Tag: UK

Difficult and tricky days ahead as UK adjusts to new EU rules post Brexit trade agreement
Europe

Difficult and tricky days ahead as UK adjusts to new EU rules post Brexit trade agreement

New EU Rules: UK must brace and prepare itself for days ahead full of bumps as it gets in grip with the new EU rules. Minister Michael Gove has warned the UK businesses and travelers of “practical and procedural changes” when Brexit transition period will end on December 31. 

The post-Brexit trade deal was unanimously approved by the 27 EU member states, making it effective January 1 onwards. However, European Parliament will vote for the motion in January, the EU rules can be applicable provisionally. UK MPs in the House of Commons and the House of Lords are set to debate and vote for it on Wednesday, December 30. 

Gove said, “The nature of our new relationship with the EU – outside the Single Market and Customs Union – means that there are practical and procedural changes that businesses and citizens need to get ready for. We know that there will be some disruption as we adjust to new ways of doing business with the EU, so it is vital that we all take the necessary action now.” 

UK has urged its businesses to understand the new rules regarding import and export of goods properly, including the rules specifically for trading with Northern Ireland, and also consider how they plan to make EU trade customs declarations. 

As UK is entering new trade agreement with the bloc, measures are being taken across the country to prepare for it. Scotland government has entered in new lease to use former airfield located in Dumfries and Galloway as emergency lorry park. This will be used for up to 240 vehicles in case of any disruption at Cairnryan port, near Stranraer. Traffic measures have been implemented in Wales on key road leading to Holyhead port. Travelers from Great Britain entering Northern Ieland will have to declare cash of over €10,000 or more starting January 1. 

The trade deal was reached after months of negotiations and delays on key issues including fishing rights and business rules. The Brexit deal has been agreed upon few days before December 31 deadline. This would allow for trade between UK and EU without extra taxes on goods. 

UK had exited from EU in 2016 after voting, and left actually on January 31, 2020. However, the leaders from both sides had until end of the year to chalk out a trade deal. 

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the new trade agreement will offer new freedoms to people who might have felt left behind. But fishery sector leaders have accused Johnson, who is already walking over thin ice, of ‘caving in’ and sacrificing the interests of this sector. Labour too has called it a ‘thin deal’ that would require more efforts to protect jobs of UK people. 

Chancellor Rishi Sunak reassured London that it would not be affected adversely by the deal. On the contrary he said that the government would be “doing a few things a bit differently and looking at how we make the City of London the most attractive place to list new companies anywhere in the world.” Mr. Sunak called the deal a unifying moment for the country. 

The UK is testing a new drug that can prevent coronavirus
Europe

The UK is testing a new drug that can prevent coronavirus

The UK is testing a new drug: A drug to prevent a person from being infected with the coronavirus and developing the disease is the goal of a trial launched in the United Kingdom. Antibody therapy could provide 6-12 months of immunity against the disease. And it could be given as emergency treatment to hospitalized patients and nursing home guests. In this way, contagions of vulnerable subjects can be avoided. The drug could also be dispensed to people living in families where someone has contracted the coronavirus.

Professor Catherine Houlihan, a virologist at University College London Hospitals NHS Trust (UCLH), explains that if this treatment works, we can prevent people exposed to the virus from developing the disease linked to Covid-19. “It would add another element to the arsenal of weapons developed to fight this terrible virus.” The virologist added. According to The Guardian, the drug has been developed by UCLH and AstraZeneca. The pharmaceutical company – together with the University of Oxford – has also created one of the vaccines against the coronavirus.

The goal of the study is to show that the antibody cocktail protects against Covid for a period of between six and twelve months. The subjects involved in the trial receive two doses, one after the other. If it were to be approved, it reads, the treatment will be offered to someone who has been exposed to Covid-19 in the previous eight days. The drug could be available from March or April if the go-ahead from the national regulatory body arrives. “To date, we have administered the drug” to 10 participating subjects – staff, students and others – who have been exposed to the virus at home, in a healthcare setting or student classrooms,” Houlihan said.

The immediate protection that the drug promises could play a vital role in reducing the virus impact until everyone is immune. The vaccination campaign is undertaken using the Pfizer/BioNTech blow and is supposed to take until next summer. NHS England expedited the vaccine administration this week following criticism from hospitals management, GP leaders, and the former health secretary Jeremy Hunt that it was taking too long. 

The drug includes a long-acting antibody aggregate known as AZD7442, which has been produced by AstraZeneca. Rather than immunoglobulins provided by the body to help fight contamination, AZD7442 utilizes monoclonal antibodies created in a laboratory. It’ll certainly be interesting to see if these trials are efficacy. Scientists worldwide agree that any new therapies must be researched, examined, and tested safe before Governments consider introducing them.

After the UK scare, coronavirus lands in Antarctica
Geopolitics

After the UK scare, coronavirus lands in Antarctica

Coronavirus lands in Antarctica: The first passengers to arrive from the United Kingdom landed in Calais, France, after the French Minister of Transport Jean-Baptiste Djebbari announced last night that air, sea, and rail connections would resume this morning. To travellers over 11 years old is required to show, upon arrival, a negative Covid-19 test. The first ferry to leave Dover, the ‘Cotes des Flandres’ arrived in Calais at around 3.30 am local time, followed shortly after by another ferry. Arrivals from the UK to France were suspended from Sunday, following the new British variant of the coronavirus discovery, which generated panic and concerns among other nations.

The coronavirus pandemic is not under control in France. A new blockade must remain an option, Karine Lacombe, head of the infectious disease unit at Saint-Antoine hospital in Paris, said Wednesday. “On the epidemiological front, the epidemic is not at all under control,” Lacombe told BfmFm TV. Medical experts expressed concern that holiday season could lead to a resurgence of cases in France and Europe. Data released Tuesday showed that France reported an additional 802 related deaths in the past 24 hours and 11,800 new cases.

In addition to France, Belgium and the Netherlands also partially reopen their borders with the UK. The decision arrived to allow their compatriots to return and unblock the traffic of goods. Germany extended the closure of the borders, with both Great Britain and South Africa, the two countries where outbreaks of the new most contagious coronavirus strain have developed, until 6 January. Spain, as well, suspended inbound flights until January 5 and Ireland until the end of the year. Germany recorded over 24,000 cases of coronavirus, and 962 deaths, in the last 24 hours. According to the Robert Koch Institute, whose president Lothar Wieler urged the Germans to give up traveling on holidays to stem the infections.

Singapore authorities have also blocked the arrivals or transit of passengers from the UK following the new variant of the coronavirus’ discovery. The Singapore Ministry of Health has specified that passengers who have been in the UK in the past 14 days will not be allowed to enter the country until further notice. The decision will have consequences, especially for people bound for Australia who stopover in Singapore.

While the White House emergency officer announced her resignation, the virus has landed in Antarctica, the only continent that has so far had no case. The presence of the virus has been recorded on all seven continents. The Chilean military has reported 36 cases of Covid-19 at its Bernardo O’Higgins research station in the Antarctic Peninsula. The infected, including 26 military and ten maintenance workers, were moved back to Chile. The news comes a few days after the Chilean navy confirmed three coronavirus contagions on a ship that had brought supplies and personnel to the research station. The Sargento Aldea ship arrived at the station on 27 November and returned to Chile on 10 December. Three crew members had tested positive on their return to the Talcahuano base. Chile is the sixth most affected country in Latin America, with over 585,000 COVID-19 confirmed cases.

Virus Mutations Explained: What do we know about the UK coronavirus variant strain & what is still unknown
Geopolitics

Virus Mutations Explained: What do we know about the UK coronavirus variant strain & what is still unknown

UK Coronavirus Variant Strain: Body of the Article Just as the countries were beginning the vaccination drive against Covid-19 giving a beaming hope, a coronavirus variant has emerged in the United Kingdom. The recent surge in cases in Britain indicates the high contagious nature of this new strain leading to cutting off of the country with various European nations and those across the world. The world is going back into panic mode and more stringent lockdowns as we enter the holiday season. But what actually is mutation and what does it mean? What are its whereabouts? Let us first understand the basics. 

What do we know about the UK Coronavirus variant?

The coronavirus variant in UK is not a “new” in the sense that it did not emerge just last week. The variant cases have been known since September. The cause of concern is that this variant has increasingly become the dominant variant of cases, constituting over 60% of cases in the UK. The “variant” means that there has been change in the structure of the virus, which characteristically is a property of virus. This doesn’t necessarily mean that this variant of virus is the reason for its increased transmissibility. Furthermore, there is no evidence of this variant being more dangerous. However, the UK government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group does state that there is indication that “this variant demonstrates a substantial increase in transmissibility compared to other variants.” 

England’s Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty said that this variant “contains 23 different changes.” The fact that there is a mutation in the “spike protein” of the virus capsule – the part through which it penetrates the host cell – can be an explanation of the “supposed” increased transmissibility. 

What is Mutation? 

Mutation is any alteration in the genomic sequencing of genetic material. It is essential to understand that this variation in genetic sequencing is the reason of many syndromes like Down’s Syndrome. 

When we talk about a virus, mutation comes as its characteristic property. Viruses constantly change their structure and its components. This is the very reason that a “Flu Shot” needs to be given every year. The ‘flu virus’ ‘mutates’ constantly and rapidly and then body’s immune system is not able to recognize this new virus. This means that last year’s antibodies might not be effective for this virus, hence need of a new flu vaccine every year. 

The genetic material of virus is RNA (Ribonucleic Acid), which is single stranded. This means that it can mutate even more rapidly as opposed to a DNA (Deoxy-Ribonucleic Acid).   

The coronavirus variant is being called VUI-202012/01, the first “Variant Under Investigation” in UK in December 2020. The mutation is in its spike protein, the part over its capsule through which it penetrates the host cell. This “might be” responsible for its increased transmissibility, but doesn’t necessarily mean that this variant will be more powerful. In fact, with increased contagious nature of virus there tends to be a decrease in its potency. 

With this comes an important thing to understand – every mutation isn’t bad. So far, we don’t know the real behavior of this variant. For all, the said mutation can lead to a favorable change like reduced potency leading to drop in mortality rate. There is no urgency to panic but it’s essential to continue with regular protocols like mask wearing and physical distancing citing the high contagious nature of this variant. 

Will the current vaccines against Covid-19 be effective on this variant?

With the current knowledge of the variant, available vaccines must work against it. It has been confirmed by Whitty and US Operation Warp Speed head. The vaccines have been developed keeping in mind multiple parts of the virus and a single spike protein mutation must not impact the efficacy of vaccines. 

US’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci has advised travel restrictions to the UK. He stressed that US must “keep an eye on it. But we don’t want to overreact.”

COVID-19 new variant out of control, Europe isolates the UK
Geopolitics

COVID-19 new variant out of control, Europe isolates the UK

Europe isolates the UK: The United Kingdom has informed the World Health Organization (WHO) that the new variant of the coronavirus tracked in the south-east of the country can circulate faster, specifying that it is not yet clear whether it is more lethal. According to the Ministry of Health, the variant is already out of control. The new mutation has been also tracked in Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Australia. Several EU countries today suspended flights with London.

According to the Independent, in the meantime, in the United Kingdom, the cases of Covid-19 have increased by more than 50%. In the last 24 hours, there was a peak of new infections in the country (+35,928), with another 326 victims. To avoid unpleasant surprises, however, the European chancelleries decided to isolate the United Kingdom.  Italy has suspended all flights with Great Britain. No flights from the Kingdom also to the Netherlands that closed its air traffic with the UK until January 1st following the discovery of a Dutch case. Stop also for France and Belgium.

The patient with the British variant of COVID-19 was found for the first time in Italy as well. According to health sources, the patient is in isolation, with her partner returned from the UK a few days ago. And she has a strong viral load. The woman, in the Rome area, had a swab in recent days, probably in a drive-through. Other family members and their close contacts are also in isolation.

The World Health Organization affirmed today that it is in “close contact” with the British authorities from the variant of the virus’ discovery. That would have a higher transmissibility, quantified at 70% more by Prime Minister Johnson. In a tweet, the UN agency writes that it is sharing scientific information with London and is committed to providing all updates to other member states and public opinion, “as we learn about the characteristics of this variant of the virus and its implications.”

To coordinate an EU response to the emergency due to the isolated variant the German EU presidency invited member states to an urgent meeting of the IPCR, the political crisis management mechanism, on Monday at 11 am. German presidency spokesman Sebastian Fischer announced on Twitter. London, the East and the South East of England are back in lockdown. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced this on Saturday at a press conference, committed to stemming the wave of infections attributed to the variant of Covid-19. “There are no indications that it is more deadly or that it causes a more severe form of the disease” or that it reduces the effectiveness of vaccines, he added.

Emirates along with DHL prepare to distribute coronavirus vaccine in Arab region
Middle East & Africa

Emirates along with DHL prepare to distribute coronavirus vaccine in Arab region

Emirates along with DHL: As the COVID-19 immunizations are clearing the advance tests and getting authorized for use, the Arab region’s challenge is to prepare for the vaccine distribution plan.

The Arab world’s most significant transport carrier Emirates has collaborated with DHL to launch big vaccine delivery efforts before the year ends, as per company authorities. 

According to Arab News, Nabil Sultan, divisional senior VP of Emirates SkyCargo expressed that a center has now been made at Al-Maktoum International Airport, otherwise called Dubai World Central, to receive, store and afterward distribute the jab to medical facilities across the locale. 

The latest preparations started in summer when drug firms first declared vaccine trials. “We can store nearly 1,000,000 vaccines in our office under the temperature needs set by the manufacturing companies,” Sultan stated. 

As per the latest instructions, some of the vaccines require to be stored in super cold temperatures in dry ice containers. Therefore, that could be very expensive and difficult for poorer nations.

For example, the vaccine manufactured by US drug company Pfizer in partnership with German firm BioNTech, authorized for immunization in the UK on Dec. 2 and for emergency treatment by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Dec. 12, and stored in freezing – 70 C. 

Another US drugmaker called Moderna has made its own vaccine utilizing a similar progressive mRNA strategy as Pfizer/BioNTech, which requires to be stored in cold temperatures around – 20 C. 

While, both the UK-made Oxford/AstraZeneca immunization and the Chinese-made Sinopharm jab, permitted by the UAE on Dec. 9 could be stored in the fridge.

According to Sultan, perhaps the greatest challenge is that a ton of the neighboring nations like Africa, the Middle East, and the Indian Sub-continent lack the latest medical facilities and the infrastructure in terms of storage. “Hence, bringing the vaccine to Dubai and distributing it further is the ultimate solution.” 

Indeed, even developed nations are struggling for assets in preparation for the vaccine, especially for Pfizer/BioNTech shot, says Dr. Mais Absi, a researcher at King’s College London. 

“The quantity of refrigerating cabinets with a temperature of 80 degrees Celsius is restricted in European nations,” she told Arab News. “Along these lines, you can envision the circumstance in emerging nations.” 

However, with the emergence of new vaccine candidates, the authorities will in no time be able to shop around for the best vaccines as per their requirement. Furthermore, thanks to Emirates, Dubai will be a local hub for preparing for this endeavor.

Canada joins UK & becomes latest country to approve Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine
Americas

Canada joins UK & becomes latest country to approve Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine

Canada joins UK: Health Canada, Canada’s health regulatory body has approved Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine, becoming third country after UK and Bahrain to do so. The body has called vaccine authorization as a “milestone” in North American country’s fight against the global coronavirus crisis. 

The vaccine was approved by agency after it was found to have met the regulatory body’s “stringent safety, efficacy and quality requirements”. This has cleared the vaccine doses to be delivered by Pfizer and administered across the country.

Following the approval, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that Canada will receive at least 249,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine by the end of this month. It is to be noted that Canada has purchased 20 million doses of the vaccine by Pfizer-BioNTech. This will inoculate 10 million people as vaccine requires two jabs to be administered per person at an interval of 21 days. Canada also has an option to buy an additional 56 million doses under the agreement with pharma giant. 

UK, after approving the vaccine last week for emergency use, started its vaccination drive this Tuesday. A 90 year old UK grandmother became the first person to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.

United States too has confirmed the vaccine to have 95% efficacy, clearing its path for authorization by FDA (Food and Drug Administration). The regulators are set to meet on Thursday to formally review the vaccine’s use in US. 

In Canada 14 distribution sites have been equipped with all the necessary cold storage requirements for the vaccine which requires -70C temperature for storage. The priority groups to receive vaccine include healthcare workers, and at high risk groups like elderly. Canada has also authorized vaccine to be administered to people over 16 years of age. 

The Pfizer vaccine is required to be given in two doses. Day 12 onwards from the first jab, immunity starts to build up in body. The second dose is to be given on day 21, and full immunity is reached on day 28. 

UK has issued jab warning regarding delaying vaccinating people with history of allergies (to medicine, food or vaccines) after two NHS staff workers developed serious anaphylactic reactions after getting vaccinated. These staff members had history of allergies.  

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England medical director says that these reactions are “common with new vaccine”. Issuing a warning is just a precautionary measure. 

Health Canada officials too have advised people with allergy history to delay getting vaccinated with the Covid-19 vaccine. Plan is to monitor developments in UK and then chalk out modus operandi regarding this. 

Canada also has contracts with other vaccine manufacturers. Trudeau says that all Canadians will be vaccinated by September 2021. A network of organizations, called The People’s Vaccine Alliance, claims that Canada has ordered enough vaccines to give each Canadian vaccine at least 5 times, provided all vaccines receive authorization for use. The alliance includes Amnesty International, Oxfam and Global Justice Now.

Liverpool Mayor arrested for fraud and corruption
Europe

Liverpool Mayor arrested for fraud and corruption

Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson has been arrested Friday by the city police as part of a fraud and corruption investigation. The Labor Party, of which Anderson has been a lifelong member, immediately suspended him, waiting for the results of the British judicial inquiry. The party refused to comment, as for now, but several sources confirmed that Mr Joe Anderson had been suspended pending the outcome of the investigation.

A former social worker and then pub manager, the 62-year-old Anderson was a city councillor for two decades before running in 2010 in the first direct elections for the office of Mayor. He has since been re-elected and has remained continuously the head of one of the most important cities in the United Kingdom, famous all over the world as the birthplace of the Beatles and for its football team, reigning Premier League champion. 

The accusations against Mr Anderson, according to “The Guardian,” concern contracts in the real estate sector and city infrastructures. The arrest does not amount to a guilty verdict, nor does it mean that the Mayor will remain in prison: the police, to interrogate a person suspected of a crime, must always arrest him in the UK, to give him the right not to answer and to consult a lawyer, making use of all legal rights.

Five other people have been arrested together with Anderson, of which the authorities did not reveal for the moment the identity, but only the age: a man of 72, one of 46, one of 33, and one of 25. Also, they have to answer for fraud and corruption, as well as conspiracy and attempted intimidation of a witness. In 2017, the Mayor of Liverpool ran as a Member of the Parliament in Westminster but was not elected. 

He got national influence during the Covid-19 health emergency after supervising in Liverpool the country’s first mass testing program, operating closely with the central government in Westminster, the army, and all security departments. Confirmed cases in the city, which in October was one of the major outbreaks of the pandemic in the UK, have dropped more than two-thirds since the plan started on November 6, coinciding with a month-long national lockdown. When lockdown expired on December 2, the urban center has been pushed down into the second tier of limitations, having entered in Tier 3, the highest level.

His older brother died in October of coronavirus, and Anderson himself has spent most of the last year in solitary confinement as a precautionary measure, suffering from other physical sicknesses. His arrest is an embarrassing episode for the Labor party.  The new leader, Keir Starmer, has promised to bring the bloc back to victory, making it a credible government force. Following the hard defeat suffered by his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn in the elections last December, the worst performance at the polls for the Labor in eighty-five years.

Brexit deal on verge of being finalised as deadline nears
Europe

Brexit deal on verge of being finalised as deadline nears

Brexit deal: EU and UK negotiators have finalised a possible Brexit deal with talks on key issues still underway

EU and UK negotiators have indicated that a trade and security agreement is close to being finalised after marathon talks over a Brexit deal. As per media reports, both sides have managed to reach a breakthrough by finalising as much as 95 percent of the EU-UK free trade deal. After the Coronavirus pandemic 

However, the risk of a no-deal Brexit is still looming upon the two sides as negotiations on some key issues are not showing necessary progress. Amid the prevailing Coronavirus scare, much of the negotiations are being conducted virtually.

Reportedly, Ilze Juhansone, senior-most official of the European Commission, has told Brussels representatives that talks on the majority of the 11 key negotiation issues are progressing with few points remaining for discussion.

Addressing a news briefing on Friday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen hailed the progress made during this week’s talks even after the Coronavirus pandemic halted the process. She further added that there are still some metres to the finish line since a lot of work is still left to do in the deal. 

“Within the frame of the level playing field, progress, for example, has been made on the question of state aid, but there are still quite some metres to the finish line so there’s still a lot of work to do,” she said. 

As per a Daily Express report, some progress has also been made on the contentious issue of EU’s access to UK fishing waters and a mechanism to prevent distortion of trading through undercutting standards. However, Downing Street is standing its ground, insisting Brussels to change its stance in the debate over fishing rights and state aid in a bid to deal the deal. At the same time, Brussels has also informed that the progress is going slowly to reach a deal before the year end when the transition period will come to an end. It will also slow down the ratification process of a potential agreement and can lead to extending the negotiations to December. 

It is also likely that all member states not be able scrutinise the 600-page document or even translate the treaty into all 24 official languages of the bloc. France has called for a discussion on legal aspects of the deal to approve the document.

Due to these concerns, EU officials are reportedly working on emergency steps to approve a Brexit trade deal that will be acceptable to both sides. Meanwhile, chief negotiators Michel Barnier and Lord Frost are expected to carry on with the negotiations in the coming days in a bid to draw a conclusive agreement. 

British PM Johnson under fire over his devolution remarks
Europe

British PM Johnson under fire over his devolution remarks

British PM Boris Johnson is facing wrath for dismissing the devolution of powers to Scotland as a “disaster”. According to media reports, Boris Johnson made the remarks during a video call with over60 lawmakers from his Conservative Party where he described the devolution as “Tony Blair’s biggest mistake”

However, political leaders across the spectrum have expressed discontent with Johnson’s remarks. The Welsh government slammed the Prime Minister for his “shocking” remarks, expressing concerns over the future of the United Kingdom with regards to the functioning of Boris Johnson’s administration.

While the British government argued that Johnson’s remarks were aimed at the mismanagement of the Scottish National Party (SNP), it has furthered the ongoing tensions between Cardiff and London. Reportedly, Wales and the United Kingdom have been facing strained relationships due to the COVID-19 crisis. 

Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford also criticised the Prime Minister, saying: “Devolution comes under the sorts of pressures that it is now under when we have a Conservative government, and where you scratch the surface of the Conservative party and all its old hostility to devolution rises back to the surface.”

Like Wales, Scotland’s first minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon also thrashed Johnson, stating that the Prime Minister’s remarks to the British lawmakers showed that the public stance of Conservatives in support of devolution is deceitful.

“Worth bookmarking these PM comments for the next time Tories say they’re not a threat to the powers of the Scottish Parliament – or, even more incredibly, that they support devolving more powers,” she wrote in her tweet. 

Douglas Ross, the Conservative leader in Scotland, contradicted Boris Johnson, maintaining that the devolution had not been a disaster. 

Meanwhile, the British PM’s spokesperson has said that Johnson has always supported devolution and the UK government continues to put the union at the heart of everything they do. Downing Street office also issued a statement, saying that the Prime Minister has always supported devolution but former UK PM Tony Blair failed to foresee the rise of separatists in Scotland.

“Devolution is great — but not when it’s used by separatists and nationalists to break up the UK,” the statement added. 

What is devolution?

Devolution is the name given to the transfer of power held by the government in Westminster to elected groups in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Some of the devolved powers include health, fire services, housing and some areas of education and transportation services, the British government based in London has a number of powers including defence, foreign policy and a majority of tax forms. The public votes for devolution took place in 1998 in Scotland in Wales and in 1998 in both sides of Ireland as part of the Good Friday Agreement, resulting in the establishment of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Parliament, and the National Assembly for Wales.

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