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Monday briefing: Next pandemic could be worse, expert warns

·8 min read
<span>Photograph: Neil Hall/EPA</span>
Photograph: Neil Hall/EPA

Creator of AstraZeneca vaccine says pandemic is far from over … teens bombarded by explicit images … Aung San Suu Kyi jailed for four years


Top story: Travel rules ‘too late’ to stop Omicron wave

Morning everyone. I’m Martin Farrer and these are today’s top stories.

The Oxford professor who created the AstraZeneca vaccine has warned that the pandemic is far from over and the next one could be even more lethal. As fears grow about the spread of the Omicron Covid variant, Prof Dame Sarah Gilbert said that it “will not be the last time a virus threatens our lives and our livelihoods”, adding that the next one “could be more contagious, or more lethal, or both”. Her warning came as ministers were told by one of their scientific advisers that the new variant was spreading rapidly in the UK, and tougher travel rules starting tomorrow would be too late to prevent a potential wave of infections. There were 86 new Omicron cases reported yesterday, taking the total identified so far to 246. At the same time, activists have warned that failure to vaccinate the world against coronavirus has created a breeding ground for Omicron and should serve as a wake-up call to wealthy nations.

New figures show that 12- to 15-year-olds in some parts of England are three times more likely to be vaccinated than others. London has the lowest vaccination rate with just one in three children having received their first jab. Read more on this and other developments in the pandemic at our live blog here.

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ASSK jailed – Aung San Suu Kyi has been jailed for four years for incitement and breaking a natural disasters law, according to reports, the first sentence to be handed down to Myanmar’s ousted leader since the junta seized power and accused her of a litany of crimes that could lead to decades in prison. Aung San Suu Kyi, 76, has been accused of a series offences - from unlawful possession of walkie-talkies, to breaches of the Official Secrets Act. Her lawyer has previously described the cases as “absurd”.

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Image problem – Schools and parents should do more to support students who are being sexually harassed through platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram, while the tech companies need to clamp down on non-consensual sexual images being sent to young people, according to new research released on Monday. The study by academics at University College London and the University of Kent found that just over 50% of teenagers who had been sent unsolicited sexually explicit images via social media apps say they have not reported the offences to either their parents, authorities or the companies involved.

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War on drugs – Middle-class drug users are to be targeted as part of a 10-year strategy to be announced by the government, with a heavy focus on war-on-drugs-era punishment. So-called “lifestyle” users of class-A drugs face losing their passports or driving licences under proposals designed to target wealthy professionals who ministers will argue are driving exploitative practices with their demand. Police will be allowed to go through drug dealers’ phones and contact their clients to warn about drug use.

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France violence – Violence broke out last night at a rally by the far-right French presidential candidate Éric Zemmour, just days after he formally declared his candidacy, in a video highlighting his anti-migrant and anti-Islam views. Zemmour, a former TV pundit, appeared to be put in a headlock by a protester at the event near Paris, suffering light injuries. Anti-racism activists were also reportedly attacked after they stood up with “No to Racism” written on their T-shirts. Valérie Pécresse was chosen as the presidential candidate for the rightwing Les Républicains, and said her “mission” was to stop “zig-zagging” Emmanuel Macron from winning a second term.

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John Whaite and his dance partner Johannes Radebe on Strictly Come Dancing
John Whaite, right, and his dance partner Johannes Radebe on Strictly Come Dancing. Photograph: Guy Levy/PA

Next step – Strictly Come Dancing’s John Whaite – who made history as part of the show’s first all-male couple – has said he initially intended to dance with a straight partner, and expected much more criticism and disapproval than he received. The former Great British Bake Off winner and his professional dancing partner Johannes Radebe followed in the footsteps of Olympian Nicola Adams and Katya Jones, who formed the show’s first all-female couple last year.

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Lost treasure – A mountaineer who stumbled across a box of precious stones buried on a glacier on Mont Blanc after a plane crash 50 years ago has been given a share of the treasure. The emeralds, rubies and sapphires were thought lost when an Indian airliner crashed on the mountain in 1966 but they were discovered by the climber in 2013. After an extensive search in vain for their owner, the climber will share the €300,000 (£255,000) horde with the local authorities in France.

Today in Focus podcast: Escobar’s ‘cocaine hippos’

Hippos imported into Colombia by the drug kingpin Pablo Escobar have become a biodiversity nightmare after being allowed to roam free after he was shot dead by security forces in 1993. Joe Parkin Daniels tells Michael Safi how the Colombian government plans to tackle the problem.

Lunchtime read: New start at 60 – ‘I’ve never been happier’

The latest in our series on people making a new start at 60 features Siobhan Daniels, a former TV reporter from Kent who decided to tackle her career and emotional burn-out by selling her home and taking off in a motorhome. Her adventure has taken her all over Britain and she has even made light of the chore of having to empty the toilet with a much-viewed TikTok video. “I’ve made a lifestyle choice to live with very little, to be free and to travel,” she says. “And I’ve never been happier.”

Sport

Lewis Hamilton hit out at his Formula One title rival Max Verstappen after the world champion won a chaotic Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, describing him as unwilling to obey the rules and his driving as over the limit. Ralf Rangnick was delighted with Manchester United’s “front-foot” performance as his opening match as interim manager ended with a 1-0 win against Crystal Palace, with Fred the unlikely goalscoring hero at Old Trafford. Emma Hayes praised the tactical masterclass delivered by her team after Chelsea ripped apart the league leaders, Arsenal, to secure last season’s FA Cup with a 3-0 win in front of a buoyant Wembley crowd. Chris Silverwood expects Ben Stokes will make his Test return at the Gabba this week and the head coach believes the very presence of England’s Headingley hero from 2019 has lifted hopes of winning back the Ashes from Australia this winter. Western Australia’s tough Covid rules means the fifth Test will definitely not be played in Perth, with Hobart or Melbourne the possible alternbatives for the finale.

Leicester will turn their attentions to Europe buoyed by claiming the scalp of the Premiership champions Harlequins to continue their 100% winning start to the season. Norway’s Magnus Carlsen is on the verge of retaining his world chess championship after defeating Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi for the second time in three days on Sunday in the eighth game of their €2m (£1.71m) showdown in Dubai. Zhao Xintong completed a 10-5 win over Luca Brecel to claim the UK Championship crown in York. Jordan Spieth and Henrik Stenson saw the funny side after they were penalised for playing from the wrong tee in the final round of the Hero World Challenge. Jamaica grabbed a consolation victory, beating England 63-53, but the Roses won the three-match netball series 2-1.

Business

Economic forecasters have slashed expectations for Britain’s recovery and said further pain could follow, depending on the severity of the Covid variant Omicron. The CBI said in June that it expected the economy to expand by 8.2% but has cut that to 6.9% and revised down its 2022 forecast from 6.9% to 5.1%. Renewed concerns that China Evergrande is heading for default sent its shares crashing 12% in Hong Kong. The FTSE100 is on course to start the week with a jump of 0.4% while the pound is fetching $1.324 and €1.172.

The papers

Covid concerns top the agenda for most papers, with the Guardian leading with “Next virus could be more lethal, warns scientist behind vaccine”, and the Telegraph reporting “More than 300,000 housebound yet to get booster jabs”. Travel issues are the lead in the i – “Backlash over new travel test rule as families face cost hike” – and the Scotsman: “Scots travel industry fury as pre-flight tests return”. The Mirror says Covid could spread during the holiday season: “Beware cost of Christmas”.

The Times splash is “PM plans to let ministers throw out legal rulings”, the Mail goes with “Harry’s swipe at Charles’ Saudi donor”, and the Express says “At last! Brexit shake-up to boost Britain’s firms”. The Sun leads with the Arthue Labinjo-Hughes tragedy – “Throw away the key” – while the FT has “Lloyds targets wealthy and rental property in fresh push for growth”.

• This article was amended on 6 December 2021. Pablo Escobar was killed in 1993, not 1995 as an earlier version stated.

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