Top story: ‘Material risk’ of NHS being swamped
Hello, Warren Murray here, allow me to enlighten you.
England will enter its toughest nationwide lockdown since March, with schools closed until mid-February, as Boris Johnson warned that the weeks ahead “will be the hardest yet”. The UK’s chief medical officer has recommended the Covid alert move to its highest level, from 4 to 5, meaning there is a “material risk of healthcare services being overwhelmed” and necessitating extremely strict social distancing. The lockdown will last for at least seven weeks, with measures to be reviewed during half-term week. Any relaxation would not come into effect before 22 February.
Other UK leaders have also announced new restrictions. All schools in Wales will be closed until at least 18 January, while mainland Scotland is in full lockdown for the duration of January. The Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said it was “no exaggeration to say that I am more concerned about the situation we face now than I have been at any time since March last year”. Just a day after urging millions of pupils to return to the classroom, Johnson announced all England’s schools would switch to remote learning until the February half-term, and GCSE and A-level exams were unlikely to go ahead as planned. Jessica Elgot examines how we got here when less than three weeks ago the government was insisting its three-tier system was sufficient and five days of Christmas mixing could go ahead.
Separately, many people who have had Covid-19 are still unable to work at full capacity six months after infection, a large-scale survey of confirmed and suspected patients has found. Nicola Davis catches up with some of those affected to find out just how long “long Covid” can be. And on the brighter side, companies are telling of “huge benefits” from moving to a four-day week as part of adapting to the pandemic.
‘Nation is looking to you’ – Joe Biden has urged Georgia voters to send two Democrats to the US Senate as the state today heads into critical runoff elections that will determine the balance of power in Congress. “Georgia, the whole nation is looking to you,” said Biden, at a drive-in rally in Atlanta alongside Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and the Rev Raphael Warnock. “Unlike any time in my career, one state can chart the course not just for the next four years but for the next generation.” Trump used his Georgia rally to spout election conspiracy theories and invited on stage Marjorie Taylor Greene, the QAnon conspiracy theorist elected to congress. Democrats have asked the FBI to open a criminal investigation into Trump over a phone call in which he pressured Georgia state officials to overturn the presidential election in his favour.
‘Grotesque’ – Supporters of Loujain al-Hathloul, imprisoned after campaigning for women’s right to drive in Saudi Arabia, have called for a boycott of the Dakar rally being run in the kingdom. Racers including 12 women are due to pass today within a few hundred metres of Riyadh’s Al-Ha’ir prison where Hathloul is being held.
“It is utterly grotesque,” said Lucy Rae from Grant Liberty, “that at the same time Saudi authorities will host a motor sport event – including women drivers – while the heroes that won their right to drive languish in jail.” The Paris-Dakar Rally moved to South America in 2008 after terrorism threats in west Africa. Saudi Arabia began hosting it in 2020.
Assange bid for bail – Julian Assange will make a fresh appeal to be released from prison this week after a judge ruled against his extradition to the US. District judge Vanessa Baraitser rejected arguments Assange would not get a fair trial in the US but said the WikiLeaks co-founder was at risk of taking his own life if held in isolation. There was dismay among Assange’s supporters that the ruling was solely based on health grounds.
As US authorities prepare to appeal against the ruling, Assange is due to appear in court tomorrow for a new bail application. His legal team is expected to present evidence to show that Assange will not abscond and will also refer to rates of Covid-19 in Belmarsh high-security prison, where he is being held, as well as conditions that are said to detrimental to his physical and mental health.
‘He’s a risk taker’ – Germans are divided over Elon Musk’s new GigaFactory – the Tesla project will put Grünheide on the map, but some say it is doing “irreversible” harm to the environment, writes Kate Connolly.
Today in Focus podcast: More locked-down than ever
2021 has begun in crisis mode for Boris Johnson’s government as it scrambles to control Covid infections by closing schools and implementing a new national lockdown. Peter Walker reports on the new measures.
Lunchtime read: The furniture eaters
“In California, I slept on a slab of foam that could easily be rolled up and moved anywhere. My boyfriend, who kept his clothes in a large cardboard box, suggested that we make all our furniture out of cardboard boxes. It was an idea that had already been pioneered by Ikea, who made chipboard end tables with hollow interiors. Within a year, I had rolled up my mattress and moved my boxes to Iowa, where I found my furniture on the street.
“‘A better everyday life for the many people’ is Ikea’s mission, on paper. I think of all the Ikea furniture that I have seen eaten by life. The end tables with broken legs, the cracked slats of futon frames, the chipboard desks left out on the kerb and destroyed by the rain before they can be taken to a new home. Ikea has made furniture into something that gets used up. It is furniture for the apocalypse. But what I like – what makes me laugh a little about ‘for people, not consumers’ – is the implication that consumers are not people.” Eula Bliss reflects on consumerism, gentrification and white privilege.
Liverpool were beaten in the league for only the second time this season but Jürgen Klopp spent much of this captivating contest against Southampton, settled by a nonchalant Danny Ings strike after 112 seconds, pacing the technical area and beyond with all of the self-restraint of Basil Fawlty. European rugby chiefs are investigating how testing procedures might be altered to prevent Covid-19 causing more disruption to the Champions and Challenge Cup group phases this month. England are nervously awaiting the results of fresh Covid-19 tests in Sri Lanka on Tuesday after Moeen Ali emerged as a positive case and also forced teammate Chris Woakes into isolation as a close contact. Professional sport has been given the all-clear to continue despite the coronavirus alert being moved to five, the highest possible level.
Overnight the New York Stock Exchange has said it is withdrawing plans to remove shares of three Chinese state-owned phone carriers under an order by President Donald Trump. The exchange cited “further consultation” with US regulators but gave no other details. Asian shares have been mostly lower, echoing pullbacks on Wall Street as worries grow about surging coronavirus cases in the region. Japan and Australia slipped while South Korea’s Kospi was little changed. The Hang Seng and Shanghai Composite also fell. The FTSE is heading towards a 0.3% lower open while the pound is worth $1.359 and €1.107 at time of writing.
Boris Johnson’s announcement that England will enter its third national lockdown – and the toughest since March – is splashed across front pages. Some papers focus on the grim weeks ahead, while others highlight the first doses of the Oxford vaccine being administered outside of clinical trials. Our full-round of the papers is summarised below.
The Guardian’s lead is “PM imposes new lockdown and warns worst is yet to come”. The front also features schools being closed until mid-February and teachers’ relief at the PM “bowing to the inevitable”.
The Times splashes on “Return to lockdown” – Johnson is shown during his speech looking more dishevelled than usual. The FT has Johnson “forced into lockdown order” in a “sharp switch in position”.
The Telegraph quotes Johnson’s warning with his optimistic caveat “but end is in sight”. The Daily Express says “New lockdown is tough … but vaccine will end struggle”. The Sun encourages its readers to give “One last push” while the i goes for grim laughs with “Lockdown 3: the worst sequel yet”.
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