Friday briefing: Stop making people go into work, says TUC

·10-min read

Top story: ‘Support those who can work from home’

Hello, Warren Murray seeking to make this a fully informed Friday.

Employers are putting workers at risk and increasing Covid infection rates by making people show up at their workplace unnecessarily, unions say. Polling by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) found as many as one in five people who could be working from home were not, with hundreds complaining of coming under pressure from employers. “Bad bosses are needlessly putting workers at risk and increasing transmission in local communities,” said the TUC’s general secretary, Frances O’Grady. The business department said: “Employers have a duty to protect the health and safety of their employees – this includes by supporting those who can reasonably work from home to do so.”

There is some concern among doctors that they are running out of patients to vaccinate in the government’s top four priority groups. Medics at the Francis Crick Institute in London say they are providing 100 first doses a day when they have capacity for 1,000. There are calls for the government to hurry up and let clinics move on to groups five and six: 65- to 69-year-olds, and people with underlying health conditions. Hundreds of thousands of social care staff in England looking after older and clinically vulnerable people in their own homes have not received their first coronavirus vaccine, according to a survey by the UK Home Care Association. The government’s target is for all health and frontline social care staff to be offered their first vaccine by 15 February. Overall, with 13.5m shots given, Britain is still close to achieving its first-stage target of 15m vaccinations. In Australia, the state of Victoria is going into a snap “circuit-breaker” lockdown for five days after 13 cases of the UK Covid variant were linked to a quarantine hotel. For further developments head to our live blog.

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Dartmoor fire lights up sky – A large fire on Dartmoor burning on a front of several miles has proven difficult for the fire service to tackle. Devon and Somerset fire and rescue service deployed five pumps and other units to the area yesterday. Rob Steemson, Dartmoor national park emergency officer, said strong winds were pushing it across the moorland. Pictures on social media showed a large blaze stretching across a wide area and illuminating the night sky. The fire is thought to be in a remote area north-east of Tavistock. Social media users said the blaze could be seen from parts of Cornwall. The emergency services have warned people to avoid the area.

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‘Overwhelmingly guilty’ – Donald Trump’s impeachment prosecutors have concluded their case in his Senate trial, concluding that the deadly Capitol assault he stands accused of inciting was the culmination of a presidency beset by lies and violent rhetoric – and warning gravely that he would remain a threat to American democracy if not convicted and barred from holding future office. The nine impeachment managers argued Trump was “overwhelmingly guilty” of inciting the 6 January riot. Not finding him guilty would set a “terrible standard for presidential misconduct in the United States of America”. Trump’s legal team takes to the floor today. His defence is likely to deny he was responsible for the riot, and to argue his alleged incitements were political speech protected by the first amendment. The defence will have up to 16 hours to make their case, over two days. Trump will not testify.

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NSPCC fields gymnastics abuse calls – More than 220 calls alleging abuse in the British gymnastics system have been received on a special hotline set up by the NSPCC, with more than half resulting in a referral to the police or social services. The hotline was set up after gymnasts including the world championship medallists Becky and Ellie Downie spoke out. The chief executive of British Gymnastics, Jane Allen, announced she would retire in October, while the women’s head coach, Amanda Reddin, has been placed under investigation. The British gymnast Ruby Harrold accused Reddin of presiding over a “culture of fear” at training camps. Reddin has denied wrongdoing; the claims against her are part of the Whyte review, which will report later this year. The helpline will close in March but the NSPCC says it can still be contacted directly after that.

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Court to hear Huawei case – The battle to prevent extradition of Huawei’s chief financial officer from Canada to the US reaches the British high court today with the Chinese telecoms company seeking to access HSBC bank records. Meng Wanzhou was arrested at Vancouver airport in December 2018 on US charges of violating sanctions when a Huawei subsidiary, Skycom, sold telecoms equipment to Iran.

The US claims Meng did not tell the truth to HSBC about Huawei’s true links to Skycom, a firm active in Iran and allegedly a shell company for Huawei. The arrest of Meng – the daughter of Huawei’s founder – led to Canada accusing China of “hostage diplomacy” when soon afterwards it detained two Canadians in apparent retaliation.

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Secondhand Stonehenge? – A vast Neolithic stone circle discovered in Wales may back up an ancient myth about Stonehenge. A tale first recorded 900 years ago tells of the wizard Merlin leading men to Ireland to capture a magical stone circle called the Giants’ Dance and rebuilding it in England. The newly explored Wales circle’s diameter of 110 metres is identical to the ditch that encloses Stonehenge and it is also aligned on the midsummer solstice sunrise.

A series of buried stone-holes that follow the circle’s outline has been unearthed, with shapes that can be linked to Stonehenge’s bluestone pillars. One of them bears an imprint in its base that matches the unusual cross-section of a Stonehenge bluestone “like a key in a lock”, according to archaeologists. The evidence backs a century-old theory that the nation’s greatest prehistoric monument originally stood in Wales before being dismantled and dragged to Wiltshire where it was reconstructed. Many more details of tantalising possibilities in Dalya Alberge’s report.

Today in Focus podcast: Variants and vaccines

The Guardian’s health editor, Sarah Boseley, looks at why variants of the Covid-19 virus are alarming scientists.

Lunchtime read: 50 years of Carole King’s Tapestry

James Taylor, Roberta Flack, Tori Amos, Joan Armatrading, Rufus Wainwright and more on the 70s masterpiece.

Carole King on stage, London, 1972
Carole King on stage, London, 1972. Photograph: Michael Putland/Getty Images


Crowds will be shut out of the Australian Open for the next five days as Melbourne heads into a snap lockdown in response to a Covid-19 cluster in the city, but play will continue as scheduled. Serena Williams overcame a shaky start to book a fourth-round berth at Melbourne Park, while Ash Barty withdrew from the doubles competition amid concerns the world No 1’s thigh strain is more serious than she is letting on. José Mourinho expressed surprise at the events that led to Gareth Bale declaring himself unavailable for Tottenham’s FA Cup tie at Everton, who won 5-4 in extra-time. Barnsley battled but were unable to pull off a giant-killing as Tammy Abraham popped up to break the Championship side’s resistance.

Fernando Alonso’s Formula One comeback has been jeopardised after his Alpine team confirmed he has been involved in a road accident while cycling in Switzerland. Jofra Archer has been ruled out of the second Test against India in Chennai, with Joe Root telling his England players to follow the example set by himself and Jimmy Anderson as they look to go 2-0 up in the series. Gregor Townsend has challenged his Scotland players to regard last weekend’s win over England as just another victory and use it as a springboard to mount a first title challenge for the championship since it became the Six Nations. And Anthony Watson has hit back at criticism directed at England players for taking a knee before their defeat by Scotland, condemning the “double standards” and highlighting the need to raise awareness of social injustice.


British families are chomping at the bit to unleash billions of pounds worth of pent-up spending “like a coiled spring”, according to an upbeat assessment of the economy’s prospect from the Bank of England’s chief economist Andy Haldane. He calculates that Britons have amassed a savings bank of £250bn during three lockdowns and are desperate to start spending again. The FTSE 100 is set to dip slightly at the opening bell today, while the pound is fetching $1.379 and €1.137.

The papers

Our Guardian front page today leads with “Road plans in doubt after Shapps defies official advice”. The transport secretary overrode official advice that the £27bn policy be reviewed on environmental grounds – as a consequence, a legal challenge has been launched. Duchess Meghan’s win in court against the Mail on Sunday over her letters to her father also features – Ben Quinn examines whether this means the media can no longer publish leaked documents. And we go into detail on the NHS reorganisation that puts more power into the hands of Matt Hancock – a double-edged sword, writes Denis Campbell, because more control for ministers will mean the buck stops with them when things go wrong.

The Mail leads with “UK’s set to roar back” after the Bank of England’s chief economist said Britons have been saving up during Covid for a splurge when it’s over. Others turn that paper’s Markle misfortune into mileage – “Duchess wins High Court privacy case over letter to father”, says the Times, though its lead story is “Stay apart until autumn under lockdown easing” – it says ministers are considering plans to keep social distancing going to reduce Covid transmission. The Telegraph shows Meghan looking pleased while its splash is “Pandemic risks repeat of 1930s chaos, warns forces chief” – General Sir Nick Carter has told the paper that “nationalist barriers” and economic crises have sprung up, reminiscent of the years before the second world war.

The Metro has “There’s no quick fix” with a warning from the Sage member Sir Jeremy Farrar to Boris Johnson not to come up with an arbitrary road map out of lockdown. “Hot shots” says the Sun and there’s that syringe again … it is pleased that Britain is doing 450,000 vaccinations a day. “Millions in NHS limbo” – the i decides it’s time to revisit the story of surgeries being put on hold because of Covid taking up resources. The FT has “Asda’s buyers set junk bond sale record with £2.8bn sterling issue” – you can read about the takeover here. It also covers China banning the BBC World News channel. “Our wonderful girl will always be with us” – the parents of Libby Squire quoted by the Mirror after her murderer was found guilty. Libby also is pictured on the front of the Express, which leads with “Botham blasts BBC for ‘bullying’ elderly”, which is about the licence fee.

Watch: Top tips for helping the environment on a tight budget

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