Brits On Virus-Hit Ship To Be Repatriated
British nationals onboard the virus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship are to be flown back to the UK on Saturday. The delayed evacuation flight had previously been due to depart from Tokyo today but was "logistically complicated", the British embassy said. Two people have died and more than 600 people have been infected with the coronavirus after a major outbreak on the ship. Passengers have been kept onboard in quarantine measures for two weeks as the ship docked off the coast of Japan. Officials finally allowed those who tested negative for the virus to disembark the ship on Wednesday. Only British passengers who show no signs of illness will be permitted to board the evacuation flight, and all passengers will face two weeks of quarantine on their return to the UK.
Seventy-eight British nationals were reportedly on the cruise ship when it was quarantined on 5th February. The Foreign Office has pledged to continue supporting any Britons who wish to stay in Japan and do not join the evacuation flight. Japanese officials have faced criticism over their handling of the outbreak after one health expert described the ship’s quarantine as “completely inadequate”. Elsewhere, South Korea is facing a surge in coronavirus cases following a significant outbreak in Daegu. At least 41 new cases were confirmed in the city this morning. The mayor of Daegu has described the outbreak as an “unprecedented crisis” and urged residents to stay indoors.
FLOOD WARNINGS REMAIN AMID HEAVY RAIN
More than 90 flood warnings remained in place across the UK yesterday as heavy rainfall continued. In England, five severe flood warnings indicating danger to life remain around the rivers Lugg, Severn and Wye, close to the Welsh border. All three rivers – as well as the Trent, Colne, Calder and Derwent – have swelled to record levels. Yellow weather warnings for heavy rain were also issued by the Met Office in parts of southern Scotland, north-west England and Wales. The continued rainfall is expected to hinder recovery operations in affected communities. Hundreds of people have been evacuated from their homes and around 1,400 properties have been damaged in the floods.
The prime minister has faced criticism for failing to visit communities affected by the severe weather or call a Cobra emergency meeting to tackle the flooding. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has claimed Boris Johnson’s absence had shown his “true colours,” adding: “If the prime minister is not campaigning for votes in a general election, he simply does not care about helping communities affected by flooding.” Business minister Nadhim Zahawi has defended the prime minister, claiming Johnson wanted to focus on providing funding rather than “have a jamboree of media” attending flood sites. Owners of affected homes will be able to apply for a £500 emergency grant as part of relief measures.
German chancellor Angela Merkel speaks out following an attack on two shisha bars in Hanau, a town east of Frankfurt. Nine people were shot dead in the attacks on Wednesday. Five other people are in a life-threatening condition. The shootings are believed to have been racially motivated and according to the Turkish presidency, some of the those killed were of Turkish origin. After opening fire on the shisha bars, the gunman returned home and shot his 72-year-old mother, before turning the weapon on himself.
According to German newspaper the Bild, the gunman left a confession letter in which he expressed extreme right-wing views. He is also reported to have uploaded a video in which he explained his motives for the attacks. Police said the clip was taken down from social media sites on Thursday morning. The interior ministry of Hesse state said the gunman was not known to the authorities and had not attracted police attention as a result of his extremist views. Merkel has vowed that “everything will be done to investigate the circumstances of these terrible murders”.
In other news
PRITI PATEL ACCUSED OF BULLYING
The home secretary has attempted to oust her most senior civil servant in a conflict at the Home Office, the Times has reported. According to the paper, multiple sources inside the government department have accused Priti Patel of bullying officials and creating an “atmosphere of fear”. She has reportedly demanded her permanent secretary, Sir Philip Rutnam, be removed after he raised concerns about her behaviour. One Whitehall source said the clash was “completely unsustainable and was going to blow up”. Others have defended Patel, claiming she is a demanding boss but has never been unreasonable with civil service staff. A Home Office spokesperson said: “We have not received any formal complaints and we take the welfare of our staff extremely seriously.”
RETAIL SALES BOUNCE BACK
Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have revealed that retail sales improved in January after two months in decline. The new data showed the amount of goods sold in Britain increased by 0.9% last month – the largest monthly rise since March. Internet sales were also up 4.9% in January compared with the same month last year. According to Aled Patchett, head of retail and consumer goods at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, the figures suggest the economy is "on surer footing". However, Accenture managing director Andrew Carlisle expressed reservations over the improvement, saying: "While there was modest sales growth in January, it is not enough for retailers to get excited about." It follows research by the British Retail Consortium suggesting 2019 was the worst year on record for UK retailers.
MORE WOMEN KILLED BY PARTNERS
More than half of women killed by men in the UK in 2018 were killed by a current or former partner, according to the latest Femicide Census. The report, which is conducted by campaigner Karen Ingala Smith, found 91 of the 149 women killed by men had been killed by a partner or ex. The number represents an increase of ten compared with 2017 and is the highest number of deaths since the census began. Of those killed in 2018, 41% had left or were in the process of leaving their partner. Ingala Smith, who runs the domestic violence charity Nia, said many had expressed fear about their killer to police, family or other services. “It’s important that we challenge received wisdom about seeing leaving a violent relationship being a straightforward way that women can remove themselves from the danger of a violent partner,” she added.
14-DAY STRIKE HITS UNIVERSITIES
The University and College Union (UCU) launched strike action yesterday, with staff at 74 universities across the UK walking out over pensions, pay and conditions. The industrial action is set to last 14 days and follows eight days of strikes in November and December. University staff said they were taking action over disputes about workloads, pay, a 15% gender pay gap and changes to pensions for staff in the Universities Superannuation Scheme. UCU general secretary Jo Grady said the unprecedented level of action “shows just how angry staff are”. However, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association labelled the strikes “damaging” and said it had invited the union for further talks. The action is expected to affect more than 1m students. An online survey published by The Student Room suggested 47% of students think it is right for lecturers to strike.
NEW £20 NOTE ENTERS CIRCULATION
The new £20 has begun appearing in cash machines and tills after entering circulation on Thursday. Made of polymer, the banknote features a self-portrait painted by the artist JMW Turner and will replace the paper banknote which featured economist Adam Smith. The Bank of England said it would be giving six months’ notice before the old banknotes are withdrawn. The new £20 note is reportedly the most secure note the Bank of England has ever produced and includes a two-colour foil and two clear windows to help stop counterfeiters. Governor Mark Carney said: “I am delighted that the work of arguably the single most influential British artist of all time will now appear on another £2bn works of art – the new £20 notes.”
A teenage environmentalist is to be awarded an honorary doctorate by Bristol University in recognition of her activism and conservation. Seventeen-year-old Mya-Rose Craig, also known as Birdgirl, founded Black2Nature to encourage children from minority ethnic backgrounds to take part in conservation. Her work includes projects and camps for young BAME people aimed at helping them develop an interest in nature. Professor Rich Pancost, who nominated Craig for the doctorate, said she was “a champion for diversity and equity” in the environmental sector and had made “a real difference in the world”. She is the youngest Briton to ever be awarded an honorary doctorate.