Top story: Johnson & Johnson pauses vaccine trial
Good morning – Warren Murray making a balanced judgment on your behalf.
Ministers were warned three weeks ago that Britain faced a “very large epidemic with catastrophic consequences” unless they took immediate action by imposing a two-week lockdown. The Sage committee of experts urged ministers to move urgently as new infections rose in all age groups, even as the full impact of opening schools and universities had yet to be felt. They warned a second wave would fall disproportionately on society’s frailest and poorest as well as BAME communities.
Boris Johnson has warned northern leaders that a failure to agree tougher coronavirus restrictions within days would be “unforgivable” as he faces doubt and frustration over the new three-tier system splitting England into medium risk (tier 1), high risk (tier 2) and very high risk (tier 3) areas. More than 17 million people face localised curbs. Liverpool city region was the only area categorised as very high risk – from Wednesday pubs are closed and household mixing is banned in almost all situations.
Johnson & Johnson (no relation) has paused its Covid-19 vaccine trial due to an “unexplained illness” in a participant. It did not say whether the participant received the vaccine or a placebo. While such news generates intense interest during the pandemic, it is not unusual for studies as large as this, involving 60,000 patients, to be put on hold. In the US, a man has caught coronavirus twice in the first confirmed case of reinfection – prompting experts to warn that previous exposure is not a guarantee of total immunity. Stay attuned to the latest coronavirus news at our global live blog.
‘Turned his back on you’ – Joe Biden has torn into Donald Trump at a rally in Ohio, casting Trump as having abandoned the working-class voters in states such as this who helped him win in 2016.
Trump held a rally in Florida, his first since coming down with coronavirus, as doctors said he had tested negative twice and was no longer infectious. Such packed events pose the highest risk of spreading the coronavirus, according to the CDC, but a raspy-sounding Trump roared like a drunken uncle at Christmas: “I’ll walk into that audience. I’ll walk in there, I’ll kiss everyone in that audience. I’ll kiss the guys and the beautiful women – everybody.” In Georgia early voting has opened and people have reported queuing for 10 hours or more to lodge their ballots.
Tragedy of Nagorno-Karabakh – The battle over territory disputed by Armenia and Azerbaijan has been waged on and off for a century, escalating when the Soviet Union disintegrated until a 1994 ceasefire. Hostilities have flared anew and civilians once again suffer the consequences.
About 70,000 Armenians in Nagarno-Karabakh have fled Azerbaijani rockets and drones, which appear to have hit civilian neighbourhoods more often than infrastructure and military bases. Those who stay – many of them from older generations – say they would rather die than abandon their homes to Azerbaijan. Here is our special pictorial report by Bethan McKernan in Stepanakert, with photographs by Achilleas Zavallis.
Fears of carbon rebound – The coronavirus pandemic is expected to cause a 7% decline in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2020 but governments are not doing enough to prevent a rapid rebound, the International Energy Agency is warning. Modelling based on governments’ current policies predicts carbon dioxide emissions will rebound in 2021, exceed 2019 levels in 2027 and rise to 36 gigatonnes by 2030. A more optimistic “sustainable development” scenario sees them peaking in 2019 but the IEA warns that would require a rapid and “historic” change in energy policies. Separately, 30 of the world’s largest asset managers with a combined $5tn (£3.8tn) portfolio have committed to cutting carbon emissions of companies they invest in by up to 29% by 2025. The UN-backed Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance includes Aviva, the Church of England and the $400bn US fund CalPERS, and covers the BT pension scheme, the David Rockefeller Fund and Axa.
Go sub-prime – Campaign groups and small business have called on consumers to shun this week’s Amazon Prime event starting today and support small retailers instead. Ethical Consumer, which has long campaigned to persuade shoppers to boycott Amazon on the basis that it aggressively avoids paying taxes, has urged online shoppers to stop, pause, and “think of the cost to vital public services before they click to checkout”. The British Independent Retailers Association (Bira) has asked consumers to consider the small retailers who need their support “more than ever” if their local high street is not going to become a boarded-up wasteland.
Today in Focus podcast: Voting isn’t for everybody in America
Millions of American voters will be unable to cast their ballot in this year’s presidential election and those affected will be disproportionately first-time voters and from minority groups, reports Sam Levine.
Lunchtime read: ‘You get fatter – but there is freedom’
Isabella Rossellini’s latest project is about the joy of sex, as well as its capacity to exploit, control and kill. She discusses the pleasure of life after being written off by Hollywood and the beauty business.
Manchester United’s and Liverpool’s “Project Big Picture” is already under intense pressure after audacious plans for the reform of English football failed to gain support from their Premier League peers. Premiership Rugby is at the centre of another row, this time over television coverage of the Twickenham final between Exeter and Wasps on Saturday week. José Mourinho is strongly against Gareth Southgate’s plan to start Harry Kane for England in the Nations League tie with Denmark on Wednesday night. Off the pitch, the footballer Marcus Rashford has thrown his support behind a cross-party parliamentary bill to fund free breakfast provision in schools while the government faces mounting pressure to extend its £15-a-week food voucher scheme over half term.
Lewis Hamilton has delivered what appears to be a stinging riposte to Sir Jackie Stewart by dismissing negativity surrounding his achievements from former drivers. Andy Murray says Rafael Nadal’s 13 French Open singles titles stands as one of the greatest records in sport. Ash Barty remains top of the latest WTA rankings despite missing the past two grand slam tournaments, while French Open winner Iga Swiatek stormed into the top 20. And Dr Richard Freeman has insisted he has “never doped a rider” but his medical tribunal took another twist when he was accused of lying and making excuses by Prof Steve Peters, under whom he worked at British Cycling.
Asian shares have slipped despite a firmer Wall Street lead as China’s post-holiday rally cooled. MSCI’s broadest index of non-Japan shares dipped into negative territory in the Asian session, down 0.09%, while the Nikkei was off 0.2%. The Shanghai Composite slipped 0.5% and China’s CSI 300 shed 0.3%, while the morning session of the Hang Seng was cancelled due to a typhoon warning. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 was a bright spot, up 1% on firmer bank stocks and despite a selldown in major coal names after reports China could look to ban Australian imports. The FTSE is tracking to be 0.3% higher at time of writing while sterling is worth $1.304 and €1.105 this morning.
It all ends in tortured puns in some of the major papers today, which you can see in their glory here. The Mirror is the latest to do “It all ends in tiers” as it flays the government’s performance on Covid so far. The Guardian says: “Tempers flare over new rules as PM warns ‘we must act now’” next to a grim-faced prime minister and notes Liverpool’s predicament as the only area so far categorised as “very high risk”. The Mail has “Back to the bad old days” as it says lockdown measures will affect 22 million, with another 9 million in London facing curbs this week.
The Telegraph diverts to how Sage wanted more severe steps with “Sage urged PM to order a harsher lockdown”. The Guardian’s report on those Sage papers is here. The Times gives Johnson’s serious expression a big show with the headline: “Millions more face toughest Covid curbs.” It focuses on his plea to northern leaders to accept the “draconian” lockdown measures. The Express portrays a happier looking PM appealing to the people: “Unforgivable not to act now, says PM.”
The Metro focuses on the situation in Liverpool with the headline “Mersey mission” and also notes London could face tougher measures in the near future. The FT looks at the political ramifications for the PM in the north: “Johnson faces Tory backlash over shift to tough lockdown measures.”
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