We’ve summarised the 15 key stories of the last week into an easily digestible briefing, so that you can stay up to date on what’s happening around the world. You can subscribe to receive the briefing in your inbox each week.
Business & Economics
- US president Joe Biden has signed a $1.9 trillion fiscal stimulus package into law this week, after the bill cleared both Houses of Congress. According to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), this intervention is estimated to add 1% to projected global growth, while also adding 6.5% to US growth.
- The UK saw exports to the EU fall by 40% in January, following the introduction of new trading rules after Brexit. Whilst this fall is the biggest since records began, the ONS (Office for National Statistics) believes that many of its causes were temporary, and that trade will stabilise by the end of the month as businesses adapt.
- More than 17,500 high-street stores closed in the UK last year, the worst ever annual decline on record. With businesses closing at a rate of 48 per day, these closures are estimated to continue as restrictions remain and the full force of the pandemic is felt by British high-street retail.
- The Chinese Communist Party announced its latest five-year plan last week, with aggressive targets to reduce carbon emissions by 18% while maintaining a 5% annual growth rate. Much emphasis has been placed on increasing economic self-reliance to reduce the impact of trade tensions. The “Belt and Road Initiative” will continue to be expanded.
- The UK government has announced a public inquiry into Woodhouse Colliery, the first new deep coal mine in the UK for decades. This decision reverses previous commitments to not intervene, after the government bowed to “increased” controversy. The UK is chairing major UN climate talks in November and is legally bound to eliminating greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
- The price of Bitcoin has reached $60,000 (£43,100), following a record-breaking run. Bitcoin’s value has more than tripled since December last year, after well-known companies introduced Bitcoin as a method of payment. However, critics remain sceptical over its environmental impact and previous price fluctuations.
- British Airways has announced plans to introduce a travel pass, allowing passengers to prove that they have had a vaccine for Covid-19 and are safe to travel. Demand for flights has surged, although it remains unclear whether travel will be possible in the short to medium term.
- A row has broken out amongst EU states over vaccine supplies, after worsening supply shortages have again halted progress. Some state leaders have written to the European Council and European Commission to complain over the “huge disparities” in vaccine distribution. AstraZeneca recently confirmed it would only deliver 30 million doses to the EU this quarter, down from the 100 million the EU expected by March.
- The UK has declared that China has breached the 1984 Hong Kong declaration, which was designed to guarantee semi-autonomy to the region. Further measures outlined in China’s latest five-year plan will restrict this autonomy even further and were condemned by Dominic Raab (Foreign Secretary of the UK), ahead of a UK foreign and defence policy publication next week.
- At least 14 protesters have been killed in Myanmar’s main city, after ousted politicians vow to begin a “revolution” against the military coup. Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) has seen widespread street protests since the military seized power on 1 February and arrested Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy party.
- The Cabinet Office will move 500 jobs to its secondary headquarters in Glasgow by 2024 to “strengthen its commitment to Scotland”. Many senior roles are also included as Westminster attempts to increase support for the Union. Other government offices are expected to relocate headquarters in different parts of the UK as part of a “levelling up” campaign.
- The rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was suspended in much of Europe this week after reports of serious blood clotting incidents in adults in Norway. Despite health agencies stressing that there was no causal link between the vaccine and blood clots, Denmark, Norway, Ireland and several other EU states have paused their distribution of the vaccine.
- Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry was aired on ITV this week. Meghan discussed the fears over institutional racism in the British royal family and how they felt “let down”. The Palace responded with a statement saying that these issues would be dealt with privately and insisted the Duke and Duchess of Sussex would remain “much loved family members”.
- Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party, has appeared at a Parliamentary Committee of the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, over whether Sturgeon misled parliament and failed to abide by the Ministerial Code. The findings of the committee will be published by late March.
- Lockdown has ended in Israel, with more than half of its adults fully vaccinated. However, it is estimated that roughly 5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank are still waiting for their vaccines.
Written by Chenyang Li and Tristan Hand