News diary 1-7 March: One year since first UK Covid-19 death and Oprah interviews Harry and Meghan

Foresight News rounds up the key events that need to be in your news diary this week…

Monday

A second appearance at the despatch box in under a week for Gavin Williamson, with departmental questions offering  MPs another chance to quiz the Education Secretary and his ministerial team on the new arrangements for summer exams and plans for the return of pupils to schools on 8 March . Williamson appeared to suggest last week that there is room for manoeuvre, including a possible staggered return for secondary pupils as unions continued to warn against a “big bang” amid concerns over the practicalities of the testing regime.

In Myanmar, elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi is due back in court after being detained in the 1 February military coup. She faces allegations she violated the country’s Export and Import Law and Natural Disaster Law, charges widely viewed as spurious. Her appearance comes as nationwide protests against the coup show no signs of abating, despite the increasingly violent response of authorities.

Tuesday

The long-running legal battle between the Duchess of Sussex and the Mail on Sunday resumes in London as the High Court considers the next steps in the case. The Duchess scored a major victory earlier this month when the court granted her a summary judgment over the publication of extracts of correspondence with her father. Despite the enormous interest in the case, it’s unlikely that the hearing will prove to be the week’s main source of headlines for the Duke and Duchess, who have a TV date with Oprah Winfrey this weekend.

The use of performance enhancing drugs in cycling comes to the fore as the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service hands down its verdict in the case of former Team Sky and British Cycling doctor  Richard Freeman. Freeman, who achieved notoriety in 2018 for his role in supplying anti-asthma drugs to Tour de France Champion Bradley Wiggins, is accused of misconduct over allegations that he ordered testosterone patches to be delivered to cycling’s national headquarters in Manchester. If found guilty, Freeman could face a four-year ban from the sport.

Wednesday

Despite the steady stream of fiscal events over the past year, Rishi Sunak steps up to the despatch box to deliver what is surprisingly only his second Budget. This time last year, the Chancellor committed just £12bn to tackling coronavirus; that figure has since swollen to an estimated £280bn in public spending on pandemic measures. Several key support measures are due to expire in the coming weeks, though many are widely expected to be extended, so Sunak faces tough decisions today on how long to keep the Treasury taps flowing and how he might begin to balance the books.

Following on from the Chancellor’s statement, the OBR delivers its five-year forecast for the UK economy and public finances. Unprecedented circumstances resulted in two economic and fiscal outlooks from the watchdog in 2020, and the difference is marked between March’s biggest Budget giveaway since 1992 and November’s largest peacetime economic shock. The estimate of total borrowing this year (latest year-to-date projection: £271 billion) is perhaps the key figure to watch for from today’s forecast.

Following a 10-day delay due to the saga over Alex Salmond’s evidence hearing, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon finally gets her turn in front of Holyrood’s committee on the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints against her predecessor. Sturgeon has said she’s looking forward to the opportunity to “set the record straight” and has called on Salmond to provide proof of his claims of a “malicious and concerted conspiracy” against him. Sturgeon will be the committee’s last witness; it is expected to report before parliament dissolves ahead of the 6 May elections.

Thursday

German carrier Lufthansa reports its latest round of financial results as the global aviation industry eyes a year of recovery following the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Ahead of a much-needed resurgence in international travel, Lufthansa continues to trial a new digital health passport which requires passengers to upload a Covid-19 test result before flying. The airline has already seen a sizeable jump in its share price as the prospect of international travel draws closer.

New WTO chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who was confirmed to the post last month after the US dropped its opposition to her candidacy, speaks at an online event on gender bias hosted by the Brookings Institution.  The former Nigerian finance minister made news late last month when she weighed into the debate over equitable coronavirus vaccine distribution, critiquing Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s pledge to donate doses only once the UK has a surplus.

Friday

The UK marks the one year anniversary of its first death from Covid-19 on 5 March 2020. The unnamed victim was a 70-year-old female patient with underlying health conditions; over 122,000 people have died with coronavirus since then. Despite cautious optimism over Boris Johnson’s lockdown exit plan and the effectiveness of the vaccine rollout, excess deaths in the UK are still 28% above the five-year average, and the government is urging people to continue to follow stay-at-home guidance.

Saturday

Pope Francis has a busy day as he begins his official programme in Iraq, with events in Baghdad, Najaf and Ur, near Nasiriyah. The Pontiff is on his first international visit in over a year, having cancelled all travel plans in 2020 due to the pandemic. The trip comes despite health and security concerns, but Pope Francis has insisted the plight of Christians in the country merits the journey. The highlight of the trip is likely to be a mass in Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan, on Sunday.

The battle for sailing’s most prestigious trophy begins in Auckland as Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli compete for the Americas Cup. The Italian challengers advanced thanks to a comprehensive victory over Ben Ainslee’s Ineos Team UK, claiming an eventual 7-1 victory in the Prada Cup. The event is the first title defence for the New Zealand team after their victory over Oracle USA in 2017.

Sunday

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is scheduled to complete her five-year sentence after being detained on sedition charges in 2016. The prospect of being allowed to leave the country remains in doubt, however, after prosecutors announced a fresh case against her last year on accusations of “spreading propaganda against the regime”. Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, who has become increasingly critical of efforts by the UK to secure her release, has reportedly been urged to stay quiet about the case in the run up to today.

The Queen delivers a video message to mark Commonwealth Day on 9 March as part of a BBC One special programme ‘A Celebration for Commonwealth Day’, in what could prove a busy day for the palace press office. The virtual service, which will reflect on the Crown’s commitment to the Commonwealth, features speeches from the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, with two notable absentees…

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle sit down with Oprah for their first joint interview since announcing that they are relinquishing their royal duties permanently and expecting their second child. The “intimate” 90-minute conversation will focus on Markle’s experience with motherhood, marriage, and public pressure, and may touch on Harry’s mental health, which he blamed the British press for “destroying”.

The news diary is provided in association with Foresight News.

Picture: Daniel Leal-Olivas/Pool via Reuters

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