Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 30 December 2021

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

1. Maxwell guilty of trafficking minor

Ghislaine Maxwell has been found guilty of recruiting and trafficking young girls to be sexually abused by Jeffrey Epstein. Following five days of deliberation, the jury found the 60-year-old guilty on five of the six counts she faced - including the most serious charge, that of sex trafficking a minor. The British socialite, who could spend the rest of her life behind bars, plans to appeal. Speculation is growing that she might implicate others after she was spotted speaking to a journalist in the courtroom.

2. Omicron ‘could end epidemic’

Scientists say the Omicron variant could lead to a “complete decoupling” of Covid case and death rates and end the coronavirus epidemic. The study, by the University of Pretoria and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in South Africa, found that if the pattern seen in the country is repeated globally, “we are likely to see a complete decoupling of case and death rates, suggesting that Omicron may be a harbinger of the end of the epidemic phase of the Covid pandemic, ushering in its endemic phase”.

3. PM blamed for tests ‘shambles’

Millions of people are struggling to access Covid tests amid a surge in demand, leaving essential staff unable to work. Boris Johnson has been accused of presiding over a “total shambles” after he urged people to take rapid Covid tests before heading out for New Year’s Eve, as the Omicron wave was already pushing up demand for both lateral flows and PCRs. Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, said the PM’s plea for people to take lateral flows when there were shortages showed “spectacular incompetence”.

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4. Gender pay gap widens

The gender pay is widening, prompting warnings that women face a “bleak and worsening economic picture in 2022,” said The Guardian. Data showed that eight out of 10 organisations with more than 250 staff still pay men more than women, three years after a new law compelled companies to reveal the difference between male and female wages. Women are being paid a median hourly rate 10.2% less than their male colleagues, nearly a percentage point higher than the 9.3% gap reported in 2018.

5. BBC fears Amess-style attack

The BBC has requested support from police amid growing fears of an attack on a top journalist, reported The Times. Following the murder of David Amess MP, the corporation has written to Cressida Dick, the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, to sound the alarm after reporters became targets of harassment in recent months. In June, Newsnight’s Nick Watt was chased and shouted at by anti-lockdown protesters and had to seek refuge at the Downing Street security gate.

6. Protestors set Australian building on fire

Australia’s former parliament building was briefly set alight by protesters during a demonstration for Aboriginal sovereignty, police said. No one was injured in the fire, which engulfed the Old Parliament House’s front doors before it was extinguished. The incident follows a fortnight of protest activity at the Canberra site. Indigenous campaigners are preparing to mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, a protest occupation site that launched national discussion about indigenous land rights.

7. ‘Nightingale’ hubs built for Omicron wave

The NHS has announced that “surge hubs” are to be set up at hospitals across England in preparation for a potential wave of Omicron admissions. Eight temporary “Nightingale” units will each house about 100 patients. NHS medical director Prof Stephen Powis said the health service was on “war footing” as cases surged. A series of hospitals sites named after the 19th Century nurse Florence Nightingale were set up in England during the first wave of the pandemic, at locations such as the Excel exhibition centre in London.

8. FTSE returns to pre-Covid levels

The FTSE 100 has recovered to pre-pandemic levels for the first time. The FTSE 100 gained 48.59 points to 7,420.69, finally rising above where it stood in late February 2020, just before the pandemic sent markets into tailspin. In what The Telegraph called a “landmark moment for London’s blue-chip shares,” the index gained 0.7% on its return from the Christmas break, belatedly joining the so-called Santa rally boosting global markets.

9. Santander pays out £130m in error

Santander is scrambling to recover £130m it accidentally paid out to tens of thousands of people and businesses on Christmas Day. Around 75,000 people and companies in receipt of normal one-off or regular payments from 2,000 businesses with accounts at the high street bank were inadvertently paid a second time. The second payment was made from Santander’s own reserves, leaving the bank significantly out of pocket, but its own customers unaffected.

10. Elton was to sing Your Song at Di funeral

Westminster Abbey originally expected that Elton John would sing Your Song at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, rather than Goodbye England’s Rose, his reworking of Candle in the Wind. Newly released papers show that an early order-of-service draft included the lyrics of Your Song, although it was mistitled Our Song. Documents have also revealed that The Dean of Westminster personally appealed to Buckingham Palace to ensure Sir Elton performed at Princess Diana's funeral.

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