Monday briefing: Lockdown lifts, Johnson backflips

Hola, Warren Murray bringing you the big stories, on a morning of great anticipation and not a little trepidation.

Boris Johnson’s lifting of England’s remaining lockdown restrictions today has been overshadowed by a backlash against the prime minister and his chancellor. Downing Street was accused of sowing confusion and a sense of “one rule for them” by saying Johnson and Rishi Sunak would continue with “essential government business” while having daily rapid tests, instead of quarantine, despite being close contacts of Covid-positive Sajid Javid. They about-turned into quarantine less than three hours later. Questions are growing over a workplace pilot scheme that allows certain government departments and other public bodies to avoid isolating after exposure to Covid.

It all comes as coronavirus infections in the UK are surging again and hospitalisations are on the rise, driven by the spread of the Delta variant and the partial lifting of restrictions. Casos de COVID-19 could hit 200,000 a day in the UK this year and cause “major disruption” to the NHS, according to Prof Neil Ferguson, whose initial modelling helped shape Britain’s coronavirus lockdown strategy. He said it was “almost inevitable” today’s final phase of unlocking would bring on 100,000 daily cases, con sobre 1,000 hospitalisations – despite roughly half the UK being fully vaccinated.

On Sunday night, Downing Street emphasised that restrictions could return if backed by the data. Frontline NHS staff in England who are fully vaccinated will, in “exceptional circumstances”, be permitted to carry on working if they are “pinged” by the Covid contact tracing app, el gobierno ha anunciado. It also applies to frontline social care workers. As restrictions lift, here are Zoe Williams’s 18 rules for protecting yourself and others – from the basics, like when to mask and hand sanitising, a hugging and whether you should go abroad this summer.

The Pegasus project – Human rights activists, journalists and lawyers across the world have been targeted by authoritarian governments using the Pegasus hacking software sold by the Israeli surveillance company NSO Group, according to an investigation by the Guardian and 16 other media organisations into a massive data leak. Pegasus is a malware that infects iPhones and Android devices to extract messages, photos and emails, record calls and secretly activate microphones. The leak contains more than 50,000 phone numbers. The Pegasus project reporting consortium believes the data indicates potential targets that NSO’s government clients have identified since 2016 in advance of possible surveillance.

There is new evidence the company’s spyware was used to try to monitor people close to Jamal Khashoggi both before and after his death. (NSO has said: “Our technology was not associated in any way with the heinous murder of Jamal Khashoggi.”) Hungary’s far-right government is suspected of hacking phones of investigative journalists and targeting independent owners. The Guardian and its media partners will be revealing more identities of people whose numbers appear on the list, from business executives, religious figures and academics to cabinet ministers, presidents and prime ministers. NSO has maintained Pegasus is sold only to “vetted government customers” for use against criminals and terrorists and it “does not operate the systems that it sells … and does not have access to the data of its customers’ targets”. In statements through its lawyers, NSO denied “false claims” made about the activities of its clients but said it would “continue to investigate all credible claims of misuse and take appropriate action”. It described the 50,000 figure as “exaggerated”.

Australia cancels extremist Hopkins – The far-right commentator Katie Hopkins is to be deported from Australia after she boasted about breaching hotel quarantine conditions and derided Covid-19 lockdowns as “the greatest hoax in human history”. Hopkins had been let in to compete on the TV show Big Brother VIP. Australia’s immigration laws contain powers to refuse entry to people the government deems “not of good character”. These have been used to block the entry of the conspiracy theorist David Icke and the US whistleblower Chelsea Manning, among others. Hopkins’s visa has been cancelled but Australia’s opposition Labor party and many others have asked how she got past the character test in the first place.

Move to purge Corbynites – Keir Starmer is preparing to support a purge of far-left Labour factions that were vocal supporters of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. The ruling National Executive Committee will be asked on Tuesday to proscribe Resist and Labour Against the Witchhunt, which claims antisemitism allegations were politically motivated, and the Labour In Exile Network for expelled or suspended members. Socialist Appeal, which describes itself as a Marxist voice of Labour and youth, would also be banned. Members of these groups could be automatically expelled from Labour. Several groups are organising a picket at Southside, Labour’s headquarters in London. The move sets the stage for factional warfare at the Labour party conference in Brighton.

Rocket under house prices – Months of “frenzied buyer activity” have driven the average asking price for a home in Britain to a new high, according to Rightmove. The website said the average price of homes coming on to the market in England, Wales and Scotland was £338,447 – an increase of £21,389, o 6.7% since the beginning of 2021. mientras tanto, MPs are calling for “long overdue” reform of council tax property values in England. The housing, communities and local government committee said the tax was becoming increasingly regressive – to the detriment of more deprived areas – and should be reformed, with the revaluation of properties and the introduction of additional bands, luego eventually replaced with a new “proportional” property tax.

What happened when a powerful phone hacking tool was sold to governments around the world? Part 1 of a major international investigation introduces our new Today in Focus host, Michael Safi.

Once-grand Canfranc was known as the Titanic of the mountains but fell into disrepair thanks to fire, derailment, the Spanish civil war and the second world war. The station was used by spies on all sides, and it is said that numerous Jews also escaped persecution in Vichy France via Canfranc. Ahora, the train station where the Franco regime once gave Hitler tungsten for making tanks, in exchange for 86 tonnes of Nazi gold, is to get a new life as a five-star hotel – 51 years after the international rail link across the Pyrenees closed.

Collin Morikawa set his sights on further major glory in the immediate aftermath of winning the Open Championship. He made history at Royal St George’s by becoming the first debutant to win both the US PGA Championship and the Open. The Belgian national champion, Wout van Aert, played the part of the ultimate party pooper after stymieing Mark Cavendish’s attempt to surpass cycling legend Eddy Merckx’s longstanding record of 34 stage wins in the Tour de France. Max Verstappen and his Red Bull team principal, Christian Horner, were scathing in their criticism of Lewis Hamilton after his controversial win at the British Grand Prix. Verstappen crashed out after the pair clashed during the race and the Dutchman accused him of “dangerous, disrespectful and unsportsmanlike behaviour”.

The double Paralympic world champion Olivia Breen says she was left speechless and outraged after being told that her competition briefs were “too short and inappropriate” by an official while competing at the English Championships on Sunday. Team GB’s preparations for the Olympics have been plunged into chaos after six athletes and two staff members from the athletics squad were forced to self-isolate after coming into close contact with a member of the public who had Covid-19 on their flight to Tokyo. The feeling of euphoria among the St Helens players as they finally lifted the Challenge Cup at Wembley on Saturday suggested the climax of a journey this squad has been on for some time had finally arrived.

We begin the week with Asian shares having fallen across the board amid rising Covid-19 infections regionally and Wall Street’s first weekly loss following three weeks of gains. Futures trading suggests the FTSE will open lower too, while the pound is worth $1.375 and €1.165 at time of writing.

This morning’s front pages are a heady mix of “Freedom Day”, the “pingdemic” and the PM being forced to self-isolate. los guardián is the exception, as it launches a major investigation into the global abuse of the Pegasus spy weapon developed by NSO Group. The paper also gives prominence to the headline “Johnson and Sunak both isolating as angry public backlash forces U-turn”.

los Times leads with “Be cautious, urges PM as Covid predicted to surge”. los Daily Telegraph calls Freedom Day a “farce” in its headline, “as PM urged to end ‘pingdemic’”. It also carries a story reporting that all children could be jabbed by the end of the year. los Independiente’s top story is “PM says follow rules after he is forced into isolation”; la Daily Express’s is “Backlash forces Boris U-turn”.

los I leads, también, on the PM and chancellor’s isolation “after trying to dodge rules”. los Financial Times focuses on the staff shortages at food retailers and producers, as well as Johnson and Sunak’s isolation. los Correo diario asks whether Johnson will now “see sense on pingdemic” after his U-turn on avoiding isolation. los Daily Mirror leads with “Now he begs: please be cautious”. Finalmente, Metro gets pun of the day with “Chequers mate” as Johnson spends the day in isolation at Chequers.

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