NEWS DIGEST 10.07.2021: The world’s richest’ race to space

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Sir Richard Branson is likely to feel nervous as he checks the weather forecast on Sunday morning: if there are blue skies ahead then the British entrepreneur is likely to become the richest person ever to venture into space. Branson and his team – two pilots and three other “mission specialists” – will strap into the spacecraft, the VSS Unity. If all goes well Branson and co will be propelled 50 miles above the Earth’s surface, the point considered by NASA, the US space agency, to mark the end of the Earth’s atmosphere. Branson and the other passengers – an engineer, an astronaut instructor and a rather more unlikely government affairs official for Virgin Galactic – will experience micro-gravity and will be able to see the Earth below them through portholes. Branson floated shares in Virgin Galactic on New York’s Nasdaq stock exchange in September via a merger with a special purpose acquisition company. “If you look at Bezos, Musk and Branson the vision is that there’s going to be an Industrial Revolution in space. We have to put our industry that is heating up the planet outside the atmosphere.” Branson will have to prove that his venture works first – Richard Branson’s quest: to boldly go where no billionaire has gone before (The Guardian UK edition News Science)

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The latest space race is a rocket-fuelled clash between two egos so enormous that, as the old saying goes, you can probably see them from the Moon. Representing Great Britain, by way of the Caribbean tax haven where he officially resides, is bearded serial entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson. Then Branson announced last week that he’s going to zip into a blue jumpsuit and clamber aboard Virgin Galactic ship VSS Unity in New Mexico tomorrow morning, a full nine days before Bezos’s scheduled launch. ‘It’s honestly not a race,’ Branson said earlier this week. Much like Branson – who was once prosecuted for tax evasion early in his career – former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is endlessly criticised for his firm’s tax affairs. PS: Neither Branson nor Bezos can fly anything like as high as the world’s second wealthiest man, the Tesla founder Elon Musk. His company SpaceX builds rockets capable of actually going into orbit, and in April managed to successfully ferry two NASA astronauts to the International Space station – Clash of two planet-sized egos: Tomorrow Richard Branson is set to soar into the heavens – just a week before Jeff Bezos does the same. So are they boldly going for the sake of mankind… or is the race to space astronomical hubris, asks GUY ADAMS (Mail Online News)

There are two factors at play in the potential need for booster jabs: firstly, how robustly the vaccines continue to perform in the face of emerging variants, and secondly, how long vaccine-induced immunity lasts after a shot. All of the vaccines approved in the UK continue to offer comprehensive protection against hospitalisation and death – above 90 per cent – regardless of the variant circulating. They have taken a hit in how effective they are at presenting symptomatic infection, and particularly after one dose, with data from Public Health England showing that they are only around 31 per cent effective at that point. Pfizer also said that its booster plan was based on real-world data from the Israel Ministry of Health showing “vaccine efficacy in preventing both infection and symptomatic disease has declined six-months post-vaccination, although efficacy in preventing serious illnesses remains high.” Other scientists said the picture on waning immunity was not yet clear. “[In the UK], we may use millions of vaccine doses and enormous NHS resource on boosts that aren’t evidence-based and for most people offer little extra benefit, when those vaccine doses might offer us more benefit if shared with other countries who haven’t been able to vaccinate yet at all, and from where the next variants of concern may spread.”. Other scientists on Twitter agreed, with some, such as US virologist Dr Neeltje van Doremalen tweeting: “I don’t think we should even be discussing boosters until everyone has had access to a vaccine.”Pfizer outlines Covid-19 booster jab plan – but is it necessary? (The Telegraph News)

Just two fully-vaccinated people under 50 have died from the Delta variant of coronavirus, new figures show. Among double-jabbed people over 50 with the Delta variant, there were 116 deaths out of 5,234 cases. Overall, there had been 259 deaths out of 170,063 Delta cases up to 5 July, according to the Public Health England technical briefing released on Friday. Meaghan Kall, an epidemiologist from PHE, wrote on Twitter that this case fatality rate of 0.2% – meaning two deaths out of every 1,000 Delta cases – is down from 0.3% two weeks ago and is “very encouraging”. The new figures – which also show there were 313 overnight hospital admissions out of 10,834 double-jabbed people as of 21 June – are further proof vaccines have weakened the link between infection and severe illness, even as infections have soared due to the 60% more infectious Delta variant – Just two double-vaccinated under-50s have died from Delta variant (Yahoo! News UK)

The European tax bill of international technology giant Apple is likely to increase, even though the Republic of Ireland is reluctant to go along with the continent-wide imposed tax bracket shift on the manufacture of iPhones and iPads. Many European countries have slammed Apple for its legal tax evasion procedures, but Ireland is unwilling to force Apple to pay more, owing to much of the latter’s financial operations taking place there. Apple looked set to wave goodbye to its 12.5% tax bill in Ireland when agreement was reached between the G7 nations and the European Union on a 15% global minimum. However, Ireland subsequently suggested it might seek to “negotiate a compromise” that would allow it to continue charging a lower rate – Apple’s European tax increase likely as Ireland expected to relent (9to5Mac)

Summarised with SMMRY.

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