News diary 23-29 March: Disney+ launches in UK and Lyra McKee murder suspect back in court

Foresight News provides a look-ahead to the key events that need to be in your news diary for next week… 

With the cancellation of nearly all public events in dozens of countries, coronavirus continues to monopolise the news agenda. A virtual meeting of G20 leaders to agree a coordinated roadmap on policies to “protect people and safeguard the global economy” is due sometime this week.

New emergency legislation to help the government tackle the crisis is to be fast-tracked through the House of Commons on Monday. MPs are expected to nod through the Coronavirus Bill, which would give police and health officials powers to detain or enforce isolation on those suspected of having the virus. The Bill proceeds to the House of Lords on Tuesday and is expected to become law from next week.

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Meanwhile, the measures that have already been introduced become more noticeable: it’s the start of a 12-week “shielding period” for those most at risk of contracting COVID-19, meaning more people should be in some form of self-isolation, and schools are closed across the country, with exceptions for classes for vulnerable children and the children of key workers.

Transport networks will also be slowing down as many (but not all) social-distancing commuters stay home. Following the closure of the Waterloo & City line on Friday, tubes and buses in London will move to a less frequent service while train operators across the UK have reached an agreement to run amended timetables.

A two-week quarantine period ends for passengers from the Grand Princess cruise ship that docked in Oakland on 9 March. Over 3,500 people from 54 countries were on board the vessel when passengers started testing positive for coronavirus.

Conditions in the federal quarantine facilities in the US have been criticised for their uncleanliness and lack of social distancing, and many passengers remain untested.

Several members of the Cabinet are lined up to appear before select committees this week, with George Eustice at Defra and Stephen Barclay at Treasury on Tuesday the pick of the bunch.

The Environment Secretary is likely to face questions on UK supply chains and the possibility of food shortages caused by panic-buying, while the Chief Secretary to the Treasury faces the thankless-looking task of fielding questions on the economic impact of the virus.

With thousands of schoolchildren suddenly at home and in need of entertainment, the launch of Disney’s new streaming service comes at an advantageous time for the studio. Disney+ features classics from its golden era alongside Pixar titles, the Marvel and Star Wars franchises (pictured), and, perhaps crucially for parents of a certain age, The Simpsons.

Disney’s entry into the competitive on-demand market could be an important marker as the BBC faces questions over its funding and the continuing viability of the licence fee.

Members of the Petitions Committee question Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Jenny Harries, Schools Minister Nick Gibb and Minister for Disabled People Justin Tomlinson on Wednesday regarding the Government’s response to the pandemic.

The hearing was prompted by a spate of parliamentary petitions which accumulated more than 1.8m signatures. The Government has come under fire for taking less drastic measures than other European countries to combat the outbreak, and for mixed-messaging on its initial “herd immunity” approach.

The third Bank of England monetary policy committee meeting of this month comes after a flurry of recent action by governments and central banks to counter the effects of COVID-19 on economies around the world.

Last week the FTSE dropped to a near-decade low as sterling fell sharply against the dollar, and the MPC responded by reducing the interest rate to 0.1 per cent and increasing UK government bond holdings. With Governor Andrew Bailey refusing to rule out even more radical monetary action, there could yet be further surprises in store.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will join a virtual meeting of G7 counterparts where, again, coordinating responses to the pandemic will dominate. The call follows news that the G7 summit later in the year, which was to have been hosted by President Trump at Camp David, will now also take place in a virtual format, along with further leaders’ calls in April and May.

Two of the highest profile criminal cases in Northern Ireland’s recent history return to Londonderry Magistrates Court on Thursday. Paul McIntyre, an alleged member of the IRA, appears accused of the murder (by way of joint enterprise) of journalist Lyra McKee in April 2019.

Meanwhile a former armed forces member known only as Soldier F appears over the Bloody Sunday murders of James Wray and William McKinney. The hearing is expected to see a ruling on whether to move the case from Londonderry to Belfast, a proposal which has provoked a stern response from the victims’ families.

EU leaders hold their third videoconference in ten days in lieu of a formal European Council that had been scheduled for today. The leaders agreed to a month-long closure of the bloc’s external borders on their 17 March call, and are due to focus on the four priority areas identified in their early discussions: limiting the coronavirus spread, providing medical equipment, promoting vaccine research and mitigating socio-economic consequences.

The European Parliament, meanwhile, holds an extraordinary plenary session vote on Commission proposals, including a new law to stop the “ghost flights” caused by the pandemic.

The Spanish government has ordered the closure of the country’s hotels and tourist accommodations by Thursday to help stem the spread of the virus. The world’s second most-visited tourist destination is also the second-worst hit country in Europe, and the closures are just the latest measures brought in as the death toll continues to climb.

On Friday the UK Government delivers its weekly round-up of COVID-19 cases in the UK, reporting locations and confirmed numbers. The update comes a week after a string of “delay” measures were implemented, including the decisions to close schools and advise people to self-isolate and stay away from public places such as restaurants, cinemas and bars.

Despite the global sporting calendar continuing to be decimated by the coronavirus pandemic, the UAE hosts the Dubai World Cup on Saturday (albeit behind closed doors).

The horse racing meet includes some of the biggest prizes in the sport – the World Cup boasts a $6m purse, with the Dubai Duty Free and Dubai Sheema Classic turf races each offering $5m. Last year’s event was won by Thunder Snow, who became the first horse to claim the Cup title twice.

On Sunday, restrictive measures designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus are set to expire around the world, though with infection rates continuing to rise, extensions seem almost certain.

In Ireland, pubs and bars are scheduled to reopen, and the ban on overseas travel ends. International flights are also due to begin landing again in Poland, while Spain’s state of emergency declaration that closed all non-essential public facilities and banned all unnecessary travel is also set to expire.

In Mali, parliamentary elections are due to go ahead, despite a recent warning by WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to leaders in Africa that they need to wake up to the threat posed by the virus.

The news diary is provided in association with Foresight News.

Picture: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni 

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