Friday briefing: Booster jabs at five months?

Good morning, readers – a pleasure to bring you this morning briefing, and not least because it’s Friday.

Millions of people could have their Covid booster jab brought forward, with ministers considering cutting the usual six-month wait to five months. The number of new daily Covid cases hit 52,009 across the UK on Thursday. An advertising campaign urging people to get their booster and flu jabs is to be launched, under the slogan “get vaccinated, get boosted, get protected”.

About 2.68 million people aged 80 and over in England have received two doses of vaccine, of whom 1.34 million (50%) are now estimated to have had their booster dose. Labour has called on the government to speed up the programme. NHS and doctors’ leaders and scientists are, meanwhile, urging the government to trigger its “plan B” measures, which include reintroducing mandatory mask-wearing in public places and restoring working-from-home guidance. Speaking in Northern Ireland on Thursday, the prime minister underscored that the government’s current approach was to press ahead with its plan A. He insisted the number of new Covid cases was still within expectations.

Alec Baldwin in deadly shooting accident – Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun on a movie set in an accident that killed a photography chief and injured a director, according to the Santa Fe sheriff in New Mexico. The sheriff’s office earlier said a 42-year-old woman was airlifted to a hospital, where she died, while a 48-year-old man was taken to another hospital. The pair were named by authorities as cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and director Joel Souza.

Baldwin is acting in and producing the film, a western called Rust. Deputies went to the Bonanza Creek Ranch movie set after a 911 call, the sheriff’s office said, confirming that the two “were shot when a prop firearm was discharged by Alec Baldwin, 68, producer and actor … This investigation remains open and active. No charges have been filed in regard to this incident”. A spokesperson for Baldwin said there was an accident on the set involving the misfire of a prop gun with blanks. Sheriff’s spokesperson Juan Rios told the Albuquerque Journal: “Detectives are investigating how and what type of projectile was discharged.”

Strong constitution – The Queen’s overnight stay at King Edward VII’s hospital this week is her first in eight years. Known for her strong constitution and no-fuss approach to her infrequent illnesses, she was treated for gastroenteritis in 2013 at the private clinic, when she also stayed for one night. She returned to Windsor on Thursday. The Queen was seen by specialists at the private hospital in central London. Her admittance is understood not to have been related to coronavirus.

Bannon formally in contempt – The US House of Representatives has voted to hold Steve Bannon in criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena about the 6 January Capitol attack. The US attorney for the District of Columbia, US attorney general Merrick Garland and the Office of Legal Counsel are now required by law to weigh a prosecution and present the matter before a grand jury. Trump’s former chief strategist had tried to claim absolute immunity on grounds of executive privilege. A conviction for Bannon could mean up to a year in federal prison, $100,000 in fines or both – though it would still not force his compliance, and pursuing the misdemeanour charge could take years.

Hot day killed family – A US-based Lancashire man and his family died from extreme heat exposure while hiking in the Sierra national forest, California law enforcement officials have announced. The bodies of Jonathan Gerrish, 45, his wife, 30-year-old Ellen Chung, their one-year-old daughter, Miju, and their dog, Oski, were found on 17 August. Temperatures were as high as 109F (42.8C) that day, and the majority of the eight-mile trail has little shade or trees.

Their vehicle was located a little more than a mile away, near a gate to the forest, after they were reported missing. A 2.5-litre water container the family had with them was empty, and they had no other water. The area has no mobile phone reception. When officials found the bodies, no cause of death was immediately clear, and the area was briefly treated as a hazmat site. A statement from the Gerrish-Chung family said their deaths had been “pain almost beyond words”, worsened by its mysterious nature.

Doctors face off with Javid – GPs in England are threatening possible industrial action in protest against the government’s attempt to force them to see any patient who wants a face-to-face appointment. The British Medical Association’s GPs committee voted unanimously to reject the plan by the health secretary, Sajid Javid, which included “naming and shaming” surgeries that see too few patients in person. Family doctors are also furious at a separate plan to compel those who are paid at least £150,000 a year for NHS work to declare their earnings, announced in 2019 and starting next month. The BMA has said this could imperil family doctors’ safety and “provides no benefit to patient care”.

BBC shuffles top deck – Laura Kuenssberg is in talks to step down as BBC political editor after six years and become a presenter on the Today programme as part of a reshuffle, the Guardian understands. Kuenssberg’s tenure, spanning the Brexit referendum and two general elections, has coincided with unprecedented scrutiny of how the BBC’s political journalism shapes the national news agenda.

As part of a reshuffle of leading BBC journalists, Jon Sopel is stepping down as North America editor and returning to the UK. He is tipped to be replaced in Washington DC by Sarah Smith, the current BBC Scotland editor and occasional Today presenter. Sopel’s return to the UK also means he is now a candidate to be the new BBC political editor, having been connected to the job back in 2015. Andrew Marr has been given a fresh contract to continue presenting his Sunday morning politics show.

The Netflix hit Squid Game is as fantastical as it is violent – but underpinning its macabre story of impoverished contestants risking their lives for money is a real crisis of personal debt in South Korea. Why has it resonated all over the world?

On Monday night, Axel Springer SE suspended the editor-in-chief of Europe’s highest-selling tabloid, Bild, after revelations in the New York Times and Der Spiegel. Testimonies given to investigators from a law firm that Springer commissioned alleged that Julian Reichelt maintained consensual sexual relations with at least four young women, whom he prematurely elevated to important roles before dropping them.

Had it not been for Springer’s global expansion plans, such workplace practices may have continued to be tolerated. But after its takeover of US political publication Politico, completed on Tuesday and reported to be worth about $1bn (£0.7bn), the German firm is being held to higher international standards.

Mikel Arteta has warned that prospective football managers are being put off by the level of abuse and vitriol surrounding those in the role, saying he is aware of people who have serious doubts about a career in the dugout because of the potential effect on their wellbeing. British Athletics lurched into yet another crisis on Thursday night after its chief executive, Jo Coates, and performance director, Sara Symington, resigned after a fiery board meeting on Wednesday. They could hardly be closer at the top of the Formula One standings, but as Lewis Hamilton prepares for the US Grand Prix, the Mercedes driver implied that relations with his title rival Max Verstappen are on the cool side.

Andy Murray has admitted that “my attitude was poor” after he bowed out of the European Open in Antwerp with a straight-sets defeat to Diego Schwartzman. With all but one of England’s games at the Twenty20 World Cup in the UAE to be played in the evening, the team have taken extreme measures to prepare for the amount of dew that is expected to fall after sunset – as well as the amount of sweat the players are likely to produce. That includes dunking balls in buckets of water during training. The Tottenham manager, Nuno Espírito Santo, says his side can still qualify for the knockout stages of the Europa Conference League despite their loss to Vitesse.

The struggling property company China Evergrande has staved off imminent default on its debts by coming up with $83.5m to make a crucial bond payment, according to reports. However, Evergrande still faces having to meet payments of $193m by early next month, and has total debts of around $305bn. The FTSE100 is set to rise around 0.3% this morning, while the pound is on $1.379 and €1.186.

Our Guardian print edition leads today with “GPs threaten industrial action in row with minister”. Also on the front: there have been preliminary court proceedings over the killing of David Amess MP. Prosecutors claimed that Ali Harbi Ali, 25, visited the Houses of Parliament, an MP’s home and another constituency surgery as part of reconnaissance for a potential attack. He is charged with murder and the preparation of terrorist acts.

The Metro’s splash is “Amess suspect ‘in 2-year plot to kill an MP’” while the Times says “Amess murder suspect ‘targeted two other MPs’”. The latter also mentions that “Booster dose of Pfizer vaccine offers near-total protection”, which is the front-page lead in the Express, accompanied by more or less the same headline. The Telegraph says “Booster jab wait could be cut to five months”. “Missing vaccines minister” – the i suggests Maggie Throup, who recently got the job, should be out there promoting boosters.

The health of the monarch concerns others. “Queen spends night in hospital” – that’s the Daily Mail, which says her Northern Ireland trip was “dramatically axed”. “Queen sent to hospital” says the Mirror. And the Financial Times leads with “Rate rise debate ‘live’ as inflation heads to 5%, says BoE economist”.

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