Coronavirus 1) “No quick fix” to PCR tests shortage, admits Javid

“Sajid Javid has told MPs there will be “no quick fix” to the growing Covid testing crisis, with officials warning that the system will be overwhelmed within days. On Wednesday, Mr Javid, the Health Secretary, privately admitted that there was a worldwide shortage of tests. Business leaders have warned of an effective New Year lockdown as workers unable to get tested are forced to stay at home. Boris Johnson was criticised for telling partygoers to get tested even though no PCR tests were available to book anywhere in England for much of Wednesday, while pharmacies are having to wait days for deliveries of lateral flow home testing kits.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Up to 90 per cent of intensive care Covid patients have not had boosters, says Johnson – Daily Telegraph
  • Downing Street Christmas party inquiry hauls in aides – The Times
  • Britons with homes in EU told they can’t drive through France to get there – The Guardian
  • This New Year could mark the beginning of the end for restrictions – Andrew Lilico, Daily Telegraph
  • Five reasons Johnson must hold firm against the Omicron doomsters – Stephen Glover, Daily Mail
  • Anti-vaxxers storm testing centre in Milton Keynes – The Guardian
  • European drive to vaccinate children divides worried parents – Financial Times
  • The NHS is facing a crisis. But it’s caused by forcing staff to stay at home – Professor Angus Dalgleish, Daily Mail

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: For future variants, a plurality of our panellists say no more lockdowns – but a third back vaccine passports instead

Coronavirus 2) Nightingale surge hubs to be set up in eight hospitals

“Coronavirus “surge hubs” are to be set up at hospitals across England in preparation for a potential wave of Omicron admissions, the NHS has said. The eight temporary “Nightingale” units will each house about 100 patients, with building starting this week. There are also plans to identify sites for a further 4,000 beds if needed…Health Secretary Sajid Javid said he hoped the new hubs “will not have to be used” but that it was right to prepare for all scenarios.” – BBC

  • A dangerous tsunami of cases, warns World Health Organization chief – BBC

Coronavirus 3) Sturgeon criticised for “dithering” over self-isolation rules

“Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of indecision as she signals another week’s wait before any potential changes to Scotland’s isolation rules as Scotland’s cases rise to record levels. Ms Sturgeon warned that the period ahead “will not be an easy one” as she revealed a jump in the number of positive cases to 15,849 yesterday. Speaking at a virtual meeting of the Scottish Parliament, Ms Sturgeon indicated that changes could be made to the rule which requires household members of anyone with a positive Covid case to self isolate and said that ministers would also consider shortening the isolation period for people with a positive test. Any changes would take effect from 6 January.” – The Scotsman

  • Sturgeon’s Calvinist zeal leaves Scots with little to cheer – Leo McKinstry – Daily Express
  • Braced for invasion – Leader, Daily Telegraph
  • Johnson has been right to hold his nerve – Leader, The Sun

Coronavirus 4) Further evidence that Omicron is much milder

“Omicron is less deadly than previous coronavirus strains, and results in a quarter of the deaths recorded in earlier waves, data from South Africa suggests. In the first study to assess the risk of death that Omicron poses, researchers followed Covid-19 patients admitted to a large hospital in Tshwane in the Gauteng province, where the variant first took hold. They found that 4.5 per cent of patients admitted to hospital died during the Omicron wave, compared with 21.3 per cent in a period before the strain arrived. Scientists say that if these findings are replicated across the world, there would be a “complete decoupling” of case and death rates and it could end the coronavirus epidemic.” – The Times

Coronavirus 5) IDS calls for “the truth” on hospital admissions

“A row erupted over the Government’s Covid figures last night as it emerged almost one in three in hospital with the virus was admitted for unrelated reasons….Last night former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘This is a nonsense. It’s almost certain that admissions for Covid are far lower than the figures suggest. ‘We cannot make decisions based on hospital admissions when we don’t know how many were admitted for other reasons and subsequently tested positive.’ He went on: ‘It also speaks very badly to the NHS’s ability to control Covid in hospitals when so many people are catching it there.’ He called for the independent Office for National Statistics to publish the figures for true Covid admissions, rather than the NHS.” – Daily Mail

Tory MPs urge tax cuts to avert “cost of living crisis”

“Boris Johnson is coming under pressure from his backbenchers to cut taxes in the spring to ease a looming cost of living crisis. A report by the Resolution think tank on Wednesday said the Government would have to step in and warned that families were facing a £1,200 hit from soaring energy bills and tax increases in 2022. Conservatives on Wednesday urged Mr Johnson and Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, to cut taxes to ease the pressure on household incomes. Sir John Redwood, a former Cabinet minister, said Mr Sunak should cancel a planned 1.25 per cent increase in National Insurance contributions in April, as well as cutting VAT from fuel bills.” – Daily Telegraph

  • The Tories will face a battering if they still put up taxes – Ross Clark, Daily Mail

The Financial Times considers the significance ConHome’s members surveys

“A number of reasons can be found to explain the rise of Liz Truss, the recently promoted foreign secretary, but one stands out. She is extremely popular with Conservative party members. We know this thanks to a regular survey of just 1,400 Tories which carries an outsized influence on party affairs. The ConservativeHome website’s cabinet rankings may be little known beyond politics junkies but, despite their doubtful methodology, they are taken seriously by ministers. This is especially so when many think the collapse in the prime minister’s authority means a challenge next year is a real prospect. The website, owned by Lord Ashcroft, a former Tory Treasurer, and run by Paul Goodman, a former MP, is aimed squarely at the party grassroots. Each month, a panel of about 2,000 members is asked to rate the cabinet. Around 1,400 reply, though in quiet periods the number can fall below 1,000. Yet Tories take it seriously. Boris Johnson also pays attention, commenting to friends on his own satisfaction rating — especially when it is going down.” – Robert Shrimsley, Financial Times

>Today: ToryDiary: How our ConHome panel of Tory members divides on Downing Street parties

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Our survey. By a wafer-thin margin, more respondents believe Johnson is handling Covid badly than well

EU threatens to scrap trade deal with the UK

“Brussels has threatened to collapse the post-Brexit trade deal if Liz Truss triggers Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol when negotiations resume. Maros Sefcovic, a European Commission vice-president, said the EU would seek to scrap the post-Brexit trade deal if the Foreign Secretary unilaterally overrides the measures designed to prevent a hard border. Ms Truss has already told her EU counterpart she will not drop Lord Frost’s threat to trigger Article 16 and “remained prepared” to suspend areas of the Brexit deal relating to the province if the bloc failed to compromise.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Don’t mention the word ‘Brexit’, civil servants told – Daily Telegraph
  • EU’s relationship with Switzerland is at risk of “disintegrating” – Daily Express

Archives on the Blair era show dismay at infighting and sleaze

“The extent of New Labour infighting and of Tony Blair’s struggle with allegations of sleaze has been underscored by Cabinet Office papers that show No 10 aides privately thought Gordon Brown could have breached the ministerial code. Files released to the National Archives show that in 1998 Blair’s chief spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, urged him to privately rebuke Clare Short, then international development secretary, after she publicly denounced cabinet colleagues as “vultures”. And Blair’s chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, warned him in the same year that he needed to get to grips with what he saw as a lack of discipline among government ministers, expressing concern about ministerial probity. So grave was the problem thought to be that No 10 considered creating a “commissioner for ministerial ethics” to shore up public trust.” – The Guardian

Maxwell found guilty of recruiting and trafficking young girls to be sexually abused

“Ghislaine Maxwell has been found guilty of recruiting and trafficking young girls to be sexually abused by the late American financier Jeffrey Epstein. The 60-year-old was found guilty on five of the six counts she faced – including the most serious charge, that of sex trafficking a minor. The verdict was reached after five full days of deliberation by a 12-person jury in New York. It means the British socialite could spend the rest of her life behind bars.” – BBC

  • Prince Andrew emerges with barely a mention – The Guardian

Murray: The PM needs to get a grip

“There is plenty for the Prime Minister to do. He needs to sort out the operation in Number 10, professionalise it and stop the chumocracy. He needs to stand up to the madder excesses of the radical Left in education and the civil service. Most of all, he needs to get Britain going again. His instincts have always been good, yet his time in office so far has been a rollercoaster. Maybe he is incapable of change. Perhaps he thinks the chaos suits him. But we will all be the poorer for it if he fails to stop the rollercoaster, and rise to the solemn and serious task we elected him to perform.” – Douglas Murray, Daily Telegraph

Israel pledges no let-up in military action against Iran

“Israel’s defence minister, Benny Gantz, has warned there will be no let-up in military engagement with Iran after airstrikes hit the Syrian port of Latakia. No one claimed responsibility for the attack, which set fire to containers unloaded at the port on Tuesday. However, Syria blamed Israel, which is known to have carried out hundreds of air raids on Syrian sites associated with Iran and its network of militias. The strikes are intended to prevent the transfer of weapons and technology to the Lebanon-based militia Hezbollah, which has tens of thousands of rockets aimed at Israel.” – The Times

News in brief

  • Why should I be ‘cancelled’ for arguing that biological sex is real? – Posie Parker, The Spectator
  • We need honesty on the price of energy, all we are getting is spin – John Rentoul, Independent
  • Hate is not a crime – Josephine Bartosch, The Critic
  • Is Liz Truss set to be the new Alec Douglas-Home? – Peter Franklin, Unherd