Tuesday briefing: Masks back on and more boosters sooner

·8 min read
<span>Photograph: Reuters</span>
Photograph: Reuters

Ministers aiming for 500,000 jabs a day … Starmer elevates Cooper and Lammy … and how Britain can break the junk food cycle


Top story: Don’t drop guard, experts warn over Omicron

Good morning, I’m Warren Murray with today’s big news.

Ministers are targeting a return to half a million UK Covid jabs a day in a bid to try to outpace the Omicron variant. Confirmed cases rose to 11 in England and Scotland yesterday. From today, masks will be mandatory on public transport including airports and stations, and in shops including hair salons and takeaways – but not pubs or restaurants. The NHS is set to confirm an expansion of the vaccine programme this week after the government’s advisers said all adults should be offered boosters and recommended only three months’ wait before having one instead of six.

More countries have imposed travel restrictions on visitors from other parts of the world. Hong Kong has widened its ban to include non-residents who have been to Australia, Canada, Israel or six European countries in the past 21 days. China has pledged to send 600m vaccine doses to Africa. Keep watching our live blog for all the developments. Some are seizing on anecdotal reports from South Africa that Omicron may cause only mild illness. But it would be dangerous to assume it is less dangerous, experts say. Unben Pillay, a GP practising in Midrand on the outskirts of Johannesburg, said: “We are seeing patients present with dry cough, fever, night sweats and a lot of body pains. Vaccinated people tend to do much better.” According to officials, in the South African city of Tshwane, where Omicron was detected, 87% of hospital admissions were unvaccinated people.

This morning in our Lost to the Virus series, Sirin Kale relates the story of super-fit John Eyers – triathlete, body builder, mountain climber – who refused the vaccine and espoused conspiracy theories about it. He tested positive for Covid on 29 June, and died a month later.

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All change under Starmer – Keir Starmer’s surprise reshuffle of his Labour shadow cabinet brings Yvette Cooper back to the frontbench as shadow home secretary. David Lammy is elevated to shadow foreign secretary, while Lisa Nandy will face Michael Gove as shadow levelling-up secretary. The shakeup, which left almost no senior role untouched, is viewed at Westminster as accelerating Labour’s shift to the centre. Starmer’s deputy, Angela Rayner, was blindsided – speaking as the reshuffle got under way, she said: “Six months ago I said again we need some consistency in how we are approaching things as an opposition and I want to see us as a government in waiting, doing that job.” Starmer’s team believed the time was ripe, with the prime minister under pressure after backbench revolts and the vaccine bounce in the polls apparently waning.

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Just quitting my Twitter – Jack Dorsey has stepped down as boss of Twitter and will be replaced by its chief technology officer, Parag Agrawal. Dorsey has been criticised for being chief executive officer of both Twitter and Square, his digital payments company. Dorsey, 45, co-founded the microblogging site in 2006 and posted the world’s first tweet: “Just setting up my twttr.” Agrawal, who has been with the company for 10 years, is a 37-year-old immigrant from India who comes from outside the ranks of celebrity CEOs. He is a “‘safe’ pick who should be looked upon as favourably by investors”, wrote Angelo Zino, an investment analyst.

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‘Round them up’ in Xinjiang – Excerpts from previously unpublished documents directly link China’s crackdown on Uyghur Muslims and other minorities in Xinjiang to speeches by the Chinese leadership in 2014. The documents – including three speeches by the president, Xi Jinping – cover security, population control and the need to punish the Uyghur population. Some are marked top secret. Xi calls for “a crushing blow” against “Xinjiang’s violent terrorist activities” while Xinjiang’s party secretary, Chen Quanguo, personally commands officials to “round up all who should be rounded up”. Separately, security officials in China’s Henan province have commissioned a surveillance system they want to use to track journalists and international students among other “suspicious people”.

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‘Pushed away, othered’ – The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office racially discriminated against a black senior civil servant after launching an inquiry into her sex life, an employment tribunal has ruled. Sonia Warner, a civil servant for 33 years who oversaw grants to Nigerian organisations, was “pushed away”, “disowned” or “othered” by colleagues, it concluded. The ruling follows a report that found many black, Asian and minority ethnic men working in development for the government claim to have experienced prejudice at work. A further hearing has been fixed for February on any compensation Warner may receive. An FCDO spokesperson said: “We are committed to being an inclusive employer for our 16,500 colleagues around the world. We don’t comment on individual cases.”

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They’re multiplying – Researchers say they have found that clusters of frog cells built to order in the laboratory can replicate in a way unlike plants or animals. The spherical clumps, known as xenobots, can give rise to “offspring” by sweeping up loose cells and swashing them into yet more clusters like themselves.

Xenobots were first announced last year – these “living robots” are made by taking a few thousand cells from frog embryos and assembling them into computer-designed clusters about 1mm in size. It is hoped such self-replicating, short-lived machines could eventually be developed to do useful work or, if made from our own cells, perform medical tasks like clearing cholesterol build-up from human arteries.

Today in Focus podcast: Queen bade farewell

On Tuesday, Barbados replaces Queen Elizabeth II with president Sandra Mason – and while some are celebrating, others ask if a symbolic change is really enough to reckon with the legacy of colonialism. Michael Safi visits Bridgetown to ask if the country can free itself from the history that got it here – and what Britain owes to the people of its former colonies whose ancestors were enslaved.

Lunchtime read: ‘Break the junk food cycle’

From ultra-processed junk to failing supply chains and rocketing food poverty, there are serious problems with the way the UK eats. Will the government ever act?

Sport

Ralf Rangnick has claimed Manchester United can still make a success of this season after being confirmed as the club’s interim manager. Postponement is not an option for the European Champions Cup as rugby union finds itself on the frontline in dealing with the Omicron variant of Covid-19. Alexia Putellas and Lionel Messi have been crowned winners of the 2021 Ballon d’Or during a glittering ceremony in Paris. Tiger Woods has admitted he will probably never make a full-time return to professional golf and feared his leg would be amputated following a car crash earlier this year. Twenty-five of the biggest names in golf have committed to play the 2022 Saudi Invitational, potentially placing them on a collision course with their home circuits.

Katie Taylor, Ireland’s world champion boxer, has spoken to the Guardian about her faith, her family’s hard journey and why the potential mega-fight with Amanda Serrano will be worthy of making women’s boxing history. The British Horseracing Authority has denied a claim by former trainer Charlie Brooks that Chris Watts, the authority’s former head of integrity assurance, left his position after an “Oliver Reed-style bender” in Newmarket earlier this year. Joe Salisbury and Neal Skupski will provide welcome back-up in Great Britain’s bid to reach Davis Cup semi-finals when they face Germany in Innsbruck. The former England captain Ray Illingworth has revealed he is receiving treatment for cancer. And Lee Elder, the pioneering golfer who broke several of the sport’s colour barriers, has died at the age of 87.

Business

Lego is giving its 20,000 employees an extra three days off and a cash bonus after seeing its profits rise 140% to £700m in the first half of this year as the enforced lockdowns boosted sales for the world’s biggest toymaker. The Danish company said it had been “an extraordinary year for the Lego Group and our colleagues have worked incredibly hard”. With Asian markets bouncing back overnight, the FTSE looks like opening up a fraction while the pound is worth $1.332 and €1.178.

The papers

Our Guardian splash today: “Race to return to 500,000 UK jabs a day as Omicron concern grows”. The picture slot goes to the beginning of Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial for allegedly procuring young girls to be sexually abused by Jeffrey Epstein. The Daily Mail says Maxwell, who has pleaded not guilty, was described in court as a “predator who served up young girls to be abused”.

The Metro has “Booster drive to beat Omi” and the i’s front-page headline is similar. The Times says it’s a “Scramble to get jabs in arms” and oh no, it’s another “save Xmas” headline in the boosterish Express. Joe Biden is at risk of looking and sounding a bit Dad’s Army in the Telegraph: “No cause for panic”, he says of Omicron.

“Rush jab” says the Mirror, and it took me a few seconds to get that this is a play on “rush job”. Boosters are on the front of the Financial Times too, along with Jack Dorsey leaving Twitter and this basement piece: “Pressure mounts for tightening of ECB policy as German inflation surges to 6%” – that’s the European central bank, of course, not the England and Wales Cricket board.

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