Pistons beat Magic 97-92 in matchup of NBA’s 2 worst teams


DETROIT (AP) — Trey Lyles scored eight of his 16 points in the fourth quarter and the Detroit Pistons won for the third time in five games, beating the Orlando Magic 97-92 on Saturday night in a matchup of the NBA’s two worst teams.

“We know they are going through a lot of the same things that we are this season,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “These are two teams learning how to win close games down the stretch, and there were a lot of mistakes down the stretch, but we made some nice plays as well.”

After ending last year with 18 losses in 19 games, the Pistons have beaten San Antonio, Milwaukee and the Magic since New Year’s Day. They improved to 8-30.

Hamadou Diallo added 17 points, and Saddiq Bey had 16 points. Lyles also had 13 rebounds.

“We’ve learned that, even when our shots aren’t going in, we can still play defense and keep ourselves in games,” Bey said. “We’re getting guys back from COVID and we’re starting to finish off a few of these games.”

Gary Harris had a season-high 28 points for the Magic. They have lost eight straight to fall to 7-33.

“We’ve worked a lot on game-ending situations in the last couple weeks, but we still aren’t turning that into wins on the court,” Harris said. “We know what we need to do, but we have to step up and make the plays.”

The Magic have lost their last four games by an average of 5.5 points, including one in overtime.

“These games sting right now, but they are going to be super valuable for us in the long run,” Magic coach Jamahl Murray said. “We’re learning how to get shots down the stretch, and we were one or two makes away from winning this game,”

Lyles scored eight points in the first 2:27 of the fourth to put Detroit up 81-75.

Harris’ layup brought Orlando to 86-85 with 5:35 left, but Cory Joseph responded with a 3-pointer. Diallo missed a dunk that could have put the Pistons up 95-90 with 1:10 left, and Terrance Ross made it 93-92 with two free throws at the other end.

Diallo had a dunk on the next possession, restoring Detroit’s three-point lead, and Ross missed at the basket.

“We showed a real defensive focus tonight – something we didn’t have when we lost the last two games by 30,” Casey said. “We got excited at the end, but Cory did a nice job of calming down our young guys.”

Cade Cunningham missed a 3-pointer with eight seconds left, but Cole Anthony missed a tying 3-pointer before Joseph hit two free throws to clinch it.

“We did a lot of good things to get us back into the game in the third quarter, but we got away from them down the stretch,” said Anthony, who finished with 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists. “That’s on me, because Gary was hitting everything and I didn’t get him enough shots, and I needed to get Franz (Wagner) going down the stretch.”

TIP INS

Magic: Harris, who played at Michigan State, had never scored more than 13 points against the Pistons.

Pistons: Detroit’s 31-26 lead after 12 minutes was the first time it had led at the end of the first quarter since Dec. 10 in New Orleans.

UP NEXT:

Magic: Host Washington on Sunday night.

Pistons: Host Utah on Monday night.

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The Latest: Bills finally punt again, then keep on punting

The Associated PressSun, 9 January 2022, 5:08 pm

The Latest from Week 18 of the NFL (all times Eastern):

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6 p.m.

Matt Haack is finally getting a chance to punt for the Buffalo Bills, who have kept on punting.

Haack’s 42-yarder midway through the second quarter against the New York Jets was his first since hitting a 40-yarder with 10 minutes remaining in a 31-14 win over Carolina on Dec. 19.

The Bills went the next two games not attempting a punt and were in position to become the NFL’s first team since at least 1945 to go three consecutive games without attempting a punt.

Instead, Buffalo had three consecutive punts on three straight three-and-outs.

It has turned in to kind of a rough day for Haack. His average on the three punts is 28.7 yards. His second and third punts went 21 and 23 yards into a strong wind. It was forecast to be between 20 and 30 mph.

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5:45 p.m.

New Orleans quarterback Taysom Hill has left a game against Atlanta midway through the second quarter with a left foot injury.

Trevor Siemian took his place and quickly finished the drive with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Tre’Quan Smith to give the Saints a 14-6 lead.

Hill was injured when he was tackled by Shawn Williams on a 1-yard run. Hill walked to the locker room carrying his left shoe. He is 6-2 as the New Orleans starter this season. Hill completed seven of his first nine passes for 107 yards and a touchdown.

The Saints can make the playoffs with a win and a San Francisco loss at the Los Angeles Rams.

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5:35 p.m.

Tom Brady has surpassed 5,000 yards passing for the season, joining Drew Brees as the only players in NFL history with multiple 5,000-yard seasons.

The Tampa Bay star began the day with a league-leading 4,990 yards. Brady reached 5,000 on his second completion, a 5-yarder to Cameron Brate early in the second quarter against Carolina Panthers.

The seven-time Super Bowl winner threw for a career-best 5,235 yards with the New England Patriots in 2011. Brees had five 5,000-yard seasons in 15 years with New Orleans.

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5:25 p.m.

The Rams are controlling the ball early while building a 17-0 lead in the second quarter against San Francisco.

Los Angeles has scored on each of its first three drives, with tight end Tyler Higbee making two scoring catches for his second career multi-TD game.

The 49ers dominated possession in the NFC West rivals’ first meeting, holding the ball for over 39 minutes. LA has had the ball for nearly 17 minutes already in the rematch.

The Rams can win the NFC West title for the third time in five seasons with a victory. The Niners need a win to guarantee their second playoff appearance in eight years.

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4:45 p.m.

Jaylen Waddle has more catches than any rookie in NFL history.

The Miami Dolphins wasted no time getting Waddle the mark They went to him on three of their first four plays against New England in the finale of the NFL’s first 17-game regular season.

Waddle’s third catch was his 102nd of the season. He surpasses the rookie mark set by Anquan Boldin in 2003.

Waddle went in with 99 catches for 988 yards and five touchdowns. He quickly got touchdown No. 6, catching a pass from Tua Tagovailoa to cap the 13-play, 77-yard opening drive with a 7-yard scoring grab.

The former Alabama player is the 22nd rookie in NFL history to have a 1,000-yard receiving season.

The previous Dolphins’ rookie marks were 84 catches by Jarvis Landry in 2014 and 883 receiving yards by Chris Chambers in 2001.

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4:35 p.m.

Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers are all but in the playoffs in what the star quarterback says is “most likely” his final season.

The only thing that can keep Pittsburgh out of the postseason is a tie between the Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders in the final game of the NFL’s first 17-game regular season.

The Steelers have stayed alive with a 16-13 overtime victory that eliminated Baltimore. The Ravens finish with six consecutive losses.

Pittsburgh’s win meant elimination for Indianapolis even though the Colts entered their final game needing only a victory over last-place Jacksonville to get into the playoffs. The Jaguars dominated in a 26-11 upset for just their third win.

The combination of a Pittsburgh win and Indianapolis loss clinched a postseason berth for the Raiders. It’s their first since moving to Las Vegas and just the second in the past 19 seasons.

Roethlisberger’s interview with his former coach, Bill Cowher, was aired before the game. The 39-year-old said “most likely” when asked if he was playing his final regular-season game. This was a week after what had the feel of Roethlisberger’s final home game.

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4:10 p.m.

The Tennessee Titans have clinched the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a 28-25 victory over the Houston Texans.

Ryan Tannehill threw four touchdown passes as the Titans held on after taking a 21-0 halftime lead.

Two-time defending AFC champion Kansas City will be the second seed followed by Cincinnati and Buffalo.

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3:15 p.m.

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank has tested positive for COVID-19 and is not at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the season finale against the New Orleans Saints.

This is the first regular-season Falcons game, home or away, Blank has not attended since purchasing the team in 2002.

The Falcons say Blank is fully vaccinated and “is doing well and in great spirits.” The team says Blank encourages others to get their vaccinations.

The Falcons say the 79-year-old Blank has mild symptoms. He plans to watch the game from his home.

The Falcons say Blank is still within the CDC’s recommended quarantine period.

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3 p.m.

Green Bay did not start Aaron Rodgers in the second half against Detroit with the Packers already set as the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

The reigning NFL MVP was 14 of 18 for 138 yards with two touchdowns in the first half. The Lions were leading 17-13 at the break.

Backup quarterback Jordan Love replaced Rodgers in the third quarter.

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2:50 p.m.

The Tennessee Titans are closing in on the AFC’s top seed, and the Jacksonville Jaguars have a chance at an upset that could create an intriguing playoff scenario.

Ryan Tannehill had three touchdown passes in the first half to to give the Titans a 21-0 lead over the four-win Houston Texans. Tennessee clinches the No. 1 spot and a first-round bye with a victory.

Trevor Lawrence and the two-win Jaguars have taken a 16-3 lead over Indianapolis in the third quarter. The Colts are in with a victory.

If the Jaguars win and Pittsburgh beats Baltimore in a game that was tied 3-3 at halftime, the Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders would both get into the playoffs if they tied in the night game.

The Chargers and Raiders are playing the final game of the NFL’s first 17-game regular season.

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2:40 p.m.

Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt has tied Pro Football Hall of Famer Michael Strahan’s single-season NFL sacks record.

Watt now has 22½ sacks after bringing down Baltimore’s Tyler Huntley late in the first half.

Strahan had 22½ in 2001 for the New York Giants in a 16-game season. The NFL is finishing its first 17-game season, although Watt missed two of them.

The Steelers and Ravens are tied at 3 at halftime.

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2:30 p.m.

The New York Giants got pinned inside their 10-yard late in the first half of last week’s game against Chicago and gave up five points in the final minute on a safety and field goal after the free kick.

This week, coach Joe Judge didn’t take a chance with less than six minutes to go in the first half against Washington after Tress Way punt was downed at the New York 3.

After third-string quarterback Jake Fromm missed an open pass, fullback Eli Penny was called for illegal procedure. That put the Giants at their 2. Fromm then ran two quarterback sneaks and gained 3 yards to give Riley Dixon room to punt.

The Giants have had not offense since Daniel Jones sustained a neck injury against Philadelphia on Nov. 28. They have not scored a touchdown in three of their last five games. They trailed 6-0 at the half.

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1:50 p.m.

Detroit has used a little trickery to get even with Green Bay in an NFC North finale with nothing at stake.

Receiver Tom Kennedy took a reverse pitch and pulled up to throw to a wide-open Kalif Raymond for a 75-yard touchdown. Raymond was 10 yards behind the defense when he made the catch and ran the final 50 yards untouched.

The Lions pulled even at 7-7 late in the first quarter. The tricky TD pulled the Lions pulled even at 7-7. They went ahead on Amon-Ra St. Brown’s 2-yard scoring catch from Jared Goff.

Last-place Detroit has long since been eliminated from the playoffs. Green Bay wrapped up the NFC’s top seed last week.

MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers did make the start for the Packers even though the game can’t change anything for the playoffs. Rodgers led a 13-play drive to a touchdown on the game’s first possession.

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1:30 p.m.

Cincinnati Bengals rookie Ja’Marr Chase’s record-setting season rolls on.

With a 24-yard reception in the first quarter at Cleveland, Chase passed Chad Johnson’s team record (1,440) for the most yards receiving in a single season. Chase came in 11 yards shy of Johnson’s mark.

He’s also on the verge of setting the NFL rookie record in a single season. Houston’s Bill Groman, who had 1,473 for the Oilers in 1960.

Chase’s record comes in the NFL’s first 17-game season.

The Bengals wrapped up the AFC North title last week and are sitting several regulars, including quarterback Joe Burrow, in the regular-season finale. Cincinnati will host a playoff game next week.

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12:05 p.m.

The NFL’s first 17-game regular season is set to wrap up, and the final game will be a playoffs-or-bust meeting between the Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders.

The AFC West rivals are chasing one of the AFC’s two remaining postseason spots in the night game.

Ben Roethlisberger still has playoff hopes in his final season, a week after the star quarterback’s farewell in Pittsburgh. The Steelers have to beat Baltimore and hope Indianapolis loses at two-win Jacksonville. With those two outcomes in the early games, the only thing that could keep Pittsburgh out is a Chargers-Raiders tie.

The Colts are in with a win or tie against the Jaguars. The Ravens need a victory and quite a bit of help.

San Francisco has the inside track to the last of the seven playoff spots in the NFC. It will be decided during the late games.

The 49ers are in with a victory over the Los Angeles Rams, who have already qualified and can clinch the NFC West with a win. New Orleans gets in with a victory over Atlanta and a San Francisco loss.

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More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://apnews.com/hub/pro-32 and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Antetokounmpo dominates as Bucks beaten by Hornets, Sabonis silences Jazz

Giannis Antetokounmpo extended his run of 30-point games to eight in a row but it was not enough as the Milwaukee Bucks lost 114-106 to the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday.

The reigning NBA Finals MVP piled on 21 points in the final quarter to finish with 43 for the game as the Hornets held off the Bucks’ charge, with Charlotte guard LaMelo Ball scoring 19 points, with nine rebounds and eight assists.

Antetokounmpo also recorded 12 rebounds and two blocks in a final all-round game for the Bucks, who were missing Jrue Holiday and head coach Mike Budenholzer due to the league’s health and safety protocols.

Khris Middleton had a near triple-double with 27 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, including shooting four triples.

The result means the reigning champions hold a 26-16 record having lost three of their past four games, while the Hornets are 21-19.

Sabonis silences Jazz, Brown triple-double

Domantas Sabonis piled on 42 points, making his first 10 shots of the game, as the Indiana Pacers won 125-113 over the Utah Jazz minus Rudy Gobert.

Jaylen Brown recorded his first career triple-double with 22 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists as the Boston Celtics defeated the New York Knicks 99-75.

Jaren Jackson Jr scored 26 points with eight rebounds and five blocks as the Memphis Grizzlies, without Ja Morant, improved to a 27-14 record with a 123-108 win over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Leaders cooled by Heat

Chris Paul was quiet with nine points, seven assists and four turnovers as the table-topping Phoenix Suns lost 123-100 to the Miami Heat. Devin Booker had 26 points but shot five of 15 from the field, while Tyler Herro scored 33 points off the bench for the Heat.

Coffey lifts Clippers to 106-93 win over Hawks

JILL PAINTER LOPEZSun, 9 January 2022, 10:51 pm

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Amir Coffey tied a career-high with 21 points and Serge Ibaka added 16 to lead the Los Angeles Clippers to a 106-93 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday.

Coffey, who went undrafted out of Minnesota in the 2019 NBA draft, is on a two-way contract with the Clippers and the G-League but has really blossomed this season. He made a big impact Sunday since the Clippers, like many NBA teams, are short-handed due to health and safety protocols and injuries.

He made 8 of 12 field goals and 5 of 8 3-pointer.

Bogdan Bogdanovic and Trae Young led the Hawks with 19 points each. Bogdanovich scored 15 of those 19 points in the first half for the Hawks.

The Clippers, who played back-to-back games after a home loss to Memphis, snapped a three-game losing streak. They had also lost nine of their last 12 before Sunday’s victory.

The Clippers are still trying to figure out their way without Paul George, who is out with an ulnar collateral ligament tear in his right elbow for at least another few weeks.

Ivica Zubac 13 rebounds and three assists for the Clippers.

Coffey scored 10 of his points in the first quarter for the Clippers. The Clippers ended the first quarter with a 15-4 run and took a 31-23 lead and were in control the rest of the way.

The Hawks finished a season-long roadtrip of six games over 13 days.

TIP-INS

Hawks: F Cam Reddish sprained his right ankle after playing 3 minutes and didn’t return to the game … C Clint Capela (left ankle sprain) was out Sunday. He left Friday’s game against the Lakers and there had been no improvement … The Hawks outscored the Clippers 12-0 in fastbreak points in the first half … John Collins made his 223rd career start for the Hawks, tying Zaza Pachulia for 23rd in Atlanta history … Chris Jent was the acting head coach for the Hawks as Nate McMillan is still in health and safety protocols.

Clippers: PF Justise Winslow (entered health and safety protocols Sunday) was out … Zubac, in his second game back after exiting health and safety protocols, debuted a new haircut … The Clippers ran a tribute video of Lou Williams, in the first quarter. Williams, who won two sixth man of the year awards with the Los Angeles, was on the bench as a healthy scratch.

UP NEXT

Hawks: Host Miami on Wednesday night.

Clippers: Host Nuggets on Tuesday night.

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More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

US, Russia hold high-stakes talks on Ukraine war fears

Nina Larson with Shaun Tandon in WashingtonSun, 9 January 2022, 2:08 am

The United States and Russia open talks Sunday in Geneva on soaring tensions over Ukraine, with Moscow seeking a wide-ranging new security arrangement with the West but facing strong pressure to pull back troops.

The high-level discussions start a week of diplomacy in which Russia will meet with NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), with the US trying to assure European allies they will not be sidelined.

Russia since late last year has amassed tens of thousands of troops at the Ukrainian border and demanded guarantees that NATO will not expand eastward or set up further bases in the former Soviet Union.

The United States, to be represented by Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, agreed to talks even though it made plain that many of Moscow’s proposals are non-starters.

Originally scheduled to start on Monday, Sherman is now due to have a working dinner with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on Sunday evening, said a State Department spokesperson.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, dismissing Moscow’s demands as “gaslighting”, has insisted that talks will yield no progress so long as Russia has a “gun to Ukraine’s head”.

“We’re prepared to respond forcefully to further Russian aggression. But a diplomatic solution is still possible and preferable if Russia chooses it,” Blinken said Friday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin met his US counterpart Joe Biden in Geneva in June and agreed on regular “stability” talks between Sherman and Ryabkov, who will again lead the Russian delegation.

– ‘Massive’ retaliation –

In two phone calls to Putin, Biden has warned of severe consequences if Russia invades Ukraine.

Measures under consideration include sanctions on Putin’s inner circle, cancelling Russia’s controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Germany or, in the most drastic scenario, severing Russia’s links to the world’s banking system.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, warned that Washington would also send more troops to eastern NATO members such as Poland and the Baltics if Russia invaded.

Europeans have showed solidarity, with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell visiting the frontline in Ukraine, although some nations are expected to hesitate at the strongest measures.

“Whatever the solution, Europe has to be involved,” EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said.

Russia insists it was deceived after the Cold War and understood that NATO would not expand.

Instead, the US-led alliance accepted most of the former Warsaw Pact nations and the three Baltic nations that were under Soviet rule.

Russia has inflicted intense pressure on neighbouring Ukraine since 2014 after a revolution overthrew a government that had sided with the Kremlin against moving closer to Europe.

Russia seized the Crimean peninsula and backs an insurgency in eastern Ukraine in which more than 13,000 people have died.

At a time that Russia is also intervening to shore up allies facing popular uprisings in Belarus and Kazakhstan, Moscow has insisted it wants concrete progress in talks with Washington.

Putin’s foreign policy adviser Yury Ushakov warned after the call with Biden that the United States would make a “colossal mistake” if it went ahead with sanctions.

– ‘Gigantic bluff’? –

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, meeting foreign ministers of the alliance on Friday, said there remained real risks of a Russian invasion.

But John Herbst, a former US ambassador to Ukraine, described the Russian troop build-up as a “gigantic bluff” by Putin to seek a negotiated agreement.

“They are trying to see if the Biden administration or Europe will blink,” said Herbst, now at the Atlantic Council think tank.

“As long as the Biden administration remains at least as strong as it is now,” he said, “it probably is enough to keep Putin from striking large into Ukraine, but I don’t rule out something smaller.”

Matthew Rojansky, director of the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, said the Geneva talks were more about preventing the Ukraine crisis from accelerating than reaching a major deal.

“I think this is about pulling the pendulum back, if we can, towards thicker interaction and more effective diplomacy and communication — not permanent and forever resolution of all problems.”

While also downplaying the possibility of a full-scale invasion, Rojansky said the risks of the Russian build-up were real.

“There is the principle of Chekhov — you put a loaded gun on the stage in Act One and it has to be fired by Act Three.”

bur-sct/imm-jj

COVID-19: ‘Absolutely’ no plans to scale back free lateral flow tests, Zahawi says

The government has no plans to scale back free lateral flow tests to high risk settings, a cabinet minister has told Sky News.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi dismissed a report in the Sunday Times, saying he did “not recognise” the story that the tests could be limited to care homes, hospitals and schools, and people with symptoms.

“This is absolutely not where were are at,” he told Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday.

Asked if there were any plans to stop free lateral flow tests, Mr Zahawi said “absolutely not”.

The Sunday Times had reported the announcement, which could come “within weeks”, may also see the NHS Test and Trace system scaled back.

The newspaper had cited concerns in Whitehall over their costs, saying more than £6bn of public money has been spent on mass testing using the devices.

The free rapid tests were first made available to everyone in England – including those without symptoms – last April.

Following the report, the prime minister was warned against scaling back the tests by both the Labour Party and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

‘Testing so vital’

Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish government had not signed on to any plans.

“If UK government is really considering this (@scotgov certainly not signed up to it) it is utterly wrongheaded,” she tweeted.

“Hard to imagine much that would be less helpful to trying to ‘live with’ COVID.”

She also questioned what would happen to funding for UK nations for testing if the Westminster government did axe free tests.

Meanwhile, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said the plans would be “penny-wise and pound foolish”.

‘People simply won’t take them’

He said: “Testing is absolutely crucial for keeping infections under control and avoiding the need for further restrictions that impact on our lives, livelihoods, and liberties.

“This additional cost will also hit families at a time when they face a cost of living crisis. It means people simply won’t take them, putting others at risk.”

The party’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said “lateral flow tests have got to remain free whilst we have huge numbers of cases on a daily basis”.

Speaking to the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme, she said the change would be “absolutely the wrong policies and the wrong approach at the wrong time”.

A government spokeswoman did not address whether access to free tests will be scaled back in the future, but instead said: “Everyone can continue to get free tests and we are continuing to encourage people to use rapid tests when they need them.

“Testing continues to play an important role in helping people live their day-to-day lives, keep businesses running and keep young people in school.”

Cases have hit record highs

It comes as the UK reported a further 146,390 new cases and 313 deaths on Sunday – although this is believed to be an underestimate.

Cases have hit record highs following the emergence of the new Omicron variant however, hospitalisations and deaths have not followed the same trajectory.

Professor Mike Tildesley, a member of the government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M), said on Saturday that the variant is possibly the “first ray of light” in COVID-19 becoming endemic and easier to live with.

However, families have been urged to still get their children vaccinated to slow the spread of the virus and now half a million appointments have been made available to 12 to 15-year-olds across the country in January.

More than 1.4 million young people have already had their first dose since the vaccine was rolled out to this age group in September, with thousands getting jabbed every day.

However, there are still over one million young people who are yet to get their first dose.

All children aged 12 to 15 are also eligible for a second dose of vaccine if it has been more than 12 weeks since their first jab, and more than 50,000 will be invited for their second dose as they become eligible this week.

Calls for PM to be questioned by inquiry into alleged No 10 lockdown gatherings

Rowena Mason Deputy political editorSun, 9 January 2022, 8:33 pm

Downing Street is facing calls to ensure that Boris Johnson will be personally interviewed by the Sue Gray inquiry about alleged No 10 gatherings during the first lockdown, after it emerged he may have been present at a “bring your own booze” party that month.

The inquiry, into allegations of social mixing bans being broken in No 10, was widened this weekend to include reported gatherings from May 2020, amid reports that an official emailed Downing Street staff inviting them to socially distanced drinks.

No 10 did not deny on Sunday that the prime minister and his wife attended the event on 20 May, which is said to have been organised by a senior civil servant in Johnson’s private office, Martin Reynolds, with food and wine set out on tables.

It comes after the Guardian reported a “wine and pizza” party in Downing Street in the garden and inside No 10 on 15 May, with staff drinking late into the evening after a press conference that day. After No 10 insisted staff were working, the Guardian obtained a photograph of the prime minister and his wife sitting with officials at a table with wine and cheese, with 15 other staff in the background and bottles of wine visible.

These events come alongside reports of at least five other potential gatherings in Downing Street and Whitehall in December 2020, including a Christmas party, leaving do, quiz, No 11 flat party and drinks at the Department for Education.

After the newest allegations, of another May 2020 gathering during lockdown, Alistair Carmichael, Lib Dem MP and constitutional reform spokesperson, called for the prime minister himself to be interviewed by Gray.

“The government should not skirt around the issue on this. If they are serious about healing public trust, the head of the No 10 Christmas party inquiry Sue Gray should personally interview the prime minister.”

Angela Rayner, the Labour deputy leader, also called for assurances that Gray would be able to interview the prime minister.

“It is vital that Sue Gray has all the information and access she needs to carry out a full and fair investigation,” she said. “Under the terms of reference of the previous investigation, Simon Case was given assurances he would be able to interview any politicians, officials and party staff he needed to.

“While the terms of reference for the new investigation have not been published, it is paramount that Sue Gray is given the same access – including if she needs to interview the prime minister. No 10 must give such assurances in order to help bolster public faith which has been shaken by this series of revelations.”

Downing Street has given no timeline for the completion of the Gray inquiry, which was taken over by the veteran civil servant last month. Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, had been leading the investigation until it emerged his own private office had held a virtual quiz, attended by some people from their desks.

Johnson is under pressure from Tory backbenchers to shake up his top team over the allegations that parties took place in Downing Street, with speculation that Reynolds could be moved as a result. Some MPs are also pushing for the removal of Dan Rosenfield, Johnson’s chief of staff, with a report in the Sunday Times alleging he contributed to the departure of some women from No 10 after allegedly making them buy sandwiches for his lunch, collect his dry-cleaning and buy presents. Asked whether this was true, a No 10 source said they “totally reject that”.

The continuing furore over the parties is one in a long list of scandals dogging No 10, after it emerged last week that Johnson had not handed over all text messages relating to the refurbishment of his No 11 flat to Lord Geidt, the independent adviser on ministerial interests.

On Sunday, the Lib Dems wrote to Lady Hallett, the recently appointed chair of the official Covid inquiry, asking what steps she is taking to ensure she is not being misled by Johnson in the same way that Geidt was. It also asked for the inquiry to examine the reports of No 10’s lockdown-breaching parties, saying: “The Covid inquiry must look into these allegations and the damage done to public trust in the fight against the pandemic.”

The letter from Carmichael asked Hallett, a retired judge, to set out what steps she is taking to ensure the Covid inquiry has access to all relevant evidence including text and WhatsApp messages, to ensure it has “the confidence of bereaved families and of the public in general throughout the course of its work.”

It also asks if the inquiry will have the power to request that evidence is handed over, and what sanctions if any there will be if key witnesses such as Johnson fail to do so.

Boris Johnson warned against scaling back free lateral flow tests

Nicola Sturgeon urged against a scaling back of free lateral flow tests (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Wire)
Nicola Sturgeon urged against a scaling back of free lateral flow tests (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Wire)

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has warned Boris Johnson that axing universal free lateral flow tests would be an “utterly wrongheaded” approach to dealing with coronavirus.

Labour joined her in urging the Prime Minister against the move after it was reported they could be limited to high-risk settings – such as care homes, hospitals and schools – and to people with symptoms.

The Sunday Times also said the announcement, which could come within weeks, may include a scaling back of the NHS Test and Trace system.To view this content, you’ll need to update your privacy settings.Please click here to do so.

Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government had not signed up to the move, but if Mr Johnson was “really considering this” it would be “utterly wrongheaded”.

“Hard to imagine much that would be less helpful to trying to ‘live with’ Covid,” she tweeted.

She questioned what would happen to funding for UK nations for testing under the Barnett formula if the Westminster Government went ahead with the move, adding: “Testing so vital, we’d have to consider continued funding but it would then come from existing budgets.”

The Scottish Government accesses lateral flow tests that are procured by the UK Government on behalf of all four nations, and it pays for them via funding arrangements as part of the UK-wide national testing programme.

Government sources disputed the report and said it was too early to say what the future holds for free lateral flows.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “This would be the wrong decision at the wrong time.

“Testing is absolutely crucial for keeping infections under control and avoiding the need for further restrictions that impact on our lives, livelihoods, and liberties.

“This additional cost will also hit families at a time when they face a cost of living crisis. It means people simply won’t take them, putting others at risk.

“It’s penny-wise and pound-foolish.”

The rapid tests were made available to everyone in England, crucially including those without symptoms, in April.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Jane Barlow/PA) (PA Archive)
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Jane Barlow/PA) (PA Archive)

They have been seen as a key way of suppressing the virus and have given confidence to people to safely mixed with their loved ones, particularly around Christmas as cases of the Omicron soared.

But the Sunday Times report suggested there is concerns in Whitehall over their costs.

A Government spokeswoman did not address whether access to free tests will be scaled back in the future, and instead said: “Everyone can continue to get free tests and we are continuing to encourage people to use rapid tests when they need them.

“Testing continues to play an important role in helping people live their day-to-day lives, keep businesses running and keep young people in school.”

Despite case rates hitting record highs after the emergence of Omicron, hospitalisation and deaths have not followed the same trajectory, with this being attributed to vaccination and the new strain being believed to be less deadly.

Professor Mike Tildesley, a member of the Government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M), said on Saturday that the variant is possibly the “first ray of light” in Covid-19 becoming endemic and easier to live with.

“The thing that might happen in the future is you may see the emergence of a new variant that is less severe and, ultimately, in the long term, what happens is Covid becomes endemic and you have a less severe version,” he told Times Radio.

“It’s very similar to the common cold that we’ve lived with for many years.”

Djokovic’s Serb fans on edge as Australia visa hearing looms

Via AP news wireSun, 9 January 2022, 6:41 pm

Serbia Australia Open Djokovic (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Serbia Australia Open Djokovic (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Novak Djokovic’s parents joined a protest rally in downtown Belgrade on Sunday with their tennis-great son still in an Australian immigration detention hotel as fans of Djokovic in Serbia nervously awaited a crucial court hearing which could decide whether he can play at the Australian Open.

The virtual hearing in Melbourne with Djokovic appealing his visa cancellation, comes amid a growing public debate over his positive coronavirus test that his lawyers used as grounds in applying for a medical exemption to Australia’s strict vaccination rules.

The top-ranked Serb, who hopes to defend his title at the Australian Open and win a men’s record 21st Grand Slam singles title, was denied entry when he arrived at Melbourne’s airport on Wednesday and was awaiting the court hearing to challenge his deportation.

The case will take place at 10 a.m. local time in Melbourne (2300 GMT or 6 p.m. EST Sunday) in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia.

The Australian Open begins Jan. 17 — just a week from his court date.

The case has polarized opinions around the world and elicited heartfelt support for the tennis star in his native Serbia.

“Today is a big day. Today, the whole world will hear the truth,” Djokovic’s mother, Dijana Djokovic, told the crowd in downtown Belgrade.

“We hope that Novak will come out as a free man. We send great love to Novak. We believe in him, but also in the independent judiciary in Melbourne,” she said.

Djokovic’s father, Srdjan Djokovic, said “this is happening because we are only a small part of the world, but we are proud people.

“They can’t break us. Novak is the personification of freedom, everything human that one man contains in himself. Shame on them!”

Dijana Djokovic said that the conditions in the hotel in Melbourne where Djokovic is staying are “not humane.”

“He doesn’t even have breakfast,” she said. “He has a wall to stare at and he can’t even see a park in front or go out of the room.”

Australian officials initially said Djokovic, a vocal skeptic of vaccines who has refused to say if he has gotten the COVID-19 shot, would be given an exemption to stringent vaccine rules by state authorities and be able to participate in the Australian Open. But when he landed, his visa was canceled by federal border officials.

The exemption request said Djokovic’s first positive test was Dec. 16 and, on the date of issue, it said the 34-year-old player “had not had a fever or respiratory symptoms in the past 72 hours.”

Social media is swamped with questions over Djokovic’s whereabouts after the alleged positive COVID-19 test amid a surge of the pandemic.

Djokovic attended two public events on Dec. 16 in Belgrade, as well as a Dec. 17 event in the Serbian capital honoring young tennis players. The event was covered by local media, and parents posted photos on social media showing Djokovic and the children not wearing masks. It’s not clear if Djokovic knew the results of his test at the time.

Days later he was shown playing tennis in a park in front of his apartment in Belgrade.

“Legally, Djokovic doesn’t have to explain what happened (after his positive test) but it would be very good for his reputation here and the whole world,” Sasa Ozmo, a Serbian sports journalist, told the N1 television.

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More AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Australian government lawyers say Novak Djokovic was never assured of entry to Australia

Paul Karp, Guardian sport and agenciesSun, 9 January 2022, 7:49 pm

Lawyers for Australia’s Department of Home Affairs have insisted Novak Djokovic was never given any assurances his medical exemption would allow him to enter Australia.

While also confirming that the world No 1 is unvaccinated, the legal team from the Australian government said ahead of Monday’s appeal hearing that there is no valid reason for Djokovic to be granted access to Australia for the tournament which begins on 17 January.

Djokovic saw his visa cancelled after arriving in Melbourne last week, and his lawyers have submitted a lengthy document arguing the 34-year-old fulfilled the criteria for a vaccine exemption certificate because of a recent Covid infection.

However, a court filing on Sunday read: “There is no suggestion that the applicant had ‘acute major medical illness’ in December 2021. All he has said is that he tested positive for COVID-19. This is not the same,” adding there was “no such thing as an assurance of entry by a non-citizen into Australia”. It also said that “it is common ground” between the two parties that “the applicant is unvaccinated”.

Sunday’sdevelopment came after a bid by the Australian government to delay Monday’s visa hearing by two days had been rejected by the federal circuit court.

In an order, published on Sunday, judge Anthony Kelly rejected the move which would have delayed the hearing until Wednesday – after Tennis Australia’s stated deadline to include the Serb, nine times the men’s singles champion, in the Australian Open draw.

Legal experts have warned even with the hearing proceeding on Monday, there is no guarantee Djokovic could secure a court order restoring his visa in time to play, and he could also face his visa being revoked again on fresh grounds.

The home affairs minister, Karen Andrews, applied to the court for the case to be delayed but the judge rejected that in an order made on Saturday – although he left open the option of the government trying again after Djokovic’s opening submissions at 10am on Monday.

If the current timetable remains in place, the government’s lawyers will present oral submissions on Monday afternoon.

Meanwhile the former world No 1 Andy Murray, who is set to compete in Melbourne, said the saga around Djokovic and his being barred entry to Australia was “really not good for tennis”. Murray, a long-time friend and rival of the Serb, said: “I think everyone is shocked by it, to be honest. I hope that Novak is OK. I know him well, and I’ve always had a good relationship with him and I hope that he’s OK. It’s really not good for tennis at all, and I don’t think it’s good for anyone involved.”

The court heard on Thursday that Tennis Australia had said it would need to know whether Djokovic could compete by Tuesday for scheduling purposes.

Kelly said at that time he would try to accommodate the parties to come to a resolution but stressed the court would not be rushed. “The tail won’t be wagging the dog here,” he said.

The Australian government on Sunday confirmed that the Czech doubles specialist Renata Voracova and a tennis official, both of whom travelled to attend the Australian Open, had left the country voluntarily after their visas were cancelled. The health minister, Greg Hunt, told reporters border force had now finished its investigation into Australian Open visas. He would not comment on Djokovic’s case because that matter was before the court.

“Two other individuals have now voluntarily left the country … any individual who has their visa cancelled is entitled to leave the country at any time, even while they are going through a court proceeding, but that is a matter for them,” Hunt said.

Djokovic obtained a medical exemption to compete in the Australian Open but then fell foul of Australian border rules – which require arrivals to be fully vaccinated unless they can prove a valid exemption. He is currently in immigration detention at the Park hotel in Melbourne.

Djokovic’s court challenge seeks to argue that errors in the notice of intention to cancel his visa and in the home affairs minister’s delegate’s decision mean the visa must be reinstated.

Refugee lawyer and the founder of Human Rights for All, Alison Battisson, said if Djokovic won on Monday the government should respect the court’s decision rather than “seek to wriggle around by finding another way to cancel his visa”.

“What we do know, however, with our dealings with the department of home affairs is that is often not the case,” she warned, citing three instances she had won in the federal court only for the minister to find a fresh reason to cancel a visa.

Battisson suggested it would be “extraordinary” if the court decided the case in time for the Australian Open deadline as it was hearing “a visa issue not a playing tennis issue” and other urgent cases took weeks – at a minimum – to be resolved.

Battisson argued Djokovic was experiencing the “draconian” way Australia runs immigration appeals which were “stacked against” the applicant in detention without access to documents.

Former immigration department deputy secretary, Abul Rizvi, said he would be “surprised” if the government cancelled Djokovic’s visa again in the event the world No 1 succeeded on Monday.

“They’d have to find another reason or it would be contemptuous of court,” he said.

Rizvi said it was “possible” Djokovic might not have a result by the deadline but “his lawyers will argue that he can’t be left in detention while the judge cogitates on it”.

A spokesman for Andrews told Guardian Australia: “As the matter is before the court, it is not appropriate to comment at this time.”

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