Minister hints 'jab for a job' would NOT be against law for new staff

Justice minister Robert Buckland suggests company bosses who demand workers get a ‘jab for a job’ would NOT be breaking the law if they were new staff

  • Charlie Mullins, of Pimlico Plumbers, will add ‘no jab, no job’ rule to contracts
  • He says he has spoken with lawyers about making jab mandatory for new hires 
  • Mr Mullins added that he is willing to pay for private vaccinations when available
  • He added: ‘people would crawl across the snow naked to get a vaccine’

Companies demanding employees have a Covid vaccine before they are allowed to work might not be breaking the law with the demand, a top minister has suggested.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said it was unlikely that forcing current staff to have the jab as a condition of employment would be allowed.

But he suggested it might be possible to make it a condition of a job offer for new staff.

It came as Pimlico Plumbers and Barchester Healthcare, one of the UK’s largest care home groups, joined others saying they will not hire new staff who have refused jabs on non-medical grounds.

Downing Street has said it would be ‘discriminatory’ to force someone to have a coronavirus vaccine in order to keep their job.

But Mr Buckland told ITV’s Peston: ‘I think it would depend very much on the terms of employment and the particular contract.

‘Generally speaking I’d be surprised if there were contracts of employment existing now that did make that approach lawful. I think frankly the issue would have to be tested.

‘I can see that in particular work environments the desirability of having a vaccine is going to be higher than in others.’

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said it was unlikely that forcing current staff to have the jab as a condition of employment would be allowed. But he said it might be possible to make it a condition of a job offer for new staff

Pimlico Plumbers boss Charlie Mullins confirmed all new starters would need jabs. He is pictured speaking on Channel 4 News last night

What have Ministers said about ‘no jab no job policies’ this week?

  • Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab (LBC, yesterday): ‘The precise relations and communications between employers and employees are a matter that we would want to leave to responsible employers, but it’s not the law of the land that you have to have the vaccine.’
  • Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi (BBC Breakfast, yesterday): ‘Well, I just think, it is obviously up to businesses what they do but I think at the moment we don’t yet have the evidence of the effect of the vaccines on transmission.’
  • Care Minister Helen Whately (BBC Radio 4, today): The Government’s policy is to ‘make sure that health and social workers can get the vaccine and have all the information they need, and can get it really easily’. 

Barchester Healthcare, which runs more than 200 care homes, said last month it will adopt the new policy because of the vulnerability of its residents.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman has said: ‘Taking a vaccine is not mandatory and it would be discriminatory to force somebody to take one.’

Pimlico Plumbers boss Charlie Mullins today confirmed all new starters at his £50million business would have to take a Covid jab to get a job.

The outspoken owner – who is worth at least £70million – has thrashed out the new papers with his lawyers to make the booster mandatory for all new hires.

And he said he doubted many would object to the new terms, adding ‘people would crawl across the snow naked to get a vaccine at the moment’.

His firm is exploring how it might modify existing staff contracts although he insisted no one would be forced to receive a vaccine or be fired over the issue. 

The ‘no jab, no job’ concept has attracted much debate in recent weeks, with care home operator Barchester Healthcare among the other firms which have said all new recruits must be vaccinated unless they have a medical reason not to.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has said it is ‘up to businesses what they do’, but trade union Unison has said it ‘is totally unacceptable’ for firms to pressure staff into taking the jab.

But Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has also refused to rule out a ‘no jab no job’ Covid policy, telling LBC radio yesterday that it is a decision for employers. 

And Care Minister Helen Whately told BBC Radio 4 today that the Government’s policy was to ‘make sure that health and social workers can get the vaccine and have all the information they need, and can get it really easily’.  

Mr Mullins, 68, said: ‘We’ve obviously been talking to our lawyers and they’re very happy that we can add this proposal to any new workers that start with us once the vaccine is rolled out. 

Office staff are set to be told to keep working from home even as other lockdown restrictions are eased.

Boris Johnson is not expected to give a firm date for when workers will return to their desks as he unveils his plans for a return to normality on Monday.

It means the ‘work from home if you can’ message will continue to guide employers for the foreseeable future.

Many large firms have already told staff they should work remotely, with some even delaying a return to the office until at least the end of the year.

However, some studies claim that productivity is hampered as workers log in from their kitchen table rather than at their desk.

Tory MPs urged the Government last night to provide clarity on when staff might be able to return to their offices.

Former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘We need to get people back to work as soon as possible.

‘There are lots of reasons why work is important to our lives. It affects people’s physical and mental wellbeing and there are issues around productivity.

‘I would like to see as much detail as possible in the road map to help people to make plans. They need to know in advance.’

‘We are in regular contract with our staff from our HR department and I think people would crawl across the snow naked to get a vaccine at the moment.

‘We’ll be using the new contacts two to three months from now. 

‘When people come along for a job with us if they’re not happy to sign that then that’s their choice but they certainly won’t be given a job with Pimlico Plumbers. 

The comments, made in an interview with Radio 4, came as a legal director admitted he had been contacted by other clients exploring the concept. 

Lewis Silkin’s David Samuels said: ‘A company could elect to put that clause in their contract.

‘They might find resistance to it, people not wanting to sign up to it or saying somehow legally unfair that they’re required to do so.

‘I think at the beginning of the process that’s not really going to make any difference for that employer. 

‘Where they may find difficulty is ultimately if they’re challenged through some kind of legal process on the basis that individual says it’s unfair legally for me to have that in my contract.

‘Perhaps they’d say it discriminates against them because they can’t have the vaccination or they can’t get hold of the vaccination or something along those lines

‘But there’s nothing to stop the business in the first place putting it in the contract.

‘I have certainly had enquiries about this, I can’t say I have had clients hellbent on introducing this, but they want to  understand if it would be possible in the right circumstances.’

The Government has pledged to vaccinate 15 million people in Britain by mid-February, with Boris Johnson promising that 200,000 doses would be administered per day by the end of the week.

Lewis Silkin’s David Samuels said he had some clients ask about a jabs being in job contracts

The firm is also exploring how it might modify existing staff contracts, he said, although he insisted no one would be forced to receive a vaccine or be fired over the issue

Vaccinations will soon be available on the High Street, alongside in around 50 hubs which will be set up in venues across the UK in a bid to get the jab to as many Britons as possible. 

Yesterday Mr Mullins told the BBC he was willing to pay for private immunisations for those at Pimlico Plumbers, should they become available. 

He added he has set aside £800,000 to pay for inoculations for more than 400 workers.

‘We wouldn’t dream of forcing anybody but I’m pretty much certain that 99 per cent of our staff would jump at the opportunity,’ Mr Mullins said on Thursday. 

‘Who in their right mind would turn down one needle or one jab that could save your life?’   

Asked whether there was a contradiction between saying contracts could be modified to require vaccines while also saying no one would be forced out, Mr Mullins presented the issue as one of persuasion rather than coercion.

‘It’s not a contradiction because I think you’ll find if you encourage people and advise them … I’m happy to pay for anyone that works for us to have the vaccine,’ he said.

The Pimlico Plumbers boss added he believes that private vaccinations will be available within a few months.

He also said he does not think people will find a ‘no jab, no job’ policy controversial. 

‘Nobody moans now you’ve got to get on a plane with a negative Covid test,’ he said, referring to new rules requiring passengers arriving in Britain to provide proof of a negative test taken less than 72 hours before travel. 

Many other countries have had such requirements for months.  

However, despite Mr Mullins’ plans to adopt a ‘no jab, no job’ policy, lawyers have suggested this move could lead to claims of discrimination or constructive dismissal. 

Nick Wilcox, a partner at BDBF, told the Guardian that mandatory vaccinations ‘could be an issue’, advising employers to consult workers about jabs rather than imposing them.

Two-thirds of UK adults back idea of vaccination passports, poll finds

Two-thirds of UK adults support the idea of vaccination passports despite legal and ethical concerns, a poll has revealed.

More than 15 million adults have now received their first dose as the UK leads the way with its vaccine programme.

The rapid rollout has prompted questions about whether the government should introduce vaccine passports for foreign travel – a move previously rejected by Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccine minister, over fears it would be discriminatory.

A survey of 2,000 adults has revealed 68 per cent support vaccination passports for people heading out of the UK on holiday and business. And more than three quarters (77 per cent) think tourists entering the UK should also be able to provide proof they have been vaccinated.

However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has advised against their introduction due to the ‘critical unknowns’ regarding the efficacy of vaccination in reducing transmission. The WHO has also expressed concerns that while there is limited availability, preferential vaccination of travellers could result in inadequate supplies of vaccines for priority populations considered at high risk of severe Covid-19 disease.

More than a third (34 per cent) of those surveyed by Medicspot admitted they were concerned that forcing people to have vaccination passports to go abroad would be a breach of human rights as it could discriminate against those who are waiting for the vaccine, cannot have it, or do not want it. 

It follows a petition against vaccine passports which has been signed by more than 145,000 people. A spokesperson for Medicspot said: ‘Unfortunately the virus is here to stay, and authorities and the public will be looking at ways to live with it. The UK’s vaccine rollout has been a brilliant success and the subject of vaccination passports is a sensitive subject which finds itself at the centre of a complex debate.’

Medicspot, which provides fit to fly certificates that show people are Covid-19 free so they can travel abroad, looked at how the public views current regulations on international journeys.

The survey found almost half (47 per cent) think the threat of 10 years in prison for lying about their travel to avoid a 10-day quarantine is a fair punishment, with just 37 per cent regarding it as harsh. And more than a fifth (21 per cent) would be happy to pay £1,750 to be quarantined after arriving in the UK from a country on a Covid red list. Two thirds (65 per cent) also support the use of an up-to-date fit to fly certificate saying they don’t have Covid-19 so they can travel abroad.

The research, carried out via OnePoll, showed more than three quarters (77 per cent) are really impressed with the UK’s rollout of the vaccination – with just seven per cent not impressed. Half (49 per cent) of the public think the Covid-19 vaccine should be compulsory for all adults, while 16 per cent think it should only be compulsory for adults deemed ‘at risk’ by medical experts. Almost two thirds (63 per cent) thought it was a good idea for the NHS to use Sir Elton John and Sir Michael Caine to encourage people to get the vaccine.

But despite the vaccine rollout, just a quarter think people will be able to attend public events like sports matches and music gigs this year. If these large-scale events do allow spectators, 72 per cent support the use of vaccine passports or an up-to-date certificate saying you don’t have Covid-19 in order to attend. And overall, 74 per cent support the government’s latest lockdown and its measures, with just 14 per cent opposed. 

Covid lockdown has left TWO MILLION people without work through furlough or job cuts – as one in four UK firms plan to fire staff at end of April if government support scheme is axed

Nearly two million people have been unable to work for at least six months after losing their jobs in the pandemic or being placed on furlough, a think-tank report has said.

The Resolution Foundation puts the figure at 1.9million – compared to official statistics showing 1.2million.

It says one in five of these people fear they will remain jobless or their roles will vanish when the taxpayer-funded furlough scheme stops on April 30.

Meanwhile, in a further blow to the jobs market, a quarter of British businesses have today said they expect to fire staff if Chancellor Rishi Sunak does not extend its furlough programme – which is due to expire at the end of April. 

The Resolution Foundation report suggests a ‘long Covid’ in the labour market will add to the after-effects of the pandemic, which are expected to include high debt levels and mental health problems. 

A report by the think tank Resolution Foundation estimates that around 1.9 million people have been unable to work for at least six months after losing a job or being furloughed in pandemic (pictured: Commuters on a tube in London this morning)

A graph showing the number of people in the UK who have been unemployed or furloughed for more than six months

A graph showing how many people have had some experience of unemployment of furloughing over the past year

A graph showing the number of people in the UK either partially or fully furloughed since the pandemic began 

A graph showing the change in paid employee jobs in 2020 compared to February 2020  – before the first lockdown began

One in four UK firms plan to fire staff if furlough ends soon, say business chiefs 

A survey by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) found one in four companies will have to lay off staff unless furlough support is extended beyond April 30.

Rishi Sunak is due to deliver his annual budget on March 3 and has promised to provide more support for jobs hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

But he is also mindful that COVID-related spending has already pushed Britain’s budget deficit to its highest since World War Two. 

The furlough programme cost £46billion up to mid-December – the government’s most expensive single economic support measure.

The BCC survery also showed sales had tumbled at 61 per cent of firms in the past three months and 23 per cent risk running out of cash. 

‘It is vital that the UK government keeps financial support going until firms can reopen and rebuild,’ BCC Director General Adam Marshall said.

He added: ‘Pulling the plug now would be a huge mistake, and would be akin to writing off the billions already spent helping firms to survive.’

Speaking about the report, Nye Cominetti, an economist at the think-tank, said: ‘While the UK’s economic prospects are finally looking up, job insecurity remains high, particularly among those who have spent long periods not working or who are currently furloughed. 

The Chancellor must use his Budget to set out his own roadmap for phasing out the furlough scheme gradually and in a way that acknowledges where the risks of rising unemployment are highest – in sectors like hospitality.

‘This would keep a lid on rising unemployment and encourage firms to bring back existing workers while tax breaks on hiring could help more people to move jobs too.’ 

Meanwhile, a survey by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) found one in four companies will have to lay off staff unless furlough support is extended beyond April 30.

Rishi Sunak is due to deliver his annual budget on March 3 and has promised to provide more support for jobs hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

But he is also mindful that COVID-related spending has already pushed Britain’s budget deficit to its highest since World War Two. 

The furlough programme cost £46billion up to mid-December – the government’s most expensive single economic support measure.

The BCC survey also showed sales had tumbled at 61 per cent of firms in the past three months and 23 per cent risk running out of cash. 

‘It is vital that the UK government keeps financial support going until firms can reopen and rebuild,’ BCC Director General Adam Marshall said.

He added: ‘Pulling the plug now would be a huge mistake, and would be akin to writing off the billions already spent helping firms to survive.’

Scientists urge ministers to agree on an ‘acceptable’ number of Covid-19 infections that the country could live with as a tolerable risk 

Scientists have pleaded with ministers to give them an ‘acceptable’ number of Covid infections that Britain is prepared to live with, said one government expert yesterday.

Professor Dame Angela McLean said that a ‘sensible discussion’ was needed about a tolerable level of risk from Covid.

‘One of the things we have cried out for again and again, is could somebody in a position of political power tell us what is an acceptable number of infections,’ she said.

‘We do need to decide what level we feel is acceptable, and then we can manage our lives with that in mind.’

Dame Angela, chief scientific adviser to the Ministry of Defence and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), was giving evidence to the Commons science and technology committee.

Many of those worried about the collateral effects of lockdowns have already suggested that Britain must learn to live with the virus like it does with other illnesses.

Another expert told the committee that the public will want their normal lives back once everyone has been vaccinated.

Professor Sir John Bell, who advises the UK’s vaccine taskforce, said: ‘It’s not plausible to imagine a world where we vaccinate the whole country and everybody believes they’re still in the place that we were in six months ago.’

The expert, who is regius professor of medicine at Oxford University, asked MPs to think about a situation where very few people died, no one was admitted to hospital and there was no long-Covid, which vaccines might have an impact upon.

‘People will feel – with some justification in my view – that they would like to get back to a relatively normal way of life, and we are going to have to get used to that,’ he said.

A major leap in worklessness after the pandemic would end almost a decade of record high employment levels and introduce economic pressures and pains that have not been seen since the banking collapse of the late 2000s.

The Resolution Foundation report said that last month 700,000 workers had been unemployed for at least six months and a further 500,000 had been on full furlough, working no hours at all, for the same period. 

But it said that because people have been moving between unemployment and furlough, the real number who had not worked since the summer of 2020 was 1.9 million.

A poll taken by YouGov among nearly 6,400 people late in January found that eight per cent of those in work were worried about unemployment over the next three months or had been told they would be redundant when lockdown lifts.

But among furloughed workers 21 per cent expect to lose their jobs. 

Many such as retail workers have been unable to work since the third national lockdown in England was introduced in January.

Big brands such as Debenhams have already been lost on the High Street.

In one of the biggest blows to retail jobs since the pandemic began, it was announced thousands of jobs were to be lost when Debenhams collapse.

It was bought by Boohoo for £55million. However the firm said it would axe 12,000 jobs by making it an online-only operation. 

High street chains such as Peacocks, Jaeger, Edinburgh Woollen Mill and Bonmarché have all gone into administration since the start of the pandemic.

Online giant ASOS recently acquired from the shell of Arcadia the brands and websites of Topshop, Topman, Miss Selfridge and the athleisure HIIT brands but the future of their stores remains unknown.

New data has revealed around 850 retail jobs have been lost each working day since the start of the year as retail experts warn this will be the ‘tip of the iceberg’ without further support from the Treasury.

New analysis from the Centre for Retail Research (CRR) shows 27,096 jobs have been shed and 1,023 stores have been earmarked for closure so far in 2021.

The research, which covers insolvencies by retailers with 10 or more stores.

On top of this, worrying figures show the affect of lockdown on towns and cities across the UK.

Latest figures from data group Springboard show year-on-year footfall figures for last February was down 61 per cent in England and Wales, 63 per cent down in Northern Ireland and 66 per cent down in Scotland.

The figures are similar in each are of England, with the south-east and south-west the only regions to see smaller drops – of around 55 per cent.

However central London saw the biggest drop, with footfall dropping 86.9 per cent compared to this time last year. 

Though each country has different lockdown rules, the fall in footfall undoubtedly comes from non-essential shops are currently closed in all parts of the UK.

It comes as office staff are set to be told to keep working from home even as other lockdown restrictions are eased.

Boris Johnson is not expected to give a firm date for when workers will return to their desks as he unveils his plans for a return to normality on Monday.

It means the ‘work from home if you can’ message will continue to guide employers for the foreseeable future.

But ahead of any return, companies are reportedly drafting ‘no jab, no job’ contracts to force staff to get Covid-19 vaccinations.

Bosses in the care home sector as well as large international groups including an energy firm are making arrangements, top lawyers warned.

It comes as it emerged all adults could be offered two jabs by August because supplies are surging. 

A table showing the fall in year-on-year change to footfall and and week-on-week change to footfall in each part of the UK

A table showing the fall in year-on-year change to footfall and and week-on-week change to footfall in different regions of the UK

A table showing the fall in year-on-year change to footfall and and week-on-week change to footfall by different types of shopping areas

Many large firms have already told staff they should work remotely, with some even delaying a return to the office until at least the end of the year.

However, some studies claim that productivity is hampered as workers log in from their kitchen table rather than at their desk.

Meanwhile, anti-lockdown Tories yesterday piled further pressure on Boris Johnson to lift restrictions, telling him experts say the numbers don’t justify keeping Britain closed until July.

The Prime Minister has vowed to use ‘data not dates’ when deciding how and when to end the measures in place to control the spread of coronavirus, but is facing a growing backlash from business chiefs and MPs.

The vaccine rollout has helped slash the number of deaths and infections, but the PM is being regularly reminded of the social cost of lockdown, amid fears firms unable to open under current restrictions will soon collapse.    

Mark Woolhouse, an Edinburgh University expert in infectious disease, told MPs yesterday that ‘if you’re driven by the data and not by dates, right now, you should be looking at earlier unlocking’.

Steve Baker, a member of the 70-strong anti-lockdown Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, used the professor’s comments to pile further pressure on the Prime Minister to accelerate his plans.

He said: ‘Boris Johnson today rightly confirmed he will focus on ‘data, not dates’ for easing restrictions as our recent letter suggested. As Professor Woolhouse, a senior government scientific adviser, says, the data are looking so good that Britain may open earlier.’ 

The Mail revealed yesterday that – under a blueprint discussed with industry chiefs – the hospitality, holiday and leisure sectors might not return to normal until July.

But the Prime Minister will today receive a dossier of data which will help shape his roadmap out of lockdown.

Despite his ‘data not dates’ pledge, the package of information will reportedly earmark the earliest possible opportunity to reopen shops and pubs, as well as a first look at the effectiveness of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab.

Those numbers will then be crunched in meetings with trusted aides and Cabinet ministers over the weekend, to add the finishing touches to his new masterplan, according to the Sun. 

Pimlico Plumbers boss Charlie Mullins today confirmed all new starters at his £50million business would have to take a Covid jab to get a job.

The outspoken owner – who is worth at least £70million – has thrashed out the new papers with his lawyers to make the booster mandatory for all new hires.

And he said he doubted many would object to the new terms, adding ‘people would crawl across the snow naked to get a vaccine at the moment’.

His firm is exploring how it might modify existing staff contracts although he insisted no one would be forced to receive a vaccine or be fired over the issue.

Mullins. 68, said: ‘We’ve obviously been talking to our lawyers and they’re very happy that we can add this proposal to any new workers that start with us once the vaccine is rolled out.

‘We are in regular contract with our staff from our HR department and I think people would crawl across the snow naked to get a vaccine at the moment.

‘We’ll be using the new contacts two to three months from now.

‘When people come along for a job with us if they’re not happy to sign that then that’s their choice but they certainly won’t be given a job with Pimlico Plumbers.

The comments, made in an interview with Radio 4, came as a legal director admitted he had been contacted by other clients exploring the concept.

Lewis Silkins’ David Samuels said: ‘A company could elect to put that clause in their contract.

‘They might find resistance to it, people not wanting to sign up to it or saying somehow legally unfair that they’re required to do so.

‘I think at the beginning of the process that’s not really going to make any difference for that employer.

‘Where they may find difficulty is ultimately if they’re challenged through some kind of legal process on the basis that individual says it’s unfair legally for me to have that in my contract.

‘Perhaps they’d say it discriminates against them because they can’t have the vaccination or they can’t get hold of the vaccination or something along those lines

‘But there’s nothing to stop the business in the first place putting it in the contract.

‘I have certainly had enquiries about this, I can’t say I have had clients hellbent on introducing this, but they want to understand if it would be possible in the right circumstances.’

On Monday morning, it will be checked over by the full Cabinet, before being presented to MPs ahead of a press conference in which he will address the nation that evening.

This week Mr Johnson appeared to confirm a cautious timetable, saying he would take a ‘prudent’ approach and suggesting that pubs and restaurants would be among the last places to reopen.

An Imperial College London surveillance study – the largest in the country – found infection rates are halving every two weeks, with cases set to fall to 1,000 a day by the second week of April.  

Piling the pressure on the Prime Minister, Sir Graham Brady, who chairs the 1922 committee of Tory MPs, said: ‘The presumption should be that people are given back control over their own lives and we move from a world of arbitrary regulation to one where we are able to take responsibility for ourselves and each other.’

William Lees-Jones, owner of pub group JW Lees, which has 1,250 staff, said: ‘Ministers just don’t understand that this is an industry that is on its knees. Even after the end of March there will be a huge number of businesses that fail.

‘We’ve invested in the pubs to keep them safe, the vaccine will make a massive difference, and if pubs are not open then people will meet up illegally.’

Clive Watson, of City Pub Group, said: ‘While we fully support the Government’s efforts to get the virus under control, we must get to a stage, once the over-50s have been vaccinated, where we start to lift restrictions so people can once again meet for a drink or a meal with friends.’

Experts yesterday called on ministers to decide what an ‘acceptable’ number of infections would be so that Britain could move on from the pandemic.

Professor Angela McLean, chief scientific adviser at the Ministry of Defence, said they were ‘crying out’ for clarity.

And Sir John Bell, who advises the UK’s vaccine taskforce, said people wanted their normal lives back and would not accept certain coronavirus restrictions after everyone has been vaccinated.

Mr Johnson will be presented with the latest data as soon as this evening and will chair a meeting of senior Cabinet ministers over the weekend to finalise the plans for Monday’s launch of the roadmap out of the national lockdown.

The Mail revealed that a blueprint discussed by officials and industry leaders would see rules eased every four weeks after a ‘limited’ loosening at Easter.

Hospitality would have to wait until early May for the green light to resume restricted trading, with the rule of six applying right through June and potentially into July.

On a visit to South Wales yesterday, Mr Johnson said his plan would ‘be based firmly on a cautious and prudent approach to coming out of lockdown in such a way as to be irreversible’.

He added: ‘There is obviously an extra risk of transmission from hospitality.’

It comes as Britain today confirmed 12,718 new coronavirus cases and 738 deaths amid signs that the country’s outbreak may have stopped shrinking, with a symptom-tracking study suggesting infections are now rising in parts of the UK. 

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