Monday, March 1

Newslinks for Wednesday 17th February 2021

Coronavirus 1) Mass testing blitz as Johnson plans easing of lockdown…

“Boris Johnson is drawing up plans for a testing blitz of millions of people in England as the Covid-19 lockdown is eased. NHS Test and Trace is preparing for nationwide “surge” testing under which more than 400,000 rapid lateral flow tests will be sent by post to homes and workplaces every day, The Times has learnt. The aim is to get the country to “a new normal”. A campaign provisionally called “Are you ready? Get testing. Go” will begin before schools return, to encourage people to have a test even when they do not show symptoms. Ministers hope that it will be led by household names.” – The Times

  • Blueprint for UK’s pubs, restaurants and hotels would see curbs eased at four-weekly intervals starting with ‘limited’ Easter holidays – Daily Mail
  • Reopened festivals and stadiums in England could be used for mass Covid testing – The Guardian
  • Ready, test, go! New Government slogan unveiled as PM plans to send testing kits to millions of homes and businesses  – Daily Mail
  • Quarantine hotels defy ministers to take other guest bookings for Easter – The Times

>Today:

Coronavirus 2) …as he’s urged to rethink vaccine passport opposition

“Boris Johnson is facing calls from senior ministers to consider vaccination certificates to help reopen cinemas and other entertainment venues and assist an industry “on its knees”. Downing Street has warned that it would be “wrong” and potentially discriminatory to place restrictions on people who have not been vaccinated. The prime minister is personally opposed to their use in the UK amid concern that it will lead to a two-tier system in which those who have not been vaccinated are denied access to swathes of society. However, ministers have conceded that individual businesses are entitled to use vaccine certificates, opening the door for companies to let only those who have had the jab come to work or use their services.” – The Times

  • Every UK adult could receive both jabs by August, says head of coronavirus vaccine taskforce – Sky News
  • Children as young as six receive first Oxford jabs as trials begin after vaccine taskforce chief said every British adult could get both doses by August – Daily Mail
  • UK companies look to make Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory – FT
  • Government calls for ceasefires around the world so coronavirus vaccines can be rolled out in warzones – Daily Mail
  • UK anticipating dip in Covid vaccine supply in coming weeks – FT

Comment:

Coronavirus 3) ‘Covid lockdown to continue until cases drop below 1,000 a day’

“Lockdown is unlikely to be eased significantly until daily Covid cases are in the hundreds, compared with more than 10,000 a day now, The Telegraph understands. Boris Johnson is due to publish a roadmap out of the restrictions next week, beginning with the reopening of schools from March 8. But the plan is unlikely to commit to a clear timetable for the coming months, instead promising a series of reviews which would see the reopening of shops, pubs and restaurants deferred until cases reach a low not seen since August. Covid cases have fallen significantly in recent weeks and could reach less than 1,000 a day by early April if they continue to decline at the current rate. However, this is likely to be delayed by the impact of the return of schools.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Number of people being told to shield will almost double – Daily Telegraph
  • Too dangerous to lift Covid lockdown before May, hospital bosses warn – The Times
  • ‘Encouraging’ signs for Covid vaccine as over-80s deaths fall in England – The Guardian

Analysis:

  • Elderly and overweight are the real Covid super-spreaders – The Times
  • From infertility to risk of death – how coronavirus is hitting men harder – Daily Telegraph

Comment:

>Today:

Coronavirus 4) Teachers will be told to wait for vaccine as under-50s are prioritised by age

“Teachers and other key workers are unlikely to be given priority for vaccinations as scientific advisers prepare to recommend that jabs continue to be given by age. Tomorrow the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is expected to sign off recommendations for the next phase of the vaccine programme, once all the over-50s have been offered an inoculation. The Times understands that they are leaning towards recommending a continuation of the policy of vaccination in five-year age bands, down to the age of 16. Giving priority to those from certain ethnic minorities is still being considered but is not expected to be included in the final recommendations.” – The Times

  • Children’s team sports head for early kick-off – The Times
  • Algorithm pushes 800,000 at Covid risk to front of the queue – The Times

Comment:

Coronavirus 5) Buckland announces the expansion of emergency courtrooms

“Fourteen new ‘Nightingale courts’ are set to open as part of a £113million investment in the legal system. Today’s announcement by Justice Secretary Robert Buckland will see the total number of emergency courtrooms expanded to 60 by the end of March. Modifications will be made to hotel conference rooms, closed courts and event spaces to allow more trials to take place with effective social distancing. At Manchester Crown Court, walls will be knocked down to create a ‘super court’ – large enough to house all parties involved in complicated gang murder trials. Speaking to the Mail, Mr Buckland hailed the ‘shot in the arm for the justice system’, stating more victims will now be able to ‘move on with their lives’.” – Daily Mail

Coronavirus 6) Sunak set to cut jobs tax and bring back £1,000 cash bonus for bosses that unfurlough staff

“RISHI Sunak wants to coax bosses into a hiring spree with his Budget next month. He is considering cutting the jobs tax and bringing back a £1,000 bonus for those that unfurlough staff. The Chancellor hopes he can wean employers off state support as shops, pubs and other businesses gradually reopen. A source said: “The Treasury is keen to support jobs rather than businesses.” One idea being looked at for the March 3 Budget is cutting the national insurance contributions employers pay for staff. Businesses have long warned that the punishing jobs tax puts them off hiring. Another idea being considered is bringing back the £1,000 bung to bosses for every worker they bring back from furlough.” – The Sun

Matthew Parris: Wanted: new clichés for our brave new world

“Grim milestones — how I have hated what they represent. But no less have I hated the cliché. The first journalist to apply this metaphor to Covid mortality figures might have congratulated himself on his fresh imagery but the hundredth? The next commentator to fish the now-limp metaphor from the cliché basket should be shot. But there may be no need: the numbers are plummeting. Is it too much to hope for new clichés, this time celebrating dipping below (say) the five-year average for this time of year? “Merry” milestone would be insensitive but how about a “heartening”, “welcome” or “morale-boosting” milestone? Or (trusty staple for journalists puffing a wholly inconsequential figure) a “psychologically important” milestone? New clichés, please, for rosy-dawning salvation.” – The Times

More comment:

Williamson hits out at campuses that ‘stifle freedom of speech

“Universities have ceded control of guest talks to violent protesters, the education secretary said as he announced plans to compensate people who had invitations to speak withdrawn. Gavin Williamson said that student unions had “inappropriate” levels of control over visiting speakers and that universities had introduced codes limiting freedom of speech. Speakers, students who faced disciplinary action for their views, staff or event organisers would all be able to seek compensation under proposed legislation, should their right to freedom of speech be breached, he said.” – The Times

Comment:

  • The government will offer a lifeboat to sinking free speech on campuses, Nigel Biggar – The Times

>Yesterday:

PM urged to appoint Cabinet minister for Union

“Boris Johnson has been told in a private report to create a new Cabinet position for the Union and make it as important a job as other “great offices of state” to help keep the UK intact. The Telegraph can reveal details of a report by the former Scottish minister Lord Dunlop, which was submitted to the Prime Minister in November 2019 but has not yet been published. The report – an attempt to preserve the Union in the decades to come and counter the possibility of Scottish independence – is understood to give a detailed outline of the proposed role, which would be titled Secretary of State for Intergovernmental and Constitutional Affairs and is designed to be given to one of the “big beasts” in the Cabinet.” – Daily Telegraph

Rise in anti-China feeling as many Britons consider it a critical threat

“Many Britons view China as a critical threat and oppose deepening economic ties with the country, a survey has found. The upsurge in anti-Chinese sentiment, recorded in the British Foreign Policy Group’s 2021 survey on public attitudes, comes after an intense focus on the role of Beijing in Britain’s infrastructure, including the decision to ban Huawei from the 5G network. China is regarded as a critical threat to Britain by 41 per cent of respondents, up from 30 per cent last year. Just 22 per cent support the government pursuing any form of economic engagement with China, and 15 per cent did not want any level of engagement.” – The Times

>Today:

TV licence ‘amnesty’: BBC suspends threat to prosecute over-75s over failure to pay

“The BBC has suspended its threat to prosecute over-75s who have failed to set up a new television licence, following an outcry over the scheme. The corporation said the temporary amnesty was a response to the pandemic and declined to say how long it would last. When the over-75s scheme was introduced last August, the 4.2 million affected households were told they had two months to respond to a letter requesting payment. The BBC stated in its TV Licensing information: “We will cancel your licence if you do not reply to our letter within two months of receiving it,” and warned that continuing to watch live television after that would be a criminal offence carrying a fine of up to £1,000.” – Daily Telegraph

Secrecy for high-risk tech research agency Aria

“Ministers will announce plans tomorrow for an £800 million scientific research agency legally entitled to invest in projects that are likely to fail and which will be exempted from freedom of information laws. New legislation will found the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, or Aria, and allow it to operate as independently as possible by investing in “high-risk, high-reward” projects. It will be exempt from rules designed to prevent taxpayers’ money from being invested in projects with little chance of success. Ministers hope that the agency, to be set up next year, will produce next-generation technology. The project’s future was put in doubt when Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s adviser, left Downing Street after an internal power struggle. Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, has now decided to push ahead.” – The Times

News in brief:

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