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Johnson: We can ride Omicron out without new Covid curbs

“Boris Johnson has ruled out a lockdown as he said the country could “ride out” Omicron without further restrictions. The prime minister will extend the plan B measures today but will not go further as he expressed hope of dealing with the surge “without shutting down our country once again” despite a record 218,724 cases reported yesterday. However, his scientific advisers warned that it was not clear when the peak would be or how many older people would end up in hospital. Health service leaders were also divided, with some saying that a surge of elderly patients was not materialising while others suggested that hospitals were starting to be overwhelmed.” – The Times

  • Care homes stop visits as 75 per cent of workers absent – The Times
  • People who test positive with DIY lateral flow kit will ‘no longer need follow-up PCR check’ – The Sun
  • Make your own way to hospital, 999 callers told, in Covid staffing crisis – The Times
  • Most Covid-stricken anti-vaxxers in intensive care are not conspiracy theorists with ‘weird views’ but ordinary people who have fallen for ‘deliberate online misinformation’, says Sir Chris Whitty – Daily Mail
  • Schools may need to suspend specialist subjects to cope with staff sickness, Ofqual warns – The Times
  • Sturgeon urged to reduce self-isolation amid school spike fears – The Scotsman
  • Antivaxer confronts Javid’s young child – The Times
  • You’ll need a Covid booster vaccine to travel abroad, warns the Prime Minister – Daily Telegraph

Analysis:

  • Cause for optimism on weaker Omicron wave, scientists say – The Times
  • Too risky to cut time in isolation – The Times
  • Why masks could be doing our children more harm than good – Daily Telegraph

Allison Pearson: We were told to fear omicron – but it’s a pussycat compared to what came before

“Amid the cracker-paper debris and cranberry-sauce splats of the Christmas table at Pearson Towers, my reunited, multiply-tested family grew nostalgic for simpler, pre-Covid times. “Do you remember people used to say: ‘There’s something going round’?” my mother asked. “And you didn’t need to lock yourself indoors for a week if you got the something,” I sighed. “What about ‘There’s a lot of it about’?” asked one of the kids. Ah, yes, the good old days. That golden period when the National Education Union was not dictating terms to ministers, and teachers with “a bit of a cold” (remember “a bit of a cold”?) still went into school to do their job because you couldn’t stay home for just any little thing, could you?” – Daily Telegraph

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>Yesterday:

Frost joins Covid Recovery Group on Whatsapp weeks after quitting the Government…

“Boris Johnson’s former Brexit chief issued an astonishing snub to his ex-boss as he joined a hardline group of Tories opposed to Covid restrictions. Lord Frost was branded a ‘hero’ by members of the Covid Recovery Group of backbenchers as he was welcomed into a plot-organising WhatsApp group. The former diplomat and drinks industry lobbyist, who was made a peer by the Prime Minister, quit before Christmas over the Government’s direction on Covid, taxes and green policies. He negotiated Britain’s departure from the EU, which has been in the spotlight over the past year amid fights with Brussels over problems with the agreement he made involving Northern Ireland. Joining the CRG group on the popular messaging app he said he was ‘looking forward to helping’ and was called a ‘hero’ by chairman Steve Baker.” – Daily Mail

… as Fox urges fellow Tories to get behind the PM

“A senior minister sacked by Boris Johnson has pleaded with Tory MPs not to force the Prime Minister out. Former trade secretary Liam Fox said it was the ‘wrong time’ to launch a leadership challenge that would result in ‘division and paralysis’. ‘This is a time for the whole Government to concentrate its efforts on the substantial tasks at hand rather than engaging in a bout of navel-gazing,’ Dr Fox wrote on the Conservative Home website. In a swipe at those around Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss who are said to be plotting to overthrow Boris Johnson, he added: ‘We do not need potential candidates forming shadow campaign teams.’” – Daily Mail

Read his original piece on ConservativeHome here:

‘I’ll put the fear of God into abusers’: Raab vows to help domestic violence victims

“Victims of domestic violence will be given two years to report crimes as Dominic Raab said that he wants to put the “fear of God” into abusers. The Justice Secretary said that victims would no longer be denied justice simply because they failed to report their domestic assault to police within the current six-month time limit. Writing exclusively in The Telegraph, below, he said that the current rule meant that perpetrators in “too many cases” evaded punishment because by the time the victim had recovered and built up the courage to go to police, they were “timed out”. Mr Raab said that the change, part of a raft of measures to combat violence against women, would “leave the door to justice open to thousands of victims”.” – Daily Telegraph

Cost of living 1) The PM indicates there will be no energy bill VAT cuts to help struggling families

“Boris Johnson has indicated that he will not cut VAT on energy bills because it would help “a lot of people who perhaps don’t need the support” with rising living costs. The Prime Minister on Tuesday night dismissed demands to enact the move to help struggling families, amid fears that residential energy bills could double to £2,000 in April when the price cap is set to rise. His intervention sparked a backlash among Tory MPs, who have insisted that slashing VAT from energy bills should be a “Brexit dividend” now Britain has quit the European Union, which mandates the tax is levied at a minimum of five per cent. Speaking at a televised Downing Street press conference, Mr Johnson was challenged about a vow he himself made in May 2016 to scrap VAT from energy bills if Britons voted Leave.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Sunak warns of limit to state help on soaring energy prices – FT

Cost of living 2) Holden’s new plan ‘targets £2.8 billion retirement boost’

“Backbencher Richard Holden is expected to table a Private Members Bill in the Commons drafted to widen occupational pension auto-enrolment to all adults in full or part-time jobs. His proposal follows a think tank report estimating that an extra £2.8billion could be saved in retirement pots across the UK under the move. The North West Durham MP said: “Auto-enrolment has been one of the massive hidden triumphs of the last decade in the UK. “But sadly millions of hard-working British people aren’t benefiting because they’re under 22 or simply not working enough hours. I want to change that. In 2017 the Government said that it would look at extending auto-enrolment by the mid-2020s but to hit those dates we need legislation now to make it happen””. – Daily Express

Comment:

New head of No 10 parties investigation ‘unlikely to start from scratch’

“The new head of an investigation into alleged rule-breaking Downing Street parties has not “started from scratch” and is unlikely to re-interview all government staff who have already been spoken to about their knowledge of the gatherings, the Guardian has been told. Sources said that Sue Gray, who took over the probe after cabinet secretary Simon Case recused himself when a Christmas event in his own office was revealed, would more likely “pick up” the existing work and look for “holes” in the testimony provided so far. In addition, Gray’s attention will have to turn to more gatherings that came to light since the initial probe led by Case began.” – The Guardian

Labour 1) Starmer distances himself from Khan’s pilot scheme to decriminalise cannabis possession for young people

“Keir Starmer clashed with London mayor Sadiq Khan’s drugs policy today as he distanced himself from a scheme to decriminalise cannabis use in parts of the capital. The Labour leader insisted he was against softening the law after it was revealed a proposed pilot programme would see young adults caught with the Class B drug offered speeding course-style classes or counselling instead of arrest. The trial, if approved by City Hall, would run in the boroughs of Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley and apply to those aged 18 to 24, the Telegraph reported. Keir Starmer clashed with London mayor Sadiq Khan’s drugs policy today as he distanced himself from a scheme to decriminalise cannabis use in parts of the capital.” – Daily Mail

  • Khan moves to begin effectively decriminalising use of cannabis in London – Daily Telegraph

Comment:

  • I’ve seen how cannabis destroys neighbourhoods. For Sadiq Khan to decriminalise it is a lethal mistake, Andy Cook – Daily Mail

Sketch:

Labour 2) Breastfeeding voyeurs to face prison

“People who photograph or film women breastfeeding without their consent face being put on the sex offenders register and jailed for up to two years. Those who gain sexual gratification or cause humiliation, distress or alarm by doing so will be prosecuted under a legal change making breastfeeding voyeurism a criminal offence. Three years ago, similar action took place against “upskirting” — taking pictures up a person’s skirt or dress. There have since been 32 prosecutions. The legal change on breastfeeding voyeurism will be made to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which will return to parliament next week. The Labour MP Stella Creasy campaigned for the reform after being photographed breastfeeding on public transport.” – The Times

News in brief: