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‘COMPLETE WASTE OF TIME.’ UK MEDIA SLAM GOVERNMENT CORONAVIRUS BRIEFINGS

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 Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government can typically find a safe space in the digital and print editions of many of the most popular British newspapers.

But some of the UK government’s biggest cheerleaders are now tearing into it over its response to the coronavirus pandemic, slamming confusing and conflicting messaging from senior members of Johnson’s cabinet.

In the crosshairs: The government’s daily press conferences and the lack of a clearly articulated plan for boosting coronavirus testing capabilities. Only 2,000 frontline health care workers have so far been tested.

While the daily Downing Street briefings were initially conducted with reporters in person, they’ve been held virtually for more than a week because of strict social-distancing rules. Reporters have to take part via video chat, making it harder for them to interrupt or challenge government ministers with followup questions.

Most striking is ferocious criticism from The Telegraph, a supporter of the Conservative Party, Johnson’s former employer and the one newspaper he could normally rely on to boost his government no matter the situation.

Telegraph political columnist Michael Deacon has turned his fire on the ministers now routinely handling the press conferences since Johnson was forced into self isolation last Friday after he tested positive for coronavirus. Deacon’s column on Wednesday called the briefings “pathetic” and “a complete waste of time.”

“People need clarity and candor. This evening, all they got was 24 minutes of the most pitiful, dispiriting waffle,” he wrote of the most recent press conference, lead by Business Secretary Alok Sharma.

The front page of Thursday’s Telegraph was no kinder. Under a banner headline “Questions without answers” atop of a photo of Sharma, the Telegraph excoriated the government for being “unable to answer basic questions” about increasing testing capabilities.

Citing former health ministers and medical experts calling the government’s handling “ridiculous,” the paper said the government was releasing scant details on a five-point plan to tackle the testing crisis.

Andrew Neil, chairman of the Spectator, another Conservative-leaning publication, called the press conference on Wednesday “particularly uninformative,” with “far too much waffle and obfuscation.”

The Daily Mail, also a Conservative-booster, lambasted the government in its own blaring cover story, saying “Mail demands ministers FIX TESTING FIASCO NOW.”

“By a country mile, the greatest misstep of this government in cracking the virus has been the shambles over mass testing,” the paper’s editorial board wrote. “Mr. Johnson says he is exasperated by the slow progress. Welcome to how the rest of the nation feels!”

Opposition party officials have even taken to citing the Mail, not a typical ally, in a clear sign the government’s communication strategy is failing.

Shami Chakrabarti, Labour’s top spokesperson on legal affairs, called for the government to be more transparent and clear in its communications.

“What the Daily Mail is now calling the testing scandal or shambles is an example of a lack of both clarity of what the plan is and how it is going to be executed,” she told BBC radio.

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Louisiana Congressman-Elect Luke Letlow Dead From COVID-19

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Luke Letlow, Louisiana’s incoming Republican member of the U.S. House, died Tuesday night from complications related to COVID-19 only days before being sworn into office. He was 41.

Letlow spokesman Andrew Bautsch confirmed the congressman-elect’s death at Ochsner-LSU Health Shreveport.

“The family appreciates the numerous prayers and support over the past days but asks for privacy during this difficult and unexpected time,” Bautsch said in a statement. “A statement from the family along with funeral arrangements will be announced at a later time.”

Louisiana’s eight-member congressional delegation called Letlow’s death devastating.

“Luke had such a positive spirit, and a tremendously bright future ahead of him. He was looking forward to serving the people of Louisiana in Congress, and we were excited to welcome him to our delegation where he was ready to make an even greater impact on our state and our nation,” they said in a statement.

The state’s newest congressman, set to take office in January, was admitted to a Monroe hospital on Dec. 19 after testing positive for the coronavirus disease. He was later transferred to the Shreveport facility and placed in intensive care.

Letlow, from the small town of Start in Richland Parish, was elected in a December runoff election for the 5th District U.S. House seat representing central and northeastern regions of the state, including the cities of Monroe and Alexandria.

He was to fill the seat being vacated by his boss, Republican Ralph Abraham. Letlow had been Abraham’s chief of staff and ran with Abraham’s backing for the job.

Gov. John Bel Edwards urged people to pray for Letlow’s family.

“COVID-19 has taken Congressman-elect Letlow from us far too soon,” the Democratic governor said in a statement. “I am heartbroken that he will not be able to serve our people as a U.S. representative, but I am even more devastated for his loving family.”

Before working for Abraham, Letlow had worked for former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration. Jindal’s one-time chief of staff, Timmy Teepell, described Letlow on Twitter as “a good man with a kind heart and a passion to serve. He loved Louisiana and his family. He was a brother and I’m heart broken he’s gone.”

Letlow is survived by his wife, Julia Barnhill Letlow, and two children.

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Republican and doctor who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this year and has since recovered, posted in a Twitter video: “It just, just, just, just brings home COVID can kill. For most folks it doesn’t, but it truly can. So, as you remember Luke, his widow, his children in your prayers, remember as well to be careful with COVID.”

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Oklahoma Health Officials Reject CDC Vaccine Recommendation

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma health officials say they don’t plan to follow all of the newly released federal guidelines for vaccine distribution and will keep adults 65 and older in phase two of the state’s distribution protocol.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines over the weekend to prioritize those aged 75 and older and frontline essential workers in phase two. But Oklahoma Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye said in a statement late Wednesday that the state’s advisory committee decided it would be problematic to prioritize young and healthy workers ahead of Oklahomans in the 65-74 age group.

Along with adults 65 and older, the state also plans to prioritize adults of any age with comorbidities, including hypertension, obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancers or chronic lung, liver or renal diseases. The state estimates there are about 635,000 Oklahomans in these two categories.

Frye says health officials plan to closely monitor the state’s vaccine supply and could consider prioritizing those age 75 and older if supplies and provider access remains limited.

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U.K. government extends national lockdown for at least three more weeks to slow country’s coronavirus outbreak.

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LONDON (AP) — U.K. government extends national lockdown for at least three more weeks to slow country’s coronavirus outbreak.

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