in the coming months are “well under way”.

Jeane Freeman said NHS boards have been told to keep extra capacity ready in intensive care units (ICU) and other wards.

Plans: Health secretary Jeane Freeman.

Speaking at the Scottish Government’s daily briefing on Tuesday, she said: “The planning for autumn and winter is well under way in the NHS in Scotland, including discussions with our colleagues in social care.

“Our boards have been advised to hold a capacity to deal with an upsurge in Covid cases both in beds and in ICU.

“We’re also factoring into that the infections and viruses that come with winter, flu and other respiratory conditions.”

She added: “We cannot assume that our NHS will not have to deal with significant increases in Covid-19 cases, both in the hospital setting or in the primary and community care setting.

“We will position ourselves best to deal with autumn and winter the lower we bring infection numbers down right now.”

First Minister: Nicola Sturgeon is urging Scots to stick to the rules.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the more immediate risk is a resurgence of the first wave of coronavirus.

She stated: “The real risk now is that the first wave takes off again.

“That’s our immediate priority, to stop that happening – which is important for its own sake – but it’s also important in making sure that we don’t go into the winter months with infection levels still at too high a point.”

After announcing no further Covid-19 deaths in Scotland for the sixth day in a row, Sturgeon stated: “It’s taken four painful months, but it is lockdown that has allowed us to stop the first wave in its tracks.

“By putting ourselves in lockdown we also put the virus in lockdown.”

She added: “As we release ourselves from lockdown, we also release the virus from it and so we have to work in other ways to keep it under control.

“That means all of us – every single one of us – sticking rigidly to the rules.”

First Minister: Aberdeen players ‘blatantly broke the rules’

Two footballers at the club have tested positive for Covid-19 and a further six have been told to self-isolate.

The First Minister said eight Aberdeen players who visited a bar in the city on Saturday “blatantly broke the rules” agreed by the Scottish FA, SPFL and government.

Two footballers at the club have tested positive for Covid-19, meaning the their Premiership match at St Johnstone on Saturday has now been postponed.

A further six players are facing 14 days of self-isolation after coming into close contact with the others.

Players are allowed to be in close contact with each other as long as they remain in their bubble, something the Scottish Government said has not happened.

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Nicola Sturgeon said their behaviour was “completely unacceptable” and said calling off the fixture was the right decision.

Speaking at the daily coronavirus briefing, she said: “It is now clear that all eight of these players visited a bar in Aberdeen on Saturday night.

“In doing so they blatantly broke the rules that had been agreed by the SFA, the SPFL and the Scottish Government, which – to put it mildly – is completely unacceptable.

“This morning the Scottish Government convened a meeting with the SFA and the SPFL and, following those discussions, the football authorities have confirmed the game between Aberdeen and St Johnstone scheduled for tomorrow in Perth will not now go ahead.

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“I think that is the right decision. We are expecting members of the public to behave in a highly precautionary manner right now.

“When a football club ends up with players infected – and let’s remember this is not through bad luck but clear breaches of the rules – we cannot take even smalls risks that could then spread the infection to other parts of the country.”

Sturgeon said the Scottish Government will be contacting all club captains and managers to “emphasise the importance” of complying with guidance.

Aberdeen chairman Dave Cormack said he had apologised to health authorities and other Premiership clubs.

He said: “Given the significant Covid-19 outbreak in Aberdeen, we fully understand why the Scottish Government has made this decision in the interests of public health.

“With the pressure over this season’s fixtures, and the fact that we caused this problem, we were fully prepared to play the game tomorrow. We are very grateful that the decision has been to postpone, rather than forfeit the game.

“I took the opportunity yesterday to apologise to both football and health authorities, and with our fellow Premiership clubs today.”

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Regarding the ongoing outbreak in Aberdeen city, where a lockdown has been reimposed, a total of 101 cases of the virus have been confirmed.


Face masks mandatory in libraries and places of worship

Decision to expand list of places where they must be worn has been confirmed by Nicola Sturgeon.

Face coverings will become mandatory in libraries, museums and places of worship from Saturday.

Masks must currently be worn in shops and on public transport but a decision to expand the list of places was confirmed by the First Minister.

She said “risks are heightened” as the country eases lockdown measures.

Speaking at the daily coronavirus briefing, Sturgeon also said that, based on scientific advice, it wasn’t thought face visors provided sufficient protection.

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As a result, from Saturday if a visor is worn it must be accompanied by another type of face covering.

The Scottish Government will make it mandatory for pubs and other venues to collect customer details from next Friday, Sturgeon added.

The requirement will be placed on a “statutory footing”, she said, and will help ensure test and protect can function as effectively as possible.

She also said the Scottish Government will issue new statutory guidance related to indoor hospitality to ensure greater compliance with coronavirus measures, to take effect from next Friday.

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Police Scotland will enforce the measures if necessary.

The measures are introduced as a common factor in the rise in coronavirus outbreaks across the world, Sturgeon said, is a link to hospitality.


Labour bid to force Swinney out over exams ‘shambles’

No confidence motion comes as pupils gather in Glasgow to protest downgrading.

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Swinney faces vote of no confidence.

Scottish Labour has said it will table a motion of no confidence in education secretary John Swinney.

The move comes amid fierce criticism of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Qualifications Authority over the exam results moderation process.

Around 138,000 school pupils received the results of their National, Higher and Advanced Higher courses on Tuesday after an exam-free year.

Results published by the Scottish Government showed that while pass rates were up and three out of four grade estimates were not adjusted, the SQA downgraded 124,564 results – 93.1% of all the moderated grades.

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Around 133,000 entries were adjusted from the initial estimate, with only 6.9% adjusted up.

Scottish Labour said it had now obtained documentary evidence that the SQA is planning to not reveal appeal results till the end of May 2021. 

As a result, the party said it would table a motion of no confidence and seek support from other parties in the Scottish Parliament for Swinney’s removal.

“It is now clear that John Swinney has completely lost control of the SQA and the exam process, and he needs to go.”

Iain Gray, Scottish Labour education spokesperson

Scottish Labour education spokesman Iain Gray said: “Since the shambles of the SQA results emerged on Tuesday, the SQA and SNP ministers have deflected criticism through arguing that students could appeal unfair grades. 

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“This astonishing leak blows the lid off their defence. The SQA created this mess and the SNP government has entrusted them to sort it out – but all we have seen is shambles upon shambles upon shambles. 

“It is now clear that John Swinney has completely lost control of the SQA and the exam process, and he needs to go. We will seek to lay a motion to that effect and approach colleagues across parliament for their support.”

Labour claims it has seen evidence – on the SQA intranet portal – that the SQA plans to conclude “priority” reviews for candidates awaiting university places by September 4, adding that such a lengthy delay for all other appeals could “compromise those applying for university next year and those seeking to apply for jobs”.

But the SQA said there is no nine-month wait for grades.

An SQA spokesman said: “This was a meaningless date set as part of a technical requirement to allow the system to go live.

“The results of the priority appeals will be emailed to schools and colleges for learners by 4th September.

“We are committed to processing all appeals as quickly as possible. We will provide a date for all other reviews shortly after 21st August.”

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More than 100 pupils held a protest in Glasgow on Friday, with many claiming they had been penalised for living in less affluent areas.

During the protest in George Square, young people were pictured holding placards with captions such as ‘judge my work, not my postcode’ at a protest organised by 17-year-old student Erin Bleakley.

This year’s exam results were calculated by teachers, who based their estimates on preliminary exams and coursework, while the SQA took into consideration the previous performance of the school.

But the national moderation system meant that many students received lower grades than originally estimated.

Speaking at the Scottish Government’s daily briefing, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told pupils the moderation was necessary to “command the confidence of colleges and universities and employers”.

However, she urged pupils to challenge their results if there has been “genuine individual injustices”.

Queen to miss Sunday service amid new lockdown restrictions

Head of state will not take her seat at Crathie Kirk in a bid to stop well-wishers gathering in Aberdeenshire.

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Queen normally joins congregation at Crathie Kirk.

The Queen will not attend church in Scotland on Sunday in order to stop well-wishers gathering.

The head of state, who travelled to Balmoral with the Duke of Edinburgh on Tuesday for her traditional summer break, normally joins the congregation at nearby Crathie Kirk.

But it is understood she will not take her seat in the place of worship in Aberdeenshire to avoid large groups of people congregating outside.

Lockdown measures have been reintroduced in Aberdeen following the outbreak of a coronavirus cluster in the city.

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The Queen’s annual visit to Balmoral Castle was already expected to be different from normal due to the coronavirus restrictions in place.

Crathie Kirk – a regular place of worship for the royal family when they are in residence at the estate – is among the places subject to rules allowing communal prayer for a maximum of 50 people, with two-metre distancing in place.

A Buckingham Palace spokesman previously said arrangements for the Queen’s stay in Scotland “will be in line with the relevant guidelines and advice”.

Pubs required to take customer details after virus outbreak

The new law was made in the wake of a Covid cluster in Aberdeen, with 101 new cases confirmed.

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Pubs: It will be mandatory to collect customer details from next Friday.

Pubs and other venues will be required to collect customer details from next Friday, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

The First Minister said the mandatory requirement will be placed on a “statutory footing” and will help ensure test and protect can function as effectively as possible.

Speaking at the daily briefing in Edinburgh, she said businesses should be collecting contact details, asking people to pre-book tables and there should be no queues.

Sturgeon also said the Scottish Government will issue new statutory guidance related to indoor hospitality to ensure greater compliance with coronavirus measures, to take effect from next Friday.

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Police Scotland will enforce the measures if necessary.

The news follows an outbreak of coronavirus in Aberdeen where a lockdown has been reimposed, with 101 new cases of the virus confirmed.

Eight Aberdeen FC players visited a bar in the city centre at the weekend, which led to two of them testing positive for Covid-19 and six others having to self-isolate.

As a result, the team’s Premiership match at St Johnstone on Saturday has now been postponed.

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Sturgeon said a common factor in the rise in coronavirus outbreaks across the world is a link to hospitality.

She said settings like pubs and restaurants are particularly susceptible to the virus.

While she said the majority of businesses had complied with coronavirus measures imposed on hospitality, she said “it is clear there are some businesses where that has not been the case”. 

The First Minister added that businesses should not wait for new statutory measures to come into place before complying with Scottish Government advice.

People should not be standing at the bar to watch football, she added, and there should be no background music to prevent shouting and any increased risk of transmission.

Sturgeon said that while new mandatory measures being introduced are “really restrictive,” they are there because they are necessary.

She said: “We see in Aberdeen right now including the situation with the football club how quickly this virus spreads”


Workman in hospital after van bursts into flames

Firefighters tackled blaze after the vehicle exploded in Prestwick on Friday morning.

Fire: The van erupted into flames in Prestwick.

A van burst into flames on a South Ayrshire street on Friday morning.

Fire crews attended the scene in Langcroft Avenue, Prestwick, after they were alerted to the blaze at 11.24am.

A workman was taken by ambulance staff to Ayr Hospital as a precaution, while firefighters extinguished the flames.

A spokesman for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service: “We were alerted at 11.24am on Friday, August 7, to reports of a vehicle fire in Prestwick.

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“Operations Control mobilised three appliances to the town’s Langcroft Avenue, where firefighters were met by a van on fire.

“Crews extinguished the fire and worked to make the area safe before leaving the scene.

“One casualty was transported to Ayr Hospital by Scottish Ambulance Service personnel.”

Police were also called to the incident and said enquiries are ongoing.


Religious cult member jailed for raping two girls

One woman who helped bring Derek Lincoln to justice describes life in Children of God communes.

Derek Lincoln will has been jailed for more than 11 years.

A member of a religious cult has been jailed for 11-and-a-half years after admitting repeatedly raping two girls almost three decades ago.

Derek Lincoln, 74, was told by judge Lord Matthews that he “stole the dreams” of his young victims.

This is the second prosecution of its kind in Scotland in two years.

Lincoln, who was extradited from France, admitted abusing the two girls while he was a member of the ‘Children of God’ cult, based at various sites in Ayrshire, Lanarkshire, and Renfrewshire between 1989 and 1996.

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The girls were aged nine and 11 when they were first targeted by Lincoln.

One woman who gave evidence against him hailed a “massive victory” for survivors.

Known only as Joy and now in her 40s, she managed to escape the cult when she was a teenager.

She had been abused by members of the religious sect from the age of four at locations including Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire.

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Joy said: “For so many years we were taught not to expect justice. We were taught no one in the outside world will believe you.

“It’s a crazy story, telling people you were trafficked between communes, didn’t know your own address for most of your childhood, how you were out fundraising from four years old and never had an education, the extreme and bizarre daily punishments.

“People don’t believe this stuff happens outside 80s American films but it does and often it was hidden in plain sight.”

Children of God began in the United States in the late 1960s and has faced allegations of widespread sexual and physical abuse of women and children.

Its founder David Berg called himself Moses.

The victims involved in both prosecutions grew up in communes around Scotland in the 1980s and 90s.  

Lincoln, who was also known as Derk Birks or John Green, committed the offences at addresses in Ayrshire,  Renfrewshire and Lanarkshire.

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Detective sergeant Neil Wilson, from Police Scotland, said: “Derek Lincoln was a very cruel individual, there was no information to suggest he was brainwashed in any way.

“We are of the opinion that he used his position within the children of god to abuse his victims.”

Lincoln was caught as part of a five-year international investigation.

His crimes came to light when his first victim made a complaint to police in England.

Det Sgt Wilson said: “Derek Lincoln held the position of like a house master at communes so he would be responsible for education of children and conveying adults from different locations for charity work.

“He used that opportunity to commit the serious sexual crimes that he did.

Children who were brought up as being members of the Children of God , now called Family International, were commonly brought up  in a household with a dozen other families, curtains drawn, not seeing the light of day. 

Joy said: “The communes were international. Sometimes it was a family unit, sometimes they had 40 to 50 people. I never stayed in one place long enough to make a friend.  

“One of the challenges of bringing people to justice was the fact we were constantly moved so we didn’t know the exact locations. I was aware of Derek Lincoln but I didn’t know him by that name.  

“Everyone in the cult had a biblical name. There are no surnames. This was another difficulty for police but by tracking down supporting witnesses, they were able to identify abusers like Lincoln.”

Joy was thrown out of the cult by becoming a “bad apple” but still suffers flashbacks after all these years.

She said: I have issues with insomnia. I know this will be with me for the rest of my life but with counselling, I can lessen the impact it has on my daily life. I am taking back control.

“The cult gave abusers an environment in which they could flourish. Even the other ones that went along with it and didn’t say anything, they are not innocent. 

“If they are truly sorry, they should acknowledge that. The innocent ones are the children.”

Lincoln began abusing one of the girls when she was 11 or 12.

The first rape victim described Lincoln as ‘stern and controlling” and said he once put soap in her mouth and beat her with a switch and a belt.

When the girl was aged 12, Lincoln apologised to her for his behaviour, but despite the abuse became more frequent.

On one occasion he took her out jogging with him and as they ran into a wooded area he pulled her to the ground and raped her.

Lincoln’s second victim was raped when she was nine or ten. After abusing her he would tell her he was sorry and frequently bought her gifts.

Lincoln, who was retired and living in France, was returned to Scotland on October 9, 2019 on a European Arrest Warrant.

The first man to be convicted of abuse linked to Children of God in Scotland was Alexander Watt from Maybole.

The 68-year-old admitted offences against two children and was given three years’ probation and placed on the sex offenders’ register in 2018.

Family International continues to have a presence online. 

Following the first conviction, the group issued a statement saying: “Although the Family International has apologised on a number of occasions to former members for any hurt, real or perceived, they may have suffered during their time in our membership, we do not give credence to tales of institutionalised abuse.”

Ian Haworth, who runs the Cult Information Centre, which supports ex-cult members and advises police, welcomed the sentencing.

He said: “Sadly this kind of abuse is a very common story that I hear but what isn’t  common is the police taking this kind of action.  

“I’m absolutely delighted there has now been two prosecutions in Scotland. We just haven’t seen this elsewhere. 

“In that particular group, people are given new names when they enter into the group so even if you knew the name of the person, that’s not their name in real life so tracing these people is very hard. I hope this encourages more people to come forward.”


Man injured by gang in late night robbery

A 55-year-old suffered minor injuries and had cash stolen after being attacked by three men in Moray.

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Man assaulted and robbed in Forres.

A 55-year-old man was assaulted and robbed in Moray.

Police are appealing for information after the man was attacked just after midnight on Saturday, August 1 on Califer Road in Forres.

The man had a quantity of cash stolen from him and suffered minor injuries but did not require any medical treatment.

The three men responsible are described as being in their late teens to early 20s and were all wearing dark hooded tops.

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Detective Sergeant Robbie Williams of Elgin CID said: “This was a scary experience for the man involved who has been shaken by the incident.

“I would urge anyone who may have been in the area at the time or saw the three men to get in touch with us as soon as possible.”

Anyone with information should contact police on 101 quoting incident number 2091 of 1, August 2020.

More on:

I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! to be filmed in UK

The hit TV show could be travelling north of the border with many Scottish castles fitting the bill.

ITV News
I'm A Celeb: To be filmed in the UK.

Hit reality TV show I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! is to be filmed in the UK for the first time.

Rather than the usual trip to an Australian jungle, a group of celebrities will instead he staying in the ruined castle in the British countryside for what will be the show’s 20th series.

The location has not yet been revealed, however it could potentially be north of the border with several Scottish castles fitting the bill.

Geordie duo Ant and Dec will return to host the series which will be broadcast live every night on STV. 

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As on the regular series, viewers will see the celebrities undertake gruelling trials and fun-filled challenges to win food and treats in the lead up to one of them being crowned, for the first time ever, King or Queen of the Castle.

The change was made due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that made it unfeasible for it to be shot in Australia.

Kevin Lygo, ITV’s director of television said: “We announced last week that we were doing all we could to make the series and I’m thrilled that we can bring the show to viewers albeit not in the jungle. “

Richard Cowles, Director of Entertainment at ITV Studios said: “We pulled out all the stops to try and make the series happen in Australia.  Unfortunately, due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and despite us looking at many different contingencies, it became apparent that it just wasn’t possible for us to travel and make the show there.  

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“Our celebrities will probably have to swap shorts for thermals but they can still look forward to a basic diet of rice and beans and plenty of thrills and surprises along the way”.


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