The boss of the firm behind the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine has raised hopes it is more effective than first thought amid the spread of a new strain of the virus.
AstraZeneca chief Pascal Soriot told the Sunday Times he believed researchers had found the “winning formula” using two doses and promised to publish the results as reports suggested the UK regulator could approve the jab within days.
The claim will come as some relief as Canada became the latest country to identify cases of the new highly infectious variant of coronavirus, which was first detected in the UK and has since spread to at least a dozen countries.
By December 20, a total of 56,676 people in Scotland had received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, including care home residents and staff and patient-facing NHS staff.
Just before Christmas, health secretary Jeane Freeman told the Scottish Parliament GPs could start vaccinating people over 80 from January 11 if the Oxford vaccine is approved by the end of the year.
Cases of the variant strain have been confirmed across Europe including in France, Spain, Denmark, Italy, Iceland, Switzerland, Sweden and the Netherlands, as well as around the globe in Australia, Japan and Lebanon.
Concerns around the strain has led to the whole of mainland Scotland moving into level four restrictions – similar to the full lockdown implemented in March.
Non-essential shops, pubs and restaurants are shut except for takeaways, drive-throughs and deliveries.
Only essential travel is allowed after the restrictions came into effect on Boxing Day.
The level four rules – affecting mainland Scotland and Skye – are in place for at least three weeks and the lockdown will be reviewed after a fortnight.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Boxing Day: “Please stay home/local as much as possible, to help stop this new, faster spreading strain of the virus running out of control.”
Storm Arwen has been given the Met Office’s highest warning level and “has the potential to bring the most damaging winds we’ve seen for years”.
Motorists have been warned to “not travel under any circumstances” while the red warning is in place in eastern Scotland from 3pm on Friday until 2am on Saturday.
Forecasters warned winds as fast as 90mph could damage buildings, bring down power lines and disrupt travel from Friday afternoon.
Since the warning was issued, roads, bridges and railway lines have been closed, with delays to buses, trains, ferry services and flights.
SSE has reported more than 150 unplanned power outages across Scotland and the Met Office has warned that mobile phone service could be disrupted.
There is a particular threat to sea front homes and businesses, with large waves and debris being thrown on to coastal roads.
The red warning for the first named storm this winter is in place along the eastern coastline and also covers parts of northern England.
Superintendent Simon Bradshaw, from Police Scotland’s road policing unit, said: “The high winds being experienced have led to red weather warnings coming into effect and as such, any motorist within these affected regions should not travel under any circumstances.
“If you are currently within more in-land areas of these regions, then amber and yellow warnings are also in place and we are asking that you do not journey out unless for essential purposes and if you are doing so, to be mindful of the challenging conditions you will face.
“A number of local road closures and bridge restrictions may also be implemented during this period of adverse weather and we would advise the public to consult the Transport Scotland and Met Office websites for continuous and updated information.”
There is a particular threat to sea front homes and businesses with large waves and debris being thrown on to coastal roads.
STV meteorologist Sean Batty warned that Arwen “has the potential to bring the most damaging winds we’ve seen for years”.
He added: “That’s especially since the strongest gusts will affect the more built up areas of the east coast, rather than the Hebrides and Northern Isles where we do see winds of this strength from time to time in the winter months.
“Red warnings are the highest level of warnings that we have, and are therefore extremely rare. The last red warning that was issued in Scotland was back in February 2018 for snow, but the last time we had a red warning for strong winds was in 2016 for Orkney and Shetland.”
A yellow weather warning has been issued across the rest of the country, where power cuts, road closures and damage to trees and structures are all possible.
Much of the Highlands has been warned to expect snow and high winds, with a chance that some could be stranded if caught up in blizzards.
The Met Office said it is possible that some communities might become cut off in the latter half of the day, with every school in Orkney closing for the day at 1pm.
BEAR Scotland, which looks after the trunk roads in the north-west, north-east and south-east of Scotland, said it was primed to tackle whatever weather conditions Storm Arwen brings.
Restrictions may be required on bridges such as Skye Bridge, Kessock Bridge, Dornoch Bridge, Cromarty Bridge, Friarton Bridge and the Forth Road Bridge.
The A1 has been closed to high sided vehicles after winds speeds of up to 52mph were recorded near Torness.
Vehicles including motorbikes, caravans and cars with trailers and roof boxes will be diverted via the A68.
Eddie Ross, BEAR Scotland’s operating company representative for the north-west, said: “We are fully prepped and are closely monitoring conditions and will act quickly when required.
“We remind members of the public to check before travelling. Traffic Scotland is a great source of the latest journey information and advice. Drivers of high sided and wind-susceptible vehicles such as caravans and trailers should take particular care and check for restrictions.”
Network Rail said the storm turned out to be “worse than forecasted”, adding there had been several incidents of trains striking trees and branches.
Many travellers were left stranded after routes abruptly stopped due to the weather conditions, with some forced to travel hundreds of miles by taxi after alternative transport was unavailable.
On Friday evening, ScotRail said there would be no trains running on the following routes:
Edinburgh – Dunbar/North Berwick
Edinburgh – Dundee/Perth
Edinburgh – Fife
Perth – Inverness
Dundee – Aberdeen
Inverness – Aberdeen
Inverness – Wick/Kyle
Dumbarton Ctl – Balloch
Trains travelling in and out of Glasgow Queen Street station were also disrupted after a fallen tree was discovered resting on power lines in Bishopbriggs.
Speed restrictions were put in place earlier in the day on services between Edinburgh and Aberdeen, Aberdeen and Inverness and the Far North line.
The East Coast Mainline and North Berwick branch lines were closed from 5pm until end of service on Friday.
In Aberdeenshire, a number of cars were crushed by falling trees and branches at Banchory Lodge Hotel.
The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service have urged the public not to contact them over fallen trees and debris on roads after being inundated with calls.
A SFRS spokesperson said: “Our Operations Control rooms across the country are receiving a higher number of calls than usual this evening, Friday, November 26 due to the severe weather as a result of Storm Arwen.
“We ask the public for their co-operation at this time and remind them that all non-emergency calls relating to trees and other road debris should be made to the local authority for the area.”
Meanwhile events were cancelled following warnings not to travel, with Disney on Ice at the P&J Live in Aberdeen forced to abandon Friday’s show.
The venue said ticket holders will be issued with a full refund.
The warnings in full:
A red weather warning for wind is in place along Scotland’s eastern coast from 3pm on Friday until 2am on Saturday
A yellow weather warning for wind is in place across most of the country from 9am on Friday until 6pm on Saturday
An amber warning for Storm Arwen is in place across the east coast from 3pm on Friday until 9am on Saturday
A yellow warning for snow is in place across much of the Highlands from 2pm on Friday until midnight
Transport minister Graeme Dey said: “The first storm of the winter period, Storm Arwen, is set to impact Scotland on Friday and Saturday.
“The whole country is going to see blustery conditions, but the Met Office is telling us that eastern parts of Scotland in particular are going to see some difficult weather.”
“I would urge motorists to check the Met Office and Traffic Scotland websites and social media before setting out on their journey, particularly in those areas most affected by the predicted adverse weather.”
But on Friday, Sturgeon returned her previous point of view – that the plans should undergo a “rigorous climate assessment”.
She insisted that she was “absolutely emphatically not” abandoning the oil and gas industry.
“The science is telling us we have to move away as quickly as possible from fossil fuels, or frankly we don’t limit global warming in the way that we need to do for the sake of the future of our planet,” Sturgeon said.
“No leader should put their head in the sand and ignore that.”
She said Scotland needed to accelerate a “just transition” away from oil and gas that did not leave the 100,000 people working in the sector on the “economic scrapheap”.
‘Indyref2 plans depend on Covid’
The First Minister said she intended to take steps towards a second independence referendum before the end of 2023 – an SNP manifesto commitment.
But Sturgeon would not be drawn on when Scots can expect the government to publish a referendum bill.
“Exactly at what point next year we will introduce that bill depends on, not least, when we’ve got through the winter and Covid,” she said.
“But I’m very clear, Covid permitting, I intend to take these steps in a timescale that will allow a referendum to happen in that timescale.”
Asked whether those plans take into account potential legal action, she said there was no need if those in political office “simply accept democracy”.
“I’m not planning to take legal action, if the UK Government are planning to take legal action to overturn Scottish democracy, perhaps it’s them you should be asking that question of,” Sturgeon said.
Scotland have been drawn to play Ukraine in the World Cup play-off semi-final next year.
If the national side win that match at Hampden, they will play the winner of Wales v Austria for a place at the World Cup finals in Qatar next year.
The final will be played in Wales or Austria.
The play-off draw was conducted at FIFA headquarters on Friday and manager Steve Clarke and his players now know exactly what stands between them and a first World Cup appearance since 1998.
Scotland finished second in their qualification group to earn a play-off place, winning their last six matches to finish ahead of Israel and Austria and securing seeded status as one of the best runners-up.
As seeds, the team were guaranteed a home draw for the semi-final on March 24, with Hampden expected to be a sell-out for the match.
The final will be played on March 29.
Ukraine were unbeaten in the group stage and faced France twice without defeat but they only won two of their matches (against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Finland), drawing the other six games and failing to beat Kazakhstan in either match.
The Euro 2020 quarter-finalists have only won six of their last 18 games but seem to have a knack of getting a result when it matters.
Oleksandr Petrakov is in temporary charge after Andriy Shevchenko quit in August and has an experienced squad to draw upon, with a core of Ukraine-based players supplemented by players from top sides, including Manchester City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko and West Ham’s Andriy Yarmalenko.
A new strain of coronavirus that has reached Belgium after being discovered in South Africa has been designated a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organisation.
The WHO warned that preliminary evidence suggests the variant, which the organisation named Omicron, has an increased risk of reinfection and may spread more rapidly than other strains.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said there is “huge international concern” surrounding the strain after banning flights from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia to limit its spread.
He told MPs there are concerns the variant may be more transmissible, make vaccines less effective and may affect one of the UK’s Covid treatments, Ronapreve.
Ministers were facing calls to go further to prevent a wave of Omicron arriving in Britain while a Delta surge is ongoing, as Belgium became the first EU country to announce a case.
Professor John Edmunds, who advises the Government as part of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), warned that could create a “very, very, very difficult situation”.
The EU, US and Canada all followed Britain’s move to impose travel restrictions on visitors from southern Africa ahead of the WHO adding the strain, also known as B.1.1.529, to its highest category for concerning variants.
Experts at the WHO said there is early evidence to suggest Omicron has an “increased risk of reinfection” and its rapid spread in South Africa suggests it has a “growth advantage”.
No cases have been detected in the UK but its arrival in Belgium – after being found in Botswana, Hong Kong and Israel – has heightened concerns.
Marc Van Ranst, a virologist at the Rega Institute in Belgium, said a sample was confirmed as the variant in a traveller who returned from Egypt on November 11 before first showing symptoms 11 days later.
The six African countries were added to the UK’s travel red list on Thursday evening and passengers arriving in the UK from these countries from 4am on Sunday will be required to book and pay for a Government-approved hotel quarantine for ten days.
Downing Street urged anyone who has arrived from those countries recently to get tested.
Javid said discussions are ongoing over the prospect of adding further countries to the red list, telling the Commons the Government “won’t hesitate to act if we need to do so”.
Boris Johnson held a call with South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa on Friday afternoon after foreign minister Naledi Pandor said the flight ban “seems to have been rushed”.
The Prime Minister “commended South Africa’s rapid genomic sequencing” and its “leadership in transparently sharing scientific data”, Downing Street said.
“They discussed the challenges posed globally by the new Covid-19 variant and ways to work together to deal with it and reopen international travel,” a statement said.
Prof Edmunds said the new strain “is a huge worry” and that “all the data suggests” it would be able to evade current immunity.
“Our fears are it would do so to a large extent,” he told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme.
Prof Edmunds urged ministers to look at extending travel restrictions and to prepare a plan to deal with Omicron because “at some point we’re going to get this variant here in the UK”.
He suggested mass testing and local restrictions must be looked at while other preparations could include making the booster programme more rapid, perhaps by reducing the gap between second and third doses, and widening it to younger age groups.
“Even the vaccines don’t work particularly well against this new variant, they do against Delta, and we’re still fighting a Delta wave and we certainly don’t want to be fighting both at the same time,” he said.
“There are things we can do and we need to get on with it very rapidly.”
South African scientists fear the variant is behind a dramatic rise in cases in some regions, including Gauteng province, which includes the cities of Pretoria and Johannesburg.
Pfizer/BioNTech, which has produced a vaccine against Covid-19, is already studying the new variant’s ability to evade vaccines.
Experts have said vaccines can be tweaked to tackle new variants as they emerge.
Nicola Sturgeon has been told she “must” put a flagship hospital under direct ministerial control and sack senior figures at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar repeated demands for the First Minister to step in, amid concerns about the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.
It comes amid ongoing controversy about infections at the hospital, with Sarwar claiming these had been linked to more deaths.
He told Sturgeon that a case of aspergillus had been discovered in a child cancer patient who was being treated in the same ward at the same time as Andrew Slorance – a senior Scottish Government official who died last year after contracting both coronavirus and the aspergillus infection while being treated for cancer in the QEUH.
Sarwar also said that more recently a child in the paediatric hospital acquired a waterborne infection like the one linked to the death of schoolgirl Milly Main and had also died.
After raising concerns with Sturgeon at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, the Labour leader repeated his calls for action in a letter to her, calling for both the chairman and the chief executive of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde to be removed from their posts.
Sarwar told her: “You must sack the chairman and chief executive at NHSGCC, sack the oversight board and put the hospital under direct ministerial control.
“More families should not have to pay the price for your government failing to do the right thing.”
In his letter to Sturgeon, the Scottish Labour leader recalled that previous health secretary Shona Robison had placed NHS Tayside into “special measures”, with the health board chief executive and chair both replaced, amid concerns over improper use of funds.
Sarwar told the First Minister: “My concern is that while your government has seen fit to use these powers over financial mismanagement, you are unwilling to act when they could save lives.”
He insisted: “People are still dying from preventable hospital-acquired infections.
“A culture of bullying and intimidation at the board continues to leave staff fearful of speaking out.
“The leadership at the health board, and the oversight board put in place by your government, have failed.”
Sturgeon has already told the Scottish Labour leader that “sacking a health board does not change overnight the practice in a hospital”.
She stated: “When concerns are raised about the cause of someone’s death, then that has to be properly investigated so that the action that is then taken as a result of that is the right action.”
While she accepted “these are serious matters”, the First Minister stressed: “We do not do justice to the families concerned if we simply call for action that is not based on proper investigation, proper scrutiny and proper consideration.”
A spokesperson for NHSGGC said: “In the past 24 hours, the QEUH/RHC and specifically the treatment provided to our patients has continued to be called into question.
“Hearing such speculation and allegations has been extremely difficult for our staff and patients alike.”
The spokesperson said the continued claims to be made that NHSGGC is failing to be transparent across all areas of patient care and building safety is “of serious concern”.
“We are deeply saddened by the way in which the commitment and working practices of our staff at the QEUH and RHC are being portrayed,” they added.
“However, it is important that we are not complacent and, when issues or concerns are raised, we will continue to address them in a constructive and robust manner.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The First Minister has received Mr Sarwar’s letter and will respond in due course.
“As NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde have made it clear, infection control procedures at the QEUH are rigorous and of the highest standard.
“The Scottish Government has engaged with the health board to ensure that the concerns raised are properly investigated and resolved.”
Family, friends, fans and former teammates of Celtic legend Bertie Auld gathered in Glasgow to bid farewell to the Lisbon Lion as his funeral took place.
The European Cup winner, who also won five league titles, three Scottish Cups and four League Cups during during two spells at the Parkhead club, died earlier this month aged 83.
His funeral cortege passed Celtic Park at around 1.30pm on Friday, following a service at St Mary’s Chapel, which was shown on a big screen outside the stadium.
Auld’s fellow Lisbon Lion, Jim Craig, performed a reading at the service, which was being attended by former Celtic players including Tom Boyd, Stephen McManus, Andy Walker, Davie Hay and John Clark.
Other club legends paying their respects included Danny McGrain, Roy Aitken, Frank McAvennie and Joe Miller.
Callum McGregor, Kyogo Furuhashi, Joe Hart and Jota were among the current first team in attendance.
Manager Ange Postecoglou arrived at the Chapel with first team coach John Kennedy with predecessors Neil Lennon and Brendan Rodgers also there to show their respects.
Respect was also coming from the blue-side of Glasgow through Rangers managing director Stewart Robertson.
Rangers legend Willie Henderson was also representing the Ibrox club in paying respects to his former rival.
Thousands of fans gathered at Celtic Park to watch the service.
Auld was part of the Celtic team which lifted the European Cup after beating Inter Milan in Lisbon in 1967 and also played in the 1970 final when Jock Stein’s men lost to Feyenoord in extra-time.
No other Scottish team has reached the final of Europe’s top competition since.
‘He defined the notion of a diehard’
Obituary by STV special correspondent Bernard Ponsonby
If Billy McNeill is the never to be forgotten icon of Lisbon 1967, Jimmy Johnstone the irrepressible entertainer, Bobby Murdoch the beating heart of this country’s greatest ever club side, then Bertie Auld is the enduring spirit.
As everyone who walks Kerrydale Street or has attended a supporter’s function or drank in a Celtic pub will know, there was no greater ambassador for remembering the magic of that night or of honouring the memory of his departed brothers than Bertie Auld.
It was Auld who led the singing of the Celtic song as the players emerged from the tunnel in the Estadio Nacional, no doubt to the bemusement of the sculpted, tanned athletes of Inter Milan.
Although his own legendary status was assured as a result of the events of May 25, 1967, to the day he died he redefined the notion of a diehard. Wherever there was a Celtic party, the wee man was never far away.
I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! will be broadcast as a pre-recorded show rather than live as Storm Arwen batters the UK with winds as strong as 90mph.
Co-hosts Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly will record their links early in the evening as part of “precautionary measures” being put in place by ITV following severe storm weather warnings, it is understood.
Storm Arwen is due to hit the area surrounding Gwrych Castle in North Wales at 9pm on Friday and it is understood there are concerns the satellite link could be affected by the predicted high winds.
A spokesperson for I’m A Celebrity said: “Tonight’s I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! will be broadcast as a pre-recorded show rather than live due to the developing Storm Arwen and precautionary measures we’re putting into place on production.
“Our celebrities will remain inside the castle, which is secure, and we have contingencies in place to cover all weather scenarios to ensure the safety of our cast and crew.”
Most of the UK is blanketed by weather warnings as the storm approaches.
The Met Office has issued a rare warning for wind as Storm Arwen is set to batter the country, with gusts forecast to be as high as 90mph and waves as high as ten metres.
The red warning stretches along the east coast from Middlesbrough to beyond Aberdeen and is the first maximum alert to be issued since Storm Dennis in February 2020.
The warning, which is the highest the Met Office issues, means the impact is likely to be severe, with the potential for damage to buildings and homes, with roofs blown off and power lines brought down.
I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! airs at 9pm on Friday evening on STV and is available on the STV Player.
Dangerous driver jailed for six years after fireball death crash
Ednilson De Ceita's BMW X5 collided with Jonathan Smith’s Peugeot 206 on May 25, 2018.
A dangerous driver who killed another motorist in a horrific crash after speeding and going onto the opposite carriageway has been jailed for six years.
Ednilson De Ceita’s BMW X5 collided with Jonathan ‘jonny’ Smith’s Peugeot 206, resulting in the 29-year-old victim suffering a serious head injury and his car going up in flames.
During sentencing at the High Court in Edinburgh on Friday, judge Lord Beckett said: “You gave Mr Smith no chance of surviving the collision.”
The judge said Mr Smith was “a wholly innocent young man” who had spent much of his last day caring for a brother who was recovering from illness.
Lord Beckett said he had read “harrowing statements” from the victim’s relatives and was given information about “Jonathan’s life and work and hopes and dreams”.
He said: “They explain the devastation brought on them.
“I am left in no doubt that a number of his close relatives have suffered grievous consequences for their physical and mental health.
“I have reached the conclusion there is no alternative to a custodial sentence because of the gravity of the crimes you have committed.”
De Ceita, 29, had earlier denied causing the death of Mr Smith by driving dangerously on May 25, 2018, on the A902 Maybury Road, Edinburgh, by driving at excessive speed, onto the opposite carriageway and into the path of oncoming vehicles before colliding with the Peugeot and another vehicle, but was found guilty by a jury.
He was also convicted of driving at the time of the fatal collision without a valid licence or insurance.
The court heard that De Ceita, a property firm manager from Edinburgh, was a first offender who had never previously served a jail sentence.
Advocate depute Michael Meehan QC told the trial: “At the time of the impact the BMW X5 was being driven at 63mph.”
The prosecutor said there was evidence that the vehicle was driven into an area of hatched marking on the roadway prior to it taking a deviation to the right.
He said De Ceita had given differing accounts to the police of going to the left and right and stated that he saw an Audi coming towards him and into his lane and took evasive action.
But he also said that the phone of a female passenger in his vehicle sounded as if it had received a notification and he turned to her for “about half a second” to ask who the message was from, before turning back.
He claimed that when he turned back, he saw a set of headlights which appeared to be on full beam directly in front of him.
But Mr Meehan said there was clear evidence of “driver distraction”.
“He turned his head away and turned his head back,” he told jurors.
The prosecutor said that failures to move to the near side, to observe the speed limit and road markings amounted to dangerous driving.
Defence counsel Ronnie Renucci QC said De Ceita now accepted that he was aware at the time that a licence he had was not valid.
He said: “At the time he didn’t believe he had been speeding or think he was, but now accepts that he was.”
Mr Renucci said: “These cases are particularly tragic and that is not lost on De Ceita.
“It is a personal tragedy for him and his family, but of course he recognises and accepts that is really nothing to the impact of his actions on Mr Smith and Mr Smith’s family.
“He totally regrets his actions. He has expressed genuine remorse over the death of Mr Smith. He recognises that is something he will have to live with for the rest of his life that he is responsible for the death of another.”
De Ceita was banned from driving for nine years and until he passes an extended driving test.
Following the court case, detective chief inspector Graham Grant said: “There were a number of complexities to this investigation but officers remained determined and committed to establish what caused this crash and cost Jonny his life.
“Ednilson Ceita failed to admit that his actions resulted in this catastrophic event.
“We found that he was driving at excessive speed, ultimately swerving into oncoming traffic, which led to his BMW colliding with the Peugeot being driven by Mr Smith and another vehicle.
“Jonny’s family have had to wait over three years for justice. They have been dignified and resolute throughout and I hope that today’s verdict offers them some form of comfort.
“I’d like to thank my investigation team, our colleagues in the Road Policing Unit and other elements of the organisation who contributed to the outcome, but most importantly to Jonny’s family, friends, and the wider community he was an integral part of, for their support during our investigation.”