Friday briefing: ‘Surge’ jabs urged for Covid hotspots

·8-min read
<span>Photograph: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

Top story: Shots considered for ages 18 and up

Hello, Warren Murray here to help you get the gist.

The government is believed to be considering requests to allow Covid hotspots to offer “surge” vaccinations to all people over 18 amid fears of flare-ups driven by the variant first detected in India. In Bolton, care homes have been asked not to follow England’s roadmap out of lockdown next week because of a possible “severe outbreak” of the variant. Some schools in the Greater Manchester borough have told pupils and staff to keep wearing masks for now.

Meanwhile the UK’s delaying of second coronavirus shots has received fresh support after research on the over-80s found giving the Pfizer/BioNTech booster after 12 weeks rather than three produced a much stronger antibody response. Most people will be well protected regardless of the timing but the stronger response from the extra delay might prolong protection. In the US, an unmasked Joe Biden has hailed the announcement by the CDC that fully vaccinated Americans can participate in most indoor activities without wearing a mask. “Today is a great day for America in our long battle with coronavirus,” said the president. Follow developments during the day at our live blog.

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‘We’re in an emergency’ – Israel’s military has said its ground and air forces are attacking targets in the Gaza Strip, amid fears that Israel might launch an incursion into the blockaded territory. It said there were “currently no IDF ground troops inside the Gaza Strip. IDF air and ground forces are carrying out strikes on targets in the Gaza Strip.” Inside Israel a notorious sectarian rampage in the Bat Yam suburb of Tel Aviv – started by young far-right Jews who attacked businesses owned by Palestinian citizens of Israel before savagely beating a passing motorist – has not been an isolated incident. By Thursday communal violence – riots, stabbings, arson, attempted home invasions and shootings – had been reported from Beersheba in the southern Negev desert to Rahat, Ramla, Lod, Nasiriyah, Tiberias, Jerusalem and Haifa. In the mixed city of Lod a Jewish man was stabbed on his way to synagogue and a pregnant Arab woman was attacked, suffering serious head injuries. Israel’s defence minister, Benny Gantz, has ordered a “massive reinforcement” of border police forces in cities across Israel to “cool off” the situation. “We’re in an emergency,” Gantz said in a statement.

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‘Reputation in tatters’ – David Cameron has been scolded by MPs that his persistent lobbying of ministers, on behalf of the controversial bank Greensill Capital that he worked for, had “demeaned” the position of the prime minister and left his “reputation in tatters”. During questioning by MPs, the former prime minister was forced to deny that his text message and WhatsApp lobbying campaign on behalf of Greensill Capital was driven by fears that an “opportunity to make a large amount of money was at risk”.

Cameron said he received what was “in anyone’s terms it was a generous salary” and had a large “economic interest, absolutely” in Greensill succeeding but his lobbying was not “affected by the amount”. Siobhain McDonagh, of Labour, confronted Cameron with his warning when he was prime minister that lobbying was the “next big scandal waiting to happen”. Cameron insisted his “persistent contact” with MPs had been appropriate but “I think, in future, one of the lessons I take away is prime ministers should only ever use letter or email and should restrict themselves far more.”

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Spies’ brains under siege? – The mystery of “Havana syndrome” continues with more than 130 incidents of unexplained brain injury among US diplomats, spies and defence officials, some of them within the past few weeks, the New York Times has reported. In December the National Academy of Sciences published a report saying brain injuries suffered by US government employees in Cuba and China were most likely the result of some form of directed energy. Mark Zaid, who represents some former officials afflicted by Havana syndrome, said he had been contacted by more people who believe they have been affected. Cheryl Rofer, a former chemist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, has questioned the study’s conclusions, saying: “The evidence for microwave effects of the type categorised as Havana syndrome is exceedingly weak.”

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Johnson debt wiped – Boris Johnson no longer has a county court judgment against him after Downing Street got a claim for a £535 debt for alleged defamation set aside. No 10 said the claim against the prime minister had been “totally without merit” and “vexatious” and lodged an application to have it struck out. A court official confirmed there was no longer a judgment present in the case after applications were considered by District Judge Hammond but was unable to provide further details. A No 10 spokesperson said: “The judgment in default has been set aside by the court. The claim has been struck out, deemed totally without merit and the government awarded its costs.”

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The one where they play themselves – The long-awaited Friends reunion will be broadcast on 27 May with the original six protagonists – although not in character or scripted – along with numerous celebrity guests, including Malala Yousafzai and David Beckham. Streaming service HBO Max has said it will show the one-off special. Along with Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, Courteney Cox, David Schwimmer, Matt LeBlanc and Matthew Perry, more than 15 celebrity guests are to make cameo appearances.

These include former cast members Tom Selleck, who played Monica’s former boyfriend Richard, and Maggie Wheeler who played Janice, Chandler’s former partner known for her shrill laughter. From the music industry, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga and K-pop band BTS will also feature in Friends: The Reunion along with Game of Thrones actor Kit Harington.

Today in Focus podcast: On the ground in Jerusalem

Oliver Holmes, the Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent, talks to Rachel Humphreys about the violence that has broken out between Israel and Palestine. Despite international calls for calm, there are fears they are on the verge of another war.

Lunchtime read: ‘Bristol does things differently’

The Greens went into the elections holding 11 of the seats on Bristol city council and ended with 24, making them the joint biggest party with Labour, who slipped from 37. The success has raised the party’s hopes of a parliamentary seat, writes Steven Morris.

Sport

Flares and anger filled the Manchester skies as United fans staged another protest before the rescheduled Premier League match with Liverpool, which Jürgen Klopp’s side won 4-2 to ignite their push for a top-four finish. Dina Asher-Smith, expected to be Team GB’s poster girl at the Tokyo Olympics, blitzed her way to victory in her first outdoor 200m race of the season in Italy. After returning from Japan where he passed on “golden” coaching tips to the All Black Beauden Barrett, Eddie Jones has relocated to Yorkshire’s east coast to spend two days with Hull FC in an “advisory role”. More than half of public leisure facilities in England could close in the next six months unless the government provides greater financial support, the prime minister has been warned. Jack Grealish made his long-awaited return for Aston Villa as a substitute as his side laboured to a 0-0 draw with Everton. And Gino Mader won stage six of the Giro d’Italia as Egan Bernal and Dan Martin took a step forward in the battle for pink.

Business

The global shortage of computer chips could last for another two years, the boss of IBM has warned. Jim Whitehurst said the industry would have to consider reusing some technology in order to satisfy demand as analysts said that the world’s car industry could lose $110bn because of the crisis. The FTSE100 is set to lift 0.6% after stock markets settled their nerves in the past 24 hours. The pound is flat at $1.405 and €1.162.

The papers

The Guardian print edition leads with “Cameron told: your reputation is in tatters after Greensill lobbying”. The picture story is “Freed by a revolt on the streets of Glasgow” – the amazing story of how two men arrested in dawn immigration raids had to be freed by police after hundreds of protesting residents surrounded a Home Office van. The i has “Vaccine surge for under-30s possible in new hotspots” while the Mirror joins the calls for a “Jabs blitz to save summer”.

“Sleazy jet” says the Metro, about David Cameron using Lex Greensill’s private plane. The Financial Times’ take on that is “Cameron says Greensill lobbying was for benefit of British economy”. “Race to stop Indian strain” says the Times while the Express has “Faster jabs for millions to combat variant”.

Others can’t resist further royal outpourings. “Dad passed his pain on to me … I will not do that to my kids”. The Sun seems sympathetic until you read the strapline: “Harry’s bitter swipe at Charles”. The Mail spares no judgment, asking: “Just how low can Harry go?” The Telegraph has “Climbdown over NHS online and phone triage”, saying patients have won the right to be seen in person.

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