Monday briefing: Rush for boosters amid Omicron ‘emergency’

Morning everyone. I’m Martin Farrer and these are the top stories to start the week.

Boris Johnson has launched an unprecedented “national mission” to supercharge the Covid vaccination programme so that 1m booster jabs can be delivered every day in order to stem the incoming “tidal wave of Omicron” and avoid imposing further restrictions. The army will be deployed across the country to help rapidly accelerate the vaccine programme from current daily levels of around 530,000, and GPs will be told to cancel appointments to dedicate resources to offering vaccines to every UK adult by the end of the month. In a televised address to the nation last night, the prime minister said he was “afraid we are now facing an emergency in our battle with the new variant”. The UK record for daily jabs is 844,000 in March.

Here’s an explainer on the new booster strategy and how to get your booster, and analysis on what makes a booster shot so important in fighting Omicron. Authorities in New Zealand, meanwhile, are investigating claims that a man received 10 Covid jabs in one day after being paid by anti-vaxxers to take the shot for them. You can read more about this and other developments in the pandemic at our live blog here.

Tory rebellion – The expansion of the booster scheme is seen as a gamble on short-term pain for long-term gain by Johnson, who is also facing open warfare in the Tory party over the move to plan-B restrictions which include working from home where possible from today. Up to 100 MPs could oppose the changes on Tuesday as he battles on multiple fronts to contain the damage from reports of a series of parties in Downing Street last year, which have left MPs openly discussing a vote of no confidence. Although the measures will pass because Labour supports the government on Covid passports for large venues and more mask wearing, the opposition senses Johnson’s vulnerability to attack on the parties affair and has accused him of potentially misleading parliament.

Met sued – The family of the murdered private detective Daniel Morgan are to sue the Metropolitan police for damages, alleging that a decades-long cover-up of corruption is continuing. An inquiry in June found that the Met commissioner, Cressida Dick, obstructed the panel appointed to investigate claims that corruption blighted the hunt for Morgan’s killers and that the Met had failed to root it out. The Met rejected the findings. Morgan was found with an axe in his head in south London in 1987.

Tornado ‘disaster’ – Joe Biden has declared a major federal disaster in Kentucky after a swarm of deadly tornadoes hit the state on Friday. The US president’s decision paves the way for additional aid, as thousands face housing, food, water and power shortages. Kentucky governor Andy Beshear had initially said the death toll could exceed 100 – many of them in a flattened candle factory – after the twisters tore through the US midwest and south. But he said last night that the death toll might be as low as 50. One worker who survived the carnage at the candle factory has spoken of an agonising wait to see if her boyfriend can be found alive in the wreckage. Biden has asked the US environmental protection agency to investigate what role the climate crisis might have played in the freak weather events.

Body found – Police have found the body of a woman in Camberwell, south London, after days of appeals for information to trace missing NHS worker Petra Srncova, who was last seen in the area on 28 November. The body is awaiting formal identification, but police said Srncova’s family have been informed of this development. The 32-year-old Czech, a senior nurse assistant at Evelina London children’s hospital in Westminster, is thought to have disappeared while travelling home to Camberwell.

‘Cultural vandalism’ – Campaigners fear the roads agency in England is pushing ahead with plans to destroy or fill with concrete more than a dozen Victorian bridges despite a government pause after an outcry over “cultural vandalism”. Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show that the agency has spent tens of thousands of pounds on the sites and activists fear it presages more filling in or demolition.

Breakthroughs in computing have changed how high-level chess is played, making stalemates all too common. But the Norwegian champion’s stunning performance in Dubai wrests the game back from the grip of the supercomputers, says our US deputy sport editor Bryan Graham

Starting with the Lapland New Forest fiasco 13 years ago, not-very-wonderful winter wonderlands have become something of a seasonal fixture. We’ve talked to people who worked at some of them, from underpaid elves to grumpy Santas. As one worker put it: “Christmas is meant to be a time for happiness, but we only saw misery – exhausted parents, insane children and short tempers all round.”

Max Verstappen celebrated winning his first Formula One world championship with victory over Lewis Hamilton at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but only after huge controversy that still leaves his title in some doubt. Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad are “fit and ready to go” for the pink-ball Ashes Test starting on Thursday in Adelaide, while Australian fast bowler Josh Hazlewood has been ruled out due to a side strain and is in a race to be fit for Boxing Day. Tuesday’s Premier League match between Brentford and Manchester United has been placed in doubt after a number of Ralf Rangnick’s squad tested positive for Covid-19. James Maddison scored once and had a hand in two other goals as Leicester outclassed a shambolic Newcastle 4-0, while Conor Gallagher scored twice for Crystal Palace in a 3-1 win against Everton and defiant defending by Burnley earned them a 0-0 draw against West Ham at Turf Moor.

Paul Struthers, the chief executive of the Professional Jockeys’ Association, has accepted that Bryony Frost was bullied by fellow rider Robbie Dunne, and that the organisation was wrong to say she only “felt” bullied in previous statements. Covid-hit Munster took advantage of a first-half red card for Wasps’ Brad Shields to win 35-14 in the Champions Cup, while Sale produced an archetypal game of two halves in their 21-13 win over the Ospreys. Manchester United won for the first time in five games in the WSL when they comfortably defeated Hope Powell’s Brighton 2-0. And goals from Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio fired Real Madrid to victory over their city rivals Atlético to go eight points clear in La Liga.

A third of UK small businesses are planning to make staff redundant over the next few months, rising to more than four in 10 in London, according to a survey of more than 400 firms. Many also said they would be forced to raise prices because of Britain’s supply chain problems. The UK’s housing market is likely to return to more normal levels of activity in 2022 but will still be busy, according to Rightmove, as the industry braces for a possible interest rate rise on Thursday. The FTSE100 is poised to climb 0.3% at the opening bell, while the pound is on $1.326 and €1.172.

Almost every paper leads with the ramping up of the Covid booster programme. “PM bets on 1m jabs a day to halt ‘tidal wave’ of Omicron” is the main story in the Guardian, while the Telegraph goes with “One million jabs a day in race to avoid new year lockdown”. The Mail has “Boris’s million jabs a day booster rocket” and the Express headline reads “Emergency! Race for all to get boosters”. The Mirror says “Get your booster now”, the i has “Get booster to beat Omicron ‘tidal wave’”, and the Times line is “Booster jab for every adult by end of month”. The Northern Echo has “This is an emergency” and the Sun puns with “OMIGAWD!”. Only the Financial Times diverges from the Covid story, preferring: “Ukraine blames Germany for blocking Nato weapons supply”.

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