Friday briefing: The return of Dr Fauci

Top story: ‘Help is on the way’ as vaccines finalised

Hello, Warren Murray here. You deserve to know, so here we go …

Dr Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious diseases expert, has returned to the White House podium after months of being sidelined by Donald Trump. He promised “the cavalry is on the way” in the form of coronavirus vaccines – but urged one last great effort to stop the spread. Fauci enthused over the likely rollout of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that have shown more than 90% efficacy – “We’ll be getting vaccine doses into people at a high priority at the end of December.” Fauci was speaking at the White House coronavirus taskforce’s first press briefing since July, and was joined by its chair – the vice-president, Mike Pence – and others. There was no sign of voted-out president Donald Trump.

Dr Fauci allays Covid vaccine development speed concerns, reiterates public health measures – video

Fauci warned that until a vaccine came “we need to actually double down on the public health measures … We’re not talking about shutting down the country, we’re not talking about locking down. We’re talking about intensifying the simple public health measures that we all talk about: mask wearing, [social] distance, avoiding congregant settings … If we do that, we’ll be able to hold things off until the vaccine comes.”

Joe Biden meanwhile has castigated Trump as one of the “most irresponsible presidents in American history”. The election winner said the president’s refusal to give access to key federal agencies was affecting the Biden team’s ability to create a plan to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, particularly around vaccine distribution. In Michigan, Trump has mounted an all-out assault on the election result, reportedly planning to fly state lawmakers to meet with him in Washington on Friday after he phoned county officials in an apparent attempt to derail the certification of Biden’s 150,000-vote victory. Trump has been pressuring Republican state lawmakers to try to hijack the electoral college by advancing their own slates of electors, rather than the Democrat electors that the state voted for. Biden has been confirmed as the winner in the state of Georgia after a recount reaffirmed the original result. Nationwide the Democrat is nearing a record 80m votes as counting continues.


Equal Pay Day – Women in their mid-30s will never know equal pay in their working lives if progress towards tackling the gender gap is not accelerated, according to new analysis. To mark Equal Pay Day, the day each year that women in the UK effectively stop being paid because of the gap, Labour has said 8.5 million women will go their entire careers without receiving equal pay. It comes as research from the Fawcett Society reveals 43% of working women, and 50% of black and minority ethnic working women – compared with 35% of white working men – are worried about their job and promotion prospects because of coronavirus, while one-third of working women have lost work or hours because of pandemic-related childcare issues. The Office for National Statistics says the mean gender pay gap is 14.6%, down from 16.3% last year. Fawcett calculates it differently at 11.5%, down from 13.1%, but says figures are less reliable this year because the pandemic meant less data was gathered.


Sunak’s sights on public servant pay – Rishi Sunak is preparing to announce a squeeze on public sector pay in response to the economic shock of the pandemic. Government sources said pay restraint would be part of Sunak’s mini-budget on Wednesday. The belt-tightening for public servants – many of them at the pandemic frontline, although NHS workers for example are expected to be exempt – is likely to contrast sharply with Boris Johnson’s generous four-year settlement for the armed forces. The prime minister told the Commons he wanted the UK to be Europe’s leading naval power, and said the budget increase would help to equip the Ministry of Defence with swarms of drones, and “directed energy weapons”. Johnson declined to confirm whether the government would abide by its manifesto commitment to maintain overseas aid spending at 0.7% of national income. Leaders of nearly 200 charities have written to the PM urging him to ditch a plan to cut the target to 0.5%.


Booker for Shuggie Bain writer – The Scottish-American author Douglas Stuart has won the Booker prize for his first novel, Shuggie Bain, a story based on his own life that follows a boy growing up in poverty in 1980s Glasgow with a mother who is battling addiction. Stuart, 44, has described himself as “a working-class kid who had a different career and came to writing late”.


This years Booker prize shortlisted authors: (top L-R) winner Douglas Stuart, Diane Cook, Avni Doshi, (bottom L-R) Brandon Taylor, Maaza Mengiste and Tsitsi Dangarembga.

This year’s Booker prize shortlisted authors: (top L-R) winner Douglas Stuart, Diane Cook, Avni Doshi, (bottom L-R) Brandon Taylor, Maaza Mengiste and Tsitsi Dangarembga. Photograph: David Parry/PA

He is the second Scot to win the £50,000 award after James Kelman took the prize in 1994 with How Late It Was, How Late, a book Stuart said “changed his life” because it was the first time he saw “my people, my dialect, on the page”. After last year’s judges provoked controversy by flouting the rules to choose two winners, Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo, this year’s judges’ meeting was “unanimous and quick”, said the Booker’s literary director, Gaby Wood.


Evidence weighs against Patel – A Cabinet Office inquiry into allegations of bullying by Priti Patel has found evidence she broke the ministerial code, the Guardian has been told. Sources familiar with the inquiry said it had found evidence that civil servants were treated poorly by Patel, as well as compelling evidence of bullying. Boris Johnson is expected to release a decision on the inquiry within weeks but it is not likely to demand the home secretary’s resignation. He has been criticised for compromising the inquiry by insisting he would continue to support Patel.


Boris Johnson and Priti Patel sanitise their hands.

Boris Johnson and Priti Patel sanitise their hands. Photograph: Reuters

Patel is also facing possible questioning at an employment tribunal hearing next September over alleged constructive dismissal of Philip Rutnam. The former Home Office permanent secretary quit over what he described as a “vicious and orchestrated campaign” against him for challenging alleged mistreatment of civil servants.


Premature end for nuclear plant – The Hinkley Point B nuclear power plant in Somerset is to close down in the first half of 2022, a year earlier than scheduled. Matt Sykes, the managing director of EDF Generation, said an inspection of graphite blocks in the reactor core revealed cracks – “exactly the sort of condition” expected after 40 years of operation. EDF had expected the shutdown to take place after the start-up of Hinkley Point C, the first new nuclear power plant being built in the UK in a generation. It was due to begin generating “well before 2020” but has been the subject of hold-ups over what price the government will guarantee for the electricity it produces.

Today in Focus podcast: Samuel Paty and French freedoms

The killing of a teacher who had shown his class cartoons of the prophet Muhammad during a lesson on free speech has rekindled a debate in France over secularism and the state’s role in regulating free expression.

Today in Focus

Samuel Paty and French freedoms

Lunchtime read: G20 and Saudi Arabia’s image problem

Human rights abuses, the Jamal Khashoggi murder and fuelling a destructive war in Yemen have left the kingdom a pariah as it hosts a global showpiece that has been pared back to a webinar by Covid-19. Patrick Wintour examines a critical moment for Saudi Arabia in which the cover provided by Donald Trump’s indifference to the excesses of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is soon to expire.


Donald Trump speaks and Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince.

Donald Trump speaks and Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince. Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

And in case you missed it, Martin Chulov relays detainees’ stories from the “Night of the Beatings” in which nearly 400 of Saudi Arabia’s most powerful people, among them princes, tycoons and ministers, were rounded up and detained in the Ritz-Carlton hotel, in the biggest and most contentious purge in the modern kingdom’s history.

Sport

Top-ranked England and France have been drawn in the same pool for next year’s Women’s Rugby World Cup, while the hosts and holders, New Zealand, were drawn with Australia at a ceremony in Auckland. Eddie Jones has questioned the legality of Ireland’s scrummaging on the eve of a Twickenham showdown he has billed as England’s most important game of the year. Premiership Rugby will have access to WhatsApp messages as well as players’ bank statements and tax returns following the introduction of far-reaching powers aimed at catching salary cap cheats.

Rafael Nadal has beaten the ebullient young incumbent, Stefanos Tsitsipas, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, on Thursday night to move to within two wins of lifting only the second indoor hardcourt title of his career. Not for the first time, Conor McGregor has decided his UFC career is not over after all and will return to the octagon to face Dustin Poirier on 23 January. Dawid Malan may be No 1 in the global Twenty20 batting rankings but he insists this lofty position comes with no guarantees – not least as regards his place in the England team for their forthcoming series against South Africa.

Business

Asian stock markets have struggled again overnight after US Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin called for an end to coronavirus pandemic relief for struggling businesses. He has written to the US Federal Reserve saying that the $450bn allocated to Treasury for assistance should be handed back to Congress to reallocate. The S&P 500 on Wall Street will open 0.5% lower later as a result but the FTSE 100 is on course for a 0.2% rise at the opening. The pound is on $1.327 and €1.117.

The papers

The Guardian’s splash is “New spending row as Sunak puts squeeze on public sector salaries” with Priti Patel the picture lead alongside “Cuts and Covid delay court cases until 2023”. James Mulholland QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association, has told the Guardian that the already critically underfunded criminal justice system has been brought “on its knees” by the pandemic’s impact: “We are holding people in custody for up to 18 months. There’s no compensation if they are found not guilty. We have 17-year-olds who are not going to be tried until 2023. Will they have to spend their youth waiting for an outcome that will impact their whole life?” The Mail covers the mini-budget too: “Pay blow for 5m to fill Covid black hole”.


Guardian front page, Friday 20 November 2020

Guardian front page, Friday 20 November 2020. Photograph: Guardian

The Telegraph’s front-page lead is “Army to hire specialists for hi-tech future wars” and it uses a picture of the Queen and Prince Philip opening cards on their 73rd anniversary. The Metro splashes with “Control the meerkat” … hmm … wait I get it now! Comparethemarket has been fined for breaking competition law. The Mirror has “Tories in dock over care home scandal” – a daughter who lost her father to Covid-19 has won the first stage of a high court challenge against the government’s policy of discharging hospital patients into care homes without tests.

The i reports “Hope for vaccine in UK within fortnight”, while Sun enthuses there will be “1m jabs a day”. The on-again-off-again story of seasonal observances features on the front of the Express: “Boris battles experts to save Christmas”, complaining as only the Express would that obstacles to winding back restrictions are being put in his path by “gloomy scientific warnings” from experts. The Times has “Patel guilty of bullying staff, leaked report finds”.

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