Former British number one Johanna Konta announced her retirement from tennis on Wednesday.
The 30-year-old has struggled with persistent knee trouble over the past couple of seasons and has slipped to 113 in the world rankings — a far cry from her career-high of number four.
Konta, who reached the semi-finals of three of the four majors, plus the quarter-finals of the US Open, made her announcement on social media with a post headlined ‘Grateful’.
She wrote: “This is the word that I’ve probably used the most during my career and is the word that I feel explains it best in the end.
“My playing career has come to an end, and I am so incredibly grateful for the career that it turned out to be. All the evidence pointed towards me not ‘making’ it in this profession.
“However my luck materialised in the people that came into my life and impacted my existence in ways that transcended tennis.
“I am so incredibly grateful for these people. You know who you are. Through my own resilience and through the guidance of others, I got to live my dreams. I got to become what I wanted and said as a child.
“How incredibly fortunate I count myself to be. How grateful I am.”
In June, Konta won the Nottingham Open, becoming the first British woman to lift a WTA title on home soil since Sue Barker in 1981.
But that victory was soon overshadowed by the astounding success of then 18-year-old compatriot Emma Raducanu in becoming the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam when she took the women’s singles title at the US Open in September.
Britain’s government on Sunday defended the pace and scale of its response to the new Omicron strain of Covid-19 against criticism that it is again falling behind the curve.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said mandatory mask-wearing would return to shops and public transport in England on Tuesday, but told families to plan for Christmas “as normal”, despite new rules to combat the Omicron variant.
Also effective Tuesday, the government’s website is instructing all passengers entering the UK to take a PCR test for Covid-19 two days after their arrival, and to self-isolate until the receive a negative result.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson had announced the tougher measures at a hastily arranged news conference on Saturday, but did not specify when they would take effect.
Johnson was widely criticised for his travel and quarantine policy earlier in the pandemic, when he kept borders open to foreign travellers even as infection rates, yielding Britain one of the world’s worst per-capita death tolls from Covid.
The government controversially dropped the masks mandate in July for England, after a prior lockdown, while the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland kept it in place.
All four UK nations are expected to adopt the same PCR rule, after England again diverged in July by requiring only a simple lateral flow test for incoming passengers on flights, ships and trains.
Travel from 10 countries in southern Africa is now banned because of Omicron, but Javid conceded that hundreds of passengers had arrived on flights from South Africa on Friday without being tested.
But he told BBC television: “I think the speed at which we acted at could not have been any faster.”
‘Holes in the defences’
Javid added that the government was “nowhere near” reintroducing social distancing rules and work-from-home guidance, which were also controversially discarded in England earlier this year against the advice of scientists.
He said it was too early to judge the effectiveness of existing vaccines against Omicron, as drugs manufacturers rush to research new treatments against the emergent strain.
But the government is seeking approval from its Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to expand the rollout of booster jabs, shortening the time-frame between second and third shots, and broadening the age range to all over-18s.
The JCVI is expected to respond early next week, Javid said.
He added that no further cases of Omicron had been detected in Britain, after the government on Saturday confirmed the first two cases, both linked to travel from southern Africa.
The opposition Labour party said the government was again doing too little, too late after Omicron emerged.
Even after Tuesday, passengers can enter Britain without a pre-departure test and travel freely from their port of entry on public transport, Labour’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Lisa Nandy noted.
“We desperately want to see them tighten up the travel restrictions,” she said on Sky News.
“There is a real problem when for 18 months the government has been warned that there are holes in those defences and still hasn’t taken action to plug (them).”
Britain on Saturday confirmed its first two cases of the new Omicron strain of Covid-19, both linked to travel from southern Africa, and expanded travel restrictions on the region.
“After overnight genome sequencing, the UK Health Security Agency has confirmed that two cases of Covid-19 with mutations consistent with B.1.1.529 (Omicron) have been identified in the UK,” a government statement said.
“The two cases are linked and there is a link to travel to southern Africa,” it said.
At least 27 migrants trying to reach England from France died on Wednesday when their boat sank off the northern French coast, the deadliest disaster since the Channel became a hub for clandestine crossings.
President Emmanuel Macron vowed France would not allow the Channel to become a “cemetery” and also spoke to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to agree on stepping up efforts to thwart the traffickers blamed for the surge in crossings.
“It is Europe’s deepest values — humanism, respect for the dignity of each person — that are in mourning,” Macron said.
The disaster caused the highest death toll since at least 2018 when migrants began using boats en masse to cross the Channel. It comes as tensions grow between London and Paris over the record numbers of people crossing.
Prosecutors opened a manslaughter probe after the boat sank off the northern port city of Calais. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said four suspected traffickers accused of being directly linked to the doomed crossing in a long inflatable boat had been arrested.
Darmanin told reporters in Calais that only two survivors had been found and both of their lives were in danger. He said five women and one little girl were among those who died, while Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart said a pregnant woman was also one of the victims.
The nationality of the migrants was not immediately clear. An initial toll said 31 migrants had died but the interior ministry later revised this down to 27.
Prime Minister Jean Castex will hold a crisis meeting early on Thursday, his office said.
French officials said earlier three helicopters and three boats had searched the area, uncovering corpses and people unconscious in the water, after a fisherman sounded the alarm.
Johnson said he was “shocked, appalled and deeply saddened by the loss of life at sea”, following a crisis meeting with senior officials.
But he also said Britain had faced “difficulties persuading some of our partners, particularly the French, to do things in a way that the situation deserves”.
Britain has urged tougher action from France to stop migrants from making the voyage.
The issue has added to growing post-Brexit strains between Britain and France, with a row on fishing rights also still unresolved.
“The response must obviously also come from Britain,” said Darmanin, calling for “a very tough coordinated international response”.
In telephone talks, Johnson and Macron agreed on the “urgency of stepping up joint efforts to prevent these deadly crossings” and that “it is vital to keep all options on the table” to break the business model of the smuggling gangs, according to Downing Street.
One of the French lifeboat workers, Charles Devos, described seeing “a flat, deflated inflatable boat with the little air that remained to help it float” surrounded by bodies of the drowned.
Pierre Roques of the Auberge des Migrants NGO in Calais said the Channel risked becoming as deadly as the Mediterranean, which has seen a much higher toll from the migrants crossing.
“People are dying in the Channel, which is becoming a cemetery. And as England is right opposite, people will continue to cross,” he said.
According to the French authorities, 31,500 people attempted to leave for Britain since the start of the year and 7,800 people have been rescued at sea, figures which doubled since August.
In Britain, Johnson’s Conservative government is coming under intense pressure, including from its own supporters, to reduce the numbers.
Natalie Elphicke, the Conservative MP for the British Channel port of Dover, called the sinking “an absolute tragedy” and demonstrated the need to stop the crossings at their source.
“As winter is approaching, the seas will get rougher, the water colder, the risk of even more lives tragically being lost greater,” she said.
Charlotte Kwantes of Utopia56, an association that works with migrants in Calais, said “more than 300” migrants had died since 1999 in the area.
“As long as safe passages are not put in place between England and France, or as long as these people cannot be regularised in France… there will be deaths at the border,” she told AFP.
According to British authorities, more than 25,000 people have now arrived illegally so far this year, already triple the figure recorded in 2020.
Britain on Friday said the number of migrants trying to cross the Channel illegally from France was “unacceptable”, after a daily record of 1,185 people made the journey.
The authorities rescued or intercepted the unprecedented numbers on Thursday in 33 separate events, while French officials prevented 99 people reaching the UK in seven incidents, according to the interior ministry in London.
“The British public have had enough of seeing people die in the Channel while ruthless criminal gangs profit from their misery,” a ministry spokesperson said, adding planned changes to immigration laws “will fix the broken system”.
The single-day tally of migrants using small boats and other makeshift means to cross the Channel surpasses the previous record of 853 set earlier this month, according to the ministry.
Meanwhile, three migrants have been reported missing after seeking to make the journey from the northern French coastline to southeast England in canoes, French maritime authorities said Friday.
Their disappearance was reported by two other migrants rescued at sea, according to the regional maritime prefecture, with search efforts halted on Thursday at nightfall and not set to resume.
The past three years have seen a significant rise in attempted Channel crossings by migrants, despite warnings of the dangers in the busy shipping lane, which is subject to strong currents and low temperatures.
According to a count this month by Britain’s domestic news agency PA, more than 21,000 migrants have made the crossing to Britain in small boats since the beginning of the year — more than double the figure for the whole of 2020.
The issue of policing migrants wanting to cross the Channel is a constant source of friction between Britain and France.
London has committed to providing Paris with tens of millions of pounds of funding for stepped-up enforcement, but reports have said it could threaten to halt the incremental payments without signs of progress.
Meanwhile, the government is pushing through new legislation that would significantly toughen penalties against such migration, and Home Secretary Priti Patel says she is reviewing maritime tactics to deter people smugglers.
Britain’s upcoming budget will invest almost £7.0 billion ($9.6 billion, 8.3 billion euros) on transport outside London, the Treasury said on Saturday, as part of plans to cut economic inequality.
Finance minister Rishi Sunak will unveil the transport initiative during his autumn budget and spending review due on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s so-called “levelling up” programme is seen as vital to keeping voters in former strongholds of the main opposition Labour party who backed him in the 2019 general election.
His Conservative party won a swathe of seats in northern England on a promise to deliver Britain’s Brexit divorce from the European Union, as well as boost jobs and growth.
Recipients of the transport project cash include regions in the former Labour “red wall” that turned Tory blue two years ago and will be seen as payback for their support.
According to the finance ministry, the government will invest £5.7 billion in city regions to boost productivity via train and station upgrades, and tram network expansion.
It will also inject £1.2 billion into overhauling bus services.
The government wants to quicken journey times, simplify fares and increase services outside London, after repeated complaints that regions outside the British capital were ill-served by transport links, affecting business.
“Great cities need great transport and that is why we’re investing billions to improve connections in our city regions as we level up opportunities across the country,” said Sunak in the statement.
“This transport revolution will help redress that imbalance as we modernise our local transport networks so they are fit for our great cities and those people who live and work in them.”
Transport policy is set separately in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland by the nations’ devolved administrations in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.
The government said the extra investment for England would mean additional cash for the three other UK nations under-weighted public expenditure adjustments.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Sunak will also announce the latest growth forecasts for the economy, which is battling high inflation due largely to surging energy prices and a supply chain crisis that was sparked by Brexit and Covid.
Britain’s National Health Service, which provides free healthcare funded from general taxation and welfare contributions, is one of the world’s largest and most cosmopolitan employers.
But the NHS — which listed 211 nationalities in England alone in 2020 — faces chronic staff shortages.
By 2029, the state-run service in England will face a shortfall of 108,000 nurses, according to the Health Foundation think-tank.
Now there are fears the crisis will further deepen due to a combination of shocks depleting its substantial foreign workforce: retirement, the coronavirus pandemic, Brexit and tougher immigration rules.
Migration has long been a “stopgap solution” as Britain suffered “recurring crises” for 40 years, said Mark Dayan, policy analyst at the Nuffield Trust health think-tank.
Retired doctor Iftikhar Ali Syed left Pakistan for Britain in 1960 and spent 45 years working in Burnley, a northern English town defined by factory chimneys belching black smoke.
Syed, 86, belonged to a generation of medical professionals from ex-British colonies who filled labour shortages after World War II.
They were directed to poorer regions — often ex-industrial heartlands like northern England and south Wales — where recruitment was hardest and health needs greatest.
Even today, the life expectancy gap between deprived areas of northern England and the more affluent southeast is more than 10 years.
“Overseas doctors had no chance. You got a practice where no-one wants it,” Syed told AFP.
Syed and other immigrant doctors of his generation “flooded” Burnley, he remembered, helping to establish its first cardiology unit and improve midwifery services.
But they retired after 2000, creating a shortage in Burnley, mirrored in places where immigrants disproportionately filled healthcare roles.
As in other countries, the pandemic has traumatised and exhausted Britain’s frontline health and social care staff and created a huge backlog in treatments for other conditions.
In the year to March 2021, international travel disruptions meant 3,700 fewer nurses came to Britain than in the previous year.
Faizan Rana, a 34-year-old NHS operations manager, said pandemic travel curbs have weakened services and exacerbated staff shortages at his London hospital and elsewhere.
Britain has become less welcoming and financially rewarding for EU staff after the 2016 Brexit referendum and the subsequent fall in the pound’s value, added Dayan.
In 2021, there were around 8,000 fewer nurses from European Economic Area nations on the official register than in 2016.
And more than half of EU nurses leaving Britain cited the country’s departure from the bloc as a reason for their decision, a 2020 Nursing and Midwifery Council survey suggested.
Syed remembered EU staff filling shortages in Burnley after his retirement and predicted “tremendous demand” again as their numbers diminished after Brexit.
Under Britain’s new points-based immigration system, migrants must meet salary and English proficiency levels and have an offer for a skilled job, although a special visa scheme exempts healthcare workers.
Naveen Keerthi, 42, runs a recruitment agency bringing foreign doctors to Britain and believes the reforms will help hire overseas staff, with a “surge” in applicants in the past four years.
But Akshay Akulwar, a 34-year-old NHS doctor from India, said compatriots were increasingly choosing Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the Middle East because of more generous visa rules.
And Dayan said the reforms will hit social care, where staff are not considered skilled and paid low wages.
The fate of social care, where trained carers look after vulnerable people in their homes and offer mental health services, is closely tied to the NHS.
Hospitals suffer greater pressures when patients cannot be discharged as adequate care services — often provided by cash-strapped local authorities — are unavailable for them to return home.
Social care has particularly suffered as Brexit sealed the “escape valve” of freedom of movement across the EU that had filled staff shortages, Dayan added.
Rebecca Bland, registered manager at a nursing agency in northwest England, told AFP the pandemic and new immigration rules have hampered recruitment.
The 42-year-old’s company works with the local NHS and has long recruited from abroad, especially the Philippines, but has only hired one-tenth of the staff required since the pandemic began.
Bland said her colleagues were “being pushed to the limit”, calling it “an existential crisis” exacerbated by pre-existing recruitment difficulties caused by low-paid, insecure work.
However, Dayan blamed workforce shortages on decades-old failures by successive UK governments to train enough staff and provide adequate long-term planning.
“The underlying problems are domestic in nature,” he stressed.
The UK government last month announced new NHS and social care funding worth £36 billion ($50 billion, 42 billion euros) over three years.
But Dayan warned cash injections alone would not resolve staff shortages, instead advocating better workforce planning to recruit and retain staff more effectively.
Britain has warned all UK nationals in Afghanistan to leave the country immediately due to the “worsening security situation” as fighting intensifies.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on Friday updated its website to advise against all travel to Afghanistan.
“All British nationals in Afghanistan are advised to leave now by commercial means. If you are still in Afghanistan, you are advised to leave now by commercial means because of the worsening security situation,” it said.
The foreign office warned Britons not to rely on it for emergency evacuation, saying the assistance it could provide was “extremely limited”.
The warning comes after the Taliban launched a major offensive to coincide with the withdrawal of US-led foreign forces after nearly two decades of conflict.
“Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Afghanistan. Specific methods of attack are evolving and increasing in sophistication,” the foreign office said.
The Taliban now control vast swathes of rural Afghanistan and are challenging government forces in several cities, including Herat, near the western border with Iran, and Lashkar Gah and Kandahar in the south.
On Friday, the Islamist militants captured their first provincial capital since stepping up their offensive in May.
Zaranj, the capital of the southwest province of Nimroz, fell “without a fight”, deputy provincial governor Roh Gul Khairzad told AFP.
Britain hosts climate and environment ministers from 51 countries on Sunday for “critical” climate talks ahead of November’s COP26 summit in Glasgow.
British minister Alok Sharma, President of COP26, will lead the two-day meeting, which London said will address “key issues that require resolution” at the summit.
Sharma “hopes to build common ground and sketch the outline of the Glasgow outcome,” according to a statement released by the British government.
Environment and climate ministers from the US, India and China will be among those taking part in the closed-door meeting, which will include both virtual and in-person attendance.
It is the first face-to-face ministerial meeting of its kind in more than 18 months.
“We are facing perilous times for our planet and the only way we will safeguard its future is if countries are on the same path,” said Sharma.
“The world will be watching to see whether we come together in Glasgow and do what is necessary to turn things around in this decisive decade,” he added.
“It is essential that together we roll up our sleeves, find common ground and collectively draw out how we will build a greener, brighter future for our children and future generations.”
The event will cover the goal of keeping to the 1.5C temperature rise limit, exploring topics such as climate finance, efforts to adapt to climate change, and finalising the “rulebook” for implementation of the Paris Agreement.
Negotiators from 196 countries and the European Union, along with businesses, experts and world leaders are expected to attend.
US climate envoy John Kerry said this week that the summit marked a “pivotal moment for the world to come together to meet and master the climate challenge.
“Glasgow is the place, 2021 is the time and we can, in a little more than 100 days, save the next 100 years.
“Above all we need to provide action, and we need to do it now, because time is running out,” he added.
Britain on Thursday placed sanctions on five individuals around the world including the son of Equatorial Guinea’s president, as part of its global anti-corruption regime.
The UK said it had frozen the assets of and put travel bans on the five, who are accused of syphoning off public funds in Equatorial Guinea, Zimbabwe, Venezuela and Iraq.
“The action we have taken today targets individuals who have lined their own pockets at the expense of their citizens,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.
“Corruption drains the wealth of poorer nations, keeps their people trapped in poverty and poisons the well of democracy,” he said.
The Foreign Office said it was sanctioning Vice President of Equatorial Guinea Teodorin Obiang, the son of the current president, for his involvement in the misappropriation of state funds into his own personal bank accounts.
As well as making corrupt contracting arrangements and soliciting bribes, it said Obiang had splurged $500 million (425 million euros) on a private mansion in Paris, luxury cars and a collection of Michael Jackson memorabilia including a $275,000 crystal-covered glove that the singer wore on his 1987-89 “Bad” tour.
Sanctions were placed on Colombian contractors Alex Nain Saab Moran and Alvaro Enrique Pulido Vargas for exploiting Venezuela’s public food and housing programmes and delivering goods at inflated prices.
Saab, who is reported to be close to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and who has a Venezuelan diplomatic passport, is accused by the United States of pulling the strings of this embezzlement network.
Indicted in July 2019 in Miami for money laundering, he was arrested during a stop-over of his plane in Cape Verde in mid-June 2020.
The United States is demanding his extradition while Venezuela is calling for his release.
The Venezuelan foreign ministry reacted issued a statement late Thursday saying that London’s sanctions were “criminal” and “reflect the immorality of the British government which sets itself up as the world’s supposed anti-corruption judge.”
Zimbabwe’s Kudakwashe Regimond Tagwirei was sanctioned under the anti-corruption regime for redeeming national treasury bills at 10 times their official value.
Iraq’s Nawfal Hammadi Al-Sultan was targeted for misappropriating public funds intended for reconstruction efforts and supporting civilians while serving as governor of the country’s northern Nineveh province.
The measures are the second grouping of sanctions under Britain’s anti-corruption regime.
They follow sanctions in April, which targeted 22 individuals involved in serious corruption cases in Russia, South Africa, South Sudan and Latin America.