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Coronavirus 1) Christmas hopes grow as Johnson delays action

“Boris Johnson is unlikely to impose further coronavirus restrictions before Christmas after delaying a decision yesterday. The prime minister called a cabinet meeting to discuss the latest data on the spread of the Omicron variant and whether a two-week circuit breaker banning indoor mixing was needed. Speaking after a cabinet that ran more than two hours, Johnson said that he would wait until the data was clearer before taking further action. “But we will not exclude going further if we have to to protect the public”. He said that the government was looking at the latest data on an “hour by hour” basis.” – The Times

  • Covid-19 hospitalisations fall sharply in South Africa – Daily Telegraph
  • ‘Reassuring’: Moderna booster jab triggers strong response against omicron – Daily Telegraph
  • Ministers stand their ground against the scientists in lengthy battle over Christmas Covid restrictions – Daily Telegraph
  • Just 10 per cent of patients account for 40 per cent of appointments with GPs – The Times
  • Time to trust the people, but not the scientists, urges Jacob Rees-Mogg – The Times
  • No10 is waiting for new data from Imperial College London, which will shed more light on the severity of Omicron, to arrive tomorrow before making a final call – The Sun

Analysis:

  • Is the new Covid drug the answer to our prayers? – Daily Telegraph
  • Cabinet have had enough of their experts – The Times

Comment:

  • If you want to know why freedom is so important just take a look at the faces of your loved ones this Christmas and ask why we ever gave the government the right to tell you if you could see them or not, Dan Wootton – Daily Mail
  • My model has got it right on the Covid pandemic (unlike some)… and it tells me we don’t need a new lockdown, Professor Philip Thomas – Daily Mail

Coronavirus 2) Sherelle Jacobs: A conspiracy of silence has left us trapped in permanent fear

“I sense that we have stumbled into a monumental Covid trap. True, the Prime Minister was unable to announce fresh Covid restrictions yesterday amid Cabinet concerns about the limitations of the data on omicron. His political authority to impose restrictions has undoubtedly been weakened by further revelations about Downing Street parties and restive Tory back-benchers. Still there’s little reason for lockdown-sceptics to cheer just yet. Christmas is still in chaos, as ambiguity in No 10’s messaging leaves the public, with little clarity about whether they should go ahead with their festive plans. Worse, Boris Johnson left the door open for further measures, even an unprecedented post-vaccine lockdown.” – Daily Telegraph

Coronavirus 3) Pubs and restaurants face the worst January on record without further support

“City traders toasting another successful year would normally pile into pubs and bars on the weekend before Christmas. But this year the wood-panelled rooms in pubs across London fell silent as revellers stayed away – so much so, that some were forced to shut their doors. Clive Watson, chief executive of parent company City Pub Group, has closed venues that survive on business from office workers after the Government’s encouragement to work from home triggered an exodus from the City. “I’ve been in the industry for more than thirty years and it’s the first time I’ve had to do that before Christmas,” says Watson, who owns 46 pubs.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Hospitality bosses facing £1.5bn rent bills within days as fears grow over fresh lockdown in January – Daily Telegraph
  • Public outraged at No 10 drinks for staff’s ‘hard work’ – The Times
  • Train firms blame Covid for widespread cancellations – The Times
  • The show won’t go on as theatres hit by Covid cancellations – The Times

Comment:

Coronavirus 4) Self-isolation period could be cut from 10 days to seven to help NHS staffing crisis

“The 10-day self-isolation period for people infected with Covid could be cut within weeks, as Sajid Javid is keen to shorten it in the wake of staffing crises sparked by the virus. The Health Secretary is said to be “very keen” to reduce self-isolation from 10 to seven days, as hospitals and businesses struggle to maintain staffing levels. He has asked for “rapid advice” from clinicians, so that any change could be introduced within weeks – amid growing concern at the impact of the virus, particularly on the NHS. Hospital staff have warned that beds are being closed and employees are being stretched to cover other specialities as a result of rising Covid cases forcing NHS staff into isolation.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Fears NHS could be overwhelmed by London Omicron surge – The Times

Coronavirus 5) Zahawi warns classes will be cancelled until spring because of staff sickness as he calls on retired teachers to help out

“Schools will likely see disruption until Easter as a rise in Omicron cases sparks a wave of staff absences, Nadim Zahawi warned as he issued a desperate call for qualified teachers to sign up to help. The Education Secretary is calling on qualified teachers – who left the profession or who pursued other careers – to apply on the Get Into Teaching website as soon as possible, ideally before Christmas Eve, so they can join the workforce in January. Schools have been experiencing low attendance from both teachers and pupils ahead of the winter break, and Department for Education (DfE) officials admitted yesterday that they expect Omicron to bring about high levels of staff absence throughout the spring term.” – Daily Mail

Comment:

Coronavirus 6) Downing Street lockdown gathering photo: Fingers pointed at Treasury as hunt for leaker intensifies

“Downing Street insiders are pointing the finger of suspicion at Treasury officials for the damaging leak of a photograph showing Boris Johnson, his wife and No 10 advisers enjoying cheese and wine during lockdown. Sources inside No 10 have pointed out that the photograph was taken from a veranda reached from a first floor function room, which was being used by Rishi Sunak’s team and overlooks the Downing Street garden. A well-placed source said: “It has to be taken by someone associated with the Chancellor. It is the Chancellor’s bit of the Downing Street complex.”” – Daily Telegraph

  • PM claims No 10 lockdown cheese and wine snap showed ‘people at work, talking about work’ after huge backlash = Daily Mail

Comment:

Free speech victory for ex-officer Harry Miller over ‘hate incident’ tweet

“Police recording non-crime hate incidents “is plainly an interference with free speech”, the Court of Appeal has ruled. Harry Miller, a former police officer, won a High Court challenge last year against Humberside Police after the force recorded a non-crime hate incident against him for allegedly sharing a “transphobic” limerick on Twitter. But the High Court dismissed Mr Miller’s claim against the College of Policing, the body responsible for enforcing non-crime hate incidents, as the judge found that its guidance “serves legitimate purposes”.” – Daily Telegraph

>Today:

Johnson accused of ‘downgrading’ Brexit after putting Truss in charge

“Boris Johnson was accused on Monday of “downgrading” Brexit by adding the task of leading the negotiations with the European Union to the Foreign Secretary’s workload. Senior members of the European Research Group (ERG) met privately at the weekend to express concern about the replacement for Lord Frost, who has resigned from Boris Johnson’s Government. Liz Truss and Chris Heaton-Harris, the newly appointed Europe minister, now have responsibility for the Northern Ireland Protocol talks.” – Daily Telegraph

Energy bills set to hit £2,000 a year, households warned

“Energy bills for most households in Britain could soar to a record £2,000 a year from April as unprecedented wholesale costs force the regulator to increase the price cap by more than 50 per cent, experts have warned. Ministers are understood to be examining options to try to reduce the scale of the increase, which is being driven by a global shortage of gas supplies. Wholesale gas and electricity prices across Europe have reached fresh highs in recent days as cold weather raised energy demand while low gas exports from Russia combined with low wind power generation and nuclear power plant shutdowns in France cut supply.” – The Times

Chile swings left as former student activist Gabriel Boric elected president

“A 35-year-old former student protester has been elected president of Chile, signalling the nation’s sharp shift to the left. Gabriel Boric received 56 per cent of the vote, a clear 12 points ahead of his conservative rival, José Antonio Kast. Boric will become one of the youngest heads of state when he takes office next March. As the result became clear, within two hours of polls closing, a massive crowd gathered to celebrate in the centre of the capital, Santiago. Addressing his supporters, the president-elect reaffirmed his campaign pledge to dismantle an unpopular private pension system and improve public healthcare and education.” – The Times

  • From student protest to presidential palace – The Times

Antidepressants: Stop dishing out pills for depression, doctors told

“Doctors should prescribe fewer antidepressants and for a shorter time, experts said, after a review found no strong evidence that the drugs were effective. The benefits of the medication were uncertain but many patients had side effects and withdrawal symptoms, which could be severe, researchers said. Trial data had failed to show a “clinically relevant” difference between the drugs and a placebo, according to the findings, published online in the Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin. An estimated 7.8 million people in England — roughly one adult in six — were given at least one prescription for antidepressants in 2019-20.” – The Times

Kuenssberg to step down as BBC’s political editor at Easter

“Laura Kuenssberg is to step down as the BBC’s political editor at Easter, but she will remain with the corporation, presenting a range of news and current affairs projects on television, radio and online. The BBC said she would continue to have a “senior presenting and reporting role”, with details announced in the new year. Rumoured roles include taking over Andrew Marr’s Sunday morning show on BBC One and joining the presenting team of Radio 4’s Today programme. Kuenssberg said: “I’ve been so lucky to do the best daily reporting job in the business, with the best colleagues anyone could wish for.” – Daily Telegraph

News in brief: