The UK economy grew 0.4% in February, data showed on Tuesday, starting what analysts expect to be a rapid rebound for the country from last year’s deep COVID-19 slump.
The growth was slightly below analysts’ expectations of 0.5% and followed an upwardly revised 2.2% fall in gross domestic product in January, when tough coronavirus restrictions were put back in place to try to tackle a surge in infections.
Analysts expect the UK economy to bounce back rapidly in 2021, however. The government is expected to gradually lift restrictions after a series of lockdowns that battered businesses and household finances.
“GDP rising modestly in February despite restrictions after a surprisingly small contraction in January shows the UK economy is now being less affected by lockdowns than was originally the case,” said Howard Archer, chief economic advisor to the EY Item Club.
“Lessons have been learned in keeping economic activity going during lockdowns.”
Deutsche Bank senior economist Sanjay Raja said in a note on Monday he expects the UK economy to grow 6% in 2021.
“The UK recovery has begun,” he said. “We don’t expect to see another negative print for some time.”
Raja added: “The modest February unwind should give way to an even bigger jump in March, where we see activity ramping up even more as schools reopen and mobility trends up.”
Goldman Sachs reckons the UK’s rapid rollout of coronavirus vaccines should help the economy reopen and recover rapidly, spurring growth of 7.1% in 2021. That is well above the consensus estimate of around 5%.
The ONS said services – the powerhouse of the UK economy – grew just 0.2% in February, when the country was still under tough coronavirus restrictions. Manufacturing grew 1.3% and construction grew 1.6%, the ONS said.
The UK pound rose slightly against the dollar after the data was released, and traded around 0.12% higher at $1.375 on Tuesday morning.
Sir Richard Lexington Sutton, one of the richest men in Great Britain, was found stabbed to death on Wednesday night, according to the local newspaper Dorset Echo.
The Dorset Police Department launched a murder investigation on Wednesday after finding the 83-year-old Baronet at his country estate, according to multiple reports from the media, including BBC News. Police were called to the scene by a concerned member of the public, according to the local newspaper.
Sutton was pronounced dead on the scene due to the stab wounds and an unidentified woman in her 60s, who is believed to be his wife, was airlifted to a local hospital. The police reported she remains in critical condition.
The police tracked a vehicle believed to be connected to the scene of the crime and arrested an unidentified 34-year-old man who authorities suspect is connected to the incident, according to a press release. The police said the suspect was known to the Sutton family.
Sutton was a high-profile hotel owner, known for his five-star hotels on Park Lane and Piccadilly in London.
The hotelier is listed as one of the country’s richest men on The Sunday Times Rich List. His net worth was valued at about $400 million and he placed No. 435 on the list of the nation’s 1,000 wealthiest residents, ranking above Mick Jagger and George Clooney.
Sutton was the 9th Baronet in the Sutton family and responsible for 7,000 acres of land across the country, according to the Dorset Echo.
A spokesman for the hotel chain Sir Richard Sutton Limited told the publication Sutton would be deeply missed.
“Sir Richard was passionately devoted to both his company and its people, setting the highest and standards for quality in the hotels, farming and property interests within the group,” the spokesperson said. “His loss will be felt by everyone within the company, those who worked with him, and his family who have lost an incredible individual. Our thoughts are with the Sutton family at this tragic time.”
The Dorset Police Department and Sir Richard Sutton Limited did not respond to a request for comment from Insider.
The holiday season is nearly upon us. But there’s speculation about whether people in the UK will be able to travel abroad due to the increased worry of coronavirus variants spreading and cases rising.
This uncertainty, along with COVID-19 restrictions, is turning more people towards domestic holidays to visit the British coastline, country parks and smaller towns and cities.
In accordance with UK government guidelines, hotels, bed and breakfasts (B&Bs) and other shared accommodation in England are allowed to open on May 17. This is the same date that international travel can continue.
While self-contained accommodation, which requires no shared facilities between guests, can reopen on April 12.
Insider spoke to a range of hotels, holiday parks and B&Bs, which are preparing for guests to come back and how their facilities will be run differently.
Travelodge, an independent UK chain hotel, which has more than 570 hotels across the UK, currently only allows keyworkers and those who need to travel for work to stay in its hotels, a spokesperson told Insider.
When asked if Travelodge will make the vaccine mandatory for guests, the spokesperson said: “We will continue to stringently follow government guidelines and policy in regards to operating in the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Currently, the government does not require hotel guests to be vaccinated.
The situation is similar in holiday parks. Centre Parcs, which has five short-break holiday villages across the UK, will open on April 12 and have the same COVID-19 safety measures it had in place last year, spokesperson Simon Kay told Insider.
“In line with government guidelines we will not be requiring guests to have been vaccinated,” he said.
Haven Holidays, another chain of holiday parks in the UK, told Insider it’s planning to reopen all of its locations on April 12. A company spokesperson said the government haven’t sent Haven any details about COVID-19 passports and declined to comment on the implementation of them.
Hazelwood Farm B&B in York, in northern England, will also be carrying on with coronavirus measures. The owner, Annette McAnespie described making the vaccine mandatory as a “Catch 22 situation” and could be “construed as discriminatory.”
“I am lucky in that most of my gorgeous guests are retirement age so the stats are that most of them would have chosen to have had the vaccine and would have had their first jab, if not their second one too, by the time I can reopen,” McAnespie said.
At the other end of the country, the Penellen B&B, based in Cornwall – a popular holiday destination in south-west England – will open on May 17th with COVID-19 practices that were in place last year.
Paul and Barbara Goldingay, owners of The Penellen, told Insider that they are not making the vaccine mandatory because it would be too difficult to police.
Face masks stay on and social distancing remains
Travelodge said, like many other chain hotels, its safety measures include wearing face masks indoors, social distancing, contactless payment and checkout, and no housekeeping teams in guests’ rooms during their stay.
The Penellen and Hazelwood Farm’s coronavirus measures both include wearing face masks.
McAnespie is using two out of the three rooms available on Hazelwood Farm. She plans to steam-clean the curtains and remove cushions from the bedrooms as part of the B&B’s coronavirus policy. She told Insider she hopes to see the back of restrictions in September.
Center Parcs has had a surge in bookings recently, especially from the summer onwards, according to Kay.
COVID-19 safety measures in its holiday parks include fewer guests on-site, wearing face masks where necessary, social distancing in all areas including on beaches and a frequent and improved cleaning regime in the villages.
Haven Holidays, which owns 40 parks across the UK, will bring back the Clean and Safe Charter that it introduced in July. This includes a contactless check-in process, social-distancing measures in all public places, and cleaning teams in the parks.
Eating and dining in accommodation
Guests staying in Travelodge hotels won’t be able to dine in the restaurants or bars until June 21, when the rest of hospitality is allowed to open, per the government’s roadmap out of lockdown.
Hazelwood Farm B&B in York isn’t offering its usual breakfast buffet. McAnespie told Insider guests’ cold breakfast orders will be taken the evening before and hot breakfast orders will be taken the same morning with the waitress, Nettie, standing at a distance.
She said the B&B will try to stagger breakfast times for the three rooms as there are only two tables in the dining room with the option to also sit outside. Continental breakfast can also be delivered to the room, as well as any other takeaways from local pubs in the area, McAnespie added.
The Penellen said it will also be serving guests at the table, rather than offering a buffet service.
Holidays parks such as Center Parcs and Haven Holidays offer self-catered accommodation so guests can cook for themselves.
Other restrictions in place
Center Parcs’ Book with Confidence guarantee offers guests free cancellation and a full refund within six weeks of the arrival date, if they decide to no longer go on holiday to the village. They can also change the dates of their stay.
“It is clear that people want reassurance about the flexibility to cancel or change dates,” said Kay.
As part of Haven’s Caravan Cleanliness Guarantee, a specialist team member checks each holiday home after its been disinfected using virus-killing products and seals up the door. Guests are entitled to a full refund if the holiday home isn’t cleaned to its standards, the company said in a statement to Insider.
Similar to Center Parcs, the company’s Coronavirus Book with Confidence Guarantee means guests can cancel their booking between three and 28 days prior to arrival at no cost and be fully refunded, Haven said.
Paul and Barbara from The Penellen said the majority of bookings for this year are rescheduled from last year.
Their “main worry is people from the UK going on holiday overseas and then returning carrying a new variant,” they said.
“In our opinion, all borders should be closed for non-essential travel for the time being,” they added.
It has been over a year since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus pandemic a public health emergency of international concern. The pandemic has left in its wake fear, death, and economic ruin to millions of people worldwide. However, for Big Pharma, Big Tech, outsourced corporates, management consultants, military outfits, politicians and their cronies, and a select number of scientists, life has been good. These individuals and organizations benefiting from the pandemic constitute what I call the COVID-industrial complex (CIC).
The COVID-industrial complex is a transnational multi-billion dollar public-private partnership. It is a well-oiled machine, hence why it is only appropriate to add it to the select list of industrial complexes where “Businesses become entwined in social or political systems or institutions, creating or bolstering a profit economy from these systems.”
Under this industrial complex, the government, which sits at the top of the food chain, uses its financial power to create an enabling environment that rewards other participants in the CIC. Some may justify the existence of the COVID-industrial complex because overspending and waste are permissible if it results in saved lives.
Others may argue that capitalism rewards those who produce things that are rare and valuable. While there is nothing wrong with making a profit, there is something morally wrong when the excessive gain is made on the back of people’s misery, primarily when characterized by secrecy, overpricing, cronyism, inefficiency, and unfairness.
Several COVID contracts have been awarded without a proper competitive tendering process. An investigation by USA Today on 15 of the states most impacted by the pandemic revealed over 1,600 COVID contracts with no competitive bids.Some of the contracts even went to vendors engaged in tax fraud.
According to the National Audit Office, between March 2020 and July 2020, the British government awarded £10.5 billion (roughly $14.4 billion) in COVID contracts without a competitive tender process. NPR identified 250 companies that got COVID deals worth more than $1 million without going through a fully competitive bidding process. These companies included a company that imported vodka.
In 2020, the British government introduced the NHS Test and Trace scheme to help track and prevent the spread of COVID-19. The government earmarked £22 billion (roughly $30 billion) to the system for the 2020 financial year, which was more than the combined police and fire service budget. Despite the astronomical budget, the project was characterized by data breaches, unqualified staff, and inefficiencies. In July 2020, over 100 public health experts, academics, journalists, and trade union leaders wrote to the British Health Secretary asking for details of the contract awarded to the private sector to run the track and trace program. The authors noted that 90% of the funding was unaccounted for.
Cronyism has been a key feature of the COVID-industrial complex. According to Public Citizens, a non-profit consumer advocacy organization that champions the public interest in the halls of power, 27 clients of Donald Trump-connected lobbyists received federal COVID aid, totalling more than $10.5 billion.
As people socially distance globally, they have come to rely on technology to go about their daily lives. Governments have also engaged the services of tech giants. A consortium of Big Tech firms such as Microsoft, Oracle, and Salesforce has teamed up to develop a digital vaccine passport.
‘It’s a crisis though’
Some may argue that Big Pharma and Big Tech deserve to make excessive profits from the pandemic because they are working towards ending the crisis. But this argument cannot withstand analysis. Big Pharma and Big Tech have benefited significantly from taxpayers’ government-funded research. The US government has spent $10 billion to support the development of potential drugs and vaccines to fight coronavirus. Also, Big Pharma has benefited historically from tax breaks that increase its cash flow – an intellectual property regime that enables it to overcharge patients and a legal framework that gives it the upper hand in prescription drugs price negotiations.
Furthermore, concerning the production of the COVID vaccine, the risk-reward principle has been turned on its head. The UK and US governments have given Pfizer indemnity, protecting it from legal action should people die or have a severe vaccine reaction. According to CNBC, “If you experience severe side effects after getting a Covid vaccine, lawyers tell CNBC there is basically no one to blame in a US court of law.” As a consequence of these legal protections, the government has provided an asymmetric environment whereby Big Pharma privatizes the gains from the vaccine rollout. At the same time, the risks are socialized by the public.
Even though the COVID-industrial complex appears to be headquartered in the global north, it has branches in the global south. The Kenyan government ordered an investigation into 15 government officials and business people who misappropriated $7.8 million designated to purchase PPE for hospitals throughout Kenya. In Nigeria, during the “End Sars” protest against police brutality last fall, protesters overran several government-owned warehouses where relief materials funded by a private-sector coalition against the coronavirus were hoarded instead of distributed to people suffering from the economic impact of the virus. Recently, protesters in Paraguay have accused the government of colluding with private contractors to acquire COVID medical supplies that were ineffective.
On January 17, 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered his final address to America. During the speech, he introduced the concept of the military-industrial complex. He cautioned on the influence of the military-industrial complex, the power of money and state capture by a scientific-technological elite. Sixty years after the speech, his words ring true in our present age where the COVID-industrial complex continues to make gains from people’s pain. To paraphrase President Eisenhower, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted wealth, whether sought or unsought, by the COVID-industrial complex.
The Bellingcat journalism cooperative has revealed how Syria’s regime used chemical weapons against its population, how Russian-backed forces shot down a passenger jet, even theidentities of Russian assassins.
Their small staff and citizen journalists were often one step ahead of global media organizations and even law enforcement investigations — and much of the time only using images, videos, and information on social media.
One of their key tenets is, “what people mean to show is not all they are revealing.” That’s according to a new book by founder Eliot Higgins, “We Are Bellingcat: Global Crime, Online Sleuths, and the Bold Future of News,” that describes intriguing ways to parse what you see for deeper information. You don’t have to be tracking Russian President Vladimir Putin’s agents to find these strategies useful; they could just help you be a savvy judge of information to trust.
Again and again, Higgins and his fellow investigators found clues by ignoring what a video was supposed to show — say a terrorist making a threat — and scanning the background, seeking out the details of buildings, roads, billboard signs, and on and on.
One anecdote from the book shows the extraordinary capabilities of the Bellingcat method, which relies on crowdsourced insights and sifting through myriad posts and images. They painstakingly collected a series of different images showing the movements of an anti-aircraft missile launcher into Ukraine’s Russian-controlled east, and then an image of a similar one without its missile. They sought to establish that a Russian weapon had been in the right area on July 17, 2014, to have shot down passenger jet Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, killing all 298 people aboard.
One Bellingcat contributor noticed mud.
Side skirts protect the vehicle’s tracks and this person noticed they had distinct patterns of mud, and wear and tear that could be compared like fingerprints. The collaborators brought these images together and analyzed them, finding further evidence that the launcher seen without a missile had indeed been in the region and after the airliner downing was moved back towards Russia. These findings eroded the Kremlin’s claims that Ukrainian forces were responsible for the shoot-down.
One of the first tricks of the digital sleuth is to try to geo-locate, or establish the location of, say, an Instagram post or soldier’s selfie. Not so easy when it seems to show a part of the world you’ve never been, where you may not know the language.
Think about how this scene would appear if you were looking from above. What are the layouts of the roads? Any landmarks or atypical buildings nearby? Sketch the layout. Then use Google Maps or Google Earth to scout out areas that look similar, remembering to shift the orientation to match your layout.
This technique led to one of Higgins’ earliest victories: determining rebels had seized part of the Libyan town of Brega, based only on a soldier’s shaky video.
Reverse image search
So, you encounter an image of a person or object you’ve never seen. Upload it or link its web address to a search engine like Google for a reverse image search. This compares it to other images found across the internet.
Higgins writes that it is a handy way to debunk online misinformation and to identify suspicious social media accounts, “which often steal images from elsewhere on the internet to falsify a new identity.”
Get the digits
A phone number is one part of a person’s identity, even if an old one. As part of their investigation into the downing of MH17, Ukraine’s government released a report that included details about two persons of interest. That included one of their phone numbers.
By then, this number had been disconnected. But the Bellingcat investigators searched for it on contact-sharing apps Russians use, like TrueCaller. That gave them names, with one even identifying the man as part of the GRU, as the Russian military spy agency is known.
When looking for information on an individual, also search through their networks on sites like Facebook and Twitter. Bellingcat found that the wives and mothers of Russian troops share concerns via online forums.
Another approach is to look for people with open personalities, and few privacy settings, who are linked to the person you’re seeking.
“Even if a prime target of an investigation is prudent, a friend or a lover or a relative may give them away,” Higgins writes.
Create a social feed
While following the Syrian civil war that began in 2011, Higgins sensed that social media had become the raw first draft of history, and he began collecting and assessing it one video and image at a time.
As the war progressed, the vast majority of the eyewitness accounts were coming from activists and expats rather than media organizations, who became more reluctant to send correspondents into the brutal maelstrom where journalists were being targeted.
Higgins set up feeds linked to specific regions to build what he called a “patchwork social-media map of the war.”
It was while reviewing fresh footage from his video feeds that Higgins landed an early scoop: that Syrian rebels had acquired a shoulder-fired missile capable of downing aircraft.
Bellingcat gets help because they ask for it. When ISIS’s media promoted images of supporters in European cities, Higgins shared it with his online followers saying: “There’s a geolocation challenge for ya.” Within an hour, his followers had discovered the location where an ISIS supporter had taken an image in Münster, Germany, using information from a marketing firm and Google Street View. In London, sleuths pinpointed the exact location one image had been taken.
Their threat had backfired so quickly that ISIS supporters had to warn each other to stop posting images, Higgins writes.
Nor are these collaborators just anybody. Relying on the public often brought in people with the special language or technical expertise needed to make breakthroughs. A good example is Bellingcat contributor Veli-Pekka Kivimäki, a veteran of the Finnish armed forces who had served in a regiment with the same type of surface-to-air missile system suspected in the MH17 downing. He connected to other experts who helped them establish the fuselage’s damages were consistent with an anti-aircraft warhead.
There are two types of people in the world: those who wear old T-shirts to bed, and those who don’t.
Joel Jeffery, 33, and Molly Goddard, 29, the millennial duo behind the London-based luxury pajama brand Desmond & Dempsey, don’t mind if you’re part of the former.
Eventually, Jeffery said, people come around. Some of the investors they first pitched claimed to not wear two-piece pajamas, forcing the duo to revise their presentation, calling pajamas “something you wear to the breakfast table.”
Goddard’s old boss also wasn’t a believer. Then, they gave him a pair. “Now he’s on our VIP customer list,” she said.
Desmond & Dempsey, which sells pajama sets for about $150, saw sales skyrocket during the pandemic. It sits in a privileged position at the intersection of two multi-billion-dollar industries. First, the $10 billion self care industry. Second, high-end sleepwear, or as Brandi Neal wrote for Bustle the “fancy pajamas you usually only see in movies.” This category also encompasses nightgowns, robes, and slippers, and market researcher Technavio expects the market to grow by $19.5 billion between 2020 and 2024.
And Jeffrey doesn’t expect the momentum to stop anytime soon.
The brand was in the right place, at the right time
It’s hard to pinpoint how many people actually sleep in pajamas.
It’s this comfort, Jeffrey says, that people sought during the pandemic as the world fell into precariousness. Last year, the Washington Post, citing the Adobe Digital Economy Index, reported pajama sales increased over 140% in April 2020, compared to the month prior.
Last March and April, Desmond & Dempsey saw a 400% increase in sales. Its best-selling items were the two-piece pajama set. The company was able to deal with an increase in consumer demand because it decided to still place the orders that wholesalers canceled, restocking its top items and then selling direct-to-consumer.
Launched in 2014, the brand was named after Jeffery’s and Goddard’s grandparents, respectively. In its early days, Goddard used to personally email each customer asking for feedback, then send a code that would give them free monogramming if they told their friends about the company.
That referral program helped generate interest in the company at the start, and a similar strategy helped it get through the pandemic. It started an initiative that allowed people to nominate a friend to receive a pair of Desmond & Dempsey pajamas. All the person had to do was explain why their friend deserved it.
“People needed comfort and that’s what those pajamas provided,” Goddard said. “People were vulnerable and really suffering, and it gave them something to make them feel a little more creative.”
The market is expected to grow, Desmond & Dempsey is ready
The pandemic, in a sense, has helped accelerate the normalization of self-care and comfort.
Andreas Lenzhofer, cofounder of the Zurich-based sleepwear company Dagsmejan, told Insider he expects interest in the category to rise, and the focuses on personal health, wellness, and comfort are here to stay.
Adobe Analytics found that November pajama sales were up 200% compared to the year prior. NPD Group told Insider last year’s sales for pajamas costing $50 or more increased 3 times faster than average-priced pajamas, accounting for 17% of the pajama market.
Meanwhile, social media is helping these niche brands build an audience. Desmond & Dempsey has over 80,000 followers on Instagram alone. Other luxury sleepwear brands such as Lunya (whose sleep set goes for $232) and Olivia Von Halle (whose pajamas can cost nearly $600) have over 233,000 and 102,000 followers on the platform, respectively.
Dagsmejan told Insider it also ended 2020 with massive sales growth, seeing over three-times what it saw in 2019.
“People realized there was life to have,” he said. “[They] readjusted their spending patterns, and focused on where they could make a positive impact on their personal wellbeing.”
Now, with an influx of customers, Desmond & Dempsey’s next mission is now fighting out how to make the consumer demand stay, Goddard said.
Already, Desmond & Dempsey has collaborated with H&M and has expanded into slippers, nightgowns, robes, eye masks, and even diapers. To date, it has partnered with over 30 wholesale retailers, including Bergdorf Goodman, Selfridges, and online retailer FarFetched, and in October it will officially launch a kids collection.
Jeffrey and Goddard even want to open a store one day, and further expand their presence into the United States. The market might be crowded but if anything, but they are ready.
“We just have to change the spelling of pyjamas,” Goddard said.
SpaceX on Friday met with the UK minister for digital infrastructure, Matt Warman, a person with knowledge of the discussions told CNBC on Monday. The UK’s culture secretary confirmed on Friday that Starlink was being considered for getting internet to hard-to-reach communities in the UK.
On top of Project Gigabit discussions, SpaceX has also signed a deal with British telecoms company Arqiva to build ground stations and infrastructure to connect satellites to fibre networks and servers, a space industry insider told The Telegraph on Monday.
An Arqiva spokesperson declined to comment to Insider. SpaceX didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
If Starlink and the UK reach a deal over Project Gigabit, Elon Musk’s space company could benefit from government funding to accelerate its coverage in the country. In the US, Starlink won nearly $900 million from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in December to deploy internet connection in underserved American communities.
The UK’s culture secretary Oliver Dowden told Sky News on Friday that Starlink was one of the best ways to deliver internet in hard-to-reach communities, though other alternatives were being considered, such as balloons or autonomous aircraft, he said.
But Starlink satellites or those from OneWeb – a UK satellite company that was rescued by the government from bankruptcy in November 2020 – are preferred options because their technology are already in use, Sky reported.
UK residents eager for cruising to return will finally get to sail aboard a cruise ship this summer – as long as they have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
On March 17, Carnival Corp’s UK brand, P&O Cruises, announced its Ultimate Escape UK sailings from July to September. This new collection – which will cruise along the UK coast – is made up of shorter trips on P&O’s Britannia ship, and week-long sailings on its new Iona ship.
The Britannia sailings will shuttle guests on three, four, and six-night cruises starting at £449, about $620, per person. This price then goes up for the seven-night Iona sailings, which will start at £1,199, about $1,670, for its maiden trip.
Besides prices and duration, the two ships’ sailing timelines will also look different: Britannia will sail from June 27 to September 19, while Iona will only be cruising from August 7 to September 18. Despite these differences, both ships will be departing from Southampton, England and will include all the classic cruising amenities, from fine dining to live shows to spas.
“As we have spent the majority of the last year at home, to be able to have a restorative and relaxing break, sit on deck with a sea view in the summer sunshine and then enjoy an indulgent dinner and show – it’s certainly what we all need this year and we cannot wait to have our guests back on board,” Paul Ludlow, president of P&O Cruises, said in a statement.
However, these sailings won’t be anything more than a staycation for locals: the cruises will only be available to UK residents who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 at least seven days before the trip. This vaccination decision stemmed directly from the “advanced progress of the UK vaccination program and strong expressed preference on the part of our guests,” the cruise line said in a press release.
“While there is still uncertainty about holidays abroad this summer, we are delighted to be able to offer our guests the ultimate escape here in the UK with the reassurance that we will take care of everything,” Ludlow said in a statement.
Besides the vaccine mandate, the cruises will also be implementing health protocols that have been created with experts, scientists, and the UK government. This includes mandatory travel insurance, social distancing measures, and mask-wearing “in certain areas of the ship.” The crew will also be quarantined and tested throughout the sailings.
Uber announced Tuesday it will reclassify drivers in the United Kingdom as “workers,” guaranteeing them minimum wage, paid vacation, pensions, and additional protection under the country’s labor laws.
In a statement, Uber told Insider the move will impact more than 70,000 drivers, and follows a recent unanimous Supreme Court decision that determined drivers should be classified as workers.
Uber initially downplayed the ruling, saying it “focussed on a small number of drivers who used the Uber app in 2016,” though shares of Uber dropped as much as 2% following the ruling.
With Tuesday’s announcement, Uber has opted to reclassify all UK drivers rather than fight legal battles with individual drivers about whether the court’s ruling would apply to them.
“Uber is just one part of a larger private-hire industry, so we hope that all other operators will join us in improving the quality of work for these important workers who are an essential part of our everyday lives,” Jamie Heywood, the regional general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe, told Insider in a statement.
The move is a major shift for Uber, which has aggressively fought rulings by courts and regulators in the US that have determined drivers to be employees as opposed to contractors. In California, Uber spent at least $30 million persuading voters to pass Proposition 22, a law it co-authored that carved out an exemption from state labor laws to allow rideshare and food delivery drivers to be treated as contractors.
Unlike American law, which defines workers as employees or contractors, UK law has an additional “worker” category, which entitles workers to receive the minimum wage, paid vacation, rest breaks, and protections against illegal discrimination, retaliation for whistleblowing, and wage theft. That classification falls short of guaranteeing benefits like parental leave and severance to which full employees are entitled.
Uber said the UK minimum wage, which is slightly above $12, will serve as an “earnings floor, not an earnings ceiling” after accounting for roughly 62 cents in per-mile expenses, but that drivers won’t be paid for the time they spend waiting for a ride – which some researchers have found accounts for as much as 33% of drivers’ work.
Uber also said it will pay drivers around 12% of their earnings as vacation pay every two weeks and enroll them in a pension plan to which Uber will also contribute.
Labor advocates voiced their support for the move and the court ruling that proceeded it.
“Dear America … see what happens when a government lays it down? Is Uber leaving? No, they’re actually doing right by their workforce in the UK. Our drivers deserve this too. Why would an American company short change American workers? Because we let them!” tweeted California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, the author of AB-5, the state labor law that Uber sought an exemption from by pushing Prop 22.
The data is in: People infected with the coronavirus variant first discovered in the UK have a higher risk of dying from COVID-19 than those who get other versions of the virus.
New research published Monday in the journal Nature found that among cases involving the variant, known as B.1.1.7, patients had a 55% higher chance of death within four weeks following their positive test.
The study authors examined roughly 2.2 million people who tested positive in England between September and mid-February, then compared the number of deaths among those with B.1.1.7 to those who were infected with other strains.
After controlling for variables including a patient’s age, sex, ethnicity, and living arrangement, the researchers found that with the original virus, about six out of every 1,000 people in their 60s who test positive might be expected to die. But this number rises to about nine out of 1,000 with B.1.1.7.
“In spite of substantial advances in COVID-19 treatment, we have already seen more deaths in 2021 than we did over the first eight months of the pandemic in 2020. Our work helps to explain why,” Nick Davies, the lead author of the study and an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said in a press release.
In January and February, 42,000 people in England died of COVID-19.
Mounting evidence shows the B.1.1.7 variant is more deadly
B.1.1.7 was discovered outside London in September, but initial evidence suggested the strain wasn’t more lethal. Then in January, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the variant was likely associated with higher mortality.
Research published last week in the journal BMJ confirmed that. It found B.1.1.7 to be deadlier than other strains – and even more deadly than the Nature study results suggest.
The BMJ researchers examined nearly 55,000 pairs of people in the UK. Within each pair, one person had tested positive for B.1.1.7 while the other had tested positive for a different coronavirus strain (including the variants from South Africa and Brazil). The members of each pair had similar ages, ethnicities, and geographic locations, and got their positive test results between October and February.
The study found the B.1.1.7 variant was 64% deadlier than the other strains within the four weeks following a positive test.
Johnson’s January announcement was based on research collected by the UK’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, which found that on average, people infected with B.1.1.7 in the UK had a 30% higher mortality rate than those with the original virus.
A follow-up analysis from Public Health England analyzed data collected between late November and early January, and found that B.1.1.7 was 65% deadlier than other strains. Researchers from the University of Exeter, meanwhile, looked at samples collected between October and late January and found that people infected with the variant were almost twice as likely to die.
Higher mortality could be related to higher viral loads
The strain’s increased lethality could be chalked up to the fact that people infected with B.1.1.7 have higher viral loads on average, meaning they produce more viral particles when they’re infected. Higher viral loads, multiplestudies show, are associated with a higher risk of death and more severe disease.
“That was the first thing that certainly came to my mind,” William Schaffner, an infectious-disease expert at Vanderbilt University, previously told Insider. “It would make very good sense.”
It’s also possible that the strain’s increased transmissibility simply gives the virus a better chance of infecting more people who are at higher risk of severe illness. A more transmissible strain means people are more likely to get infected if exposed; B.1.1.7 is between 50% and 70% more contagious than the original version of the virus.
This higher transmissibility could be due to several mutations in the genetic code for the virus’ spike protein, which it uses to invade cells. These tweaks may make it easier for the B.1.1.7 variant to spread.
“It may simply be a matter of a more contagious virus getting to more vulnerable people who are older or have underlying health problems like diabetes or lung disease,” Schaffner said.
Yet another possibility is that the variant’s increased transmissibility indirectly contributed to a higher mortality rate due to the stress it put on the UK’s healthcare system. The number of daily COVID-19 cases there skyrocketed in the four months following B.1.1.7’s discovery, jumping from 3,899 new cases on September 20 to more than 68,000 cases on January 8.
The spike in cases strained UK hospitals and healthcare resources, which may have hurt patient outcomes.
“If your cases get out of control, your deaths will get out of control as your health system comes under pressure,” Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s health emergencies program, said in January.
But these shots seem less effective overall against the variant first discovered in South Africa, B.1.351, and the strain found in Brazil, named P.1.
That’s likely because those two variants share a mutation that can prevent the antibodies generated in response to the original virus from recognizing them. This genetic tweak is mostly missing in B.1.1.7, though UK researchers did find 11 cases of B.1.1.7 with that mutation in a set of more than 200,000 samples.
Studies have not found either B.1.351 or P.1 to be more lethal than the original virus.