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Coronavirus 1) Schools return in England: Johnson hails first steps to freedom

“Boris Johnson has hailed the return of pupils to school today as the first step on his “road map to freedom” and insisted that the country is ready for it. With all nine million pupils in England due back in class, the prime minister said that continuing the “suffering” of lockdown was a bigger risk than reopening schools. Secondary pupils will have to wear masks in the classroom wherever they cannot socially distance, and must also take lateral flow tests for Covid-19. Research seen by The Times suggests that gathering at the school gate is the biggest concern for parents. Almost a third of primary school parents were anxious about large groups congregating at drop-off or pick-up.” – The Times

  • Schools return: parents most fear mingling at gates – The Times
  • Experts predict baby boom to eclipse postwar era – The Times
  • Unions threaten parents with school closures if too many pupils fail to wear face masks – Daily Telegraph
  • People infected with the South African variant of Covid-19 gain strong immunity to the previous strain even if the reverse is not true, a study has found – The Times
  • Exclusive: Financial scams have become hidden ‘epidemic’ as impersonation cases double in a year – Daily Telegraph
Analysis:
  • The hardest truth of Covid’s first wave — people were denied treatment – The Times
  • Why the R value matters less and less – The Times

Coronavirus 2) Dame Helen Ghosh – A little postwar spirit can rebuild adult education

“‘Adult education must not be regarded as a luxury for a few exceptional persons here and there . . . it is a permanent national necessity, an inseparable aspect of citizenship, and therefore should be both universal and lifelong.” These are the words used in 1919 by a commission set up by Lloyd George towards the end of the First World War to look at the part that lifelong learning for adults could play in reconstructing the economy and society after the terrible conflict. They resonate with the same force now as they did then. In 2019, a centenary commission of which I was chairwoman stole the phrase “a permanent national necessity” to use as the title of our own report on adult education today. We could not have foreseen then that our country was about to be hit by a crisis that could have almost as profound an effect on the economy and society as did the Great War.” Times Red Box

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Coronavirus 3) We’re close to cutting care, NHS chiefs warn

“NHS chiefs have warned that they will have to start cutting patient care unless Rishi Sunak finds £8 billion this week for extra Covid-19 costs. Ministers are themselves fighting the health service on two fronts this morning, with the talks on additional coronavirus funding stalling as unions prepare for strike action over pay. Patients already on record waiting lists will face longer delays for treatment because the Treasury has toughened its line on NHS spending since the budget, health chiefs have told The Times. They say the chancellor appears to be trying to “renege” on his commitment to cover Covid costs and is attempting to pay for the pandemic out of normal health service spending pots.” – The Times

  • 1% pay offer is driving nurses out of NHS, say unions and bosses – The Times
  • UK must prepare for ‘hard winter’ with threat of Covid and flu surge, health expert warns – Daily Telegraph

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Coronavirus 4) Jenny Harries, doctor who scoffed at testing, will head pandemic unit

“Dr Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer for England, is poised to become head of Boris Johnson’s new pandemic-fighting organisation. The Times understands that Harries is the preferred candidate for chief executive of the National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP). Her appointment was recommended by Matt Hancock, the health secretary, and is due to be approved by the prime minister this month. She will also take over from Baroness Harding of Winscombe as head of coronavirus testing and the Joint Biosecurity Centre, becoming the top official overseeing the fight against coronavirus and preparing for future pandemics. A year ago she said that mass test and trace was “not an appropriate intervention”.” – The Times

International Women’s Day – Half of women in UK fear equality is going back to 1970s – survey

“Women across the UK have issued a “desperate cry for help”, with more than half believing that women’s equality is in danger of going back to the 1970s at work, at home and in society, according to an exclusive survey. After a year that has seen women more likely to be furloughed, lose their jobs, carry the burden of home schooling and domestic drudgery, women are increasingly fearful about their futures, with almost half of those surveyed in a Mumsnet poll for International Women’s Day expecting gender equality to go into reverse over the next few years. As children return to school in England, the poll reveals that women have borne the burden of closures, with 70% of mothers with male partners doing all or most of the home schooling.” – The Guardian

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UK fails in most attempts to remove asylum seekers

“Britain agreed to take in more than eight times as many asylum seekers than it removed under the European Union’s resettlement scheme last year, new figures have revealed. The UK tried to transfer 8,502 illegal migrants to other European countries last year, roughly the same number of people as those who crossed the Channel in small boats. Only 105 requests were accepted, with almost half being taken in by Germany. Britain accepted 882 requests from EU member states to resettle asylum seekers in the UK. Only 20 asylum seekers were returned to France under the Dublin III Regulation that governs which state is responsible for processing asylum applications, despite 8,417 migrants illegally crossing the Channel over the same period. Britain accepted more than ten times as many asylum seekers from France.” – The Times

Sturgeon’s deputy to face vote of no confidence for ‘blatantly witholding’ Salmond legal advice

“Nicola Sturgeon’s deputy is to face a vote of no confidence at Holyrood this week after he was accused of “blatantly” withholding the publication of damning legal advice until two days after she appeared at the Alex Salmond inquiry. The Scottish Tories said they would press the vote after alleging John Swinney failed to hand over all the advice requested by the inquiry and made inaccurate statements about its release. On the eve of Ms Sturgeon’s appearance before the inquiry last Wednesday, Mr Swinney published what he described as “the key legal advice” and claimed “all of this material is now in the public domain.” The disclosure was made after it became clear there was a Holyrood majority for a Tory no confidence motion that would have forced his resignation.” – Daily Telegraph

Brexit 1) Our ConservativeHome event is featured in The Daily Express – ‘Brexit superwoman Truss ready to strongarm China’ into deal worth £8bn a year

Ms Truss, who has already sewn up deals worth more than £200billion with third countries around the world since Britain quit the bloc, was asked about the prospect of striking an agreement with Beijing during a webinar organised by the Conservative Home website this week. And she indicated that while an agreement was possible, Britain and the West would not overlook the plight of the Uighurs in the west of the country, or draconian new laws in Hong Kong. Ms Truss, the Tory MP for South West Norfolk, said: “Of course we’ve got to trade with China. “Of course, also a lot of our allies, whether it’s the United States, the EU, Japan, all trade with China. “And there are plenty of areas that are not strategic where we need to increase our trade with China and vice versa.”” – Daily Express

Brexit 2) EU claims Lord Frost is living in past with ‘shake off ill will’ remarks

“Diplomatic sources in the European Union have accused Lord Frost of living in the past after he called for Brussels to “shake off any remaining ill will” towards Britain for leaving the bloc. This week the EU is expected to begin legal action over Frost’s announcement last Wednesday that the UK would unilaterally suspend customs checks on Northern Ireland supermarket deliveries. This will extend grace periods designed to help the region to adapt to remaining in the single market while the rest of the UK has left. Boris Johnson has dismissed the dispute as technical issues that “we’re going to iron out”. “I think that this is one of those issues that we were always bound to have in the early stages of our new relationship with our friends in the EU,” he said on a visit to a vaccination centre yesterday.” – The Times

Brexit 3) Foie gras will be off the menu after British import ban

“Foie gras is about to have its goose very definitely cooked. The government is planning to ban imports of the delicacy, in a move made possible by new freedoms offered by Brexit. The production of foie gras, which involves force-feeding ducks and geese until their liver grows to several times its normal size, ended in Britain in 2006, after falling foul of animal welfare legislation. However, it has still been possible for shops and restaurants to import the product, as preventing its sale in the UK was difficult while the country was still in the single market. Ministers are drafting legislation to close the loophole and prevent the food from being imported in any form.” – The Times

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Operation Midland hurt faith in police, say former home secretaries

“Six former home secretaries have said that confidence in the police has been seriously damaged by Scotland Yard’s investigation into false allegations of an establishment paedophile ring and have called for an investigation. They urge Priti Patel, the home secretary, to order an independent inquiry into Operation Midland, the investigation into claims made by the fantasist Carl Beech. Lord Baker of Dorking, Lord Clarke of Nottingham, Lord Howard of Lympne, Jack Straw, Lord Blunkett and Lord Reid of Cardowan write in a letter to The Times that as former home secretaries they are “acutely conscious of the need to maintain public confidence in the police”. In an unprecedented joint intervention they agree with Sir Richard Henriques, the retired high court judge who reviewed Operation Midland, that “confidence in the police and the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has been seriously damaged”.” – The Times

Judges can remain on the bench until age 75, says minister

“Judges will be allowed to hear cases until their 75th birthday for the first time in 27 years. Ministers are set to raise the mandatory retirement age amid growing concern over morale in the judiciary. A recent survey found that a significant number of judges were considering leaving the bench early. Robert Buckland QC, the justice secretary, said that judges, magistrates and coroners in England and Wales would be allowed to serve for five more years. It comes after significant lobbying from senior figures who claimed that valuable judicial experience was being lost because of the lower mandatory retirement age. Two prominent former judges — Sir Brian Leveson and Lady Justice Hallett — are understood to have been ruled out of being appointed as lord chief justice because they would not be able to serve the minimum period before their 70th birthday.” – The Times

  • Call for law to protect abuse victims who hit back – The Times

Labour orders MPs to join TikTok in fight against parodies

“Labour has ordered all of its MPs to sign up to TikTok, the video-sharing platform popular among teenagers, in a belated attempt to prevent parliamentarians from falling foul of online pranksters. Opposition officials wrote to all Labour MPs to ask them to “secure your username” on the Chinese-owned social network after a spate of malicious parodies. Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, is among those whose identity has been appropriated by users of varying levels of artistic ability. The party is now lobbying TikTok to remove the accounts. “We are aware of a number of parody MP TikTok accounts that have been set up recently,” officials wrote. “We would encourage all MPs to create a TikTok account (even if you aren’t planning on using it) to secure your username.”” – The Times

British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe freed in Iran but faces new court date

“Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was released from house arrest in Tehran on Sunday as the charity worker’s five-year-sentence for espionage charges came to an end, but she was immediately given a summons to court next week, pummeling hopes that she would be able to return to the UK tomorrow. Hojjat Kermani, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s lawyer, told Iran’s Emtedad news that despite completing her sentence for allegedly plotting to overthrow the Iranian government – a charge she vigorously denied – “a hearing for Zaghari’s second case has been scheduled at branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran” on March 14. The second set of charges, related to involvement in propaganda activity against the Islamic Republic, have been repeatedly threatened by the Iranians throughout Nazanin’s case.” – Daily Telegraph

Comment:

  • Free at last… but for how long? Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe faces another cruel twist in a monstrous game of mental torture, Mark Almond – Daily Mail

Oprah interview: Meghan ‘didn’t want to be alive anymore’

“In a deeply personal TV interview, Meghan told Oprah Winfrey that she did not get help when she asked for it. She said a low point was when Harry was asked by one member of his family “how dark” their son’s skin might be. Prince Harry also revealed that his father, Prince Charles, stopped taking his calls when he wanted to step back. The highly-anticipated interview with Oprah aired overnight in the US. During the two-hour CBS special, to be aired in the UK on ITV at 9pm on Monday night and on ITV Hub, Courtesy of Harpo Productions/CBS, the couple covered a range of topics, including racism, mental health, their relationship with the media and Royal Family dynamics. They also announced their baby, which is due in the summer, is a girl. The couple moved to California after formally stepping down from royal duties in March 2020, and it was announced last month that they would not be returning as working members of the Royal Family.” – BBC

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