Foresight News rounds up the key events that need to be in your news diary this week…
As the country grapples with an exponential rise of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) publishes analysis of deaths in England involving COVID-19 by vaccination status between 1 January and 5 November. The analysis comes as new research shows that one third of Londoners remain unvaccinated, three times higher than the rest of the country.
Amid continued tensions over the build-up of Russian forces at the border with Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky is due to host his counterparts from Poland and Lithuania for so-called Lublin Triangle talks on security in the region. Fears of a Russian military operation inside Ukraine have led to a series of warnings to Russia on the grave repercussions it would face were it to attack Ukraine.
French President Emmanuel Macron heads to Mali, where he is due to hold talks with the head Mali’s transitional government, Colonel Assimi Goita, as France continues to draw down its military presence in the country. As well as discussing the security situation, the two leaders are also likely to address the delay of elections in Mali planned for the end of February; Goita recently announced that a fresh timetable will be ready by the end of January.
Ali Harbi Ali is due to enter his pleas after being charged with the murder of MP Sir David Amess, who died following a stabbing at his constituency surgery in October. During his last appearance, the court heard how Ali, who also faces a charge of preparing acts of terrorism, had been planning to carry out an attack for more than two years. A trial is expected to begin in early March at the Old Bailey.
The economic news has been pretty grim in recent weeks, with inflation reaching its highest rate for a decade and growth slowing to a meagre 0.1% in October. The Bank of England reacted by announcing a long-mooted rate rise last week after the IMF advised Chancellor Rishi Sunak to start making plans for a furlough reboot amid signs of another economic slump in the New Year. Further bad news in today’s National Accounts data from the ONS, the final revision to Q3 figures, could prompt the Chancellor to accelerate those plans.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to hold his marathon annual press conference, with some 500 journalists due to attend the in-person spectacle after last year’s event went virtual. Typically, the event is dominated by gushing reporters lobbing softball questions about local issues, though there’s usually at least one question from a representative of a western media outlet. The event will nevertheless be closely watched for any new indication as to Putin’s intentions in Ukraine.
People across Wales will learn whether new coronavirus restrictions will be introduced for the Christmas period as Mark Drakeford conducts his latest weekly review. The threat posed by the Omicron variant looms large over the festive season, with the First Minister having warned that tighter measures on socialising may need to be imposed. Drakeford has already announced that nightclubs will close on 27 December and that businesses will have to reintroduce social distancing measures, and the government continues to debate whether to reopen schools following the Christmas holiday.
FRIDAY (Christmas Eve)
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge host a Royal Carol Service at Westminster Cathedral to bring the country some traditional festive cheer. The service airs on ITV, a decision taken amid reports of tensions between the Royal family and the BBC following the airing of the documentary The Princes and the Press, which Kensington Palace said used “overblown and unfounded” sources.
After decades of work and numerous delays, NASA launches its James Webb Space Telescope. A hundred times more powerful than its predecessor, Hubble, the $10 billion space observatory is expected to reveal parts of the universe never seen before. Reaching an orbit over one million miles from Earth, Webb will detect radiation from the “Dark Age” of the universe. The decade-long mission will expand our understanding of the origins of the universe, exoplanets, galaxies and even the search for extra-terrestrial life.
SATURDAY (Christmas Day)
The third Ashes test aptly begins late on Christmas UK time, as England look increasingly in need of a Christmas miracle in their struggle to regain the trophy. Australia currently hold a 1-0 lead in the series after a nine-wicket demolition in the opening match, with England’s woes compounded by the Baggy Greens’ dominant start to the second test. The odds are seemingly against Joe Root’s side bringing the famous urn home – England haven’t won an Ashes series in Australia after losing the opening test since 1955.
SUNDAY (Boxing Day)
It’s one month since the World Health Organisation declared Omicron as a variant of concern, and in that time it has spread rapidly, becoming the dominant variant in London with other regions of the UK close behind. With early evidence indicating that vaccines may be less effective against infection and transmission linked to Omicron led to Boris Johnson’s big booster push and a promise to offer all adults a third jab by the end of the year, and with five days left to go, the government will be hoping that issues with the and vaccine centre supplies and staffing are resolved in time to hit the target.
The news diary is provided in association with Foresight News.
Picture: PA Media/Ben Birchall