Daily Briefing

Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 8 December 2021

The Week’s daily digest of the news agenda, published at 8am

1

No 10 ‘preparing new restrictions’

Ministers are reportedly drawing up new work-from-home plans as Boris Johnson considers options to slow the spread of the Omicron variant. The Telegraph said officials working on Covid policy have carried out modelling on the economic impact of urging people to work from home over Christmas and the new year. Vaccine passports are also being considered, but the Cabinet is split over whether to approve them.

2

Omicron reduces Pfizer antibodies

A study has found that the Omicron variant significantly reduces Covid antibodies generated by Pfizer vaccine. Researchers say there was a “very large drop” in how well the vaccine’s antibodies neutralised the new strain, meaning more vaccinated people could be infected. However, the World Health Organization’s Dr Mike Ryan said the vaccines were expected to provide protection against severe cases. Meanwhile, scientists at University College London say they have identified a “stealth” version of Omicron that cannot be distinguished from other variants using the PCR test without genetic sequencing.

3

Biden threatens ‘nuclear’ sanctions

Joe Biden warned Vladimir Putin that the US and Europe were prepared to impose “nuclear” economic sanctions against Russia if it invaded Ukraine. The Telegraph said the “tense meeting” was “one of the most critical tests of Mr Biden’s presidency to date”. Following the call, Downing Street said the European leaders “underlined the importance of Russia ceasing their threatening behaviour towards Ukraine” and agreed on the need for “ongoing dialogue” with Moscow.

4

PM’s staff joked about party

Footage obtained by ITV shows senior Downing Street officials joking about holding a Christmas party with “definitely no social distancing” soon after the event last December. On Monday, Boris Johnson’s spokesperson denied that any such party took place. The Mirror said the former education secretary Gavin Willamson also broke Covid rules by hosting a separate “reckless” bash during the ban on socialising last December.

5

Barra ‘not done with us yet’

More ice, wind and rain are expected today, leading to dozens of flood warnings across the country. Storm Barra is “not quite done with the UK yet”, said Sky News – but it is not expected to cause as much damage as its predecessor, Arwen, which struck the UK 11 days ago and left thousands of homes without electricity. About 360 homes in the north-east of England, an area in the path of the new storm, are yet to be reconnected.

6

Riyadh dismisses Khashoggi arrest

A Saudi man detained in France has “nothing to do” with the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi Arabian government has said. A senior official told CNN that the detention of the 33-year-old man is “believed to be a case of mistaken identity”. The country’s embassy in France released a statement saying “the person who was arrested has nothing to do with” the case of Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and columnist for the Washington Post who was killed and dismembered in 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

7

BBC drops ‘insulting’ BAME acronym

The BBC is to stop using the BAME acronym after a report found the term could “cause serious insult” by treating ethnic minorities as a single group. The corporation has followed in the footsteps of ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 by moving away from the “catch-all” term. Instead, it will refer to specific ethnic groups where possible, or use the full description of “black, Asian and minority ethnic”.

8

Letter ‘shows PM misled on animal airlift’

A Labour MP has said a leaked letter suggests that Boris Johnson and the Foreign Office may have covered up their involvement in allowing more than 150 dogs and cats to be airlifted from Afghanistan. The letter, signed by the parliamentary private secretary to the prime minister, tells animal sanctuary founder Pen Farthing that he and his staff will be evacuated by the RAF and that his animals “can be evacuated on a separate, chartered flight”. Johnson’s spokesperson said: “At no point did the prime minister intervene.”

9

Australian officials to boycott Olympics

The Australian prime minister has said his government officials will not attend the Beijing Winter Olympics, joining the US in a diplomatic boycott of next year’s Games. Speaking to reporters in Sydney, Scott Morrison cited human rights abuses in Xinjiang as one of the factors Australia had “consistently raised”. The Chinese embassy in Canberra accused Australian politicians of “political posturing” and suggested that the diplomatic representatives had not been invited anyway.

10

Pope says sins of flesh ‘not most serious’

The Pope has suggested that Catholics can worry less about “sins of the flesh”. During a question-and-answer session with journalists on his flight back from a trip to Greece and Cyprus, Pope Francis said “sins of the flesh are not the most serious” – unlike pride and hatred. Robert Mickens, editor-in-chief of the Catholic daily La Croix International, said the Pope is “being less rigid on sex”.

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