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UK coronavirus LIVE: Rishi Sunak’s Spending Review sees national living wage rise as public sector pay increases ‘paused’

UK coronavirus LIVE: Rishi Sunak’s Spending Review sees national living wage rise as public sector pay increases ‘paused’

He explained that the Office for Budget Responsibility did not expect the economy to return to its pre-crisis levels until the end of 2022, with unemployment peaking at 2.6 million in the second quarter of 2021.

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A couple of key takeaways from Rishi Sunak’s Spending Review

Finances face a chill wind

Mr Sunak painted a grim picture of the public purse as he told MPs the economic emergency caused by the pandemic has only just begun and there will be “long-term scarring”.

He said the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) did not expect the economy to return to its pre-crisis levels until the end of 2022 and the damage was likely to last.

The budget watchdog’s forecast expects Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – the total value of all goods and services in the UK – to shrink by 11.3 per cent next year – the largest annual fall since the Great Frost of 1709 when much of Europe was hit by a bitter cold spell.

The Chancellor said underlying debt would continue rising, reaching 97.5 per centof GDP by 2025-26, but he stressed that “the costs of inaction would have been far higher”.

Mr Sunak did not once mention the B-word in his almost 3,000 word-long statement.

But with just 37 days to go until the end of the transition period, Brexit did feature heavily in the OBR’s report.

It forecast that, even with a free trade deal with the European Union, there would be a “four per cent long-run loss of output”.

A no-deal would lead to a further two per cent drop, a move that would also have an impact on employment and consumer prices, it suggested.

UK coronavirus LIVE: Rishi Sunak’s Spending Review sees national living wage rise as public sector pay increases ‘paused’
( PA )

Manchester ‘more likely than not’ to enter Tier 3 -Burnham

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said it was “more likely than not” the area would be made subject to Tier 3 restrictions.

Speaking at an online press conference, he said: “We don’t know what tier we will be in, that still has not been communicated to us. I think it is fair to say we are heading at some speed to Tier 3, Tier 2 borderline, given the figures.”

He said although infection numbers in Greater Manchester were still high, the rates were falling.

He added: “If things continue in this direction at the rate at which we are seeing change in Greater Manchester, I would want to ask the Government for a serious review of Greater Manchester’s position at the first review of tiering arrangements which is scheduled to take place two weeks from now.”

Mr Burnham said he did not agree with the Tier 3 measures which had been put forward by the Government.

He said: “Tier 3, in my view, is too punishing on hospitality and will be too hard on city centres, particularly as we go through Christmas and the New Year period.”

( Andy Burnham described the top tier as ‘too punishing’ / AFP via Getty Images )

Chris Whitty: We may see a ‘steady’ return to normality by spring

Life could start to steadily return to normal around spring time, England’s chief medical officer has said.

Professor Chris Whitty said that a return to normality would be a steady process and would not happen “immediately”.

The comments come as the nation’s top medic spoke at the ukactive summit on the importance of exercise.

He said that being active is “central to health” but many people have reduced their levels of exercise during the coronavirus pandemic.

However, others have increased the amount of exercise they do, particularly when exercise was one of the main reasons to leave the house.

Prof Whitty said: “One of the real problems in 2020 – one of the ways Covid has damaged health – is, for some people, making it more difficult for them to do exercise.”

He added: “For some people the amount of exercise has gone up. They’ve concentrated much of their leisure time on exercise.

“But there is no doubt that the Covid crisis has made it harder for many people to do exercise.”

He said that although a return to normality would be “steady”, he hoped it would happen by spring.

“As we come out of the Covid crisis, which is not going to be immediate but is going to be steady… spring is a point where many of us hope that things will begin to normalise,” he said.

“But (it won’t be) straight back to normal in one band. It is very important that we get people who have got out of the habit of regular exercise back in the situation where they are doing so and encourage others who have taken up exercise in a way they previously hadn’t to continue to do so.

“We need to think this through because exercise is so central.

“Exercise is the single simplest and most important thing people can do to improve their physical and mental health.”

( Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, / REUTERS )

Tomorrow will see England carved up into tiers, with some regions battling to protect themselves from the toughest rules…

Lancashire’s council leaders have submitted a proposal to the Government to divide the county into two different tiers when the lockdown ends next week.

A request has been made for Hyndburn, Rossendale, Burnley, Pendle and Preston to go into Tier 3 restrictions while Fylde, Wyre, Lancaster, Chorley, South Ribble, Ribble Valley and West Lancashire would go into Tier 2.

Shaun Turner, cabinet member for health and wellbeing at Lancashire County Council, said: “We are seeing rates reduce across almost all parts of the county and that is down to the hard work and sacrifices of our residents. I can only thank everyone for playing their part.

“With lower rates we believe it is appropriate for some parts of the county to go into Tier 2 and hope it will be very soon before they are joined by the rest of the county.”


In case you missed today’s session of PMQs…

The Speaker was being his usual no-nonsense self:


‘Shame’ at Government’s cut to aid spending

A former Conservative Foreign Office minister has said she feels “ashamed” that the Government is cutting the UK’s aid spending.

Harriet Baldwin told the Commons: “I personally feel ashamed that the manifesto pledge we are breaking today is our promise to the world’s poorest.”

Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the Commons Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs Select Committee, said it was “not exactly the right moment” to cut aid given the challenges of Covid-19.

He added: “At a time when aid has never been more needed in extending the perimeter of our public health to countries where otherwise the Covid crisis would run wild surely this is not exactly the right moment to reducing those defences.”

Labour’s Toby Perkins (Chesterfield), meanwhile, warned many pubs “will never reopen their doors again” unless the Government provides a sector-specific deal for the sector.

Rishi Sunak sat down at 3.22pm having answered questions in the chamber for two hours and 37 minutes.


PM’s response to minister’s resignation over aid spending cut:

Boris Johnson’s response to Baroness Sugg read: “Thank you for your letter informing me of your resignation as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, and as my Special Envoy for Girls’ Education. I was very sorry to receive it.

“I am extremely grateful for your service as a Government minister in recent years, and in particular for everything you have done since I became Prime Minister last year. You have given outstanding service through your work in the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, and previously in the Department for International Development. You have been at the forefront of the UK’s leading role in international development, and your efforts in support of girls’ education in particular have been instrumental.

“Your work has made a difference to millions of girls around the world, and will stand us in good stead for the Global Partnership for Education replenishment event next year. In addition, your leadership and rigour in the lead up to and during the Africa Investment Summit made it the enormous success it was.

“Your passion and commitment to your work has been clear to civil servants and your Ministerial colleagues, and I know that the FCDO will miss you.”


Breaking: Minister resigns over overseas aid cut

Foreign Office minister Baroness Sugg has resigned in protest at the cut in overseas aid announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, branding it “fundamentally wrong”.


Unions accuse Government of letting down low-paid workers

The Government was accused of letting down millions of workers with its announcement of new rates for the national living wage.

The statutory rate will increase by 2.2 per cent from £8.72 to £8.91 next April and will be extended to 23 and 24-year-olds for the first time.

The Government said the increase was likely to benefit around two million of the lowest-paid workers.

The Low Pay Commission had previously proposed a figure of £9.21 an hour.

Chairman Bryan Sanderson said: “Recommending minimum wage rates in the midst of an economic crisis coupled with a pandemic is a formidable task.

“The difficulty in looking forward even to next April is daunting.

“There are strong arguments concerning both low-paid workers, many performing critically important tasks, and the very real solvency risks to which small businesses are currently exposed.

“In these unprecedented conditions, stability and competence are prime requirements.

“We have opted for a prudent increase which consolidates the considerable progress of recent years and provides a base from which we can move towards the Government’s target over the next few years.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said workers had been let down by the Government’s decision to “row back” on the full rise.


Analysis: Why the economic gloom behind Rishi Sunak’s spending plans made it far too soon to be talking about tax rises

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More than 3 million Covid vaccines administered in England in five weeks

More than 3 million Covid vaccines administered in England in five weeks

ore than 3 million people in England were vaccinated against coronavirus in just over a month, new figures show.

A total of 3,189,674 Covid-19 jabs were administered in the country between December 8 and January 14, according to provisional NHS England data released on Friday.

This includes first and second doses.

It marks a rise of 279,647 on Thursday’s figures, meaning almost 280,000 people were inoculated against the disease in 24 hours.

Of the latest total, 2,769,164 were first doses of the vaccine – a rise of 274,793 on Thursday’s count, while 420,510 were second doses – an increase of 4,854.

The figures come as the Government prepares to rapidly scale up its mass-vaccination programme – administering as many as half a million jabs from next week, according to reports.

Ministers are confident that the UK will have enough doses to hit Boris Johnson’s target of inoculating the 15 million most vulnerable Britons by February 15.

A senior Whitehall source told The Times that the pace of the scale-up could mean that all 32 million over-50s receive their first vaccine dose by mid to late March.

Boris Johnson: Top four priority groups will receive Covid vaccine by February 15th

The postitive developments come after the Government was sharply criticised over the distribution of vaccines across the country.

A total of 447,329 doses were administered in the Midlands between December 8 and January 10, with 387,647 people receiving at least one injection.

But London had delivered just 237,524 doses, sparking “huge concern” from mayor Sadiq Khan.

The NHS England figures for the month indicated that about half of people aged 80 and over in north-east England and Yorkshire had received their first dose.

By contrast just three in 10 people aged 80 and over in eastern England had received their first jab, with a similar proportion in London.

Downing Street defended the operation, with the Prime Minister’s official spokesman telling reporters: “We’ve rolled out the vaccination programme across the country and we’ve ensured that every area receives a fair share of the vaccinations and we will continue to do that.

“You will continue to see the vaccination programme accelerate through this month and throughout February and the PM’s been clear that we will ensure there is a vaccine centre close to everybody by the end of the month.”

The North East and Yorkshire was just behind the Midlands in terms of doses administered, with 433,045.

Mr Khan responded to the discrepencies by saying: “I am hugely concerned that Londoners have received only a 10th of the vaccines that have been given across the country.

“The situation in London is critical with rates of the virus extremely high, which is why it’s so important that vulnerable Londoners are given access to the vaccine as soon as possible.”

High street pharmacies start vaccines as UK records worst day of Covid deaths

A spokesman for the NHS in London said: “We have more than 100 vaccination sites up and running across London, including the NHS Covid-19 vaccination centre in the ExCeL London, and more are opening all the time.

“London is getting its fair share of vaccine supply for the priority groups we have to vaccinate by mid-February.”

Mr Johnson has previously acknowledged that while parts of the country were doing “incredibly well” in vaccinating people it was “less good” in other areas.

Up to January 10, 1,036,605 people aged 80 or over had received a first dose, as had 960,699 under-80s.

Separate figures from NHS England show nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of first doses in England up to January 7 went to people aged 49 and under.

Just over half (53 per cent) went to people aged 80 and over.

Some 12 per cent went to people aged 50-59, six per cent to those aged 60-69, and six per cent to those aged 70-79.

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Children’s mental health: The hidden crisis of Covid laid bare

Children’s mental health: The hidden crisis of Covid laid bare

undreds of thousands of children and adolescents who had no diagnosable mental health problems before the pandemic will need care and support this year as a consequence of the crisis, an Evening Standard investigation has revealed.

With cases already at unprecedented levels, the Centre for Mental Health says a new cohort of 500,000 previously healthy children under 18 will require mental health care due to the devastating economic, health and family pressures caused by the  virus crisis.

The centre’s research incorporates 2020 data from NHS Trusts and NHS England to forecast additional demand for mental health services.

Leaders of  secondary and primary schools across London who were approached in our special investigation also spoke of the unfolding crisis.

It comes on top of already troubling data from NHS Digital that shows a 50 per cent rise in mental disorders over the last three years, with one in six children (16.7 per cent) in England aged five to 16 having a “probable mental disorder” in 2020, up from one in nine in 2017 — having been steady at 10 per cent for the previous decade.

It means that today in a class of 24, an average of four students have serious mental health issues  — defined as emotional disorders and behavioural disorders that impair their ability to live a normal life.

The  Standard has sought to understand the crisis, speaking to students, parents, counsellors, head teachers and mental health experts to shine a light on what some are calling “the hidden mental health crisis of the Covid generation”.

Our investigation has revealed:

  • A 109 per cent rise in reported incidents of self-harm and a 68 per cent rise in suicidal thoughts in secondary schools during the 2020 autumn term, according to Place2Be charity, the UK’s leading provider of school-based mental health services.
  • Children as young as five reporting self-harm and suicidal thoughts to counsellors.
  • A tripling in eating disorder incidents reported by adolescents.
  • A spike in adolescents attending A&E with mental health emergencies.
Children’s mental health: The hidden crisis of Covid laid bare
( Evening Standard )

Head teachers warned that “the worst is yet to come”, with some schools reporting a doubling in the number of students they have referred to child and adolescent mental health services this academic year over last.

( Evening Standard )

This will heap pressure on a care system already stretched beyond breaking point. Only around 25 per cent of young people with diagnosable mental health problems currently get the care they need on the NHS.

For those youngsters who do get seen, waiting times in the capital can stretch from two to three months — the longest being a six-month wait at the West London Mental Health Trust, according to the Education Policy Institute.

It creates a compelling case for the Government to put more resources into child and adolescent mental health outpatient services, the Cinderella of the health sector where just £500 is spent per child with a serious mental health problem per year compared with £275,000 per cancer patient.

For information and support call Mind on 0300 123 339

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Children’s mental health crisis: Youngsters pushed over the edge by lockdown trauma

Children’s mental health crisis: Youngsters pushed over the edge by lockdown trauma

he pandemic’s toll on mental health turned a loving boy into an aggressive and fearful child — and he is far from alone. Here, David Cohen examines the growing crisis

During the first lockdown, Jason was not flagged by his school as having any sort of mental health problem, but this time round is different.

The young teenager, who attends Kensington Aldridge Academy in west London, started to fall apart towards the end of the 2020 autumn term — he would abruptly walk out of class, shouting, kicking doors and punching the walls.

When Louis Levin, the school’s pastoral adviser, spoke to him, he encountered “a new Jason” who was also being rude and aggressive to his mother at home.

“This was a significant change,” said Levin. “Before the pandemic, he was an enthusiastic kid, a bit of a worrier but nothing serious, who loved his mum and had a good attitude.” With the new lockdown announced this month, things have got even worse.

Jason told Levin: “My mum is anxious and depressed and sometimes she spends the entire day in bed. She expects me to look after my siblings but they proper get on my nerves and I refuse to do it.”

<p>Mounting crisis: Louis Levin at Kensington Aldridge Academy. “There are many, many children who are struggling with their mental health”</p>

Mounting crisis: Louis Levin at Kensington Aldridge Academy. “There are many, many children who are struggling with their mental health”

/ Matt Writtle )

Levin added: “He is angry with his mother but also worried about her. He told me that his father no longer sends money to support them and he worries about that as well. He gets scared because he is having some very dark thoughts.

“We told him to come into school because he’s a vulnerable child going through a lot and it’s frankly untenable for his mental health to be at home all the time.

“Every day we try to build him up and give him hope but he looks crumpled and cries and says he can’t see an end to it. I can’t get a word out of him some days.

“I am sad to say, but there are many, many children in our school like Jason who are struggling with their mental health for the first time.”

Jason is one of more than 500,000 previously healthy children who have been pushed over the edge by the pandemic and who will need mental health support for the first time, say the Centre for Mental Health.

It’s a fast-changing, deteriorating picture, but the charity, using 2020 NHS data and academic research, estimate that 1.5 million children under 18 will either need new or additional mental health support as a consequence of the pandemic — of which one-third are completely new cases.

Leaders of other secondary and primary schools across London who were approached in our special investigation spoke of the unfolding crisis in their schools.

( Jeremy Selwyn )

Andrea MacDonald, deputy head at Beacon High in Islington, said: “We are seeing a very significant increase of children with mental health problems. Normally we make 15 referrals to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) a year, but this academic year we are already at 25, double the amount of this time last year.”

Emilie Haston, headteacher of Goldfinch Primary School in Wandsworth, said: “We have a large number of children who before Covid did not have mental health problems but since the start of the pandemic have developed one.

“In some cases, you expect it because children live with parents who themselves have mental health issues, but in other instances you could not have predicted it.

“Some children have suffered memory loss of areas of the syllabus they’d already covered. Trauma can do that, it affects memory. And we have yet to see the impact of this lockdown. The worst is yet to come.”

The latest NHS data shows a sharp spike in children with diagnosable mental health problems, up 50 per cent from one in nine in 2017 to one in six in 2020.

( Evening Standard )

The stresses of the second and third lockdowns have yet to impact the data, but what is known is that low-income families fare worst, with children in the poorest 20 per cent of households four times as likely to develop problems as children in the wealthiest 20 per cent.

Stephen Scott, professor of child health and behaviour at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London, said: “The level of child and adolescent mental health problems we are seeing is unprecedented, the worst in over 50 years.

There has been something like a 50 per cent rise in children with a diagnosable mental health disorder, much of it since the pandemic. Most people are unaware how bad things are because it is largely hidden behind closed doors.”

The Government and the NHS, he added, are woefully unprepared. “The scandal is that the NHS have decided to spend very little on child and adolescent mental health, which has led to a widening deficit of care.

“The NHS spend for outpatients is about £50 per child per year, which is why CAMHS is so emaciated. Only about a quarter of children with the disorder level get seen by CAMHS with 75 per cent untreated. And that’s in normal times.”

The deficit of care has spilled over into accident and emergency units.

( Evening Standard )

An A&E consultant who runs the floor at one north London hospital told the Standard: “We have seen a steady increase in adolescents coming into A&E with mental health crises. After people coming in with Covid or chest pains, it’s the biggest group we see.

“It’s sad because apart from immediate medical support for overdoses or self-harm, there is little we can do. It’s like young people have been hit by a tsunami of issues with a very long tail. They need long-term support to help them.”

Why has children’s mental health deteriorated so quickly? Reasons include being locked down with parents and siblings under pressure from lost jobs, illness, domestic abuse, excessive parental anxiety, lack of usual outlets and overcrowding. 

For information and support call Mind on 0300 123 339

But Ricky Emanuel, a child, adolescent and adult psychotherapist and formerly head of child psychotherapy services at the Royal Free, said there was another critical reason driving the “astronomical increase”.

He explained: “For adolescents, the friendship group is key. It is their oxygen. They need the group to grapple with problems and manage their internal processes and different people in the group play different roles.

“This is so much more than missing their friends. They need them, they are dependent on them and it has to be in person — not just via social media. If you take that away, if you cut them adrift, they can unravel and fragment, which is why you are seeing so many struggle.”

  • The names of the children in this article have been changed

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Brazil Covid variant is NOT in UK, says Grant Shapps as South America travel ban begins

Brazil Covid variant is NOT in UK, says Grant Shapps as South America travel ban begins

On Friday, he reassured the public that so far the strain has not been detected in Britain.

Asked whether the variant was already circulating in the country, Mr Shapps told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: “Not as far as we are aware, I think, at this stage.

“There haven’t been any flights that I can see from the last week from Brazil, for example.”

Brazil Covid variant is NOT in UK, says Grant Shapps as South America travel ban begins
( PA )

Mr Shapps also attempted to reassure the public that there was no sign that Covid vaccines would prove ineffective against the new variant.

However, he added that he did not want to see the country “tripped up” when rapid progress was being made with national mass-vaccination efforts.

The minister told Sky News: “Scientists aren’t saying that the vaccine won’t work against it (the mutation).

“But we are at this late stage now, we have got so far – we have got jabs into the arms of three million Brits now – that’s more than France, Spain, Germany, Italy put together, and we do not want to be tripping up at this last moment.

“Which is why I took the decision, as an extra precaution, to ban those flights entirely.”

What is known about the Brazilian coronavirus variant?

His comments came as epidemiologist Dr Mike Tildesley suggested the South American travel ban – which came into force at 4am on Friday – would “minimise the risk” of the new variant entering the UK.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Dr Tildesley suggested the restrictions could have been introduced earlier, saying: “We always have this issue with travel bans of course, that we’re always a little bit behind the curve.

“With Covid we need to remember that when you develop symptoms you could have been infected up to a couple of weeks ago.

“So it’s really important that these travel bans come in quickly so that we can prevent any risk.

“My understanding is that there haven’t really been any flights coming from Brazil for about the past week, so hopefully the immediate travel ban should really minimise the risk.”

He added that scientists will know “in the next few days” whether the ban has had “a significant effect”.

Dr Tildesley also stressed that although scientists “don’t believe there is anything to worry about” in terms of vaccine efficacy, the higher transmissibility could mean “people potentially might end up developing severe symptoms more rapidly which could cause more issues with our health service”.

The ban also covers the Central American state of Panama and Portugal – due to its strong travel links with Brazil – and the former Portuguese colony of Cape Verde.

Scientists analysing the Brazilian variant believe the mutations it shares with the new South African strain are associated with a rapid increase in cases in locations where there have already been large outbreaks of the disease.

British and Irish nationals and others with residence rights are exempted from the measure, which was backed by the Scottish Government, though they must self-isolate for 10 days along with their households on their return.

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Pigeon believed to have travelled from US to Australia may be spared death penalty

Pigeon believed to have travelled from US to Australia may be spared death penalty

pigeon believed to have travelled from the US to Australia may now be spared the death penalty after his identifying leg band was declared a fake.

The pigeon, named Joe after US President-elect Joe Biden, made international headlines after he was believed to have travelled 8,000 miles across the Pacific.

Australia’a notoriously strict quarantine authorities had set out to catch and kill Joe due to the risk of bird disease spread from the US to Australia.

However, the band that identified Joe as an Oregon racing pigeon has now been declared a counterfeit.

Deone Roberts, sport development manager for the Oklahoma-based American Racing Pigeon Union, said on Friday the band number belongs to a blue bar pigeon in the United States and that is not the bird pictured in Australia.

“The bird band in Australia is counterfeit and not traceable,” Ms Roberts said. “It definitely has a home in Australia and not the US.”

“Somebody needs to look at that band and then understand that the bird is not from the US. They do not need to kill him,” she added.

<p>Pigeon racing has seen a resurgence in popularity</p>

Pigeon racing has seen a resurgence in popularity

/ AP )

Pigeon racing has seen a resurgence in popularity in Australia, and some birds have become quite valuable.

Acting Australian Prime Minister Michael McCormack said he did not know what the fate of Joe would be.

But there would be no mercy if the pigeon were from the United States.

“If Joe has come in a way that has not met our strict biosecurity measures, then bad luck Joe, either fly home or face the consequences,” Mr McCormack told reporters.

But Martin Foley, health minister for Victoria state where Joe lives, called for the federal government to spare the bird.

“I would urge the Commonwealth’s quarantine officials to show a little bit of compassion,” Mr Foley said.


Australian quarantine authorities have a  stern reputation

/ AP )

Melbourne resident Kevin Celli-Bird, who found the emaciated bird in his backyard, was surprised by the development and pleased that the bird he had named Joe might not be destroyed.

“Yeah, I’m happy about that,” Mr Celli-Bird said, referring to news that Joe probably is not a biosecurity threat.

Mr Celli-Bird had contacted the American Racing Pigeon Union to find the bird’s owner based on the number on the leg band. The bands have both a number and a symbol, but Mr Celli-Bird didn’t remember the symbol and said he can no longer catch the bird since it has recovered from its initial weakness.

Australian quarantine authorities have a  stern reputation. In 2015, the government threatened to euthanise two Yorkshire terriers, Pistol and Boo, after they were smuggled into the country by Hollywood star Johnny Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard.

Faced with a 50-hour deadline to leave Australia, the dogs made it out in a chartered jet.

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