Top story: Hunt warns on lifting lockdown too early
Morning, everyone. I’m Martin Farrer and here are the top stories this Friday morning.
Ministers are under fire for delays in implementing plans to detain arrivals to the UK from high-risk countries in coronavirus quarantine hotels, with Labour accusing the government of “putting people at risk”. Lack of details about the plan forced the government to announce yesterday that the health secretary, Matt Hancock, would take personal charge of the scheme under which passengers from a “red list” have to pay for their own accommodation from 15 February. It had been hoped that mandatory isolation would be in place by now to stop the spread of new variants of Covid-19. The shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, said the scheme was “half-baked” as hotel chains said they had been kept in the dark about the plans.
Despite hope this week about case numbers reaching a peak, former health secretary Jeremy Hunt warned that the cabinet should not lift the current lockdown until cases were down to 1,000 a day. “We mustn’t make the mistake that we made last year” in ending restrictions too early, he tells the Guardian. Up to 100 children a week are being hospitalised with a rare disease that can emerge weeks after Covid-19, leaving them in intensive care, doctors have said. Three-quarters of those worst affected by paediatric inflammatory multi-system syndrome were black, Asian or ethnic minority. It comes as figures showed white people aged over 80 were twice as likely to have had the vaccine as their black peers. In more optimistic news, a cheap drug normally used to treat gout – colchicine – has been found to have the potential to significantly reduce hospital stays among Covid-19 patients. And the US company Johnson & Johnson is seeking approval from regulators for the first single-dose vaccine.
As the UK death toll passed 110,000, we remember some more victims of the pandemic, including an NHS worker, a Tibetan rights activist and a police officer. You can find all the overnight developments in the pandemic at our live blog.
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Coal call – Scientists, green campaigners and developing world experts have lined up to criticise plans for a new coalmine in Cumbria as the UK prepares to host the most important UN climate summit since the Paris agreement was signed in 2015. They accuse ministers of the seeming contradiction between allowing the UK’s first new deep coalmine in three decades while trying to garner support from world leaders for a fresh deal on the climate crisis. In addition, some 80 activist groups have written to the prime minister urging him to block the development near Whitehaven.
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Republican removed – The US House of Representatives has voted to eject the Republican extremist Marjorie Taylor Greene from her committee roles in the fallout over her incendiary comments about race. The newly elected Georgia representative, who is a longstanding supporter of the false QAnon conspiracy theories, was voted off with 11 Republicans switching aisles. President Joe Biden has announced a reset of US foreign policy, starting with withdrawing support for the Saudi offensive in Yemen. Donald Trump said he would not testify at his impeachment trial, which starts on Tuesday.
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Hospital lockdown – Police in Scotland last night imposed a lockdown at University Hospital Crosshouse in the Ayrshire town of Kilmarnock because of a “serious incident” following reports of a stabbing at the site and another two “potentially linked” incidents in the area. The emergency lasted three hours while police dealt with the first problem, while officers then shut down part of the town centre following another incident. Finally, a “serious” car crash on the nearby A76 was being investigated.
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Myanmar arrest – Myanmar’s generals have tightened their grip on the country by arresting a key aide of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi days after a coup that has sparked outrage around the world. Win Htein was detained hours after he told an English-language news service that Monday’s seizure of power was “not wise”. It follows the arrest of Suu Kyi and Myanmar president Win Myint as the military took control of the south-east Asian nation. The military had earlier blocked access to Facebook in the country.
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Power play – The world’s biggest battery will be built in the Hunter Valley in Australia as the country ratchets up its renewable energy capability. The 1,200MW storage battery is about eight times greater than a battery in South Australia, which was the biggest when it began operating in 2017. The new facility will help harness huge solar power output and challenge the viability of fossil fuel power production.
Today in Focus podcast
Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial begins in the Senate next week. Lawrence Douglas explains the process and politics of the spectacle ahead, while former Democratic senator Russ Feingold tells Anushka Asthana how the process has become more partisan than ever.
Lunchtime read: Jesse Plemons on fame, Fargo and the FBI
Jesse Plemons rose to fame with an arresting turn in Breaking Bad and become one of Hollywood’s favourite character actors with roles in The Irishman, Bridge of Spies and The Master. He tells Ryan Gilbey about his “sick enjoyment” of pressure, his fiancee, Kirsten Dunst, and his latest role, as an FBI officer hunting the Black Panthers.
José Mourinho insisted that his players remain united – and refused to answer a question about the unused substitute Gareth Bale – after Tottenham’s 1-0 defeat by Chelsea saw them lose further ground in the race to qualify for the Champions League. Joe Root walks out for his 100th Test as England begin the series against India without Zak Crawley, who will miss the first two matches after scans showed he sprained his right wrist in “a real freak accident”. Eddie Jones has turned up the heat on Scotland before the Calcutta Cup clash on Saturday, questioning whether they can handle the weight of expectation on the 150th anniversary of the historic match. In an exclusive interview, the Chelsea forward Pernille Harder opens up on equality in football and the time the Danish women’s team took on their own federation.
Sam Burgess, the former England rugby league and union international, has been found guilty of intimidating his then-wife’s father by an Australian court. Relegation from the Premiership is set to be officially scrapped in mid-season following a Rugby Football Union Council vote on Friday to approve a proposed expansion to 13 teams from 2021-22. The Premier League and other domestic leagues across Europe will gather on Friday to discuss proposals for a new‑look Champions League from 2024. And Formula One’s new chief executive, Stefano Domenicali, has emphasised the huge importance Lewis Hamilton plays in the sport as both a driver and a role model.
Demand for the invitation-only chat app Clubhouse has soared after Elon Musk used it for a natter with the boss of Robinhood. It helped propel Clubhouse to the top of the startup charts and sparked a scramble for invitations. On the markets, the FTSE100 is set to open flat while the pound is buying $1.367 and €1.143.
There is no outstanding theme on the front pages but a couple of papers try to divine a chink in the Covid clouds. “Return of sport and socialising outdoors”, says the Times, while the Mail reckons “Most Covid curbs ‘to end in May’”. In Scotland the Press & Journal reports on lower case rates: “At last there’s a ray of sunshine in Covid battle”. The Express sees optimism in the economy – “Shot in the arm for Britain plc” – and the Mirror has “Delivery of hope” about their campaign for school supplies. The Guardian leads with an exclusive story about Jeremy Hunt’s warning about lockdown: “Hunt: Don’t end lockdown until Covid cases fall to 1,000 a day”, while the Telegraph says “Ministers requisition 28,000 quarantine hotel rooms”. The Scotsman has “Angry vaccine staff ordered to dump doses at end of shift” and FT focuses on changes to company regulations: “Directors face great liability for major failures under audit reform”.
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