Daily Briefing

Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 31 December 2021

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

1

South Africa says Omicron has peaked

South Africa says it has passed the peak of its fourth coronavirus wave driven by the Omicron variant. The country has lifted a nightime curfew on people’s movement after announcing that “all indicators suggest the country may have passed the peak of the fourth wave at a national level”. Meanwhile, the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on Linkedin that the world has the “tools to end this calamity”.

2

NHS chief reassured by data

An NHS chief does not believe that the threshold for new Covid restrictions has been crossed despite a surge in hospital admissions. Although the number of patients with Covid on wards in England rose to 11,452 yesterday, Chris Hopson, the head of NHS Providers, said he was reassured by the fact that serious illness among the elderly has not risen significantly. Meanwhile, Boris Johnson said the UK is in an “incomparably better” position now than this time last year.

3

Andrew ‘should be quaking in boots’

The Duke of York has been warned that the conviction of Ghislaine Maxwell shows that justice will prevail “whether you’re a president or a prince”. Lawyers in the US said that the guilty verdict in the Maxwell case means Andrew should be “quaking in his boots”. The Duke, who denies any wrongdoing, hopes that a judge will throw out a civil case being brought against him by Virginia Roberts Giuffre at a hearing scheduled for January 4.

4

Biden and Putin exchange warnings

Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin have traded warnings over the crisis in Ukraine during a 50-minute phone call. The White House said President Biden “made clear that the United States and its allies and partners will respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine”. Putin’s foreign policy adviser said “our president also mentioned that [sanctions] would be a mistake that our descendants would see as a huge error”. Russia has massed tens of thousands of troops near its border with Ukraine over the past two months.

5

Train timetables slimmed down

Trains across Britain are being cancelled and timetables slimmed down as the Omicron variant causes a surge in staff absences. Southern, Great Northern and Thameslink are to run slimmed-down festive timetables until January 10 because of a shortage of workers. There will be no direct Southern services to and from London Victoria. Business groups warned that a million workers could soon be absent in a new “pingdemic”.

6

Wildfires destroy homes in Colorado

Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated and hundreds of homes have been destroyed as wildfires spread through Colorado. At least one first responder and six others were injured, though Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle acknowledged there could be more injuries and deaths. “This is the kind of fire we can’t fight head on,” Pelle said. The Guardian said that videos posted to social media showed “apocalyptic scenes”

7

Female mafia boss dies

A former beauty queen who went on to become the first female boss in Italy’s powerful Camorra mafia clan has died, aged 86. In the 1950s, Assunta Maresca, better known as Pupetta, or “Little Doll”, was 18 years old and six months pregnant when she tracked down Antonio Esposito, the Camorra boss who had ordered the killing of her husband. She shot him dead in broad daylight on a street in Naples. Maresca was later accused of being behind the killing of a member of the Nuova Camorra Organizzata.

8

Takeaways and pets power spending

Takeaways, online shopping and pet purchasing have caused a surge in UK spending in 2021. Households were more willing to splash their cash in 2021, and spending during the year was almost 6% higher than in 2019, according to Barclaycard. Online retail spending surged by almost 88%, while spending on takeaways climbed by 62%. Spending at vets and pet shops, was almost a third (29%) higher than in 2019.

9

December to be dreariest since 1950s

This month is set to be the dreariest December in 65 years, noted The Telegraph. There were just 26.6 hours of sunshine across the country this month, data from the Met Office shows, putting Britain on course for the greyest festive period since 1956, when the country had just 19.5 hours of sunlight. “If things don't change, then it will probably be up there as possibly one of the top 10 dullest Decembers across the UK,” said the Met Office.

10

Māori broadcaster makes history in NZ

A Māori journalist has made history in New Zealand by becoming the first person with traditional facial markings to host a primetime national news program. After she hosted her first 6pm bulletin for Newshub on the TV channel Three, Oriini Kaipara said: “I was really elated. I was over the moon.” In Māori tradition, the facial markings tattooed on the chin for women are known as moko kauae.

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