Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 17 March 2021

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

1. Police bill passes second reading

The police, crime, sentencing and courts bill has passed its second reading by 359 votes to 263. Labour MPs voted against it due to proposals to allow police significant leeway to stop protests on grounds including noise and disruption to the public. Some Tory MPs have announced that they might support amendments to limit the restrictions against protests.

2. New call for Covid inquiry

Doctors, government scientific advisers and a former head of the civil service have joined forces to call for a public inquiry into the government’s handling of Covid-19. Thousands of bereaved families and ethnic minority leaders have backed the call. Professor John Edmunds, a leading scientific adviser to the government on Covid, said: “An event of this magnitude needs to be looked at in detail, including - if necessary - compelling witnesses to attend.”

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3. Shootings in Georgia spas

Eight people, including at least six Asian women, have been killed in shootings at three spas in Georgia. Police said a 21-year-old man had been arrested on suspicion of carrying out all three attacks. Although no motive for the shootings has been established, in an address last week President Joe Biden drew attention to “vicious hate crimes against Asian-Americans who have been attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoated” for Covid-19.

4. Uber to pay minimum wage

Uber has announced that it will give its 70,000 UK drivers a guaranteed minimum wage, holiday pay and pensions. The ride-hailing app’s announcement comes one month after it lost a legal battle in the UK, which began in 2016, over drivers’ status. The development is expected to have significant consequences for the gig economy.

5. Raab ‘dismissed human rights’

The foreign secretary has told officials that Britain should strike trade deals with countries regardless of their position on human rights. In leaked audio from a video call, Dominic Raab said that Britain would cut itself out of deals with the world’s fastest-growing markets if it limited itself to business with countries whose standards would conform to the European Convention of Human Rights.

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6. Meghan ‘has proof of claims’

Harry and Meghan have told their friend Gayle King, a TV presenter, that private talks between them and Prince William and Prince Charles were “not productive,” says the Daily Mail. King said the duchess had “documents to back up everything she said on Oprah’s interview”. Senior officials at Buckingham Palace reportedly see the development as a betrayal of trust.

The most explosive claims from Harry and Meghan’s interview

7. Hancock says Oxford jab is safe

Matt Hancock has insisted that the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine is safe, as several European nations resist calls to resume its use amid concern over blood clots. The health secretary urged the public to “listen to the regulators” and to “get the jab” as soon as they can. Although 13 countries have stopped using the jab, the UK’s medicines watchdog has said that evidence “does not suggest” it causes clots. The European Medicines Agency yesterday also backed the Oxford vaccine.

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8. Thieves to be tagged

Burglars, robbers and thieves are to be tagged with GPS trackers under a Ministry of Justice pilot scheme. Gwent, Avon and Somerset, Cheshire, Gloucestershire, Humberside and West Midlands police forces are all taking part in the trial, under which offenders will be automatically tagged for up to 12 months after being released from prison. The authorities hope that tracking offenders 24 hours a day will act as a deterrent.

9. Dozens shot in Niger

At least 58 people have been killed in Niger after attacks near the border with Mali. Armed men opened fire on four vehicles that were bringing people back from a market. Although no group has claimed responsibility, the BBC says two jihadist campaigns are under way in Niger - one in the west near Mali and Burkina Faso, and another in the south-east on the border with Nigeria.

10. More Dead Sea scrolls found

Archaeologists in Israel have discovered two dozen Dead Sea scroll fragments from a remote cave in the Judean Desert. In the first such find in nearly 60 years, more than 20 bits of parchment were found. Researchers also discovered a six-millennia-old skeleton of a child and a basket thought to be the oldest in the world, dating from more than 10,000 years ago.