Tuesday briefing: caution amid drop in Covid cases

Hello from me, Warren Murray, on a morning of more shiny metal for Team GB – read about that further down, but for now, here’s what else is happening.

Downing Street and scientists are cautious about declaring a turning point in the outbreak despite a huge drop in Covid case numbers for the sixth day in a row. Infections fell to their lowest level in three weeks at 24,950 confirmed cases. But the prime minister’s official spokesman highlighted the full impact of the 19 July unlocking is not yet reflected in case numbers.

Experts also point to the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital in England, which passed 5,000 for the first time since mid-March. The seven-day average for hospital admissions has risen by 26% in the last week, and hospital bed occupancy for coronavirus patients has also increased. So, after an 18-month rollercoaster of soaring and falling cases, and more than 100,000 UK deaths, is the epidemic really fizzling out?

‘Alarming and counter-productive’ – MPs and campaigners have sounded alarm at proposals for more frequent stop and search, “alcohol tags” and making criminals do “visible” community service cleaning the streets in fluorescent jackets. The crime plan includes having a named and contactable police officer for every neighbourhood in England and Wales, as well as a league table for 101 and 999 answering times; and expanding electronic monitoring of thieves upon release from prison. Liberty said the permanent relaxation of search powers would “compound discrimination in Britain and divide communities” and the former shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, said it was “alarming and counter-productive”. Labour said the policy was a “rehash” of a number of preannounced proposals and expansions of existing pilots.

House prices boom on short supply – UK house prices hit a new high in June and are 30% higher than their peak before the 2008 financial crisis, according to a new snapshot of the market, this time by the property website Zoopla. It said the average price of a home was £230,700 – as much as 5.4% higher than June 2020. The number of homes going to market dropped by 25% in the first half of the year compared with the same period in 2020. Demand for houses was more than double that in the years before the pandemic, and family homes were particularly popular. Supply has now failed to keep pace with demand since January 2021. It tallies with a study published on Monday by NAEA Propertymark, which said 40% of UK properties sold in June went for more than the original asking price.

Sick pay straight away – All workers from direct employees to those in the gig economy would be eligible for sick pay, holiday, parental leave and the minimum wage from day one of their jobs under plans announced by Labour. At the moment there are qualifying periods for rights such as statutory maternity, adoption, paternity, shared parental leave and flexible working. Labour said all workers should get rights immediately. It would mean an extra 6 million people in insecure work having access to sick pay. The announcement is part of a week of policy proposals that Keir Starmer’s team is unveiling as a “new deal for working people”.

‘Sad day for law and planet’ – Steven Donziger, a US lawyer fighting Chevron over pollution in the Amazon rainforest, has been found guilty of criminal contempt by withholding evidence. Donziger, who faces six months in jail, said he would appeal after a “sad day for the rule of law, for our democracy, and for our planet”. Donziger has already spent nearly two years confined to his New York City apartment. The saga stems from a 2011 judgment in Ecuador where Chevron was ordered to pay $9.5bn in damages to people, represented by Donziger, for air and water pollution. Chevron has never paid, claiming misconduct by Donziger and the Ecuadorian judiciary.

Billionaire space race – Jeff Bezos has offered to cover up to $2bn in Nasa costs if it awards Blue Origin a contract to make a spacecraft to land astronauts on the moon. Nasa in April awarded SpaceX and Elon Musk a sole, $2.9bn contract for the job. It cited funding shortfalls in rejecting other bids, including Blue Origin’s in partnership with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper. Bezos has now said that if Blue Origin gets a contract it will waive payments up to $2bn, and pay for an orbital mission to vet its technology, as well as covering development cost overruns. Nasa said it was aware of Bezos’s offer but declined to comment further, citing a pending decision over the protest that Blue Origin filed against the SpaceX contract award.

Freedom day, vaccine passports, a row over the “pingdemic” and then a welcome drop in cases: it’s been a rollercoaster week in the coronavirus crisis. The Guardian’s science editor, Ian Sample, examines whether have we turned a corner.

Lost your culinary spark after months of lockdown? From carrot-mel to celeriac sorbet, here are chefs’ simple, surprising secrets to transform your home cooking.

Team GB’s gold rush continued in the Olympic pool overnight when Tom Dean won the men’s 200m freestyle for the team’s fourth winner’s medal. Duncan Scott took the silver to complete Great Britain’s first one-two finish in a swimming final since 1908. There was also a silver medal for Georgia Taylor-Brown in the women’s triathlon, after she recovered from having a puncture with 2km to go in the cycling segment to come in second behind Bermuda’s Flora Duffy. There’s been a big upset in the women’s tennis with the home favourite and Olympic torch bearer Naomi Osaka losing in straight sets to the Czech player Marketa Vondrousova. Find out what’s coming up later today at our interactive guide and follow all the action at our live blog. You can also check out how today’s paper’s celebrated yesterday’s Magic Monday.

Mako Vunipola is expected to start for the British & Irish Lions in Saturday’s second Test against South Africa after a strong showing as a replacement in last Saturday’s series opener. The Springboks’ director of rugby, Rassie Erasmus, is a smart man but some of his antics mean he is coming across as a “complete prat” during this series. Manchester United are in final talks to sign Real Madrid’s French centre-back, Raphaël Varane, for £42m, while Tottenham have signed Bryan Gil from Sevilla for £21.4m plus Érik Lamela joining the Spanish club as part of the deal. In cricket’s Hundred competition, Alex Hales guided Trent Rockets to a two-wicket win over Northern Superchargers with six balls at Trent Bridge.

Asia’s stock markets have fallen to fresh troughs led by continued heavy selling in Chinese internet companies, while bond and currency markets traded on edge ahead of the Federal Reserve policy meeting. Futures trading shows the FTSE lying flat, just as it did yesterday. The pound is worth $1.382 and €1.171 at time of writing.

You can see today’s main front pages here – a summary follows. The Guardian’s front is focused on diver Tom Daley, pictured with teary eyes above his face mask. Daley won Tokyo Olympic gold with his diving partner Matty Lee. Guardian Sport’s front page headline is “Three glorious golds in Tokyo for Team GB”. The Daily Express calls the champions “Golden Wonders” on its front page while its news lead is “Chief constable rages: police are nation’s ‘punch bag’”.

The Times has a calmer front page with “Gold rush on magic Monday for Team GB”. The Independent is also slightly more subdued, with pictures of each of the gold medal winners under the headline “The golden boys”. Its sport front page calls Adam Peaty and his 100m breaststroke victory “unstoppable, inevitable”. The Daily Telegraph is emblazoned in ecstatic photos of the champions with the headline “Magic Monday: Three golds for Team GB (and one agonising near miss) as Tom Daley finally tastes Olympic glory”. Its news splash is “Freed burglars to wear 24-hour tags”.

The FT features an elegant vertical shot of Daley and Lee in action – suspended in the air with their legs up and toes pointed, under the headline “Diving for gold”. The i’s headline is “Magic Monday” over a photo of the gold winners. “Baby of Beijing finally comes of age in Tokyo”, it writes of Daley. The Mirror’s splash is “Pool’s Gold” while the Metro has the image of Daley in his mask too, under a glittering headline that feels like it owes something to the Daily Star: “Golden Bawls”. The Mail has the Olympic results up top but can’t resist splashing with “Priti: I’ll make yobs clean the streets”.

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