Daily Briefing

Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 4 March 2021

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

1

Covid infection decline slowing

The decline in Covid-19 infections has slowed, according to scientists tracking the pandemic in England. The latest REACT survey found that while infection levels fell by two-thirds between January and February, cases are now halving only every 31 days. In January to February, prevalence of the virus was halving in 15 days. The Imperial College London survey also found that one in 200 people still have the virus, however, the R rate remains below one. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “There is some cause for concern that our hard-won progress may be slowing down.”

2

Tax burden highest since 1960s

The UK’s tax burden will rise to its highest level since the 1960s under Rishi Sunak’s spring budget plans, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility. The headline rate of corporation tax will rise and there will be a freeze on income tax thresholds. The government’s fiscal watchdog said the measures, along with cuts from spending plans, would raise £31.8bn by 2025-26. The Times describes the chancellor’s plans as a “promising start” for the repairing of the nation’s finances.

3

Meghan accuses royals of ‘falsehoods’

The Duchess of Sussex has accused royals of “perpetuating falsehoods” about herself and her husband. In a third teaser clip for the couple’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, Meghan said she is not afraid of the consequences of speaking out because “a lot... has been lost already”. The news comes as Buckingham Palace said it had launched an investigation into claims the duchess bullied royal staff.

4

Obesity blamed for Covid deaths

Britain’s high Covid-19 death rate is partly the result of obesity, according to a report described by the World Health Organization as a “wake-up call”. The World Obesity Federation’s report found that thousands of deaths in Britain could have been avoided if “negligent” governments had acted on the nation’s weight. In Britain 64% of adults are overweight - including 28% who are obese - the fourth-highest in the world.

5

Musk rocket explodes on landing

SpaceX’s third attempt at landing a rocket has ended in failure just moments after appearing to complete a successful descent. The SN10 rocket lowered itself over the Gulf of Mexico before turning upright and landing. However, a fire broke out around its base and eight minutes later SN10 blew itself apart. CEO Elon Musk will nonetheless be “hugely encouraged” by the fact that the prototype successfully executed its in-flight manoeuvres and made a “reasonably soft” landing, the BBC says.

6

New threat to Capitol

Security has been increased at the US Capitol in response to “a possible plot to breach” the building today. The House of Representatives has scrapped Thursday’s session after the plan was revealed and the Capitol Hill police force said it was “prepared for any potential threats towards members of Congress”. The threat comes two months after a pro-Donald Trump mob stormed the Capitol building.

7

Britain second best on emissions

Britain has the second best record in the world for cutting carbon emissions, but reductions globally must decrease tenfold to meet the Paris treaty’s targets, a new study has found. Carbon dioxide emissions in the UK declined by an average of 3.6% a year between 2016 and 2019. Only Ukraine had a faster rate of decline, down 4% a year, according to the research led by the University of East Anglia and Stanford University.

8

Loyalists in Good Friday threat

An umbrella organisation for loyalist paramilitary organisations has told the UK government that the groups are withdrawing support for Northern Ireland’s peace agreement. The Loyalist Communities Council said the groups were temporarily withdrawing their backing for the Good Friday Agreement in protest over the contentious Northern Ireland Protocol governing Irish Sea trade post-Brexit. They fear the post-Brexit protocol threatens Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market.

9

Maxwell’s family speak out

The family of Ghislaine Maxwell have told The Telegraph that the socialite is innocent and described the US legal system “bizarre and cruel”. Ian Maxwell said that his sister is being subjected to “brutal and degrading” treatment and called for her release from jail where she is awaiting trial on child sex trafficking charges. The 64-year-old remains on round-the-clock suicide watch and applications for bail have so far been denied.

10

Till-free store opens

Amazon will open a till-free grocery store in London today marking the first “just walk out” shop outside the US. Customers will scan a smartphone app when entering and are automatically billed as they leave. Although a retail expert said the opening marked a “watershed moment”, some campaigners have raised privacy concerns. The store is based in a shopping centre in Ealing, West London.

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