Top story: Dramatic increases across all areas
Good morning and welcome to Thursday’s morning briefing with me, Alison Rourke.
The coronavirus pandemic has hit a “critical” stage in England, with the prevalence of the virus doubling since last month. While cases remain highest in the north, a dramatic increase in infections has been recorded across all areas. The R number (the number of people each person with the virus infects) in the south-east, south-west, London and the east of England has risen above 2, compared to a national rate of 1.6. “We’re seeing a pattern in the south which is similar to what we saw in the north a few weeks back,” said Prof Paul Elliott from Imperial College London, which produced the study. “The co-occurrence of high prevalence and rapid growth means that the second wave of the epidemic in England has now reached a critical stage,” the report said. The R number needs to be below 1 for the pandemic to shrink.
The government’s top scientific and medical advisers, are understood to be arguing hard with ministers for tighter restrictions across England ahead of Christmas. Directors of public health meanwhile are being asked to sign up to rapid-result saliva test kits that could test 10% of England’s population every week.
The Guardian’s Robert Booth asks if the so-called Operation moonshot has a chance of success, given that the current system is struggling to satisfy demand. And with the furlough scheme due to end on Saturday and unemployment expected to increase sharply in the run-up to Christmas, economics editor Larry Elliott writes that the scheme has only hit one of its three key aims of being temporary, timely and targeted.
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Antisemitism – Labour is bracing for the equalities watchdog to rule that the party acted unlawfully in its treatment of Jewish members. The Equality and Human Rights Commission report is set to recommend an independent complaints system when the findings of its long-awaited inquiry are published today. The inquiry’s conclusion will close a painful chapter in Labour’s history under Jeremy Corbyn, when it was accused of institutional antisemitism and MPs resigned amid recriminations over toxic factionalism within party HQ. Our summary of key things to look out for in the report is here.
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Nigel Farage – The former Ukip leader has appeared at a Donald Trump rally, calling the president the “most resilient and brave” person he has ever met. Farage lauded Trump’s anti-establishment rhetoric and, in a veiled dig at Boris Johnson, said that Trump was “the only current leader in the free world who has the guts to stand up for the nation state, to fight for patriotism, to fight against globalism”.
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Deadly Channel – Almost 300 asylum seekers including 36 children have died trying to cross the Channel to the UK in the past 20 years, according to the first analysis to collate deaths. The Institute of Race Relations research, due to be published next month and seen by the Guardian, details the cases of 292 people who have died trying to cross by vehicle, tunnel and water since 1999. It includes Tuesday’s four deaths, when an Iranian Kurdish couple and two of their children died when their boat sank.
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Russia meddling – A cross-party group of MPs and peers are taking legal action against Boris Johnson over his government’s refusal to order an inquiry into Russian interference in UK elections. The group filed a claim in the high court in an attempt to force the prime minister to carry out an independent investigation or public inquiry. It is the first legal action of its kind over alleged national security failures.
Today in Focus podcast: Marcus Rashford, free school meals and Boris Johnson’s political own goal
Guardian columnist Gaby Hinsliff looks at why the government has refused to extend the free school meals scheme and how the decision has backfired, while Guardian journalist Aamna Mohdin reports from a food bank in Hillingdon.
Lunchtime read: ‘Covid-19 has ravaged the whole idea of small government’
Australian actor Cate Blanchett writes about isolation, the devastating impact of the virus on the arts and that the pandemic has “made one thing terribly clear – government is not the same as business”. Covid has “ravaged the whole idea of small government, and highlighted the importance of social and economic justice”. She says the virus has stymied our ability to gather together, but also underlined how important it is. “And that need in us for community addresses the difficult lesson we have to learn: business is not government and government is not a business. The biggest choice as governments began thinking about easing lockdowns, the choice that really seems to divide us deeply, is that between community and economy.”
Marcus Rashford scored a hat-trick after coming off the bench at 63 minutes in Manchester United’s 5-0 Champions League win over RB Leipzig. Chelsea combined defensive solidity with attacking flair as they registered a comprehensive 4-0 win over Krasnodar in Russia. A 14th-minute effort from Ousmane Dembélé and a late Lionel Messi penalty gave Barcelona a 2-0 win over Juventus, while on-loan forward Moise Kean scored twice as Paris Saint-Germain overcame a sluggish start in a 2-0 away win over Istanbul Basaksehir. Dr Richard Freeman told a medical tribunal he never gave injections to riders at the back of a team bus as he claimed Team Sky never crossed “the line”. Football is “at best, being ignored” by the government and “at worst being victimised by it”, Rick Parry has claimed in an excoriating letter to the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden. England’s three-match Cadbury Netball Series against New Zealand began with a 58-45 defeat in Hamilton on Wednesday. Primoz Roglic pulled off a brilliant late attack to win stage eight of the Vuelta a España and eat into the overall lead of Richard Carapaz. Warren Gatland has called on England players to lobby their clubs for early release next summer to avoid potentially missing out on the British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa next year. And England will learn from the way they lost the 2015 Six Nations title on points difference when they face Italy in Rome on Saturday, according to their assistant coach John Mitchell.
Advertisers are cutting more than £700m from their marketing budgets in the run-up to Christmas, as the pandemic puts paid to the big budget extravaganzas that normally bombard the public over the festive season. UK advertisers are forecast to spend £724m less than last year, a 10.5% fall. This would be the biggest percentage drop for the so-called “golden” quarter since the industry bodies the Advertising Association (AA) and Warc began compiling figures in 1982.
European markets and the FTSE will be on edge this morning after Asia Pacific markets fell into the red during Thursday trading, led by hefty losses in Australia, South Korea and Hong Kong. It follows falls on Wednesday over mounting gloom at the prospect of winter lockdowns across Europe.
The pound is buying $1.30 and €1.10.
Covid dominates today’s front pages. The Guardian splashes with: “Plan to test 10% of the population each week amid soaring infection rate”. It also carries images of the Iranian Kurdish family who died trying to cross the Channel. The Times has “Scientists hope for vaccine by Christmas”, while the Telegraph leads with the news: “France goes into second lockdown”. The FT also gives the new restrictions in Europe top billing: “France and Germany impose new curbs as Covid surge hits markets”. The i leads with “Change of strategy looms as Covid picks up speed”, focusing on the rising pressure for the government to follow Wales’s “fire break” lockdown. The Mail is not keen on the idea: “Don’t do it Boris” its headline reads. The Express has “Covid cancer time bomb” saying 50,000 people are missing being diagnosed. The Mirror devotes its front page to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge paying tribute to TV personality Kate Garraway, whose husband has spent months in hospital: “You’re amazing Kate, we’d both like to give you a hug.”
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