It might be a new year, but someone forgot to tell the news agenda, which has remained stubbornly in pandemic mode over the last week. But while positivity may still feel very hard to come by, knowledge is power.


That’s why, each week, we’ll continue to round up the news items you need to know about. They’re not always the stories that make the front page. Rather, these are the ones we think women who rise need to be aware of.


UK hospitals ‘must prepare for COVID surge’

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Hospitals across Britain are being told to prepare for the same conditions currently being faced by the NHS in London and South East England.


It comes after a further 57,725 people tested positive for coronavirus on Friday – a new daily high – bringing the UK’s total cases to 2.59 million.


Over recent days, a host of doctors and nurses have spoken out about crisis conditions behind hospital doors and urged the government to do more to tackle misinformation.


Now, Professor Andrew Goddard of the Royal College of Physicians has warned that the situation in London, where cases are twice the UK average, looks set to spread.


Meanwhile, the government is also facing increased questioning over the decision to delay issuing the second dose of the vaccine to UK patients in a bid to spread resources.


Government “creating chaos” for parents over school return

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The UK government is facing a major revolt over its plan to reopen schools, with headteachers beginning legal action over the decision.


Teaching unions have told primary teachers it is unsafe for them to return to work on Monday.


Labour has accused ministers of “creating chaos” for parents, while the GMB warned differing arrangements across tiers were “a dangerous recipe for chaos”.


The government is currently expecting primary schools outside of London and some areas of the south to reopen next week.


Secondary pupils in exam years in England are due to return on January 11, along with most schools in Wales, while younger secondary pupils are due back on the 18th.


Scotland has said it will provide home learning for pupils from the 11th, though pupils will not return to the classroom until “at least” January 18.


EU leaders lament over Britain’s final Brexit

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Boris Johnson hailed Britain’s Brexit from the EU on Thursday as an opportunity to transform the UK’s future, having “taken back control of our money, our laws and our waters”.


But as the UK ended its transition out of Europe at 11pm on New Year’s Eve, European leaders were quick to disagree.


Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney declared Brexit “not something to celebrate”, while France’s president Macron described is as a product of “lies and false promises”.


While the port of Dover initially seemed to handle Britain’s exit smoothly, officials in Dublin warned of “mayhem”, as lorries were turned away for not having the correct paperwork.


Meanwhile, Tory grandee Lord Heseltine called for an immediate campaign to rejoin the EU, insisting on Friday: “We want it back, and the only logical answer is to argue for that decision.”


Alexander Wang denies sex assault claims

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The American fashion designer Alexander Wang has hit back at allegations of sexual assault, describing them as “grotesquely false”.


It’s after British model, Owen Mooney, claimed the designer had groped him at a party in a nightclub in New York.


A number of similar anonymous claims then emerged, before trans model Gia Garison, construction worker Nick Ward and another man known only as Nick also went public with further claims of assault.


The Model Alliance and a host of grassroots industry groups have since come out in solidarity with Wang’s alleged victims.


But Wang, who previously faced criticism for casting the singer R Kelly in a campaign for his fashion line, insists the allegations are “baseless” and “defamatory”.


Antidepressant use soaring in England

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The number of people being prescribed antidepressant medication has risen to an all-time high in England during the pandemic, according to new data released by The Guardian.


An investigation by the newspaper also found that calls to helplines skyrocketed in 2020, as access to talking therapies was reduced as a result of the coronavirus crisis.


More than six million people in England received antidepressants in the three months to September, the highest figure ever recorded by the NHS.


Campaigners have warned that while medication can be lifesaving for those in mental health crisis, prescriptions should be accompanied by support access.


A host of charities and patient bodies have now called for urgent intervention to ensure psychiatric support or counselling are made available to those in need.


Concerns mount for Rohingyas moved to remote island

Image: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters


Bangladesh has begun moving a second group of Rohingya refugees displaced from Myanmar to a remote island in the Bay of Bengal, despite mounting human rights concerns.


Groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have urged the Bangladeshi government to halt the relocation programme to Bhasan Char to allow for independent inspection.


The island is hours by boat from the mainland and vulnerable to typhoons and flooding, and international rights groups fear many being moved there have been subject to coercion or intimidation.


But Bangladeshi officials say international concern is unwarranted, insisting the move is designed to improve the quality of life of thousands of refugees.


UK scraps tampon tax in wake of Brexit

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A five per cent VAT on sanitary products, dubbed the ‘tampon tax’ was abolished in the UK on Friday.


The UK government says the move, which was promised in chancellor Rishi Sunak’s budget in March, has been made possible by Brexit.


EU law required members to apply a minimum of five per cent tax on sanitary towels and tampons – though the EU is itself in the process of scrapping the tax, leading campaigners to accuse the government of playing politics with the issue.


It comes just two months after Scotland became the first country in the world to make all period products free.


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