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Good morning, this is Richard Parkin bringing you the main stories and must-reads on Thursday 24 December.

a group of people walking down a sidewalk: Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP a group of people walking down a sidewalk: Few shoppers are seen in Sydney’s normally busy central shopping street on Monday. A new survey shows Australians are more worried about the economic impact of Covid-19 than the impact on their health. © Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP Few shoppers are seen in Sydney’s normally busy central shopping street on Monday. A new survey shows Australians are more worried about the economic impact of Covid-19 than the impact on their health.

Top stories

The economic impacts of the Covid-19 recession have weighed more heavily on the minds of Australians than the pandemic’s potential health repercussions, voter surveys have found. Across the five months since August, the economy remained the number one political issue for 41% of respondents, followed by 27% who replied health, and 10% who said climate change. In greater Sydney, a 10-visitor rule will remain in place for Christmas, New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian has confirmed – with different rules in place for the northern beaches – while NSW health officials are also scrambling to find out how a Covid-positive Qantas crew member flew into Sydney without being tested or quarantined.

A Brexit trade deal is expected to be announced today, following nine months of tense negotiations between the EU and UK. European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, and British PM Boris Johnson are believed to have been in constant contact over the past 72 hours, regarding nearly 2,000 pages of trade text, but the possibility of an 11th-hour obstruction still remains, experts caution. The UK exits the single market and customs union in eight days’ time, but the 27 respective governments of the EU may take a week to translate, scrutinise and sign off on any final treaty.

Former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd has criticised a request by the attorney general’s department to sign on the register of foreign interest as “ridiculous”, insisting he is “not an agent of foreign influence”. Rudd’s engagement with UK broadcaster, the BBC, reportedly triggered the request, prompting the 63-year-old to list 35 nations where he has engaged professionally with “entities or individuals that are closely associated with these jurisdictions”. The former Labor leader said an “expansive interpretation” of the act poses significant headaches for media organisations like News Corp Australia, with foreign attempts to influence media a matter of “public concern”.

Australia

a group of people on a beach near a body of water: Marine life on Western Australia’s Ningaloo coast could be under threat by warming water, which is predicted to occur in early 2021. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo © Provided by The Guardian Marine life on Western Australia’s Ningaloo coast could be under threat by warming water, which is predicted to occur in early 2021. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Western Australia will face a marine heatwave in 2021, with ocean temperatures of more than 1C above average expected in April. The prognosis for vulnerable fish, seagrass and coral populations is not known, but scientists predict the damage to commercial fisheries will not be as severe as in 2011.

New South Wales’ Independent Planning Commission is under fire from environmentalists, after approving a fourth fossil fuel project in the state in the past five months.

A “significant number” of Australians flying home for Christmas have been stranded after Singapore and Hong Kong’s decision to ban travellers from the UK. Foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne, has said the government is looking into alternative arrangements.

The world

a row of parked cars: Freight lorries parked near Ramsgate in the UK. Retailers say vehicles need to begin moving within 24 hours to avoid shortages Photograph: William Edwards/AFP/Getty Images © Provided by The Guardian Freight lorries parked near Ramsgate in the UK. Retailers say vehicles need to begin moving within 24 hours to avoid shortages Photograph: William Edwards/AFP/Getty Images

Supermarkets in the UK are planning to airlift in hundreds of tonnes of fresh fruit and vegetables, amid shortage fears following France’s recent Covid-related blockade.

Donald Trump’s pardoning of four US security guards responsible for a 2007 massacre has prompted outrage in Iraq, with leading human rights activists calling the president “more of a criminal” than the “criminals” he absolved.

Nearly one in five “premature deaths” in India last year was caused by pollution, a major Lancet report has concluded. Six of the world’s 10 most polluted cities are in India, with 1.7m people succumbing to diseases such as lung cancer or heart disease in 2019.

The dredging of an inland shipping route to link the Baltic and the Black seas has raised concerns over radioactivity, with scientists warning that sludge from the river close to the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster site could be disturbed.

Recommended reads

Tristan Williams usually loves Christmas. But after Covid decimated the Australian arts sector, the former dancer has been hit by an added challenge – finding out his Centrelink has been cut off just days before Christmas. “I’m scared. Scared of how long I could potentially have to wait and what that means. Will I be able to pay my rent in time? Will I have food to put on my table?” He shares his story, as part of our ongoing series, Dreams Interrupted.

For the past eight years Mardin Arvin has spent Christmas in limbo, caught in Australia’s immigration regime. After meeting community advocate Omid Tofighian on Manus Island, the native Farsi speaker finally found a translator for his writing. And as he walks the corridors of detention in a Melbourne hotel, he documents his hopes for the year ahead, once again. “My wish is that I celebrate Christmas in 2021 as a free man; to celebrate the day out of detention; to celebrate a proper Christmas for the first time in my life. I also wish I could see my mother again after eight years.”

Gardening. The TV lifestyle shows and self-help books tell you it’s a wonder panacea for all that ails you. But is it all it’s cracked up to be? “A puppy will destroy a weekend’s work in minutes. A storm will snap delicate trees, hot weather will wilt roses, drought will dry once-lush lawns.” The garden-shy Brigid Delaney and gardening-enthusiast Stephanie Convery work through the pros and cons in our summer series, Prove Me Wrong.

Launched during lockdown, our regular column The Funniest Things on the Internet was a hit with many readers. But if you desperately wanted to help curate cyber chuckles for others, here’s your chance. But first, here are this week’s picks from Guardian Australian staff.

Listen

2020. A year like no other. From global pandemic to the end of the Trump presidency. From the killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, to the ongoing climate crisis. Guardian editor-in-chief Katharine Viner is the special guest on Full Story this week.

Full Story is Guardian Australia’s daily news podcast. Subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or any other podcasting app.

Sport

Jenna McCormick and Lisa De Vanna are two of more recognisable faces in the W-League this season. Photograph: James Ross/AAP © Provided by The Guardian Jenna McCormick and Lisa De Vanna are two of more recognisable faces in the W-League this season. Photograph: James Ross/AAP

The 2020-21 W-League season starts next week. “This seems like a perfectly ordinary sentence,” writes Samantha Lewis, but in the context of 2020 it’s not much short of a minor miracle. And in spite of Covid-19 a lot has changed in women’s football in the interim.

From teenage sensation Eduardo Camavinga to the evergreen Zlatan Ibrahimović – the Guardian continues to count down its annual 100 best male footballers in the world; and there are plenty of surprising faces with just the top 10 to be revealed.

Media roundup

The head of the Australian defence force Covid-19 taskforce has denied states’ access to troops to patrol borders, the Age reports, with high-risk weather events, counter-terrorism and hotel quarantine deemed higher priorities across Christmas. South Australia’s tourism sector is expecting a holiday boom to end 2020 on a higher note, writes the Adelaide Advertiser, with bookings up over 150%. And, NSW has attempted an audacious bid to steal the Gabba Test match, according to the Daily Telegraph, as Cricket Australia continues crucial talks with the Queensland government over travel restriction challenges.

Coming up

NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian will update case numbers linked to the northern beaches coronavirus cluster at 11am.

And if you’ve read this far …

He’s been called Australia’s grumpiest cat. But in a modern-day Christmas miracle, Chester, the much-maligned moggie, described as “demonic” and “the least-loved cat in Australia” has found a home in time for Yuletide. After a series of bad matches, the eight-year-old with a penchant for biting and swiping is off to live with retiree Wilma. “I’ve been wanting another cat for a while and I just thought he looked cute,” Wilma said.