News diary 15-21 February: UK hotel quarantine begins and Australian Open men's final - Press Gazette

News diary 15-21 February: UK hotel quarantine begins and Australian Open men's final

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

Monday

The UK vaccination programme has been one of the undeniable success stories of the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, and today the government is set to meet its target of giving first doses of a Covid vaccine the top four priority groups by today. Having provided first doses to some 15m  in just over two months, the next target is to give jabs to a further 17m in the next priority groups by the end of April.

The vaccination milestone coincides with the start of a managed quarantine system which requires UK arrivals from red-list countries to spend ten days in isolation before travelling on within the country. The system was attracting criticism even before its official announcement, and the government’s own SAGE committee appeared to suggest in January that it would not be enough to prevent new variants from entering the UK.

Today is also when the national lockdown in England is due to be reviewed, with decisions to be made on whether to lift or extend restrictions imposed by the Prime Minister in January. It’s been a mixed picture in the intervening six weeks, with the initial success of the vaccination programme tempered by record numbers of deaths and the spread of new variants. However, with case numbers beginning to fall, there is cause for hope when the results of the review are released next week.

Tuesday

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon appears before Holyrood’s Committee on the Scottish Government’s Handling of Harassment Complaints, where she plans to refute “head on” claims made about her handling of complaints against former SNP Leader Alex Salmond. MSPs are looking at the First Minister’s alleged role in botching the investigation into her predecessor, which was deemed unlawful following a judicial review in 2019. Salmond was due to give evidence last week before pulling out after the cross-party committee said it would be unable to publish his evidence submission.

The inquiry into the Manchester Arena terror attack holds a preliminary hearing to determine its future course in the face of ongoing coronavirus restrictions. The inquiry resumed sittings in January with an altered format in light of the regulations currently in force across the UK, and last week heard damning evidence of the lack of emergency service preparedness. The hearing is likely to set a date for the resumption of publicly attended evidence sessions later this year.

Wednesday

In one of the highlights of the UK’s presidency of the UN Security Council this month, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab chairs a meeting on equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines. The session comes amid a stark divide in the rollout of vaccines between the developed and developing world, as well as the much-discussed emergence of variants of the virus. Expect Raab to tout the UK’s contributions to the Covax vaccines distribution initiative, as well as the recently-announced New Variant Assessment Platform.

A US judge is set to rule on the civil damages claim brought against Anne Sacoolas by the family of Harry Dunn. A hearing in the case earlier this month revealed that Sacoolas was a US intelligence service employee at the time of the fatal crash, calling into question her claim to diplomatic immunity that allowed her to return to and remain in the US after the incident. As a result, Dunn’s family is requesting that British authorities reinvestigate Sacoolas’ claim in the hopes of reversing the Trump and Biden administrations’ refusal to extradite her to the UK.

Thursday

The NASA Perseverance rover lands on the surface of Mars, following the successful arrival of missions from the UAE and China into the Red Planet’s orbit last week. Footage of the landing on the Jezero Crater is set to provide the most close-up and detailed images of the Mars landscape ever seen. The landing, described as “seven minutes of terror”, is the most ambitious in the agency’s history and marks the start of a new era in Mars exploration.

The Northern Ireland Executive reviews its lockdown measures, which have now been in force for over seven weeks. Lockdown was initially due to end on 2 February, but was extended until 5 March amid high case numbers and concerns over new variants. The review comes as Health Minister Robin Swann said the country must “tread carefully” when it comes to easing restrictions, and warned that some measures may remain in place long term.

Friday

It’s Wales’ turn on Friday as First Minister Mark Drakeford fronts his weekly press conference in Cardiff to reveal the outcome of the most recent review of lockdown restrictions. Confirmed cases and the overall positive testing rate have both dropped significantly in recent weeks, raising hopes for a limited easing of restrictions.  The Welsh Government is also expected to imminently announce plans for the gradual reopening of schools to begin later this month.

Lucy Letby appears at Chester Crown Court for a plea hearing on charges of murdering eight babies at the Countess of Chester hospital. The nurse was originally arrested in 2018, and also faces charges for the attempted murder of 10 additional infants. The offences are alleged to have been committed between June 2015 and June 2016.

The ONS releases public finance statistics for the final time before next month’s Budget and the attendant OBR forecasts, when a key question for the Chancellor will be whether he chooses to begin to rein in the borrowing that has financed the government’s economic response to the pandemic. Last month’s figures showed the highest-ever December borrowing and third highest monthly figure since records began.

Saturday

A light weekend for non-sporting news: notable events on the calendar today include the Premier League’s Merseyside derby and the world’s most valuable horse race at the Saudi Cup meeting.

And for those of a nostalgic bent, today also marks the fifth anniversary of David Cameron announcing that the UK would hold an in-out referendum on its membership of the European Union. Three years earlier Cameron had promised to settle the European question; it’s probably safe to say events didn’t quite play out the way he anticipated.

Sunday

The highlight of a packed weekend of sporting action takes place in Melbourne with the men’s final of the Australian Open tennis. Though the two finalists are yet to be determined, it would be some surprise if number one and two seeds Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal (both pictured) aren’t the ones taking to the Rod Laver arena. Should Nadal reach the final, he’ll have the opportunity to make history as the most successful men’s tennis player of all time, overtaking Roger Federer with what would be a 21st grand slam title.

The news diary is provided in association with Foresight News.

Picture: Reuters/Charles Platiau

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