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Novavax: Johnson hails new British-made Covid vaccine after ‘spectacular’ trials

“Boris Johnson was celebrating last night the “spectacular” trial results of a British-made Covid-19 vaccine. Novavax announced that a UK study had suggested it was almost 90 per cent effective in preventing Covid-19 and was effective against the new Kent variant. The company said that it was ready to submit its data to the regulator in what promises to add another significant boost to the vaccination programme. The NHS expects to administer fewer vaccinations this week because supply has fallen by about a fifth. A total of 7.9 million jabs have been given across Britain, with 7,447,199 first doses, up 282,812 on the previous day’s figures. Wednesday’s figures for England are down 21 per cent on the same day last week and it is understood that supplies to NHS England are lower this week than last by a similar amount, with some estimates putting the fall at 18 per cent. Officials said that next week’s supplies would increase again as part of a “lumpy” delivery schedule.” – The Times

  • New jab is 89 per cent effective and combats Kent variant, trial shows… – Daily Telegraph
  • …and we’ve ordered 60m doses – The Sun
  • Prime Minister insists Oxford jab does work on over-65s – The Times
  • Nimble vaccine task force that left global rivals trailing in its wake – The Times

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Three cheers for Kate Bingham

Sturgeon accused of siding with EU over vaccinations

“Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of siding with the EU in its battle with the UK over vaccine doses, with the Scottish First Minister pledging to publish confidential vaccine data despite warnings that the information could jeopardise the UK’s supply. Ms Sturgeon promised to publish the data – which reveals how many vaccine doses her nation expects each week – to counter claims that she is failing to rollout the vaccine in Scotland at speed. It led to allegations that Ms Sturgeon was “showboating” and “attempting to curry favour” with the EU. Boris Johnson urged her to reconsider, warning that UK must “continue to have national security of supply”. Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, argued it would be “deeply irresponsible” for Ms Sturgeon to put her politics ahead of the people of Scotland and them getting vaccinations.” – Daily Telegraph

  • First Minister’s excuses over slower vaccine rollout are beginning to wear thin – Daily Telegraph

More EU:

  • Britain seeks end to row with EU over diplomatic status of London envoy – FT

>Yesterday: Henry Hill’s Red, White, and Blue column: ‘Stronger together’ – Ministers put vaccine at the centre of its latest pro-Union push

Brussels say AstraZeneca contract guarantees them a supply of vaccines from British labs

“Brussels today stepped up its Covid-19 vaccine war with AstraZeneca by insisting their contract allows them to grab millions of doses made in the UK as the bloc unveils new powers that could stop Pfizer jabs destined for British arms crossing the Channel from Europe. Ursula von der Leyen, the German president of the European Commission, said the EU’s deal with the pharmaceutical giant is ‘crystal clear’ that supplies would come from four factories including two in Britain. The UK signed a deal with AstraZeneca in May for 100million doses all made at labs in Oxford and Staffordshire and put into vials at a facility in Wrexham. The EU signed up for 100million doses of the British-designed jab three months later in August. Ms von der Leyen said today that AstraZeneca, who warned Brussels this week that its first delivery at the end of March will be down 60 per cent, has offered ‘no plausible reasons’ for production problems.” – Daily Mail

  • If a vaccine trade war starts, disadvantages of leaving the bloc will loom – Daily Telegraph
  • Covid-19 vaccine exports face new EU restrictions as shortages bite – FT
  • EU threatens to publish AstraZeneca amid claims UK has legal right to first supplies – Daily Telegraph

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Vaccines. The United Kingdom v a “rules-based organisation”.

Sunak defends his job-saving Eat Out to Help Out scheme as data shows no link to increased Covid cases

“Rishi Sunak has launched a full throated defence of his flagship Eat Out to Help Out scheme after data showed no link to rising Covid cases. The incredibly popular £849million scheme launched last August to keep the hospitality industry afloat has come under fire in light of the deadly second wave. More than 160 million punters were given 50 per cent off meals to try to get people back into struggling pubs and restaurants, with the scheme credited for getting 400,000 workers off furlough. Now data published by the Treasury shows areas with the high take up of the scheme also still had the low virus levels between August and October. The figures show places such as Westminster and Scarborough and North Devon had very high take-up of Eat Out to Help Out, but very low subsequent Covid cases.” – The Sun

Swayne refuses to apologise after claiming Covid-19 statistics were ‘manipulated’

“A Conservative MP has refused to apologise after he lent support to anti-vaccination campaigners and claimed that NHS statistics were manipulated. Sir Desmond Swayne, who was an aide to David Cameron when he was prime minister, told the Save Our Rights UK group to persist with their fight against government restrictions. In an interview from November obtained by Sky News, Sir Desmond said: “It seems to be a manageable risk, particularly as figures have been manipulated… We’re told there is a deathly, deadly pandemic proceeding at the moment… Michael Gove, Cabinet Office minister, told Sky News: “Sir Desmond is wrong. I work with Sir Desmond, I have great affection for him, but I’m afraid here he is completely out of order. I would hope that he issues a full and complete retraction and apology for what he said — it’s unacceptable.”” – The Times

  • Rayner urged to retract teachers are ‘more at risk of catching Covid’ claim – Daily Telegraph

Profile:

  • Swayne won’t be fazed by any howling opponents – Quentin Letts, The Times

More lives could have saved from Covid if Britain closed borders last March, minister says

“More lives could have been saved if Britain had closed its borders last March, a minister has said. Gillian Keegan said there was “no doubt” the death toll would be lower if flights had been grounded in the first Covid lockdown. The universities minister told BBC’s Question Time: “There is no doubt that we could have locked everybody down, we could have locked the borders from the beginning and we would have had a lower death toll, for sure.” But asked if the Government should have done so, she replied: “I don’t think so.” Ms Keegan suggested such action would’ve had other consequences. Her comments came as a police chief yesterday suggested celebs and the rich could still board flights for sunshine hotspots even if they are fined for breaching Covid rules.” – The Sun

  • Dubai and UAE taken off UK’s travel corridor list – The Times
  • Police could be powerless to stop people flying off on holiday, top officer warns – Daily Mail

Comment:

  • The UK’s half-baked Covid travel quarantine scheme will not work – Gabriel Scally, The Guardian

Tory activists hope for Covid ‘bounce’ if curbs are lifted

“Conservative campaigners are urging Boris Johnson to reopen much of England’s economy by early May, ahead of local elections in which the party is increasingly hopeful of benefiting from a “vaccine bounce”. The UK prime minister will set out a road map for exiting the nationwide lockdown in the week commencing February 22, with the intention of reopening schools from March 8. Government insiders insisted it would be a “slow, phased” approach starting with schools. One scenario, where schools return in March, non-essential shops reopen in April and pubs and restaurants reopen in May, was described as “the most optimistic timetable that could happen” by one Whitehall official, who cautioned that “nothing is set in stone yet, it all depends on the data”. Tory campaigners are eager for as much of the economy to be open ahead of a major set of local government elections on May 6.” – FT

  • Pressure on NHS suggests pubs and restaurants won’t reopen until May – The Times
  • Johnson could ‘scrap’ confusing’ regional Covid tiers under plan to ease restrictions – Daily Mail

Schools:

  • Pupils could be offered summer classes to catch up on lessons – Daily Mail
  •  Schools could reopen after half-term in Wales – The Sun

>Yesterday: David Thomas in Comment: Five policies to help school pupils catch up after the Covid crisis

Independence vote ‘irrelevant’ to most Scots, says Prime Minister

“UK prime minister Boris Johnson on Thursday insisted Scotland should not have a second independence referendum for at least a generation, saying such a vote was “completely irrelevant” to the concerns of most Scots. During a one-day visit to Scotland billed by colleagues as an effort to shore up support for the union with England, Mr Johnson cited joint efforts on coronavirus vaccination as an example of the way in which the UK’s constituent nations benefited each other. But amid opinion polls suggesting that a majority of Scottish voters would now back leaving the UK if there were to be another referendum, Mr Johnson declined to say how he plans to respond to a renewed push by the pro-independence Scottish National party for such a vote.” – FT

  • Johnson faces fight to woo Scots away from secession – The Times
  • Brexiteer urges him to call Sturgeon’s bluff – Daily Express

More:

  • SNP revives council tax freeze and promises further support for businesses – Daily Telegraph

>Today: Iain Dale’s column: Johnson can say all the right words. But not in a way the public relate to, as Blair and Cameron could.

Michael Gove: Fight against Covid demonstrates the power of the British family

“The vaccine programme is a reminder of the importance of another family — the family of nations which is our United Kingdom. From Aberdeen to Aberystwyth, Birmingham to Belfast, UK citizens are being vaccinated faster than anywhere in Europe. And it is the strength of the ties that bind our family of nations which has made that possible. The AstraZeneca jab, for example, was developed by scientists from across the UK, working in Oxford. The vaccine is manufactured there and in Staffordshire. And then made ready for distribution in a factory in Wrexham in Wales. The initial investment that made this vaccine possible came from the UK Government. The research funding that goes to universities in Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales, which powers innovations such as this vaccine, all comes from the UK Government.” – The Sun

  • When will Unionists realise that Sturgeon is far from invincible? – Fraser Nelson, Daily Telegraph
  • Covid has taught the UK the importance of self sufficiency – James Forsyth, The Times

Editorial:

  • The battle is under way to save the British union – FT
  • Trip was an implicit acknowledgment that the Union is in peril – The Times

>Today: ToryDiary: The Good Union

Johnson considers joining ‘Asian Nato’ to resist China

“Boris Johnson will raise the prospect of Britain joining the “Asian Nato” informal alliance when he visits India as part of a post-Brexit strategy. President Biden is seeking to recruit more members to the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. The strategic forum to strengthen alliances to counter China, referred to as the Quad, consists of the United States, India, Japan and Australia. Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, said during a trip to India last month that Britain had not ruled out joining the alliance. He added that the prospect would be discussed when the prime minister visited Delhi on his first foreign trip after the end of the Brexit transition period. Mr Johnson had planned to be in India this week but he was forced to postpone his visit because of the lockdown. He is expected to travel again as soon as conditions allow.” – The Times

  • Thousands of Hong Kongers granted UK residence ahead of visa scheme – FT

State takes stakes in UK start-ups under £1bn convertible loan scheme

“The government has started taking equity stakes in British start-ups as part of the £1bn pandemic emergency loan scheme that has offered a funding lifeline to some of the most promising companies in the UK. State loans given to often lossmaking start-ups under the UK’s Future Fund have begun to convert into equity, according to officials, with more likely to follow as companies seek additional funds. The Future Fund could make the government one of the biggest backers of fast-growing companies in the UK, offering potentially high returns on the investment if those businesses were to become successful. But it also carries a high level of risk of losing taxpayer money given that many fledgling companies fail.” – FT

  • Covid cases push UK closer to double-dip recession – The Guardian
  • Road bridges are falling to pieces as council budgets feel the strain – The Times

>Yesterday:

UK ministers rethink plans to rip up EU regulations

“Boris Johnson’s government is shying away from a wholesale scrapping of EU regulations after ministers cancelled a post-Brexit review of workers’ rights in the face of fierce Labour opposition. The Financial Times reported this month that employee protections enshrined in EU law — including the 48-hour working week — could be torn up under the controversial proposals. But the idea was condemned by trade unions and Labour and Downing Street confirmed on Thursday: “Any reforms would not come at the expense of the UK’s high standards in areas like workers rights and the environment.” Rishi Sunak, chancellor, is leading a “better regulation” review but he has made it clear that his focus will be on improving future rules — including those covering new technologies — rather than ripping up old ones.” – FT

  • British business leaders warn of ‘substantial difficulties’ at UK ports – The Guardian

Firm owned by McCluskey’s friend was paid £95m for ‘£7m project’

“A company owned by a friend of Len McCluskey has been paid £95 million by Britain’s most powerful trade union for a construction project that was initially supposed to cost £7 million. Flanagan Group received the money as primary contractor for a conference centre and hotel in Birmingham for the trade union Unite. The further evidence of the spiralling cost of Unite’s flagship development emerged on the eve of a crisis meeting today at which the union’s ruling council will receive a report on financing the project. Questions are likely to be asked about how contracts were awarded and the level of scrutiny that was applied to prices charged by contractors during four years of work. It is thought that the overall profit for Flanagan from the project will be more than £15 million. Work began in 2016 and was finally completed last year, significantly late and over budget.” – The Times

  • Corbyn supporters ask for ‘Momentum TV’ funding to take on GB News – Daily Express

Stockbrokers face anger and lawsuits after pulling plug on retail investors backing GameStop

“Online stockbrokers pulled the plug on retail investors backing highly-traded stocks on Thursday, provoking scrutiny from politicians and anger from users who accused the companies of favouring Wall Street funds. A string of trading services including Robinhood and e-Trade restricted investments in popular shares including GameStop and cinema chain AMC, leading to widespread criticism from a coalition including Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the left-wing Congresswoman. Mr Musk tweeted that popular fee-free trading apps were “beholden to big trading houses”, while Ms Ocasio-Cortez demanded answers about why retail investors were blocked from trading while major institutions continued to be able to trade. Trading apps stopped users from making investments in a range of popular stocks that have found favour on online investing communities, blaming high volatility and, in some cases, being cut off from partners that execute trades on their behalf.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Robinhood raises $1bn from investors and taps banks at end of wild week – FT

News in Brief:

  • Forsyth and Dalyell were right about devolution – Eddie Barnes, CapX
  • Should Boris keep out of Scotland, whatever the Covid level? – Graham Stewart, The Critic
  • The phoney War on Woke – Ed West, UnHerd
  • Why wealth taxes don’t work – Kate Andrews, The Spectator