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Friday briefing: Plea to PM – take long Covid view

The Guardian logo The Guardian 09/04/2021 Warren Murray

Top story: ‘Untold human suffering’ must be addressed

Hello, Friday’s here at last, and so am I, Warren Murray. Let’s boot up your day.

The number of people suffering with long Covid should be published routinely, MPs and peers are urging Boris Johnson. Thirty-two cross-party MPs and 33 peers have signed a letter as they urge the PM to ensure the “untold human suffering” the condition involves helps steer the government’s pandemic response. The Office for National Statistics has found an estimated 1.1m people are suffering long-lasting symptoms after having Covid-19.

Separately – England is “in the grip of a mental health crisis” because of the pandemic, with under-18s suffering the most, psychiatrists are to warn today. Bernadka Dubicka from the Royal College of Psychiatrists cited the “devastating effect” of school closures, disrupted friendships and uncertainty. Adult mental health also fared very badly during the pandemic, according to the college: until March 2020 about one in 10 adults in England suffered moderate to severe depression, but by June 2020 it was one in five. Nadine Dorries, the mental health minister, said ministers had provided an extra £2.3bn this year to expand mental health care. In the UK the charity Mind is on 0300 123 3393, and ChildLine on 0800 1111.

Hopes are rising, meanwhile, for foreign holidays to be permitted from 17 May, with the public given a “watchlist” of countries whose quarantine status is at risk of changing to help with planning and to avoid the chaos of last summer. Under the proposals, countries will be placed in a traffic light system with green, amber and red lists that will set out whether, and where, travellers must isolate on returning to England, government officials confirmed. A “watchlist” will be drawn up to identify countries that could switch from green to amber, to help passengers plan in advance, the Department for Transport (DfT) has said. Keep up on global coronavirus developments at our live blog.

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We’ll get second referendum says Sturgeon – The UK government could not stand in the way of a second Scottish referendum if there is a majority for independence in May’s Holyrood elections, Nicola Sturgeon has suggested. The SNP leader and first minister said she strongly suspected that “they know an independence referendum is coming”. Boris Johnson has consistently said he will refuse any request for the transfer of powers necessary to hold a second referendum to Holyrood, regardless of whether the SNP wins an overall majority or forms a government with the pro-independence Greens on 6 May. Sturgeon has ruled out any post-election arrangement with Alex Salmond’s new Alba party.

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Clot risk ‘higher from the pill than jab’ – Women need more information about contraceptive options and their risks, experts have said, after discussion over the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine prompted a debate over some forms of birth control such as combined hormonal contraceptives – certain pills, vaginal rings and patches. Speaking on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Adam Finn, a professor who is part of the JCVI which advises the government, said: “The risks of thrombosis that come with taking the pill are very much higher than the risks [relating to rare clots from the AstraZeneca jab].” But Clare Murphy from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service said: “It is vitally important that discussions comparing the risks of blood clots associated with the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine with those [associated with] the contraceptive pill do not pave the way to a repeat of the 1995 pill scare, which led to a significant increase in unplanned pregnancies.”

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‘Pushed the team’ – Rishi Sunak has been accused of trying to smooth the way for Greensill Capital to gain special access to emergency Covid loans after the release of text messages showing the chancellor told David Cameron he had “pushed the team” to see if it could happen. The Treasury also revealed that the former prime minister “informally” phoned two other ministers from the department, and sources said he sent “multiple” texts to Sunak’s personal phone. The Treasury refused to release those texts, saying they were sent “with an expectation of confidence”. Labour said the text messages from Sunak in April last year to the former prime minister, released after a freedom of information request, could have broken ministerial rules and called for a full investigation. Cameron, an adviser to and shareholder in the now-collapsed finance firm, has remained silent over the scandal since it emerged more than a month ago.

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Pivot point in Iran deal talks – A joint commission responsible for overseeing the 2015 Iran nuclear deal is looking for a way for the US to rejoin the agreement, abandoned under Donald Trump, and for Iran to end its retaliatory breaching of limits on its nuclear programme. Throughout this week experts from the remaining signatories – Iran, France, Germany, the UK, Russia, China and the EU – have been meeting in Vienna, relaying messages to the US delegation over the road in a neighbouring hotel. Today the joint commission will reconvene to review whether enough progress has been made to continue the talks on reviving the deal, which lifted economic sanctions on Iran in return for curbs to its nuclear programme. Patrick Wintour examines the key issues on the table.

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Pilot lowered thrust due to ‘Miss’ – A software mistake caused a Tui flight to take off heavier than expected after female passengers using the title “Miss” were all classified as children. The departure from Birmingham airport to Majorca was 1,200kg heavier than the pilot thought. Its takeoff with a lower thrust setting was described as a “serious incident” by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB). Thirty-eight passengers had been allocated a child’s “standard weight” of 35kg as opposed to the adult figure of 69kg. The incident took place on 21 July 2020 when the same fault caused two other Tui flights to take off in the UK with inaccurate “load sheets”. The thrust used for the Birmingham takeoff was “marginally less” than it should have been and the “safe operation of the aircraft was not compromised”, the AAIB said.

Today in Focus podcast: Oxford vaccine – risk v reward

People in the UK under 30 will be offered an alternative to the AstraZeneca vaccine because of a possible link to rare blood clots. Could the move dent confidence in the widely used jab?

Lunchtime read: Swift succession

After her masters were sold to an old foe, Taylor Swift’s re-recording project starts with Fearless (Taylor’s Version), her 2008 opus on the teen-girl experience – an apposite contrast to venal male industry executives. Find out what Alexis Petridis thinks.


Justin Rose shot 65 – beating his previous Augusta best by two - to open up a four-shot lead over Brian Harman and Hideki Matsuyama after the first round of the Masters. A smiling Rory McIlroy offered to “autograph a bag of frozen peas” for his father, Gerry, after striking him on the leg with an iron shot on the opening day at Augusta. Hot favourite Cloth Cap heads the betting for the Grand National, the world’s most famous race, at Aintree on Saturday. Ole Gunnar Solskjær was delighted at Manchester United’s 2-0 Europa League quarter-final first leg win over Granada, though admitted it was not a “perfect night” as Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw and Scott McTominay were all booked and will miss next week’s return game. Arsenal drew 1-1 at home to Slavia Prague as Nicolas Pépé’s strike was cancelled out by Tomas Holes’ late equaliser.

Hege Riise has instructed England’s women to be brave and precise in their first match on foreign soil for more than a year against France in Caen on Friday night. The Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, has insisted he would have dropped Lewis Hamilton or the British driver’s then teammate Nico Rosberg from races had their rivalry continued to prove detrimental to the team. England’s Euro 2020 group matches at Wembley will have 22,500 fans, the Football Association has guaranteed Uefa, with the hope this figure will double to 45,000 for the semi-finals and final. The French Open has been postponed by a week because of Covid-19 measures in the country. Sachin Tendulkar has paid tribute to medical staff after returning home from hospital where he was treated for coronavirus. And AC Milan and Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is set to make his big screen debut in the next Asterix film.


China’s factory gate prices have beat analyst expectations to rise 4.4% in March, their fastest annual pace since July 2018, according to the country’s National Bureau of Statistics. Consumer prices also returned to inflation after two months of price falls. Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index has rebounded after falling a day earlier. Shares declined in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Sydney and Seoul. Expect the FTSE to open higher and if you’re exchanging currencies the pound is worth $1.373 and €1.153 at time of writing.

The papers

“Biden ramps up pressure on No 10 over Belfast riots”. The Guardian leads with the US president’s office condemning the violence and calling for a “secure and prosperous Northern Ireland”. Biden has previously warned Boris Johnson that any chance of a trade deal with the US is “contingent upon respect for the [peace] agreement and preventing the return of a hard border”. “Bad old days are back” says the Metro about the scenes in Northern Ireland, while more cheerfully it says “Get the beers in!” as venues prepare to reopen on Monday.

“Summer holidays: we have lift-off” – the Mail has its happy face on today, but a contrasting view in the Telegraph: “Backlash over cost of tests for holidays”. “Biden’s global tax plan calls on big multinationals to pay local levies” – the Financial Times rings the changes from the previous US administration. “I’ve got my Derek home” – the Sun on Kate Garraway’s husband, Derek Draper, returning home in a still fragile condition after more than a year in hospital with Covid.

“Keep taking AstraZeneca vaccination” is the i’s characteristically workmanlike splash headline. “Hotel tycoon stabbed to death” – the Express reports on how Richard Lexington was killed in an attack at his Dorset home. Also covered in the Mirror as “Hotels tycoon murdered in his mansion”. A man has been arrested.

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