A second lockdown would be an economic “disaster” for the UK, Boris Johnson said as he acknowledged that the testing system was experiencing “huge problems.” In his second appearance before the Commons powerful liaison committee this year, the Prime Minister fielded questions on the surge in covid-19 infections, testing shortages and his handling of the Brexit negotiations. During the 103-minute session, Mr Johnson insisted that reimposing nationwide restrictions would be “completely wrong for this country” and warned that the impact on the public finances would be “disastrous.” However, he pushed back against criticism of the tightening of social distancing measures through the rule of six, telling MPs that ministers would do everything necessary to “defeat the disease”. Schools contributing to testing shortages With the Government implementing rationing to cope with a surge in demand for covid-19 tests, Mr Johnson suggested that overly cautious parents and teachers could be exacerbating shortages nationwide. Asked by former business secretary Greg Clark whether the UK had sufficient testing capacity, Mr Johnson said the “short answer is no” but insisted that ministers would “work night and day” to bolster capacity in the coming weeks. While acknowledging the system was facing “huge problems” he pointed out that the Government had already “expanded testing enormously”, with the UK testing more people per head than Germany, France and Spain. But in order to cope with surging demand, he said ministers intended to hit 500,000 tests per day by the end of October, which he said would make a “very substantial difference.” Pressed on why shortages were occurring, Mr Johnson said demand had accelerated in recent weeks partly because people were seeking to be “released to get on with their lives in the normal way.” Although this was “perfectly reasonable,” he said the guidance made clear that people should only seek a test when they have symptoms. On schools, he added that teachers should not be sending home whole year groups or classroom bubbles until a pupil in that cohort had test positive for covid-19. “It's very important that teachers, parents, should look at the guidance…about when you should get a test,” he continued. Quizzed on the ambition to roll out “Moonshot” mass testing in the future, Mr Johnson admitted that the UK was still a “long way off” rapid pregnancy-style tests, which he said could liberate sectors such as the arts and spectator sport. More deaths to come Mr Johnson pushed back against calls for England to follow Scotland and Wales in exempting younger children from the new “rule of six”, pointing out it was “alas a fact of the disease that is readily transmissible between children and adults.” Asked by Labour’s Catherine McKinnell whether he would consider looking again at the restrictions, the Prime Minister said it risked increasing the risk at a time when transmission between the young to the old was already on the rise. He added that incidence of the disease among those aged over 80 had increased significantly over recent days, and now stood at 12 people per 100,000. And while the number of cases remains far fewer than during the peak of the first wave, he warned that this trend would result in an uptick of fatalities. "Alas, although the number of cases, symptomatic or asymptomatic, is obviously far smaller than it was in the Spring, we must expect those infections to lead, proportionally, to mortality," Mr Johnson added. Asked by Conservative MP Will Wragg when he would hold a public inquiry into the Government’s response to the pandemic, Mr Johnson said that dwelling on the subject would not a “good use of official time at the moment.”
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Australia’s Victoria state, the epicentre of the country’s Covid-19 outbreak, said on Thursday the number of new daily infections was close to a three-month low, buoying hopes that restrictions will be eased sooner than expected, Reuters reports.
The Victorian government said 12 people had been diagnosed with Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, near a three-month low of 11 cases reported earlier this week.
Australia’s second-most-populous state is on an extended hard lockdown until 27 September, although some restrictions may be eased earlier if new infections continue to trend lower.
The two-week average of new infections in state capital Melbourne dropped below 27 on Thursday. If average cases remain below 50 by Sunday, some restrictions may be relaxed, the government has said.
Victoria’s outbreak has had a devastating impact on the national economy due to lockdown measures including the closure of non-essential businesses and a nightly curfew.
The state accounts for 90% of Australia’s total coronavirus deaths of 859. The country has reported nearly 27,000 cases, well below the numbers seen in many other developed nations.
Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales (NSW), said it planned to hold the traditional New Years Eve firework extravaganza over Sydney Harbour.
NSW had warned the event could be cancelled due to concerns that social distancing restrictions could not be enforced, though waning case numbers have seen the state relax curbs on public gatherings.
Concerns around contacting GPs during the coronavirus outbreak could be fuelling a rise in missed or delayed diagnoses, researchers have said.
A growing body of research has suggested that patients have avoided seeking medical attention because of the pandemic. Figures have revealed a large increase in the numbers of people dying at home, while visits to A&E have been markedly reduced.
He Killed 2 Marines in 2011. It Almost Derailed Peace Talks This Month.
KABUL, Afghanistan — He was a young Afghan police officer working alongside American forces in one of the hot spots of the war, with Taliban ambushes all around. Then he turned his weapon on two U.S. Marines, killing them both.Now, he is out of prison.His attack, in Helmand province in 2011, was a serious eruption in a phenomenon that within a year would redefine the American war in Afghanistan: insider killings, often by members of the Afghan security forces who, like the police officer, were not at the time part of the Taliban.But just this month, that officer, Mohammad Dawood, 31, reached the top of the Taliban's list of prisoners they wanted released as they negotiated the opening of peace talks with the Afghan government. And along with just five other men detained after killing Westerners, his fate became a sticking point that nearly derailed the whole process, officials say.While the Taliban made the men's release an ultimatum before they would go to the table, officials for the United States, France and Australia were quietly urging the Afghan government not to let them go — even as they told the Afghan government to free thousands of other Taliban prisoners with Afghan blood on their hands in order to open the way for the talks.Only a last-minute deal to remand the six to a kind of house arrest in Qatar allowed the opening of peace talks on Sept. 12.Dawood, whose name had not been publicly released but whose identity was confirmed by American and Afghan officials, now stands as a symbol of the difficulty — and tough choices — involved in trying to make peace in the middle of a bitter war.Dawood's killings of Lt. Col. Benjamin Palmer and Sgt. Kevin Balduf in 2011 represent only a fraction of more than 40 years of violence. But the Taliban's willingness to go to the brink for him in negotiations, despite his acting only on his own behalf, according to his family and close friends, was a stark demonstration of how even isolated disputes can threaten the peace process."We are not happy about the release of some prisoners, and we know our allies Australia and France are not happy about the release of some," said Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy for Afghan peace. In all, the Afghan government freed 5,000 prisoners demanded by the Taliban. "But we understand that this difficult step was in the service of something even more important, which is to get the Afghan war to come to an end, and it was a necessary step."The Taliban have consistently made prisoner releases a priority — most notably in the 2014 exchange of an American soldier held by the Taliban for five years, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, for five senior Taliban figures who were being held at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. That deal brought heavy criticism for the Obama administration, and during his campaign for the presidency in 2016, Donald Trump repeatedly called Bergdahl a traitor who should be executed.Both Khalilzad as well as Mutlaq al-Qahtani, the Qatari special envoy for the process, refused to discuss details of the arrangement regarding the six prisoners, including where in Qatar the men are being held and under what circumstances. Amrullah Saleh, Afghanistan's vice president, in a recent interview said the men would not be allowed to leave Qatar — all the pages on their passports are crossed out except for the one with the Qatari visa.Stopping deadly insider attacks like the one by Dawood was once an urgent imperative for the Obama administration. By the end of President Barack Obama's first term, cultural tensions and increasing pressure from the Taliban had spilled over into violence as Afghan troops turned their guns on their Western allies, threatening to derail the war effort.By the height of the war, Americans were building outposts within outposts to defend themselves from the very people they were supposed to be training and fighting alongside.Insider attacks became a grim feature of the conflict. The deaths of Palmer, 43, and Balduf, 27, came during a flurry of such killings that peaked in 2012, accounting for 15% of coalition troops who were killed or wounded in Afghanistan that year.Of the four U.S. troops killed in combat in 2020, two were killed in an insider attack in February, marking the last U.S. troops to die from hostile fire before the peace agreement between the United States and the Taliban.But as was the case for many such attacks, Dawood was not a part of an insurgent group when he killed the two Marines, according to those close to him and to an Afghan official familiar with his case.Born in Naw Bahar, a small, staunchly anti-Taliban village in Baghlan province, Dawood was one of five brothers and the son of Mohammad Zahir, a poor wheat farmer. He studied at a madrassa in Kunduz and Baghlan, before studying in Pakistan and Iran, where like many Afghans he worked for a brief time.Safdar Mohseni, head of the Baghlan provincial council, said Dawood had most likely turned to the Taliban in prison, looking for support."He was a good person to me in every way — psychologically, scientifically, religiously — and was a patriot," said Saqi Mohammad Numani, a religious scholar who taught Dawood for several years. "Like Dawood, I have thousands of students who are not in favor of violence and terror, and Dawood was not in favor of violence."After returning from Iran, Dawood was engaged to be married, but because he was low on money, he joined the Afghan police. He trained in Kabul for six months in 2010 and graduated as a sergeant, according to a senior police official who served alongside him in southern Afghanistan.Not long after Dawood left police training in 2011, he was assigned to the Afghan National Civil Order Police's 5th Brigade, a new unit the U.S. military was training in Afghanistan's volatile Helmand province. As the Taliban began regaining ground, U.S. and NATO forces started a concerted effort to professionalize the police force to hold what districts the Afghan government still controlled.On May 12, 2011, Dawood walked from the Afghan portion of his base in Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand, and entered the U.S. side, where his Marine advisers lived, slept and ate.A small group of Marines were outside eating dinner when Dawood lifted his assault rifle and began firing, killing Palmer and Balduf. Marines fired back, wounding Dawood.Cultural misunderstandings and disgust with Westerners were traced to many insider killings. When the attacks began in earnest in 2008, they took a deep toll on the U.S.-Afghan relationship, sowing doubt and distrust that was only exacerbated by the stress of training and combat.In a country rife with anti-Semitism, Dawood appeared to turn to that in an attempt to justify his actions. He told investigators he killed the Americans because he thought they were Jews and he did not want to live among them. He said no one had provoked him, though the senior Afghan official said that Dawood's fundamentalist education in Iran and Pakistan was probably a catalyst for this contempt.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company
Europe’s COVID-19 Cases Are Spiking. Here’s How 4 Different Countries Are Trying to Stop A Second Wave
A resurgence in COVID-19 cases has gripped countries across Europe, leaving politicians grappling with how to curb the spread of the virus. Governments are now strengthening regulations around mask-wearing, limiting the number of people that can gather in public spaces, and honing in on areas with particularly high numbers of cases.
This week, Europe experienced a record high number of new coronavirus cases reaching 71, 365 on Sept. 21, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. “More than half of European countries have reported a greater than 10 percent increase in the past two weeks,” Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization’s regional director for Europe said at a briefing.
Even countries that had largely avoided the first coronavirus wave—such as Czech Republic—are now seeing surges. Stricter regulations to try and curb the spread of the virus could remain in place for the entire winter. In the United Kingdom, for example, where case rates are doubling by the week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new restrictions yesterday that could last six months, warning that the country is at “a perilous turning point.”
Many of the new restrictions, however, look different to those imposed at the beginning of the pandemic. Rather than implementing uniform, nationwide regulations, many countries are now opting for more localized approaches.
Why are governments in Europe locking down by region?
Countries are wary of nationwide lockdowns that would have crippling impacts on their economies. Local restrictions allow governments to curb the spread of the virus while keeping parts of the country—and the economy—open. But restrictions are also different this time because the nature of the pandemic itself has changed. New infection clusters appear to be linked to younger people, who are less likely to die of the virus. The result is that this latest surge of cases has so far been less deadly than the first back in March and less burdensome to healthcare services.
“Even if the number of cases are high, the impact in terms of hospitalization and deaths is very different [compared to March]”, says Dr Jacobo Mendioroz, the director and coordinator of the committee responding to coronavirus in Catalonia. Rather than calling for stay-at-home orders, many new restrictions target bars, restaurants or other public venues that young people may be more likely to frequent.
But the new restrictions could change if older people begin falling ill in greater numbers. Already, there has been a significant increase in the number of older people testing positive for the virus in France and Spain over the past two weeks, leading to upticks in hospital admissions. Rising case numbers threaten to overrun hospitals and health care services if not managed carefully. “We are not in the situation we were in March yet,” says Dominique Costalgliola, a member of the French Academy of Science and the vice-dean of research for the faculty of medicine at the Sorbonne University.
Here is how four European countries are responding to the recent surge of coronavirus cases:
Spain has been facing a resurgence of COVID-19 cases since July and now has the highest infection rate in Europe. Over the past two weeks, 122,000 new COVID-19 cases have been reported, with close to a third of cases occurring in Madrid, the country’s capital. The total number of confirmed cases now stands at more than 640,000 and hospitals are reaching their maximum capacity.
On September 18, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the president of the Madrid region, announced a partial lockdown of the 37 most affected parts of the region, which came into effect on Monday. The measures—which affects close to 850,000 people, many of whom live in the poorest parts of the city—require individuals to provide justification for trips out of their neighbourhoods and has limited the number of people allowed in restaurants or retail establishments.
The news of the lockdown sparked protests in Madrid, where hundreds gathered on Sept. 20. The groups that organized the protests said in a statement that the government has done little to protect vulnerable people in the city and have “instead opted for stigmatisation, exclusion and territorial discrimination.”
On Sept. 12, French health authorities reported 10,561 new cases, the highest number since the pandemic began in March. Since then, daily cases have risen to more than 13,000. The cumulative number of COVID-19 cases is now at 453, 763 and continues to rise. It has the second highest number of total cases in Europe, after Spain.
The government has delegated the task of implementing new regulations to regional authorities. Currently, the outbreaks appear to be occurring in certain locations and not in others and a nationwide lockdown would have unnecessary economic repercussions, Prime Minister Jean Castex has said.
In Paris, Marseille and Bordeaux, all major hotspots for the virus, authorities have implemented local measures to curb the spread. In Bordeaux and Marseille, visits to care homes have been reduced, dancing has been banned at bars and weddings and local companies have been asked to make their employees work from home if possible. In Marseille and Paris, the sale and consumption of alcohol on the streets after 8pm has been banned. Wearing a face mask in public is now mandatory across Paris and many of its surrounding areas. Riot police units and gendarmes have been deployed to enforce these measures.
However, despite the tightening of these restrictions, the government announced on Sept. 20 that quarantine rules in elementary schools would be relaxed, amid rising evidence that children pose a small risk for the transmission of COVID-19. Schools will now only shut if a minimum of three students test positive for the virus.
Ireland is facing a rise in COVID-19 cases, particularly in Dublin, the country’s capital. On Sept. 22, 188 new daily cases were reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team, 76 of which are in Dublin. Ireland has logged 33,121 COVID-19 cases, in a country of 4.6 million.
The government introduced a new plan for ‘Living With Covid’ with 5 different levels. Dublin has been placed under level 3 restrictions, while the rest of the country is at level 2. In Dublin, indoor social gatherings have been limited to visitors from only one other household and cannot exceed six people. All museums and other cultural attractions have been closed. Restaurants, cafes and pubs can only stay open for take-away services or for outdoor dining. Everyone has been asked to work from home if possible.
At a COVID-19 briefing on September 21, Liz Canavan, the assistant secretary general at the Department of Taoiseach (the Irish’s Prime Minister’s office), said there was now “worrying trends in most areas,” making it possible that restrictions in Dublin could be extended to other parts of the country.
Germany has one of the most effective test, track and tracing systems in the world for COVID-19. And while the country is faring better than others in Europe, Germany is nevertheless seeing a rise in case numbers, with 1,345 new cases reported on September 20, increasing the total number of confirmed cases to 271,415. German Health Minister Jens Spahn has said that surges in infection rates in neighbouring countries have affected—and would inevitably continue to affect—Germany.
Like in other nations, many of Germany’s new restrictions are highly localized. In the southern state of Bavaria—which is the most affected part of the country—new measures were implemented on Sept. 22, the toughest restrictions Germany has seen since it began relaxing measures back in May. Gatherings are now limited to five people or two households, mask-wearing is mandatory in public areas, alcohol consumption in public places is banned and a curfew on restaurants has been implemented.
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