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We’re on the right path to tackle Covid crisis, says Johnson…

“Boris Johnson has warned hospitals in England to brace themselves for “considerable” pressure in the next few weeks but ruled out new curbs to tackle an Omicron surge. The prime minister said yesterday that he would instead rely on existing “plan B” measures — such as working from home guidance, vaccine passports and facemasks — to combat rising infections. He urged those who had not received a booster vaccination to get one, to avoid future restrictions. Figures revealed that two million appointments for jabs this week had yet to be taken. Johnson said that people should continue to take precautions and warned against complacency, dismissing suggestions that the pandemic was coming to an end as “absolute folly”.” – The Times

  • Prime Minister: Stick to Plan B but brace for pressure on NHS – Daily Telegraph
  • England will stick with existing Covid restrictions for now – FT
  • Johnson bats away calls for Covid isolation to be slashed to five days – Daily Mail

>Yesterday: LeftWatch: A change of heart by Labour on lockdowns would make Johnson’s delayed decision irrelevant

…as he vows kids won’t wear face masks ‘a day more than is necessary’

“Boris Johnson yesterday vowed that kids will not have to wear face masks “a day more than is necessary” as pupils and teachers face uncertainty as schools go back today. Heads are braced for a week of chaos with potentially thousands of pupils forced to stay at home due to pandemic- related staff shortages and positive test results. They have been desperately trying to organise plans for students to meet last-minute Government guidance on testing and masks rushed through at the weekend. It is feared the PM and Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi were bounced into the measures by hardline teaching unions. Both have previously spoken out against masks in classrooms and even Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Jonathan Van-Tam has questioned their effectiveness.” – The Sun

  • Schools in danger of closing within weeks for lack of teachers – The Times
  • English schools to move some lessons online as Omicron surges – FT

Comment:

  • Facemasks are a price worth paying to keep kids in the classroom – Jonathan Gullis MP, Times Red Box

Milder Omicron variant is past its peak in London, Zahawi believes

“London may already be past the peak of its Omicron wave, a minister said yesterday. Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary and former vaccines minister, said that despite the highest case rates of the pandemic, hospitals in the capital seemed to be coping so far and the disease appeared to be milder than with the Delta variant. “There’s nothing in the data that gives me any concern that we need to go beyond where we are at,” he told the BBC. London was where the Omicron variant first spread in the UK, and is further advanced with its epidemic. Before Christmas the Office for National Statistics estimated that as many as one in ten people were infected. Hospital admissions reached a peak of more than 500 a day in London on December 29, half the figure seen last winter.” – The Times

  • Just refresh webpage, UK minister tells people trying to get Covid tests – The Guardian
  • Prepare to call in military as shortages bite, ministers told – The Times

We can’t vaccinate the planet every six months, says JCVI chief

“Fourth Covid jabs should not be offered until there is more evidence, the head of Britain’s vaccine body has said – as he warned that giving boosters to people every six months was “not sustainable”. In an interview with The Telegraph, Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said “we need to target the vulnerable” in future, rather than giving boosters to all over-12s. Sir Andrew said there was no point in trying to stop all infections, and that “at some point, society has to open up”. He also suggested that “misinformation” about the risks of the AstraZeneca vaccine – espoused by European leaders including Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, and Angela Merkel, former leader of Germany – was “highly likely” to have cost lives in Africa.” – Daily Telegraph

  • NHS trusts in England declare critical incidents amid Covid staff crisis – The Guardian
  • One million Brits in Covid isolation as back-to-work chaos looms – Daily Mail

Fury in Scotland as top scientist warns large parties could still be banned in April

“Scotland’s top disease expert was facing a backlash today after suggesting that the country’s current Covid ban on large public gatherings could be in place until April. National Clinical Director Jason Leitch raised the spectre of restrictions lasting well into spring when asked about how hospitality firms could recoup £20million lost when Hogmanay was cancelled. Speaking to The World This Weekend on BBC Radio 4, the national clinical director dismissed calls to reschedule Edinburgh’s Hogmanay street party to April as being too soon for mass events. His comments come as hospitality firms continue to struggle under restrictions which mean pubs and restaurants must have table service only, and one metre social distancing between groups. Night clubs were closed on December 27 for at least three weeks.” – Daily Mail

  • Sturgeon urged to lift Scotland’s Covid curbs – Daily Telegraph
  • First Minister’s own pandemic advisor slams ‘lazy’ lockdown approach – Daily Express

Soaring energy bills put Britons off paying higher taxes to save the planet

“Sixty per cent of Britons say that they are not willing to pay higher taxes on their energy bills to help reach the Government’s net zero targets, according to a poll. Some 70 per cent of Britons said they had worried about energy costs over the festive period, with more than 60 per cent saying they did not believe they would benefit from the Government’s green subsidies. Three in five of the 2,176 questioned said they did not want to pay higher taxes on their bills with a similar proportion saying they had not been given enough of a say on the net zero policies, according to the poll commissioned by campaign group Net Zero Watch. It comes as Boris Johnson was told that he must intervene to address Britain’s cost of living crisis, with 20 Tory MPs and peers calling on him to scrap taxes on energy bills.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Fastest price rise since 2013 hits fresh food – Daily Mail
  • Political uncertainty and Brexit will slow UK recovery in 2022, economists predict – FT

>Today: Local Government: Fracking? Let the Lancastrians decide

Robert Halfon: Johnson must level up by getting bills down now

“It hasn’t just been a pandemic but a hammer blow to the cost of ­living. International energy costs have risen to unprecedented levels, as has the price of oil. This is feeding through to every aspect of our lives, from food costs to transport. Finding a bill that has not gone up is like trying to search for a mango tree in the ­Antarctic. No wonder inflation is rising. Given there is a cost of living crisis in the offing — the Resolution Foundation suggests that the average household will be worse off by a whopping £1,000 this year — surely the core ­purpose of the PM’s levelling up proposals must be to cut the cost of living. The priority must be to reduce energy bills and ensure fair prices at the pumps. The Sun-backed fuel duty freeze for the past 11 years has saved motorists many hundreds of pounds.” – The Sun

  • My fellow Tories must calm down, mid-term wobbles are very normal – Ruth Davidson, Daily Telegraph

>Today: ToryDiary: Twelve new year hurdles for Johnson to clear

New rules come in to protect UK firms from foreign takeovers

“British businesses crucial to national security are now protected by new rules making it harder for foreign firms to take them over, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has announced. The move has been warmly welcomed by David Jones, deputy chairman of the European Research Group (ERG), who said the “sensible” regulations were definitely needed in the current climate, with UK companies vulnerable to “predatory foreign entities”. The National Security and Investment Act is widely regarded as the biggest shake-up of the UK’s national security regime for 20 years and will permit ministers to scrutinise approaches by overseas interests much more closely. The Government will also be able to impose certain conditions on a takeover or block it – although ministers were keen to stress this will happen rarely.” – Daily Express

  • Ministers have more scope to unpick acquisitions that could harm national security – The Guardian

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Ten predictions about Brexit that have not transpired

Starmer to unveil plan to build on Labour’s poll lead momentum

“Keir Starmer will launch his plan to maintain the momentum of Labour’s poll lead in the runup to the next election, accusing Boris Johnson of losing voters’ trust due to numerous sleaze scandals and treating power like a “branch of the entertainment industry”. Keen to progress from criticising the government to presenting his own team as a viable alternative, Starmer is expected to flesh out how Labour hopes to spend 2022 climbing closer to power. In a speech in Birmingham on Tuesday morning, the Labour leader will stress the importance of security, prosperity and respect, contrasted with months of what he called incompetent and untrustworthy behaviour by the prime minister… Labour has spent a month ahead in the polls for the first time in a year, while the Conservatives’ fall has sparked nervousness among Johnson’s ministers and backbenchers.” – The Guardian

  • More than 500,000 want to see Blair’s knighthood stopped – The Times

Khan clashes with Johnson over plans to ‘begin decriminalising drugs in London’

“Sadiq Khan is set to clash with Boris Johnson over his new plans to decriminalise certain drugs in London, a report suggests. London’s Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan, 51, plans to end the prosecution of young people who are found in possession of cannabis and bring in a counselling scheme for those found with Class B narcotics, the Telegraph has revealed. Those aged under 25 in Lewisham, Bexley and Greenwich will be affected by the new scheme, which is reportedly set to be announced by Mr Khan later this month. Police officers patrolling the three boroughs have reportedly been told not to arrest young Londoners caught with cannabis, ketamine and even speed. But the move looks set to put the Mayor at odds with Boris Johnson, 57, as the Prime Minister claimed the Government has been “ramping up” their campaign against county line networks and has even said passports could be removed from those caught with Class A substances.” – Daily Express

>Yesterday: Samia Hersi in Local Government: The Mayor of London will be a liability to Labour in the borough council elections this May

Johnson faces DUP demand that he set a deadline for Protocol deal

“Boris Johnson has been handed a New Year Brexit headache as unionists threaten to collapse Northern Ireland’s power sharing government unless he gets tougher with the EU over trade rules. DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson demanded that Foreign Secretary Liz Truss set a ‘clear date’ for talks with Brussels about the Northern Ireland to end, with or without an agreement. He warned that if the talks dragged on there would be ‘major implications for Stormont. His warning comes ahead of elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly in May in which the hardline unionists could be replaced as the largest party by nationalists Sinn Fein… Sir Jeffrey would not specify a reasonable deadline for Ms Truss to make progress when asked by the Telegraph, but said: ‘January is going to be an absolutely crucial month.'” – Daily Mail

  • Stormont collapse ‘inevitable’ unless deal renegotiated, First Minister warns – Daily Telegraph

More:

  • Powell accuses Prime Minister of ‘casual political vandalism’ – The Guardian

>Today: Richard Holden MP’s column: Covid has kept Britain in chains since we left the EU. Now we’re set to break free.

SNP accused of ignoring feminist and religious groups in gender reform talks

“SNP ministers have been accused of freezing feminist and religious groups out of discussions over controversial gender reform proposals, while offering an open door to pro-trans lobbyists. Nicola Sturgeon faces claims that she is breaking a manifesto promise, made ahead of last May’s Holyrood election, to consult with a wide range of groups before pushing ahead with changes that would allow people to legally change gender without a medical diagnosis. Records released under the Freedom of Information Act show that Shona Robison, the minister in charge of the reforms, has met with five government-funded lobbying groups that have been aggressively pushing for the changes since the election. However, no feminist or religious organisations that have concerns have been granted a meeting.” – Daily Telegraph

News in Brief:

  • The problem with ‘vaccine equity’ – Ross Clark, The Spectator
  • Three ways Macron could lose France – John Lichfield, UnHerd
  • A year in review: the National Trust – Alice Loxton, The Critic