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Coronavirus 1) Full speed ahead with vaccination of over-70s

“More than 5.5 million people who are over 70 or clinically extremely vulnerable will begin receiving letters today for coronavirus jab appointments in a “significant milestone” for the government’s vaccination programme. The number of people who have already been vaccinated, including the over-80s, care home residents and health service and social care staff, is expected to exceed four million today as the NHS carries out 140 inoculations every minute. With more than half the over-80s now protected, the government can begin offering appointments to the next two priority groups as the prime minister tries to hit his target of vaccinating all 14.6 million vulnerable people in England by February 15.” – The Times

  • Mass testing of entire regions considered as ministers signal return to tiers in March – Daily Telegraph
  • Scotland factory to produce Valneva Covid vaccine – The Times
  • Second vaccine doses in doubt amid call for study into single jab – The Times
  • Mutation could undo Covid vaccination progress if lockdown is ended, expert warns – The Times
  • Release the vaccinated, urges German minister – The Times
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Coronavirus 2) Virus causes a hospital admission every 30 seconds, says NHS chief

“The NHS is at its most precarious period ever as a coronavirus patient is admitted to hospital every 30 seconds, the head of the health service has said. Sir Simon Stevens, NHS England’s chief executive, said that hospitals and their staff were under extreme pressure and would be for some time, despite the number of cases levelling off in some regions. He said that since Christmas Day, 15,000 Covid-19 patients had been admitted, enough to fill 30 hospitals. He hailed the early success of the vaccination programme, however, saying that 140 people every minute were receiving the jab. Sir Simon said people were being vaccinated four times faster than the virus was spreading.” – The Times

  • All supermarkets face inspections in next fortnight to ensure they are Covid compliant – Daily Telegraph
  • More than 9,000 infected with Covid as a result of students returning home for Christmas – Daily Telegraph
  • Missing loved ones having greater impact on mental health than worrying about coronavirus – Daily Telegraph

Coronavirus 3) China kept quiet about lab workers with Covid, says US

“Workers at a laboratory in Wuhan fell ill with symptoms similar to coronavirus months before China admitted to the outbreak, the US government says. Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, released a “fact sheet” questioning whether the pandemic might have originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology rather than from human contact with infected animals. Mr Pompeo, who steps down this week, said that since at least 2016 its scientists had been conducting experiments on a bat coronavirus similar to the one that causes Covid-19. He said that the institute, ostensibly civilian, had done work for the military, including animal tests, since at least 2017.” – The Times

  • Raab takes aim at ‘mercenary’ barrister over Hong Kong case – The Times

> Yesterday:

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Johnson lets Tories abstain on Labour’s universal credit vote…

“Boris Johnson has tried to stave off a revolt by Conservative MPs by allowing them to abstain on a vote on extending universal credit as he accused Labour of trying to incite hatred and bullying. Labour is expected today to use an opposition day debate to force a symbolic vote on extending the £20-a-week uplift in universal credit, which is due to come to an end in April. Mr Johnson previously whipped MPs to vote against a similar motion on the provision of free school meals during school holidays, which led to them being inundated with complaints from constituents. In a Whatsapp message sent to Tory MPs, Mr Johnson said: “Folks, I know that many of you are thirsting to give battle and vote against all Labour motions. But after the shameful way in which they used their army of Momentum trolls last time to misrepresent the outcome and to lie about its meaning and frankly to intimidate and threaten colleagues — especially female colleagues — I have decided not to give them that opportunity.”” – The Times

… as he consults businesses on plan to become Europe’s Singapore

“Boris Johnson will hold talks with business leaders today about cutting red tape as ministers draw up plans to turn Britain into the “Singapore of Europe” now that it has left the European Union. The prime minister will speak to 30 senior leaders about topics such as “regulatory freedoms” and reforming EU rules. Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, has been charged by Mr Johnson with leading a cross-Whitehall committee which will require departments to closely examine which regulations can be reformed. The plans attracted controversy this month when it emerged that workers’ protections enshrined in EU law, including the 48-hour working week, were among regulations being considered for reform. According to the Financial Times options under consideration include changing the rules about rest breaks at work and including overtime pay when calculating holiday pay entitlements.” – The Times

Sunak is warned not to hit Tory shires with a new property levy as critics blast plan for raid on homes as ‘wealth tax in all but name’

“Rishi Sunak was urged yesterday to resist calls to introduce a property tax amid fears it would be a wealth tax in all but name. Treasury officials have modelled a plan to scrap council tax and stamp duty and replace them with a property tax based on a percentage of a home’s value. The scheme would be revenue-neutral, meaning it would not bring in any more money for the Treasury. One economist said there was a danger that it could become a ‘creeping wealth tax’, while another said it could be devastating for cash-poor pensioners who live in valuable homes. Professor Philip Booth, from the University of Buckingham, said: ‘Property taxes in the UK are high by international standards. They are also appallingly designed. It is important that property taxes overall do not rise.'” – Daily Mail

Ruth Sunderland: Divisive, vindictive… let’s give this idea for tax grabs on property short shrift

“The pandemic has left a chasm in the national finances, and it rests on the slender shoulders of Rishi Sunak to ensure our Covid debts are not insupportable. But he should resist siren calls to attempt this through tax grabs on property and other wealth. If the Chancellor is as astute as I believe him to be, he will treat the notion of a property tax that has been aired this weekend with the contempt it deserves. The idea is to scrap council tax and stamp duty and instead impose a charge based on current property value. But any such levy on family homes would be deeply unfair and would alienate the Tories from some of their most loyal supporters. It would be divisive, vindictive and ultimately, ineffective. No 11 rejected proposals last week for an emergency wealth tax of 5 per cent on assets, including homes, of more than £500,000 per person.” – Daily Mail

> Today:

Policing 1) Patel defends bolstering of stop-and-search powers

“Priti Patel has doubled down on the use of stop and search to combat Britain’s knife crime crisis and denied that the tactic is racist. The home secretary defended planned legislation giving courts the power to issue orders under which police can search anyone with a previous conviction for using or carrying a knife without grounds to suspect a new offence. Ms Patel said that a minority of people would see the move as controversial “or claim that this is racism” but said that the serious violence reduction orders (SVROs) would help to reduce knife violence. Knife crime in England and Wales is at its highest rate in a decade despite massive increases in the use of stop-and-search tactics nationally.” – The Times

Policing 2) Home Office warned of ‘creaking’ police database

“The Home Office was warned 18 months ago that a lack of investment in “creaking” police databases put the public at “significant risk”, The Times has learnt. Critical infrastructure, including the police national database (PND), are being managed on “end of life, unsupported hardware and software”, documents reveal. Senior police said that the government had refused to invest in the PND or the police national computer (PNC), which holds data on arrests and convictions, because they are to be replaced by a system that is significantly delayed and over budget. The disclosure came after The Times revealed that a blunder may have wiped more than 400,000 fingerprint, DNA, arrest and offence records from the PNC. The records were accidentally deleted in a weekly “weeding” session from the database, owned and operated by the Home Office.” – The Times

Policing 3) Jenrick proposes new law to make it harder for left-wing councils to topple statues

“Minister Robert Jenrick has slammed a school’s decision to remove William Gladstone from its name because of the Victorian politician’s links to slavery. The William Gladstone Church Of England Academy, in Jenrick’s Constituency of Newark, Nottinghamshire, is now known as The King’s Church of England Primary Academy. Gladstone was MP for Newark in the 1830s before becoming prime minister and the school had been named in his honour. But in the wake of last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, the school’s decided to axe the name after recognising that Gladstone’s family were prominent slave owners, even though he himself did not own slaves. Housing Secretary Jenrick has now accused the school of ‘cancelling our culture’ and said it should focus on raising standards rather than rebranding after it was classed as requiring improvement by Ofsted.” – Daily Mail

> Yesterday:

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Army faces loss of 10,000 soldiers in shift towards drones

“The size of the army could be reduced by 10,000 under plans being considered as part of a strategic review. Government ministers have repeatedly pledged to keep a permanent force of 82,000 soldiers but are considering reducing it to 72,000. Plans included in drafts of the integrated review, which is due to be published next month but is likely to be delayed, suggest that the size of the army should be cut. It forms part of an increased focus on unmanned drones and vehicles along with enhanced technological capabilities. The integrated review is a blueprint for Britain’s global role over the coming decade and how armed forces should adapt to meet changes. Infantry commanders are said to face an anxious wait for its publication amid concerns that their regiments could be reduced in size or redeployed after a change in priorities.” – The Times

Summer holidays? Too soon to book, Raab warns Britain

“Dominic Raab has warned that it is too early for people to book summer holidays abroad, as the government considers plans to quarantine new arrivals in hotels and track them using GPS technology to ensure that they remain in isolation. The foreign secretary said it was “very difficult to plan” for trips abroad as the government closed all remaining quarantine-free “travel corridors” in the early hours of today in an attempt to stop the spread of variant strains of coronavirus. All those arriving in the UK will be required to have had a coronavirus test within the previous 72 hours and to go into quarantine for ten days, or five days under the government’s test-and- release programme.” – The Times

Biden preparing blizzard of executive orders for first days in office

“Joe Biden aims to hit the ground running with a blizzard of executive orders on his first day in office. Mr Biden plans to rejoin the Paris climate accord, end Donald Trump’s travel ban on several predominantly Muslim countries and order masks to be worn in federal buildings. The orders will represent the opening salvo of a flurry of activity over the first 10 days of the Biden administration, aimed at rolling back many of the policies introduced by Donald Trump. Mr Biden intends to introduce legislation for a $1.9 trillion relief package and immigration reform. His ambitious programme was outlined in a memorandum circulated on Saturday by Ron Klain, the incoming White House chief of staff.” – Daily Telegraph

> Today:

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