FirstFT: Boris Johnson moves to Plan B to control Omicron spread

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Boris Johnson unveiled new coronavirus restrictions yesterday to combat the spread of the Omicron variant as he apologised “unreservedly” for a leaked video of his aides joking about Christmas parties during lockdown.

The new measures for England include guidance to work from home from Monday, while masks will be mandatory for all indoor venues from tomorrow except for pubs and restaurants. Covid-19 passports will be introduced for large indoor and outdoor gatherings.

The prime minister also announced that cabinet secretary Simon Case would investigate media reports that a festive gathering was held in Number 10 on December 18 last year, when such parties were banned.

But many Conservative MPs are opposed to the Plan B restrictions, and Johnson has tried to avoid them, an indication of his high-risk plan to dig himself out of the latest political hole.

The sight of Downing Street staff laughing about the breach of Covid rules reinforces the view that the only question which counts in this government is “Can we get away with it?”, writes Robert Shrimsley.

The FT View is that “partygate” will make it harder for the government to enforce tougher restrictions.

What do you think of the video of Downing Street aides joking about parties during lockdown? Let us know at firstft@ft.com. Thanks for reading FirstFT Europe/Africa. Here’s the rest of today’s news — Jennifer

1. Big Four post strongest performance since Enron The accounting firms have recorded their strongest collective result since the Enron scandal led to the collapse of Arthur Andersen in 2002, racking up $167.3bn in annual turnover as corporate clients rushed to transform during the coronavirus pandemic.

2. Emerging markets hit by foreign investment slowdown Foreign investment in emerging market stocks and bonds outside China has come to an abrupt halt over fears that many economies will not recover from the pandemic next year and expectations of higher interest rates.

3. British housing boom created £3tn ‘unequal’ windfall Rising house prices over the past two decades have delivered an “unearned, unequal and untaxed windfall” that has benefited the older generation, richer people and Londoners the most, according to a new study.

4. Holmes wraps up Theranos trial testimony Elizabeth Holmes spoke about her decision-making at the failed blood testing start-up she founded during seven days of questioning that concluded yesterday, as one of Silicon Valley’s most closely watched fraud trials neared a conclusion.

Jurors are expected to start deliberating this month on the fate of Elizabeth Holmes, who faces a possible prison sentence if convicted © Bloomberg

5. Instagram chief calls for rules to protect children on social media Adam Mosseri, Instagram’s chief executive, has called an external regulator to set rules for how social media companies protect children during a congressional hearing into the effects of the platform on younger users.

Coronavirus digest

  • A third BioNTech/Pfizer Covid-19 shot offers protection against the Omicron variant, but just two doses show reduced effectiveness, preliminary research suggests. Pfizer expects to have a vaccine that specifically targets the strain available by March.

  • Credit Suisse has admitted that chair António Horta-Osório broke Swiss quarantine rules to fly in and out of the country within three days.

  • The pound dropped yesterday to its lowest level against the dollar in more than a year as the prospect of new restrictions clouded the economic outlook.

  • Tui, Europe’s largest tour operator, has warned that fears about Omicron and rising infection rates have started to affect bookings. The slow rebound in airline, hotel and cruise industries has sparked a turnover of executives.

Thanks to readers who took our poll. Sixty-three per cent of those who responded said they thought it was highly likely that England would have new coronavirus restrictions before the new year. Hours later, Johnson unveiled sweeping measures.

The day ahead

Joe Biden’s ‘Summit for Democracy’ begins The two-day virtual meeting hosted by the White House will feature the heads of 111 governments and exclude China, Russia and most autocracies.

Senate vote to raise US debt ceiling The initial vote expected today would allow Democrats to act unilaterally to raise the federal borrowing limit.

Earnings results Lululemon Athletica reports third-quarter results, while Broadcom is expected to post a rise in fourth-quarter results.

What else we’re reading and listening to

Nord Stream 2 is at the heart of US warnings to Putin The gas pipeline to Germany was top of Washington’s list of potential sanctions with which western countries could threaten Russia to show that any invasion of Ukraine would come at a heavy cost. Here’s why.

  • Latest update: Joe Biden made a significant diplomatic concession by signalling that he wanted to convene meetings between Nato allies and Russia to discuss Vladimir Putin’s grievances with the transatlantic security pact.

Using ‘synthetic data’ to uncover Syrian war crimes Researchers are increasingly turning to “synthetic data” instead of real images to train artificial intelligence programs to recognise weapons used in the conflict and captured on social media. But can the technique adequately represent reality?

How’s the economy really doing? That depends on your perspective, writes Gillian Tett. Economists and policymakers need to upgrade their systems for tracking the economy now, which includes blending quantitative and qualitative perspectives.

Oil and gas majors compete for talent All the European oil majors have set out strategies to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. But achieving those targets requires recruitment and retraining on a scale never seen before. Can they convince potential recruits to get on board?

“You need to have a credible and meaningful strategy and show how people can make a difference” — Ronan Cassidy, Shell’s chief human resources and corporate officer

Getting personal on LinkedIn When Jonathan Frostick had a heart attack, he posted on LinkedIn about how he planned to change his life. It went viral and people from all over the world contacted him saying his inspiring words had helped them reassess their work-life balance. Isabel Berwick, host of the Working It podcast, talked to him about what happened next.

Fashion

Why is a good puffer coat so hard to find? It’s functional, fashionable and warm as toast — but choose wisely if you want your winter coat to stay stylish, writes Kate Finnigan.

Championed by luxury houses and high-street brands, puffer coats are a ubiquitous part of winter wardrobes
Championed by luxury houses and high-street brands, puffer coats are a ubiquitous part of winter wardrobes © Getty Images

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