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Covid 19

Labor demands 200 big companies reveal if they used jobkeeper to pay dividends

Exclusive: move comes amid disquiet over what’s been dubbed ‘dividendkeeper’, where the subsidy is used to prop up payments to shareholders

The Labor frontbencher Andrew Leigh has written to more than 200 big companies, including Apple, McDonald’s and Microsoft, asking them to reveal whether they have received jobkeeper subsidies and used the money to pay shareholder dividends or executive bonuses.

His move comes amid investor disquiet over what has been dubbed “dividendkeeper”, where companies use the subsidy, which was designed to keep workers hit by the coronavirus recession connected to their jobs, to prop up payments to shareholders.

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Covid 19

Rishi Sunak warned public sector’s food supply at risk

Wholesalers providing food for care homes, schools, hospitals and prisons call for government support

The supply of food to care homes, schools, hospitals and prisons is at risk unless the government steps in to support struggling wholesalers, the UK chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has been warned.

Trade bodies representing major food companies said the loss of business from the hospitality sector, which has been rocked by the 10pm curfew and limits on household mixing, meant that firms which also serve the public sector could fail.

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Covid 19

Handling of Covid-19 increases ‘red wall’ voters’ complaints of government

Northerners increasingly feel lockdown measures are unfairly imposed from above

Furious talk of the “north/south divide” surfaced again and again when I interviewed voters for my new book, Beyond the Red Wall.

Resentment is long-standing and reflected in recent polling by BritainThinks: 64% of people in the north-east, 68% in Yorkshire and 70% in the north-west believe that “other areas get more resource than mine” while only 32% of people in London and the south-east do. One “red waller” told me: “The north-west generates money and it all goes down to London. We create it, we need it, but they get it.” Another explained: “You could draw a line right across the middle of Britain – the bottom half is the haves and the top half is the have-nots.”

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Covid 19

What has gone wrong with England’s Covid test-and-trace system?

It was supposed to be ‘world beating’ but experts say it is having only a ‘marginal impact’

When the NHS test-and-trace system was launched in late May, Boris Johnson promised it would help “move the country forward”. We would be able to see our families, go to work and stop the economy crumbling.

In the absence of a vaccine, the prime minister’s “world-beating” system would be worth every penny of the £10bn funding that Rishi Sunak announced in July. The chancellor said it would enable people to carry on normal lives.

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Covid 19

UK’s test and trace ‘having marginal impact’: which countries got it right?

Scientists’ verdict on £12bn system has refocused attention on what is working elsewhere in cutting Covid-19 transmission rates

The newly released assessment by the UK government’s scientific advisers that the £12bn test and trace programme “is having a marginal impact” in reducing Covid-19 transmission has refocused attention on how other countries are faring with their regimes.

Since test-and-trace programmes were first mooted around the world at the outset of the pandemic – including monitoring via apps or hardware – they have been beset by issues of privacy and public support over both downloading and using apps and also with a wider willingness to abide by isolation measures.

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Covid 19

The Guardian view on The Great British Bake Off: a far from guilty pleasure | Editorial

It has always existed in a parallel universe, free from real-world anxieties. Now the show is seductive as never before

The Great British Bake Off has always felt part of another, kinder, parallel universe, uniquely protected from the harsh and wicked realities of the real world. Inside the tent the stakes for success and failure, for gladness and despondency, are comically low: whether an Italian meringue will add too much sweetness to a brownie; whether a Genoese sponge will be overbaked, rendering it a touch on the dry side; whether the act of adding polenta to a citrus-flavoured soda bread will cause it to taste like “lemon drizzle cake in a sandstorm”, as Paul Hollywood put it. In the Bake Off tent exists a Britain that is safe, multicultural, meritocratic; where class difference is played for laughs; where oddly dressed men can safely be fond and affectionate to each other without attracting spite.

The formula, over the past decade, has perhaps seemed a little stale at times, as it weathered and survived its move from the BBC to Channel 4, and lost its benign tutelary goddess, Dame Mary Berry. But this year’s season is as fresh and delicious as a fruit scone straight out of the oven and slathered thickly with jam and clotted cream. It seems that Bake Off is just what the troubled mind requires in a pandemic. It is a rule that Bake Off never mentions politics – a rule that was gleefully broken at the beginning of the first episode with new presenter Matt Lucas’s cheeky parody of the prime minister’s coronavirus press conferences and the motto “stay alert – protect cake – bake loaves” emblazoned on his podium. Mercifully, though, politics are absent from the tent itself. And because of the pandemic the contestants, the judges and the production team formed their own “bubble” – making the metaphor of Bake Off’s separation from the rest of the world quite fittingly and suddenly real. In Bake Off world, that Shangri-La, people actually hug one other.

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Covid 19

Between Covid, climate change and the budget, no wonder women are rethinking having babies | Jane Caro

Josh Frydenberg has urged women to have more children – but there was nothing in the budget to encourage them to do so

In July in a speech to the National Press Club, treasurer Josh Frydenberg urged Australian women to have more babies. He was lighthearted about it (well, he can be, of course, it isn’t his body or financial future that will bear the brunt or the baby). “I won’t go as far as to say, like Peter Costello, one for the mother, one for the father and one for the country. But I can say people should feel encouraged about the future, and the more children we have across the country, together with migration, we will build our population growth and that will be good for the economy.”

A new baby boom may well be good for the economy, but the question increasingly being asked by women of child-bearing age is whether it will be good for either them or for the children they may give birth to. Dr Ginni Mansberg, a GP in the Sydney suburb of Sans Souci, has noticed an interesting trend at her practice this year. “I’ve had patients who had stopped taking the pill to get pregnant coming back in for another script telling me ‘now’s not the right time.’” And the statistics back her observation to the hilt.

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Covid 19

The pursuit of herd immunity is a folly – so who’s funding this bad science?

Links between an anti-lockdown declaration and a libertarian thinktank suggest a hidden agenda

Earlier this month, in a wood-panelled room at a country estate in Massachusetts, three defiantly unmasked professors gathered around a large oak table to sign a declaration about the global response to the pandemic. One academic had flown across the Atlantic from Oxford; another had travelled from California. The signing ceremony had been carefully orchestrated for media attention, with a slick website and video produced to accompany the event, and an ostentatious champagne toast to follow.

You may not have heard of the “Great Barrington declaration” but you’ll likely have seen the headlines that followed it. Journalists have written excitedly about an emerging rift in the scientific community as the consensus around the most effective response to Covid supposedly disintegrates. The declaration, which called for an immediate resumption of “life as normal” for everyone but the “vulnerable”, fuelled these notions by casting doubt on the utility of lockdown restrictions. “We know that all populations will eventually reach herd immunity”, it stated.

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Covid 19

The pitched battle over lockdowns is missing the point: Covid-19 is a class issue | John Harris

The UK coronavirus crisis – even more so in its second phase – is all about basic inequalities – and lockdown makes these worse

Just as our final exit from the EU comes into view, noise from the media and politics about Covid-19 is sounding discomfortingly similar to the furies that erupted around the 2016 referendum.

On one side stands the political right, opposed to lockdown, apparently spurning the advice of experts, and seemingly convinced that a mixture of true-Brit common sense and derring-do will somehow see us through. The left, meanwhile, emphasises the importance of “the science”, and the prospect of disaster. As in the US, it is beginning to feel like any contentious political question will now trigger these polarised responses – not necessarily in the population at large, but certainly among the people whose opinions define what passes for the national conversation.

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Covid 19

Alarming new data shows the UK was the ‘sick man’ of Europe even before Covid | Richard Horton

A global study has exposed how poorly prepared Britain was for a virus that targets our most vulnerable people

  • Richard Horton is a doctor and edits the Lancet

Our health is determined by far more than a single virus. This week, a team of scientists in Seattle, together with thousands of contributors around the world, assembled 3.5bn pieces of data to construct what they are calling the Global Burden of Disease. The story this data tells us about Britain is alarming. On some of the most important measures of health, the four nations of the United Kingdom perform worse than our nearest neighbours. Even with coronavirus out of the picture, Britain is the sick man, woman and child of Europe.

The headline findings from the report are clear. In 2019, life expectancy at birth in the UK was 82.9 years for a woman and 79.2 years for a man (the average for both was 81.1 years). These numbers look good, especially when compared with historical figures. In 1950, for example, the average life expectancy at birth for a UK citizen was 68.9 years. The combined effects of economic growth, better education and an improved NHS have delivered an extra 12 years of life. Impressive.

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