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Gray whale returned to ocean after 3 days beached in Mexico

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A gray whale has been returned safely to the Pacific Ocean after three days beached on the coast of Mexico’s Baja California Sur state.

The federal environmental protection agency says in a statement that the whale swam into a shallow canal near Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos last Thursday and was then stranded by the ebbing tide.

Workers spent three days using pumps to keep the whale hydrated. Photos released by the agency showed them hosing it down and digging the sand in an apparent bid to allow water to pool around it.

Monday’s statement said the tide came in high enough Saturday for the whale to be maneuvered to open water. It swam away under its own power and “in good health.”

Gray whales are a protected species in Mexico.

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Jailed Alexei Navalny releases investigation into Vladimir Putin’s ‘£1bn palace’ | World News

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He may be behind bars, but the Kremlin has not succeeded in silencing Alexei Navalny.

On his first full day in Moscow’s Matrosskaya-Tishina prison, Mr Navalny’s team have released a huge video investigation into the construction and alleged slush fund behind what is known as “Putin’s palace”, a £1bn private residence on Russia’s Black Sea coast.

Calling it “Putin’s biggest secret”, Mr Navalny and his team reveal new details about the sprawling complex near the resort town of Gelendzhik which has long been rumoured to belong to the Russian President.

Alexei Navalny talking about the 'palace' in the video he released after being detained. Pic: YouTube/Alexei Navalny
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Alexei Navalny talking about the ‘palace’ in the video he released after being detained. Pic: YouTube/Alexei Navalny

Drone footage over the grounds which the team says are 39 times the size of Monaco shows an underground ice hockey complex, 2500 square metre greenhouse and underground tunnel leading out to the Black Sea.

Architectural floor plans secured from a contractor shocked at the extent of the luxury reveal a lavish indoor theatre, fully-fledged casino and purple-tinted “hookah bar”.

It is “the most expensive palace in the world”, Mr Navalny says in the narration. “A new Versailles, new Winter Palace.”

Mr Navalny says the idea for the investigation, which he presents from Germany, came during his time in intensive care.

He travels to Dresden to trace Vladimir Putin’s path from lowly KGB operative on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain to the pinnacle of power in the Kremlin, showing how the friends he made in the 1990s have remained the principle beneficiaries of his kleptocratic regime to this day.

“Putin’s personal money is kept by those he met thirty years ago,” the investigation says. “In search of sponsors for the most corrupt ruler in the history of Russia, you need to go to his past.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a video conference call with Chief Executive of Gazprom company Alexei Miller at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia January 19, 2021. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
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The Kremlin has denied that Mr Putin owns a palace in Gelendzhik

He calls the Gelendzhik property the “biggest bribe in the world” and claims to have uncovered a scheme by which money for its construction is funnelled into offshore accounts by Putin’s cronies as payment for lucrative state contracts he has handed them over the years.

“The standout for me is how bizarre and cuckoo-in the head our president is,” says Vladimir Ashurkov, a close ally of Mr Navalny and executive director of his now disbanded Anti-Corruption Foundation. “Why do you need a billion dollar palace which you would never really use, as president?”

The Kremlin has denied that president Putin owns a palace in Gelendzhik.

The almost two hour video investigation ends with a plea to the Russian people to go out and protest. “If 10% of those who are disaffected take to the streets, the government will not dare falsify elections,” Mr Navalny says.

It is a call he repeated in a video message from a Moscow police station on Monday, shortly before he was taken to jail. In a hastily convened court session inside the police station, a judge ruled that his detention should be extended for 30 days, until 15 February.

On 2 February a court will decide whether to convert a three and a half year suspended sentence he was serving for an alleged embezzlement charge into a custodial sentence on the grounds that he violated the terms of his parole whilst convalescing in Germany.

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Navalny calls for protests over his arrest

Mr Navalny says all the various charges he has faced over the years are politically motivated.

His team are calling for a nationwide day of protest this Saturday. Mass gatherings are banned in Russia because of the pandemic and so far in Moscow, just two thousand people have registered as going on the Facebook page.

“The message about Putin’s property will reach people in different formats and different channels,” Mr Ashurkov says.

“It’s unlikely that the regime will change tomorrow and we’ll see hundreds of thousands of people on the streets but it’s a campaign of constant pressure and history teaches us that the only constant throughout the decades is change.”

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Donald Trump’s farewell address: ‘Our movement is only just beginning’ | US News

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Donald Trump will say he will “pray for the success” of Joe Biden’s administration in his farewell address later but that the political movement he created “is only just beginning”.

Before he leaves office tomorrow, the outgoing president said everyone in the US had been “horrified” by the rioting at the Capitol in Washington DC earlier this month.

In extracts released by the White House, he said: “Political violence is an attack on everything we cherish as Americans. It can never be tolerated.”

He added: “As I prepare to hand power over to a new administration at noon on Wednesday, I want you to know that the movement we started is only just beginning.”

Live updates on the final preparations for Joe Biden’s inauguration

Biden inauguration: Watch and follow events on Sky News from 1pm on Wednesday, with the ceremony starting at 4pm

Mr Trump also said he would pray for the success of the new administration in keeping America safe and prosperous, but he did not mention Joe Biden by name.

He went on: “Our agenda was not about right or left, it wasn’t about Republican or Democrat, but about the good of a nation, and that means the whole nation.”

He said his administration had “restored American strength at home – and American leadership abroad”, and it “built the greatest economy in the history of the world”.

Under his leadership, Mr Trump claimed the US had “revitalised our alliances and rallied the nations of the world to stand up to China like never before”.

And he said: “As a result of our bold diplomacy and principled realism, we achieved a series of historic peace deals in the Middle East. It is the dawn of a new Middle East and we are bringing our soldiers home.”

He also said he was “especially proud” to be the first president in decades who has “started no new wars”.

Mr Trump will not attend tomorrow’s inauguration – the first outgoing president to skip the ceremony since Andrew Johnson more than a century and a half ago.

Before leaving the state of Delaware where he was a senator for decades, Mr Biden addressed dozens of supporters in an emotional sendoff.

As the US exceeded 400,000 coronavirus deaths, the president-elect said: “These are dark times. But there’s always light.”

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COVID-19: ‘Real-world’ analysis of vaccine in Israel raises questions about UK strategy | World News

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The first real-world analysis of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine suggests it is matching its performance in clinical trials, but raises serious questions about the UK’s decision to delay the second dose.

Scientists in Israel – which is leading the COVID-19 vaccination race – have told Sky News that they are “very hopeful” having studied preliminary data from 200,000 vaccinated people.

But crucially they say their results do not show efficacy at a level close to that used by the UK to justify delaying the second dose of the Pfizer jab.

Care home staff receive the Pfizer/BioNtech covid-19 vaccine in Belfast
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The UK has chosen to delay the second dose of the jab

Professor Balicer is a physician, epidemiologist and chief innovation officer for Clalit, the largest health care provider in Israel. He is also an adviser to the World Health Organisation.

“We compared 200,000 people above the age of 60 that were vaccinated. We took a comparison group of 200,000 people, same age, not vaccinated, that were matched to this group on various variables…” prof Balicer said.

“Then we looked to see what is the daily positivity rate… And we saw that there was no difference between vaccinated and unvaccinated until day 14 post-vaccination.

Ran Balicer
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Ran Balicer is an adviser to the World Health Organisation

“But on day 14 post-vaccination, a drop of 33% in positivity was witnessed in the vaccinated group and not in the unvaccinated… this is really good news.”

However, UK scientists said in December that trial data had suggested it would be 89% effective after one dose.

A document issued by the UK government’s vaccine advisers, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, to justify delaying the second dose for up to 12 weeks said: “Using data for those cases observed between day 15 and 21, efficacy against symptomatic COVID-19 was estimated at 89%, suggesting that short term protection from dose 1 is very high from day 14 after vaccination.”

This is much more optimistic than the new real-world Israeli data suggests.

Responding to the UK government strategy, prof Balicer said: “The data and estimates I gave are what we have.

“We could not see 89% reduction in the data we reported. Further data and analyses will be released in peer reviewer scientific format.”

He added: “The practise in Israel is to provide the second vaccine at three weeks.

Ronni Gamzu
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Ronni Gamzu said he understood why compromises have to be made

“And so it is impossible for us to tell what would be the impact of not providing the second dose…”

Israel is following Pfizer protocol in giving the second dose of the coronavirus vaccine three weeks after the first.

It has a smaller population and a regular supply from Pfizer. In return it’s providing detailed data to Pfizer.

In contrast, the UK with a much larger population is prioritising the first jab – arguing that one dose given to as many people as possible is better than two to fewer people.

“We have already covered some 25% of our population and over 75% above the age of 60 in the last four and a half weeks.

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One-in-five Israelis now vaccinated

“And so we are one of the first countries to be able to witness the sheer impact in big numbers of vaccinating such a large proportion of the population,” prof Balicer said.

“By being able to manipulate this data in real time, to clean it and to use proper epidemiological methodology, we are able to provide answers to the most pertinent questions right now.”

The Israeli scientists believe their 33% figure will rise when data is compiled from younger age groups and the fact that the data is real-life adds to their confidence.

“This is not the ideal setting of a randomised controlled trial where everything from coaching maintenance to selection of the population of interest is done in a very meticulous way.

“This is the real-world. And so by seeing the real world impact so early on in the same direction and in the same timing as we’ve seen in the clinical trials is something that makes us very hopeful.”

Israel's vaccination programme has been a real success story
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Israel’s vaccination programme has been a real success story

Tel Aviv’s Sourasky hospital, one of hundreds of vaccination centres, is inoculating hundreds of people an hour.

Ronni Gamzu is the hospital director. He served as the government “corona tsar” – a rotating advisory role – until last month.

“I believe, truly believe, this is the beginning of the end because the vaccine creates the immune response.

“We see that clearly and we see a change in the people that are becoming severely ill with coronavirus and moderately ill. People that have got the vaccine are more protected,” professor Gamzu said.

Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu receives his vaccination
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Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu receives his vaccination

Asked about the UK strategy of delaying the second dose, he said the 89% figure seemed “very optimistic” but understood why compromises needed to be made.

“If you are short of vaccines, this is a good idea… We believe that if you take the booster shot, even after six weeks, then you will have an effect, the effect is coming and growing gradually.

“We do not know that for sure because the studies were done for 21 days for Pfizer and 28 days for Moderna. But there is a clear logic behind postponing it when you are short on vaccines.”

In a previous statement on the decision, the JCVI said: “With most vaccines an extended interval between the prime and booster doses leads to a better immune response to the booster dose.

“There is evidence that a longer interval between the first and second doses promotes a stronger immune response with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“There is currently no strong evidence to expect that the immune response from the Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines differ substantially from each other.

“The committee advises initially prioritising delivery of the first vaccine dose as this is highly likely to have a greater public health impact in the short term and reduce the number of preventable deaths from COVID-19.”

Sky News has contacted the JCVI for comment.

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