Daily Briefing

Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 2 January 2022

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

1

Face masks required in secondary classrooms

Ministers have announced that all pupils in secondary schools in England should return to wearing masks in classrooms, as fears grew that the new term could see a colossal spike in cases of the Omicron variant. Pupils will also be asked to take part in onsite Covid testing. Meanwhile, six school staff unions have demanded urgent action to limit the spread of the virus, warning that national exams would be put at risk without further measures.

2

Staff absences could reach 25%

Ministers have been asked to develop “robust contingency plans” for workplace absences, as the government warned rising cases of Omicron could see up to a quarter of staff off work. The Cabinet Office said public sector leaders have been asked to prepare for “worst case scenarios” of 10%, 20% and 25% absence rates.  People who test positive for Covid must self-isolate for at least seven days in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Two negative lateral flow results, 24-hours apart, are required to end self-isolation.

3

Andrew may be asked to drop title

Royal courtiers might ask the Duke of York to stop using his title if he loses a lawsuit brought by a victim of the sex abuser Jeffrey Epstein. Under plans being debated in the royal household, Prince Andrew would also be asked to give up his remaining links to charities and would be sent into a form of “internal exile”. Meanwhile, the ex-lover of Andrew’s accuser has confirmed her story. The royal denies wrongdoing.

4

Rare defection from South to North Korea

A South Korean has crossed the border in a rare defection to North Korea, South Korea’s military has said. Although more than 30,000 people have fled from North Korea to the South, crossings in the other direction are extremely rare. “We’ve confirmed that the person crossed the military demarcation line border about 10.40pm and defected to the North,” the authorities said on Sunday. However, they would not confirm whether the defector was still alive.

5

Assisted suicide allowed in Austria

A law allowing assisted suicide has come into effect in Austria. Adults who are terminally ill or have a permanent, debilitating condition, can now choose to make provisions for an assisted death. There will be tight regulation for the practice, with each case assessed by two doctors - one of whom would have to be a palliative medicine expert. Assisted suicide is also legal in Switzerland and has been decriminalised in several European countries, including Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands.

6

Warmest New Year’s Day on record

The UK had warmest New Year’s Day on record, with new high temperatures set for the second day in a row, the Met Office said. St James’s Park enjoyed temperatures of 16.3C (61.3F) on Saturday as warm air from the Azores arrived in the UK. The previous New Year’s Day record was set in 1916, when it reached 15.6C (60.1F) in Bude, Cornwall. “Around Tuesday it will be much colder as the southerly winds are replaced by northerly winds,” said a Met spokesman.

7

Tories call for environmental changes

A group of Conservative MPs and peers have called on Boris Johnson to tackle the spiralling cost of living. In a letter to The Telegraph, the Net Zero Scrutiny Group of Conservatives, which includes five ex-ministers, argues for a cut in environmental levies and the removal of energy taxes. After experts said average bills could hit £2,000 in 2022, the government insisted it is meeting suppliers and the regulator regularly to work out how to help consumers.

8

‘Sources’ to no longer speak for Sussexes

Unnamed “sources” will no longer speak for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, their team has announced. The communications team for Harry and Meghan will speak on the record or not at all, as fans of the couple are warned to pay no heed to mystery “sources” claiming to talk for them in the media. Anonymous sources have long been speaking about the Duke and Duchess, said The Telegraph, and some have provided briefings that have turned out to be an accurate reflection of what the Duke and Duchess think.

9

Blair knighthood ‘kick in teeth’ for Iraq

Tony Blair’s knighthood is a “kick in the teeth” for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, said anti-war campaigners. After the former PM was made a Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Lindsey German, of the Stop the War Coalition, said she was “amazed” to hear Blair had been given the award. “We have eight million people on the edge of starvation in Afghanistan now,” she said. “We have… Iraq in a terrible state now, nearly 20 years after the invasion.”

10

Classic BlackBerrys to stop working

Classic BlackBerry phones will stop working from January 4. The company will stop running support for its classic devices running BlackBerry 10, 7.1 OS and earlier on Tuesday, meaning all of its older devices not running on Android software will no longer be able to use data, send text messages, access the internet or make calls, even to the emergency services. CNN said the move “represents the end of what was once considered bleeding-edge technology”.

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