George Eustice, the environment secretary, said today that the government will not “rule anything out”, amid heightened speculation that the lifting of lockdown will be delayed by at least two weeks. 

According to a cabinet source who spoke to The Times, Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, and Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, gave a “downbeat” briefing to ministers last night, in which they expressed reservations about the 21 June unlocking date.

No government official has confirmed the report. But the emergency package launched today in the North West is indicative of the government’s growing concern. Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has introduced new measures to curb the spread of the Delta variant in Greater Manchester and parts of Lancashire, including military support and supervised in-school testing. 

The government has been spooked by rising infection rates. On Monday, the UK recorded over 5600 cases – up 68 per cent in a week, and a hefty increase from the recent low of around 1,350 infections a day at the start of May.

Growing cases are now leading to an increase in hospitalisations. Yet so far the data still suggests that the vaccine is severing the link between infection and severe illness. 

Of the 12,383 cases of the Indian variant identified so far, 126 have led to hospital admissions. Eighty-three of those hospitalised had not been vaccinated, 28 had received one dose, while just three had received their double dose. 

The invitation for over 25s to book their vaccine came as welcome news today – with many comparing their experience booking a slot on the inundated NHS site to waiting in line for a festival ticket. 

Over 76 per cent of the adult population have already had their first dose, and more than half have had both doses. 

These vaccination figures are lifting the public mood yet it seems they may not be enough to quell fears about a premature unlocking. 

Boris Johnson is expected to convene a Cabinet meeting this weekend, and Monday is judgement day – when the PM will announce his final verdict on whether or not our freedom date of 21 June will be pushed back. 

It’s a Givan

Paul Givan, the Lagan Valley assembly member, is set to become Northern Ireland’s youngest ever First Minister. 

On Monday, 39 year-old Givan will replace Arlene Foster, who was ousted as DUP leader in April following an internal revolt. 

The news comes as no great surprise – the Unionist politician was widely tipped for the role. 

He has a long association with Edwin Poots, Stormont’s agriculture minister, who has replaced Forster as DUP leader. His first taste of politics came when he took up a post as Poots’ part-time assistant as a student. 

Givan has gained a reputation as one of the more socially conservative DUP members. In February, he proposed legislation aimed at preventing access to abortion in Northern Ireland in cases of non-fatal disabilities, and in 2014, he tried to introduce a “conscience clause” into Northern Ireland’s equality legislation, to create an exemption for strongly held religious belief. The latter measure was a reaction to the so-called “gay cake” row in which a Christian bakery faced legal action for refusing to bake a cake containing a pro-gay marriage slogan. 

The appointment of a new First Minister comes at a time of heightened tension over the Northern Ireland protocol – and resulting rows over “bonkers” bans on sausages. A crunch meeting is taking place tomorrow between EU and UK leaders to resolve issues stemming from this unpopular part of the Brexit deal which created a trade border in the Irish Sea. 

Poots has already said that he intends to use the courts to get the protocol scrapped. But Givan avoided the topic, for today at least. 

Cons conned

An FBI-sponsored fake messaging service has led to a “staggering” mass-raid against global organised crime, the FBI announced today.

Six tonnes of cocaine, $48 million dollars in various currencies and a McLaren sports car are among the loot seized by police today in over a hundred countries, plus 800 arrests.

The ruse? ANOM: a supposedly secure WhatsApp-for-crooks distributed by undercover police to unwitting criminals. Global mafias bought it completely and ANOM spread to over 12,000 devices, leading to the interception of over 27 million messages.

The success of the sting is a testament to initiative and diplomacy. The FBI says it collaborated with an ex-criminal to develop the software before using them as a mole to help build trust in the platform which helped to uncover 21 murder plots and a slew of cases of high-level public corruption across several countries. 

Caitlin Allen,
Reaction Reporter