Top story: ‘Heading in the wrong direction’
Good morning and welcome to this Monday briefing with me, Alison Rourke.
This morning the country’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, and chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, will appeal directly to the public in a rare televised address at around 11am, warning that a “critical point has been reached” with coronavirus. The pair are expected to warn of a “very challenging winter period” and urge people to exercise caution. They are likely to compare the UK to France and Spain, which have seen a surge in cases translate into increasing hospitalisations and deaths. Yesterday, Matt Hancock warned Britain had reached a “tipping point” and another national lockdown had not been ruled out. London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, will meet council leaders today, with a spokesperson saying it was “better for both health and business to move too early than too late”. It comes as fears in Whitehall grow that the virus growing unchecked has been exacerbated by shortcomings in the government’s testing system. As cases escalate, NHS bosses have drawn up plans for certain hospitals to be designated coronavirus-free zones, in a tacit admission that the March shutdown denied some patients vital care. Prof Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, writes for the Guardian that it is “comically depressing that the UK government, one of the richest in the world, does not have a functional testing system that returns results within 24 hours”. As further restrictions loom, her main advice is to get outside as much as possible when seeing others, as “research has shown that 97% of ‘super-spreading’ events occur indoors, and that outdoor transmission is minimal”.
Biden appeals to Senate – Joe Biden has appealed to the conscience of Republicans over the supreme court replacement for Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “I’m not speaking to President Trump, who’ll do whatever he wants,” the Democratic candidate said. “I’m speaking to those Republicans out there, Senate Republicans, who know deep down what is right for the country and consistent with the constitution.” He said trying to “jam through” a new justice was “just an exercise in raw political power and I don’t believe the people of this nation will stand for it”, adding it would represent an “abuse of power”. On Sunday, a second Republican senator, Lisa Murkowski from Alaska, said she would not support a new nomination before the election on 3 November. The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, can now afford to lose only one more senator if he is to achieve his aim of tilting the court firmly to the right for a generation or more.
High-carbon addiction – The wealthiest 1% of the world’s population were responsible for more than twice as much carbon dioxide emissions as the poorer half of the world from 1990 to 2015, according to new research by Oxfam and the Stockholm Environment Institute. Tim Gore, head of policy, advocacy and research at Oxfam International, told the Guardian that rampant overconsumption and addiction to high-carbon transport were exhausting the world’s “carbon budget”, which had been “squandered to expand the consumption of the already rich, rather than to improve humanity”. The report comes as the UK is poised to bring forward its ban on new fossil fuel vehicles from 2040 to 2030 to help speed up the rollout of electric vehicles across British roads.
‘Stoptober’ – Smokers are being urged to give up their cigarettes in October as the proportion of people quitting this year has reached its highest point in more than a decade. Data from the UCL Smoking Toolkit study shows that in England in 2020 there has been an increase of almost two-thirds in the quitting success rate, rising from 14% to 23%, the highest since at least 2007. There has also been a surge in smokers in England trying to quit, increasing by 22% from 2019, with experts saying attitudes have been changed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Emmys 2020 – It was a night of disappointment for British contenders at the Emmy awards, which was almost entirely virtual. British and Irish talent, including Olivia Colman, Jodie Comer, Brian Cox, Jeremy Irons, Helena Bonham Carter and Paul Mescal, all ended up empty handed in the individual categories. The big winners were Watchmen (11 awards) and Schitt’s Creek (9 awards). Watchmen, a searing exploration of racism in America, won outstanding limited series, while Schitt’s Creek swept the comedy categories. Succession won seven awards, including the biggest prize of the night, outstanding drama series, and a lead actor gong for Jeremy Strong. The Mandalorian also won seven awards. You can see the full list of winners here.
Whovians’ Who – David Tennant has been named the people’s favourite Doctor in a poll of more than 50,000 Doctor Who fans, narrowly pipping the current incumbent, Jodie Whittaker. The Radio Times survey asked voters to chose from 13 doctors, starting with William Hartnell in 1963. Tennant topped the poll with 10,518 votes. Whittaker was second, just 95 votes behind followed by Peter Capaldi with 8,897 votes, Matt Smith on 7,637, and Tom Baker with 3,977 votes.
Today in Focus podcast: The growing influence of the QAnon conspiracy theory
The Guardian US tech reporter Julia Carrie Wong discusses the rise of QAnon, a wide-ranging and baseless internet conspiracy theory that has been festering on the fringes of rightwing internet communities for years. In recent months its visibility has exploded amid the social unrest and uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic.
Lunchtime read: The art of tantra: is there more to it than marathon sex and massages?
Tantra may have been pigeonholed in some quarters as a quest for sexual liberation and wellness, but a new show at the British Museum charts its darker depths – from avenging goddesses to blood-drinking and self-decapitation. The exhibition, featuring vast stone sculptures of fearsome goddesses, gods dancing on their own corpses, and headless deities perched on copulating couples, charts a journey through the spiritual philosophy that originated on the Indian subcontinent. “Understanding tantra merely as something sexual is like listening to a radio jingle to understand all of classical music,” says artist Bharti Kher, whose sculpture, And All the While the Benevolent Slept, is part of the show. “I have always been drawn to tantra as an expression of the forbidden,” Kher says. “It explores self-sacrifice and creation, an awakening of our powerful inner energies, the potential women rarely get to express.”
Bryson DeChambeau won his first golf major in style, landing the US Open by six shots from Matthew Wolff after a final round of 67 at Winged Foot. While Tadej Pogacar enjoyed the processional element of the Tour de France’s conclusion in the yellow jersey, Sam Bennett won the final stage on the cobbles of the Champs Élysées. Sadio Mané, Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino combined to stunning effect in Liverpool’s 2-0 win over Chelsea to remind us they remain the standard-setters. Manchester City kick off their season tonight against Wolves, who in Adama Traoré have a player who exploits City’s weaknesses ruthlessly. Phil Neville has praised Fran Kirby’s quick return to the England fold as an “incredible achievement” after the Chelsea forward was sidelined for close to a year. Saracens, who have been demoted to the Championship for next season, are determined to show their success in recent years was due to attitude, not to cheating the Premiership’s salary cap. And Harrison Butker made a 58-yard field goal in overtime, lifting the Kansas City Chiefs to a 23-20 win over the Los Angeles Chargers in the NFL.
The Treasury has told a new bank customer complaints body to prepare for an influx of grievances over government-backed Covid loans. The Business Banking Resolution Service (BBRS) – set to launch in mid-November – was preparing to tackle cases dating back to 2001. But an unprecedented surge in business lending during the pandemic – starting with the state-guaranteed coronavirus business interruption loan scheme – had forced it to shift focus. “We’ve been certainly encouraged by the Treasury to be to be ready to deal with complaints that arise out of Covid loans,” Shand Smith said. “For example, it could be because somebody hasn’t been given a loan and they think they should have, or that the conditions changed, the regulations changed … and they wanted to change the loan into a different one.”
The pound is buying $1.30 and €1.09.
Covid is virtually the only talking point on today’s front pages. The Guardian has “UK at critical point, chief scientists to warn public”. The Times says “Covid curbs will last for six months, No 10 warns”. The FT says “Sunak to extend business support schemes as Covid spread worsens”. The i says the cabinet is “split over second lockdown”. The Mail focusses on testing in their splash on “New care homes testing disgrace”, in which it says results are taking up to 15 days. The Express carries a picture of a masked Boris Johnson and the headline: “We’re in the last chance saloon before lockdown”. It’s echoed by the Telegraph with “‘Last chance saloon’ before new lockdown”. The Mirror leads with “Tipping point in Virus fight”.
• This Morning Briefing was amended on 21 September 2020 to correct an editing error which mistakenly referred to the content of Prof Devi Sridhar’s article as “his main advice” when it should have read “her main advice”.
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