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Ten Things You Need to Know Today: 2 March 2023

1

Pandemic schools clash

Matt Hancock staged a “rearguard action” to close schools during the pandemic, despite Gavin Williamson battling “tooth and nail” to keep classrooms open, leaked WhatsApp messages reported by The Telegraph have suggested. Conversations published by the newspaper reveal that the then health secretary battled the education secretary in December 2020, insisting it was “mad” that Williamson was attempting to keep schools open. Primary schools returned on 4 January 2021, only for the closure of all schools to be announced that evening. A spokesperson for Hancock said the leaks offer “partial accounts, obviously spun with an agenda”.

Matt Hancock and the Lockdown Files: what’s happening with the Covid inquiry?

2

Art replaces antidepressants

Art and gardening classes will replace codeine and antidepressants as part of an NHS drive to help millions stop using prescription drugs, said The Times. Under new national guidance, GPs are asked to stop writing repeat prescriptions for those who have become dependent on common medications. The NHS England plan, which “aims to avoid a US-style opioid crisis”, recommends that patients be sent to art, music or gardening classes, instead of being prescribed painkillers. Pharmacists will be asked to watch for people who frequently buy codeine over the counter.

FEB 22: ‘Empire of pain’: the rise and fall of the Sackler family

3

Bank dampens rates speculation

Financial markets are wrong to assume interest rates will rise further, according to the governor of the Bank of England.  Andrew Bailey said the bank no longer presumed it would increase rates beyond the current 4%, to combat the high rates of inflation, despite market expectations of higher rises. Bailey said he had not seen any data to justify such a position, adding that, as of its meeting last month, the Bank had shifted from its previous stance “that further increases in [the benchmark] bank rate would be required”. 

When will UK inflation fall?

4

Journo details Hancock threats

The journalist behind the “Lockdown Files” leaks has claimed that Hancock sent her a “threatening message” at 1:20am yesterday morning. Writing for The Telegraph, Isabel Oakeshott, who helped the former health secretary write his pandemic memoirs, said Hancock “can threaten me all he likes”. While speaking to TalkTV, she described the message as “menacing”, adding that Hancock was “extremely troubled in terms of how to respond to this”. A spokesperson for Hancock declined to comment on the latest claim but in a previous statement, his spokesperson said The Telegraph had published “a “distorted account of the pandemic” to “fit an anti-lockdown agenda”.

Matt Hancock’s Pandemic Diaries: a ‘fundamentally dishonest’ write-up?

5

Baby’s remains found in search

The remains of a baby have been found in the search for the missing child of Constance Marten and Mark Gordon. Police said the body had been found in a wooded area of Brighton, close to where the couple were arrested earlier this week. Detective Superintendent Lewis Basford said police would “do everything we possibly can to establish what has happened”. The couple disappeared early last month and were arrested this week. They are being held on suspicion of gross negligence manslaughter.

Constance Marten: runaway aristocrat arrested

6

Havana Syndrome ‘not caused by foreign power’

Authorities in the US believe it is “very unlikely” that the mystery illness dubbed “Havana Syndrome” is caused by a hostile foreign power. Over the past seven years, US diplomats in several nations have reported symptoms, fuelling suggestions that Russia, China or other countries could be behind it. The new assessment, compiled by the CIA and six intelligence agencies, “undercuts a years-long narrative, propped up by more than a thousand reports from government employees”, that a foreign adversary used “pulsed electro-magnetic energy waves to sicken Americans”, said Politico.

OCT 21: What causes Havana Syndrome?

7

Government may vaccinate poultry

Ministers are considering vaccinating the country’s poultry flock against bird flu in a bid to curb the worst-ever global outbreak of the virus. In what would be a “major change of UK policy”, government officials and scientists may scrap a ban on vaccinating birds, according to the i news site. Professor Ian Brown, who is leading the UK’s fight against bird flu, warned this would not be a “simple fix”. The virus has spread to Central and South America, which could put at risk critically endangered species, including penguins in Antarctica.

H5N1: bird flu in mammals stoking fears of human ‘spill-over’

8

Harry and Meghan confirm Frogmore report

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have been asked to vacate Frogmore Cottage, their spokesperson has confirmed. Frogmore Cottage, a Grade-II listed 10-bedroom property in the grounds of Windsor Castle, was a gift to the couple from the late Queen, but according to reports the couple were told to leave the property by Buckingham Palace in January, 24 hours after Harry published his headline-grabbing memoir, Spare. The couple have until after the coronation of King Charles to vacate the property, according to The Sun.

MAY 22: Inside Frogmore Cottage: everything we know about Harry and Meghan’s first family home

9

Hosepipe bans ‘almost inevitable’

Meteorologists have said that hosepipe bans and drought restrictions are “almost inevitable” this year after the driest February in 30 years. England had an average of 15.3mm of rain last month, 23% of its average and the least since 1993. “Obviously, lots of things can happen between now and the summer,” said Dr Stephen Burt, from the University of Reading’s Atmospheric Observatory, “but if it remains dry for the next month, I think there would be a lot of alarm bells ringing.”

10

ITV hints Clarkson may be dropped

ITV has revealed that it has no commitments to Jeremy Clarkson after the next series of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, signalling that he may not be renewed. Speaking to Variety magazine, Carolyn McCall, the channel’s chief executive officer, said that ITV is yet to sign up Clarkson for another series of the long-running gameshow. Her comments came after a column Clarkson wrote for The Sun in which he wrote that the Duchess of Sussex should be forced to parade naked through the streets and have “lumps of excrement thrown at her”.

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