Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 16 December 2021

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

1. UK ‘faces two epidemics’

England’s chief medical officer has warned that daily Covid-19 case records “will be broken a lot over the next few weeks as the rates continue to go up” due to the emergence of the Omicron variant. Speaking during a No. 10 press conference, Professor Chris Whitty said the new strain is continuing to spread at an “absolutely phenomenal pace”, adding that the country is experiencing “two epidemics on top of one another”. One is being driven by the “very rapidly-growing” Omicron, he warned, the other by the Delta variant.

Omicron predictions: how experts think the next wave will begin and end

2. Inflation raising prices

An increase in fuel and clothing prices has driven inflation to its highest level in more than a decade. The consumer prices index reached 5.1% in the year to November, up from 4.2% the month before, according to the Office for National Statistics. With inflation at its highest level since September 2011, pressure is increasing on the Bank of England to raise interest rates from a record low of 0.1% in its monetary policy committee meeting today.

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How high could inflation rise in the UK?

3. Putin meets Xi Jinping

Vladimir Putin yesterday sought to present a united front with Xi Jinping after the Kremlin said Beijing supported Moscow’s demand for guarantees that would limit western influence in its backyard. At the start of a 90-minute video call between the pair, Putin told his “dear friend” Xi that “a new model of co-operation between our countries has formed on principles such as non-interference in internal affairs and respecting each other’s interests”. Putin also confirmed he will attend the opening of the Winter Olympics in China, an event Boris Johnson and other leaders have boycotted.

Winter Olympics 2022: what to know about the controversial Beijing games

4. Tories brace for by-election

Conservative MPs have warned that a loss for their party in the North Shropshire by-election would be “an absolute disaster” for Boris Johnson. The Guardian said that although the odds still favour Tory candidate Neil Shastri-Hurst, the scale of the Liberal Democrat challenge in the seat is causing “significant jitters” among Tories. A shock loss in the previously safe constituency would prompt “radical changes” to No. 10 and party whipping, MPs told the paper.

North Shropshire by-election: who could win Owen Paterson’s seat?

5. US tests ‘game changer’ weapon

The US Navy has successfully tested a futuristic laser weapon, using it to destroy a floating target. In a development described as a “game changer” by US officials, a laser beam fired from USS Portland demolished the practice target in the Gulf of Aden between East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. The US has been working on laser weapons since the Cold War. The military believes they would be useful in any future conflict with China.

What would happen if China tried to invade Taiwan?

6. Hospitality pleads for support

The Confederation of British Industry has urged the government to introduce support “in lockstep with future restrictions” as pressure grows on ministers to help firms suffering due to the rise in Covid-19 cases. The spread of the Omicron variant has seen a tidal wave of booking cancellations and led industry leaders to warn that the sector is “on its knees”, the lobby group warned. The Treasury insists it has no plan to extend support beyond current measures.

Will the Omicron variant trigger another lockdown?

7. Schools prepare for online learning

Schools across the UK have said they are prepared to switch to online learning ahead of the upcoming term. The BBC said that some children are being asked to take laptops home with them before Christmas, with more than 30 local authorities moving some classes online already. In England, latest data shows 236,000 pupils were out of school for Covid-related reasons on Thursday 9 December. Boris Johnson said parents should get their children vaccinated before they return to the classroom in January to keep schools open.

‘Omicron tidal wave’: will schools be forced to close again?

8. Intelligence officer fabricated reports

A police intelligence officer fabricated highly classified reports about a terrorism informant after allegedly being instructed to by his superiors. Phil Moran, a counterterrorism agent handler at British Transport Police, told The Times he was ordered to manipulate information on the National Special Branch Intelligence System to deceive the surveillance watchdog. “An independent inquiry into what went on is surely justified”, the paper said.

9. ‘Pro-Saudi’ Tory ‘begged for work’

A Conservative MP pleaded with a fixer to help him secure a lucrative second job with a Saudi company, describing himself as the most “pro-Saudi” member of parliament, The Guardian has revealed. Boasting that Mohammed bin Salman “has stated that Saudi has no better friend in the UK than me”, Daniel Kawczynski claimed he needed the money to pay school fees. A spokesperson for the Shrewsbury and Atcham MP insisted he had broken no rules.

Should MPs have second jobs?

10. Dog owners felt more loved during pandemic

A study has found that dog owners were more likely to report a feeling of being loved and valued during the pandemic, as well as being less likely to show signs of depression. “Dog owners reported having significantly more social support available to them compared to potential dog owners”, said the authors of the study, which was conducted in the US. The Times said that the study “cannot prove cause and effect”, however, adding that it is plausible that the kind of person who already has a good level of support from family and friends finds it easier to have a dog.

The Week Unwrapped podcast: Pet pandemic, peak meat and post-Covid gigs

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