Reuters reports that President Joe Biden directed U.S. military air strikes on eastern Syria against facilities belonging to what the Pentagon said were Iran-backed militia, in a calibrated response to rocket attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq.The strikes appeared to be limited ,  potentially lowering the risk of escalation. Biden’s decision to strike only in Syria and not in Iraq, at least for now, also gives the Iraqi government some breathing room as it carries out its own investigation of a Feb. 15 attack that wounded Americans. A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the decision to carry out the strikes was meant to send a signal that while the United States wanted to punish the militias but  did not want the situation to spiral into a bigger conflict.He added that the strikes destroyed multiple facilities at a border control point used by a number of Iranian-backed militant groups, including Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS).



The Daily Mail reports: The Queen has made a historic intervention in the coronavirus vaccination drive, suggesting it is selfish not to have the jab. In a video call with NHS officials in charge of the rollout, she encouraged those with doubts to ‘think about other people rather than themselves’. The 94-year-old monarch said her jab last month ‘didn’t hurt at all’ and had made her ‘feel protected’. Likening Covid to a plague, she said it was remarkable how quickly the inoculation programme had been put into action, helping ‘so many people’.



The London Evening Standard reports: The  UK’s four chief medical officers have agreed the Covid 19 Alert Level should move from five – its highest – down to four as the risk of the NHS  being overwhelmed within 21 days has receded’ The UK’s four chief medical officers and NHS England’s national medical director Stephen Powis, said in a joint statement on Thursday that while the health services across the four nations remain under significant pressure, coronavirus patient numbers in hospitals are consistently declining.



From The Express: Boris Johnson is drawing up plans to demolish Nicola Sturgeon’s dreams of Scottish independence ahead of the first meeting of a new Cabinet committee to preserve the United Kingdom.The Prime Minister will chair the special committee which will discuss the Government’s strategy for preventing the breakup of the Union. Sources said members would explore how new post-Brexit spending powers could be used to intervene in devolved areas that were controlled by Ms Sturgeon’s SNP administration. It comes as a new poll suggested support for Scottish independence had slipped by 4 percent since last November.



The Daily Mail reports: Alex Salmond has agreed to appear before a Holyrood committee conducting an inquiry into the Scottish Government’s handling of accusations against him  amid an increasingly bitter SNP civil war. The former first minister had been due to attend an evidence session on Wednesday but he pulled out after the Scottish Parliament redacted his written submission. He again offered to attend and the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints duly agreed and extended an invitation which has now been accepted. Confirmation of Mr Salmond’s appearance came after Ruth Davidson accused Nicola Sturgeon of trying to ‘save her own skin’ over the inquiry as the Tory heavyweight and Scottish First Minister engaged in furious clashes. Ms Davidson claimed there was a culture of secrets and cover up that is only growing and it is all taking place on Nicola Sturgeon’s watch. 



From the Independent: Businesses hit by punishing new red tape at Britain’s borders are paying the price for Boris Johnson’s hard Brexit says David Cameron. The former prime minister dismissed the government’s claims of merely teething problems, warning the bureaucracy was the inevitable result of leaving the EU single market. In an interview with CNN, Mr Cameron also warned that tax rises wouldn’t make any sense at all, ahead of expectations that  Chancellor  Rishi Sunak will announce some in next week’s Budget. And he backed the introduction of so-called vaccine passports to enter venues – after Mr Johnson set up an inquiry – saying the idea is coming.



From the Daily Mail: Nearly half of Britons are finding the current lockdown harder than the first and are pessimistic about the Covid situation over next six months, a new poll has found. Up to 48 per cent of Britons say they are finding the latest lockdown – the third in England – harder than the first set of restrictions in March 2020, polls show. In a worrying sign of the impact of lockdowns on mental health, nearly a fifth (17 per cent) say they are finding living under the current restrictions much harder than those in March last year, according to the survey. And in a sign Britons are becoming weary of restrictions, almost half (48 per cent) feel pessimistic about what’s to come in the next six months according to the poll, carried out by YouGov.



The Times writes: About 5,000 jobs are at risk at Asda after the supermarket group launched a big restructuring in response to the rapid rise of online shopping. The chain said that it could close its warehouses in Dartford, Kent and Heston, west London, that are also used by click-and-collect customers. The proposed closure of the dark stores will affect 800 jobs, but Asda said it would help to improve its delivery times and its ability to work with the likes of Uber Eats more closely on rapid orders. The group is also proposing to move its cash office, administration and HR jobs into one back office role. The planned move, which would affect almost 3,000 workers, was needed for the business to become more efficient, Asda said.



The Guardian reports that vast cuts at the Victoria and Albert Museum ( V&A) are feared to be imminent, with curators and conservators in the line of fire. One insider expressed dismay that the curatorial division may have to make 20% cuts and  said: We’ re expecting curatorial redundancies to be announced in the next few days but the selection of those people was made by three individuals who don’t have any curatorial or conservation experience, the head of human resources, the financial director and the chief operating officer.”



The Times writes: Tensions between the two most powerful countries have found a sensitive new outlet in a row over anal swab tests for coronavirus. Chinese officials violated accepted practice by forcing American diplomatic staff into the intimate procedure, the United States has alleged. Washington protested to the authorities in Beijing after learning of the tests and was assured that they were conducted in error. “The US State Department has stood firm on the examinations. The State Department never agreed to this kind of testing and protested directly to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when we learned that some staff were subject to it and we have instructed staff to decline this test.”



Reuters reports that  thousands of COVID-19 patients continue to suffer serious, debilitating and lingering symptoms many months after their initial bout of infection, with major social, health and economic consequences. Often referred to as “Long COVID” or “post-COVID syndrome”, European Health Experts said around one in 10 COVID-19 patients are still unwell 12 weeks after their acute infection, and many suffer symptoms for far longer.



The Guardian reports: Liverpool city councillors hope to hold an emergency vote next week to abolish the position of elected city mayor in protest at Labour scrapping its all-female shortlist for the role. They are waiting to see who, if anyone, applies to be the new candidate for a job now viewed widely as a poisoned chalice after the selection process was dismissed as a stitch up .  Two Liverpool MPs expressed their shock at Labour’s decision to re-open the process and backed calls to scrap the mayoral role. Paula Barker, the Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree, said  on Twitter that it was her firm belief that Liverpool needed a new democratic model and that the current mayoral one was broken adding that the concentration of executive power in one office is “fundamentally unhealthy.”



The Independent writes: Wales is facing a leek shortage as the nation prepares to celebrate St David’s Day on March 1st. The vegetable is one of the national symbols of Wales and is traditionally worn as a badge and eaten in such dishes as cawl, a leek and potato soup to mark the patron saint’s feast day. But farmers have warned that the UK’s supply of leeks has almost run out, in part due to a 15 per cent surge in demand as more people cook from home during the pandemic. British Leek Growers’ Association Chairman Stewart Aspinall said that the unexpected growth in demand coupled with a harsh spring in 2020 means that suppliers are having to export leeks from countries such as the Netherlands to fill the void.


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