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The UK is “not out of the woods yet” when it comes to coronavirus and people should approach the end of most restrictions on Monday with caution, England’s chief medical officer has warned.

Professor Chris Whitty said the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 is doubling around every three weeks and could hit “quite scary numbers” if that trend is sustained.

“I don’t think we should underestimate the fact that we could get into trouble again surprisingly fast,” he told a webinar hosted by the Science Museum.

He added: “We are not by any means out of the woods yet on this, we are in much better shape due to the vaccine programme, and drugs and a variety of other things.

“But this has got a long way to run in the UK, and it’s got even further to run globally.”

Professor Whitty said that the key thing after 19 July was “to take things incredibly slowly”, adding that he expects most people will still take precautions.

“If you look over what people have done, and in fact if you look at what people intend to do now, people have been incredibly good at saying, ‘I may be a relatively low-risk, but people around me are at high-risk, and I’m going to modify my behaviours’,” he said.

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Looking ahead, Professor Whitty said that in the medium-term COVID-19 could mutate into a “vaccine escape variant” that could take the UK “some of the way backwards” to the worst days of the pandemic.

“The further out in time we go, the more tools we have at our disposal from science, the less likely that is but you can never take that possibility completely off the table,” he said.

“But you know, science has done a phenomenal job so far and it will continue to do so.”

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‘Highly probable’ worst of pandemic behind us

Professor Whitty’s comments come after Boris Johnson claimed it is “highly probable” the worst of the pandemic is over – on the day the UK recorded its highest number of daily cases for six months.

The prime minister urged people not to “throw caution to the winds” when most legal restrictions in England end on Monday, as he acknowledged there would be more hospital admissions and deaths in the “difficult days and weeks ahead”.

Latest figures show there had been a further 48,553 cases of COVID-19 as of 9am on Thursday.

A further 63 people have died within 28 days of testing positive for the virus.

A total of 49 deaths were recorded on Wednesday, making this increase the highest day-on-day rise since 26 March.

Mr Johnson has said recently that daily cases could reach 50,000 by Monday, while Health Secretary Sajid Javid has spoken of case numbers topping 100,000 this summer.

But speaking on Thursday, he said the success of the UK’s vaccination programme, which has seen more than two-thirds of adults receive two doses, meant the government could go ahead with step four of its roadmap out of restrictions.

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‘Don’t have a great jubilee’ on 19 July – PM

“If we are careful and if we continue to respect this disease and its continuing menace then it is highly probable – almost all the scientists are agreed on this – the worst of the pandemic is behind us,” the PM said.

“There are difficult days and weeks ahead as we deal with the current wave of the Delta variant and there will be sadly more hospitalisation and more deaths but with every day that goes by we build higher the wall of vaccine-acquired immunity.”

Monday’s lifting of most coronavirus rules will see ministers seek to shift the emphasis from government diktat to people weighing up risks and taking their own decisions.

A range of guidance has been published ahead of 19 July, but ministers have been accused of sending “mixed messages” to people and businesses about what they should do beyond that date, in particular concerning face masks.

Despite the legal requirement to wear face masks on public transport and in shops being lifted, guidance for businesses issued on Wednesday states the government still “expects and recommends that people continue to wear a face covering in crowded, enclosed spaces”.

Critics have said the guidelines are a “recipe for chaos”, but the PM said businesses were “perfectly capable” of understanding new guidance on face coverings and guidelines.

“We are moving away from legal compulsion but we are saying that of course the pandemic is not over and sadly people have to remain cautious,” he said.

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Charity boss Ngozi Fulani says she felt abused and ‘trapped’ during Buckingham Palace exchange with Lady Susan Hussey

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Charity boss Ngozi Fulani says she felt abused and 'trapped' during Buckingham Palace exchange with Lady Susan Hussey

A black domestic abuse campaigner who was repeatedly asked where she “really came from” by Prince William’s godmother said she felt abused, verbally attacked and “trapped”.

Ngozi Fulani, founder of the charity Sistah Space, works as an advocate for survivors of domestic abuse and described the exchange as a “violation”.

“I was not giving the answer that she wanted me to give. And so we could not move on,” Ms Fulani told Sky News.

“And it was when she said ‘I knew you’d get there in the end’ – that proved to me, you were determined to prove that I had no right to British citizenship.

“Now, that reminds me of the Windrush conversation, where 50 or 60 years on people who were born here, worked here or you know, have given so much, can just be thrown out.”

Lady Susan Hussey resigned from her role in the royal household and apologised over the incident at an event at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday hosted by the Queen Consort.

Ngozi Fulani and Lady Susan Hussey. Pics: PA/David Fisher/Shutterstock
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Ngozi Fulani and Lady Susan Hussey. Pics: PA/David Fisher/Shutterstock

Describing how Lady Hussey touched her hair to see her name badge, the charity boss said: “Now, abuse doesn’t have to be physical. But if you move my hair without permission, to me, that’s abuse.

“When you verbally attack, because that to me is what it is – you are determined that the answer that I gave you is not one you want to hear, you do not recognise me as British.

“And until I acknowledge that I’m not, you’re not going to stop. What do I do? What do I do at that point? So I become silent. And I hoped she would go away and she eventually did.”

Asked how she felt about the conversation, she said: “I was the victim if you will, of an offence, of racism.

“When this happens, and it’s so direct, and in a space like that, I kind of felt trapped in that space.”

Asked if Buckingham Palace had contacted her, she said: “I haven’t heard anything from anybody. Maybe they’ve attempted to but they haven’t got through to me or to Sistah Space.”

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Hussey ‘interrogated’ Fulani – witness

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‘Institutional racism in palace’

Pressed if there was a deeper problem, she replied: “So institutional racism, racism is a problem all over the UK. It’s in the police. It’s been established. It’s in the fire brigade/department, that’s established. It’s even in parts of the NHS. It’s a problem. And it’s in Buckingham Palace, one person isn’t responsible.

“They need to review their whole policy on equality and race. They need to have a conversation with the people who say they are affected.”

She said it had been a “difficult couple of days for various reasons”.

“One is, I’m still processing what happened at Buckingham Palace and the outrage that has followed has been interesting,” she said.

“Racism has no place in a venue that’s supposed to be a safe space for everybody, regardless of their background.”

William distances himself from race row

Buckingham Palace said it took the matter “extremely seriously” and had investigated immediately.

Prince William, who is on a three-day US visit with his wife Kate, is understood to agree it was right for Lady Hussey to step down from her honorary role as Lady of the Household with immediate effect.

Before he had landed in the US, the prince was told about his godmother’s comments.

A Kensington Palace spokesman told reporters in the US before the Prince and Princess of Wales’ Boston trip – which has been overshadowed by the palace controversy – that Lady Hussey’s comments were “unacceptable” and “racism has no place in our society”.

Later, during an NBA game William and Kate attended, the royal couple were booed by some members of the crowd, and at an Earthshot Prize event, they heard a speech on race equality by a black reverend.

Lady Hussey, who served as the Queen’s lady in waiting for more than 60 years, has offered her “profound apologies for the hurt caused”.

However, the monarchy has faced allegations of institutional racism since Ms Fulani revealed what had happened.

William and Kate at a basketball game during their visit to Boston
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William and Kate at a basketball game during their visit to Boston

Lawyer ‘also asked about ethnicity’

Nazir Afzal, the University of Manchester chancellor, who was also at the palace reception, said he too was questioned by Lady Hussey about his origins.

The former chief crown prosecutor for the North West, tweeted: “I was at the Buckingham Palace reception at which Lady Hussey questioned the heritage of a brilliant [domestic violence] expert Ngozi Fulani.

“She only asked me my heritage once and seemed to accept my answer – Manchester currently!

“Racism is never far away though.”

Downing Street declined to comment on the incident.

Pressed on whether the prime minister believed it was right for Lady Hussey to quit, Rishi Sunak’s official spokesman said: “It’s not one I’ve spoken to him about.

“It is a matter for the Palace and you’ll know they have issued a statement on it.”

Last year the Duchess of Sussex claimed that a member of the royal household asked her about what colour skin her son Archie would have before he was born.

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Who is Ngozi Fulani – the domestic abuse charity founder subjected to racism at Buckingham Palace?

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Who is Ngozi Fulani - the domestic abuse charity founder subjected to racism at Buckingham Palace?

The charity boss at the centre of the Buckingham Palace racism row and her six siblings grew up in the 1960s as the “only black family on our road.

Ngozi Fulani, now 61, said her parents, who had moved to Britain from Barbados as part of the Windrush generation, “embraced everybody” and never allowed the “barriers we faced outside” to be brought into the house in Kilburn, northwest London.

In an interview with Future Hackney, Ms Fulani said her father would take them to house parties because “black people were not allowed” in pubs.

She was once “shooed” away by a white teacher at school, while her brothers would “come home with their faces swollen” having been bullied by their peers or attacked by the police, she added.

And when her sister gave birth at the age of 17, her white social worker used a racist term to describe her baby.

“We were very aware from the get-go that even though we were born here, we were not welcome,” she wrote.

The interview concluded with Ms Fulani saying: “Nothing has changed. It’s just different. The racism is just as intense, the hate is still there.”

‘Couldn’t stay silent’ about Meghan racism accusations

When the Duchess of Sussex told Oprah Winfrey in 2021 that a member of the royal household had concerns about the colour of her son Archie’s skin before he was born, Ms Fulani tweeted: “I can’t stay silent about this. I admire Meghan for speaking out.

“According to clear definition, it seems Meghan is a survivor of domestic violence from her in-laws.”

At the time Buckingham Palace said that issues raised by Meghan, “particularly that of race”, were “concerning” and would be “addressed privately”.

On Tuesday, as the chief executive and co-founder of Sistah Space, a charity that supports domestic abuse victims of African and Caribbean heritage, she attended a reception at Buckingham Palace.

File photo dated 29/11/2022 of Ngozi Fulani (2nd left) at a reception at Buckingham Palace, London. The prominent black advocate for survivors of domestic abuse has revealed how she was repeatedly asked by a member of the Buckingham Palace household at the Queen Consort's reception where she "really came from". Issue date: Wednesday November 30, 2022.
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Ms Fulani pictured with Camilla, Queen Consort at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday

The event, part of the United Nations’ 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, was also attended by first lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska and former Spice Girl Mel B.

There, Ms Fulani was approached by Lady Susan Hussey, one of the late Queen’s longest-serving ladies in waiting.

In a Twitter post afterwards, she revealed how the 83-year-old had repeatedly asked her “where she really came from” and “what part of Africa” she was from.

Lady Hussey, who is Prince William’s godmother, has since resigned from her palace duties.

Learning about Africa from white teachers sometimes felt ‘traumatic’

Although her parents came from the Caribbean, after leaving home and moving to Hackney at 18, Ms Fulani says discovering an African dance group was the “day her life changed”.

The “connection with Africa” it gave her was a “pivotal moment” that, she says, “became her lifelong story”.

Five years after joining the class, she began to teach herself – eventually running the Emashi Dance ensemble, which in December 1997 saw her meet King Charles at an event for the Prince’s Trust.

Ngozi Fulani and her two-year-old daughter with King Charles at a Prince's Trust event in December 1997
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Ngozi Fulani and her two-year-old daughter with King Charles at a Prince’s Trust event in December 1997

At that time she was studying for a Master’s degree in African Studies at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

She says that although she had a small number of black teachers, there were only four other black students in her class.

“We had to learn about our culture from middle class white people,” she wrote. “It did not feel authentic and at times I found it traumatic.

“It was at this point I realised how much trouble we were in and how far we had to go.”

Murder of woman and her baby sparked charity

Years later, in 2014, when Ms Fulani was working as a marriage registrar, a 45-year-old woman called Valerie Forde was murdered alongside her 22-month-old daughter by her ex-partner in Hackney.

Six weeks before he killed the pair with a machete, Ms Forde had reported him for threatening to burn down her house with her and their daughter inside.

An independent investigation later found the victims were badly let down by police, with two detective sergeants found guilty of misconduct and given written warnings.

Valerie Forde’s story drove Ms Fulani to train as an independent domestic violence advocate and in 2015 set up a charity specifically for African and Caribbean domestic abuse survivors in the area.

Sistah Space supports survivors in “whatever way they need”, Ms Fulani says – whether that is helping them to flee abuse or accompanying them to court.

The organisation works to “ensure cultural factors are not only considered but understood” and that “cultural barriers and biases are removed”.

Ngozi Fulani, CEO of Sistah Space
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Pic: Sistah Space

She and her co-founder Rosanna Lewis also offer training on cultural competency and best practice.

This includes abuse injuries not being as visible on darker skin tones and a reluctance to report abusers to police.

“Women want the abuse to stop but we know what happens to black men in police custody,” she told The Guardian in 2020. “These women do not want to risk their abusers being hurt or murdered.”

Read more:
William and Kate booed over race row
Analysis – pressure is on King Charles over racism accusations

In an interview with Sky News, she added: “There are so many things that women like us have to consider before we access mainstream services.

“We are often met by people who see black women as not in need of protection, we often get things like ‘strong woman like you, I can’t believe anybody would do anything to you’.

“So this tendency to brush off domestic abuse and sexual abuse is so inherent that most black women don’t see the point in reporting domestic abuse to a system that doesn’t see them and doesn’t listen.”

Ms Fulani told LBC in an interview on Wednesday that she would be “happy to have a conversation to bring about a positive solution” with the royals, but that she felt “violated” and “interrogated” by her experience at the palace.

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NHS ‘winter war rooms’ launched to manage pressure on hospitals

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NHS 'winter war rooms' launched to manage pressure on hospitals

Dozens of NHS “traffic control centres” are live across England in a move aimed at managing pressure on the service more effectively.

The 42 “winter war rooms” use data such as A&E performance, waiting times, staff levels, ambulance response times and bed occupancy.

That data allows staff to divert ambulances away from full hospitals and towards ones with more space, where patients have a better chance of being seen quickly.

The centres were announced in October as part of a wider plan.

They will run seven days a week – fully staffed during the day, with on-call arrangements at night.

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said: “These locally delivered control centres are just one part of our wide-ranging preparations for winter but will play a vital role in the sharing and use of vital information to drive smarter decision-making by local NHS teams.

“From Maidstone to Lincoln, less than six weeks after we issued our national guidance, we have teams across England working around the clock monitoring and responding to information and insights from frontline services to help spread resources and make the best possible decisions for both staff and patients.

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“With recent data hitting home the significant pressure staff are facing – with 10 times the flu cases in hospital than we saw going into winter last year and thousands of beds taken up by patients medically fit for discharge – it has never been more important for the NHS to introduce these important and innovative planning measures ahead of what is likely to be one of our most challenging winters yet.”

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The average response time in September for the most urgent incidents (people with life-threatening illnesses or injuries) was nine minutes and 19 seconds, against a seven-minute target.

Ambulances also took an average of 47 minutes and 59 seconds in September to respond to emergency calls such as burns, epilepsy and strokes – well above the target of 18 minutes.

And things do not get easier after the ambulance crew has reached the patient – accident and emergency departments are also under strain, with ambulances often facing lengthy waits to transfer patients into hospital.

NHS England has announced a number of other plans in recent weeks for services aimed at easing the pressure on hospitals.

Read more:
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An expansion of the falls response services will mean more people can be treated in their own homes, a move estimated to free up 55,000 ambulance trips each year.

Local “respiratory infections hubs” will offer patients same-day care for COVID-19, flu, acute bronchitis and pneumonia – again aimed at minimising the number of unnecessary trips to hospital.

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Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, said the control centres could help ease pressure on urgent and emergency services, but added: “Urgent action is also still needed to tackle workforce shortages, staff exhaustion and burnout, and the inability to free up capacity by discharging medically fit patients in a safe and timely way.”

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