Daily Briefing

Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 25 August 2021

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

1

Biden rejects deadline pleas

Joe Biden has dismissed calls to delay American troops’ 31 August exit from Afghanistan. In a virtual conference call with G7 leaders yesterday, the US president said heightened security threats meant that he was committed to hitting the deadline of pulling out troops by next Tuesday. “They’re real,” he said of the threats, “starting with the acute and growing risk of an attack by a terrorist group known as Isis-K, an Isis affiliate which is a sworn enemy of the Taliban”.

2

Food shortages ‘worst seen’

The chief executive of one of Britain’s biggest supermarket chains said food shortages are the worst he has known. Steve Murrells, boss of the Co-operative Group, said his stores were reducing some ranges as the industry’s ability to get food to shops was hit by post-Brexit migration rules and Covid. “The shortages are at a worse level than at any time I have seen,” he said. Shops are struggling for stock due to labour shortages.

3

Jabs ‘wane within six months’

Covid protection from two doses of the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines begins to wane within six months, a new study has found. Analysis from the Zoe Covid study found that in a reasonable “worst-case scenario”, protection could fall to below 50% for the elderly and healthcare workers by winter unless they receive booster shots. The study involved more than 1.2m test results and participants, reported Sky News.

4

Tributes to Stones drummer Watts

Sir Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have paid tribute to Charlie Watts, following the death of the Rolling Stones drummer. Jagger, 78, silently saluted his bandmate on social media – simply sharing a picture of Watts smiling while seated behind a drum kit. Richards, 77, shared a picture of a drum set with a “closed” sign on it. Sir Paul McCartney described Watts, who died at a London hospital on Monday surrounded by his family, as a “fantastic drummer, steady as a rock”.

5

South African unemployment world’s worst

South Africa’s unemployment rate reached a record high of 34.4% in the second quarter – the highest since records began in 2008 and the worst out of 82 countries monitored by Bloomberg. Risenga Maluleke, the country's statistician general, said that because of Covid-19, “most firms have closed down”. The unemployment rate is about 33% in both Nigeria and Namibia, and about 15% in Spain and Greece.

6

Vaccine expert ‘disturbed’ by booster plans

The former interim chair of the vaccine taskforce says he finds it “all a little bit disturbing” that ministers have struck a deal for 35m Pfizer booster shots to be delivered in the second half of 2022. Clive Dix said: “Let’s boost with the AstraZeneca vaccine this year, which we have available and which is a very good vaccine – and only then should we start thinking about next year.” However, he acknowledged AstraZeneca has a “tarnished reputation” due to concerns of blood clots associated with the jab.

7

Stress leads to smoking increase

There was a rise in young adults taking up smoking during the first Covid lockdown, according to a study. Cancer Research UK said the number of 18- to 34-year-olds who classed themselves as smokers increased by a quarter, from 21.5% to 26.8%. Experts believe many turned to cigarettes and alcohol in response to stress. “We saw rates of smoking and risky drinking increase among groups hardest hit by the pandemic,” said a researcher.

8

Inspectors criticise school’s LGBT stance

Ofsted said a school that is refusing to teach children about LGBT issues should not be allowed to expand. Talmud Torah London, a primary school which serves the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, told inspectors that it has “no intention” of teaching pupils about lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people. Inspectors said the school is “unlikely” to meet the requirements of the Independent School Standards.

9

Self-catering costs soar during pandemic

Self-catering accommodation in the UK now costs on average 40% more than in the summer of 2019, according to Which?. The consumer group found that holidaymakers are paying an average of £300 more per week in August compared to before the Covid-19 pandemic. More than 20m Britons planned to holiday in the UK this year, according to a study by market research company Opinium.

10

Covid death demographics change

The age profile of those dying with Covid in the UK has changed, scientists have discovered. At the peak of the second wave in January, the under-65s accounted for just 11% of deaths but in recent weeks, they accounted for about 25% of deaths. Vaccination rates are significantly higher in the over-65s. Scientists expect case rates will jump again when schools and universities reopen – probably followed by a much smaller rise in death rates.

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