Top story: Boris Johnson to chair Cobra meeting
Hello, Warren Murray here with a stockpile of news – plenty to share round.
Share markets are braced for their biggest falls since the global financial crisis after the trading week began with panic selling amid the double threat of coronavirus-driven recession and a Saudi-triggered oil price war. There are early projections for the FTSE100 to plunge by more than 6% at the open, while the Dow Jones is on course to lose 4.9% in New York later in the day.
Turning away from the markets for a moment: Boris Johnson will this morning chair his first emergency Cobra meeting on the coronavirus in a week to consider whether tougher measures are needed. The number of British cases has increased by a third to 278 while the number of deaths has risen to three. Charities are working out plans to feed up to 3 million disadvantaged students who rely on free school meals and might be left to go hungry if there are school closures. Meanwhile a cross-Whitehall unit has been set up to counter coronavirus-related disinformation, including from Russia and China, with civil servants working closely with social media companies to rebut false and inaccurate claims.
Further afield, Italy has been plunged into chaos as fatalities increased more than 50% to 366 and government plans to lock down large parts of the country’s north, holding about 25% of the population, were leaked to the media. The stranded cruise ship Grand Princess is expected to finally dock in Oakland, California today. Saudi Arabia has cordoned off the oil-rich region of Shia Qatif, suspended air and sea travel to nine countries and closed schools and universities.
The wave of selling on stock markets in the Asia-Pacific was the worst since the aftermath of the Lehman Brothers collapse in 2008, with Australia losing 7.33%, the Nikkei down nearly 6% and Hong Kong down 3.5%. The Japanese yen and gold have spiked as investors seek safe havens. Follow all coronavirus developments today at our live blog.
Man ‘carrying knives’ shot dead – Overnight, police in Westminster have shot dead a man who they said produced knives when he was approached. The Metropolitan police said the case was not terror-related. The shooting is understood to have happened in the Whitehall area of London, which is packed full of sensitive government and official buildings. Under the law, any shooting by the police has to be investigated by the independent police watchdog.
Salmond trial begins – Alex Salmond, the former first minister of Scotland, goes on trial today on multiple charges of sexual assault, including one of attempted rape – charges he has strongly denied, and to which he has pleaded not guilty. Salmond is accused of assaulting 10 women over an eight-year period, including nine incidents alleged to have taken place at Bute House, the first minister’s official residence in Edinburgh. The crown case will be led by Alex Prentice QC while Scotland’s most senior advocate, Gordon Jackson QC, will appear for Salmond. The trial will be overseen by Lady Dorrian. Our Scotland editor, Severin Carrell, sets the scene.
‘Waive veteran visa fees’ – Commonwealth veterans who served with the UK military are facing visa fees of thousands of pounds if they want to stay following discharge. On Commonwealth Day the Royal British Legion is calling for the immediate abolition of the fees, which have left some facing deportation. The armed forces recruit up to 1,350 Commonwealth personnel each year, mostly from Africa, the Caribbean and Fiji. After four years or more they are eligible to apply to stay but, as an example, a service leaver and partner with two children face nearly £10,000 in fees. Charles Byrne from the Legion said: “This is a poor way of saying thank you to people we encouraged to leave their countries and come to serve in the British armed forces … we urge the home secretary to take action to help Commonwealth military veterans who have served this country loyally and abolish all visa application fees.”
Missile salvo – North Korea has fired three unidentified projectiles off its eastern coast, a week after launching two short-range missiles, South Korea’s military has said. The projectiles were launched on Monday from the coastal town of Sondok, which has a military airfield. Britain, Germany, France, Estonia and Belgium have raised last week’s missile firings at the UN security council, calling them a provocative action violating UN resolutions.
Renewables fill coal hole – Carbon emissions from the global electricity system fell by 2% last year while power from coal plants fell 3%, the climate thinktank Ember says. The biggest drop in almost 30 years came as the US and the EU turned to cleaner energy sources – and despite China’s use of coal plants actually climbing. Ember has warned that its findings rely on many one-off factors including milder winters across many countries. “Progress is being made on reducing coal generation, but nothing like with the urgency needed to limit climate change,” said the report, which reveals that renewable wind and solar power rose by 15% in 2019 to make up 8% of the world’s electricity.
Today in Focus podcast: Hadley Freeman’s family secrets
When the Guardian writer found an old shoebox full of pictures and documents in the back of a wardrobe, it began a quest to find the real story of her family’s history and her grandmother’s escape to America from the Nazis. Plus: Annette McGivney on the problem with almond milk.
Lunchtime read: China’s blanket security may not go away
Chinese citizens are living under a new level of government intrusion: getting into one’s apartment or workplace requires scanning a QR code, and writing down your name and ID number, temperature and recent travel history. Phone companies track people’s movements and social media platforms are used to report others who may be sick. Some cities are offering people rewards for informing on sick neighbours.
Chinese companies are rolling out facial recognition to detect elevated temperatures and people not wearing face masks. Apps can alert people to whether they are near or have been in contact with an infected person. From top officials to local community workers, those enforcing the rules repeat the same refrain: this is an “extraordinary time”, feichang shiqi, requiring extraordinary measures. But as the number of new infections appears to fall, residents and observers are asking whether these new measures might be here to stay.
Eddie Jones has revealed he will hold talks with the Rugby Football Union chief executive, Bill Sweeney, over potentially extending his contract through to the 2023 World Cup. The England coach has improved the national side, writes Robert Kitson, but calamitous PR, the perverse selections and occasional verbal excesses overshadow his role. Joe Marler will discover today if he faces punishment for grabbing Alun Wyn Jones’s genitals during the Six Nations victory over Wales, while Gregor Townsend insisted that Mohamed Haouas’s first-half red card was not the determining factor in Scotland’s 28-10 victory over France.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær believes Manchester United are heading back towards the top after his team, inspired by Bruno Fernandes, recorded a third victory over Manchester City this season at Old Trafford. The Englishman Tyrrell Hatton claimed his first win on the PGA Tour by one shot from Marc Leishman at the Arnold Palmer Invitational but Rory McIlroy failed to mount a challenge. A narrow 1-0 win over Japan at the SheBelieves Cup did little to answer the numerous questions asked about England’s future under coach Phil Neville. Wigan returned to the top of Super League and underlined their early-season position as the team to beat, although they were given a stern test by an injury-hit, resilient Hull KR side. Lastly, Italian Formula One teams have started arriving in Australia, and there is no chance of the opening grand prix of the season being cancelled or being held behind closed doors despite fears over the coronavirus, say race organisers.
As if the coronavirus wasn’t enough to shake the business world, February’s poor weather and the burden of business rates are creating a perfect storm for the retail sector. Research out today shows that footfall on the high street fell 7.8% last month thanks to the wet weather and swingeing rates continue to cost jobs. The pound is buying $1.306 and €1.144.
“Italy in chaos as thousands race to escape quarantine” – the Guardian splashes on the aftermath of the lockdown decree leaking out. The Telegraph calls it “Quarantine farce” after flights from quarantined areas were still able to land in the UK without passengers being sequestered upon arrival.
The Mail leads with “Third virus victim in UK” while the Metro has “Don’t be so shelf-ish” as it admonishes shoppers for panic-buying of goods: most conspicuously perhaps, toilet rolls. “Now shops to ration food”, says the Express.
“Holiday chaos as Italy closes cities”, says the Times, and the i also leads with the “no-go zone” there. The FT digs deep for the financial angle: “Italy quarantines vast parts of rich north as virus cases surge”. “Sorry I cuddled your wife, Harry” – the Sun has the story of a schoolboy who embraced Meghan on stage.
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