Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 23 February 2022

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

1. White House calls off Putin summit

President Biden has cancelled a proposed summit with Vladimir Putin, the White House said last night, because such a meeting would be inappropriate unless Russia “de-escalates”. Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, said a full-scale invasion of Ukraine is “likely to occur within the next 24 hours”. Liz Truss, the UK foreign secretary, said Britain will use “every lever at our disposal” to stop Putin’s threats.

2. PM ‘questioned under caution’

The Times said a leaked form has “appeared to confirm” that Boris Johnson has become the first British prime minister to be questioned under caution by the police. A police questionnaire, obtained by ITV News, showed that Johnson and other recipients are invited to respond with “a written statement under caution”. The Metropolitan Police is sending questionnaires to 88 people accused of attending lockdown-breaching gatherings as part of a criminal investigation into a dozen Downing Street parties during the pandemic. Tony Blair was questioned as a witness during the 2007 cash-for-honours inquiry, but was never cautioned.

3. Thousands of ghost flights revealed

Almost 15,000 “ghost flights” have departed from the UK since the Covid pandemic began, reported The Guardian. The flights, defined as those less than 10% full, are controversial because flying is one of the most carbon-intensive activities people can undertake. Under aviation rules, airlines lose valuable take-off and landing slots if they don’t use them. Lufthansa recently said it would have to fly 18,000 “unnecessary” flights by March in order to keep its landing slots at airports.

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4. Up to £16bn lost in Covid schemes

Parliament’s spending watchdog has calculated that fraud and error are likely to have cost the UK as much as £16bn across the Covid-19 emergency loan schemes. Dame Meg Hillier, who chairs the public accounts committee, said the losses will “end up robbing current and future taxpayers of billions of pounds”. The government guaranteed or handed out loans worth £129bn to people and companies to support them through lockdown. The Guardian said ministers were warned that the speed at which the schemes were implemented would open them up to fraud.

5. Terror inmates attacked officer

The brother of the Manchester Arena bomber led a gang who attacked a prison officer for taking away their televisions, Woolwich Crown Court has heard. Hashem Abedi assaulted Paul Edwards in Belmarsh Prison’s high security unit, alongside the Parsons Green bomber Ahmed Hassan and fellow terror inmate Muhammed Saeed. “It was just like a pack of animals,” said a colleague. The judge sentenced Abedi to another three years and ten months in prison, while Hassan and Saeed were handed three-year extensions.

6. Yellow weather warnings issued

There are fresh warnings for high winds and snow after Britain was lashed by three successive storms. Sky News reported that two yellow weather warnings have been issued, the first a wind warning covering north-east England, Cumbria, North Yorkshire, and parts of Scotland from 6am to 3pm on Wednesday. The second warning, for wind and snow, covers much of Scotland and Northern Ireland, where up to 10cm of snow and gusts of up to 70mph are likely. Storms Dudley, Eunice and Franklin left 1.4m homes without power over the past week and caused some rivers to burst their banks.

7. Sasha Johnson case abandoned

Four men accused of shooting a Black Lives Matter activist have walked free after the case against them collapsed. Sasha Johnson was shot in the head in the early hours of 23 May 2021. The 28-year-old mother-of-two suffered critical injuries and remains in hospital in a stable condition. Following a last-minute review of the evidence and a secret meeting with the judge, the prosecution announced they had no option but to drop the case. “For very good reasons, it is not possible to set out in full in open court the reasons” for the decision, the prosecution said.

8. Queen cancels virtual engagements

The Queen cancelled her virtual engagements yesterday as she continues to experience mild, cold-like symptoms from Covid, royal officials announced. A statement from Buckingham Palace said the 95-year-old monarch “will continue with light duties” after it was confirmed on Sunday that she had tested positive for Covid and was experiencing mild symptoms. The BBC said Buckingham Palace has a convention of keeping the Queen’s health a “private matter and gives only limited details”.

9. Apple store siege ends in Amsterdam

Police in Amsterdam said a man with a firearm who held several people hostage in an Apple store has been overpowered and the last of the hostages has been freed. Special units were deployed after police were alerted to an armed robbery yesterday afternoon, which had rapidly transformed into a hostage situation. After the siege ended, police said the gunman was “lying on the street and a robot was examining him for explosives” in front of the store in Leidseplein, in the centre of the Dutch city.

10. ‘Pottering’ helps your heart

Experts have found that spending four hours a day “up and about” on “pottering” activities such as cooking, washing up, gardening and showering can reduce your risk of heart disease. The study, undertaken by researchers at the University of California, San Diego, found that “all movement counts” towards preventing heart disease. The Times said the news should encourage older people “to get out of their chairs and onto their feet as much as possible every day”.

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