Friday briefing: Critical workers can avoid self-isolation


Top story: Supermarket retail staff not included

Hello, Warren Murray with today’s admixture. There’s a lot of Covid news around this morning, so let’s round that up first.

Workers from 16 key sectors including health, transport and energy will not have to isolate after being pinged by the Covid app. The policy will only apply to named, fully vaccinated workers in approved workplaces. “In some exceptional cases” roles in other sectors could be agreed. Downing Street has said companies will have to apply directly to the Whitehall department that covers them. Separate arrangements are in place for frontline health and care staff. The government has also announced that a pilot daily testing programme will be expanded to up to 500 food and drink supply chain employers – though not retail staff in supermarkets.

University staff are demanding the full vaccination of all students by September, including making it available to younger students, compulsory face masks on campus and free PCR tests. In schools, scientists have recommended daily tests for students who come into contact with Covid cases at secondaries and colleges, after finding it prevents the spread of infection as much as sending whole bubbles home to isolate. Vaccine research findings have emerged overnight that suggest the second Pfizer shot is most effective when received after eight weeks; while UK scientists have backed proposals for booster shots in the autumn to maintain immunity in fully vaccinated people.

Parents are being urged to look out for signs of severe respiratory infection in their children. More children with high temperatures and difficulty breathing are seeking help amid an out-of-season surge in colds and the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), Public Health England says. RSV is very common and almost all children have had it by age two. After a year of lower infections due to Covid restrictions, experts fear many children will not have developed immunity. For most children it is not serious, with rest and fluids recommended. Overnight, New Zealand suspended its “travel bubble” with the whole of Australia, mainly citing the worsened Sydney Covid outbreak. Need more Covid news? Find it at our live blog.

‘Missing in action’ – Protesters intend to fill Parliament Square in London this morning, 100 days before the Cop26 UN climate talks open on 1 November in Glasgow. Giant alarm clocks will show time running out, while 100 protesters will chant that Boris Johnson and his chancellor, Rishi Sunak, are “missing in action” on the climate crisis. Floods across Europe and China, wildfires in the US, killer heatwaves stretching into northern latitudes and extreme weather across the planet have given a glimpse into what is at stake. Scientists warn that unless global greenhouse gas emissions are halved in the next decade, temperatures will rise by more than 1.5C with devastating consequences.

Menopause ‘costs women top jobs’ – A parliamentary inquiry into the workplace treatment of women going through menopause will examine if legislation goes far enough to address discrimination. The Commons cross-party women and equalities committee will draw up recommendations. Almost one million women in the UK have left jobs as a result of menopausal symptoms. With the issue mainly affecting those in their late 40s and early 50s, this leads to women eligible for senior management roles leaving work at the peak of their career, the committee said.

‘Black week’ for Belarus – The regime in Belarus has launched a broad crackdown on civil society, launching raids and arrests in what has been described as a “black week” for the country’s NGOs. Last Wednesday police raided the offices and homes of at least 14 rights groups, media organisations, NGOs and charity groups. It follow mass arrests of opposition politicians and the closure and harassment of much of the country’s independent media under the rule of Alexander Lukashenko, who has kept his grip on power after a disputed presidential election.

‘Bear kept coming back’ – A man in Alaska was rescued after enduring repeated attacks by a grizzly bear that kept on returning to his isolated hut in the wilderness, where he had no way of contacting the outside world. The New York Times described the story as “a weeklong ordeal that could pass as a sequel to The Revenant”. It ended only when a fortuitously passing coast guard helicopter spotted the man waving for help and having written SOS and “Help me” on the roof of his shack.

Facebook Twitter Remote mining camp near Nome, Alaska, where a coast guard helicopter rescued the survivor of a bear attack. Photograph: US coast guard/AFP/Getty Images

The paper said the man in his 50s or 60s had been alone at a mining camp about 40 miles from the isolated town of Nome when the bear attacked and dragged him down to a river. Armed with a pistol, the man escaped but then endured repeated attacks over about a week. “He said that the bear kept coming back every night and he hadn’t slept in a few days,” said Lt Cmdr Jared Carbajal, one of the coast guard pilots. The man was said to be recovering – he had a bandaged leg when found.

Today in Focus podcast: Fightback against private spyware

After a week of stories about the abuse of private spyware by governments around the world, Michael Safi rounds off our mini-series by looking at the global impact of the Pegasus project and what could change as a result.

Today in Focus Fightback against private spyware Sorry your browser does not support audio – but you can download here and listen 00:00:00 00:29:54

Lunchtime read: Becoming a bodybuilder at 71

Facing growing health problems, Joan Macdonald decided to begin lifting weights – with results that shatter preconceptions about what’s possible in your eighth decade.


The Olympic opening ceremony is but hours away – join us for the build-up at our live blog. The world’s eyes will turn to Tokyo for the next two weeks as the Olympics finally get under way with the opening ceremony today after a delay of a year. The serious business starts tomorrow and you can find out what’s happening with our interactive explainer. Make sure you are plugged into our daily Olympic newsletter as well.

Michael Vaughan has warned that some England players might skip this winter’s Ashes if their families are prevented from joining them in Australia because of the country’s coronavirus restrictions. It comes as Australia’s second one-day international against the West Indies in Barbados was called off just as the first ball was due to be bowled because a West Indies staff member tested positive for Covid. On the field, Sam Billings led the Oval Invincibles to an opening win over the Manchester Originals in the Hundred. Rugby league has been rocked by the withdrawal of Australia and New Zealand from this autumn’s World Cup in England over Covid concerns. The only hope is that the players rebel and force a U-turn. Lions coach Warren Gatland is furious about the appointment of a home referee as the television official for the Test series against South Africa, which starts in Cape town tomorrow. The local hero Pieter-Steph du Toit feels a sense of destiny as he prepares for the big clash.


Priti Patel will decide whether tech entrepreneur Mike Lynch will be extradited to the US to face fraud charges over the sale of his former company Autonomy to Hewlett-Packard in 2011. A judge in London rejected an appeal by Lynch, who denies the charges, and now the case rests with the home secretary. The FTSE100 is set to rise 0.3% this morning while the pound will buy you $1.376 and €1.169.

The papers

The Guardian’s front page picture today is of Dawn Butler, the MP ejected from the Commons for saying Boris Johnson tells lies. Our splash is “Anger mounts as ministers say NHS must find £500m for pay rise”. There’s coverage inside of the 10th anniversary of Amy Winehouse’s death. Elsewhere there’s a pandemic of ping worldplay on the front pages – “Ping in the army” says the Metro, about one idea to keep shelves stacked. The Mail has “Top firms demand end to ping peril”.

Facebook Twitter Guardian front page, Thursday 23 July 2021.

The i says “Ping rules change to end UK’s shutdown” while the Express has “Keep working! Daily Covid test ends ‘pingdemic’ crisis”. “Food supply staff freed from Covid quarantine” says the Times.

“Forcing children to self-isolate ‘needless’” – that’s the Telegraph on those Oxford findings about the merits of tests versus bubbles for pupils who have come into contact with a Covid carrier. “I believe my son is still alive” – the Mirror talks to the mother of Ben Needham, who disappeared from Greece as a toddler 30 years ago. The Financial Times leads with “Greensill enjoyed extraordinary access to ministers, inquiry finds” – read about that here.

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