Wednesday briefing: Escape from Wuhan

Martin Farrer
Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images

Top story: Cases reach nearly 6,000, outstripping Sars

Morning everyone. I’m Martin Farrer and these are the best stories from the Guardian this morning.

Japanese citizens airlifted out of Wuhan have spoken of their relief at escaping the epicentre of the deadly coronavirus outbreak but voiced concerns for people left behind. A government-chartered plane carrying 206 Japanese citizens arrived in Tokyo from the Chinese city early this morning while an aircraft with around 200 US citizens onboard, including staff from the local US consulate, left the city overnight for the United States as the death toll from the outbreak climbed to 132. There are also nearly 6,000 people infected in China, more than the number who caught Sars during the 2003 outbreak that killed 770 around the world. One of the Japanese evacuees, steel company worker Takeo Aoyama, said he was relieved to be home but was concerned about 400 compatriots still in the city. Another Japanese, Takayuki Kato, said he had become “very alarmed” when everyone in Wuhan started wearing masks and transport was shut down.

“Isolated and vulnerable” Australian citizens in Wuhan and Hubei will be evacuated to Christmas Island, the remote island in the Indian ocean that is currently used as a controversial offshore detention camp. They will be quarantined for up to 14 days. Britain is finalising plans to repatriate citizens from in and around Wuhan. The European Union will fly its citizens out aboard two French planes this week, and South Korea is due to do the same. Anxieties about the spread of the virus were compounded when officials in Germany confirmed the first human-to-human transmission of the infection in Europe.

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Class squeeze – Private schools say the higher education watchdog’s plan to open up Oxbridge places for children from disadvantaged backgrounds will mean that their pupils are squeezed out of the elite universities. The proposal by the Office for Students promises to halve the access gap at England’s most selective institutions in the next five years, and aims to increase the number of disadvantaged pupils by 6,500 each year from 2024-25. But the Headmasters’ & Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), which represents many independent schools, says the proposal could lead to discrimination against young people “on the basis of the class they were born into”.

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‘It will not pass’ – Donald Trump’s much-heralded Middle East peace plan has been widely condemned by critics as giving too many concessions to Israel and only heavily restricted options for a Palestinian “state”. The US president outlined the plan in Washington, flanked by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, boasting that he was “not shying away from big problems”. Under the plan, Jerusalem would become Israel’s undivided capital and the vast majority of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land would gain recognition. A Palestinian state would receive territory near Gaza, to compensate for the loss of about 30% of the West Bank, and be offered a potential capital near Jerusalem. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, who had rejected the deal in advance, said it was a “conspiracy” that “will not pass”. But the architect of the plan, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, urged Palestinians to accept the plan and not to “screw up” the chance of an agreement. Read our analysis here of how Kushner went about drafting the plan.

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Defence danger – Along the road at Capitol Hill, Mitch McConnell reportedly admitted he may not have enough votes to stop witnesses being called to Trump’s impeachment trial. The Republican Senate leader, along with Trump’s lawyers, have strongly resisted expanding the trial to hear from witnesses. But rebel Republicans could hand a tactical victory to the Democrats and pave the way for testimony from witnesses such as former national security adviser John Bolton. His new book says Trump demanded political favours from Ukraine in exchange for aid and could blow a hole in the president’s defence case. Trump praised his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, for giving a prominent NPR radio reporter a foul-mouthed dressing down after an interview about Ukraine. “You did a good job on her,” Trump said.

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No justice – Only a third of judges in courts are female and just 7% are BAME (black and minority ethnic) compared with 13% of the population in England and Wales, a new study shows, bringing calls to speed up action to improve diversity. The research by law reform group Justice says the judiciary is “still dominated by white men” and that although there have been modest improvements there is still no BAME supreme court justice.

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Stars and stripes – Amateur stargazers have helped scientists to discover a new form of the northern lights, the astronomical phenomenon visible at the North Pole that has captivated humans for millennia. The part-time astronomers were engaged by experts who were researching the different forms of the aurora borealis. Their photographs identified stripes in the night sky that resembled sand dunes and the scientists have concluded that they are caused by “gravity waves” in the atmosphere.

Today in Focus podcast: how Britain walked away from the EU

John Palmer was the Guardian’s correspondent in Brussels in 1973 when the UK entered the European Economic Community. Now, 46 years later, Jennifer Rankin is in Brussels for the Guardian as British MEPs are packing up and leaving. They tell Anushka Asthana how membership has changed Britain. Plus: Dan Sabbagh on Huawei’s role in British infrastructure.

Lunchtime read: The men who want to be single parents

Whether from the ruins of a failed relationship or the urge to care, an increasing number of men are using surrogacy, adoption and fostering to become parents without a partner. Sirin Kale has spoken to some of them, including Ben Carpenter, 35, who has four adopted children, all of whom have special needs. “I knew it was what I wanted to do. Instantly, I completely found my niche,” he says. Another, Gareth K Thomas from south Wales, is fostering three children and urges other men to do the same. “We go away for weekends, camping, take the dog for a walk, go for hot chocolate. I think: it’s my job to do this? Someone is going to find me out soon.”


British athletics is in its worst state for 60 years having largely squandered the golden legacy of London 2012, one of the sport’s most decorated coaches has warned. World Athletics will not be imposing a blanket ban on the controversial hi-tech Nike Vaporflys that have transformed athletics when it announces its long-awaited decision on shoe technology on Friday. Aston Villa’s Trézéguet scored a stoppage-time winner to beat Leicester 2-1 on the night and win the Carabao Cup semi-final 3-2 on aggregate. The home of Ed Woodward was attacked on Tuesday night in a sickening escalation in the tensions between the Manchester United executive vice-chairman and supporters. United are close to agreeing a deal for Sporting Lisbon’s Bruno Fernandes that will cost a basic €55m (£46.5m) fee plus €25m more in add-ons.

Garbiñe Muguruza set up an Australian Open semi-final showdown with fellow former world No 1 Simona Halep as they both look to add a third grand slam to their haul. There is anger and frustration across rugby league after the sport’s governing body, the Rugby Football League, sanctioned Catalans Dragons’ move for the controversial Australian Israel Folau on a one-year deal. Saracens have been plunged deeper into turmoil after they were docked a further 70 points to ensure they will finish bottom of the table. But England’s players insist they have now dealt with the “elephant in the room” despite the latest sanction doled out to the Premiership club. And LeBron James has made his first public comments since the death of his fellow Los Angeles Laker, Kobe Bryant, on Sunday.


The iPhone 11 propelled Apple to record revenues for the final three months of last year, with the tech company posting $91.8bn in quarterly revenue thanks to $56bn in iPhone sales. But it warned that the coronavirus outbreak could disrupt supply of its best-selling product, which is manufactured in China. Investors brushed off yesterday’s concerns about the virus to send shares in Asia up in value overnight. The FTSE100 is on course for a 0.25% lift this morning. The pound is flat at $1.302 and €1.182.

The papers

Many papers lead with news that Britain will give Huawei partial access to the 5G network. The Times says “PM defies critics with green light for Huawei” while the FT has “US condemns UK decision to give Huawei limited role in 5G network” and the i goes with “UK defies US and backs ‘high risk’ 5G from China”. The Telegraph has a slightly different take – “Johnson promises to end reliance on Huawei” – and the Metro goes for the punning “I’ll meet you half-Huawei”.

The Guardian splashes with “Trump plan for Middle East peace condemned” while the Mail focuses on “Smart m-way death traps”. The Express says “Andrew: I will talk to the FBI” and the Sun leads on tributes for Nicholas Parsons: “Missing Parsons”.

Finally, the Mirror leads with an extraordinary claim about one of Britain’s most enduring mysteries. “Victim’s son: I’ve tracked down Lord Lucan”, the splash headline reads, claiming that the fugitive peer is living in a Buddhist retreat in Australia.

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