Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 23 Feb 2021
The Week’s daily digest of the news agenda, published at 8am
PM unveils ‘road to freedom’
Boris Johnson last night said that his four-step plan to ease England’s lockdown is a “one-way road to freedom”. The prime minister promised spring and summer would be “incomparably better” as he paved the way for nightclubs to reopen, sports fans to fill stadiums and domestic tourism to return. He also revealed that “Covid status certificates” are being considered to help businesses reopen.
Covid infections rise again
Britain recorded 10,641 Covid infections yesterday in the first week-on-week rise since the beginning of January. Official data shows that Covid cases were 9% up on last Monday, when 9,765 infections were reported. Boris Johnson yesterday told MPs that his plan to end lockdown is “cautious but irreversible”, adding that there is “no credible route to a zero-Covid Britain nor indeed a zero-Covid world”.
Iran in uranium threat
Tehran has threatened to significantly increase its enrichment of uranium to 60% purity, almost enough to produce a dirty bomb. As tensions between Iran and the US continue to simmer, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said: “For nuclear propulsion or other works, we may enrich up to 60%.” Iran currently produces reactor-grade uranium enriched to no more than 5% purity. Joe Biden has pledged to rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a deal ended by Donald Trump that constrains Iran’s enrichment programme.
Trump loses tax battle
The US supreme court has declined to intervene to halt the turnover of Donald Trump’s tax records to a prosecutor in New York City. The court’s action was a victory for the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr, who has been seeking Trump’s tax records since 2019. The former president claimed that the legal battle was part of “the continuing political persecution of President Donald J. Trump”. His accountants must now turn over eight years of tax documents to investigators.
Drug lord’s wife arrested in US
The wife of Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán has been arrested in the US on suspicion of drug trafficking. Emma Coronel Aispuro, who was detained at Washington Dulles International Airport, is charged with participating in a conspiracy to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana. Guzmán, a former head of the international Sinaloa cartel, is serving a life sentence for drug trafficking and money laundering.
Facebook restores Australian news
Facebook has said it will restore news content to its users down under after the social media giant last week blocked news appearing on feeds in response to proposed legislation that would make it pay publishers for content. The government says the proposed law would set up a “fairer” negotiation process between technology firms and news companies over the value of news content. Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Mark Zuckerberg had told him the ban would end “in the coming days”, adding: “Facebook has re-friended Australia.”
Salmond slams ‘malicious’ plot
Alex Salmond has claimed there was a “malicious and concerted” attempt to remove him from public life following allegations of sexual harassment against him in 2018. In his submission to a Scottish parliamentary inquiry into the handling of the allegations against him, the former first minister also said that the husband and chief of staff of his former ally and successor, Nicola Sturgeon, are among those trying to take him down. Sturgeon has challenged Salmond to prove there was a conspiracy against him, saying he has made claims “without a shred of evidence”.
Biden marks Covid milestone
Joe Biden yesterday urged the country to unite in its battle against Covid-19 as the nation’s death toll from the virus passed 500,000. “I ask all Americans to remember those we lost and those we left behind,” the president said. “But as we all remember, I also ask us to act, to remain vigilant, to stay socially distanced, to mask up, get vaccinated when it’s your turn.” More than 28.1 million Americans have so far been infected - another global record.
Furlough ‘to continue till May’
Boris Johnson has signalled that the furlough scheme will continue beyond next month as he pledged not to “pull the rug out” while lockdown restrictions are being eased. Chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to extend the support scheme until at least May, with sources suggesting that furlough support will be gradually wound down after that month. Meanwhile, trade unions are demanding that the furlough scheme be extended until the end of the year.
Uber ‘deterring drivers’ on cash
Lawyers have accused Uber of trying to deter drivers from seeking compensation for missed holiday and minimum wage payments after last week’s court ruling. The taxi-hailing app may have to pay out more than £100m after the UK Supreme Court ruled that drivers must be classified as workers. However, it has written to drivers claiming “this judgment does not apply to drivers who earn on the app today”. Lawyers acting for the drivers believe they are due about £12,000 in compensation each, which would cost Uber more than £26m.