Top story: ‘Hope this is beginning of end of pandemic’
Hello, Warren Murray here, and I’ve spent some time putting this together just for you.
Britain is set to administer the first doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine today, with the NHS giving top priority to people over the age of 80, frontline healthcare workers and care home staff and residents. Katie Stewart, 37, a consultant anaesthetist in Scotland working with Covid patients, is eligible for one of the first 800,000 doses. “A tiny little bit apprehensive – but mainly absolutely delighted and thrilled that it’s here and I’m getting it,” she said. “I hope this is the beginning of the end of the pandemic.” Hari Shukla and his wife Ranjan, both over-80s, are due to have the first of their two injections at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary this morning. “I am delighted to be doing my bit by having the vaccine,” said Hari Shukla. “I feel it is my duty to do so and do whatever I can to help.”
A UK trial is likely to go ahead in January to find out whether mixing and matching Covid vaccines gives better protection. Participants will get one shot of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and one from Pfizer. Moderna’s version will also be included if it gets approval. A government taskforce has secured deals for seven different vaccines for the UK. Three of them – Oxford/AstraZeneca, Valneva and Novavax – can be manufactured in the UK. Four million AstraZeneca doses made on the continent are already in the country awaiting its approval, with the rest to be mostly UK-manufactured. In the US it has emerged that the Trump administration passed up a chance to buy millions of additional doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine. It has enough coming for 50 million people on order but could have doubled that by reserving a second batch.
Final takeoff – Chuck Yeager, the first person to fly through the sound barrier, has died aged 97. He was one of seven test pilots, along with others such as John Glenn and Alan Shepard, whose exploits paved the way for Nasa’s successful space missions of the 1960s.
Their adventures gained even more renowned status thanks to Tom Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff, which was then made into a critically acclaimed film of the same name. Yeager flew a rocket-powered Bell X-1 aeroplane at Mach 1.05 or around 778mph on 14 October 1947.
‘Gamble on EU split has failed’ – As Boris Johnson packs for Brussels, at least eight members of Keir Starmer’s shadow cabinet have privately expressed doubts about Labour’s strategy of backing any Brexit deal the prime minister brings back, the Guardian understands. Despite the risk of a rebellion, Starmer is expected to whip in favour of backing a deal rather than letting his MPs abstain. The prime minister is to meet the European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, in “coming days” in the latest attempt to break an impasse that largely centres on fishing rights and Britain mirroring EU standards in return for preferential trade access. The government has said that if a deal is agreed this week, it may drop contentious legislation that would breach the Brexit withdrawal agreement. Experts are challenging the idea that France and Germany are isolated within the EU in their insistence on not giving Britain an unfair advantage. Clément Beaune, France’s Europe minister, said in recent days: “The UK’s gamble on a split in the EU has failed.”
Stop Tasering children, says Unicef – The use of Tasers and spit hoods on children should be banned in the UK, Unicef has said. Police in some forces in England have used them disproportionately on black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) children, Unicef found. Statistics for England and Wales show Tasers were used against under-18s 3,280 times in 2018-2019, and 29 times against under-11s. Such use in Scotland was not routine but nor was it prohibited, Unicef said. A spit hood is put over a detainee’s head to stop them biting or spitting on police. Between April 2018 and March 2019 they were used on children 312 times, up from 47 the previous year, according to Home Office figures. A Home Office spokesperson said: “Taser and spit and bite guards provides officers with an important tactical option,” adding that “no one should be subject to use of force based on their race or ethnicity – it must be lawful, proportionate and necessary, and subject to proper scrutiny”.
Christchurch inquiry findings – New Zealand’s security agencies were “almost exclusively” focused on the threat from Islamist terrorism at the time of the 2019 Christchurch shooting, in which a white supremacist gunman shot dead 51 Muslim worshippers, an inquiry has found. The Christchurch royal commission report has just been released to the public after 20 months of consultation. It reveals police failed to enforce proper checks on firearm licences. The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, apologised for the failings but noted: “The commission made no findings that these issues would have stopped the attack.” Ardern said she would accept all of the 44 recommendations contained in the 792-page document. Here is a summary of what it contains.
National Lottery to bar under-18s – People will need to be 18 to play the National Lottery from next year, rising from 16, with the culture minister also looking at curbs on advertising, a cap on online casino stakes and banning betting companies from sport sponsorship. The minister, Oliver Dowden, said the 2005 Gambling Act – written before the arrival of the smartphone – was an “analogue law in a digital age” as he kicked off a lengthy process that could unwind much of the Blair-era legislation. There could also be a testing regime for new products, meaning some gambling games could be barred from release if they are deemed too dangerous for potential addicts.
Apps hide ‘heinous’ child abuse – Children are at risk of abuse because of end-to-end encryption of messaging apps, says England’s children’s commissioner. Meanwhile, a survey has found that most eight-year-olds are using messaging apps supposedly restricted to those aged 13 or older. In a report published today, Anne Longfield says plans by social media firms to widen use of encrypted messaging would make it impossible to monitor content and could stop police gathering crucial evidence of child sexual exploitation. “The privacy of direct messaging platforms can conceal some of the most heinous crimes against children, including grooming, exploitation and the sharing of child sexual abuse material.” Longfield’s intervention echoes similar warnings from the National Crime Agency and the Home Office.
Best Christmas cracker joke – It is about Dominic Cummings and you will need to click through to read it. The top 10 are all Covid-themed so get ready for that.
Today in Focus podcast: Spy cops scandal, part 1
Guardian investigative editor Paul Lewis and investigative reporter Rob Evans detail their decade-long investigation into undercover policing. At least 139 officers were given fake identities to monitor the inner workings of more than 1,000 political groups. Jessica, a former member of one of those groups, describes the impact of discovering that a man with whom she began a relationship in 1992 was actually an undercover cop.
Lunchtime read: Dirty secret of the electric car
The race is on to find a steady source of lithium – “white oil”, a key component in rechargeable electric car batteries. But while the EU focuses on emissions, the lithium gold rush threatens environmental damage on an industrial scale.
The first results of the Guardian’s 2020 best 100 female footballers poll will be revealed today. England’s one-day international series in South Africa was cancelled on Monday after collective anxiety swept through the touring party and left the players feeling unable to perform on the field. Millwall have outlined a series of anti-discrimination measures and said the club’s players would also stand arm-in-arm with QPR, their opposition on Tuesday, a game for which south-east London now holds it breath. Gareth Southgate says he is worried about the condition that his England players will be in for the European Championship next summer as he opened up on how the power of the Premier League could affect his prospects of success. A second-half penalty by Danny Ings gave Southampton a 2-1 win over Brighton at the Amex Stadium. Paul Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola, has claimed it will be best for the midfielder and Manchester United if the 27-year-old leaves in January as he is unhappy and can “no longer express” himself at the club.
Anthony Joshua says his year out of the ring could affect him on Saturday night when he defends his world heavyweight titles against Kubrat Pulev in London. Competitive breakdancing will be the sparkling new attraction at the 2024 Olympics in Paris. A groundbreaking new study on transgender athletes has found trans women retain a 12% advantage in running tests even after taking hormones for two years to suppress their testosterone. England’s unpopular kicking strategy has been defended by the fly-half George Ford, who says he and his side are simply doing what it takes to be successful under rugby’s current laws. New Zealand’s two-time Rugby World Cup-winning captain Richie McCaw has been named men’s player of the decade by World Rugby.
The collapse of Arcadia has opened the way for Mike Ashley to possibly take control of Debenhams and complete a retail takeover many years in the making. The demise of Sir Philip Green’s empire also scuppered a rescue plan for the struggling department store chain but Ashley, who has long coveted Debenhams for his own stable, has confirmed his Frasers Group is in talks to buy the business. The FTSE100 is expected to drop 0.3% at the opening this morning while the pound will buy you $1.336 and €1.102.
Boris Johnson’s “Brexit showdown” with officials in Brussels dominates most of the papers – you can see the major front pages here, while our usual summary follows.
The Mail’s headline is “Last call for a deal” alongside the picture of Johnson on his prime ministerial landline. The Guardian’s headline says “PM heads to Brussels after UK holds out olive branch”, reporting that Britain has offered some concessions on the internal market bill. The Express and the Times have variants using “showdown in Brussels”. The Telegraph mixes it up a bit, thankfully: “Johnson on mission to Brussels”.
The other big story of the day is Britain’s coronavirus vaccinations beginning. The Mirror’s headline is “Our fightback starts today”. The Daily Record in Scotland finds the lure of wartime imagery irresistible: “V day”. That line is also used in the Telegraph, Times and Express. The Metro’s splash head says “Roll up for first jabs”. The FT’s mind is elsewhere: “Uber pulls plug on self-driving car unit to take stake in rival Aurora”, with space also for the Johnson-Von der Leyen rendezvous and Bob Dylan selling his catalogue rights. “Doing my duty on V-day” says the Sun which interviews a vaccine recipient.
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