Wednesday briefing: UK poised to ease amber list quarantine

·9-min read
<span>Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA</span>
Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

Top story: Proof of US, UK or EU vaccine required

Hello, Warren Murray with you again, on another golden morning for Team GB in the pool. More on that further down – first, the other big stories.

Plans to significantly open up international travel are expected to be announced today, with UK ministers poised to let Britons and some others who have been fully vaccinated in the US and EU avoid quarantine if arriving from amber-list countries. Currently only those who have been inoculated by the NHS are eligible to skip the self-isolation period of up to 10 days.

The Guardian understands the Covid operations committee of ministers will meet this morning to sign off the plan. US citizens with a valid vaccine card and EU citizens using the bloc’s “green pass” to demonstrate inoculation are also expected to have their documents recognised, as long as their vaccines are also authorised for use in the UK.

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‘Our role is to save lives’ – The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) has hit out at being called a “migrant taxi service” for rescuing people at risk of dying as they cross the Channel in small boats. Responding to accusations from Nigel Farage, the volunteer charity said it was “very proud” of its humanitarian work and would continue to respond to coastguard callouts in line with its legal duty under international maritime law. “Our role in this is incredibly important: simply to respond to a need to save lives,” said Mark Dowie, the chief executive of the RNLI. It comes as the government prepares to criminalise migrants who attempt entry to the UK via illegal routes.

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Midweek catch-up

> Ecuador has stripped Julian Assange of the citizenship he was granted in 2018 while living in its London embassy to avoid arrest. The Australian founder of WikiLeaks is in a UK prison as US prosecutors try to have him extradited for espionage.

> More than one in three middle-aged British adults have at least two chronic health conditions, including recurrent back problems, poor mental health, high blood pressure, diabetes and high-risk drinking, according to a study on “generation X”.

> Police chiefs have privately condemned Boris Johnson’s high-profile crime strategy as “weird and gimmicky”, while plans to increase stop-and-search were criticised for ignoring the evidence.

> The private bank Coutts, where people like the Queen keep their money, will offer carbon credits and green mortgages to its ultra-wealthy clients after becoming one of the largest UK banking brands to secure B Corp status.

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Officials cleared for Trump testimony – Donald Trump’s former officials can testify to Congress about his role in the Capitol attack and efforts to subvert the results of the 2020 election, the justice department has ruled in a letter obtained by the Guardian. The department declined to assert executive privilege – a sharp departure from the Trump era when it repeatedly intervened to keep senior White House officials away from congressional investigations into the then-president. In his last weeks in office, Trump pressured justice department officials to use the vast powers of the federal government to undo his defeat, asking them to investigate baseless conspiracies of voter fraud and tampering that they had already determined to be false.

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Disabilities work plan set out – Ministers have announced plans to help disabled people in the workplace as part of a disability strategy billed as the most ambitious in a generation, but said by some campaign groups to be thin on specifics. Government departments will be assessed on how well their policies help disabled people – the first step is to focus on workplace inclusion and cut the disability employment gap. Ideas include making larger companies say how many disabled people they employ, and increasing employment of disabled people at institutions including the civilian military and reserves, MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. An “access to work adjustments passport” will help people moving from education to work or changing jobs. Another proposal is for 10% of affordable homes built through a government scheme to be supported housing, and measures to improve rail services for disabled passengers.

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Karma, bro – An unreleased Wu-Tang Clan album that “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli forfeited after his securities fraud conviction has been sold by US authorities for an undisclosed sum, paying off the last of a $7.4m forfeiture order. He claimed to have bought Once Upon a Time in Shaolin for $2m. Shkreli was imprisoned for fraud after gaining fame in 2015 when, unrelated to the prosecution, he put up by 5,000% the price of Daraprim, a previously cheap drug used to treat Aids patients and others at risk of toxoplasmosis. He is in jail until October 2022. Wu-Tang Clan spent six years creating the 31-track double album, packaged in a hand-crafted silver and nickel case, which includes a 174-page book wrapped in leather.

Today in Focus podcast: The forever-Trumpers

It might seem like a post-Trump world, but in red states across the US his most hardline supporters are setting the political agenda. How much power do they have to shape the country’s future, even with Joe Biden in the White House?

Lunchtime read: Sweaty bum time on the A9

“On downhill stretches during ‘regenerative braking’, when the battery is getting charged, I tell myself it’s going to be OK,” Sam Wollaston says of the ups and downs of an all-electric car trip from Land’s End to John o’Groats. “But going uphill the range plummets. Squeaky bum time …

“It’s the hottest day of the year so far, but I can’t risk the air conditioning, because that wipes about 10% off the range. I’ve heard that opening windows makes a car less aerodynamic, so they remain closed. Sweaty bum time, too.”

Sport

Team GB’s week in the swimming pool just keeps getting better, with the men’s 4x200m team dominating the event a short time ago and setting a new European record. Tom Dean, James Guy, Matthew Richards and Duncan Scott won the gold in a time of 6min 58.8sec, three-hundredths off the world record set by Michael Phelps’ USA team back in 2009. It was Great Britain’s first gold medal in the event since 1908, and the first time since Sydney 2000 that anyone has beaten the USA in this event. Also this morning, Team GB clinched silver in the men’s quad scull rowing final, behind the Netherlands and ahead of Australia.

Team GB men celebrate their 4x200m relay gold
Team GB men celebrate their 4x200m relay gold. Photograph: Charlie Riedel/AP

Team GB is riding high elsewhere as well. The women’s gymnastics team has become the first since 1928 to win a medal in the team finals after securing bronze on Tuesday. Most eyes were on Japan, China or Italy but the British team of twins Jennifer and Jessica Gadirova, Alice Kinsella and Amelie Morgan snuck on to a podium spot in what Morgan called “more than a dream come true”. Even before the latest medals, Sean Ingle writes that it is the best start by Team GB in a pretty long time, with two British male swimmers sharing the podium for the first time in more than 110 years. Some victories were hard-won. Triathlete Georgia Taylor-Brown defied a stress injury in her leg and a puncture to take silver. There’s essential reading in Barney Ronay’s look at the fates of Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka and the pressure to “Be brilliant, constantly”. You can find out what’s coming up later today via our interactive guide and follow all the action at our live blog.

Moving from Tokyo to Cape Town, the (latest) mind games have begun before the British & Irish Lions’ second test against South Africa. Rassie Erasmus has accused the Lions of compromising the “integrity of the game” by criticising the appointment of the South African TMO Marius Jonker. Erasmus insisted he would never draw attention to the fact that Warren Gatland and Saturday’s referee, Ben O’Keeffe, are both New Zealanders. Manchester United have confirmed they have reached an agreement with Real Madrid to sign the centre-back Raphaël Varane. Having completed the signing of Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho in a £73m deal last week, the 28-year-old is set to be the next arrival.

Business

Asia-Pacific shares have been sitting at seven-month lows after regulatory crackdowns in China hit stocks in technology, property and education. Markets are also on tenterhooks before a statement from the US Federal Reserve policy meeting, followed by a press conference from its chairman, Jerome Powell, this evening UK time. The FTSE fell below the 7,000 level yesterday and again this morning it will open lower. The pound is worth $1.387 and €1.173 at time of writing.

The papers

The Briefing’s top story is also the Guardian’s splash today: “UK to waive quarantine rule for arrivals fully jabbed in US or EU”. There is pictorial coverage for Simone Biles, the American gymnast and greatest athlete in the sport’s history, who walked away from the women’s team competition after admitting she had “freaked out in a high-stress situation”.

The Times says “Border set to open for EU and US travellers”, which is not entirely correct on its own, but the subheading qualifies: “No quarantine for the vaccinated from next week”. The Telegraph says “Freedom for double jabbed as UK reopens to world”, which once again might be putting it a bit high, though the medal for that goes to the UK senior minister quoted by the Daily Mail as saying “Covid is all over bar the shouting”.

The Express forecasts: “We’ll put bulk of pandemic behind us by October” as it speaks to “Professor Upbeat” Neil Ferguson, previously dubbed Professor Lockdown in its pages. “Too late to get the jab” – the Metro leads with a theme of the week, stories about Covid victims who died regretting not being vaccinated. “Betrayed” – the Mirror’s splash is about a report into abuse at a care home. And the Financial Times has “Vaccine access ‘faultline’ will split global recovery in two, IMF warns”.

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