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U.K. Halts Easing Coronavirus Lockdown Measures in Response to Rising COVID-19 Cases

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(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.





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How American Guns Are Fueling U.K. Crime

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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



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China to Bring Up Measures Against WeChat and TikTok in Upcoming U.S. Trade Talks

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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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Trump’s TikTok and WeChat Ban Could Backfire Inside China

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HONG KONG—As Donald Trump moves to ban transactions with WeChat and ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, people in China are wondering if they’ll need to ditch their iPhones to keep their favorite app, and noting that the White House’s splinternet rhetoric is straight out of Beijing’s own playbook. Trump’s moves against ByteDance and Tencent’s WeChat strike at two tech companies deeply entrenched in China’s social life—and, in WeChat’s case, critical to the consumer reach of American companies inside China. ByteDance’s TikTok, the popular short video platform that in the past weeks was in the crosshairs of Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, has been one of the most downloaded apps globally for two years—even though TikTok cannot be used in China legally due to its home country’s fractured internet governance policy.  And WeChat, a “super app” that blends messaging, social network features, payments, newsfeeds, and many other useful functions—including a digital QR health code to indicate whether a user is clear of COVID-19—is an essential tool for everyone living in China and is on practically every smartphone in the country. Is the Trump Administration Really Going to Ban TikTok in America?Biden’s Digital Team Knows It’d Be Weird If He Went on TikTok. And They’re Fine With That.WeChat has no equivalent in the U.S., but think of it as WhatsApp, Facebook, PayPal, a news feed, and more, all rolled into one app. Its presence stateside is limited—mostly as a communication tool for people with family members or close friends in China—but American companies like KFC, Starbucks, and Mastercard rely on the app to conduct business in the world’s most populous country, because of the sheer number of users that are logged on at any given time. Mastercard and Visa are linking up with WeChat’s e-wallet to process payments from China, and firms like JP Morgan already sell financial services through the app. For now, the U.S. embassy in Beijing also still has an active WeChat account.As such, the general public in China has mainly focused on Trump’s ban on WeChat transactions. Xueqiu (“Snowball”), a popular online financial news provider in China, conducted a poll on Weibo, a platform that is like Twitter, asking followers whether they would rather ditch WeChat or their iPhones if they could only keep one, assuming that WeChat is removed from the App Store. By Saturday, more than 805,000 people responded, with almost 95 percent saying they would give up their Apple devices to keep their WeChat accounts.And what might be the replacement for iPhones in China? Huawei, a company that recently surpassed Samsung in production volume and a frequent target in Trump’s rudderless trade war, might fill the void and end up selling more of its smartphones.People in China are still processing Trump’s bans. Targeting ByteDance was no surprise, especially given how TikTok may have played a role in the low turnout for his election campaign rally in Tulsa, but few foresaw that he and his advisors would take aim at WeChat too. There is scant evidence that TikTok or ByteDance actively collaborate with the Chinese Communist Party. And ByteDance’s founder, Zhang Yiming, likely has little love for the party. In April 2018, he had to issue a public apology after state-run media organs criticized one of his apps. The app in question, Toutiao, is one of China’s most popular news and information aggregators and lets users create their own content. It boils down to this—the party was losing control of information flows on the Chinese internet.Zhang's apology was packed with CCP leader Xi Jinping’s jingoistic buzzwords, and the tech entrepreneur wrote that his app had a weak implementation of Xi's “four consciousnesses,” which refer to placing the CCP’s needs first and Xi at the party’s core. Zhang wrote: “We have not acknowledged that technology must be led by the system of socialist core values, broadcasting positive energy, suiting the demands of the era, and respecting common convention.” He went on to say that there was a need to promote content from “authoritative media” in the country, referring to state media organs.There have also been hitches in TikTok’s services that look suspiciously like the platform was falling in line with the CCP. Last year, one teenager’s TikTok videos about the treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang went viral, but were taken down, even though the company said it “does not moderate content due to political sensitivities.” And at the onset of this year’s Black Lives Matter protests across the United States, TikTok was accused of censoring the hashtags BlackLivesMatter and GeorgeFloyd, briefly showing zero views for both tags.Trump’s whims are unpredictable, so people in China can only speculate as to what might come next out of the Oval Office. Will another executive order target WeChat’s parent company, Tencent, which holds stakes in Tesla, Reddit, Snap, Spotify, Universal Music, Warner Music, Epic Games (which made Fortnite), Riot Games (which made League of Legends), and other corporations that are American or meshed with American habits? Or will Trump sanction, say, biotech and pharmaceutical companies that are testing vaccines for COVID-19?If Trump’s goal is to wipe platforms of Chinese origin from America’s corner of the internet, then his administration is adopting a policy exactly like China’s ban of Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and other American productions from 2009 onward. For years, the Chinese government’s limitations on the footprint of foreign tech companies, paired with a vast censorship program that includes the Great Firewall, have balkanized access to information that is online. And now, Trump’s executive orders on WeChat and ByteDance, issued last Thursday, played right into Beijing’s narrative that Washington now seeks to isolate China in tech, finance, and trade. In his executive orders, Trump declared the “threat” posed by TikTok and WeChat is a “national emergency with respect to the information and communications technology and service supply chain.” There are legitimate concerns about how tech companies from China handle users’ data. Chinese security organs have access to private conversations on WeChat, and even messages sent outside of the country can be intercepted by the authorities. An errant post or a meme that pokes fun at Chinese Community Party leaders could land a user in an interrogation room at their nearest police station. But the vaguely worded executive orders don’t seem to be designed to truly address this.On Friday, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Wang Wenbin lashed out at the bans, saying, “The United States has used national security as an excuse to frequently abuse state power and unreasonably oppress enterprises. It is blatant hegemony, which China strongly opposes.”“Their flagrant political manipulation and oppression ends up as an ethical slippery slope,” Wang also said. “They will suffer the consequences of their own actions.”Trump’s orders were signed a day after Pompeo announced the “Clean Network” program, ostensibly to remove any apps or communications infrastructure that may give the Chinese Communist Party access to the personal information of American citizens. In the same vein, earlier this year, Grindr’s Chinese majority owner had to sell its 98 percent stake for more than $600 million, after the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States said the business arrangement was a threat to American national security.And on Thursday, the Trump administration recommended that Chinese companies that have shares traded on U.S. stock exchanges will need to delist if they do not comply with new, tougher audit requirements by 2022. Alibaba, which was founded to mimic eBay but has since expanded to become a massive e-commerce and e-payments powerhouse with investments in many sectors, is listed on the New York Stock Exchange as the world’s seventh largest company by market capitalization.Tech companies are the latest proxy battlegrounds for Washington and Beijing. Immediately after Trump signed his executive order, $75 billion was wiped off the value of Chinese tech companies that are traded on the bourses of Shanghai, Hong Kong, and New York. As the situation drags on, TikTok’s value plummeted from $20–50 billion to $10 billion, according to Chinese media outlet Caixin.ByteDance’s founder, Zhang Yiming, has been criticized by nationalistic elements in China for “capitulating” to conditions in the U.S. that may lead to a sale of TikTok to Microsoft, Twitter, or other corporations. For Chinese nationals, finding success abroad isn’t enough—they are expected to be flag-wavers too.In a note posted to WeChat on Friday, Zhang wrote, “For the past year, we have been seeking to communicate with the U.S. government sincerely, and to provide constructive solutions to their concerns. But what we are facing is that the U.S. government disregards the facts . . . and tries to interfere in negotiations between private companies.”“If the U.S. government cannot treat us fairly, we will resort to the U.S. courts,” he also said. TikTok will file its lawsuit in California, where the company’s U.S. operation is headquartered. It will argue that Trump’s move was unconstitutional.A group of Chinese-American lawyers in the U.S. plan to sue the Trump administration as well, in response to the executive order that mentions WeChat, again arguing that the order is unconstitutional. They claim to have no affiliation with Tencent or the Chinese government, and said in a note posted online, “We understand that WeChat is an app that has flaws. We can choose to not use it, but the president does not have the right to make that choice for us.”If Trump’s bans on financial transactions with Chinese tech companies come into effect, how might Beijing retaliate? The punchline in China is that the authorities have kicked out so many American tech companies that there are no longer any viable marks left.Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.



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