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29 November

In the headlines

As panic over the new omicron variant of Covid spreads, “there are real (and justified) fears that we are heading once again into a lockdown Christmas”, says Tom Chivers in UnHerd. This morning Wales and Scotland demanded an eight-day quarantine for all new arrivals to the UK and secondary-school students have been “strongly advised” to wear masks in classrooms. The fuss is overblown, says Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun. Nobody has been admitted to hospital with omicron, even in South Africa where the strain burst into life. “It is extremely mild,” says Dr Angelique Coetzee, the ­Pretoria medic who discovered it. “You are panicking.” Scientists will spend the next two weeks collecting data on the variant; in the meantime the UK will expand its vaccination programme, making every adult in the country eligible for a booster. After 400 years, Barbados will officially remove the Queen as its head of state this evening. In doing so, it will become the world’s newest republic.

Comment of the day

The pandemic

We can’t beat Covid if the West keeps hoarding vaccines

There’s a “grim inevitability” about the discovery that the omicron variant was identified in a developing country, says David Fickling in Bloomberg. The original strain was found in China, delta was picked up in India, gamma originated in Brazil and beta was found in South Africa – only the UK’s alpha variant bucked the trend. This is partly a reflection of the fact that these countries have huge populations. But the main reason is that richer countries are now so “heavily vaccinated” that opportunities for the virus to mutate are limited. The same can’t be said for the developing world.


China hasn’t said farewell to the concubine

A high-flying Chinese businessman once told me his secret for happiness, says Cindy Yu in The Spectator: “Before a man is 35, women are tools; after 35, women are toys.” It’s far from an unusual attitude. Mistresses are “as old as sin” in China. In imperial times, the ruler would have hundreds. Polygamy was banned when the communists came to power in 1949, but in the late 1990s, “when China started to get very rich again”, big-shot businessmen and politicians revived the practice. Usually they picked young, pretty, uneducated girls, although one official in Chongqing required his lovers to have a bachelor’s degree. A neighbourhood in Shenzhen was dubbed “concubine village” because it was home to a reported 50,000 mistresses.




After decades of restoration, the Grand Avenue of the Sphinxes in Egypt has officially reopened, says Mirette Magdy in Bloomberg. The 3,000-year-old road, which connects the ancient temples of Karnak and Luxor, is 1.7 miles long and lined with 1,050 statues. The restoration project – and its glitzy opening ceremony – are part of President Sisi’s plan to win back tourists after the pandemic. 

On the way out

School detentions, which a Labour councillor in Nottingham thinks should be replaced with meditation sessions. Shuguftah Quddoos told a committee meeting that a half-hour meditation class would be more beneficial than traditional punishments.  

Tomorrow’s world

British start-up Cyberselves has designed a “robot that can send your hug around the world”. Put on a VR headset, grasp a set of joysticks, and clever software allows you to simulate the weight or texture of any object the robot is holding. Co-founder Daniel Camilleri used his creation to give his grandmother a birthday hug in Malta when he was stuck in Lisbon, more than 1,000 miles away.


Quoted 29-11

“It has been said that a pretty face is a passport. But it’s not, it’s a visa, and it runs out fast.”

Julie Burchill

Snapshot answer

It’s the Tan Hill Inn, Britain’s highest pub, where more than 50 revellers have been stranded for three days. Customers arrived at the Yorkshire Dales establishment on Friday to see an Oasis tribute band, only to be trapped after Storm Arwen dumped 3ft of snow in the area. Fallen power lines have blocked the road in and out. “I’m quite chilled about being stranded,” Stephanie Overton told the BBC. Her husband, Martin, agreed. The atmosphere is “very good” and there’s “plenty of beer”.


You’d think the revelation that a 63-year-old presidential candidate had got his 28-year-old mistress pregnant would scupper his election chances. Not in France, says Gavin Mortimer in The Spectator. Gossip magazine Closer’s scoop that far-right firebrand Eric Zemmour is “going to be a dad in 2022” with his personal assistant has only strengthened admiration among older voters who used to support the Republicans. “This generation still believes in old-fashioned privacy and they will see Zemmour as a victim of a scurrilous celebrity magazine.” What’s more, they’ll have “a healthy respect for his vigour – and for him giving hope to all swinging sixtysomethings”.