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Sensemaker: England opens up

Monday 12 April 2021

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Myanmar security forces killed 82 people at protests over the weekend, pushing the death toll above 700 since the military coup.
  • More protests in Minneapolis, where former police officer Derek Chauvin is on trial for the killing of George Floyd, after a Black man was shot by police during a traffic stop.
  • Nomadland was the big winner at the Baftas last night, scooping four awards – while 18-year-old Bukky Bakray won the rising star award for her first ever acting role, in British film Rocks.

England opens up

Today marks the advent of a new dividing line across England: the booked and the unbooked. As lockdown continues to ease and pub gardens, restaurants, gyms and hairdressers all open their doors for the first time in months, those who got themselves organised and nabbed an open slot will be feeling smug. In Northern Ireland the “stay at home” order has been lifted, and rules are relaxing in Scotland and Wales, too. 

But what does it all actually mean for infection rates?

  • Bluntly speaking: they will rise. For the most part the government doesn’t see this as hugely risky on a national level – as long as people stick to the rules. New data from Ireland suggests that just one infection in every 1,000 happens outdoors. They see the real test coming next month, when indoor mixing returns.
  • But… not everywhere in the UK is in the same situation. Scientists have raised concerns about Covid hotspots such as Corby or Mansfield which have infection rates more than three times the national average but are opening up as planned. 
  • And although the UK is doing well comparatively on vaccines, just over half of the total population is yet to have a first dose – and there’s the chance that reports of blood clots linked to the AstraZeneca jab could put off young people, even though the risk of developing clots is extremely low. As Chris Cook noted last week: vaccines alone can’t solve this. 

It’s also worth pointing out that although this is an economic milestone, there’s plenty that’s still up in the air. The high street has changed irrevocably during the pandemic. Many shops and businesses have gone forever; others might yet find that they are unable to break even with restricted access – and others are staying shut. According to the British Beer and Pub Association only 40 per cent of licensed premises will re-open today due to a lack of outdoor space. 

Still, it’s hard to deny that it feels like a real turning point. For many this will be a moment to celebrate: weddings and funerals now have fewer restrictions, as do care home visits. And for those of us who are not predisposed to organise ahead of time and have been left to contemplate queuing to get into the pub beer garden: not to worry, it’s snowing anyway.  

Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Operation Forth Bridge
Following the death of Prince Philip on Friday aged 99, the UK has entered an eight-day period of mourning. There will be a small, Covid-compliant funeral of 30 guests on Saturday that will be televised, with speculation that this could be a moment of reconciliation for warring princes William and Harry. Parliament has been recalled a day early from the Easter recess to allow MPs to pay their respects and campaigning for local elections has been suspended, but will resume this week. Elsewhere the conversation has already turned to memorials, with the Sunday Telegraph reporting that the PM is under pressure to commemorate the Duke of Edinburgh with a £190 million royal yacht. Though the Telegraph, to be fair, has yet to find an event that it does not think is grounds for buying a new royal yacht.

The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

As of last month, China had administered 65 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine at home and supplied 40 million doses to more than 20 countries across the world. This weekend the head of the country’s Center for Disease Control acknowledged concerns about efficacy and suggested that mixing vaccines might be an option going forward. It was the first time a government official has publicly admitted there might be problems – an uncharacteristically open moment, which was quickly censored on social media. All eyes are on Chile: the FT reports that the country has administered the third highest rate of vaccines in the world but is currently facing another wave of new variants, and has relied on the Chinese Sinovac vaccine. Might this finally prompt China to publish their phase 3 trial data?

New things technology, science, engineering

Nuclear problem
Israeli intelligence agency Mossad appears to have been behind a cyberattack that caused extensive damage to Iran’s main nuclear enrichment plant. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “the struggle against Iran and its proxies and the Iranian armament efforts is a huge mission”. The head of Iran’s atomic agency called the incident “nuclear terrorism”. The Iranian foreign minister said his country will “take revenge”. The incident comes amid heightened tension over Iran’s nuclear programme, which some countries believe is about building a nuclear bomb. Iran had agreed to stop some nuclear development in return for lighter economic sanctions in 2015, but it restarted banned nuclear development after the former US president, Donald Trump, ended the agreement and reimposed sanctions. Joe Biden now wants to resume the agreement.

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Lost city
A city built more than 3,400 years ago has been uncovered in Egypt. Archaeologists were originally searching for the mortuary temple of the pharaoh Tutankhamun but within weeks found that mud brick formations were appearing in every direction – uncovering streets and houses with rooms filled with jewellery, scarab beetle amulets, pottery and tools. The lost city is so well preserved that it’s been described as “ancient Egypt’s Pompeii” and one of the most important archaeological discoveries since Tutankhamun’s tomb. A very happy accident.

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Cameron talks
How do you make up for 30 days of silence? With a 1,800 word statement, of course. David Cameron has finally broken cover and acknowledged that texting the chancellor and going for a drink with the health secretary – while lobbying on behalf of scandal-hit financial firm Greensill Capital – wasn’t advisable. The former UK prime minister has insisted that he didn’t break any rules but accepts that he should have used more “formal” channels to contact the government about the company from which, before its collapse, he stood to gain millions. Labour says that’s not enough: they want an investigation and for Cameron to answer questions in parliament. He’ll be kept squirming for a while yet.

The week ahead

12/4 – pub gardens, shops and gyms reopen across England; House of Commons sits to pay tribute to the late Duke of Edinburgh; Paul McIntyre appears in court charged with the murder of journalist Lyra McKee; hearings begin in inquests into deaths of Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones, both killed in 2019 London Bridge attack, 13/4 – quarterly statistics on UK labour productivity; Lady Justice Rose sworn in as Supreme Court Justice, 14/4 – Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the House of Commons, appears before select committee session on code of conduct for MPs; Tesco reports full-year results; JPMorgan Chase reports first-quarter results, 15/4 – target date for vaccination of all adults aged over 50 in the UK; deadline for UK to respond to EU legal action over Northern Ireland protocol, 16/4 – Moody’s ratings agency releases review of UK economy, 17/4 – funeral takes place for the Duke of Edinburgh at Windsor Castle

12/4 – special coronavirus measures take effect in Tokyo in an attempt to lower cases before the summer Olympics, 14/4 – JPMorgan Chase reports first-quarter results; European Court of Justice rules on Ryanair’s challenge to state aid given to airlines, 15/4 – trial continues for four men charged over downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in July 2014; Joe Biden meets with Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, 16/4 – Cuban Communist Party holds congress, with the country’s de facto leader, Raul Castro, set to retire; hearing takes place in fraud case of Jimmy Lai, Hong Kong’s Apple Daily founder, 17/4 – Major League Soccer season begins, 18/4 – quarantine free travel between New Zealand and Australia resumes

Thanks for reading, and please do share this around. 

Claudia Williams

Photographs Getty Images

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