Covid-19 update

Sutton Town Hall opens as new vaccination centre

Sutton Coldfield Town Hall will allow for a huge increase in vaccinations from Monday

Venue to triple the number of jabs

AS the success of the Covid-19 vaccination programme gathers pace, Sutton Coldfield Group Practice has announced a change of vaccination arrangements from next Monday, February 1.

The practice has been granted permission by NHS England to change the designated Falcon Lodge Medical Centre to the town hall, which will enable it to triple current rollout capacity, which currently stands at 2,300 per week at Falcon Lodge.

That site will revert to a surgery and be open to patients again, while Ley Hill Surgery will continue to provide vaccinations.

“Once again we are indebted to the patience of the patients of that site for the loan of their medical facilities,” a spokesman said.

There will be also be free parking in the pay and display car park on Anchorage Road opposite the town hall and The Townhouse (Royal) pub has also granted free parking there for people attending for vaccination. A temporary pedestrian crossing will be put in place in the vicinity in the next few days. Either the Pfizer or Astra Zeneca ‘Oxford’ vaccines, both of which are very effective, will be administered depending on the deliveries received.

A spokesman for the practice said that permission for the change had been granted after a lot of work behind the scenes aided by University Hospitals Birmingham (UHB) Trust, Birmingham and Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group (BSOL CCG), Sutton Coldfield Town Council and local MP Andrew Mitchell.

A spokesperson added: “To avoid any confusion we are continuing to vaccinate at Falcon Lodge right up to this Sunday, so please turn up if you have an appointment for vaccination this weekend.

“We have a wide pool of vaccinators including retired doctors and nurses, paramedics, nurses seconded from different organisations, physios, podiatrists etc to enable us to continue to deliver medical services from our individual sites. The site will be active for 9 hours per day 7 days a week vaccine supply permitting.

“We are pleased to report that Birmingham Community Healthcare Trust (BCHC) staff have also begun doing home visits to vaccinate our housebound patients who are not able to travel to any vaccination centres.”

The practice said it has received positive feedback from patients who have had their vaccinations at Millennium Point in Birmingham city centre. There is free parking right next to the centre and it is well signposted and marshalled with short waits.

So if patients are invited to be vaccinated there you should do so if you are able to travel there fairly easily but if you cannot then we will be calling for you to have your vaccine given locally so please don’t worry.

Also some patients are being invited to M W Phillips pharmacy in Great Barr for their vaccinations, with further updates in due course.

Sutton vaccine rollout gathers pace

Covid-19 vaccinations in Sutton Coldfield are ramping up, with Ley Hill Surgery in Mere Green delivering the jabs alongside Falcon Medical Centre.

Around 7,000 vaccinations have now been performed, despite around 60 patients not turning up for their jab appointments, although the wintry conditions and deep snow could have been a factor.

Due to the way the vaccines are stored and transported, there is a limited time to administer them and plan the number of vaccinations based on who is attending. Non-attendance by patients may cause vaccines to be disposed of unnecessarily.

The news comes as NHS staff started delivering life-saving COVID jabs at a network of more than 1,400 vaccinations sites this week across England.

The Sutton Coldfield Group Practice, which includes Ley Hill Surgery, Four Oaks Medical Centre, Sutton Park Surgery, Vesey Practice, Tudor Practice and Falcon Medical Centre, is leading the vaccination in Sutton and confirmed it had now given more than 7,000 injections.

It delivered its biggest vaccination day so far last Saturday, January 23, with 1,650 receiving their jab. Of that total, 1,288 vaccinations were given that day in Ley Hill with 362 more at the Falcon Lodge site.

On Sunday, Falcon Medical Centre was operational and Pfizer jabs were given ‘without wastage despite the many people who could not attend due to the weather’.

A spokesperson for Sutton Coldfield Group Practice said: “We have now administered over 7,000 vaccinations in total with this week’s target being around 2,300 vaccinations. Unfortunately, 66 patients failed to attend their appointment last week. The practice is now working through those in their 70s with a target of immunising the top four groups by the middle of February.”

The practice said: “We have commenced vaccinating patients in the 79 to 70 age group. If you fall into this category, we will contact you very soon. We are rapidly working down the lists of these people so please bear with us!”

The practice added: “Please do not call us to arrange a vaccination. You will receive a call when the time comes for you to book in for the vaccination.”

As the rollout gathered pace countrywide, an Asda supermarket in West Bromwich, an Islamic education centre in Derby and Bolton Wanderers Football Club are among the new sites operating this week.

They are among 1,438 vaccinations sites ranging from GP and pharmacy-led services to hospitals and large-scale Vaccination Centres that are now operating across the country.

NHS staff are also visiting those who cannot go to their local service or travel to a Vaccination Centre.

Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director for the NHS in England, said: “The NHS vaccination programme, the biggest in health service history, has got off to a strong start.

“NHS staff have worked hard with businesses, community and faith groups to set up an extensive network of vaccination sites that offer a range of options for people in all areas to receive their injection.

“We want to protect as many people as swiftly as possible and this latest milestone, with more than 1,400 sites up and running, means that we can continue to expand delivery as more vaccine supplies come on stream.”

The vaccination programme began with just 50 hospitals hubs on December 8. There are now more than 250 hospitals delivering the jabs along with 1,000 GP-led services.

High Street pharmacies are now vaccinating at 117 sites and there are also 47 large-scale Vaccination Centres, capable of jabbing thousands of people each week.

Have your say, Sutton residents urged

Council reviews complaints procedure

Residents in Sutton Coldfield are being asked for their views about how their complaints are being handled by Birmingham City Council.

The council is in the process of revising their complaints process, however before we launch the new approach – we would like to hear your views.

It is keen to invite citizens who have previously complained to or have an interest in how the council handles complaints, to tell us what you think about the new process. 

The process review includes; knowing how to complain, when to complain, how to be kept informed and how the Council can learn from complaints.

The council says: “We want all citizens to be able to say: ‘I felt confident to speak up and making my complaint was simple. I felt listened to and understood. I feel that my complaint was dealt with efficiently’.”

In addition it would like residents to tell it their experiences of complaining to the city council or to hear from citizens about what a good complaints process would look like for you. 

If you would like to be part of the panel influencing this change, please email with a brief description on how you think you can help with revising the complaints process in addition to letting us know if you are from a minority ethnic group and if you class yourself as a disabled person.  The deadline for your expression of interest is 5th February 2021.

The council is hoping to include as many people as possible in the meeting which will be held using Microsoft teams, a web based application.  The meeting is scheduled to take place on 11th February 2021 from 2pm – 3pm.

Everyone who shows an interest is forwarded a meeting invitation.

If you have any further questions, please email us at or call us on 0121 464 4133.

Luxury Volvo on a charge

Volvo S90 Twin engine

By Bill McCarthy

There are not many manufacturers that think of a moose when designing safety systems. But if your are travelling across near-Arctic land tracts in Scandinavia, there’s a chance the aforementioned beast appearing on the road in front of you could cause you to come a cropper.

Swedish firm Volvo has thought of that and many other innovations as its success story continues.

It seemed, not that very long ago, that the days of the big saloon may have been numbered with the growing popularity of the ubiquitous SUV/crossover.

But Volvo’s impressive executive saloon is first among equals in a brand that says, by 2025, it wants half of its global sales volume to consist of fully electric cars, with the rest hybrids.

The strategy seems to be paying off with Volvo managing to increase its share of the UK new car market last year, despite the pandemic, with  2.85 per cent share of the total market, up from 2.43 per cent the previous year.

This big saloon is a plug-in hybrid that offers excellent fuel economy and low CO2 emissions, to make it an extremely attractive company car with lower benefit in kind payments. It is also luxurious, almost decadent, with just about every creature comfort catered for, and a few other bits and pieces as well.

Add to this the Swedish firm’s proven all wheel drive capability, such a boon on those snowy and icy Nordic roads, where you could run into near ton weight of antlered beast, and you have quite a package.

It is a million miles from the tank-like Volvos of yesteryear, looking svelte and sleek. It also adds cutting-edge technologies, ranging from safety to cloud-based apps and services. In addition passengers are cossets in top end comfort, with ride and comfort, matched by few.

It has just two trim levels, R-Design and Inscription driven here, both feature the T8 twin engine technology, with petrol only and diesel abandoned.

 The two litre petrol engine is mated with an 86hp electric motor to deliver a total of nearly 400bhp.

That is a lot of power on tap and, mated with a slick eight-speed auto box, the big car delivers blistering pace, racing to 60mph in a shade under five seconds. Very impressive if you take into account the excellent economy on offer.

It also has a claimed electric power only range of around 37 miles, a figure I struggled to attain, with nearer 30 miles achieved, even driving carefully. It has a theoretical range of 134miles, which in the real world equates to nearer 60mpg. Still impressive in such a vehicle.

Having said that, a daily commute on electric only, does give mind-blowing figures, with the plug-in charge up taking around six hours. What you gain in fuel economy, you lose a little on electricity costs, but the savings are clear to see.

Driving in hybrid mode, the electric range does drain fairly quickly so switch to ‘B’ mode on the gear selector which allows the battery to regain power under braking, while slowing the vehicle by just taking your foot off the accelerator.

It has a real road presence, featuring the now-familiar Thor’s hammer style headlights, LED running lights, folding door mirrors, power boot lid, piano black front grille with chrome surrounds and twin exhaust tailpipes, and sitting in smart alloy wheels.

The interior is dominated by nine-inch, tablet style touch screen and a 12.3 inch TFT driver information display.

The touchscreen hosts the major functions, like Volvo’s Sensus infotainment system, satellite navigation, various apps, a sophisticated voice-control system, top end sound system with 10 speakers and connectivity via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

You can even turn the car into a WiFi hotspot thanks to the standard data SIM card and it features in-car entertainment applications such as Spotify, Pandora, Baidu or TuneIn and Volvo On Call.

Otherwise quality is exceptional with soft touch materials throughout, powered and heated leather seats which are firm and supportive and a large glass areas. Features include dual zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, electric windows and door mirrors sports mat and pedals.

Also standard are ambient lighting, rear footwell and side step illumination, heated sports multi-function steering wheel, heated, powered front seats with lumbar support, split folding rear seats, power folding rear backrests, and ski hatch.

It is an engaging drive, Even at high speed, engine and road noise is muted, with just a hint of wind noise from the large door mirrors. Excellent torque means motorway driving is a comfortable affair, the key acceleration range of 50-70mph achieved in what seems the blink of an eye.

In practical terms, there is much on offer including a huge, long boot with 500 litres capacity and a power-operated tailgate, which can also be operated with a ‘kick’ function to trigger a sensor beneath the boot.

All models  are packed with safety equipment, which goes without saying on a Volvo, with full complement of airbags and a raft of driver, passenger and pedestrian safety technology. Neat options include automatic parking and  360 degree camera, where the surround view from the four wide-angle lens cameras appears on the centre touch screen at even at very low speeds.

 It also includes City Safety, part of the Intellisafe package, which includes pedestrian, cyclist and the now famed Nordic ‘moose’ or large beast detection package.


Volvo S90 Recharge T8 Inscription AWD PHEV

Price: £56,155

Mechanical: Combined 390bhp, 1,969cc, four cylinder petrol engine and electric motor driving four wheels via 8-speed automatic gearbox

Insurance: 42E

Max speed: 112 mph

0-62mph: 4.8 seconds

Combined mpg: 134.5

CO2 emissions: 44-61g/km

Warranty: 3yrs/100,000 miles

Cruise operator adds fourth ship

Pacific Princess sails in for Azamara

Luxury cruise operator Azamara has revealed plans to add a fourth ship to its fleet after new private equity owners Sycamore Partners purchased Pacific Princess. 

Following a full renovation, the ship – which is a Renaissance-class vessel similar to Azamara Pursuit, Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest – is scheduled to sail its inaugural season under a new name in Europe in 2022.

The expansion news follows a recent announcement that Sycamore Partners had entered into an agreement to acquire Azamara from Royal Caribbean Group. 

The deal is expected to close in Q1 of this year.

“We are thrilled to be expanding our fleet with a fourth ship, allowing us to visit even more regions of the world and better serve our guests,” said Azamara president Carol Cabezas.

“We look forward to launching even more unique and immersive itineraries and feel this is just the beginning of an exciting growth phase for Azamara.”

Pacific originally entered service as R3 for Renaissance Cruises in 1999.

The sale of the 670-passenger vessel to an “undisclosed buyer” was announced by Carnival Corporation last week.

Winter alert

Fines snow joke for motorists

Failure to clear car roof could lead to penalties

Drivers have been warned of potential winter fines misery. A survey of 2,000 motorists  has revealed that 63 per cent of Brits will start their drive with snow on the roof of the car, which could lead to a hefty fine.

While this isn’t against the law, if it falls from your windscreen while driving or into the path of another car, you could be penalised for offences such as ‘driving without consideration’.

With snow blanketing much of the country, it’s likely that many motorists could be hit with not just a £60 fine, but also three points on their licence.

The survey also revealed other laws that aren’t commonly known, such as honking your car horn in anger, an offence not known by 79 per cent of motorists, well as flashing your lights to give way, which is an offence that 95 per cent didn’t know about, according to the survey by

In contrast, many people also think some activities are illegal, when they are in fact legal. As for footwear, 52 per cent thought it was illegal to drive barefoot, 46 per cent think it’s illegal to drive in flip flops and 33 per cent think it’s illegal to drive in high heels, all of which are legal.

Many of us were told when we were younger that it’s illegal to drive with the interior light on in the car. A whopping 46 per cent still believe that this is the case, when it is in fact legal.

Phil Morgan, Head of, says: “While the chances of getting fined for doing any of the above offenses are extremely low, they’re still not worth the risk. While some of the offences might not be commonly known, but nobody wants to risk their safety or have to pay a hefty fine for something that they didn’t know was going to cost them, so it’s best to know these sooner rather than later.”

You can read more about what motorists think is legal and illegal here.

On the NHS front line

Grim reality of Covid revealed by top news photographer

Tim Thursfield is the award-winning chief photographer at MNA Media, aka Express & Star/Shropshire Star. Here he tells CATHY DOBBS about what it’s been like covering the pandemic – from the desperate scenes at intensive care at Wolverhampton’s New Cross Hospital to growing hopes for the vaccination programme at Lichfield Cathedral

ICU staff battling the pandemic at New Cross Hospital. Pictures: Tim Thursfield, courtesy of MNA Media

Tim is used to having to keep his hands steady – whether he’s taking a picture of a raging fire or snapping a convicted murderer. But nothing could stop his hands from shaking on a recent trip to New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton.

“It was nerve-wracking thinking about going onto the intensive care unit because, naturally, you worry about how safe you are going to be,” says Tim, who is group chief photographer for the MNA. You know you are going to an environment that is full of Covid-19 and no matter what you wear and what you do, you know there is a risk.

“As you walk through those double doors onto the ICU it suddenly hits you, the enormity of what we are dealing with. Staff are rushing around and shouting to each other as buzzers are going off – they are saving lives, and to be allowed to see that was an incredible privilege. Afterwards, when I got in the car to send my pictures back to the office, my hands were shaking – it was a shocking experience I will never forget.”

Since March last year Tim and the other photographers who work for the MNA have been documenting the pandemic, through all seasons and with each change in the public’s perception.

“When this hit us in March the newspaper did portrait shoots with the emergency services, as we knew then the pressure they were under,” says Tim, who has won photographer of the year at the Midlands Media Awards for the last two years.

“It was closely followed by getting pictures of families and school children painting rainbows to show their support of the NHS. People spoke about how they were passing the time in the nice weather and enjoying a break from the daily grind.

At the hospital there was an urgency that I’ve never seen before and the amount of staff there was unbelievable – everyone working their hardest to keep the patients alive

He added: “That first lockdown was filled with hope that we would soon see the end of this – if we knew it was going to last a year I don’t know if people would have been as buoyant.”

During the second lockdown, in the lead up to Christmas, Tim noticed that people saw the seriousness of the virus.

“There were more deaths, but at the same time a lot of people had their sights set on seeing their family at Christmas,” he says. “I often spoke to people who hoped that if everyone behaved themselves during that lockdown they would be able to celebrate at Christmas and New Year – but we all know that wasn’t the case.

“I think the current lockdown has been the hardest on everyone – January is often a tough month for people, but also the number of deaths is at its highest.

“The main bit of hope people are clinging on to is that we start to see results from the vaccinations.”

Photographers need to be out on the road every day, but Tim says the whole team has had to re-think how they take pictures.

“Taking photos with social distancing in place has been tough as you can’t group people together – and that doesn’t look great on photos,” he says.

“It has changed the way we approach photos, keeping it to just one person or a couple if they live together. Also, wearing PPE and taking a photo comes with its challenges – you have to hold your breath to stop the view finder from misting up.”

Tim, who has spent the last three decades taking photos for newspapers in the Midlands, says there are two photo shoots he will never forget – his recent visit to the ICU and seeing the vaccination programme at Lichfield Cathedral.

Divine hope in place of despair as the vaccination programme is rolled out at Lichfield Cathedral
The symbol says it all at Lichfield Cathedral

“At the hospital there was an urgency that I’ve never seen before and the amount of staff there was unbelievable – everyone working their hardest to keep the patients alive,” he says.

“There was no doubt those people were in hospital because they had Covid, they didn’t just have a cold or the flu, they were seriously ill.

“The ICU and Lichfield Cathedral were two extremes. In the hospital I saw anxiety and despair, and for the staff it was every hand to the pump. In the cathedral I saw hope and camaraderie between the staff and patients – a feeling of ‘let’s get this sorted’.

“I’ve photographed Lichfield Cathedral several times, but this time it was completely out of this world and was like I was walking into a different place. The pillars and stained glass windows gave away the fact that it was Lichfield Cathedral. However, just looking on ground level it feels like you are in a huge clinic with medical staff walking around. You have a feeling that you are in living history.”

The world is still battling with the virus and Tim says that he believes that Covid-19 is the story that generations will be talking about for years to come.

“I tell my daughter Freya ‘you have to remember this as you will tell your grandchildren about it one day and you will go into schools and tell other children about how you lived through this’,” he says.

“It has been a privilege to document the pandemic – I’d never wish to experience this, but it’s something that none of us will ever forget. This virus is the biggest event in our lifetime and I’m sure I’ll never cover something of this scale again.”

To see how the Express & Star reported on the intensive care unit at New Cross Hospital visit

Work under way on Children’s Emergency Department at Good Hope Hospital

Work under way at the Children’s Emergency Department at Sutton Coldfield’s Good Hope Hospital

Plans are under way to create a new multi-million pound Children’s Emergency Department at Good Hope Hospital, writes Bill McCarthy.

The new department will provide eight treatment cubicles, a new reception space, as well as a quiet room and wellbeing room. It also means that more space can be dedicated to treating adult patients in the area vacated by the current department.

The single-storey building represents an exciting opportunity to design a care environment around the specific needs of children and young people.

The entrance to the department will remain in its existing location, with a new ambulance entrance and drop-off area. Paediatric patients will have their own waiting area and separate corridor spaces.

Computer images of the design and how the new centre will look

Paula Lane, Lead Nurse – Paediatric Emergency Department, said: “The team are really excited about the project and are helping to design the new spaces based on our experience of working on the front-line with children and young people.”

Sharon Holland, Operations Manager – Emergency Department, added: “From a Trust perspective, the new department represents a huge investment in Good Hope Hospital and is a unique chance for us to work with colleagues across our clinical divisions to get it right for children and young people.”

The project will help provide additional Emergency Department capacity and will open in spring. The team cares for approximately 19,000 children every year, with this number rising annually.

University Hospitals Birmingham Charity will also be contributing to the project, providing those ‘over and above’ elements which will help make the environment as comfortable as possible for children and young people.

Dr Sanjay Mistry, Emergency Department Consultant, concluded: “We are looking forward to being able to work in a superb environment which matches the great level of care we offer our young patients at Good Hope. I’ve worked as a doctor in ED for over 15 years and this new department is one of the most exciting developments I’ve been involved with. It will be of huge benefit to both staff and patients in the local community.”

We are looking for paediatric nurses to join our team at UHB. View the vacancies on NHS Jobs website via the link at the end of the page.

Our friendly team are passionate about staff engagement and compassionate care. Make a passion and a career come together.

Angela Birmingham, Matron Emergency Department at Good Hope Hospital, added: “We hope our new department will attract paediatric nurses interested in Emergency Care to join our team. We pride ourselves on providing a variety of professional development opportunities and clinical excellence.”

How you can help the hospital during this stressful time:

Please continue to use NHS 111 if you urgently need medical help or advice but it’s not a life-threatening situation. NHS 111 makes it easier for you to access local NHS healthcare services.

You can call 111 or visit if:

  • you need medical help fast for you or your child but it’s not a 999 emergency
  • you think you need to go to A&E or need another NHS urgent care service
  • you don’t know who to call or you don’t have a doctor to call
  • you need health information or reassurance about what to do next

For less urgent health needs, contact your doctor or local pharmacist in the usual way.

For immediate, life-threatening emergencies, continue to call 999.

Exotic Seychelles opens up to tourists with Covid-19 vaccination

MacfivenewsTravelTravel newsJanuary 22, 2021

Pictures courtesy of

With the first glimmers of hope starting to get brighter as the UK’s mass vaccination Covid-19 gathers pace, thoughts are once again turning to holidays abroad, writes Bill McCarthy.

The Seychelles has updated its entry requirements to allow vaccinated visitors “from any part of the world”.

To be recognised as ‘vaccinated’, travellers must be able to show that they have received a second dose of an approved Covid-19 vaccine.

It is great news for those wishing to visit the exotic destination in the Indian Ocean, 300 miles off the coast of Africa, but travellers should check about getting a negative PCR test before their return to the UK.

The new measures have been announced following the start of a national immunisation drive – with the country aiming to became the first in the world to vaccinate more than 70 per cent of its population over the age of 18.

To be recognised as “vaccinated”, visitors must be able to show that they have received a second dose of an approved Covid-19 vaccine, the Seychelles Tourist Office explained in a statement.

Visitors must submit an authentic certificate from their national health authority as proof of vaccination alongside a negative Covid-19 PCR certificate, obtained less than 72 hours prior to travel.

All non-vaccinated visitors currently permitted entry into the country must show a negative PCR test obtained less than 72 hours prior to travel. 

For information, visit

Travel firm launches advice hub

MacfivenewsTravel newsJanuary 18, 2021

Photo by Pixabay on

Kuoni guide to the Covid-19 travel maze

With light at the end of the pandemic tunnel after the arrival of Covid-19 vaccines, people’s thoughts are turning to holidays, and the prospect of getting away this spring and summer.

There is a bundle or red tape to unravel about restrictions and travel requirements.

To guide people through the Covid-19 travel maze, a one-stop advice hub has been launched this week, making it easy to see what requirements and restrictions are in place.  

The Covid Travel Advice Hub from worldwide travel company Kuoni is available online for anyone to use.  For the first time, it brings together all of the travel restrictions and requirements from around the world making it much easier to plan holidays for the year ahead.  It’s the definitive guide to travel corridors, quarantine and testing. 

As well as showing which destinations are welcoming visitors, the advice hub includes travel corridor information, current FCDO advice, Covid testing requirements,  and quarantine rules on entering a country or returning to the UK.   

Whilst it’s not possible to travel overseas on holiday within the current lockdown, the advice will be continually updated as legal restrictions are eased and holidays become possible again.  

Early signs in January indicate there are plenty of people desperate to plan a holiday overseas this year and are prepared to book now. The advice hub will help travellers to see which places are open to book now for travel at a later date.  

Derek Jones, CEO of Kuoni, said: “This is about making an increasingly complex situation simple to understand, providing answers to questions we know people are asking in a clear, searchable online format that anyone can access.   

“The hub is available to everyone, free of charge – we’re providing this service because we want to play our part in opening up the world again. Travel Agents are welcome to use the resource to help them to provide the most up to date advice and guidance for their customers.”

Mr Jones added: “During the pandemic we’ve seen two types of travellers emerge.  There are those who want to get away quickly, who will go at short notice as soon as borders are open and the necessary Covid tests are in place.  These customers want to know what’s possible now and the travel advice hub will be a valuable tool for these last minute bookers. 

“Alongside that we have customers planning holidays a long way in advance so again this is a really useful way to simply search for what’s bookable now for travel later. 

“We’ve spent the last few months designing this one stop shop for all Covid related travel advice.  The information within the Travel Advice hub will be updated daily.  Customers and agents will no longer need to go off to different websites to try and make sense of it all.  

“We want to encourage people to travel again but complexity around travel will continue for some time, so it’s essential that we give people the information they need and the confidence to travel safely and smoothly.  That way we can get travel up and running again this year and help people have a much-needed break and give everyone something to look forward to.”  

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