Daily Briefing

Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 18 May 2021

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

1

Struggle to stem India strain

The “double mutant” Covid variant first detected in India will be the dominant strain in the UK within days, experts have warned. The government is struggling to contain cases of the variant, which have risen by more than 75% since Thursday. Ministers are increasing pressure on people - especially those living in hotspots of the strain - to accept a Covid vaccination to stem infections. The situation threatens to reverse moves to ease restrictions.

2

Biden calls for ceasefire

Joe Biden has called for a ceasefire after eight days of violence between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza. The president told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the US was working with Egypt and other countries to halt the hostilities. However, Biden fell short of demanding an immediate end to the violence. At least 212 people, including 61 children, have died in Gaza, and 10, including two children, in Israel.

3

Cummings slams ‘joke’ border

The UK’s border policy during the pandemic has been a “joke”, Dominic Cummings has claimed. Writing on Twitter, Boris Johnson’s former adviser said that “one of the biggest misunderstandings” during the pandemic was that there is a trade-off between locking down to stop Covid and protecting the economy. “Fact: evidence clear that fast hard effective action best policy for economy AND for reducing deaths/suffering”, he wrote.

4

Gates confirms affair

Bill Gates had an affair with a Microsoft engineer six years after he married Melinda, a representative for the billionaire has confirmed. The software company also released a statement confirming that it had been notified “in the latter half of 2019 that Bill Gates sought to initiate an intimate relationship with a company employee in the year 2000”. Gates and his wife last week announced that they are to divorce, dividing a marital fortune estimated to be worth $124bn (£85.3bn).

5

White House probes mystery syndrome

The US is investigating two cases of a syndrome that struck two officials at the White House and has also hit more than 100 US diplomats, spies and troops around the globe. CNN says the cases are consistent with an inexplicable combination of sensory experiences and physical symptoms that cause sickness. Victims have reported sudden vertigo, headaches and head pressure, accompanied by a “piercing directional noise”, the broadcaster adds.

6

Lloyd Webber slams jab refuseniks

Andrew Lloyd Webber has said those who refuse to have a Covid vaccination are “selfish”. The composer attacked those who decline to take up the vaccine as he stressed that the 21 June reopening date was “absolutely critical” for theatres. “I just feel so strongly at the moment, particularly the people who are not getting vaccinated and everything, just how selfish it is,” he told the BBC.

7

Biden suffers income fall

Joe Biden’s income has fallen steeply since becoming president, his tax return has revealed. The filing shows he and his wife earned $607,336 (£430,000) last year and paid $157,414 (£111,079) in federal income tax. Their income fell from 2019 when they earned $985,223 (£695,129). The Democrat has resumed a US presidential tradition by releasing his tax return after Donald Trump became the first president not to do so since Richard Nixon in the early 1970s.

8

Major cyclone hits India

India has been struck by a monster cyclone, with powerful winds and driving rain leaving at least 20 people dead. Cyclone Tauktae has claimed lives in Kerala, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat as savage winds swept through fragile properties, uprooting trees and electricity pylons. It is the biggest cyclone to hit the country for several decades and comes as the country battles a fierce second wave of coronavirus.

9

Government to ban peat compost

Ministers have announced that sales of peat compost to gardeners will be banned from 2024. The vast majority of the UK’s peatlands are in a degraded state and emitting CO2, which powers the climate crisis. The government will hand out £50m to support the restoration of 35,000 hectares of peatland by 2025. The UK’s 2.6m hectares of peatland contain about three billion tonnes of carbon.

10

99 problems as flake supplies dwindle

Ice-cream vans may run out of Cadbury’s iconic 99 Flakes as supply problems lead to a shortage of the chocolate treats. Demand for the flakes, which accompany soft scoop ice-cream cones, has soared in recent weeks, with The Irish Times reporting that workers in the ice-cream industry have warned they have never seen a shortage of this scale. It is unclear how long the shortage will last.

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