Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 9 July 2021

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

1. Biden defends Afghan pull-out

Joe Biden has defended his decision to withdraw military forces from Afghanistan. Confirming that US operations will end on 31 August, the fourth US president to oversee the war insisted the hasty pace of the withdrawal would save lives. “We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build,” he said. “And it’s the right and the responsibility of the Afghan people alone to decide their future and how they want to run their country.”

2. Get back to the office, says Sunak

The chancellor is urging workers to return to the office as soon as the government’s “work from home” guidance lifts. Rishi Sunak told the Daily Telegraph that operating remotely via Zoom during the pandemic has been “not great” for workers at the beginning of their careers, because face-to-face interaction is particularly “valuable” for them. England’s remaining Covid restrictions are set to be lifted on 19 July.

3. Brexit bill higher than thought

The UK’s Brexit “divorce bill” is €47.5bn (£40.8bn) according to estimates from Brussels. The figure is significantly higher than an earlier estimate from the UK’s fiscal watchdog. In 2018 the Office for Budget Responsibility put the Brexit bill at €41.4bn (£37.1bn). More recently, British government officials said the final bill would be around £35-39bn. The first payment, €6.8bn, is due by the end of the year.

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4. Bookings surge after amber rule change

Airlines enjoyed a five-fold rise in bookings for foreign travel yesterday after the government approved quarantine-free returns from holidays in amber countries from 19 July. Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said that government guidance against leisure travel in amber countries would be dropped, meaning that fully vaccinated adults will be allowed travel to 140 destinations without isolating on their return to England.

5. Pills go over the counter

A historic ruling from the UK’s drug regulator means women will be able to buy the contraceptive pill over the counter for the first time in 60 years. From August, two brands of progesterone-only “mini pills” will be available for as little as £7.50 a month without a prescription. June Raine, the chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, said the development is “good news for women and families”.

6. Payouts may offset green energy bills

Ministers are considering sending annual payments to families to offset the cost of higher gas bills and encourage a switch to green energy. The plan would be modelled on an initiative that was introduced in Canadian states in 2018 and comes as part of Boris Johnson’s pledge to reach net-zero emissions without disproportionately imposing higher costs on consumers. “This government is determined to keep bills low and that is a priority,” Johnson told MPs.

7. Study confirms low Covid risk to young

The overall risk of children dying from Covid is around two in a million, scientists estimate. Data from the first 12 months of the pandemic in England shows 25 under-18s died from Covid. Some 5,800 children were admitted to hospital and about 250 required intensive care. Dr Elizabeth Whittaker, from Imperial College London, said: “We hope this data will be reassuring for children and young people and their families.”

8. Celeb lawyer jailed for Nike con

A US court has sentenced celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti to 30 months in prison for attempting to extort millions of dollars from Nike. Avenatti was convicted of threatening to publicly accuse the sportswear company of illicitly paying amateur basketball players unless Nike paid him. “Mr Avenatti had become drunk on the power of his platform, or what he perceived his platform to be,” said the judge. Avenatti rose to fame as the lawyer for adult film star Stormy Daniels.

9. Delta more likely to reinfect

People who have previously caught Covid are more likely to be reinfected by the Delta variant, a study has found. The mutation that originated in India is four times more able to overcome protective antibodies from a previous infection compared to the Alpha variant. The analysis also found that a single dose of either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca jabs provided just 10% protection against the Delta variant.

10. Markets wobble on Covid resurgences

Fears over soaring Covid cases sent British stocks sliding yesterday, as investors worried that economic growth could be slowing. The FTSE 100 index fell by 120 points, or 1.7%, to close at 7030 points, its biggest one-day fall in three weeks. Retailers, housebuilders, hospitality firms and financial stocks are among the fallers. Traders across the globe fear that the economic rebound may have peaked, after signs of a slowdown in China.

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