UK Bids To Reassure Over Northern Ireland After Biden Warning

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street in central London on June 24, 2020, to attend Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs)a at the House of Commons – ˜ (Photo by Ben STANSALL / AFP)

 

Britain on Thursday reaffirmed its backing for Northern Ireland’s peace accord, after White House candidate Joe Biden warned of potential fallout for a future UK-US trade deal from London’s Brexit manoeuvering.

“We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit,” Democrat Biden, who has often spoken passionately of his Irish roots, wrote on Twitter.

“Any trade deal between the US and UK must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said a contentious bill currently being debated by parliament was intended “precisely to make sure that the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement is upheld in all circumstances”.

“We continue to remain absolutely committed to no hard border and no border infrastructure between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland,” he told reporters.

The planned legislation — which Britain admits will override parts of the Brexit treaty — has provoked anger and concern among EU officials.

The proposed law would make unilateral changes to regulate trade with Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, if it cannot seal a post-Brexit deal with the EU by the end of this year.

Brussels has threatened legal action if it is not withdrawn by the end of September and reminded Britain of its duty to uphold international treaty obligations.

Northern Ireland is set to remain bound by some EU rules to ensure its border with Ireland remains open — a key part of the 1998 peace deal that ended 30 years of violence.

But Johnson charges that the EU could carry out a food “blockade” between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain, which would threaten peace and territorial integrity.

“We will continue to engage with our US partners on a bipartisan basis to ensure that our positions are understood,” Johnson’s spokesman said.

“The whole point of this, as the PM has set out, is to make sure the Belfast Good Friday Agreement is upheld.”

Biden’s strong words came as Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab visited Washington to try to allay US concerns about the impact of Britain’s departure from the European Union.

It followed a similar warning from Democratic House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo voiced confidence that Britain would find a “good outcome” in its standoff with the EU.

Prior to Biden’s intervention, the prime minister told MPs on Wednesday that his bill would “protect the peace process in Northern Ireland”.

“Possibly the vital importance of protecting the symmetry of the Good Friday Agreement is something that may have been lost so far in the presentation of this matter (in Washington),” he said.

AFP

UK PM Says He Has ‘Every Hope’ Of Avoiding No-Deal With EU

PM Johnson Says UK Anti-Racism Protests 'Hijacked By Extremists'
In this file photo taken on April 12, 2020 A handout image released by 10 Downing Street, shows Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he delivers a television address after returning to 10 Downing Street after being discharged from St Thomas’ Hospital, in central London on April 12, 2020. Pippa FOWLES / 10 Downing Street / AFP.

 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday said he had full confidence that Britain and the EU will avoid a cliff-edge “no deal” at the end of this year, but refused to back down on controversial new legislation.

“It’s not what this country wants (no deal) and it’s not what our EU friends and partners want from us. Therefore I have every hope and expectation that that will not be the outcome,” he told MPs.

However, Johnson said the European Union had “signally failed” to rule out a possible “blockade” between Britain and Northern Ireland if there is no deal, once a post-Brexit transition period ends on December 31.

“It’s always possible that I’m mistaken and perhaps they will prove my suspicions wrong” in ongoing talks, he said. But otherwise, the unilateral new bill to regulate the UK’s internal market was needed as an insurance policy.

“I prefer to have protections that guarantee the integrity of this country and protect against the potential rupture of the United Kingdom,” Johnson said.

A “no deal” outcome would see tariffs imposed by both sides, and on Britain’s side, they “would be quite formidable for some of their products”, he added.

AFP

UK MPs Resume Brexit Feuding As New Bill Faces First Commons Vote

A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament’s Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) shows Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock (central left) giving a statement on coronavirus on September 10, 2020.

 

Britain’s parliament on Monday finds itself in familiar territory — arguing about Brexit — with threats of rebellion and resignations over Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s controversial plan for a new law that will break his EU divorce treaty.

The House of Commons holds its first debate and vote over the bombshell new bill from late afternoon, despite a call from Brussels for it to be withdrawn by the end of the month.

The contentious legislation, unveiled last week, would override the divorce deal the UK struck with the EU last year in several key areas related to Northern Ireland.

It would see London unilaterally regulate UK trade and state aid within the British province, ignoring the EU treaty which gives Brussels a continuing say over Northern Ireland’s trading relationship.

If the law passes in the coming weeks, Brussels has warned it could scupper ongoing trade deal talks and threatened court action, leaving the prospects of an orderly Brexit in tatters.

Even some Brexiteer lawmakers were aghast that Britain would wilfully trash an international treaty, threatening the country’s reputation and potentially endangering Northern Ireland’s fragile peace.

Former prime ministers John Major and Tony Blair this weekend openly criticised the action, while David Cameron said Monday he had “misgivings” about the approach.

Meanwhile, Johnson’s pro-Brexit former attorney general Geoffrey Cox said it would be “unconscionable” to override an international treaty.

“I think it is wrong that the British government or our parliament should renege on an agreement on which we gave our solemn word,” he told Times Radio.

– ‘Squabbling days’ –

The latest row revives the bitter wrangling over how to implement British voters’ shock decision in 2016 to quit the bloc, which led to parliamentary deadlock and repeated postponements.

The impasse was broken after Johnson sealed a divorce deal with Brussels and used it to win a thumping victory in a December general election which gave his Conservatives an 80-seat majority in the House of Commons.

Brexit took legal effect the next month, but in practice Britain has remained bound by EU rules under a transition period until the end of this year.

With the clock ticking down, no breakthrough is in sight for regulating cross-Channel trade from January, and Northern Ireland is back as a fiendishly complicated obstacle.

Britain claims it needs the new law as an insurance policy in case no trade agreement is struck, but the EU was left blind-sided, as were many in parliament.

The government nonetheless appears determined to ram the UK Internal Market Bill through as quickly as possible, and senior minister Michael Gove believes it can avert a full-scale rebellion.

“I think we have got the support of our own MPs and MPs in other parties as well,” he told BBC television. “But you’re absolutely right we are reaching a crunch moment.”

On Friday evening, the prime minister held a chaotic Zoom call with about 250 Conservative backbenchers which appeared to do little to mollify the malcontents.

Johnson warned them against a return to the “miserable, squabbling days of last autumn” over Brexit, according to MPs’ accounts to the media afterwards.

Not long after the call, he accused the EU of plotting to break up the UK with a food “blockade” down the Irish Sea, which EU leaders have denied.

– ‘Madman theory’ –

MPs will get their first chance to debate the legislation from mid-afternoon Monday, before voting at around 2100 GMT to continue its passage through parliament.

However, more meaningful votes on attempts to change the draft law will not come until next week.

Commons Justice Committee chairman Bob Neill has filed an amendment to dictate that parliament, not the government, will have the final say on any changes to the EU Withdrawal Agreement.

The bill “is potentially a harmful act for this country, it would damage our reputation and I think it will make it harder to strike trade deals going forward,” he told Channel 4 News.

It remains to be seen whether Tory rebels can muster the numbers to seriously embarrass the government on Monday or whether they could hold their fire until future votes.

The main opposition Labour party, which opposed Brexit, says it is open to negotiation about the bill but would rather be talking about Covid-19.

“We should be getting on with defeating this virus, not reigniting old rows,” Labour leader Keir Starmer wrote in the Sunday Telegraph.

AFP

British Pound Sinks Amid Brexit Deadlock Fears

PM Johnson Says UK Anti-Racism Protests 'Hijacked By Extremists'
In this file photo taken on April 12, 2020. Pippa FOWLES / 10 Downing Street / AFP.

 

The British pound sank Monday after Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared to revive investor fears of a no-deal Brexit, dealers said.

Heading into the half-way point in London, sterling deepened losses to shed 1.0 percent versus the dollar. It was also down 0.8 percent against the European single currency.

Johnson has given an October 15 deadline for a post-Brexit trade agreement with the European Union, brushing off fears about “no-deal” chaos if talks fail.

“If we can’t agree by then, then I do not see that there will be a free-trade agreement between us,” Johnson said, insisting it would still be a “good outcome” for Britain.

The Financial Times meanwhile reported that Johnson is planning legislation to override parts of the withdrawal treaty that Britain and the EU agreed last year.

The report cited three people close to the plans as saying a bill to be put before parliament this week would undermine agreements relating to Northern Ireland customs and state aid.

– ‘Negotiation tactics?’ –

“Judging by today’s price action in the pound, investors appear to believe that Johnson has indeed resurrected the spectre of a no-deal Brexit,” ThinkMarkets analyst Fawad Razaqzada told AFP.

“However, I reckon it is all part of negotiation tactics — and in the end a cliff-edge Brexit will probably be avoided as it is not in either party’s interests.”

In response to the report, Downing Street said only that it was still “working hard to resolve outstanding issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol” but was considering “fall-back options”.

EU leader Ursula von der Leyen warned that Britain is legally obliged to respect the Brexit withdrawal agreement, which must form the basis of bilateral relations going forward.

The eighth round of negotiations resume in London this week, with both sides talking increasingly tough, amid accusations of intransigence and political brinkmanship.

– European stocks rally –

The weak pound meanwhile handed a fillip to the London stock market, because it boosts the share prices of multinationals earning in dollars.

Frankfurt and Paris also charged higher as investors snapped up bargain stocks following heady losses last week.

Asian equities struggled Monday, with a mixed US jobs report offsetting a pledge from Federal Reserve boss Jerome Powell that interest rates would remain rock-bottom for years.

China-US tensions and a lack of progress in Washington stimulus talks — all against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic — were keeping markets from surging.

Wall Street nursed more losses on Friday, albeit shallower than Thursday’s rout that hammered the tech sector as traders took profits from months of huge gains.

In commodity markets on Monday, world oil prices sank on stubborn concerns over the long-term energy demand outlook, as economies struggle to shake off coronavirus fallout.

“The market is growing less and less confident that oil demand will recover as quickly as it hoped,” said Rystad Energy analyst Paola Rodriguez-Masiu.

– Key figures around 1115 GMT –

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3150 from $1.3279 on Friday

Euro/pound: UP at 89.89 pence from 89.15 pence

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1834 from $1.1838 at 2100 GMT

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 106.20 yen from 106.24 yen

London – FTSE 100: UP 1.6 percent at 5,890.67 points

Frankfurt – DAX 30: UP 1.4 percent at 13,017.69

Paris – CAC 40: UP 1.2 percent at 5,022.54

EURO STOXX 50: UP 1.2 percent at 3,298.52

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.5 percent at 23,089.95 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 0.4 percent at 24,589.65 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 1.9 percent at 3,292.59 (close)

New York – Dow: DOWN 0.6 percent at 28,133.31 (close)

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 1.4 percent at $42.08 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 1.5 percent at $39.17

AFP

Britain Commences Work On New High-Speed Railway

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (R) reacts during his visit to the Solihull Interchange construction site for the HS2 high-speed railway project, near Birmingham, central England on September 4, 2020. Andrew Fox / POOL / AFP
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson (R) reacts during his visit to the Solihull Interchange construction site for the HS2 high-speed railway project, near Birmingham, central England on September 4, 2020. Andrew Fox / POOL / AFP

 

Britain on Friday formally began building HS2, its new high-speed railway set to deliver thousands of jobs to the country’s virus-ravaged economy.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the project — which is to cost more than £100 billion ($130 billion, 110 billion euros) funded mostly by the state — will play a part in helping the country get back on its feet following the pandemic.

Prior to the virus outbreak, Johnson saw HS2 as a key infrastructure project aimed at helping drive Britain’s post-Brexit economy.

“HS2 is at the heart of our plans to build back better (following the pandemic) and with construction now formally underway, it’s set to create around 22,000 new jobs,” Johnson said in a statement Friday.

The start of construction comes amid huge financial losses for Britain’s rail sector as office workers shun public transport to work from home during the virus outbreak.

Despite this, Johnson later told an event to mark the start of building works that he has “absolutely no doubt that mass transit transport infrastructure is going to be crucial for our country, not just now, but in the decades ahead”.

HS2, while quickening train journeys between London in southeast England and major cities in the north, will also ease pressure on existing lines and possibly help rebalance a UK economy that is heavily centred on the capital.

Activists take part in demonstration against the HS2 hi-speed rail line outside the Department of Transport, as part of protests by the Extinction Rebellion climate change group in central London on September 4, 2020 on the fourth day of their new series of 'mass rebellions'. Tolga Akmen / AFP
Activists take part in demonstration against the HS2 hi-speed rail line outside the Department of Transport, as part of protests by the Extinction Rebellion climate change group in central London on September 4, 2020 on the fourth day of their new series of ‘mass rebellions’. Tolga Akmen / AFP

 

“As the spine of our country’s transport network, the project will be vital in boosting connectivity between our towns and cities,” Johnson said Friday.

“But HS2’s transformational potential goes even further.

“By creating hundreds of apprenticeships and thousands of skilled jobs, HS2 will fire up economic growth and help to rebalance opportunity across this country for years to come,” he added.

The project’s first stage — connecting London to Britain’s second-biggest city Birmingham in the English Midlands — is due to open by around 2028-2031.

A second phase, extending the line north to English cities Manchester and Leeds, won’t be completed before 2035-2040.

And while construction of HS2 is set to produce vast amounts of carbon emissions and destroy ancient woodlands and wildlife, according to experts, its electric trains will likely be far more environmentally friendly than planes making similar trips.

HS2 is Britain’s second high-speed rail project after HS1, which links London with the Channel Tunnel that connects the UK to France.

 

AFP

UK ‘Very Committed’ To EU Trade Deal – Irish PM

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson (R) greets Ireland’s Prime Minister Micheal Martin (L) on the steps of Hillsborough Castle in Belfast on August 13, 2020. (Photo by Brian Lawless / POOL / AFP)

 

Ireland’s prime minister Michael Martin said Thursday that his British counterpart Boris Johnson was “very committed” to reaching a trade agreement with the European Union, after they met in Belfast.

It was the pair’s first face-to-face meeting since Martin was elected Taoiseach in June.

“We both agreed on the absolute necessity for a free trade agreement that would be tariff-free, quota-free,” Martin told reporters after the “wide-ranging” meeting.

“That’s the best possible outcome for the European Union, for the United Kingdom, for businesses in the island of Ireland in terms of jobs and certainty.”

Martin added that Johnson was “very committed to reaching a comprehensive agreement with Europe”.

The British prime minster’s office later said Johnson had told Martin that Britain would “continue to take pride in high environmental, animal welfare and labour standards outside the European Union”.

“Our priority remains protecting Northern Ireland’s place in our United Kingdom and preserving the huge gains from the peace process,” added his Downing Street office.

Johnson was also scheduled to meet Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’ Neill during the visit.

Ahead of his trip, Johnson said Britain would “stand side-by-side” with Northern Ireland.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson (R) greets Ireland’s Prime Minister Micheal Martin (L) with an elbow touch as a safety measure because of the novel coronavirus pandemic on the steps of Hillsborough Castle in Belfast on August 13, 2020. Brian Lawless / POOL / AFP.

 

Britain formally left the European Union on January 31 — after voting to leave in a 2016 referendum — but is currently in a standstill transition period until the end of 2020 as it tries to negotiate a new trade deal with the European Union.

Talks are ongoing between London and Brussels to try and find a mutually acceptable deal.

The stalled talks are set to continue until October but fears are growing that almost half a century of economic integration with Europe and increasingly frictionless travel will end abruptly, without a deal, on December 31.

Also on Thursday, Britain’s senior Brexit negotiator, David Frost, tweeted that round seven of negotiations would begin in Brussels next week.

“Our assessment is that agreement can be reached in September and we will work to achieve this if we can,” wrote Frost.

However, he added: “The UK’s sovereignty, over our laws, our courts, or our fishing waters, is of course not up for discussion and we will not accept anything which compromises it.”

AFP

UK Enters Recession After Economy Shrank 20% In Second Quarter

A handout photograph released by the UK Parliament shows Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson during Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) in the House of Commons in London on July 15, 2020. JESSICA TAYLOR / AFP / UK PARLIAMENT
A handout photograph released by the UK Parliament shows Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson during Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) in the House of Commons in London on July 15, 2020. JESSICA TAYLOR / AFP / UK PARLIAMENT

 

 

Britain’s economy shrank by a fifth in the second quarter, higher than any European neighbour, as the coronavirus pandemic slammed businesses and plunged the country into a record recession.

“It is clear that the UK is in the largest recession on record,” the Office for National Statistics said after the gross domestic product (GDP) contracted by 20.4 percent in April-June.

Britain’s recession — its first since 2009 amid the global financial crisis — was confirmed after two quarterly contractions in a row.

GDP shrank 2.2 percent in the first three months of this year.

The statistics office said that the contraction for the first six months of 2020 “was slightly below the 22.7 percent seen in Spain but was more than double the 10.6 percent fall in United States GDP over this period”.

But Britain’s second-quarter contraction beat Spain’s GDP of minus 18.5 percent.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said Britain’s dire second quarter was driven by a 20 percent drop in output in April, “the biggest monthly fall on record reflecting widespread… declines in output across the services, production, and construction industries”.

– ‘Hard times’ –

Finance minister Rishi Sunak said the data “confirm that hard times are here”.

He added: “Hundreds of thousands of people have already lost their jobs, and sadly in the coming months many more will.”

Chancellor of the Exchequer Sunak plans to end in October the government’s furlough scheme that is paying up to 80 percent of wages for nearly ten million workers.

The UK — which has the highest death toll in Europe from the coronavirus — appears to be paying a heavier price for locking down later than its continental neighbours.

The British economy also relies more heavily on the hard-hit services sector than other European countries.

– Rebound begins –

While officially in recession, the UK economy is beginning to rebound as the government eases strict restrictions.

GDP output growth was 8.7 percent in June as the economy slowly emerged from its lockdown implemented in late March, the ONS said.

That helped the pound to steady on Wednesday, while London’s stock market was up 0.9 percent in mid-morning deals.

“The economy began to bounce back in June, with shops reopening, factories beginning to ramp up production and house-building continuing to recover,” noted Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician at the ONS.

“Despite this, GDP in June still remains a sixth below its level in February, before the virus struck.

“Overall, productivity saw its largest-ever fall in the second quarter. Hospitality was worst hit, with productivity in that industry falling by three-quarters in recent months,” Athow added.

– Rising unemployment –

To help the economy recover, the Bank of England (BoE) is pumping out hundreds of billions of pounds in cash stimulus and has slashed its main interest rate to a record-low 0.1 percent.

“The substantial fiscal and monetary stimulus that has been enacted should provide ongoing support to the economy,” EY economist Howard Archer said Wednesday.

“Although the economy is expected to achieve appreciable growth in the third quarter… the rate of expansion will slow in the fourth quarter as unemployment rises following” the end of the furlough scheme.

ONS data released Monday showed that around 730,000 workers have been removed from the payrolls of British companies since March.

Announcements of job cuts have become a daily occurrence in the UK, with department store chain Debenhams on Tuesday axing 2,500 posts.

The BoE expects the unemployment rate to shoot to around 7.5 percent by the end of the year from 3.9 percent currently.

And it forecasts that the UK economy will have contracted by 9.5 percent for the whole of 2020.

The BoE estimates that UK gross domestic product will rebound in 2021 by nine percent.

“A labour market crisis or another strong rise in (virus) infections could quickly knock this fragile recovery off course,” said City Index analyst Fiona Cincotta.

Britain Suspends Further Reopening As Concerns Grow Over Spike In COVID-19 Cases

A handout image released by 10 Downing Street, shows Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson attending a remote press conference to update the nation on the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic inside 10 Downing Street in central London on July 31, 2020. Andrew PARSONS / POOL / 10 Downing Street / AFP
A handout image released by 10 Downing Street, shows Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson attending a remote press conference to update the nation on the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic inside 10 Downing Street in central London on July 31, 2020. Andrew PARSONS / POOL / 10 Downing Street / AFP

 

Britain on Friday “put the brakes on” easing lockdown measures and imposed new rules on millions of households in northern England, following concerns over a spike in coronavirus infections.

The reopening of high-risk activities such as casinos, bowling alleys and skating rinks, which was meant to begin on Saturday, will be delayed until at least August 15, as will the reintroduction of indoor performances and pilot schemes of larger crowds at sporting events, Boris Johnson announced.

“I have said our plan to reopen society and the economy is conditional.. that we would not hesitate to put the brakes on if required. Our assessment is that we should now squeeze that brake pedal,” the Prime Minister said in a Downing Street briefing.

Johnson, who earlier this week warned of a “second wave” of cases in Europe, added that Britain “cannot be complacent” about increasing infection numbers.

Increase in new infections

His announcement came hours after the government increased regional lockdown measures — under which people from different households are banned from meeting indoors — for some four million people across Greater Manchester and parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the restrictions were being brought in because people were “meeting and not abiding to social distancing”.

Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock/ AFP

 

“We take this action with a heavy heart, but we can see increasing rates of COVID across Europe and are determined to do whatever is necessary to keep people safe,” Hancock said on Twitter.

Government data released Friday showed there was “some evidence that the incidence of new infections has increased in recent weeks” in England.

However, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said “I don’t think it is helpful” to talk yet of a second wave sweeping across Europe.

The local measures came into effect at midnight (2300 GMT Thursday), just hours after being announced.

Andy Burnham, the mayor of Manchester, backed the measures due to an increase in infections.

“The picture in Greater Manchester has changed over the last seven days,” he told the BBC.

“We have a rise in nine out of the 10 boroughs, the reality on the ground is changing.”

Scots should avoid Manchester

But the new measures have come under criticism from the opposition Labour party for being announced late at night.

Labour leader Keir Starmer said on Twitter: “Announcing measures affecting potentially millions of people late at night on Twitter is a new low for the government’s communications during this crisis.”

A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament's Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) shows Britain's main opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer speaking during Prime Minister's Question time (PMQs) in the House of Commons in London on July 22, 2020. JESSICA TAYLOR / PRU / AFP
A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament’s Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) shows Britain’s main opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer speaking during Prime Minister’s Question time (PMQs) in the House of Commons in London on July 22, 2020.
JESSICA TAYLOR / PRU / AFP

 

They also come into force just as celebrations of the Muslim festival Eid al-Adha begin. Areas affected by the latest lockdown have significant Muslim populations.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned her citizens against travelling to the affected areas.

“To… minimise risks of onward transmission here, @scotgov is STRONGLY advising against non-essential travel between Scotland and these parts of the north of England,” she wrote on Twitter.

It is not the first local lockdown to be put in place — England has lifted most of its restrictions nationally but imposed store closures around the central city of Leicester at the end of June.

Hancock said Leicester would now follow the same ban on meetings between different households being applied to Manchester and parts of West Yorkshire and East Lancashire.

Britain’s official virus death toll stands at 45,999 but is believed to be as high as 65,000 if excess deaths are used as a guide.

 

AFP

Johnson Wants Britons To Cycle Way Out Of Lockdown

The British government promised Monday to build thousands of miles of new bike lanes to get people moving and healthy after months of coronavirus lockdown. (Photo by Rui Vieira / POOL / AFP)

 

 

 

The British government promised Monday to build thousands of miles of new bike lanes to get people moving and healthy after months of coronavirus lockdown.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s pledge comes on the heels of a plan to force restaurants to display calories on menus as part of a broader effort to win the battle of the bulge.

Government data show two-thirds of UK adults are above a healthy weight. Some studies suggests that the virus is especially deadly to people who are obese.

“To build a healthier, more active nation, we need the right infrastructure, training and support in place to give people the confidence to travel on two wheels,” Johnson said.

“That’s why now is the time to shift gears and press ahead with our biggest and boldest plans yet to boost active travel — so that everyone can feel the transformative benefits of cycling.”

 

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson wearing a face mask or covering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, talks to the owner of the Cycle Lounge, Rodney Rouse, a bicycle repair shop in Beeston, central England, on July 28, 2020, during an event to launch the government’s new cycling intuitive to help get people, fitter. – (Photo by Rui Vieira / POOL / AFP)

 

Johnson introduced a bike sharing programme in London during his spell as the British capital’s mayor from 2008 to 2016.

But the so-called “Boris bikes” stood largely untouched during a months-long lockdown that still sees swathes of central London stand empty during working hours.

The government’s efforts to tease people out of lockdown and into their old spending habits that can give shops and restaurants a boost are complicated by Britain’s inability to safely reopen its schools.

Polls show people are also worried about using public transport. Many trains and buses are running half-empty during morning and evening commutes.

 

Britain’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson’s plan envisions more Briton’s biking and walking to work in the long term. (Photo by Rui Vieira / POOL / AFP)

 

Johnson’s plan envisions more Briton’s biking and walking to work in the long term.

It promises to build “thousands of miles of protected cycle routes in towns and cities” as part of a £2 billion ($2.6 billion, 2.2 billion euro) “cycling and walking revolution”.

The government has also promised to start releasing the first batch of £50 “bike repair vouchers” to help people get old cycles fixed.

Britain’s official virus death toll of 45,759 is the highest in Europe.

 

 

-AFP

‘Anti-Vaxxers Are Nuts’: UK PM Boris Johnson

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures during his visit to the Tollgate Medical Centre in Becton, east London on July 24, 2020.. (Photo by Jeremy Selwyn / POOL / AFP)

 

 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday described people opposed to vaccinations as “nuts”, as he promoted the government’s expanded programme of flu jabs.

“There’s all these anti-vaxxers now. They are nuts, they are nuts,” he said as he toured a medical centre in east London.

Johnson’s government has widened its winter flu vaccination programme, given fears that combined with a second wave of coronavirus infections, health services could be overwhelmed.

The vaccine will be free for the most vulnerable groups, including older people, those with underlying conditions, and younger children.

The Department of Health aims to vaccinate more than 30 million when the programmes gets under way later this year, it said in a statement.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock called it “the biggest flu vaccination programme in history, and will help protect our NHS (National Health Service) as we head into winter”.

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty said vaccination was a way of helping reduce “all avoidable risks”, with coronavirus still circulating, and no vaccine yet available.

Experts commissioned by the government’s chief scientific officer have warned that if no action was taken now, nearly 120,000 people could die in hospitals alone in a second wave.

The government is preparing for the possibility, and on Friday the wearing of facemasks became compulsory in shops across England.

In 2019, the World Health Organization identified “vaccine hesitancy” as one of the top 10 global health threats in tackling preventable diseases.

Earlier this month, a survey indicated that 16 percent of British adults would “probably” or “definitely” avoid a COVID-19 vaccine.

The study, by pollsters YouGov for the Center for Countering Digital Hate, found that respondents who get most of their news from social media were more likely to refuse a jab.

The anti-vaccination movement has gained ground on social media in recent years, including during the coronavirus outbreak.

One theory circulating online is that flu vaccines contain coronaviruses. Another says getting a flu jab can lead to a positive test for the virus.

But experts have dismissed both claims.

 

 

 

-AFP

UK ‘Overestimates’ Coronavirus Death Toll – Study

File: A member of the ambulance services assists in moving a patient from an ambulance to St Thomas' Hospital in London on March 31, 2020, as the country is under lockdown due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Tolga AKMEN / AFP.
File photo: A member of the ambulance services assists in moving a patient from an ambulance to St Thomas’ Hospital in London on March 31, 2020, as the country is under lockdown due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Tolga AKMEN / AFP.

 

 

Britain ordered an urgent review Friday into how coronavirus deaths are counted after a study suggested health authorities are overestimating the toll by counting people who died long after recovering.

More than 45,000 deaths have been recorded in patients who tested positive for COVID-19 in Britain and many more died without being tested, making the country’s outbreak the deadliest in Europe.

But an article for Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine revealed a “statistical flaw” in the way data is gathered by the public health agency in England.

Authors Yoon K Loke and Carl Heneghan said that in compiling death data, Public Health England simply checks its list of lab-confirmed cases against a central register of deaths to see whether they are still alive.

“A patient who has tested positive, but successfully treated and discharged from hospital, will still be counted as a COVID death even if they had a heart attack or were run over by a bus three months later,” they wrote.

They suggested this could explain variations in England’s daily toll, and why deaths there have not fallen in the same way they have in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which collect their own data.

Under this approach, “no one with COVID in England is allowed to ever recover from their illness”, the article said — and the ultimate death toll will include every one of the 292,000 people who has had the virus.

 

In this file photo taken on June 15, 2020 Commuters wearing face masks walk through the ticket barriers at Waterloo Station in London on June 15, 2020 after new rules make wearing face  Niklas HALLE’N / AFP

 

“It’s time to fix this statistical flaw that leads to an over-exaggeration of COVID-associated deaths,” it said, recommending only deaths within 21 days of a positive test be included in the figures.

In response, Health Secretary Matt Hancock asked Public Health England to urgently review the way it reports deaths “aimed at providing greater clarity on the number of fatalities related to COVID-19”, a spokesman said.

However, the daily-updated coronavirus toll is only one way of measuring deaths.

Britain fares just as badly when “excess deaths” during the outbreak are counted, a measure that includes people who died without being diagnosed or as a result of virus mitigation efforts such as cancelling routine surgery.

The Office for National Statistics says that 54,000 more people died in England and Wales this year to July 3 than the five-year average for that period.

AFP

US Infections Top Three Million As Trump Begins WHO Pullout

U.S. President Donald Trump participates in a meeting of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board in the East Room of the White House on June 26, 2020 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP
U.S. President Donald Trump participates in a meeting of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board in the East Room of the White House on June 26, 2020 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP

 

 

Coronavirus infections in the United States topped the three million mark Wednesday, as President Donald Trump began withdrawing the country from the World Health Organization.

The US remains by far the worst affected country, with over 131,000 deaths, while Brazil — whose virus-skeptic President Jair Bolsonaro has tested positive for the disease — is a distant second with close to 67,000 deaths from almost 1.7 million cases.

Despite the figures, both Trump and Bolsonaro have continued to argue against lockdowns and other restrictive measures, reflecting a wider divide over the response to the crisis.

Trump Wednesday called for students to return in the fall despite the virus surging in several southern state hotspots.

Meanwhile, millions in the Australian city of Melbourne were preparing for a return to lockdown to fight an upsurge that is seeing more than 100 new cases reported each day, with panic buyers stripping supermarket shelves.

But there were signs in Europe that harsh restrictions would be difficult to reimpose, with thousands protesting in Serbia against a weekend curfew and France vowing not to have a blanket lockdown again.

The virus has infected almost 12 million people worldwide and killed more than 500,000 since it emerged in China late last year.

 

‘Knee-deep’

Having just a handful of cases at the start of February, the US infection rate passed the one million milestone on April 28 and hit two million on June 11, according to an AFP tally of official sources.

All the while, the death toll has been creeping up to its current figure of 131,480, almost one-quarter of the global total.

Top US infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci has warned that the country is still “knee-deep” in only its first coronavirus wave, but Trump said on Tuesday America was “in a good place” and that he disagreed with Fauci.

To the consternation of experts and political opponents, Trump formally started withdrawing from the WHO on Tuesday, making good on threats to deprive the UN body of some $400 million in funding after he accused it of being too close to China.

Joe Biden, who will face him in a presidential election in November, promised to rejoin the WHO “and restore our leadership on the world stage” if he wins.

Underlining America’s unilateral approach, the government Wednesday announced more than $2 billion in funding for research into vaccines and treatments.

In its biggest grant yet, $1.6 billion was awarded to biotech firm Novavax.

The company has agreed to deliver 100 million doses if successful and said it would now move with “extraordinary urgency”.

Several potential vaccines are being developed around the world — $1.2 billion was recently awarded to drug firm AstraZeneca as part of another project in Britain.

 ‘Fascist’ protesters

Following in the footsteps of world leaders including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Bolsonaro was the latest statesman to test positive for COVID-19.

He has consistently played down the risks of the disease, mocking it as a “little flu”.

The 65-year-old said he felt “tiredness, illness and a fever” but insisted he was feeling “good, calm” and took off his mask to emphasize the point.

Experts have criticized the US and Brazil for stoking the virus by failing to enforce rigorous social distancing measures and lockdowns.

In Europe, where millions lived for months under severe restrictions, the possibility of returning to that scenario triggered violent protests in Serbia.

Dozens were hurt, police cars set alight and the parliament building breached as thousands protested in Belgrade after the government said it would reimpose a weekend curfew.

Outrage focused on President Aleksandar Vucic, who branded the protesters “fascists” but later said the curfew could be reconsidered.

 

‘Extraordinary solidarity’

Mindful of potentially disastrous consequences of attempting to thrust millions back into their homes, France’s new prime minister aimed to soothe fears by promising no new full shutdown.

“We’re not going to impose a lockdown like the one we did last March, because we’ve learned… that the economic and human consequences from a total lockdown are disastrous,” Jean Castex said, promising “targeted” measures instead.

France is among the European nations attempting to frame a national response to the crisis while also leading European Union’s attempts to repair the massive  economic damage.

German Angela Merkel said Brussels needed to reach a deal quickly on a proposed $843 million package to help crisis-hit economies in the bloc.

“We need extraordinary solidarity,” she said ahead of an upcoming EU summit.

Australia neither suffered the kind of outbreak that ravaged Europe, nor the economic damage from draconian lockdowns.

But seeking to staunch a surge of cases in its second-biggest city, it is sealing off the state of Victoria — a move that  sparked panic-buying and prompted supermarkets to introduce limits on the purchase of some goods.

“This is not the situation that anybody wanted to be in, but it is the reality that we must confront,” said Victoria premier Daniel Andrews.

 

 

-AFP