Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 22 Feb 2021

The Week’s daily digest of the news agenda, published at 8am

1. PM to unveil ‘cautious’ plan

Schools in England are expected to reopen on 8 March as part of Boris Johnson’s “cautious” four-part plan to lift the Covid lockdown, says the BBC. The prime minister is also expected to say that at the end of next month, two households or up to six people will be able to meet outdoors for the first time this year. Guidance telling people to stay at home will be lifted on 29 March.

How Covid-19 data will dictate plan to end lockdown

2. Employers plan recruitment push

Some 56% of employers in the UK intend to recruit staff in the next three months, according to new research. The sectors with the strongest intentions of hiring include healthcare, insurance and education. The survey also found that the number of firms planning to make redundancies dropped from 30% to 20%. “These are the first signs of positive employment prospects that we've seen in a year,” said a spokesman.

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‘More 1945 than 2008’: new CBI chief calls for economic reboot

3. Trump speech to ‘tighten grip’

Donald Trump will address the Conservative Public Action Conference in Florida next weekend in what will be his first public appearance since leaving office. The speech is a bid “to tighten his grip on the Republican party”, says The Daily Telegraph. The former president is widely expected to run again for office in 2024 and has already hoarded a $31m (£22m) war chest.

Are Republicans beginning a Trump detox?

4. Afghan president calls for talks

The president of Afghanistan says there is a “window of opportunity to accelerate the peace process” following Nato’s announcement that it has made no final decision on withdrawing troops. Ashraf Ghani told the BBC that the announcement provided an opportunity for “all parties to the conflict to recalculate and reach a conclusion that we've long reached, that use of force is not the solution”.

5. Teen suicide warning

More than 7% of British children have tried to kill themselves by the age of 17, a study has found. The Millennium Cohort Study, which tracks the lives of 19,000 people born at the start of the millennium, found that pressures from education and social media were among the causes of the suicide attempts. Fears are growing that the pandemic will increase mental health problems among young people.

6. Hancock ‘crony’ to be probed

Alex Bourne, the former publican and neighbour of Matt Hancock who secured lucrative work producing vials for NHS Covid tests, is under investigation by the UK’s medicine agency. Bourne won about £30m of work producing the test tubes despite having no prior experience in the industry. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency said: “We are currently investigating allegations and will take appropriate action as necessary.”

7. Homeless deaths surge in pandemic

Deaths among homeless people have increased by more than a third in a year, according to a study which found that almost 1,000 of them had died across the UK in 2020. The Dying Homeless Project has called for action to prevent a repeat of such “terrible loss of life”. It said its findings show that the pandemic had hit a system “already cut to the bone from ten years of austerity”.

What it cost to house the homeless during the pandemic

8. Brits accused of Libyan plot

A British businesswoman and two former Royal Marines have been accused of involvement in a failed plot to support the Libyan warlord Marshal Khalifa Haftar and kidnap or kill his opponents. The Times says Project Opus provided Haftar’s rebels with military helicopters, boats and mercenaries to support an offensive on the internationally recognised government in Tripoli. Amanda Perry, a businesswoman in Dubai, is accused of breaking an arms embargo.

9. Universities accused

Universities have been accused of turning a blind eye to money laundering after The Times found that they accepted millions of pounds in cash from students from “high-risk” countries. At least 49 British universities let students use banknotes to pay a total of £52m in fees, effectively “putting out a welcome mat for the world’s kleptocrats and money launderers”, a security expert said.

10. Tennis fans boo Covid vaccine

The Australian government has criticised fans who booed the mention of a Covid-19 vaccine at the Australian Open tennis final. During an awards ceremony after the men’s final, when a tennis official referred to global vaccine efforts as a sign of optimism, fans booed loudly. Michael McCormack, the deputy prime minister, described the crowd’s behaviour as “disgusting”.

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