Newspaper headlines: Jab fears 'ignored'

The inefficiency of the UK's stocks of flu vaccine this winter - and the consequential increase in the death rate - is a story which continues to rumble on in the press.

The Daily Mail leads on what it says were "fatal delays" in recognizing that the vaccine would be ineffective against the strain of the virus that has been prevalent in Britain this winter.

The paper says Public Health England has admitted it was aware that mutations in the virus - detected in Australia during the UK's summer - had the potential to make the seasonal jab offered by the NHS to vulnerable people less effective.

Image copyright PA

On Thursday, officials said the programme was now shielding only 3% of injected people from the disease, whereas last year the figure was 60%.

The Mail adds: "Figures suggest the infection has already claimed the lives of thousands of elderly patients who would have mistakenly assumed they were protected. Death rates are 40 per cent higher than last year."

It points out that in the United States, government health officials warned doctors to expect the mutated virus to reach it, and asked them to treat the most at-risk with anti-viral drugs if they presented symptoms.

"But there were no similar warnings in Britain and experts at Public Health England just hoped the same mutant strain that was rampant in Australia and America would not arrive here," the paper explains.

The Mail's opinion column says, "If the silence of officialdom has cost lives, it would be nothing less than a scandal."

The Daily Telegraph notes: "New figures show that there was 'significant excess mortality' in the over-65s for the eighth week running, linked to the ineffective flu jab and recent cold snap."

The paper quotes Katherine Murphy, of the Patients Association, who says: "It beggars belief that health officials weren't aware just how badly the vaccine was working a long time ago. If they didn't realise the scale of the problem until now they aren't doing their job properly."

But virologist Dr Michael Skinner tells the paper that the lengths of time needed to develop a new vaccine and supply it to the NHS means that it was tough to make the decision that a new viral strain first detected last March (as this winter's dominant flu type was) would pose a problem in December.

"You get one chance per year. If you delay, say to restart with a new virus, then even if you managed to produce as much, you probably wouldn't be able to roll it out through GPs and clinics in time for the season," he adds.


'A gamble'

The talks in Moscow aimed at ending the Ukraine conflict are covered in most of Saturday's papers.

The Guardian says the summit between Vladimir Putin, Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel seem to offer little hope of making a breakthrough.

"As the day went on it became increasingly clear that Merkel and Hollande had come to Moscow without a comprehensive plan," the paper contends.

Image copyright Reuters

"Instead, they had a response to proposals Putin sent them in letters earlier in the week, in which he envisaged an expansion of territory under rebel control."

Such an agreement has been rejected out of hand by the Kiev government.

In an accompanying feature, the Guardian says attitudes have hardened between Ukrainian loyalists and pro-Russian rebels in the Donbass area.

One rebel fighter tells the paper: "At the start, there was a chance for a peaceful solution, but not now."

The Financial Times says Mrs Merkel "a cautious deliberate leader" is taking a gamble by pursuing diplomacy with Mr Putin.

It is, the paper points out, a gamble the US does not want to take, with US vice-president Joe Biden claiming that Russia has broken previous ceasefire promises.

The FT says Mrs Merkel and Mr Hollande may have been pushed into action by the fear of a massacre as separatist forces encircle Ukrainian government troops, and there is fear of an escalation as "US hawks" push President Obama to ship weapons to Kiev.

The UK's former ambassador to Russia Tony Brenton writes in the Daily Telegraph that a deal is still possible.

Mr Putin, he says, "Certainly doesn't want war. And he doesn't want to add broken-backed East Ukraine, still less other parts of the former Soviet Union to Russia's already substantial woes.

"Merkel and Hollande face a hideously difficult job. And Vladimir Putin is keen that it should be so. But the last thing he wants is to make it impossible."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Thousands of Ukrainian government troops are surrounded by separatist forces at the town of Debaltseve

Much of the coverage of the Moscow talks focuses on David Cameron's absence - "Britain's drift to the foreign policy sidelines" as the FT puts it.

The Daily Mirror's editorial says Mr Cameron's "short-sighted hostility to Europe" has left him "marginalised".

"Proud Britannia has been replaced by a right-wing invisible man," it suggests.

Peter Brookes's cartoon in the Times parodies a popular Victorian music hall tune.

It pictures a saluting David Cameron in full dress uniform singing: "We don't want to fight, but by Jingo if we do, we've got no ships, we've got no men, we've got no money too."


'Americanisation'

The Times leads with a story based on a Freedom of Information (FOI) request revealing that firearm-carrying police have attended tens of thousands of "routine" incidents in England and Wales.

The paper says the revelation has lead to fears of "arming the police by stealth" and the "Americanisation" of British forces.

The paper notes: "There was an outcry in Scotland last year when it emerged that armed officers were being dispatched to minor disturbances."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Policing styles, old and new

Police Scotland - the national force - was "forced into a climb-down", the Times adds, and is reviewing its policy.

"Routine call-outs", the paper continues, such as attending the scenes of accidents, or dealing with petty crime and public nuisance reports, "make up the majority of the work for many of the country's 6,000 armed officers".

The paper says the extent that guns are carried by officers on patrol is "shrouded with secrecy" with only half of the 43 police forces contacted providing a reply to the FOI request.

The Times notes that senior officers say it is necessary that armed police attend more mundane assignments, to avoid them being "left idle".

However gun control groups tell the paper that the policy could "undermine community trust" in the police.

The paper's editorial acknowledges that with heightened fear of terrorist attacks, the sight of armed police on the streets is becoming a "frequent and for many, welcome" sight.

But it adds that the numbers of armed officers now attending incidents that would previously have been dealt with by "unarmed bobbies in the mould of Dixon of Dock Green" is rising steadily.

"If England and Wales are edging towards armed policing, it must be policy and it must be by consent. Stealth is not an option."


'Lambent amber'

But it is not dangerous guns, it is dangerous daffodils that occupy many column inches in Saturday's press.

That's right: daffodils. The Daily Mail is one of the many papers to report a warning to supermarkets not to store daffodils, in bunches or as bulbs, near fruit and vegetable displays.

Image caption Not The Nine O'Clock News's Gerald the gorilla was famously partial to daffodils

The advice comes from Public Health England, the paper explains. Officials are concerned that some shoppers are mistaking "daffs" for foodstuffs and eating the toxic plants.

The organisation highlights a case in Bristol where 10 people from an immigrant background needed hospital treatment after mistaking daffodil bulbs for onions.

Leaves and stems - also toxic - are frequently mistaken for a Chinese vegetable, the Mail adds.

The Daily Express's editorial says such "nanny state warnings" are a "waste of resources".

It adds that the fact that the Bristol incident happened a few years ago, "surely indicates that daffodil eating is far from common".

The Daily Telegraph issues its own warning, not about eating flowers, but about the colour of Newcastle Brown ale.

The paper reports that Heineken, which now brews the popular nut-brown beverage, is to drop the caramel that gave the drink its distinctive "brown-ness" after concern from US health campaigners.

It explains that some consumer groups are worried about possible carcinogenic properties in a naturally occurring chemical found in caramel colouring. The substance has twice been declared safe by EU safety experts.

Image caption New coke wasn't "the real thing" for many consumers

The writer of the paper's editorial column - evidently a big fan of "Newky Brown" - says the beer is a "thing of beauty" with an "honest label" contrasting with the "lambent amber glow" of the ale itself.

The column hopes the "delicious" flavour will not be lost in the new recipe, utilising roasted malt instead of caramel.

The paper notes some such changes, notably "new Coca-Cola" in 1985, have been disastrous for the drinks concerned.

"It is surely wise of [Heineken} to allow the beer to continue to capitalise on its perfectly genuine image as honest English ale."

I'll drink to that!

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