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UK postpones lockdown easing amid growing concerns over coronavirus prevalence

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UK postpones lockdown easing amid growing concerns over coronavirus prevalence

British government announced on Friday that the easing of some restrictive measures will not take place as scheduled, as coronavirus infection numbers are creeping up.


“At every point I have said our plan to reopen society and the economy is conditional – that it relies on continued progress against the virus, and that we would not hesitate to put on the brakes if required,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a press briefing.

“With those numbers creeping up, our assessment is that we should now squeeze that brake pedal in order to keep the virus under control,” he said.

Under the new arrangement, casinos, bowling alleys, skating rinks and remaining close contact services must remain closed, and indoor performances will not resume in England, until August 15 at the earliest.

The same goes for pilots of larger crowds in sports venues and conference centers, according to the government.

“We will of course study the data carefully and move forward with our intention to open up as soon as we possibly can,” said Johnson.

The latest weekly survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports that the prevalence of the virus in the community in England is likely to be rising for the first time since May. Around 1 in 1,500 now have the virus, compared to 1 in 1,800 on July 15 and 1 in 2,000 on July 2.

The ONS also estimates there are now 4,900 new infections every day, up from around 3,000 per day on July 14 and 2,000 per day at the end of June.

Johnson said the government will extend the requirement to wear a face covering to other indoor settings where people are likely to come into contact with others they do not normally meet, such as museums, galleries, cinemas and places of worship.

“We now recommend face coverings are worn in these settings, and this will become enforceable in law from August 8,” he said.

At this stage, the government is not changing the rules on social contact nationally.

However, Johnson warned: “I don’t want to tell people to spend less time with their friends. But unless people follow the rules and behave safely, we may need to go further.”

(XINHUA)

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Coronavirus

German government calls coronavirus protest in Berlin ‘unacceptable’

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The German government chastised thousands of people, who gathered in Berlin, at the weekend to protest coronavirus restrictions, as packed crowds in the capital stoked fears of a spike in infections.


“The scenes that we had to see at the weekend are unacceptable,’’ deputy government spokeswoman, Ulrike Demmer, told reporters on Monday.

“The behaviour of many demonstrators is in no way justified and exploits the great good of the freedom to demonstrate,’’ she added.

Demmer condemned “serious violations of the hygiene rules’’ as well as hate speech, noting also that protesters prevented journalists from doing their job.

She also urged people who joined the event to consider what it means to walk side-by-side with supporters of rightist ideologies and conspiracy theories.

The government official also criticised people, for not only risking their own health, but also the health of others.

Police said up to 17,000 people took part in a march against coronavirus restrictions in the capital on Saturday, with a subsequent rally attracting a crowd of some 20,000.

Because many participants were not keeping the required distance from one another or wearing masks, police broke up the event in the early evening.

The demonstration, billed as a “Day of Freedom”, was organised by “Querdenken 711” (Lateral Thinking 711), an initiative that has staged multiple protests against coronavirus rules.

Querdenken 711 has been linked to right-wing populist groups and conspiracy theorists.

“Day of Freedom” is also the title of Leni Riefenstahl’s 1935 Nazi propaganda film.

Saturday’s mass protest prompted debate on to what extent the right to protest should be restricted during the pandemic.

“Peaceful demonstrations are of course also very important in these very trying times,’’ Demmer said.

Justice Minister, Christine Lambrecht, stressed that rules must be followed at such events in order to limit coronavirus infections and so as not to endanger others.

“I have no understanding for demonstrators who arrogantly defy this,’’ Lambrecht was quoted by the Monday edition of the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper as saying.

Armin Schuster, an expert for interior affairs in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), suggested banning mass demonstrations altogether.

Schuster said it would be appropriate “to permit such demonstrations only under far stricter constraints or not at all,’’ in comments to the Rheinische Post newspaper.

The protesters found support from the Alternative for Germany (AfD), a far-right party and the largest opposition force in parliament.

“I see no wrong behaviour,’’ AfD co-leader, Tino Chrupalla, told the ARD broadcaster, noting that people took to the streets peacefully to defend their civil rights.

“And that can only be welcomed.’’

Germany introduced sweeping restrictions in mid-March, most of which have been gradually lifted or eased since May.

Masks have since been made compulsory in shops and on public transport.

Testing is also being rolled out for holidaymakers and will in some cases be mandatory.

A spike in new cases has caused concern in recent weeks, after the number of infections reported daily stayed below 500 earlier last month, but rose to over 900 on Saturday, the day of the march and rally.

Early on Monday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for disease control confirmed a latest daily rise of 509, bringing Germany’s total confirmed caseload so far to 210,402.

The government agency reported a total death toll of 9,148 while some 193,500 people are estimated to have recovered from the virus.

There have been some targeted lockdowns in Germany as regional outbreaks flare up.

On June 20 and 21, there were riots at a housing complex in the city of Goettingen after residents were ordered to stay in their homes for eight days.

On Monday, the Police said 36 people are facing criminal proceedings in connection with the violence.

AIB

Edited By: Abdulfatah Babatunde (NAN)

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Sport

Murray says players need assurance on quarantine issues before United States Open

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Players need assurance that they would not face mandatory quarantine upon returning to Europe from the United States Open before travelling to New York amid the COVID-19 pandemic.


Former world number one Andy Murray made this disclosure in an interview granted in London.

Organisers United States Tennis Association (USTA) will set up a strict bio-security “bubble’’ to minimise the risk of contracting the novel coronavirus during the Grand Slam.

The competition is due to be played from Aug. 31 to Sept. 13.

The Western & Southern Open, which was relocated from Cincinnati this year because of COVID-19, will also be held in New York from Aug. 20 to 28.

It will serve as a tune-up for the hard court Grand Slam.

Mandatory quarantine would rule out players’ participation in other ATP and WTA claycourt events scheduled in Europe before the French Open from the end of September.

The two major clay court events in the lead up to Roland Garros are in Madrid (Sept. 13 to Sept. 20) and Rome (Sept. 20 to Sept. 27).

While Spain does not require mandatory quarantine, Italy will need travelers to quarantine for 14 days if coming from the United States

The USTA has said the organisers are working with relevant authorities to resolve issues.

“My understanding is that it would be sorted before we go to the United States But things can change in the next 10 to 12 days,” Murray said.

“Hopefully before we leave, the players will have the assurances that, when they come back from the United States, they won’t have to quarantine for two weeks.

“If that is the case, and if you do well in the United States Open, you can’t just arrive on the Sunday before the French Open starts on the Monday. That’s not going to work.”

The United States has over 4.68 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 with more than 155,000 deaths.

Murray, a three-times Grand Slam winner, has not played competitively since November due to hip problems.

But he took part in some exhibition events recently with the professional circuit shut.

The 33-year-old said he was willing to take the travel “risk” as he missed playing in big events.

“(With)  the situation I’ve been in the last few years, I’ve not had opportunity to play in many Slams. I don’t know how many I’ll have left,” Murray said.

“So, while I’m feeling relatively decent … obviously there is a risk there. But I want to try and play in them and enjoy the biggest events again.”

(
Edited By: Olawale Alabi) (NAN)

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COVID-19

UK government’s COVID-19 crisis response damaged by lack of transparency – Top scientist

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The UK government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis has been hindered by secrecy and a lack of openness and transparency from ministers and decision makers, a top scientist in the country, said on Monday.


Sir Paul Nurse, a Nobel laureate and the director of the Francis Crick Institute in London, said, as cited by The Guardian, that the “Decisions are too often shrouded in secrecy.

“They need challenge and we need processes to ensure that happens.

“If they are going to keep the trust of the nation, they need to make those discussions more public.”

According to Nurse, more transparency and scrutiny is needed, because sometimes, it looks like important decisions to address the pandemic were made in a “black box” of scientists, civil servants and politicians.

The former president of the Royal Society and a chief scientific advisor to the European Commission warned that failure in achieving the amount of openness that might allow other people to challenge emerging policy has led to poor decisions and a decline in public trust.

Nurse noted, for example, that the government should have sought more specialized advice on its coronavirus testing scheme at the beginning of the pandemic.

“They seemed not to want to admit that they weren’t prepared, that they were unable to do the testing properly, because that would have been an admission of failure from square one,” he said.

He also dubbed as “a total shambles” the decision to build and equip the Lighthouse Labs Network to increase testing capacity, because in his opinion, large laboratories take time to set up.

The newspaper highlighted that other UK researchers had criticized the Tory government for its handling of expert advice, complaining that such lack of transparency has allowed ministers to claim their policies are driven by scientific evidence when that has not been the case.

Government figures show there have been more than 304,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus so far in the UK and around 46,200 people have died after testing positive for the disease.

However, the Office of National Statistics has registered more than 56,400 coronavirus-related deaths.

Edited By: Emmanuel Yashim (NAN)

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Foreign

New term, new rules as first German schools return amid pandemic

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Tens of thousands of schoolchildren are returning to school in northern Germany from Monday, as the end of the summer holidays brings with it a major test in managing the coronavirus pandemic.


Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is the first of Germany’s 16 states to end its summer break, and the region’s 152,700 pupils will all return to class for the first time since schools were closed in response to the outbreak in mid-March.

In order to minimize the risk of infection, pupils have been divided into set groups which are not to intermix, although social-distancing rules have been lifted within those groups.

Jan Bonin, head teacher at the Reutershagen grammar school in the city of Rostock, said he was confident that they were getting off to a good start.

“Masks are compulsory in the halls of the building,” Bonin told dpa, adding that students who were nervous or unsure of the new norms were being greeted by teachers and receiving support.

He said there would be no tolerance for students who do not wear a mask.

Several islands in the northern-most state of Schleswig-Holsten are also resuming classes on Monday, with the port city of Hamburg to follow on Thursday.

Schools in Berlin and the surrounding state of Brandenburg join next week, as well as in the country’s most populous state of North Rhine Westphalia in the west and the rest of Schleswig-Holstein.

It will be up to the states whether masks are made compulsory in schools.

Government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer on Monday welcomed the plans of some states to introduce such rules.

“Making masks mandatory sounds like a sensible consideration,” she told reporters in Berlin.

Germany’s state-by-state return to school comes as infections are creeping up again in the country, with the number of new daily cases surpassing 500 on Monday, making for a total confirmed caseload of 210,402.

Referring to this trend, Demmer said, “Of course it is a challenging task for states and municipalities, who have to deliver the right to an education for all students while of course simultaneously continuing to ascribe great importance to protecting health.”

Edited By: Emmanuel Yashim (NAN)

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