Foresight News rounds up the key events that need to be in your news diary this week…
Prime Minister Boris Johnson provides an update on whether the next stage of changes to COVID restrictions on 12 April are on track, including the highly-anticipated re-opening of beer gardens and other outdoor hospitality. Scenes from outdoor spaces as warm weather returned last week showed that many were choosing to ignore the reinstated rule of six, despite Johnson and Professor Chris Whitty continuing to urge caution. Updates are also expected today from reviews into global travel, social distancing, mass events and vaccine passports.
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And it’s trims all round as hairdressers and other non-essential retailers re-open in the latest easing of coronavirus restrictions in Scotland. As well as taming unruly barnets a week before their neighbours south of the border, Scots can visit garden centres and homeware shops and enjoy outdoor contact sports for the first time since the turn of the year.
Pfizer reports first quarter results after its latest dose of good news in the COVID-19 vaccine production race. The drugmaker’s revenue rose by $736 million to more than $41 billion in 2020 in the wake of a successful vaccine rollout, and the company recently said it’s projecting $15 billion in vaccine earnings alone this year. Pfizer’s partner BioNTech reported strong results itself last week and said the two companies expect to have capacity to produce 2.5 billion doses this year and three billion in 2022.
Alex Salmond’s (pictured) new pro-independence Alba Party unveils its policies ahead of Holyrood elections on 6 May. Addressing concerns that a new party could split the independence vote, Salmond said at the party’s launch that Alba will not contest the SNP in constituency seats, but will instead focus on running list candidates via Scotland’s mixed proportional representation system to help build a super-majority for independence. In the wake of allegations of sexual harassment against Salmond and the fallout from the inquiry into the Scottish government’s handling of those claims, the party also holds its Women’s Conference on Saturday, which it says will be an “all-women safe space” to “gender-proof” its policies.
A new rule requiring lorry drivers arriving in the UK to take a COVID-19 test on arrival, and another every 72 hours thereafter, comes into force. Announced by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, the measure aims to prevent new coronavirus variants of concern from entering the UK as Europe’s increase in cases and slow vaccine rollout coincide with the UK’s gradual easing of lockdown restrictions.
The IMF releases its biannual World Economic Outlook at a virtual press conference with Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva. In last October’s report, the IMF predicted the UK economy would shrink by 9.8% in 2020, which it turns out was precisely the case. The IMF’s January estimate was for 4.5 per cent growth this year, slightly more optimistic than the OBR’s March forecast of 4 per cent. For UK observers, this latest report is likely to be closely watched for any appraisal of the measures outlined in Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s budget last month, as well as the broader global economic context of a world struggling to move beyond the coronavirus pandemic.
The National Education Union (NEU) convenes virtually for its annual conference. The union is set to debate calls to abolish GCSEs amid fears of grade inflation, inconsistency between schools and diminished need for such assessments when students now remain in education until they’re 18. This year’s conference also follows the launch of a government review into sexual abuse and rape culture in schools; thousands of anonymous testimonies were recently released on the website Everyone’s Invited, providing an insight into the scale of the problem in both state and independent schools across the country.
Full trading in Deliveroo begins after last week’s stock market debut saw the company’s valuation fall by around 30 per cent. The delivery app’s shares fell to £2.73 as conditional trading began on 29 March, some way below the £3.70 pre-IPO pricing, and the company is yet to turn a profit despite the rise in demand for food delivery during the pandemic. Investors appear to be cautious in light of Deliveroo’s ongoing governance and employment rights issues, and its riders in the IWGB are due to strike today over safety concerns and what the union calls workers’ “poverty pay”.
Communications regulator Ofcom publishes its report looking at UK adults’ attitudes and opinions toward TV and radio broadcasting, as well as related areas such as news consumption and privacy. The biennial survey tracks use of things like smartphones, catch up services, paid TV and subscription services, and whether households listen to the radio or podcasts. A report last year found that time spent on streaming services doubled during the first lockdown, and broadcasters will be keen to see whether the trend is continuing to cut into their market share.
The Duke of Cambridge joins COP26 President Alok Sharma and US Special Climate Envoy John Kerry at a virtual event on green transitions on the sidelines of the IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings. Though his father and brother may be more famously linked to climate campaigning, Prince William joined in in 2019 when he launched the £50 million Earthshot Prize to fund environmental projects to help solve the climate crisis. The IMF event looks at how those solutions are needed in developing countries which are disproportionately impacted by the crisis.
NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter attempts the first powered, controlled aircraft flight through another planet’s atmosphere. The $80 million, 1.8kg rotorcraft, which arrived attached to the Perseverance rover in February, will fly through the thin Martian atmosphere in search of signs of habitability in the Jezero Crater. The historic flight, compared to that of the Wright brothers in 1903, will provide valuable insight into the agency’s capabilities and future of scientific research on the Red Planet.
The European Medicines Agency’s safety committee concludes a four-day plenary meeting during which it’s expected to issue an updated recommendation on use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. The meeting comes as Germany and Canada both announced they would limit use of the vaccine in younger people while investigations continue into a small number of cases of unusual blood clots in people who had received it, though the EMA has reiterated its view that there is “no evidence” for restricting the jab.
Meanwhile, international bodies hold a discussion at the IMF/World Bank meetings on the rollout of vaccines in the developing world. It comes as new World Trade Organization Director General Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala calls for pharmaceutical companies to follow AstraZeneca’s lead in handing their vaccine technologies over to manufacturers in developing countries to make use of their production capacity and speed up rollout. In January, The Economist Intelligence Unit predicted widespread vaccination coverage would not be achieved until 2023 under the current arrangements. Okonjo-Iweala is joined by World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Gavi CEO Seth Berkley, and UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.
Amid the ongoing row over the procurement and rollout of COVID-19 vaccines across the EU, a team of scientists from the EMA are set to visit Russia, according to Health Minister Mikhail Murashko, as part of their assessment of its Sputnik V vaccine. Frustrated by the slow rollout of the centralised EU effort , some EU members like Hungary and Slovakia have already begun buying the vaccine, though in Slovakia’s case this led to the resignation of Prime Minister Igor Matovic.
The BAFTAs take place over two nights this year with three hosts, Clara Amfo, Dermot O’Leary and Edith Bowman. Apparently taking on board the #BaftasSoWhite criticism levelled after last year’s all-white acting shortlist, the nominations announced last month were hailed as “hugely” and “strikingly” diverse. Nomadland and Rocks lead the field with seven nominations each.
After a coronavirus-enforced cancellation in 2020, the Grand National returns to Aintree as 40 horses tackle the four-and-a-half-mile course. For those who fancy a flutter, Cloth Cap is currently ranked as the bookies’ favourite at odds of 7-2, closely followed by Any Second Now (10-1) and Burrows Saint (12-1). This year’s race is also being tipped as a potential history-maker as Rachael Blackmore mounts a strong bid to become its first ever female winner.
It’s a busy day in global elections, with votes in Ecuador, Benin, Peru, and Chad. In Ecuador, it’s a presidential run-off that sees leftist economist Andres Arauz facing conservative former banker Guillermo Lasso. In Benin, incumbent president Patrice Talon is seeking a third term amid a campaign criticised for the exclusion of meaningful opposition candidates. In Peru, presidential as well as parliamentary elections take place following a tumultuous 2020 that culminated in the country having three different leaders in the space of a single week in November. Finally in Chad, a presidential election sees long-time leader Idriss Deby Itno likely to secure a sixth term, having come to power in 1990 coup.
Just five months on from the conclusion of the re-arranged 2020 edition, Augusta National plays host to the final round of this year’s Masters. Defending champion and current world number one Dustin Johnson leads the field, though fellow American Bryson DeChambeau and Spain’s Jon Rahm present stern competition for the Green Jacket. The event also offers players an opportunity to impress as the scramble for places in September’s Ryder Cup hots up.
The news diary is provided in association with Foresight News.
Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire