Thursday briefing: Pingdemic eases for double jabbed

Hello, Warren Murray here with your dose of daily news.

From Monday, fully vaccinated people in England and those aged 18 or under will no longer be legally required to self-isolate after contact with a positive Covid case. They will instead be advised to take a PCR test and only have to isolate if it comes back positive. The health secretary, Sajid Javid, said “getting two doses of a vaccine has tipped the odds in our favour”. The existing rules have led to more than 14m instructions to stay at home. The new regime should also end mass disruption of schooling by allowing the “bubble” system to be abandoned.

Meanwhile it has emerged that one in four employers have not been giving staff paid time off for Covid vaccinations. The conciliation service Acas made the finding after a survey of 2,000 businesses. Andy McDonald, the shadow employment rights secretary, said there should be government pressure on employers to do the right thing. The CBI said the majority of businesses were doing so and “we’d encourage all companies to demonstrate this same level of consideration towards their employees”.

Fewer than one in five people working in cities across the UK had returned to the office by the end of July, figures from the Centre for Cities thinktank reveal. Its report also found nightlife bouncing back in Blackpool, Sunderland, Leicester, Middlesbrough and Wakefield. But night-time footfall in London, Luton and Slough remained unchanged since clubs reopened and social distancing rules were removed. In New Zealand, the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has said the international border will stay closed until at least the end of the year; while Australia’s capital, Canberra, has gone into lockdown. More developments at our live blog.

‘Fantastic news’ – A breast cancer drug previously rejected for routine NHS use in England has now been recommended by health officials after a discount was agreed with the manufacturer. The decision on abemaciclib – sold by Eli Lilly as Verzenios – has been described as “fantastic news for thousands of women” as it can extend survival and put off chemotherapy in cases of incurable breast cancer. It is given with fulvestrant and targets breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body in patients who have not responded to other treatment.

Spending climate – The UK government is putting more into worsening the climate crisis than tackling it, according to an analysis of the spring budget. Only £145m was devoted to environmental spending, mostly on the post-Brexit emissions trading scheme for industry, according to the WWF. But company tax breaks to encourage investment came to more than £34bn while the fuel duty freeze is costing about £4.5bn. Tensions over the government’s commitment to net zero emissions are said to be a big bone of contention between the prime minister and the chancellor. A spokesperson for the Treasury said the WWF ignored £12bn pledged for a green industrial revolution as well as “ambitious plans on green finance, and the UK Infrastructure Bank, which will help finance green projects across the UK”.

Next minister? – Kemi Badenoch is being tipped to replace Gavin Williamson as education secretary at the next cabinet reshuffle, while the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, says the incumbent should be sacked now for failing children during the pandemic and presiding over a “yawning gap” in attainment between private and state school pupils.

Starmer poured cold water on the idea floated in government that letter grades for A-levels should be replaced with numerical 1-9 grading to fix things. “If you just brand it 1-9 it doesn’t solve that problem. The question the government has to answer is: why was the attainment gap so big before? Why is it even bigger now?”

‘Happy to support the bat population’ – The National Trust has revealed the lengths to which it has gone to keep the bat residents of a historic manor house in Norfolk happy during a £6m reroofing project – including specially adapted tiles which they can happily scoot up without slipping off.

David White, the National Trust project manager, said it had been a joy – and not a headache – to adapt normal working practices for the bats of Oxburgh Hall. “We’re very keen to support the bat population not just at Oxburgh but at all of the trust’s historic houses.”

Slice of history – An ardent royalist has bought the topping from a slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s wedding cake for £1,850 at auction, more than 40 years after the couple married. The large piece of cake icing and marzipan base features a detailed, sugared design of the royal coat of arms in gold, red, blue and silver. It was given to Moya Smith, a member of the Queen Mother’s staff, who preserved it with cling film and dated it 29 July 1981.

The buyer, Gerry Layton from Leeds, said: “I thought I would like to add it to my estate, which will be going to charity after my death. I also thought that I could put it up as a raffle prize with some of the money going to Centrepoint, which Princess Di was patron of.” The Briefing has always thought marzipan’s longevity rules it out as being food and now here is proof.

Australia appeared to be a model case for how to control the spread of Covid-19, but the arrival of the Delta variant has changed everything.

Families fearful of what will happen to girls and young women as the Taliban gain ground are joining the tens of thousands of displaced Afghans.

England head into Thursday’s second Test against India under a cloud after Stuart Broad was ruled out for the remainder of the season and Jimmy Anderson emerged as a major doubt with a thigh injury. Goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga was the hero as Chelsea beat Villarreal 6-5 in a penalty shootout to win the Uefa Super Cup. A prominent horse racing trainer has pleaded guilty to involvement in what US prosecutors have called a global scheme to systematically drug horses and cheat the betting public. Even Lionel Messi seemed wowed by the power of Paris Saint-Germain’s new strikeforce, as he described the prospect of combining with Neymar and Kylian Mbappé as “madness”. And Jamaican hurdler Hansle Parchment has tracked down and thanked a Tokyo 2020 volunteer who paid for his taxi to the Olympic Stadium, where he subsequently won a gold medal.

US aerospace company TransDigm had submitted a 900p-a-share takeover bid for its British rival, Meggitt, trumping an 800p offer from another US bidder, Parker Hannifin. Meggitt, which makes parts for fighter planes, employs 9,000 people worldwide, including 2,300 in the UK, and is the latest to fall prey to overseas bids because of low post-Brexit valuations for British businesses. The bid helped push the FTSE250 index to a record high yesterday, while the senior FTSE100 index looks like heading up 0.2% this morning. The pound is flat at $1.383 and €1.182.

The Guardian print splash today is “Revealed: the pandemic boom in child poverty, neglect and abuse”. A Guardian investigation into the state of children’s services has revealed a sharp rise in social services referrals during lockdown, plus spiralling costs for mental health support, a bulging backlog in the family courts and councils buckling under the weight of extra work. Self-isolation and home schooling have placed families under increased financial pressure through unemployment or lost wages, as well as inflaming mental health and addiction problems. Lockdowns have increased domestic violence while safeguarding concerns for children and young people have gone undetected with schools and nurseries closed.

The Daily Mail leads with “British ‘spy sold terror secrets to Putin’”, about the arrest of an employee at the UK embassy in Germany. Similar in the Mirror – “Russia spy sold secrets” – which also has major pictorial coverage on the front for the stabbing death of a father-of-two in London. “Embassy security fears after spy arrest” says the Telegraph. The front of the Times carries that one as well though its top story is “Charles ‘sees no way back to public life for Andrew’”.

“Plan to keep schools safe from Covid-19: air purifiers” – the i headline seems a bit sarcastic, whether or not intentionally, about the pilot in Bradford, which it says could be rolled out nationwide. “Return to the dark ages” – the Metro splashes on world news, namely the Taliban’s grim advance in Afghanistan. “Rishi warned on ditching pension pledge” – that old favourite, the triple lock, is back in the news in the Express. The Financial Times has “US asks Opec for boost in output to stop fuel prices ‘harming recovery’.

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