Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 1 December 2022

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

1. UK ‘not prepared’ for Covid variant

The UK is not prepared for a new major Covid variant, warned the i news site, as virologists claimed there has been a failure to capitalise on the successes with the vaccine in the pandemic. Former vaccine chief Katie Bingham said “our jabs are not good enough” and senior Tory MP Greg Clarke said the errors may be deliberate. Meanwhile, said The Guardian, public health leaders were slow to act on repeated warnings over Christmas 2020 that contact tracing and isolation should be triggered immediately after a positive lateral flow test result.

2. Record ambulance delay times

The BBC has found that more than 10,000 ambulances a week are caught in queues of at least an hour outside A&E units in England. The figure, which is the highest since records began in 2010, means one in eight crews faced delays on this scale by mid-November. Meanwhile, said The Times, patients face a “postcode lottery” when they call 999 with a medical emergency, as some with life-threatening conditions are waiting up to three times longer than those in other towns and cities.

Can the NHS’s ‘worst ever crisis’ actually be fixed?

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3. Sunak faces first electoral test

The first by-election since the resignation of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss takes place in Chester today. The by-election was triggered by Labour MP Chris Matheson resigning in October after allegations of sexual misconduct. Labour is expected to retain the seat but the constituency has a mixed history. In 2015, Labour won by just 93 votes and in 2010 the Tories took the seat from Labour, with a 2,583 majority. The polling will be the “first electoral test for Rishi Sunak”, said The Guardian.

Chester by-election confirmed after MP resigns over sexual misconduct

4. San Fran votes for killer robots

San Francisco will allow the city’s police to use robots that can kill after the ruling Board of Supervisors voted to permit officers to deploy robots equipped with explosives. Police chiefs said they want the ability to deploy robots with lethal force in extremely rare instances such as mass shooters or suicide bombers. However, said the San Francisco Chronicle, critics have “strongly objected” to the policy over concerns that it could be abused and allow police to kill people too easily.

5. UK water industry dominated by foreign firms

More than 70% of the water industry in England is owned by foreign investment firms, private equity, pension funds and businesses in tax havens, said The Guardian. “More than three decades after the sector was sold off with a promise to the public they would become individual small shareholders” control of the water industry has become “dominated by overseas investment vehicles, the super-rich, companies in tax havens and pension fund investors”, the paper found in an investigation. The “complex web of ownership” is revealed amid sewage dumping, leaks and water shortages.

Is it time to renationalise the water industry?

6. Lady-in-waiting quits after ‘unacceptable’ conversation

The late Queen’s lady-in-waiting has resigned after she interrogated a black guest at a palace reception about where she “really came from”. Ngozi Fulani, the founder of the charity Sistah Space, said Susan Hussey persistently questioned her over where her “people” came from, despite having been told she was a British national. “What turned the conversation into such a car crash was the apparent unwillingness to accept a black woman’s response that she was from Britain,” said the BBC. Buckingham Palace described the remarks as “unacceptable and deeply regrettable”.

7. BBC ‘underserves’ the poor

Audiences on lower incomes are “persistently under-served” by the BBC, said Ofcom. In its annual report on the corporation, the media regulator said that communities of lower socio-economic groups were “less likely to use BBC services” and were “less satisfied with the BBC as a whole”. The Times said the report also highlighted the BBC’s “ongoing struggle” to remain “relevant” with younger age groups, as the percentage of young teenagers who use its news sources has fallen from 55% in 2018 to less than 40%.

BBC at 100: what does the future hold for at-threat institution?

8. Brexit adds £200 to food bills

Brexit added more than £200 to household food bills over two years, contributing to record price inflation, according to the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics. The study estimated there was an average £210 increase in food prices for British consumers between 2019 and last year, with the poorest being hit hardest. Andrew Bailey, the Bank of England’s governor, has warned that rising food prices remained one of the significant risks that could lead to persistent inflation next year.

What is inflation and why is it rising?

9. Impeachment peril for South African president

The president of South Africa is facing a possible impeachment threat over a scandal involving his farm. Cyril Ramaphosa has been accused of covering up a $4m (£3.3m) theft from his farm in 2020, including kidnapping and bribing the burglars into silence. According to a report from an independent panel, Ramaphosa abused his position and may have broken an anti-corruption law. Meanwhile, said the Daily Sun, the African Transformation Movement leader, Vuyo Zungula has launched a motion of no confidence in the president.

10. Tributes to ‘sweet’ Christine McVie

Fleetwood Mac’s Christine McVie has died at the age of 79, her family has announced. McVie, who was behind hits including Little Lies, Everywhere, Don’t Stop, Say You Love Me and Songbird, was “reserved” and “intelligent”, said The Times, while The Telegraph said she brought “sweetness and optimism” to the band. Rolling Stones said she was the “calm eye in the middle of the storm that was the rest of the band”. In a statement on Instagram, Fleetwood Mac said: “She was truly one of a kind, special and talented beyond measure.”

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