(LONDON) — Prime Minister Boris Johnson put some planned measures to ease the U.K.’s lockdown on hold Friday, just hours before they were due to take effect, saying the number of new coronavirus cases in the country is on the rise for the first time since May.
Johnson said at a news conference that statistics show that the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community is likely increasing, with an estimated 4,900 new infections every day, up from 2,000 a day at the end of June.
“We just can’t afford to ignore this evidence,” he said.
“With those numbers creeping up, our assessment is that we should now squeeze (the) brake pedal in order to keep the virus under control.”
He called off plans to allow venues, including casinos, bowling alleys and skating rinks, to open from Saturday, Aug. 1. Wedding receptions were also put on hold, along with plans to allow limited numbers of fans back into sports stadiums and audiences into theaters.
Johnson said the measures will be reviewed after two weeks.
He said a rule requiring face coverings to be worn in shops and on public transit will be extended to museums, galleries, cinemas and places of worship.
Scientists advising the government say they are no longer confident that the R figure, which measures how many people each infected person passes the disease to, is below 1 in England. A number above 1 means the virus will spread exponentially.
On Thursday, the government re-imposed restrictions on social life in a swath of northern England because of a surge in cases, barring households from visiting one another.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that while it’s not the “sort of decision that anybody would want to take,’’ the government had no choice.
Under the new restrictions, people from different households in Greater Manchester, England’s second largest metropolitan area, have been asked to not meet indoors. The order also applies to the surrounding areas of Lancashire and West Yorkshire counties, affecting more than 4 million people in all.
Hancock said data showed the coronavirus was being spread primarily between households.
He told the BBC that “one of the terrible things about this virus is it thrives on the sort of social contact that makes life worth living.”
Opposition politicians supported the latest move but criticized the government for announcing the restrictions in a tweet from Hancock late Thursday, just two hours before they came into force at midnight.
Labour Party business spokeswoman Lucy Powell said the “bolt out of the blue” approach was “not the way to build confidence and to take people with you and maximize compliance with these steps.”
The affected region has a large Muslim population, and the restrictions coincide with the Eid al-Adha holiday, where many people would normally gather in each other’s homes.
The Muslim Council of Britain’s secretary general, Harun Khan, sharply criticized the way the announcement was made, saying that for Muslims in the affected areas, “it is like being told they cannot visit family and friends for Christmas on Christmas Eve itself.”
The northern England measures are the second batch of regional restrictions imposed to try to curb a second wave of the virus in Britain, following a stricter local lockdown in the central England city of Leicester. The government said restaurants, pubs, shops and hairdressers in Leicester could reopen from Monday, more than a month after they were closed amid a surge in cases.
Britain’s official coronavirus death toll stands at just over 46,000, the third-highest total in the world after the United States and Brazil.
Kenya Is Trying to End Child Marriage. But Climate Change Is Putting More Young Girls at Risk
Reporting for this article was supported by a grant from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
In a small hut in the village of Bubisa, a young bride named Tunne sits alone on a makeshift pallet bed. Smoke from a smoldering indoor cook fire stings the eyes and obscures the air, and a single beam of sunlight streams in through a tiny hole in the wall that passes for a window. Tunne, who normally wears the loose, cotton dira dress customary for girls in this region, is today wrapped head to toe in traditional, azure-colored wedding fabric, still stiff from its newness. Her neck is adorned with red and yellow beads.
It’s March 13, and the Gabra tribe of north-east Kenya is about to begin its annual, three-day mass-marriage ceremony. Across the region, hundreds of couples will be married during a single auspicious weekend of celebration. In Bubisa—a village without a gas station or grocery store that sits about 30 miles north of Marsabit, the nearest developed town, and 360 miles north of Nairobi, the nation’s capital—families erect tents and set up sound systems as the festivities kick-off.
Through the shawl that covers her mouth, Tunne tells me she is 17 years old. But her father has said she’s 16, and Nuria Gollo, a local activist fighting against child marriage—who introduced me to the young bride—told me she is 15. Tunne’s childish voice and small stature suggest Gollo is probably right.
No matter which number is accurate, Tunne is, by law, a child, and child marriage has been prohibited in Kenya since 1990, when the country ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a United Nations human rights treaty between nations to protect children from a number of abuses. Additional Kenyan laws, including the Children’s Act of 2001, the Sexual Offences Act of 2006 and the Marriage Act of 2014 (which explicitly prohibits the marriage of children under 18), further criminalized this practice. In 2013, Kenya’s Ministers of Health and Education committed, along with Ministers from several other African nations, to ending child marriage by the end of 2020. Kenya’s efforts have worked to some extent: the share of young women between 20 and 24 years of age who were married before their 18th birthday dropped from 34% in 1994 to 23% in 2016, the most recent year for which accurate data are available. But the target date of 2020 for completely eliminating child marriage is fast approaching, and the country is still far from meeting that goal.
In part, that’s because of climate change, which have given rise to a resurgence of child marriage in northern Kenya in the last five years, experts say. Here, increasingly frequent droughts and a plague of locusts linked to climate change have depleted water and grazeland, and the livestock that are the economic backbone of pastoralist communities like Bubisa are dying of hunger, thirst and disease. To cope, desperate families are increasingly pulling their daughters from school and marrying them off in exchange for dowries—typically comprised of new clothes, drums of fresh milk and several camels. (Camels are highly valued for their milk and meat, and their use in transporting people and goods across long distances in Kenya’s northern desert land.)
While there aren’t widely agreed-upon figures, a growing body of research suggests that climate change is increasingly putting more girls at risk of being married off at a young age. For example, a January 2020 report released by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the United States Agency for International Development and a June 2020 report released by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) found that globally, dowry practices are exacerbated in times of crisis and displacement, such as drought, and contribute to higher prevalence of child marriage. Mohamed Abdullahi, the head of the United Nations International Children’s Fund Kenya’s northeast office, says that cases of child marriage have increased in the country as a result of “man-made and natural disasters, specifically drought.”
Kenya has been trying to fight back; in recent months, the federal government has tasked local law enforcement and officials with cracking down on the practice. So, as the celebrations in Bubisa commence, police slowly make their way from tent to tent, checking on the age of each bride-to-be. But many of the local officials and police come from the same tribes as the families of the brides and grooms, Gollo explains, which means some will turn a blind eye to child marriages.
During the course of my reporting, Tunne and her family seem to conceal her real age. But even then, they do not tell me she is 18; Tunne looks so young that this would be difficult to believe. Rather, they place her age around 16 or 17, still below the legal limit, but a more realistic approximation that Gollo says they believe they can get away with without trouble from the authorities.
Compared to the rest of the world, Kenya sits fairly high in the ranks of countries most likely to feel significant impacts of climate change. In 2018, the University of Notre Dame’s Global Adaptation Initiative Index ranked Kenya 36th among all countries in vulnerability to climate change effects—and 152nd in terms of preparedness to deal with these effects.
Kenya’s mean annual temperature has been increasing at a rate of 0.34°C per decade over the last 30 years. The country has two rainy seasons: the long rains, which typically last from April until early June, and the short rains, which intermittently come from November through December. In recent years, during these seasons, precipitation has become more intense and less predictable, causing an increase in dangerous flash floods. But it is the droughts during the dry seasons that have had the greatest economic impact in Kenya, and the most profound effect on families like Tunne’s. Kenya experienced nine droughts between 1950 and 2000. In the 20 years since then, it has already counted at least six.
Prolonged droughts have plagued Bubisa in six of the last 10 years. In 2010-2011, the region suffered what many called the worst in 60 years, decimating the livestock of North Kenyans, who have struggled to recover in the aftermath. Subsequent droughts in 2015-2016 and 2017-2018 exacerbated the problem, creating an existential crisis for many pastoralists in the region. An estimated 30% of Kenyan livestock owners were forced to find new sources of income between 1997 and 2017, according to a 2017 report from Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries. And the World Bank estimates that droughts caused some $1.08 billion in losses due to their impact on Kenya’s livestock populations between 2007 and 2017.
This year, the skies finally opened up in March, bringing above-average rainfall to many parts of the country. But the rain came too hard, too fast, creating flash floods that washed away the seeds pastoralists in the region had recently planted in the hopes of regenerating pasturelands to feed their hungry animals. Instead, to survive, families were forced to make difficult decisions, like which children they should pull out of school to herd their animals, and whether to sell any unmarried daughters off for dowry.
Though climate change affects every human on Earth, it is likely to harm young girls more than any other age or gender demographic, says Dr. Mary Nyasimi, director of Inclusive Climate Change Adaptation for a Sustainable Africa, a Kenya-based nonprofit supported by donors including the African Development Bank Group and GIZ, an international development agency based in Germany. In large part, that’s because of deeply ingrained gender disparities all over the world, although these play out in different ways across cultures.
Many of northern Kenya’s traditionalist pastoralist communities, for example, tend to be deeply patriarchal. Boys are the only ones allowed to be financial providers and to make decisions, and as a result, families value them more than girls. Girls, on the other hand, are often seen purely in terms of the dowry money they can bring in. So, in times of economic hardship, families usually pull girls out of school before boys. While Kenya does offer free public schooling, the cost of transportation to and from school, uniforms and even books and pencils can be prohibitive for many families. “Whatever little they have, they would rather use it to educate the boy rather than educate the girl,” says Halima Aden, who runs a girls’ school in Marsabit county.
During the drought of 2016, Tunne’s parents pulled her out of school and tasked her with herding the animals while her brothers continued to get an education. But things only worsened as the region continued to suffer droughts year after year. Many of Tunne’s family’s goats and camels died over the years, and even more had to be sold for the family to survive. So, when a wealthy family in the village came to Tunne’s father asking for his daughter’s hand in marriage for their 23-year-old son—offering a dowry of three camels, which locals say can be sold at up to $700 per head—it was an offer too good to refuse.
When I ask Tunne if she had a choice in her marriage, she nods yes. But later in our interview, I inquire if she’s looking forward to the wedding. She is not, she says, but felt she couldn’t refuse her father’s wishes. “At that tender age the girl does not have a voice,” Aden says. “That deliberation is made by the parents, and the girl will not say no to the parents.”
Nuria Gollo sits on the board of the Kenyan government’s National Council for Children’s Services and is a local activist in the northern part of the country. She herself is a member of the Gabra tribe and knows all too well the physical and emotional toll that early marriage takes on the girl child; she was married off by her father when she was only 16. Gollo wanted to work as a teacher, but her new husband would not permit it. So, two years later, she ran away, staying with supportive friends who helped her survive. Her parents were mortified that their daughter had abandoned her marriage, and for some time Gollo had “a bad relationship” with them, never visiting her childhood home.
Eventually, Gollo was able to fulfill her dream, finding work as a teacher. Six years after she left her marriage, her ex-husband remarried, and Gollo’s parents finally began accepting her choice. Gollo’s ex-husband eventually gave her a certificate of divorce, nearly 10 years after the marriage ended, but to this day, has not paid her the alimony stipulated in their Islamic wedding contract. Today, Gollo is married to a man she met nearly 15 years after that first marriage ended, and has dedicated her life to fighting child marriage. She has become well-known in the Marsabit region; she travels from village to village to rescue girls who are intended for marriage and bring them back to school. She intervenes with families, and, if necessary, escalates the cases to the local police station. She also works with the Kenyan government to establish rules, regulations and procedures for reducing rates of child marriage in northern communities.
“I have gone through [child marriage], and I know how painful it is,” says Gollo. “How it has deterred me from reaching my desired goals. And I wouldn’t like to sit and watch the same happening to the younger girls who are being married off.”
The June UNFPA report found that most child brides around the world leave school and immediately begin having children. They often have no choice in the matter: In Kenya, only 56% of women and girls make their own decisions about their sexual and reproductive health, including when to have children, and how many. Globally, girls who are married young face higher risks of pregnancy-related death due to early, poorly spaced, and too oft-repeated pregnancies and childbirth. Child brides are also more vulnerable to domestic violence, social isolation and depression.
But it is not only the child brides who suffer from the effects of early marriage: it’s economically detrimental to the country as a whole, because the practice prevents girls from attaining an education, and thus being able to contribute to the national workforce. A 2017 World Bank study found that if child marriage were eradicated, developing economies could save trillions of dollars by the year 2030.
Globally, an estimated 650 million girls and women alive today were married as children, and every single day, on average, some 33,000 underage girls are married off. The harm that child marriage causes to communities and entire nations is still being assessed, but as the effects of climate change continue to intensify around the world, girls like Tunne will be increasingly vulnerable to being married off young. Without intervention from governments, organizations and activists, many more young girls in countries across the world will be sold into marriage as global temperatures rise and extreme weather becomes more common.
Girls who are married early are also more likely to perpetuate stereotypical gender roles and to transmit these norms to their own children, according to the June 2020 UNFPA report. “If a girl drops out of school, and she goes back and lives the [same] life [her] mother has been living…in that community is not going to grow, and life is not going to be any better for anyone,” says Aden, who runs the girls’ school in Marsabit. “The vicious circle is going to continue.”
But some are trying to break that cycle. In Marsabit, 17-year-old Gumato Kunni leads me into the one-room home that she keeps spotlessly clean for her husband and two-year-old daughter, Rukia. She invites me to sit on the only available piece of furniture, a mattress on the floor.
“My parents married each other poor,” says Kunni. “Without any livestock, we did not have anything.” Eventually, the family, members of the Gabra tribe, did acquire a few animals, but they were still in need. “We used to borrow milk from our neighbors and other people who were close to us,” she says. As a child growing up in the remote village of Burgabo, deep in the Chalbi desert, Kunni was studious, and dreamed of becoming a schoolteacher and educating future generations of girls. The 2015 drought destroyed those dreams. One day that year, Kunni says, her father came back home empty-handed holding only his herding stick. The few animals the family owned had all died.
“When my marriage proposal came [two years later], I was married off,” she says. “My community sells off their children any time marriage proposals come forth.” Kunni’s 21-year-old husband is a truck driver—a good father and provider, she says. The couple moved about 60 miles south to Marsabit, hoping to provide Rukia with a better life than they had growing up. Kunni says the worst part about being married so young was missing out on her childhood, playing and having fun with her friends.
As we talk, she sings to Rukia, and tosses her up and down as the tiny girl squeals in delight. “I love my daughter so much,” Kunni tells me, her soft brown eyes lighting up. “I dream that her child gets educated, and that she helps her in the future, and [us] too.”
How American Guns Are Fueling U.K. Crime
NORTHAMPTON, England — Josh Bains was 28 when he was killed after an argument over a drug debt of about $50 just a few miles from the English village where he grew up — with a gun that had traveled thousands of miles from America.His was one of a rising number of gun deaths in recent years that have British authorities worried about an expanding smuggling pipeline from the United States. The gun used to kill Bains in October 2018 — a Taurus Model 85 — is banned outright in Britain."I think Americans wouldn't believe that something that they produce could affect people like us," said Clare Bains, who was Bains' stepmother. "If there weren't all these guns, they wouldn't be seeping out of America all over the world."Gun deaths remain extremely rare in Britain, and very few people, even police officers, carry firearms. But the growing presence of U.S. weapons on the streets, which has not previously been widely reported, comes as serious violent crime, like murders and stabbings, has risen sharply.Most illegal firearms in Britain still come from Europe. But investigators seized hundreds of smuggled U.S. guns last year, a small figure by international standards, though experts say the number that police do not discover is likely to be far higher.British police have traced some of the smuggled U.S. guns back to loosely regulated gun fairs in states like Florida. Investigators have also seized U.S. weapons being smuggled on a container ship and hidden in car engines.Now authorities fear that after Brexit, when borders with the European Union will be more tightly regulated, the illegal gun trade from the United States could accelerate, especially given the Trump administration's broad support for the gun industry."A major Trump administration goal is to globalize the firearms trade and facilitate exports, and if you're facilitating legal exports, it's almost inevitable that there will be an illegal diversion of weapons into criminal markets in other countries," said Aaron Karp, a senior consultant for the Small Arms Survey in Geneva and a lecturer at Old Dominion University in Virginia.The United States is one of the biggest legal exporters of firearms in the world, but hundreds of thousands of guns also illegally leak out of the country and fuel homicides, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean.In Britain, criminal groups primarily use knives for acts of violence. Knife crime reached a record high last year, accounting for around 2 out of every 5 killings. By comparison, only 33 people were killed with a gun.But the number of illegal guns in circulation is growing. In the last year alone, gun seizures by Britain's national policing body, the National Crime Agency, more than doubled, and firearm offenses have soared by 38% since 2015. Authorities worry that violence could surge if criminal groups switch from knives to guns. A BBC investigation linked a single firearm to 11 different gunmen and multiple murders over a six-year period."The homicide rate is already a problem without easy access to guns," said Robert McLean, a researcher on organized crime in Britain based at the University of the West of Scotland. "Once in circulation, a single firearm can move around criminal networks and can be used in a number of shootings and killings."In many cases, the trade in smuggled guns is driven by gangs who traffic drugs from cities to smaller towns and rural areas — known as "county lines" gangs — like Bains' killers.In the last few years, the National Crime Agency has found that gangs favor "cleaner" antique or deactivated weapons that are harder to trace. Those weapons are sold legally at gun shows or by collectors, many in the United States, and are easier to buy because they can only fire if they are illegally reactivated.One former London gang leader and gun trafficker said that he had handled more than 50 firearms and sold many more to gangs across Britain. Sometimes, he said, the smuggled guns had arrived in the country inside boxes containing infant highchairs."I got my first gun from one of my elders when I was like 13, 14," said the former gang leader, now 23, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid arrest or retribution from his old associates. He stepped away from the gang three years ago with the help of Gangsline, a London-based organization that helps gang members leave crime.He recalled being warned that "if you've got a knife and someone has a gun, he isn't going to hesitate to shoot." His gang trafficked dozens of new and used weapons, including American Glocks, he said, with prices reaching 15,000 pounds, about $20,000. Today, investigators say the smuggling pipeline is well established.At least 782 U.S. guns have been discovered by police since 2017, data obtained by The New York Times shows. The figure is from the National Ballistics Intelligence Service, which tracks illegal firearms in Britain, and includes guns that came directly and indirectly to Britain from the United States.Gun control is one of the few issues that unites a politically divided Britain. Where the United States has had horrific mass school shootings for decades, it took just one such attack in Britain to usher in a ban on private ownership of handguns.That attack — a shooting in 1996 in which 16 children and their teacher were murdered at Dunblane Primary School in Scotland by a gunman who then killed himself — remains the deadliest mass shooting in British history. Since then, only one other mass shooting has taken place in Britain.But even with the tougher laws, handguns have still found their way into even some of the quietest corners of the country, like Bains' hometown.He grew up in a red-bricked cottage overlooking golden fields in Rothersthorpe, a small village in England's East Midlands where the biggest event was often sheep escaping the local farm. His father, Dave Bains, says his son fell in with a "bad crowd" after his parents separated and soon began selling cannabis.On the night of his murder on a street corner in Upton, Northampton, Bains fought for his life, according to security camera footage, struggling to disarm an attacker who pointed a Glock at him. As Bains stumbled on the curb, a second attacker pulled out a revolver and shot him through his lung.Bains' parents watched his final moments during the trial of the two men convicted of his murder, Jerome Smikle and Kayongo Shuleko, both in their 20s, who were part of a county lines drug-trafficking gang, police said. They were sentenced to life in prison last summer."I guess the justice is they're in prison, but Josh shouldn't have been killed in the first place," said Bains' mother, Lyn Knott. "If they didn't have a gun, of course he'd still be alive."The gun was discovered three months after the murder, when a dog walker found it in a nearby field. The killers had not removed the serial numbers on the weapon, and police traced it back to Florida."We don't often get people being shot in nice estates in sleepy villages in Northampton," said Alastair White, a senior detective with Northamptonshire Police, who led a team of around 80 on the investigation. "It was headline news."The presence of U.S. guns became even more evident several months later, in July 2019, when officers with the National Crime Agency raided a rusted blue container ship as it arrived at the port of Ambarli in northern Turkey after traveling nearly 6,000 miles from Florida.Inside some of the shipping containers were old American cars, and hidden inside were 57 firearms and 1,230 bullets that investigators say were meant for gangs in Britain and Bulgaria. The guns were purchased legally at antique gun fairs in Florida, the investigators said, and then smuggled to Turkey to be illegally reactivated before sale.Matthew Prefect, who leads the National Crime Agency's firearms unit, said officials were concerned enough about smuggled guns that his unit had almost doubled its staffing in the last two years as the agency tries to suppress the firearms market to try to prevent handguns becoming as common as knives."If suddenly guns became the weapon of choice as opposed to a knife," Prefect said, "we'd be in a really difficult situation."The first high-profile case involving illegal U.S. firearms was in 2010, when a former Marine named Steven Greenoe was prosecuted for smuggling dozens of guns into northwestern England on commercial flights.While gun trafficking is almost always a secondary source of income for gangs, the Greenoe case showed that it could be a highly profitable trade, with guns that he bought for around $400 selling for a "three times markup," according to Gregg Taylor of the National Ballistics Intelligence Service.One of the 70 guns that Greenoe smuggled was used in a murder in Scotland, another in a shooting in Manchester and a third in an attempted shooting near Liverpool, the court heard. Ten years later, the majority of the guns he trafficked to Britain remain missing."Weapons that don't matter in the United States, because America deals in millions, routinely have an enormous impact in the U.K. because of the extraordinary scarcity of handguns," said Karp of the Small Arms Survey. "Dozens can have an enormous impact on British crime."Today, Bains' father and stepmother have turned their home into a tribute to their lost 28-year-old. Framed photographs of Bains are placed throughout the house. His stepmother still can't shake the memory of seeing her seemingly healthy stepson in a coffin."I haven't seen a healthy person in a coffin before," Clare Bains said. "I've always seen ill people or old people, and that was a shock."This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company
China to Bring Up Measures Against WeChat and TikTok in Upcoming U.S. Trade Talks
U.S. and Chinese negotiators are set to discuss implementation of the phase one trade deal in the coming days, with Beijing pushing for the recent measures targeting businesses including TikTok and WeChat to be on the agenda.
A virtual meeting will likely take place as soon as this week though a date hasn’t been finalized, according to people familiar with preparations for the talks who asked not to be named. Along with agricultural purchases and the dollar-yuan exchange rate, which are among topics to be discussed, Chinese officials intend to bring up President Donald Trump’s prospective bans on transactions with the two apps on national security grounds, the people said. They did not elaborate on what China hopes to achieve on these issues.
Seven months after the signing of the agreement which paused a tariff war that had roiled the global economy, the purchases of U.S. goods it entails are lagging far behind schedule. The coronavirus crisis and the concurrent deterioration in U.S.-China relations on everything from tech security to Hong Kong has meant the trade deal remains one of the few areas where Washington and Beijing are still cooperating.
The “one area we are engaging is trade,” Trump’s top economic adviser Larry Kudlow said at a White House press conference Tuesday. “It’s fine right now.” China’s commerce ministry and foreign ministry did not immediately respond to faxes seeking comment.
China is seeking to defuse an unpredictable confrontation with the U.S. that’s seen several of its tech champions targeted, with the latest actions spurring a potential sale of the U.S. operations of ByteDance Ltd’s wildly popular short video app to Microsoft Corp. Trump is also banning U.S. transactions with Tencent Holdings Ltd’s WeChat app, which has more than 1 billion users.
Trump’s executive orders, set to take effect in September, have potentially an even wider impact than the multi-pronged assault on telecommunications hardware provider Huawei Technologies Co., as they threaten to sever communication links among the people of the world’s biggest economies. The U.S. argues that Chinese apps which collect information on U.S. citizens pose a grave national security risk as the data is prone to being acquired by the Chinese government.
Meanwhile given the collapse in the global economy this year due to the pandemic, which Trump blames on China, Beijing was only a quarter of the way through its effort to buy more than $170 billion in U.S. goods this year by the end of June. On Tuesday Kudlow downplayed the shortfall, saying China had “substantially” increased purchases of U.S. goods.
China would need to buy about $130 billion in the second half of this year to comply with the original terms of the agreement signed in January, which laid out purchasing an additional $200 billion of U.S. goods and services over the 2017 level by the end of 2021.
-With assistance from James Mayger.
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