Daily Briefing

Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 18 Feb 2021

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

1

‘Strong decline’ in infections

There has been a “strong decline” in levels of Covid-19 infections in England since January, say scientists tracking the epidemic. Imperial College London’s React study found infections have dropped by two-thirds across England since lockdown began, with an 80% fall in London. Infections are now at a similar level to where they were when React reported in September, increasing pressure on Boris Johnson to ease restrictions. Speaking yesterday the prime minister said it was “absolutely right” to take a “data not dates” approach to ending the lockdown.

2

Dirty air increases infertility

Exposure to air pollution significantly increases the risk of infertility, a major study has found. Analysis of 18,000 couples in China found that those living with moderately higher levels of small-particle pollution had a 20% greater risk of infertility. Qin Li, from the Centre for Reproductive Medicine at Peking University Third Hospital, told The Guardian that “numerous studies have noted that air pollution is associated with lots of adverse pregnancy events”.

3

Starmer slams Tory legacy

Keir Starmer will today use a major speech to claim that the Covid-19 pandemic hit the UK disproportionately hard because a decade of Conservative rule “weakened the foundations of our society”. Turning to Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s forthcoming budget, the Labour leader will argue that “we can go back to the same insecure and unequal economy that has been so cruelly exposed by the virus” or we can “seize this moment and go forward to a future that is going to look utterly unlike the past”. “This must now be a moment to think again about the country that we want to be”, he will add.

4

Prince Philip in hospital

The Duke of Edinburgh remains in hospital after being admitted as a “precautionary measure” yesterday afternoon. A Buckingham Palace spokesperson said the 99-year-old is “expected to remain in hospital for a few days of observation and rest”. His stay is not related to Covid-19 and a palace source said the duke walked into the hospital unaided on Tuesday.

5

Food powered inflation spike

Rising food prices drove up inflation in January, according to the Office for National Statistics. The consumer prices index rose to 0.7% in January – from 0.6% a month earlier – as shops, including food retailers and household goods stores, pushed up their prices and reduced the range of discounted items. Britain’s economy is expected to have plunged into reverse at the start of the year after narrowly escaping a double-dip recession during the second lockdown in late 2020.

6

‘Hostile’ Woman’s Hour criticised

Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour has been accused of perpetuating “damaging and prejudicial tropes” about Islam during a “strikingly hostile” interview with Zara Mohammed, the first female general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain. An open letter signed by more than 100 public figures, including Tory peer Sayeeda Warsi, the Labour MPs Diane Abbott and Naz Shah, and the comedian Deborah Frances-White, criticised the show’s presenter, Emma Barnett, for repeatedly and aggressively interrogating Mohammed about the number of female imams in the country.

7

US shock jock dies at 70

Rush Limbaugh, the right-wing media icon and talk-radio star, has died aged 70 after a battle with cancer. His wife, Kathryn, said: “As so many of you know, losing a loved one is terribly difficult, even more so when that loved one is larger than life.” Limbaugh, who was best known as the host of his radio show The Rush Limbaugh Show, “often waded into conspiratorial waters and generated controversy for hateful commentary on gender and race”, CNN reports. In February 2020, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Donald Trump.

8

Hedge fund boss accused of assault

A millionaire Tory donor lunged at a young woman, groped her and put his hands in her clothing during an assault more than 20 years ago, a court has been told. Crispin Odey, a hedge fund donor, admitted to propositioning the woman but denies indecent assault. Hendon Magistrates’ Court heard that Odey had invited the woman to his home in the summer of 1998 after a meeting at his Mayfair offices.

9

Facebook blocks news down under

Facebook has blocked Australians from viewing and sharing news on the platform in response to the government’s plan to force the social media giant to strike deals with media companies to pay for news. The company said the plan “has left us facing a stark choice: attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content on our services”, adding: “With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter.” The Australian government strongly criticised the move, saying it showed the “immense market power of these digital social giants”.

10

Ref charged for squaring up

Darren Drysdale has become the first referee for two decades to be charged with misconduct by the FA. The official admitted to squaring up to Ipswich’s Town Alan Judge when the player disputed a decision during a match on Tuesday night. The 50-year-old RAF sergeant leant his head into Judge’s after becoming incensed by what the player had said to him during Ipswich’s 0-0 draw with Northampton Town. “I fully understand it is important for us as referees to maintain our composure throughout the game and always engage with players in a professional manner,” Drysdale said in a statement.

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