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Warning over measles outbreak in Europe with 400% rise in cases

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Measles cases across Europe soared by 400% last year, according to the World Health Organisation.

A total of 21,315 cases were reported on the continent in 2017 and the infection was the cause of 35 deaths.

It came after a record low of 5,273 measles cases the previous year.

WHO said a decline in immunisations, interruptions in vaccine supply, low rates of vaccination among marginalised groups and poor monitoring had contributed to the crisis.

Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe, described it as “a tragedy we cannot accept”.

:: More than 120 cases as measles outbreak in England grows

Symptoms of measles include cold-like symptoms, sore red eyes, a high temperature and a blotchy rash. Although it usually clears in 7-10 days, complications of the illness can be fatal.

Last September, it was announced that measles had been officially eradicated in the UK – meaning it had not freely circulated for three years – thanks to widespread immunisation with the MMR vaccine.

The MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps and rubella
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The MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps and rubella

But there was a slight surge in cases this winter, and the WHO recorded a total of 282 last year.

According to Public Health England, the outbreak is linked to the rise in Europe and 36 cases were reported in 2018.

Dr Mary Ramsey, head of immunisation at PHE, said those who had not been vaccinated and had recently travelled to Romania, Italy or Germany were at risk.

“This serves as an important reminder for parents to take up the offer of MMR vaccination for their children,” she said.

Some 15 European countries experienced serious outbreaks of measles last year, but the worst affected were Romania, with 5,562 cases, Italy with 5,006 and Ukraine with 4,767.

Other states to be seriously affected were Greece with 967 cases, Germany with 927, and Belgium with 369.

“Every new person affected by measles in Europe reminds us that unvaccinated children and adults, regardless of where they live, remain at risk of catching the disease and spreading it to others who may not be able to get vaccinated,” Dr Jakab said.

Around 95% of cases of measles happen in low-income countries, and globally the fatality rate of measles is one in five.

That’s much more than Europe’s current outbreak, which is less than 0.2%.

Most deaths from measles result from severe complications such as diarrhoea, dehydration, brain inflammation or respiratory infections, according to Medicins Sans Frontiers.

“Elimination of both measles and rubella is a priority goal that all European countries have firmly committed to, and a cornerstone for achieving the health-related Sustainable Development Goals,” the WHO’s Dr Jakab said.

“This short-term setback cannot deter us from our commitment to be the generation that frees our children from these diseases once and for all.”

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UK joins US, EU and Canada in imposing sanctions on Belarus following forced landing of Ryanair flight | UK News

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The UK has joined the US, the European Union and Canada in imposing sanctions on Belarusian officials following the forced landing of a Ryanair flight last month.

The plane travelling from Greece to Lithuania on 23 May was diverted to the Belarusian capital Minsk where authorities arrested opposition blogger Roman Protasevich.

In a statement on Monday, the Foreign Office said seven individuals and one organisation had been sanctioned due to the diversion of the flight and a further four individuals and an entity had been sanctioned over human rights abuses in Belarus by President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab gestures during an interview with Reuters on the sidelines of G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall
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Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced joint sanctions against Belarusian officials alongside the US, EU and Canada

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the joint action has been taken as the Lukashenko regime “endangered the lives of airline passengers and crew” in its attempt to capture Mr Protasevich.

“The UK and our partners have today sanctioned those responsible for the continued suppression of democracy and human rights in Belarus,” he said.

“The Lukashenko regime endangered the lives of airline passengers and crew in a shameful ruse to snatch Roman Protasevich.

“We will hold the regime to account in co-ordination with our allies including through further banning travel, freezing assets and cutting off oil export revenue streams.”

Those with sanctions imposed include BNK (UK) Ltd, an exporter of Belarusian oil products, one of the country’s main revenue streams.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken added that the sanctions are necessary “to promote accountability for the Lukashenko regime’s transnational repression and its affronts to international norms”.

Belarus airs questioning of Roman Protasevich detained after forced plane landing
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Mr Protasevich after he was detained following the forced plane landing

In a joint statement the UK, US, EU and Canada said: “We are committed to support the long-suppressed democratic aspirations of the people of Belarus and we stand together to impose costs on the regime for its blatant disregard of international commitments.”

The flight in May was escorted to Minsk city by a warplane following reports it had explosives on board, according to an online flight tracker and Belarus state news agency BeITA.

Mr Lukashenko told Belarusian MPs he did the right thing. Pic by ordering the Ryanair plane to land. Pic: AP
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Mr Lukashenko told Belarusian MPs he did the right thing. Pic by ordering the Ryanair plane to land. Pic: AP

But opposition groups in Belarus called the incident a hijacking operation by the government.

Mr Protasevich was arrested after the plane touched down and no explosives were found.

He runs the opposition Telegram news channel NEXTA, which is hostile to Mr Lukashenko and has become one of the main sources of news about demonstrations in the country.

The blogger was placed on a wanted list after last year’s mass street protests following an election in which Mr Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, claimed a landslide victory.

Following his arrest he has appeared in several videos shown on state-controlled TV, appearing to praise the president and admit to organising protests.

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‘They can’t hide these secrets anymore’: Anticipation is high for impending release of Pentagon’s ‘UFO report’ | US News

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On the second floor of the Aquarius Casino Resort, two of Nevada’s quirkier attractions are on offer.

Turn left and you can pledge until death do you part in the wedding chapel, turn right and you are deep in wonders of the annual UFO Mega Conference.

For 30 years, researchers and enthusiasts have gathered to digest and dissect the latest mysterious goings-on in the skies above.

Alien shop
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The Alien Research Center is a gift shop on Nevada’s ‘Extraterrestrial Highway’

For most of that time, they did so in the knowledge that they were regarded as conspiracy theorists or, as one attendee put it, “people in tin-foil hats”.

But this year’s conference took place in Laughlin in Nevada with the US gripped by its government’s public acknowledgement that there is something out there and that they have no idea what it is.

Well, not that they’re telling us anyway.

Among those who have been saying this all along – and often attracted widespread mockery for it – this is a moment of deep satisfaction.

Not that they think we are getting the whole truth.

Curiously, people who believe fervently in alien lifeforms do not believe at all in Washington DC.

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“I think the push for disclosure has been happening for decades and I think it’s gaining momentum,” said Katie Griboski.

The UFO researcher has given a talk called “High Strangeness on a Colorado Ranch”.

She added: “I don’t think the government can hide these secrets anymore and so they’re trying to cover their butts a little bit.”

Still, all this mainstream acceptance is a dizzying experience.

“About two years ago, if I told someone I was a UFO researcher, they’d give me that funny little look. And now it’s on the news almost daily, they’re like ‘Oh, really?’ and they’re inquisitive,” Ms Griboski said.

“If nothing else, that’s a good thing.”

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The affectionally-named ‘Extraterrestrial Highway’ leads to Area 51

Next to the main conference hall at the casino, attendees stand gossip about this new credibility. Stallholders sell books and DVDs about what the government calls “unidentified aerial phenomena” and others offer a variety of ways of being healed. One involves footballs.

There is a joy on the face of Ronny Dawson. He had already described to a rapt audience a “journey from horror to alien contact” in his Texas bedroom. During alien “home invasion” in 2010, he had been paralysed in his bed.

“They pulled my consciousness out of my sleeping body, apologised for disturbing my rest, and said they needed to have a conversation,” he said.

Mr Dawson said his visitors wanted to know how to open a channel of communication with humans. “I said: ‘Fly a big ship around the earth until everybody on earth has seen it.'”

He says the US government is reacting to the inevitable. “I think the reason they’re doing it is because the ETs are tired of waiting and they’ve given us a deadline: ‘Either you tell them, or we will.'”

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A US government task force has been investigating dozens of reported sightings

Throughout the week-long conference, attendees were treated to movie premieres, previously-unseen footage and speeches from writers, experts and self-proclaimed “contactees… delving deep into what has been until now a sprawling sub-culture”.

There was even an evening of live entertainment with a “master of paramentalism” who promised he could guess the colour of your underwear.

Few of those we spoke to had great faith in the likelihood of full transparency from the Pentagon.

The reason? “I think there would be mass panic,” said Tracey Myles. “I think people can’t handle the truth. I think they’re very closed-minded.”

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A small aircraft, nicknamed the ‘tic-tac’, was sighted in 2004

Pollyanna Infante, who describes herself as a “hybrid” who has regular telepathic communication with alien lifeforms, believes we have nothing to fear from them. In fact, she says, their message is a call to action.

“Essentially they want us to stop destroying our earth and they’re not going to let us destroy it.”

And, armed with the experience of his own encounter a decade ago, Ronny Dawson is realistic about what comes next.

“I think it’s a time bomb. It won’t matter down the road a few years. Some people are not going to believe it until it’s walking down the street and they’re still going to scratch their heads.

“But that’s the way we’re going and the government has no choice.”

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‘Something’s out there’: UFO researchers welcome release of Pentagon report into ‘unidentified aerial phenomena’ | US News

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The release of a report by the Pentagon, detailing what the US government knows about what it calls “unidentified aerial phenomena”, is being seen as a moment of validation by members of the UFO community.

Researchers and investigators, for so long mocked as conspiracy theorists and worse, say the revelation that a “UAP Task Force” has been collecting evidence for the Department of Defence for more a decade confirms their suspicions.

“The phenomenon has just been validated by the papers coming out that, yes, there’s something out there. No, we don’t know what it is, but it’s worth looking into. And that’s what we’ve been doing for decades,” said Chris Jones of the Mutual UFO Network.

Chris Jones
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Chris Jones believes the evidence so far is worth looking into

The government task force has been investigating dozens of reported sightings and encounters between US military personnel and unidentified flying objects.

Among the most striking evidence are cockpit videos recorded by US Navy pilots of objects appearing to defy the rules of physics.

Sean Cahill was serving about missile cruiser the USS Princeton in 2004 when he was one of many to witness what has become known as the “tic-tac”.

The white oblong-shape, the size of a small aircraft, showed no outward signs of conventional propulsion and darted around alarmingly at high speed.

At the time, Mr Cahill said, he assumed the military’s nonchalant reaction to the sightings was evidence the object was part of a secret US programme.

Now, he believes, there are serious national security concerns.

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The ‘tic-tac’ showed no outward signs of conventional propulsion

“I feel that I was I was pulling something out of the future,” he said.

“This was not just another flock of birds or a balloon or a or swamp gases, we knew that this was a craft that was outstripping our arsenal, and that was in 2004.

“I did feel it was historical then. Now I’m positive of that fact.

“But I think that there’s even more out there that we need to we need to see and understand.

“I hazard to say that if we don’t pry this out into the daylight right now I fear that it’ll go right back into the black and it’ll be another 70 years before we actually find out what this is.”

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Sean Cahill believes there is ‘more out there’

But some of those who have been in space are doubtful the sightings are of alien spacecraft.

Leroy Chiao, a former commander aboard the International Space Station, said: “Although I think there is life elsewhere in the universe, the distances are so vast that I don’t think we’ll ever find each other.”

Leroy Chiao
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Leroy Chiao is a former commander aboard the International Space Station

The Pentagon report is the culmination of a push by politicians, including former US Senate majority leader Harry Reid, for greater openness.

He told Sky News: “This goes back 70 years and we know initially the government did everything it could to cover it up. I think the new technology we have has made it more difficult for the government to deny what is going on.

“The government has got to be part of it and no longer be part of a cover-up, they’ve got to be transparent in everything they do.”

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The road to Area 51, affectionately dubbed ‘Extraterrestrial Highway’

The budget Mr Reid helped secure created the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Programme. Now defunct, its former director has heralded the publication of the report.

Luiz Elizondo told Sky News: “We’re at a critical mass where at least the conversation has moved forward and I don’t think we can go back.

“We now recognise that these things are real, whatever these things are, and I don’t know how you can rewind the narrative of that.”

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