Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 23 December 2021

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

1. Studies find Omicron ‘milder’

The Omicron variant appears to be “milder” and cause fewer hospitalisations, according to preliminary studies published in the UK and South Africa. Early evidence suggests there has been an estimated reduction of between 30% and 70% in people needing hospital treatment when compared to other variants. However, after the UK’s daily Covid cases topped 100,000 for the first time yesterday, “concern remains that even if Omicron is milder, the sheer number of cases could overwhelm hospitals”, the BBC said.

‘Milder variant’: the reasons for Omicron hope

2. Trump accepts Biden praise

Joe Biden has praised Donald Trump’s administration for the first time, crediting his predecessor for his role in the development of the Covid-19 vaccine. “Thanks to the prior administration and our scientific community, America was one of the first countries to get the vaccine,” Biden said during a speech from the White House. Responding on Fox News, Donald Trump said: “I’m very appreciative of that — I was surprised to hear it. You know, it has to be a process of healing in this country, and that will help a lot.”

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What the arrival of Omicron means for the US

3. Inflation hits key workers

Nurses, care home staff and police officers are thousands of pounds worse off than they were a decade ago as a result of wages failing to keep pace with inflation. According to the Trades Union Congress, the inflation-adjusted pay for police sergeants and constables is £5,595 a year lower than a decade ago. Nurses have suffered an effective wage cut of £2,715 and local authority care workers a cut of £1,661. The Guardian said that the workers impacted by real terms pay cuts are “expected to keep Britain going” on Christmas Day.

How high could UK inflation rise in 2022?

4. Energy prices a ‘national crisis’

Energy bosses have warned of a worsening crisis after gas prices soared to record levels following a sharp fall in European imports from Russia. They have urged the government to consider measures such as relieving VAT on bills, moving some costs from bills onto taxation and finding ways to spread the hit from high wholesale prices over two or three years. Nigel Pocklington, chief executive of the supplier Good Energy, said: “This is a national crisis.”

Are higher energy bills here to stay?

5. Fourth jab considered for UK

The UK is considering the rollout of a fourth round of Covid vaccinations after both Israel and Germany announced they were pressing ahead with another booster to tackle Omicron. The Telegraph said the extra dose would be administered at least four months after the first booster, meaning it could be available in the early months of 2022. An Israeli scientist, involved in the country’s decision to introduce a fourth jab, told the paper it would be difficult for countries to resist an extra dose for the most vulnerable.

Will booster vaccines stave off further lockdowns?

6. Jab distribution ‘stain on soul’

Gordon Brown has said the failure to distribute vaccines to poorer countries is a “stain on our global soul”. Although eight billion coronavirus vaccines have been administered worldwide, the majority have been given in high- and middle-income countries. About three-quarters of the population have received a vaccine in the UK, but 98 countries have not yet met the target of vaccinating 40% of their populations, according to the World Health Organization. Brown warned that Covid would “come back to haunt” every country if the distribution of vaccines is not evened out.

The Week Unwrapped: Lost citizenship, wasted jabs and alarming doorbells

7. US lawmaker in daylight carjack

A US congresswoman had her car and possessions taken from her at gunpoint in a daylight theft in the city of Philadelphia. Mary Gay Scanlon’s government phone and ID were among the belongings that the two robbers took. The Democrat was not injured, her office said. Authorities have taken five suspects into custody, Senior Corporal Jason Hatchell of the Delaware State Police told CNN. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney described the robbery as “appalling”.

8. Maxwell to spend Xmas in jail

Ghislaine Maxwell will spend Christmas Day in a New York jail cell after the jury in her sex trafficking trial failed to reach a verdict on its second day of deliberations. Jurors will return to the court in downtown Manhattan on Monday to continue considering their verdict after declining the chance to deliberate today. 25 December is also Maxwell’s 60th birthday.

Ghislaine Maxwell trial: what we have learned about Jeffrey Epstein’s crimes

9. Publisher apologises to Abramovich

Roman Abramovich has received an apology over the claim in a best-selling book that he purchased Chelsea Football Club on the orders of Vladimir Putin. Abramovich had sued Catherine Belton, an investigative journalist, and her publishers, HarperCollins, for defamation. An out-of-court settlement will see the publisher pay an undisclosed fee to a charity of Abramovich’s choosing. The publisher and author accepted that “the book contained some inaccurate information”.

10. Bluewater loses 70% of its value

Bluewater, the shopping mall in Kent, has suffered a 70% fall in value. Land Securities has bought another 25% stake in Bluewater, paying £172m for the extra 25% share from Lendlease, the Australian developer. The deal values the mall at £688m, almost 70% below the £2.2bn that it was worth only seven years ago. Prior to the pandemic, Bluewater’s shops would make more than £1bn of sales a year. But the pandemic has accelerated the shift towards online shopping, slashing the value of shopping centres.

Nation of online shoppers: Covid-19 sparks permanent change

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