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Archive for December, 2020

Japan man held over bodies and severed heads in flat

Members of the media gather in front of an apartment building where media reported nine bodies were found in Zama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan in this photo taken by Kyodo on October 31, 2017
image captionReporters gathered outside the suspect’s home on Tuesday

Japanese police have arrested a man after finding parts of nine bodies in his apartment in Zama, near Tokyo.

Police found two severed heads in a cold-storage container outside the flat of the suspect, named as Takahiro Shiraishi, while investigating the disappearance of a woman.

They also found the body parts of seven other people, also stored in cool boxes, in his apartment.

The 27-year-old is being held on suspicion of disposing of the bodies.

Police had found the body parts of eight females and one male, some in varying stages of decomposition, Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun reported.

Mr Shiraishi told police he had killed the nine and hid their bodies, broadcaster NHK reported, citing the Metropolitan Police Department.

“I killed them and did some work on the bodies in order to hide the evidence,” NHK quoted him as saying.

Meanwhile, his next-door neighbour said he had started smelling strange odours from the flat after Mr Shiraishi moved in in August, NHK and Asahi Shimbun said.

Police made the grisly discovery while looking for a 23-year-old woman, who had been missing since 21 October.

Investigators found that Mr Shiraishi had been in contact with her, after she wrote online that she wanted to commit suicide.

On Tuesday, reporters gathered outside the suspect’s home, while neighbours expressed shock at the incident.

“It’s a quiet residential area here, with a day care centre nearby. I can’t believe the bodies were discovered in an area like this,” a 41-year-old neighbour told Mainichi Shimbun.

Japan ‘Twitter killer’ Takahiro Shiraishi sentenced to death

Takahiro Shiraishi
image captionTakahiro Shiraishi after his arrest in 2017

A man who murdered nine people after contacting them on Twitter has been sentenced to death, in a high-profile case that has shocked Japan.

Takahiro Shiraishi, dubbed the “Twitter killer”, was arrested in 2017 after body parts were found in his flat.

The 30-year-old had admitted to murdering and dismembering his victims – almost all of whom were young women he met on the social media platform.

The serial killings triggered debate over how suicide is discussed online.

More than 400 people turned up to watch the verdict on Tuesday, despite the court only having 16 seats available for the public, reported local media.

Public support for the death penalty remains high in Japan, one of the few developed nations to retain capital punishment.

How did he find his victims?

Shiraishi used Twitter to lure suicidal women to his home, saying he could help them die and, in some cases, claimed he would kill himself alongside them.

He strangled and dismembered eight women and one man aged 15 to 26 between August and October 2017, said Japan’s Kyodo news agency, citing the indictment.

The serial killings first came to light on Halloween that year when police found dismembered body parts in Shiraishi’s flat in the Japanese city of Zama, near Tokyo.

Japanese media called it the “house of horrors” after investigators discovered nine heads along with a large number of arm and leg bones stashed in coolers and tool boxes.

What happened at trial?

Prosecutors sought the death penalty for Shiraishi, who admitted to killing and butchering his victims.

But Shiraishi’s lawyers argued that he was guilty of the lesser charge of “murder with consent”, claiming his victims had given their permission to be killed.

Shiraishi later disputed his own defence team’s version of events, and said he killed without their consent.

On Tuesday, the judge who delivered the verdict said that “none of the victims agreed to be killed”.

“The defendant was found to be fully responsible,” said Naokuni Yano, reported The Straits Times newspaper.

What impact had the case had?

The father of one victim, aged 25, told the court last month that he “will never forgive Shiraishi even if he dies”, according to Japanese broadcaster NHK

“Even now, when I see a woman of my daughter’s age, I mistake her for my daughter. This pain will never go away. Give her back to me,” he had said.

The killings stunned Japan, triggering fresh debate about websites where suicide is discussed. At the time the government indicated it may introduce new regulations.

The murders also prompted a change by Twitter, which amended its rules to state users should not “promote or encourage suicide or self-harm”.

Joe Biden says ‘time to turn the page’ after victory confirmed

media captionJoe Biden says the US democracy proved to be “resilient, true and strong”

Joe Biden has said it is “time to turn the page” after his presidential election victory was confirmed by the US electoral college.

In a speech after the announcement, he said US democracy had been “pushed, tested and threatened” and “proved to be resilient, true and strong”.

He condemned President Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the result.

Later Russian President Vladimir Putin became one of the last world leaders to congratulate Mr Biden on his victory.

Moscow had said it would wait for the official results before doing so. Most other national leaders contacted Mr Biden days after the vote on 3 November.

Confirmation by the electoral college was one of the steps required for Mr Biden to take office.

Under the US system, voters actually cast their ballots for “electors”, who in turn formally vote for candidates after the election.

Democrat Joe Biden won November’s contest with 306 electoral college votes to Republican Donald Trump’s 232.

President Trump, who shows few signs of conceding, has not commented. Shortly after the electoral college’s vote, he announced on Twitter the departure of Attorney General William Barr, who had said there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the election, despite the president’s claims.

‘Flame of democracy’

Speaking in Delaware, Mr Biden praised “ordinary men and women” who had refused to be bullied, referring to the president’s efforts to question and overturn the results, involving legal challenges which have been rejected by courts across the country.

“Respecting the will of the people is at the heart of our democracy, even when we find those results hard to accept,” he said.

“The flame of democracy was lit in this nation a long time ago,” he added. “And we know that nothing not even a pandemic or an abuse of power can extinguish that flame.”

Mr Biden said it was time to “turn the page, as we’ve done throughout our history, to unite, to heal”.

But he warned that, with the coronavirus pandemic continuing to ravage the US, there would be difficult months ahead.

“There is urgent work in front of us,” he said. “Getting this pandemic under control and getting the nation vaccinated against this virus.”

He stressed the importance of immediate economic help that was “so badly needed by so many Americans who are hurting today” and rebuilding the economy to be “better than it ever was”.

He was speaking as the Covid death toll in the US – the country worst affected by the virus – rose above 300,000.

What happened at the electoral college?

Normally the electors do not get that much attention but this year, due to Mr Trump’s efforts, the state-by-state vote was in the spotlight.

Solidly Democrat California, with its 55 electors, was one of the last states to vote on Monday and took Mr Biden across the 270-vote threshold required to win the presidency.

media captionElectoral college affirms Joe Biden as president-elect

Heightened security had been put in place in some states, including Michigan and Georgia, ahead of voting, which took place in state capitals and Washington DC.

In Michigan – a key swing state which Mr Biden won – legislative offices in the state capital Lansing were closed due to “credible” threats of violence.

The vote at the capitol building went ahead peacefully although a group of Republicans tried to enter the building to hold their own vote and were turned away.

media captionThe president of the United States is not chosen directly by voters, but by what’s known as the electoral college

In his speech, Mr Biden described the harassment of officials following the election as “unconscionable” and said: “It’s my sincere hope we never again see anyone subjected to the kind of threats and abuse we saw in this election.”

He also noted that he had the same number of electoral college votes that Mr Trump said was a “landslide” when he won in 2016. Mr Biden emphasised that he had also won the popular vote, something Mr Trump failed to clinch four years ago.

Republican Senator Lamar Alexander said: “The presidential election is over.States have certified the votes. Courts have resolved disputes. The electors have voted. I hope that President Trump will put the country first, take pride in his considerable accomplishments, and help president-elect Biden get off to a good start.”

Buttigieg, the candidate for the Biden government’s ambassador to China, surfaced


The U.S. government is about to change. Although U.S. President Trump is unwilling to lose the election, it seems that Biden is a foregone conclusion. Trump has repeatedly clamored for fraud in the election results, but most outsiders have agreed with the fact that Biden won the election. Prior to this, Biden also publicly announced the positions of national security adviser, ambassador to the United Nations and secretary of homeland security during his tenure. And just recently, the candidate for another post in the Biden administration was confirmed.

According to Reuters, related sources previously revealed that Biden is currently considering the candidate for the post of U.S. ambassador to China. Undoubtedly, as the U.S. government changes, Sino-U.S. relations will receive widespread attention. At this time, the Biden team The announcement of the candidate for the ambassador to China is also to re-emphasize the US attitude towards China to the outside world. The report pointed out that the U.S. ambassador to China, Buttigieg, was not only young, only 38 years old, but also had fierce competition with Biden during the Democratic primary elections, but after losing the election. In March this year, he opted out of the election and switched to serving Biden.

But even though Buttigieg chose to withdraw from the primary election, many Americans still believe that he has the hope of becoming the president of the United States. Many American analysts have said that Buttigieg may become a presidential candidate again. On the one hand, it is because of his youth. On the other hand, if Buttigieg really succeeds in serving as the US ambassador to China this time, it will be of great help to him in the future election of the US president. Many Americans believe that Buttigieg will certainly become a presidential candidate in the future, but it is just a matter of time. When talking about why Buttigieg intended to serve as the US ambassador to China, Biden said that he had no such plan before, but because Buttigieg reminded himself of his children, he decided to give Buttigieg. Giger is the biggest affirmation.

US media: Brigiger fears getting a higher position

According to reports, the Biden team actually wanted Buttigieg to hold government positions related to commerce or transportation, but Buttigieg himself has repeatedly expressed that he hopes to be able to get in touch with national security and foreign policy. knowledge. In addition, the Axios report commented that Buttigieg is also proficient in various languages, so the final position he won may not only be the US ambassador to China. But as of now, the Biden team has not responded to this news.

Interior Chinatown: The novel taking on Hollywood’s Asian tropes

Bruce Lee stars as Chen Zhen, a martial artist investigating the mystery of his teacher's death in The Chinese Connection.
image captionThe story plays on the trope of the Chinese character always being the Kung Fu Guy

Willis Wu is not a Kung Fu Guy.

Instead, much to his dismay, the struggling Asian American actor is only ever cast in parts like Generic Asian Man Number One or Background Oriental Male.

He is, however, the main protagonist of the satirical novel Interior Chinatown, which last month won one of the most prestigious literary prizes in the US, the National Book Award for fiction.

Its author, Charles Yu, says he wrote the book to “create a space where background characters get to have a story”.

Even more than that, he hopes the novel will shed more light on the ongoing debate about representation and Asian American stereotypes, and create a conversation about escaping the roles we are forced into.

In the words of Willis Wu: “To be yellow in America… a special guest star, forever the guest.”

Not all black and white

A former lawyer, Yu first shot to fame in 2010 with his novel How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe.

He then went on to work as a writer for the award-winning HBO television series Westworld, before returning to literature.

“I struggled for years trying to get [the book] off the ground,” the 44-year-old tells the BBC in a recent Zoom interview from his southern California home.

But a major “catalyst” that got him going, he says, was the election of President Donald Trump in 2016.

“It’s sometimes really dispiriting and challenging to still feel like a foreigner [in the US]. We’re from here but here is the president basically doing all the stuff he’s doing to stoke xenophobia and making some very sweeping generalisations about what’s foreign and what’s American,” says Yu.

“I just felt much more of an urgency and desire to talk about immigrants and to share some of the stories of my parents. I realised I needed to write about it.”

And so he did. Written in the form of a screenplay, Interior Chinatown centres on the trials and travails of Willis as he tries to break into Hollywood.

Set in a fictional Chinatown, the story follows Willis as he plays background characters in a police TV show called Black and White – which stars a black person and a white person.

He slowly works his way up from playing bit parts like Delivery Guy and Silent Henchman to eventually clinch his dream role – Kung Fu Guy.

Bruce Lee stars as Chen Zhen, a martial artist investigating the mystery of his teacher's death in The Chinese Connection.
image captionThe story plays on the trope of the Chinese character always being the Kung Fu Guy

But Willis soon realises that no matter what role he plays, he’s still pandering to a stereotypical idea of what it means to be Asian-American.

“The [characters] are all trapped in their roles, they’re part of this narrative that has been scripted for them,” says Yu.

Willis’ mother for example, once seen as an Asian Seductress, eventually becomes an Old Asian Woman.

Willis also comes to realise more broadly, that everyone ultimately has to deal with the stereotypes they have been assigned in life.

“Do you think you’re the only group to be invisible?” asks one of the characters in the book. “What about older women, older people in general, black women, people that are overweight?”

Yu explains: “This book is really about people not seeing other people as having their own subjectivity. When you make someone the background, whether that’s an Asian character, a female love interest, an older person… you take away some of their humanity.”

He admits that some parts of the novel were “hard to write…[but] that’s when I knew it was starting to be real”.

Hollywood and the road ahead

The novel itself was inspired in part from his own experience as the son of Taiwanese immigrants.

“I drew from my family, my parents came [from Taiwan] in the 1960s and I really wanted to capture things I’ve absorbed from their experience and the sacrifices they made over the years,” he says.

“The story of them being Americans, to me, is both inspirational and also really complicated.”

In one scene, Willis’ father arrives in the US with hardly any money – mirroring Yu’s father’s experience.

“I feel like a lot of people’s parents have some version of this story. In my dad’s case, he came to the US with like $50 or something and had to navigate this country knowing really nothing about it,” he says.

“And to see the span between my parents and my kids, who were born here, and to see how much has changed in just a couple of generations… [but] at the same time some aspects might not have changed. There are still parts of the population that [still] view us as foreigners.”

But what about in Hollywood? Is there still a sense of the Chinese man being the Kung Fu Guy?

“I think the industry is slowly moving forward. I think there’s a real interest in authentic and diverse points of view in terms of sexuality, gender, types of stories,” he says.

Crazy Rich Asians, which in 2018 made its debut to much fanfare – and also criticism – is one such example of more Asian-Americans slowly making their way to the big screen.

L-R) Constance Wu, Michelle Yeoh, and Henry Golding, recipients of the Hollywood Breakout Ensemble Award for 'Crazy Rich Asians, 2018
image captionCrazy Rich Asians was a major moment for Asian representation in Hollywood when it came on scene

“To me, it was very positive progress in that it opened many doors for more Asian American storytellers, actors… I think we’re at that place where it’s hard not to see the positives.”

But Yu also says a “real milestone” in terms of representation to him would be “when you can have a character who is played by an Asian in Hollywood that isn’t a feature of the story or the character”.

“Certainly there can be valid stories where that is the point of the story, but to me, it would be really neat to see a part that could have been played by literally anybody, but they happen to cast an Asian.”

Anthony Joshua knocks out Kubrat Pulev to raise hope of Tyson Fury bout

Joshua knocks Pulev down
Joshua finally saw off the game Pulev with a hard right hand in round nine

Unified world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua mixed power and patience as he knocked out Kubrat Pulev to raise hopes that a historic fight against Tyson Fury could soon be a reality.

The Briton smashed home a hard right hand in round three that forced his mandatory challenger to face a count and then sent him to the canvas with an uppercut seconds later.

Joshua, perhaps fatigued by the chaos, stepped off the gas and allowed Pulev to at least offer some mild threat, but a barrage of uppercuts in the ninth dropped the Bulgarian and a straight right hand wiped him out.

Moments after this fine blend of poise and heavy punching, the 1,000 fans granted access to Wembley Arena roared at the prospect of the IBF, WBA and WBO champion facing WBC title-holder Fury next.

“Whoever has the belts I want to compete with. If that is Tyson Fury, let it be Tyson Fury,” said Joshua, 31.

Fellow Briton Fury quickly went on social media and posted: “I want the fight. I want the fight next. I will knock him out inside three rounds. I can’t wait to knock him out.”

Patience, power and uppercuts

Joshua lands an uppercut on Pulev
Joshua (right) found repeated success with his explosive right uppercut and now has 24 wins from 25 fights

Joshua, in a white sleeveless hoodie for his ring walk, was smart from start to finish on a night when the widespread anticipation of a fight with Fury – in which all four world heavyweight titles could be contested for the first time – dominated the narrative.

In his past two outings, Joshua has stood up to immense pressure. A second defeat by Andy Ruiz Jr in December would have left his career in tatters. He was punch perfect on that night.

A loss on Saturday would have made him the instant fall guy amid public demand for the Fury bout. Once again he was emphatic.

He found his range early on with flicked jabs as 39-year-old Pulev boxed cautiously and struggled to throw anything fast or crisp.

When the challenger did throw a jab in the third, a counter right landed on his jaw and stunned him. Pulev briefly tried to smile and roar in the face of adversity but eventually turned his back while under attack and faced a count. In a frenzied spell, an uppercut then sent him to the canvas before the round was out.

The pair punched one another after the bell, exchanged glares before the fifth and, while Pulev gained at least a footing in the following rounds, he was never able to land anything that would allow him to dictate.

Some will ask why Joshua was unable to end things more quickly, but after a year out of the ring, he controlled a fight against a man who had just one loss – to Wladimir Klitschko – on his record.

He could not miss with the right uppercut all night and the shot dropped the game Pulev in the ninth, before a jolting straight right to the chin left him unable to answer the count as the champion swaggered away, aware his night’s work was over.

It is testament to Joshua that he continues to rise to such mental challenges.

Fury will move better than Pulev, punch with far greater variety, believe in himself more and set far more traps in the ring.

He will also inevitably bring a whole new level of mental warfare to any build-up should the fight happen.

Hope has never been higher that it will.

‘AJ v Fury work starts tomorrow’

After being caught heavily by Joshua in round three Pulev roared and smiled defiantly
After being caught heavily by Joshua in round three Pulev roared and smiled defiantly

No sooner had Pulev regained his footing, Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn said efforts to make the Fury fight would start “tomorrow”, adding: “It’s the only fight to be made in boxing. It is the biggest fight in British boxing history.”

Fury’s co-promoter Bob Arum – one of several key power brokers involved – said he would work from Monday to make the “biggest fight since Muhammad Ali v Joe Frazier in 1971”.

That such integral figures seem so positive, coupled with the fact an agreement over a financial split is said to already be in place, offers real hope the two could appear in what Fury’s UK promoter Frank Warren repeatedly says will be the “biggest UK sporting event since the 1966 World Cup final”.

There are many issues to resolve before a date is in place – complex television broadcast deals and a venue among them. The sight of 1,000 fans singing Sweet Caroline before Joshua’s ring walk showed a return to packed out arenas – which will be a necessity for this event – is closer.

In the ring, the pair are both showing signs of improvement. Fury moved from elusive fighter to front-foot aggressor in beating Deontay Wilder last time out. Joshua – on Saturday and in beating Ruiz – has shown he too can do more than just wield knockout punches.

This was defence number one of his second reign as champion. A small cluster of men – Ali, Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson among them – have had the chance to take the heavyweight world champion journey a second time.

Fury is in the select bunch too. The plot lines are endless.

It is time to make the fight of a generation.

Analysis – ‘A UK sporting occasion’

Moments after his win Joshua threw another punch, this time at a poster featuring Pulev
Moments after his win Joshua threw another punch, this time at a poster featuring Pulev

EU determined to stop sovereign UK – Duncan Smith

Iain Duncan Smith

Former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith accused the EU of looking to prevent the UK from being a sovereign nation with the trade terms it has offered.

He told Sky News earlier: “When the UK voted to leave the European Union, they did so to be a sovereign nation controlling its own laws, its own powers and its own regional areas, its waters.

“What the European Union is determined to do is to stop that and their proposals at the moment are unacceptable to any sovereign nation.”

Charley Pride: Country music singer dies of Covid-19

Charley Pride

Charley Pride, the first African-American to enter the Country Music Hall of Fame, has died aged 86, his website has announced.

Pride, who rose to fame in the 1960s, passed away on Saturday from complications of Covid-19.

While Pride was not the first black singer in country music, he became one of its biggest stars during a period of division in the US.

He won three Grammy Awards, followed by a lifetime achievement award in 2017.

Country star Dolly Parton, who described Pride as “one of my dearest and oldest friends, said she was “heartbroken” at the news of his death.

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The son of a sharecropper on a cotton farm in Mississippi, Pride was born in 1934 and served in the army, played baseball and worked in a smelting plant before later turning to music.

Fifty-two of his songs reached the country Top 10, including the hits All I Have to Offer You (Is Me) and Kiss An Angel Good Mornin’.

“We’re not colour-blind yet, but we’ve advanced a few paces along the path and I like to think I’ve contributed something to that process,” he wrote in his memoir.

media captionCrystal Chandeliers was a big hit for Charley Pride

Pride was awarded the Country Music Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award in Nashville, Texas, on 11 November, in what would be his last public performance.

Fellow singers have paid tribute, with Reba McEntire writing: “Charley Pride will always be a legend in Country music.”

Billy Ray Cyrus, meanwhile, calling Pride a “gentleman… legend and true trail blazer”, adding: “He took down walls and barriers meant to divide.”

Covid: First round of US vaccinations to begin on Monday

The US public will start receiving the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine from Monday after it was authorised for emergency use, officials say.

The first three million doses of the vaccine would be shipped “across all states” this weekend, said Gen Gustave Perna, who is overseeing distribution.

The vaccine offers up to 95% protection against Covid-19 and was deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

On Saturday, the US recorded a daily toll of 3,309 Covid-related deaths.

The figure, reported on the Johns Hopkins University website, is the highest total in a single day anywhere in the world.

media captionGen Gustave Perna: “I am absolutely 100 per cent confident that we are going to distribute safely this precious commodity”

Coronavirus deaths have been rising sharply since November in the US.

Authorising the emergency use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on Friday, the FDA – which had come under intense pressure from the Trump administration to do so – said the move was a “significant milestone” in the pandemic.

A mass inoculation drive using doses of the same vaccine has already begun in the UK.

During a news conference on Saturday, Gen Perna – speaking for the US government’s vaccination campaign Operation Warp Speed – said doses of the vaccine would be packed into shipping containers for transportation “within the next 24 hours”.

“Expect 145 sites across the states to receive the vaccine on Monday, another 425 sites on Tuesday, and the final 66 sites on Wednesday,” he said, adding that next week’s distribution would complete the initial delivery of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and cover about three million people.

Gen Perna told reporters he was “100% confident” that the doses “needed to defeat the enemy Covid” would be transported safely.

He warned, however, that while it had been a week of progress, “we are not done until every American has access to a vaccine”.

Chart showing the number of Covid-19 deaths in the US since the start of the pandemic

The Pfizer vaccine has already received regulatory approval in the UK, Canada, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Like those countries, US health authorities are expected to prioritise health workers and care home residents for the first doses.

More Americans outside the highest-priority groups are likely to be able to get the vaccine in January, with general availability expected by April.

What has the FDA said about the vaccine?

“The FDA’s authorisation for emergency use of the first Covid-19 vaccine is a significant milestone in battling this devastating pandemic that has affected so many families in the United States and around the world,” the head of the agency, Stephen Hahn, said.

He said the authorisation came after “an open and transparent review process” that ensured the vaccine met the “FDA’s rigorous, scientific standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality”.

FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn addresses the media during a press conference at the White House
image captionThe FDA’s Stephen Hahn said he was ready to be vaccinated (file photo)

On Thursday, medical experts advising the FDA recommended the emergency-use authorisation. A 23-member panel concluded the vaccine’s benefits outweighed its risks.

Emergency use, the FDA said, was not the same as full approval, which would require Pfizer to file a separate application to secure.

US media reported that Mr Hahn had earlier been told to approve the vaccine for emergency use by Friday or quit.

Mr Hahn, however, said the reports were “untrue” and stressed that the agency had not compromised safety in its testing.

How does the vaccine work?

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was the first coronavirus jab to show promising results in the latter stages of its testing process.

It is a new type called an mRNA vaccine that uses a tiny fragment of genetic code from the pandemic virus to teach the body how to fight Covid-19 and build immunity.

“The vaccine contains a small piece of the [Covid-19] virus’s mRNA that instructs cells in the body to make the virus’s distinctive ‘spike’ protein,” the FDA said.

media captionHow will the new Pfizer vaccine work?

“When a person receives this vaccine, their body produces copies of the spike protein, which does not cause disease, but triggers the immune system to learn to react defensively, producing an immune response against [Covid-19].”

The vaccine is given as two injections, 21 days apart, with the second dose being a booster. Immunity begins to kick in after the first dose but reaches its full effect seven days after the second dose.

The vaccine must be stored at ultra-low temperatures, which makes distribution difficult. Special shipping containers that use dry ice will be used to transport frozen vials direct to the point of vaccination, Pfizer says.

The pharmaceutical company has agreed a deal to supply the US with 100 million doses of the vaccine by March.

An additional 200 million doses of a second vaccine, developed by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health, will be provided by June. However this vaccine is still seeking approval in the US.

Brexit: EU offer ‘unacceptable’ as trade talks continue

Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen
image captionBoris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen met in Brussels on Wednesday

Post-Brexit trade talks have gone through the night as the UK and EU enter a critical day – with leaders set to decide whether a deal can be done.

Both sides have warned they are unlikely to reach an agreement.

The terms offered by the European Union continue to be “unacceptable” to the UK, according to a government source.

Boris Johnson is expected to speak with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen later after agreeing on the Sunday deadline earlier this week.

If the two sides have not come to an agreement, Mr Johnson and Mrs von der Leyen will decide whether to abandon negotiations or continue them beyond the deadline.

Speaking to Sky’s Sophy Ridge programme, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the ability of getting a deal rests with the leaders, saying: “What ultimately is required at this 11th hour is moving the political logjam.”

He said the UK “can’t close the door” on future talks after Sunday, but there is now a “very high bar” to continue, adding: “We are not there yet”.

The main sticking point in the talks is how close the UK should stick to EU economic rules in the future.

The EU is determined to prevent the UK from gaining what it sees as an unfair advantage of having tariff-free access to its markets – not paying taxes on goods being bought and sold – while setting its own standards on products, employment rights and business subsidies.

Fishing rights is another major area of disagreement, with the EU warning that without access to UK waters for EU fleets, UK fishermen will no longer get special access to EU markets to sell their goods.

But the UK argues that what goes on in its own waters, and its wider business rules, should be under its control as a sovereign country.

The government confirmed on Saturday that no-deal preparations had seen Royal Navy vessels prepared to tackle “threats of illegal fishing” in UK waters.

Outlining the steps taken to prepare for all Brexit eventualities, a UK government spokesman said: “We’ve run live exercises moving fresh produce and fish across the border, and scrambled naval vessels to respond to threats of illegal fishing in our soon-to-be sovereign waters.”

The two sides also disagree on whether the European Court of Justice should settle future UK-EU trade disputes.

It is not clear how any decision to abandon the talks will be made public and there is a chance political leaders will decide to continue negotiations beyond Sunday, BBC Europe correspondent Kevin Connolly said.

A government source said: “The prime minister will leave no stone unturned in this process, but he is absolutely clear: any agreement must be fair and respect the fundamental position that the UK will be a sovereign nation in three weeks’ time.”

Foreign Secretary Mr Raab said the UK “wants to be treated like any other independent and self respecting democracy”, but claimed the EU was “concerned the UK might do very well when it leaves…. and is worried about the competitive advantage.”

Philip Rycroft, who was a civil service head at the UK Department for Exiting the European Union between 2017 and 2019, told BBC Breakfast things were “looking a bit grim” for a trade deal.

“Frankly, the energy seems to be draining out of this,” he said. “I think if we were heading for a deal you’d be seeing a lot more diplomatic activity – there would be signs of a lot more conversations going on.”

Meanwhile, the National Farmers’ Union have warned there will be “significant disruption” to the sector if the UK fails to reach a trade deal with the EU.

The EU is the largest trading partner for British farmers – but without a deal by the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December, farmers could lose free access to the bloc “overnight”, the union said.

Elsewhere, Labour warned that staffing levels in the government’s tax and customs agency had barely been scaled up since the Brexit vote, despite widespread customs changes expected even if the UK is able to secure a deal.

The party said its analysis suggested the number of UK customs officials had been boosted by just 16, despite a pledge from ministers in 2018 to recruit between 3,000 and 5,000 extra officials.

media captionBoris Johnson said on Friday that a no-deal Brexit was “very, very likely”

This weekend’s deadline was set by Mr Johnson and Mrs von der Leyen following a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, after months of talks failed to achieve an agreement.

Mr Johnson said the EU needed to make a “big change” over the main sticking points on fishing rights and business competition rules, while Mrs von der Leyen said no deal was the most probable end to “difficult” talks.

The EU has rejected Mr Johnson’s request to bypass the European Commission and speak directly to French President Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Angela Merkel about the unresolved issues.

According to EU officials, he was told discussions could only take place through the bloc’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier.

Speaking on Friday, the PM said a no-deal Brexit was now “very, very likely” and that planning for that outcome was ramping up.

Mrs von der Leyen told reporters that the two sides were still “apart on fundamental issues”.