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Queen pictured at Windsor ahead of Commonwealth Day address celebrating the union | UK News

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The Queen has been photographed with a backdrop of Commonwealth flags as she celebrates the family of nations.

The image was taken during the filming of a special BBC programme featuring the royal family, which is being screened tomorrow, ahead of Commonwealth Day on Monday.

The Queen was photographed in St George’s Hall at Windsor Castle wearing a delphinium blue dress and jacket of silk and wool cloque by Angela Kelly.

On her left shoulder the head of state wears the chrysanthemum brooch, made from sapphires and diamonds set in platinum.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during there virtual engagement
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The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge praised the dedication of front line workers

The Queen was also pictured wearing the item when she was photographed with the Duke of Edinburgh to mark their 73rd wedding anniversary in November.

She also wore the brooch for images taken on her honeymoon with Philip at Broadlands in Hampshire in 1947, and again in pictures released to mark the couple’s 60th wedding anniversary in 2007.

Commonwealth Day is one of the most important days of the year for the Queen, who has made the Commonwealth a cornerstone of her official work during her 69-year reign.

A pre-recorded message from Her Majesty will feature in the BBC programme along with contributions from other members of the family.

In an extract from the programme, Kate and William chat in a video call with Dr Zolelwa Sifumba, from South Africa, an advocate for the rights of healthcare workers on the front line.

The duchess tells the medic: “Here in the UK there’s been masses of public recognition of the amazing work the front line are doing and it’s sad, almost, that it’s taken the pandemic for the public to really back and support all those working on the front line.”

William, Kate and their children were pictured last year joining in the weekly applause for front line workers during the early part of the pandemic.

Also during the programme, Prince Charles gives an address at Westminster Abbey in tribute to the “extraordinary determination, courage and creativity” of the Commonwealth’s people during the COVID crisis.

HRH The Prince of Wales speaks to the Commonwealth from Westminster Abbey in advance of Commonwealth Day 2021. Pic: Westminster Abbey/Picture Partnership
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Charles said people’s determination was an ‘inspiration to us all’. Pic: Westminster Abbey/Picture Partnership

During the speech he says the pandemic and climate change are “existential threats” which have no borders.

The prince adds: “The coronavirus pandemic has affected every country of the Commonwealth, cruelly robbing countless people of their lives and livelihoods, disrupting our societies and denying us the human connections which we so dearly cherish.

“Amidst such heart-breaking suffering, however, the extraordinary determination, courage and creativity with which people have responded has been an inspiration to us all.

“This pandemic has shown us the true nature of a global emergency. We have learned that human health, economic health and planetary health are fundamentally interconnected and that pandemics, climate change and biodiversity loss are existential threats which know no borders.”

HRH The Duchess of Cornwall speaks to Clare Balding,  from the BBC in an interview in Poets Corner, Westminster Abbey in advance of Commonwealth Day 2021. Pic: Westminster Abbey/Picture Partnership
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Camilla said she ‘always had a passion for books’. Pic: Westminster Abbey/Picture Partnership

Camilla is featured speaking to broadcaster Clare Balding about how her interest in books was inspired by her father Major Bruce Shand’s love for literature.

The duchess says: “I’ve always had a passion for books. Books have been part of my life for so long. I started reading when I was very, very young with a father who has a fervent bibliophile.

The Countess of Wessex
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The Countess of Wessex has also taken part

“So from the age of two or three he used to sit and read to us children, take us on wonderful adventures… all over the world.”

The piece was recorded at Westminster Abbey’s Poets’ Corner and the pair were joined by video link by award-winning teacher Ranjitsinh Disale.

Camilla says: “I think I was bitten at that age and from then I’ve just kept going, and I’ve got involved in a lot of literacy programmes and patronages. I just feel very strongly that all children should be taught to read.”

Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, marked Commonwealth Day and International Women’s Day, which are both celebrated on Monday, by speaking by video link to three women from around the Commonwealth, to hear about their experiences of supporting other women and their wider communities.

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Myanmar junta releases over 23,000 prisoners but fate of detained protesters unknown | World News

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Myanmar’s junta has claimed to have pardoned and released more than 23,000 prisoners – but it is not known if the figure includes pro-democracy activists detained in the wake of February’s coup.

The release was announced to mark the new year holiday.

State broadcaster MRTV said Myanmar‘s military leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing pardoned the 23,047 prisoners, including 137 foreigners who will be deported.

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He also reduced sentences for others.

Early prisoner releases are customary during major holidays, but this is the second time the ruling junta has done so since it ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, triggering daily protests, arrests and deaths by security forces.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which monitors casualties and arrests, government forces have killed at least 726 protesters and bystanders since the takeover.

The group says 2,728 people, including Ms Suu Kyi, are in detention.

Following the release of more than 23,000 convicts to mark Union Day on 12 February, there were reports on social media that some were recruited by the authorities to carry out violence at night in residential areas to spread panic.

Heavy clashes erupted during demonstrations in Yangon on Sunday 28 March
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Heavy clashes erupted during demonstrations in Yangon on Sunday 28 March

Some areas responded by setting up their own neighbourhood watch groups.

The military said it staged the coup because a November election won by Ms Suu Kyi’s party was rigged – an assertion dismissed by the election commission.

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COVID-19: Pandemic has now killed three million across the world – as countries see surge in cases | World News

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The global death toll from coronavirus has topped three million people amid repeated setbacks in the worldwide vaccination campaign and a deepening crisis in places such as Brazil, India and France.

The number of lives lost, as compiled by Johns Hopkins University in the US, is about equal to the population of Kyiv, Ukraine; Caracas, Venezuela; or metropolitan Lisbon, Portugal.

It is bigger than Chicago (2.7 million) and equivalent to Philadelphia and Dallas combined.

However, the true number is believed to be significantly higher because of possible government concealment and the many cases overlooked in the early stages of the outbreak that began in Wuhan, China, at the end of 2019.

Worldwide, COVID-19 deaths are on the rise again, running at around 12,000 per day on average, and new cases are climbing too, eclipsing 700,000 a day.

“This is not the situation we want to be in 16 months into a pandemic, where we have proven control measures,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, one of the World Health Organisation’s leaders on COVID-19.

In Brazil, where deaths are running at about 3,000 per day, accounting for one-quarter of the lives lost worldwide in recent weeks, the crisis has been likened to a “raging inferno” by one WHO official.

A more contagious variant of the virus has been rampaging across the country.

Meanwhile, problems that India had overcome last year are coming back to haunt health officials.

Recent religious event in India could be behind the surge in cases, experts suggest
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Recent religious event in India could be behind the surge in cases, experts suggest

Only 178 ventilators were free on Wednesday afternoon in New Delhi, a city of 29 million, where 13,000 new infections were reported the previous day.

The challenges facing India reverberate beyond its borders since the country is the biggest supplier of shots to Covax, the UN-sponsored program to distribute vaccines to poorer parts of the world.

Last month, India said it would suspend vaccine exports until the virus’s spread inside the country slows.

The WHO recently described the supply situation as precarious.

Up to 60 countries might not receive any more jabs until June, by one estimate.

To date, Covax has delivered about 40 million doses to more than 100 countries, enough to cover barely 0.25% of the world’s population.

Globally, about 87% of the 700 million doses dispensed have been given out in rich countries.

While one in four people in wealthy nations have received a vaccine, in poor countries the figure is one in more than 500.

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Elon Musk’s SpaceX wins $2.9bn NASA contract to send humans to the moon | Science & Tech News

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Elon Musk’s private space company SpaceX has won a $2.9bn (£2.1bn) NASA contract to build a spacecraft to put humans on the moon.

The tech billionaire’s firm was chosen ahead of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and defence contractor Dynetics Inc.

Steve Jurczyk, NASA’s acting administrator, said at a video conference: “We should accomplish the next landing as soon as possible. This is an incredible time to be involved in human exploration, for all humanity.”

SpaceX founder and chief engineer Elon Musk
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SpaceX founder and chief engineer Elon Musk wants to take humans to Mars

SpaceX will need to complete a test flight “to fully check out all systems with a landing on the lunar surface prior to our formal demonstration mission”, NASA official Lisa Watson-Morgan told reporters.

Mr Musk is one of the world’s richest people thanks to his 22% stake in electric car maker Tesla, now the world’s most valuable vehicle manufacturer.

His publicly stated aim is to put humans on Mars – but so far, SpaceX has mainly been used to launch satellites for his Starlink internet venture, and other satellites and space cargo.

The SpaceX programme has suffered considerable teething problems, with another failed landing for its prototype Starship spacecraft last month.

The previous three exploded at touchdown or shortly afterwards.

Those setbacks do not appear to have affected investors’ confidence in his schemes, however, as SpaceX said on Wednesday it had raised about $1.16bn (£838m) in equity financing.

SpaceX lost another Starship, here seen launching in thick fog, in a botched landing on Tuesday
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SpaceX lost another Starship, here seen launching in thick fog, in a botched landing

NASA’s plan is get back to the moon and using that as a platform to send astronauts to Mars and it is looking to team up with private companies that share its vision for space exploration.

In December, NASA announced 18 astronauts who could be involved in plans to get back to the moon by 2024.

Jeff Bezos. Pic: AP
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NASA’s decision is a setback for Jeff Bezos. Pic: AP

It’s a setback for Mr Bezos, a lifelong space enthusiast and one of the world’s richest people, who is more focused on his space venture after deciding to step down as Amazon CEO.

The NASA deal was seen as a way for Blue Origin to establish itself as a desired partner for NASA, and also putting the venture on the road to turning a profit.

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