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Offices could be closed within two weeks if Rule of Six fails

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Offices could be closed within two weeks if the Rule of Six fails to bring down coronavirus cases, as Londoners are warned the capital faces a curfew to head off fears of a second wave.

Employers will be left with no choice but to send staff to work from home, business leaders claimed, due to the shortage of Covid-19 tests.

Such a move would put a sizeable dent in the little progress that has been made to boost the economy since certain restrictions were eased.

A fortnight would be needed to determine whether Boris Johnson’s new rule of banning gatherings of seven or more people had successfully reduced infections, senior government sources told the Telegraph, adding that further lockdown measures may be required if not.

Official messaging of ‘go to work if you can’, repeated by the Prime Minister in recent weeks, appears to have been dropped, while No10 has also insisted there is no ‘back to work’ campaign being driven in the same way other key advice is being communicated with the public.  

However, telling workers to stop going back to their desks would inflict further woe on pubs, cafes and restaurants which have already struggled during the pandemic and are only recently reaping the benefits of more footfall and schemes such as Eat Out to Help Out.

Official messaging of 'go to work if you can', repeated by the Prime Minister, pictured yesterday, in recent weeks, appears to have been dropped

Official messaging of ‘go to work if you can’, repeated by the Prime Minister, pictured yesterday, in recent weeks, appears to have been dropped 

Many companies with headquarters in London's city centre have only a fraction of their total workforces back in the office

Many companies with headquarters in London’s city centre have only a fraction of their total workforces back in the office

The concourse at London's Waterloo station - which is one of the capital's busiest - during the rush hour earlier this month

The concourse at London’s Waterloo station – which is one of the capital’s busiest – during the rush hour earlier this month

More than half of workers expect NEVER to return to a five-day working week in the office, survey finds 

More than half of workers have said they never expect to return to a five-day working week in the office, a new survey by broadband provider TalkTalk has found.

A new report called ‘Lockdown Lessons’ also found that 58% of people in employment said they felt more productive as a result of working from home.

Bosses also agreed, with 30% of business leaders saying the changes had seen a boost in productivity and 35% said the moves had seen more collaboration.

The new working arrangements for millions of office workers also found that with the commute being removed, many are turning to learning a new skill or hobby, the survey found.

Around 40% said they had watched an online educational video during lockdown and 16% enrolled in an online learning course.

In other areas, nearly one-in-four work-from-home staff started learning a new language, with a similar number also learning new cooking methods. Around 15% said they researched baking and 13% learned about gardening.

TalkTalk added that internet usage during lockdown increased 40% year-on-year and has remained at high levels, despite the relaxation of rules and the reopening of pubs and restaurants. Uploads have also increased significantly, the data found.

The company is hoping the increase in work-from-home staff will lead to demand for more reliable internet and has launched a business-quality broadband service for companies willing to install faster connections in workers’ homes.

But less than half – 40% – of business leaders said they have provided financial support to employees for phone or home broadband bills and only one in four have invested in mental health and wellbeing apps for staff.

The survey also found that 62% of bosses believe they can save money to spend on upgrading home working due to less work trip costs and 45% said company entertainment spend is also expected to fall.

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Matthew Fell, the UK chief policy director of the CBI, said: ‘If we are to successfully encourage more people into their workplace safely, then the test and trace system will be a key component.’

Adam Marshall, the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, added: ‘A truly comprehensive test and trace programme is essential if the UK is to manage the virus without further lockdowns, which will cripple businesses. Continuing delays and a shortage of tests saps business, staff and consumer confidence at a fragile moment for the economy.’ 

Meanwhile, a public health chief has suggested curfews could be imposed in London to help fight a potential second wave.

Professor Kevin Fenton, London director of Public Health England, highlighted an influx of around half a million students to the capital from across the UK and around the world as a potential hazard for increased infections.

The London director of Public Health England also warned the city’s testing capacity was struggling to cope with demand, as resources are piled in to help hotspot areas,  

About 500,000 students are coming to London from around the country and world for the start of term which is likely to increase infections. 

He told the Evening Standard: ‘Before we get to that stage [of a full lockdown] there are many other things that you can do in order to help to reduce the risk of transmission and contain your outbreak.

‘In some areas which have seen resurgence there have been limits placed on the amount of time you can spend socialising. In some it might be local curfews so you’re not out drinking until the wee hours of the morning.

‘By limiting that you also limit the amount of time people are spending in close contact with others.’

His comments come as a survey found more than half of workers have said they never expect to return to a five-day working week in the office.

A new report called ‘Lockdown Lessons’ also found that 58% of people in employment said they felt more productive as a result of working from home.

Bosses also agreed, with 30% of business leaders saying the changes had seen a boost in productivity and 35% said the moves had seen more collaboration.

Tristia Harrison, chief executive at TalkTalk, who compiled the research, said: ‘Lockdown Britain has seen a boost in skills and productivity for home workers, with unexpected lessons for how we emerge from the pandemic.

‘As people have been working from home, they’ve also been learning: from new languages, to cooking, to IT skills. With flexible working we’re becoming so much more productive it seems that Britain is now getting five days’ work done in four, which is encouraging as we build back from the crisis.’

Catherine Barnard, from consultancy Working The Future, which analysed the data for TalkTalk, said: ‘A future where a four-day work week is the norm could be a lot closer than people think.

‘If someone can do their work in four days rather than five as a result of flexible working hours, it stands to reason that they can use the fifth day to further improve skills that complement their role. The challenge is to pivot from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to employment.’   

It emerged yesterday that ministers and government officials insist they are ready to take more draconian steps to stop the spread, despite a wave of criticism.

Options on the table could range from curfews to closing pubs – although there is a determination that schools will stay open. 

This is despite warnings today that schools could be forced to close by default in coming weeks because of a massive shortage of tests across the UK. 

‘Lockdown is the only thing that we know works, to be frank,’ one government science adviser told ITV.

The dire prospect has been raised amid fears that the disease is on the verge of spiralling out of control again.

Although cases have spiked over 3,000 a day, it had been mainly among younger people, who are less likely to be badly affected. 

But now Covid-19 cases are soaring among middle-aged people in England and have risen by upwards of 90 per cent in a fortnight as the outbreak continues to grow.

Public Health England (PHE) data reveals 23.4 cases are now diagnosed for every 100,000 people aged between 40 and 49 — up from 12.4 at the end of August. And coronavirus infection rates have nearly doubled in just a week for people in their fifties, jumping from 10.9 to 20.

Boris Johnson faced MPs this afternoon, telling the Liaison Committee that steps to avoid a complete national lockdown were needed.

The Prime Minister told the committee: ‘I don’t want a second national lockdown, I think it would be completely wrong for this country. We are going to do everything in our power to prevent it.

‘Can we afford it? I very much doubt that the financial consequences would be anything but disastrous, but we have to make sure that we defeat the disease by the means that we set out.

‘When I see the people saying, arguing against the rule of six of saying that the government is coming in too hard on individual liberties and so on, I totally understand that, I sympathise with that, but we must, must beat this disease.’ 

Downing Street did not deny reports that curfews were being considered to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Asked about reports that a curfew could be introduced in London, a Number 10 spokesman earlier said: ‘We will continue to keep the transmission rate under review.

‘We’ve introduced the rule of six to try and bear down on the transmission rate given that it has risen recently.

‘But as I say we will keep that data and the scientific evidence under review.’

It came as: 

  • Matt Hancock and Boris Johnson were warned the testing fiasco is on the brink of dooming the country to a de facto lockdown with keeping schools open ‘unsustainable’ 
  • Covid-19 cases are soaring among middle-aged people in England and have risen by upwards of 90 per cent in a fortnight as the outbreak continues to grow, official figures show.
  • The boss of British Airways defended his decision to cut up to 12,000 jobs and said the pandemic has left the national carrier ‘fighting for survival’
  • One hospital in Manchester accounted for a third of all Covid-19 deaths in England last week, it was revealed amid fears the life-threatening disease is spreading between wards.  
The most up-to-date PHE data, which was released on Friday, clearly shows cases are spiralling across every age group. People in their twenties ¿ who aren't as vulnerable to the disease and are likely to escape death or serious illness ¿ are driving the spike with an infection rate of 46, which has doubled in the last three weeks

The most up-to-date PHE data, which was released on Friday, clearly shows cases are spiralling across every age group. People in their twenties — who aren’t as vulnerable to the disease and are likely to escape death or serious illness — are driving the spike with an infection rate of 46, which has doubled in the last three weeks 

Public Health England (PHE) data reveals 23.4 cases are now diagnosed for every 100,000 people aged between 40 and 49 ¿ up from 12.4 at the end of August. And coronavirus infection rates have nearly doubled in just a week for people in their fifties, jumping from 10.9 to 20

Public Health England (PHE) data reveals 23.4 cases are now diagnosed for every 100,000 people aged between 40 and 49 — up from 12.4 at the end of August. And coronavirus infection rates have nearly doubled in just a week for people in their fifties, jumping from 10.9 to 20

Curfews, pub closures and small gatherings only: how the UK could throttle second wave

Britain could follow the example of Belgium in taking steps to throttle the rising number of coronavirus cases.

Brussels was able to curtail a second wave of coronavirus by limiting the number of people who could socialise together and imposing a nationwide curfew. 

The European country experienced a resurgence of the virus in mid-July that was comparable to the UK’s current trajectory.

On July 29, officials there brought in new rules reduced the number of people who could socialise together from 15 to five and introduced a 10pm curfew on the entire population.

Coronavirus infections started to rise in Belgium in mid-July, with the weekly case rate going over 35 per 100,000 by August- the level currently being felt in Britain – and daily infections breaching 1,000. The numbers have fallen over recent weeks, with only 194 new cases reported on September 1.

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty is among those who have praised the actions of the Belgian Government to  tackle the outbreak.

Last week he said Belgium was a ‘clear indication that if you act rapidly and decisively when these changes are happening, there is a reasonable or good chance of bringing the rates back down under control.’ 

Such a move would allow people to go still go to work and school but would place curbs on nightlife, which could place high pressure on the hospitality industry, with pubs and restaurants forced to close early. 

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However, alarm has been sparked by early signs that hospitalisations are on the rise again, and infections are becoming more common among older people. 

The problems have been exacerbated by the testing system descending into chaos after schools returned, with high demand for children to be checked. 

The area of Rhondda Cynon Taf in south Wales will be placed under a local lockdown following an increase of coronavirus cases, the Welsh Government announced this afternoon.

Health minister Vaughan Gething announced that the measures, which will be reviewed within two weeks, would come into force at 6pm on Thursday.

Rhondda Cynon Taf, which has a population of around 240,000, has seen a rolling seven-day case rate of 82.1 per 100,000 people.

Under the measures, people must not enter or leave the Rhondda Cynon Taf council area without a reasonable excuse.

People will only be able to meet outdoors and will not be able to meet members of their extended household indoors.

All licensed premises will have to close at 11pm. 

The ‘Rule of Six’ imposed by Boris Johnson on Monday makes it illegal to have larger gatherings, although in Scotland and Wales children under 12 do not need to be counted in the numbers. 

Ministers have suggested they are following the example of Belgium, where a surge appears to have been tackled using tight limits on gatherings and curfews. 

A senior member of the government told ITV’s Robert Peston that there was ‘no possibility of us waiting for the death rate to rise before we act’.

They added that the government will reassess whether the Rule of Six has been enough to control the situation in fortnight – but there is a widespread view that schools should not be shut again.

A leading scientific advisor reportedly said: ‘I think that if we want to keep schools open, we probably have to give serious consideration to a wide range of other measures to stop a major second wave.

‘And we have to think about doing that right now – which we are starting to do.’

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock, right, and Chief Whip Mark Spencer give each other an elbow bump greeting in Downing Street in London

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock, right, and Chief Whip Mark Spencer give each other an elbow bump greeting in Downing Street in London

The Red Lion pub in Westminster, just yards from the Houses of Parliament, was surrounded by drinkers last night despite the introduction of the Rule of Six on Monday.

The Red Lion pub in Westminster, just yards from the Houses of Parliament, was surrounded by drinkers last night despite the introduction of the Rule of Six on Monday.

The 'Rule of Six' imposed by Boris Johnson (pictured today at PMQs) on Monday makes it illegal to have larger gatherings, although in Scotland and Wales children under 12 do not need to be counted in the numbers

The ‘Rule of Six’ imposed by Boris Johnson (pictured today at PMQs) on Monday makes it illegal to have larger gatherings, although in Scotland and Wales children under 12 do not need to be counted in the numbers

Second UK pub bans under 25s over social distancing 

Another British pub has temporarily banned under 25s due to what its landlady claims is a lack of social distancing among young drinkers.

The Red Lion in Whinmoor announced the move on Facebook on Monday, confirming those in the age bracket will be unable to enter between Friday and Sunday.

The landlady, who wished to remain anonymous, said the decision was made in order to protect staff at the establishment alongside its regular customers from coronavirus.

She added the Red Lion has some ‘good young customers’ who follow the social distancing guidelines, but a minority ‘spoil it for others’ as they have to keep reminding them to respect the guidelines in place to stop the spread of the virus. 

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Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was forced to miss Prime Minister’s Questions because of a delay in receiving a coronavirus test result for one of his children, his deputy said.

Angela Rayner, standing in for Sir Keir at the despatch box on Wednesday lunchtime, told Boris Johnson that she had a message from ‘a man called Keir’.

She told the Commons: ‘Keir wasn’t able to go to work today and his children couldn’t go to school because his family had to wait for their coronavirus test results despite the Prime Minister’s promise of results within 24 hours.

‘Keir was able to do the right thing and self-isolate and work from home, but other people aren’t in this position – many of them are the very people getting us through this crisis.’

Mr Johnson said he understood a negative test had been returned for Sir Keir’s child, adding: ‘I don’t know why he is not here.’

The Labour leader was advised to self-isolate on Monday while awaiting the result of a test for a member of his household who showed possible symptoms of Covid-19.

Less than half an hour before PMQs was due to begin, Sir Keir said he was ‘very pleased and relieved that the test result for one of my children came back negative this morning’.

A decision had been made on Tuesday for his deputy, Ms Rayner, to take his place at the question session.

The possibility of a harsher crackdown comes despite a major Tory backlash at the restrictions on everyday life. 

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland this morning denied that the ‘rule of six’ would effectively cancel Christmas, following criticisms from a source close to the Archbishop of Canterbury about the social restrictions imposed this week to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Archbishop of Canterbury warns ‘rule of six’ is damaging family life 

The Archbishop Bishop of Canterbury has warned against coronavirus restrictions being imposed centrally and said he is ‘deeply concerned’ about the impact of the ‘rule of six’ on family life.  

The Most Rev Justin Welby said the Government had ‘determined the daily details of our lives’ during the coronavirus lockdown in a way ‘few of us have experienced’, as he argued instead for localism.

He said Britain has an ‘addiction to centralisation’ and argues that the country should take on the attitude: ‘Only do centrally what must be done centrally’.

The Archbishop is also said to be concerned about the impact of the ‘rule of six’ – banning gatherings of more than six people indoors and outdoors – on ‘the vulnerable, the needy, the poor and the elderly’ in Britain.

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Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the Cabinet minister said: ‘Archbishop Justin (Welby) makes an important contribution to this debate and he is right to point to the huge spiritual and social significance of Christmas. 

‘I don’t think any of us in Government want to be Oliver Cromwell-esque about this – we want to see families celebrate Christmas in a safe and happy way and we want to see our churches and indeed our other places of worship joining in that celebration.’ 

Mr Buckland added: ‘We are not going to cancel Christmas but the ‘rule of six’ is something that is clear and important and I do think we’ve committed to that and we need to stick to it.’ 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock yesterday batted away furious demands for young children to be exempted from the rules in England to save Christmas. 

He was repeatedly pressed on the ‘unfair and inflexible’ restrictions as he made a statement in the Commons.

But while Mr Hancock insisted he understood the ‘impact’ the rules were having, he said ‘simplicity’ was crucial for them to be effective.

Senior Conservatives lined up to urge the government to copy the Scottish and Welsh administrations, which have said that children aged under 12 do not count towards the limit on gatherings.

Home Secretary Priti Patel warned yesterday that two families bumping into each other on the street would be breaking the new law.

She said more than half-a-dozen people stopping to chat after accidentally meeting up would constitute ‘mingling’.

Lawyers questioned whether that was the case – but No10 offered backing, saying: ‘You can expect the police to ask you to disperse.’ 

Ms Patel also said she would report her own neighbours for any behaviour she believed was ‘inappropriate’ and risked spreading the virus. 

The comments came as police complained that they had been left in the dark on how to enforce the tough restrictions, with no guidance and widespread anger among the public. 

Covid-19 cases among people in their 40s and 50s have risen by 90% since the end of August – while the number of patients being admitted to hospital has DOUBLED in just nine days, official figures show

Covid-19 cases are soaring among middle-aged people in England and have risen by upwards of 90 per cent in a fortnight as the outbreak continues to grow, official figures show.

Public Health England (PHE) data reveals 23.4 cases are now diagnosed for every 100,000 people aged between 40 and 49 — up from 12.4 at the end of August. And coronavirus infection rates have nearly doubled in just a week for people in their fifties, jumping from 10.9 to 20.

The most up-to-date PHE data, which was released on Friday, clearly shows cases are increasing across every age group. People in their twenties — who aren’t as vulnerable to the disease and are likely to escape death or serious illness — are driving the spike with an infection rate of 46, which has doubled in three weeks.

Fears of a second wave are growing as the number of Britons being diagnosed with Covid-19 each day has topped 3,000 for the first time since May. Ministers have also been spooked by spiralling outbreaks in Spain and France and rising hospital admissions on the continent.

Hospital admissions — another way of measuring the severity of the pandemic — have doubled in England over the past nine days. More than 150 newly-infected patients required NHS treatment on Sunday, up from a rolling seven-day average of 52 on the last day of August. 

But government officials say a second wave of Covid-19 in Britain would not be nearly as bad as the first — which killed between 40 and 55,000 people — because we are better at containing the virus through local lockdowns and social distancing measures, and that medical breakthroughs have helped to slash the death rate.

Hospital admissions ¿ another way of measuring the severity of the pandemic ¿ have doubled in England over the past ten days. More than 150 newly-infected patients required NHS treatment on Sunday, up from a rolling seven-day average of 52 on the last day of August

Hospital admissions — another way of measuring the severity of the pandemic — have doubled in England over the past ten days. More than 150 newly-infected patients required NHS treatment on Sunday, up from a rolling seven-day average of 52 on the last day of August

Hospital admissions ¿ another way of measuring the severity of the pandemic ¿ have doubled in England over the past ten days. More than 150 newly-infected patients required NHS treatment on Sunday, up from a rolling seven-day average of 56 the week before

Hospital admissions — another way of measuring the severity of the pandemic — have doubled in England over the past ten days. More than 150 newly-infected patients required NHS treatment on Sunday, up from a rolling seven-day average of 56 the week before

PHE figures released on Friday, which offer the most detailed insight into the state of the coronavirus crisis in England, revealed how people in their twenties are driving the current outbreak.

The infection rate for those aged 20-29 has risen from 23.5 cases for every 100,000 people in the week ending August 16, to 46 in the most recent full week of data, which finished on September 6.

The rate is now 29.8 for people in their 30s, up from 19.6 the week before and 16.4 at the end of August. And it has jumped to 23.4 for 40 to 49-year-olds, up from 13.5 in the previous seven-day spell and 12.4 at the end of last month. 

Infections rates have risen from 10.9 to 20 in the space of a week for people in their 50s, and have increased from 7.5 to 12.4 for those in their sixties. 

Cases are also rising for people over the age of 70, who are the most vulnerable to the disease because of their age. Infection rates have jumped from 4.6 to 7.3 for those in their 70s over the lat week, and from 8.9 to 12.9 for those 80 or older.

For children, rates have jumped from 5.6 to 7.7 for those up to the age of four, and have risen from 5.1 to 8.1 among 10 to 19-year-olds. 

Hospital admissions have also risen over the same time-frame, according to data published by the Department of Health.

Government statistics show 153 newly-infected patients needed NHS care in England on Sunday, September 13. Similar data has not yet been released for Monday or yesterday. 

For comparison, 85 patients were admitted to hospital in England last Sunday.

The rolling seven-day average of hospital admissions — considered one of the best ways to analyse trends — shows the rate has risen from 52.43 on the last day of August to 127.57 on September 13. The rate topped 100 on September 10 and was 72 last Sunday. 

Hopes of fighting a second wave are also high because vaccines could be available as early as next spring, with a ‘long pipeline’ of promising jabs being trialled.

In addition, early signs from the southern hemisphere indicate that any flu outbreak will be less severe than in previous years.

It comes as top Belgium scientist Jean-Luc Gala said Belgium’s rising infection rate is ‘completely normal’ and ongoing lockdown measures should be relaxed. He told French-language newspaper La Dernière Heure that ‘people no longer suffer from the coronavirus, but measures to stop it.’

He said people should not worry as the virus ‘is circulating in a category that does not suffer from it, young people who will at worst have small symptoms, at best nothing at all’. He said people who the virus only midly affects becoming infected is beneficial as it contributes to wide-spread immunity. 

Ministers had been concerned that a combination of flu and corona cases would prove catastrophic for the NHS this winter.

However, officials also expect that advice on hygiene and social distancing during the corona pandemic will suppress flu rates – as will the trend for working from home and avoiding public transport. 

In Australia and New Zealand – which typically provide good indicators of how the flu will develop in the UK – cases have remained low compared with last year.

Officials still believe the next six months ‘will be very tricky’ for the NHS and the country as a whole – but their cautious optimism provides a marked contrast to recent warnings from doctors’ unions and medical colleges, which have claimed that hospitals would be unable to cope with a second wave.

A survey by the British Medical Association this week found that 86 per cent of doctors expect coronavirus to surge again over the next six months. 

 

When Spain, France and Belgium hit 18 cases per 100,000 (which the UK did at the start of September) they then saw admissions increase by up to four-fold. But Belgium was able to reduce its hospital rate by reintroducing tough measures

When Spain, France and Belgium hit 18 cases per 100,000 (which the UK did at the start of September) they then saw admissions increase by up to four-fold. But Belgium was able to reduce its hospital rate by reintroducing tough measures

In August the hospitalisation rate in Belgium doubled from one per 100,000 to two per 100,000, but it has since been squashed

In August the hospitalisation rate in Belgium doubled from one per 100,000 to two per 100,000, but it has since been squashed

Hospitalisation rates remain low and falling in the UK, from a peak of more than 30 per 100,000 people to fewer than one per 100,000, but officials fear they will rise again soon

Hospitalisation rates remain low and falling in the UK, from a peak of more than 30 per 100,000 people to fewer than one per 100,000, but officials fear they will rise again soon

However, Government officials believe that while cases are on the rise again, the curve will be flatter when compared with March and April.

One reason for this prediction is the fact that we now know so much more about the virus. This includes medical advances, such as the discovery that steroid treatment dexamethasone can cut the risk of death from coronavirus by a third.

Officials also say that local lockdowns – and the beleaguered test and trace service – have successfully prevented recent outbreaks from spreading more widely.

Nonetheless, they stress that it is wrong to assume that the virus is only circulating among the young. 

While many new cases are patients aged between 17 and 21, the latest statistics show infection rates for those in their 50s and 60s are now as high as they were for those in their 20s several weeks ago.

Figures from the Department of Health yesterday showed there were 3,105 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, compared with around 5,000 a day at the height of the crisis. There were another 27 deaths, up from nine recorded on Tuesday.

A special envoy from the World Health Organisation yesterday said the ‘grotesque’ global outlook was ‘much worse than any science fiction’.

Appearing before the Foreign Affairs Committee, Dr David Nabarro told MPs: ‘It’s a terrible situation… a health issue has got so out of control it’s knocking the world into not just a recession but a huge economic contraction, which would probably double the number of poor people, double the number of malnourished [and] lead to hundreds of millions of small businesses going bankrupt.’

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