Top story: Priority to NHS workers and elderly
Hello, Warren Murray with the morning notices.
Mass immunisation against coronavirus will begin next week, Boris Johnson has announced, with Britain poised to receive its first 800,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech version from the factory in Belgium following its approval by UK health authorities.
Elderly care home residents and their carers have the highest priority for vaccination, but NHS workers are likely to be the first to receive it, along with older patients in hospitals, which are best equipped to meet cold storage requirements. Here is how the broader rollout might proceed in the coming months. The health secretary, Matt Hancock, has said 50 hospitals are ready to deliver the first jabs, and specialist vaccination centres are being set up. In all the UK has bought 40m doses from Pfizer. Johnson said it was important to avoid “overoptimism” and the public should keep adhering to restrictions.
Meanwhile it has emerged that do-not-resuscitate orders were wrongly placed on some care home residents during the Covid-19 pandemic, causing potentially avoidable deaths. England’s Care Quality Commission (CQC) is also warning that some “inappropriate” orders, known as DNACPRs, may still be in place and called on all care providers to check with the person concerned that they consent. The CQC cited reports that care providers and staff had raised concerns about GPs “putting blanket DNACPRs on care homes”. The findings have prompted a wider investigation into the problem, which is due to report in early 2021. It will examine the practice in seven NHS areas: Birmingham and Solihull, Bristol and North Somerset, Cambridge and Peterborough, Morecambe Bay, Sheffield, Greenwich, and East Surrey. It will focus on the experience of older people and people with a learning disability or autism.
Headstart for 2021 exams – Pupils in England sitting GCSEs and A-levels next summer will be given advance notice of topics and allowed to take in exam aids including formula sheets, to help mitigate for learning disruption caused by the pandemic. Contingency papers in each subject will be available for pupils who have to miss exams for Covid-related reasons, to sit in July. Teacher-informed assessment will be relied upon only in the most extreme cases. In England’s universities, students will be asked to stay at home after Christmas and study online at the start of the new year. The government wants students to stagger their journeys back to campus over five weeks from 4 January 2021, with everyone expected to be back at university by 7 February, and coronavirus tests available to all returning students. Medical students and those on practical courses requiring face-to-face teaching will be prioritised for an early return.
‘I would have kept the baby’ – Women are having abortions because the two-child cap on benefits means they would be unable to support a third child. The British Pregnancy Advisory Service said more than half of the women it surveyed who had an abortion during the pandemic cited the limit as an important factor. One mother told BPAS: “If there was no two-child limit, I would have kept the baby, but I couldn’t afford to feed and clothe it … I’ve really struggled to come to terms with my decision.” The limit bars parents from claiming tax credits or universal credit for third or subsequent children born after 6 April 2017. The loss of benefits is worth £2,900 per child per year. Although the policy was introduced supposedly to force jobless families to make the same financial choices as those in work, government data shows nearly three out of five households affected have at least one adult in work. Studies have found that capped families cut back on food, medication, heating and clothing.
CIA agent dies in Somali raid – It has emerged that a CIA officer died during a failed raid in Somalia in November that targeted a key extremist, who was thought responsible for an attack that killed an American soldier in Kenya in 2019. Jason Burke writes that the officer was sent with Somali and US special forces to Gendershe, about 30 miles south-west of Mogadishu. He died when al-Shabaab extremist fighters detonated a car bomb. One of the targets was Abdullahi Osman Mohamed, also known as “Engineer Ismail”, an expert bomb-maker believed responsible for many of the powerful devices that have killed hundreds of civilians in Somalia in recent years. Mohamed was recently listed by the US government as a “specially designated global terrorist”. The identity of the US officer is not known, but the New York Times reported that he was a member of the CIA’s paramilitary division and former navy Seal. The CIA declined to comment.
Livestock exports to cease – The UK will become the first country in Europe to ban the export of livestock for slaughter. Plans are due to be unveiled today by the government ahead of an eight-week consultation in England and Wales, which is expected to be followed by discussions with Scotland. Poultry exports appear set to continue – Defra said: “The measure on live exports will not impact on poultry exports or exports for breeding purposes.” The UK exports tens of millions of chicks a year in an industry that was worth £139m in 2018. Live exports also look set to continue from Northern Ireland, which “will continue to follow EU legislation on animal welfare in transport for as long as the Northern Ireland protocol is in place”, according to Defra.
Eats Christmas leaves – A young koala has climbed into an Australian family’s Christmas tree, knocking down baubles and trying to eat its plastic leaves. The McCormicks of Adelaide returned home from an outing to find it tangled up in the Christmas lights.
“We’ve had them in our trees before but not inside on our Christmas tree … It must have crawled in when the doors were open, it would have been in our house for at least three hours.” An animal rescue charity came and took the koala to safety.
Today in Focus podcast: Poland’s war over abortion rights
An attempt by authorities to impose a near-total ban on abortions has sparked mass demonstrations across Poland. Academic Agnieszka Graff, lawyer Karolina Więckiewicz and gynaecologist Anna Parzyńska talk to Anushka Asthana.
Lunchtime read: ‘Singing and dancing to their deaths’
In 1971 an Old Firm derby at Ibrox ended with the death of 66 fans as they celebrated a late goal. John Hodgman survived the terrifying crush and, 50 years on, asks how Rangers avoided taking responsibility.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær admitted he considered substituting Fred before the Brazilian was sent off in Manchester United’s 3-1 defeat against Paris Saint-Germain at Old Trafford, which leaves their Champions League qualification hopes hanging in the balance. Olivier Giroud scored all four goals as Chelsea won 4-0 at Sevilla to confirm themselves as group winners. Stéphanie Frappart made Champions League history when she became the first woman to referee a game in the men’s competition as she took charge of Juventus’s 3-0 home win over Dynamo Kyiv.
Anthony Joshua would consider fighting Tyson Fury for less money next year if it ensured an anticipated world heavyweight unification title bout between the two current champions could be held in Britain. Billy Vunipola believes the return of supporters will enhance England’s performances, saying the effect of having a crowd will make the players want to show off. Damon Hill has said Mick Schumacher deserves his shot at Formula One success but has warned the son of the seven-times world champion Michael that living up to a family name can be both a blessing and a curse. And World Athletics has opened the door for Russia’s track and field stars to compete at the Olympic Games in Tokyo next year – providing the country now fulfils its promises of serious reform.
Shares have been mostly higher in Asia, helped by progress toward rolling out coronavirus vaccines and talk of reaching a compromise on new help for the US economy. The indices rose in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul and Sydney but fell in Shanghai. The pound is worth $1.338 and €1.104 at time of writing while the FTSE is projected to open 0.3% down.
“Vaccinations next week as PM caught in Brexit row” – that’s our Guardian print edition splash, after Boris Johnson had to play down statements by the health secretary that Brexit had helped speed the approval of the vaccine (EU authorities responded that they preferred to take a more cautious approach).
“We’ve done it – but guess who is having a dig at us” – that’s the Express stoking anti-EU sentiment, as you might expect (worth noting that the vaccine is made in Belgium, and also worth considering what no-deal M20 tailbacks from 1 January might mean for getting future supplies into Britain before they go off). “On its way” – the Mirror is celebratory as the first truckloads leave Pfizer in Belgium en route to Britain. “What a shot in the arm for Britain” – bit hackneyed, Mail. The Times says “First vaccine jabs for NHS staff and elderly patients” – could have gone with a less redundant “Covid jabs” there.
“Now we can reclaim our lives” says the Telegraph, a sentiment which many must certainly be feeling. The Metro declares “V-Day” while the i says “Vaccines to start on Tuesday in the UK”. The Sun hits us with “COVID” – the V formed by a two fingers held Churchill-style – “… you’re about to take one helluva beating”. The FT has “Covid vaccinations start in UK next week after fast track approval”.
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