MINISTERS TO CONTROL THE NHS
According to The TIMES Ministers plan to take more control over the NHS with laws to block the closure of hospitals and overrule bosses in the biggest health reform for a decade. Powers to put fluoride in water, impose health warnings on sausages and order the NHS to prevent obesity will be handed to the government under plans to be announced within weeks, The Times has been told. At present only councils can add fluoride to water, with six million people in England drinking fluoridated water. Ministers want it extended nationwide, to cut tooth decay. They have become frustrated with local leaders who have little incentive to spend the money needed when they are not responsible for dental health.
BRITISH ARMY IN AN APPALLING STATE
The Mail reports on the calamitous state of the British Army which has been revealed in a leaked briefing. All but one of its 33 infantry battalions are dangerously short of combat-ready troops, according to the alarming Ministry of Defence report. Marked ‘Official: Sensitive’, it shows that key frontline units have barely half the manpower needed for operational deployment. A former defense minister said it brought into question whether the UK could still meet its obligations as a leading member of NATO. Despite the shortfalls, a number of infantry battalions face the axe in a review of defence expenditure and long-term strategy. The manpower crisis was blamed last night on years of poor pay and conditions and on the decision to outsource recruiting to a private firm. Colonel Richard Kemp said the £1.3billion contract handed to Capita had proved ‘disastrous’, with bureaucratic hurdles putting off potential recruits. The officer, who commanded forces in Afghanistan, added: ‘The Army is already too small to adequately protect Britain in an increasingly dangerous world. These further cuts are dangerously irresponsible.’
TRUMP PLANNING REVENGE TOUR
From the Independent: Donald Trump is refusing to testify under oath at his second impeachment trial, which is set to get underway on Tuesday. In a letter to Jamie Raskin, the House Democrats’ lead impeachment manager, Mr Trump’s lawyers branded the request a publicity stunt and claimed the trial was “unconstitutional”. It is meanwhile being reported that the ex-president is planning a “revenge tour” to attack disloyal Republicans who voted for his impeachment in the House of Representatives in January.
BRUTAL ASSESSMENT OF EU CHIEF URSULA VON DER LEYEN
The Express reports that Guy Verhofstadt has delivered a brutal assessment of Ursula von der Leyen’s floundering vaccine rollout as the EU continues to lag behind the UK. In a vicious attack on Brussels, the outspoken MEP and staunch EU supporter questioned how Europe has fallen behind its competitors and allowed the UK to surge ahead in its vaccine rollout. In a bitter attack against the bloc, Mr Verhofstadt said ‘This shouldn’t be happening. The EU is the world leader in the production of vaccines. He went on to say ‘how is it possible that today, more than one month after the launch of the vaccination programmes, Europe is lagging behind?’
PERMISSION GRANTED ONLY IF YOU ARE ALLOWED TO LEAVE
The Daily Mail reports that officers have been stopping passengers at Bristol Airport, asking them whether their journeys are essential. Police Officers from Avon and Somerset Police, who were often seen at the airport before the pandemic, have been explaining the current travel restrictions to people. Inspector Chris Gresswell said the officers are not ‘looking to trip people up’ and explained there are several options, including enforcement, available to them.Inspector Gresswell said the main message being spread by officers at Bristol Airport is only travel if essential and people should look on the Government website if they are unsure whether they are allowed to travel.
THREAT OF NEGATIVE INTEREST RATES WORRIES SAVERS
From the Express: British savers are worried about keeping their money in a bank according to new research, with many saving less overall since the pandemic began in March 2020. The recent news of negative interest rates potentially being on the horizon are likely to add to that worry and new advice has been issued on what should be done. 18 percent detailed they did not feel their money was secure in a bank, with nearly half (47 percent) planning to withdraw part or all of their money from savings accounts should negative interest rates be introduced.
CLAIMS THAT PENSIONERS WILL FEEL THE BRUNT OF ECONOMIC MEASURES
The Express reports that in recent weeks pensions experts have suggested it is likely pensioners will feel the brunt of Mr Rishi Sunak’s economic measures, set to be announced in March’s budget. The Chancellor is looking at a variety of tax rises to raise funds, and pension relief is likely to be reduced according to experts.
CORONAVIRUS ‘R’ FALLING
The SUN reports: England’s coronavirus R rate has fallen below to 1 for the first time since July, official government data has revealed.The official figure – which represents the number of people an infected person will pass Covid onto – is now between 0.7 and 0.9, Sage said today.It’s slightly lower than it was last week at 0.7 to 1.0, but is the first time it’s fallen below the crucial value since July 3, last year. For the UK as a whole, it’s slightly higher at 0.7 to 1.0, but that’s also a drop from last week when it was estimated to be between 0,7 and 1.1. When the R is below 1, it means transmission is low and the epidemic is shrinking – but greater than that number suggests it’s growing.
BURNOUT AND STRESS LEVELS INCREASING
The Guardian reports on a rise in pandemic burnout as many people find the current phase of lockdowns harder, with an increasing number feeling worn out and unable to cope. Psychologists warn that many are finding the latest lockdown more difficult because of a realisation that coronavirus will be around longer than expected and dashed hopes about an easing of restrictions. Data also indicates people are finding it harder to stay positive, with 60% of people in the UK saying they are finding it harder to stay positive daily compared with before the pandemic – an 8-point increase from November, an Ipsos Mori survey found.
RISHI SUNAK’S WIFE CLAIMING FURLOUGH PAYMENTS FOR GYM STAFF
The Mirror writes that Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s super-rich wife is still claiming taxpayers’ cash to pay furloughed staff at her gym business, official documents reveal. Akshata Murty is a director and shareholder of boutique gym business Digme which has been forced to close its eight studios in London and Oxford during the pandemic. Mrs Murty is the daughter of one of India’s biggest businessmen and her shares in his tech firm Infosys are worth £430m, making her one of Britain’s richest women, with a fortune larger than the Queen’s. She has a 4.5% stake in Digme Fitness Limited, which appears on a newly released list of nearly 750,000 businesses which received furlough cash in December. Digme has relaunched itself during the pandemic as an online business with live-streamed workouts and exercise bike hire.
BIDEN WITHDRAWS SUPPORT FOR SAUDI ARABIA’S WAR IN YEMEN
According to the TIMES President Biden has withdrawn support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen and put a stop to his predecessor’s order to pull 12,000 troops out of Germany as he realigned American foreign policy with traditional allies yesterday. Biden, 78, reasserted the US commitment to Nato and vowed to confront authoritarian leaders wooed by Donald Trump in a return to a more conventional diplomatic approach to global hotspots. Signalling the two countries that he believes pose the greatest challenges, Biden said: American leadership must meet this new moment of advancing authoritarianism, including the growing ambitions of China to rival the United States and the determination of Russia to damage and disrupt our democracy.
BREXIT AND COVID CAUSING CHANNEL TUNNEL TRAFFIC COLLAPSE
The London Evening Standard reports: Cross channel trade through the channel tunnel fell by more than a third in the first month after the UK left the EU, new freight transport data reveals. Figures from French owned Getlink, the company behind the Le Shuttle, showed shipments on its Le Shuttle service were down 38% in January compared with December and down 37% in January last year, with the company blaming Brexit and Covid travel restrictions and requirements. Getlink’s monthly figures are used as a key barometer of Britain’s trading economy. December had been a strong month for freight traffic because many manufacturers had anticipated chaos and stockpiled ahead of the trade deal coming into effect. A total of 131,746 trucks passed through the tunnel in December but in January, that collapsed to 82,484. Freight traffic has also been held up by the new Covid testing regime which means truck drivers must present a negative Covid test on leaving the UK.
WIND FARM BONANZA FOR THE QUEEN AND THE TREASURY
The TIMES reports that the Queen and the Treasury are in line for a multibillion-pound bonanza from renewable energy, after a major auction of seabed plots for wind farms off the coasts of England and Wales attracted runaway bids. The crown estate, which manages the monarch’s property portfolio, holds exclusive rights to lease the seabed around the British Isles. With its first auction of wind farm licences in a decade understood to have reached record highs, the Queen’s income is expected to leap by at least £100m a year, while the takings will generate over £300m a year for the Treasury. Two windfarm sites within the Irish Sea have reportedly attracted the most frenzied bidding, with energy firms offering to pay as much as £200m for each – a total revenue of £400m a year. Awards for another three areas have yet to be decided. The licences are for 10 years, meaning the auction will raise at least £4bn over a decade
The Daily Mail writes that a Worcester, Massachusetts man who suddenly woke up struggling to breathe was stunned when doctors told him he had swallowed one of his AirPods in his sleep. Brad Gauthier, 38, from Worcester MA, went to the hospital on Tuesday after he was left gagging while trying to drink a glass of water after waking up.X-rays revealed that one of his wireless Apple headphones had become wedged in his oesophagus. The blockage caused Gauthier’s throat to fill up with water as he tried to drink and made him feel as though he was choking. He was able to get the water out by leaning over and continued his day as normal, despite the strange sensation in his chest. During the day, Gauthier noticed that one of his earbud’s was missing. While his family helped look for it, they joked that, as he had a sore chest, perhaps he had swallowed it …