Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 16 Feb 2021
The Week’s daily digest of the news agenda, published at 8am
PM plans ‘final lockdown’ exit
Boris Johnson has said that he wants the current lockdown to be the last. Speaking at the daily Covid press briefing, the prime minister said the easing of restrictions, due to be announced next Monday, should be “cautious but irreversible”, adding: “I think that is what the public, people up and down the country, want to see.” Johnson said that he would continue to review the data right up to the announcement, but The Telegraph says hopes of a “rapid reopening in time for Easter” have been “dampened”.
Cummings ‘gave friends contract’
The Cabinet Office has been accused of misleading the public after it emerged that Dominic Cummings was instrumental in the awarding of a government contract to a company run by two “friends”. Court documents show the pivotal role the prime minister’s former chief adviser played in the awarding of a Covid research contract to Public First, a company owned and run by two of his longstanding associates. Public First was paid £564,393 to research the public’s understanding of the coronavirus and the government’s messaging around the pandemic.
Pandemic rent crisis
Almost half a million more families have fallen behind on rent during the Covid-19 crisis, a new study has revealed. The Resolution Foundation think tank found that more than 750,000 people were behind on housing costs last month, 450,000 more than in the same month last year. “Despite widespread calls for forbearance in the face of the Covid-19 shock, just 3% of private renting families have been able to negotiate a lower rent,” it said. Meanwhile, one in 20 private renters said they had been refused rent reductions.
Oprah bags Harry and Meghan
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are to give their first in-depth television interview since stepping back from Royal duties to Oprah Winfrey. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are expected to tell the chat show host why they walked away from the monarchy in a 90-minute special to be shown on the US network CBS in March. Palace officials were given no warning of the interview and The Times says Buckingham Palace is “bracing itself” for further revelations.
US ‘outraged’ by rocket attack
Washington has vowed to “hold accountable those responsible” for a rocket attack in the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan that killed a civilian contractor. A US service member and five other contractors were injured when rockets hits sites in Irbil yesterday. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was “outraged” by the attack. A little-known pro-Iranian Shiite militia known as The Guardians of Blood Brigades has claimed responsibility, saying it had targeted “the American occupation”.
Vaccine rollout causing fall in cases
The ongoing vaccination campaign is already reducing hospital admissions, deaths and transmission of Covid-19 in Britain, according to early data. Boris Johnson said that there were “interesting straws in the wind” and “grounds for confidence” on vaccines cutting the spread of infection. Studies of elderly people and healthcare workers are also showing “encouraging” news, The Times reports. However, government sources stressed to the paper that any emerging data is only preliminary.
LGBT troops can reclaim medals
Former military personnel dismissed from the armed forces because of their sexuality can now reclaim lost medals. After the Falklands veteran Joe Ousalice’s successful bid to return awards he lost after being forced out of the Royal Navy, a new scheme has been launched under which former service personnel can apply to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to restore their honours. The MoD admitted that its past actions were “deeply regrettable”, while Conservative MP Johnny Mercer, the veterans minister, said the announcement “addresses a historic injustice”.
Testing could re-open nightclubs
Speedy Covid-19 testing could enable nightclubs and theatres to reopen soon, Boris Johnson has suggested. Speaking at the daily Covid press briefing, the PM said “rapid” lateral flow tests could be used by “those parts of the economy we couldn’t get open last year”. Nightclubs have been unable to operate since March 2020, while many theatres have struggled to make social distancing work. A ministerial source moved to temper expectations, adding: “There is a long way to go before we can get people back at big events safely.”
Pandemic may reduce coin use
The use of coins could drop by one-fifth after the pandemic, the chief executive of the Royal Mint has claimed. Anne Jessopp told The Telegraph that the future “will be less cash, but not cashless” after a fall in the use of coins and a move towards online payments over the past 12 months. “Sometimes when times are tough for people financially they go back to cash,” she said. “I think the one thing that the pandemic has told us is we can’t predict the future anymore.”
College offers small talk course
A university is offering students what is believed to be the first module in chit-chat and networking. BPP University Law School has hired Georgie Nightingall, founder of Trigger Conversations, to help students have “good conversations” that “expand your perspectives and your relationships”. The university decided to launch the class after a poll found that 43% of its students feared they would be judged by the way they speak during their legal careers.