UK Hosts 51 Countries For Climate Talks Ahead Of COP26

File Photo: British Minister, Alok Sharma.

 

 

Britain hosts climate and environment ministers from 51 countries on Sunday for “critical” climate talks ahead of November’s COP26 summit in Glasgow.

British minister Alok Sharma, President of COP26, will lead the two-day meeting, which London said will address “key issues that require resolution” at the summit.

Sharma “hopes to build common ground and sketch the outline of the Glasgow outcome,” according to a statement released by the British government.

Environment and climate ministers from the US, India and China will be among those taking part in the closed-door meeting, which will include both virtual and in-person attendance.

It is the first face-to-face ministerial meeting of its kind in more than 18 months.

“We are facing perilous times for our planet and the only way we will safeguard its future is if countries are on the same path,” said Sharma.

“The world will be watching to see whether we come together in Glasgow and do what is necessary to turn things around in this decisive decade,” he added.

“It is essential that together we roll up our sleeves, find common ground and collectively draw out how we will build a greener, brighter future for our children and future generations.”

The event will cover the goal of keeping to the 1.5C temperature rise limit, exploring topics such as climate finance, efforts to adapt to climate change, and finalising the “rulebook” for implementation of the Paris Agreement.

Negotiators from 196 countries and the European Union, along with businesses, experts and world leaders are expected to attend.

US climate envoy John Kerry said this week that the summit marked a “pivotal moment for the world to come together to meet and master the climate challenge.

“Glasgow is the place, 2021 is the time and we can, in a little more than 100 days, save the next 100 years.

“Above all we need to provide action, and we need to do it now, because time is running out,” he added.

AFP

Britain Hits Five Individuals With Anti-Graft Sanctions

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he holds a remote press conference to update the nation on the post-Brexit trade agreement, inside 10 Downing Street in central London on December 24, 2020. (Photo by Paul GROVER / POOL / AFP)

 

 

Britain on Thursday placed sanctions on five individuals around the world including the son of Equatorial Guinea’s president, as part of its global anti-corruption regime.

The UK said it had frozen the assets of and put travel bans on the five, who are accused of syphoning off public funds in Equatorial Guinea, Zimbabwe, Venezuela and Iraq.

“The action we have taken today targets individuals who have lined their own pockets at the expense of their citizens,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.

“Corruption drains the wealth of poorer nations, keeps their people trapped in poverty and poisons the well of democracy,” he said.

The Foreign Office said it was sanctioning Vice President of Equatorial Guinea Teodorin Obiang, the son of the current president, for his involvement in the misappropriation of state funds into his own personal bank accounts.

As well as making corrupt contracting arrangements and soliciting bribes, it said Obiang had splurged $500 million (425 million euros) on a private mansion in Paris, luxury cars and a collection of Michael Jackson memorabilia including a $275,000 crystal-covered glove that the singer wore on his 1987-89 “Bad” tour.

Sanctions were placed on Colombian contractors Alex Nain Saab Moran and Alvaro Enrique Pulido Vargas for exploiting Venezuela’s public food and housing programmes and delivering goods at inflated prices.

Saab, who is reported to be close to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and who has a Venezuelan diplomatic passport, is accused by the United States of pulling the strings of this embezzlement network.

Indicted in July 2019 in Miami for money laundering, he was arrested during a stop-over of his plane in Cape Verde in mid-June 2020.

The United States is demanding his extradition while Venezuela is calling for his release.

The Venezuelan foreign ministry reacted issued a statement late Thursday saying that London’s sanctions were “criminal” and “reflect the immorality of the British government which sets itself up as the world’s supposed anti-corruption judge.”

Zimbabwe’s Kudakwashe Regimond Tagwirei was sanctioned under the anti-corruption regime for redeeming national treasury bills at 10 times their official value.

Iraq’s Nawfal Hammadi Al-Sultan was targeted for misappropriating public funds intended for reconstruction efforts and supporting civilians while serving as governor of the country’s northern Nineveh province.

The measures are the second grouping of sanctions under Britain’s anti-corruption regime.

They follow sanctions in April, which targeted 22 individuals involved in serious corruption cases in Russia, South Africa, South Sudan and Latin America.

UK PM To Self-Isolate When Not Working, After Minister’s Infection

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives to attend the NATO summit at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on June 14, 2021. The allies meet to agree on a statement stressing common ground on securing their withdrawal from Afghanistan, joint responses to cyber-attacks, and relations with a rising China. KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / POOL / AFP

 

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will undertake “only essential government business” in the week ahead after the state health service designated him a close contact of a person infected with Covid, Downing Street said Sunday.

Johnson and finance minister Rishi Sunak were both designated but are taking part in a government pilot scheme that enables them to continue working, a spokesperson said.

The development came just as Johnson’s government prepares to ditch most pandemic restrictions in England on Monday. The pilot mandates daily testing for participants and outside of work, they must self-isolate.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed on Saturday he had tested positive for Covid-19 and was now self-isolating for 10 days.

“The prime minister and chancellor have been contacted by NHS (National Health Service) Test and Trace as contacts of someone who has tested positive for Covid,” the Downing Street spokesperson said.

“They will be participating in the daily contact testing pilot to allow them to continue to work from Downing Street.

“They will be conducting only essential government business during this period.”

Javid had a “lengthy” meeting with Johnson on Friday, according to the Sunday Times. The prime minister nearly died of Covid last year.

Javid also appeared alongside ministers in parliament last week, and one government source told The Telegraph newspaper: “I don’t see how half the cabinet doesn’t end up in isolation by the end of the week.”

Javid has only been in the job since late June, when former health secretary Matt Hancock resigned following revelations he had broken coronavirus restrictions during an affair with a close aide.

Jonathan Ashworth, the main opposition Labour party’s health spokesman, accused the government of double standards after millions of schoolchildren and workers were forced to stay home under Covid tracing rules.

The pilot’s exemption amounts to “an exclusive rule for Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak”, he told Sky News, and the public will see “one rule for them and something else for the rest of us”.

‘Pingdemic’

Javid stressed he has received both doses of a Covid vaccine and his symptoms were “very mild”. He said any member of the public feeling symptoms should get a test too.

“If everyone plays their part, you’re not only protecting yourself and your loved ones, but you’re also safeguarding the NHS and helping to preserve our way of life,” the minister said.

However, with coronavirus cases again surging, many scientists say the government is endangering the NHS with its plan on Monday to scrap most legal pandemic requirements in England.

For the first time since January, Britain’s daily Covid caseload now exceeds 50,000, and Javid has warned the figure could double from that in the coming weeks.

But the government insists that with two-thirds of the adult population now fully vaccinated, the risk can be managed, and Monday has been dubbed “freedom day” by many UK media.

Munira Wilson, health spokeswoman for the opposition Liberal Democrats, said Javid’s test result “shows no one is safe from this deadly virus”.

Urging the government “to rethink its reckless plans for Monday”, she said: “By easing all restrictions with cases surging, they are experimenting with people’s lives.”

The surge in infections sweeping Britain led to more than 530,000 people being instructed to self-isolate by a government-run app in the week to July 7, according to latest data.

Some companies such as carmaker Nissan have been losing staff en masse after they were pinged by the app — in a brewing crisis described by UK newspapers as a “pingdemic”.

Staff shortages caused by the isolation rules disrupted the London Underground network on Saturday, with one line suspended entirely.

AFP

Britain Announces Harsher Sentences For Channel Migrants

A handout photograph released by the UK Parliament shows Britain’s Home Secretary Priti Patel speaking during the debate on the second reading of the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, in a socially distanced, hybrid session at the House of Commons, in central London on March 15, 2021. (Photo by JESSICA TAYLOR / various sources / AFP)

 

Britain has announced it will seek harsher sentences for migrants caught entering the country without permission amid a record-breaking surge in arrivals over the English Channel.

The stricter prison sentences for both migrants and people smugglers come as part of Home Secretary Priti Patel’s plans to overhaul asylum rules in a bid to prevent what her department has characterised as “asylum shopping”.

The legislation announced Saturday makes it a criminal offence to arrive in the UK without permission, with a maximum sentence for those entering the country unlawfully increasing from six months to four years.

Under the law set for its first reading in parliament on Tuesday, people smugglers will face life sentences, up from the current maximum of 14 years.

Patel said the plans were “fair but firm”, adding that the UK would “welcome people through safe and legal routes whilst preventing abuse of the system, cracking down on illegal entry and the criminality associated with it”.

The bill’s unveiling comes as the Britain’s asylum system strains under the pressure of a record number of arrivals over the Channel.

A total of nearly 6,000 migrants have made the dangerous crossing in the first six months of 2021.

The total number of 8,417 arrivals for the whole of 2020 is likely to be overtaken in the next two months if trends continue, according to figures from the domestic Press Association news agency.

The Home Office said it was “very likely that those travelling to the UK via small boat will have come from a safe European Union country in which they could have claimed asylum”.

“Where this is the case, they are not seeking refuge at the earliest opportunity or showing good reason for seeking to enter the UK illegally but are instead ‘asylum shopping’ by picking the UK as a preferred destination over others and using an illegal route to get here,” it added.

READ ALSO: Saudi Suspends UAE Flights Due To COVID-19 Variant

The government launched plans earlier this year for what it called the biggest changes to asylum rules in decades, saying the current system was overwhelmed.

The plan drew fire from refugee groups, who accused the ruling Conservatives of political cynicism.

“Instead of peddling deliberately misleading myths and untruths about asylum and migration, the Home Office should be establishing safe routes for those few people escaping persecution who wish to seek asylum here,” Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director said.

AFP

The COVID-Era Summer Travel Rules For Europe

A picture taken on June 29, 2021 in Paris shows a passport next to a mobile phone whose screen bears a EU Digital Covid certificate. – The European health certificate, which Belgium began using on June 16, 2021, will become operational across the EU on July 1, 2021. (Photo by Olivier MORIN / AFP)

 

 

Europe’s tourism hot spots are gearing up for what they hope will be a summer season marked by the return of foreigners eager for a taste of freedom after a year of COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns worldwide.

But visitors will face a hodgepodge of entry rules across the bloc, even with the launch of a “travel pass” for EU residents aimed at speeding up processing at arrival points.

Access for tourists from some countries outside the bloc has also become easier, but others continue to impose draconian restrictions as governments try to avert a fourth coronavirus wave while throwing tourism a lifeline.

Here is a summary of rules in some of Europe’s key tourism spots:

France

France, the world’s top tourist destination, uses a colour-coded map laying out entry protocols, with EU residents who are vaccinated or have a negative PCR test able to enter freely.

The same goes for a number of “green” countries, including the United States, Australia, South Korea, Israel, Japan, Lebanon, New Zealand and Singapore.

Visitors from “orange” zones, which include Britain and most of Asia and Africa, have to produce a recent negative Covid test even when vaccinated.

For non-vaccinated people coming from “orange” zones, however, only essential trips are allowed and a seven-day self-quarantine imposed.

Just over 20 countries remain largely off-limits, including India, South Africa and much of South America, including Brazil.

Mask-wearing remains mandatory indoors, but curfew rules have been lifted.

Spain

Anyone who has been fully vaccinated can enter Spain, irrespective of their point of origin.

Arrivals from several countries or regions no longer even need proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test. They are Albania, Australia, South Korea, the United States, Israel, Japan, Lebanon, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Rwanda, Serbia, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong and Macao.

Non-vaccinated travellers from EU countries need to produce a negative Covid test less than 48 hours old.

Arrivals from Britain, which makes up the biggest foreign tourist group in Spain, again need to show a negative PCR test, a requirement that had been dropped previously.

Masks are mandatory indoors, but no longer outside, and curfews and domestic travel restrictions have been lifted.

Restaurants and bars are cleared for outdoor and indoor seating, but there are some restrictions on hours and the number of patrons allowed at any one time.

Nightclubs have reopened in the Madrid region and Catalonia, which includes hotspot Barcelona.

 

Italy

Italy hopes for 20 percent more tourists than last year.

Arrivals from the EU can enter freely if they have either been fully vaccinated, recovered from Covid or present a negative Covid test less than 48 hours old.

The same goes for passengers arriving from the United States, Canada, Japan, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Rwanda, Singapore and Thailand.

Visitors from Britain are subject to a five-day quarantine after presentation of a negative test. A second test is required after quarantine.

Italy remains off-limits for tourists from Brazil, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Masks are no longer compulsory outside, but must be worn indoors.

Curfews have been lifted, as have restrictions on restaurants and bars but tables must still be placed at least one metre (3.2 feet) apart.

Portugal

According to rules in force until July 11, all arrivals need to present proof of vaccination or a PCR test less than 72 hours old or an antigen of less than 48 hours.

Non-vaccinated arrivals from Britain will need to self-isolate for 14 days.

Except for EU member countries, Schengen members and a small number of other countries including the US and Australia, travellers need a compelling reason to enter Portugal.

Social distancing and mask-wearing are mandatory, and special rules are in place for beaches and swimming pool areas, with a distance of three metres minimum required between parasols.

Greece

The Greek government is hoping to reach about half of its pre-pandemic tourism revenues this summer which, if confirmed, would double last year’s figure.

Some 150,000 tourists have travelled to Greece since the start of the season on May 14, according to Tourism Minister Haris Theocharis.

Arrivals from EU countries and the Schengen area are authorised to enter Greece, as are residents of Canada, the US, Israel, China, Thailand, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

But they are required to fill in a form and produce proof of full vaccination, or a PCR test of less than 72 hours, an antigen test of less than 48 hours, or a certificate of post-infection immunity.

The authorities said they will also carry out spot antigen testing of arriving passengers.

UK

Travel to Britain is made difficult for most of the world by strict curbs on arrivals, costly quarantine requirements and expensive Covid tests.

The tourism sector’s efforts are mostly focused on domestic holidaymakers.

Travellers from “green” countries — including Australia, New Zealand and Iceland — need only produce a negative Covid test.

The green list was extended by 16 countries on Wednesday, including Israel, the Balearic Islands and the Cayman Islands.

Arrivals from Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands can enter freely.

Covid infections due to the delta variant delayed the planned lifting of many social restrictions, but Britain hopes to scrap a ban on large social gatherings, and non-seated drinking in pubs, on July 19, as well as to reopen nightclubs.

UK Announces Post-Brexit State Aid Regime

PM Johnson Says UK Anti-Racism Protests 'Hijacked By Extremists'
File:  Pippa FOWLES / 10 Downing Street / AFP.

 

Britain on Wednesday announced a new post-Brexit subsidy regime but vowed no return to 1970s-style state control and bailing out of failing companies.

State aid was a key sticking point of the tortuous negotiations for a trade agreement with the European Union, following Britain’s departure from the bloc last year.

Wrangling over so-called “level playing field” terms governing fair competition proved troublesome, until an 11th-hour agreement was made in December last year.

The UK government billed the changes as a “quicker and more flexible” alternative to the “bureaucratic” EU state aid regime, saying it will drive economic growth in priority areas.

“The new UK system will start from the basis that subsidies are permitted if they follow UK-wide principles –- delivering good value for the British taxpayer while being awarded in a timely and effective way,” it said.

“These UK-wide principles will allow public authorities to deliver subsidies where they are needed without facing excessive red tape.

“The system will not be a return to the failed 1970s approach of government trying to run the economy, ‘picking winners’ or bailing out unsustainable companies.”

The government said the new subsidy regime will apply to the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

But it plans to prevent “displacement” — awarding of subsidies that could lead to jobs and economic activity moving from one part of the country to another, as commonly happens among states in the US.

Brexit exposed deep fault lines across the UK. Scotland, which voted against leaving, has seen a surge in nationalist support and renewed calls for independence.

And Britain has so far failed to implement separate trading arrangements for goods transported to Northern Ireland, prompting threats of reprisals from Brussels.

Pro-UK unionists in Northern Ireland want the protocol governing trade there to be scrapped, arguing that checks on goods threaten its place in the wider union.

One EU official said the British changes to state-aid rules were expected but Brussels would nevertheless be watching developments closely to see how far they go.

“We knew it was coming. That’s why there are the level playing field provisions in the TCA (trade and cooperation agreement),” the official told AFP.

The official said the proposals, submitted in a bill to parliament, were a “first step” towards Britain implementing its Brexit commitments.

“But it’s still very early in the process. The bill needs to go through parliament (and) only sketches out key elements while others will need to be defined.”

Britain has set up an independent authority to regulate competition law as a counterpart to the role previously managed by the European Commission, with both bodies upholding common principles.

Courts on each side will decide trade remedies in the event of unfair subsidies.

AFP

UK Bans Cryptocurrency Exchange Binance

A banner with the logo of bitcoin is seen during the crypto-currency conference Bitcoin 2021 Convention at the Mana Convention Center in Miami, Florida, on June 4, 2021.
Marco BELLO / AFP

 

The UK’s finance watchdog has banned major cryptocurrency exchange Binance from regulated trading in Britain, as the industry faces greater global scrutiny.

Binance Markets Limited, part of Binance Group, is “not permitted to undertake any regulated activity in the UK”, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said in a statement published over the weekend.

The ban affects options and futures contracts related to bets on price movements of cryptocurrencies.

However purchases of cryptocurrency units, such as of bitcoin and dogecoin, can continue since they are not regarded as financial products and are therefore not regulated.

Binance Group tweeted that the FCA move would have “no direct impact”.

Founded in China four years ago, Binance is one of the world’s two biggest crypto exchanges along with Coinbase in the United States.

Cryptocurrencies have long sparked concern among central banks and regulators alike, because of their lack of oversight.

The FCA has meanwhile warned consumers once more not to be lured by promises of high returns.

Bitcoin traders shrugged off the weekend developments, sending the virtual unit up 5.47 percent to $33,981 in Monday deals.

The unit has however slumped in recent weeks after China launched a crackdown on the industry.

Bitcoin had hit a record near $65,000 in April on the back of runaway demand.

Laith Khalaf, financial analyst at stockbroker AJ Bell, said that tighter regulation was a consequence of this boom.

“Cryptocurrency is a victim of its own success because regulators across the globe are increasingly turning their beady eyes on crypto assets — and companies like Binance that offer crypto services to consumers.

“This isn’t a step change in regulation which is going to knock the crypto craze on the head, but it is part of a growing trend of regulatory intervention in crypto markets.”

 

AFP

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock Resigns After Covid Breach

In this file photo taken on May 27, 2021 Britain's Health Secretary Matt Hancock gives an update on the coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic during a virtual press conference in Downing Street in central London. Matt Dunham / POOL / AFP
In this file photo taken on May 27, 2021 Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock gives an update on the coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic during a virtual press conference in Downing Street in central London. Matt Dunham / POOL / AFP

 

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock resigned on Saturday following revelations that he broke the government’s own coronavirus restrictions during an affair with a close aide.

The frontman for Britain’s response to the pandemic, particularly the nationwide vaccine roll-out, quit in a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

“We owe it to people who have sacrificed so much in this pandemic to be honest when we have let them down as I have done by breaching the guidance,” he wrote.

Johnson said he was “sorry” to receive Hancock’s resignation, and that he should be “immensely proud” of his service.

The prime minister had initially stood by his beleaguered health secretary after he admitted to breaking Covid rules on social distancing, at a time when he was urging the public to stick by the measures, including curbs on funeral numbers.

Opposition parties accused the government of hypocrisy over breaches of lockdown rules which have seen many members of the public slapped with fines.

Hancock conceded he had let the public down after The Sun newspaper published a security camera still obtained apparently from a whistleblower showing him kissing the aide in his office on May 6.

The main opposition Labour party said the government needed to answer questions about the undisclosed appointment of the aide, former lobbyist Gina Coladangelo, to Hancock’s top advisory team.

Both she and Hancock are married, and first met at university.

Last week, Hancock rejected criticism of his handling of the Covid pandemic after private WhatsApp exchanges emerged in which Johnson appeared to describe him as “hopeless”.

Hancock has also previously faced allegations that he lied to Johnson and awarded a contract to an unqualified friend.

He has faced further questions about his ownership of shares in a family company that won a Covid-related contract from his ministry last year.

 

AFP

Britain Set To Delay Full Lifting Of Virus Restrictions

File photo of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. PHOTO: KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / POOL / AFP

 

Britain was on Monday widely expected to delay the full lifting of coronavirus restrictions due to a surge of infections caused by the Delta variant.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to announce the government’s next step of its roadmap out of stay-at-home measures, after easing began in March.

He is expected to announce a delay at a news conference on Monday evening, as media reported that senior ministers had agreed to postpone the lifting.

The BBC reported that most current rules will stay in place until July 19.

READ ALSO: Oscar-Nominated Actor Ned Beatty Dies At 83

Last week Johnson gave his strongest hint yet that the final stage — lifting all social distancing requirements on June 21 — could be put on hold.

The more transmissible Delta variant, first identified in India, is now responsible for over 90 percent of cases, and positive tests have jumped 50 percent in the last week.

The postponement comes as reported cases are at their highest since February.

Public Health England said the Delta variant is 60 percent more transmissible than the Alpha variant first identified in southeast England.

That forced the country to go into the last lockdown in January.

Nevertheless, hospital admissions and deaths remain low as more than 40 percent of adults in the UK have had two vaccine jabs.

In comments to Sky News on Saturday, Johnson acknowledged that the spread of the virus was a matter of “serious, serious concern”.

The Times reported Monday that Johnson and senior ministers agreed ON a four-week delay after a briefing by scientific and health advisers.

The government is also keen to buy more time to vaccinate younger adults and possibly children.

Newspapers hinted at dissent within Johnson’s cabinet over the delay. The Times cited an unnamed minister as saying it was “a very odd decision”.

The restrictions apply to England only, as health policy is a devolved matter for the administrations in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland and they set their own policy.

England currently does not allow outside gatherings of more than 30 people or for more than two households to meet inside.

The government had hoped to allow the reopening of nightclubs and “stand-up” drinking in pubs as well as lifting a limit of 30 guests at weddings.

Businesses hard hit by the restrictions say their livelihoods depend on them being lifted.

The Daily Telegraph reported the limit on permitted wedding guests would be “relaxed”.

Scotland was due to move to the lowest level of restrictions on June 28. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was set to give a statement to parliament on Tuesday.

AFP

UK To Build New ‘National Flagship’ To Promote Post-Brexit Trade

File: (Photo by Paul GROVER / POOL / AFP)

 

Britain will build what it is calling a new “national flagship” vessel to host trade events and promote its post-Brexit interests around the world, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Saturday.

The ship will provide a global platform for high level trade negotiations as well as British businesses’ products, his office said, as the United Kingdom seeks new trading ties after leaving the European Union last year.

It will also be expected to play a role in delivering the country’s foreign and security policies, including by hosting summits and other diplomatic talks.

It will be the first so-called national flagship in service since 1997, when the Royal Yacht Britannia was decommissioned.

However, Johnson insisted the new vessel’s role will be “distinct” from those of forerunners, “reflecting the UK’s burgeoning status as a great, independent maritime trading nation”.

“Every aspect of the ship, from its build to the businesses it showcases on board, will represent and promote the best of British — a clear and powerful symbol of our commitment to be an active player on the world stage,” he said in a statement.

The ship’s construction is expected to begin in 2022 and be completed within four years, with its costs confirmed following a competitive tendering process, according to Johnson’s office.

The vessel, yet to be named, will be crewed by the Royal Navy and earmarked for around 30 years’ service.

READ ALSO: France Threatens To Pull Troops Out Of Mali

The government is likely to face calls to name it after Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth II’s late husband and a former navy commander, who died in April aged 99.

Britain formally left the EU after nearly five decades of membership in January 2020, and quit its single market and customs union at the start of this year.

It has replicated or rolled over existing trade agreements with the bloc, Japan and several other countries, but is yet to strike an entirely new deal with any country.

London is currently in advanced discussions with Australia and has held initial talks with India, New Zealand and the United States about future pacts.

AFP

UK To Unveil Plans For ‘Digital Border’

File: (Photo by Hollie Adams / AFP)

 

Britain is to announce plans for a “fully digital border” including the introduction of US-style electronic travel authorisation to pre-check travellers to the UK, interior minister Priti Patel said Sunday.

The minister will announce the plans in parliament on Monday as part of a wider overhaul of the country’s immigration system, which will also include the introduction of a points-based migration system.

“Our new fully digital border will provide the ability to count people in and out of the country, giving us control over who comes to the UK,” Patel said in a statement.

“Our new approach will make it easier to identify potential threats before they reach the border,” she added.

Digitising the border will mean officials “can now count who is coming in and out of the country and whether they have permission to be here,” said her Home Office department.

Patel unveiled elements of her “New Plan for Immigration” in March, calling it “the most significant overhaul of our asylum system in decades.”

Tightening immigration rules and securing borders were key promises of those like Patel and Prime Minister Boris Johnson who argued for leaving the EU in Britain’s 2016 Brexit referendum.

Under the new plans to be unveiled on Monday, Patel is set to announce that people coming to the UK without a visa or immigration status will have to apply for an American-style Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA).

The Home Office expects that around 30 million ETA applications will be processed each year.

“What I’m unveiling and proposing tomorrow is a new legal migration and border strategy…, which is based upon digitalisation of our borders, but also the simplification of our immigration laws,” Patel told Sky News on Sunday.

“I am introducing the new borders bill, which will come to parliament next month, where we will specifically clamp down and tackle the problems around illegal migration,” she added.

“We will have not just greater checks, we’ve already got very, very significant law enforcement operations taking place in France, in Belgium… and we’re really prosecuting and arresting the people smugglers.”

Last year, roughly 8,500 people arrived in Britain having made the perilous crossing across the Channel, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, in small boats.

AFP

Britain Eases Lockdown As Asia Outbreaks Fuel Concern

FILE:  (Photo by Hollie Adams / AFP)

 

Britons hugged their loved ones and streamed into pubs, gyms and other indoor venues on Monday as the country eased pandemic restrictions, but Asia faced more misery with new variants and a cyclone disrupting the fight against a Covid-19 wave ravaging India.

As the United States and Britain move away from harsh restrictions thanks to rapid immunisation campaigns, new strains have forced several countries in Asia to shut schools and impose travel bans, highlighting the persistent global threat posed by the pandemic.

With known global infections approaching 163 million and the rise of new variants complicating the fight, governments still pushed ahead with easing restrictions — a moving step for some.

“I actually feel a wee bit emotional saying this… you can hug your loved ones again,” Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said as businesses reopened in what The Sun tabloid dubbed “Freedom Monday”.

– ‘Nice to be back’ –

Across England, Wales and most of Scotland, people on Monday could once again grab a drink, a bite and dine inside pubs, restaurants and cafes.

Cinemas, museums and sports venues also opened their doors for the first time in months.

People were able to once again visit each other at home — and to head to Portugal, where the British are normally the largest tourist contingent.

“It’s nice to get away and be back here,” said Barry Thompson, a 63-year-old retired policeman from Manchester who landed in the southern town of Faro with his wife and son.

“We’re very excited.”

In another sign of life returning to normal in Europe, Disneyland Paris announced it would reopen on June 17.

But authorities have urged caution and warned that with new variants spreading, restrictions could be reintroduced.

– India hit by storm –

The pandemic has claimed more than 3.3 million lives worldwide, and one of the worst outbreaks is in India, where at least 4,000 people are dying from Covid-19 every day.

India was already dealing with limited medical infrastructure and scarce vaccine supplies, when a major cyclone in the Arabian Sea packing ferocious winds bore down on the South Asian nation.

Gujarat state moved all Covid-19 patients from hospitals within five kilometres (three miles) off the coast where the storm is expected to hit.

Authorities there were also scrambling to ensure there would be no power cuts at designated Covid-19 hospitals and oxygen plants in the districts under threat from the storm.

Nearly 600 patients in Mumbai, India’s financial capital, were also moved to “safer locations”.

The variant behind the explosive outbreak in India has spread to at least 44 countries, according to the World Health Organization.

They include Singapore, where a growing number of cases has prompted the government to tighten restrictions, including closing schools.

“A lot of people have taken for granted the past few months of peace and stability, but this is a wake-up call,” said Anthony Chang, a hawker stall owner in the city-state.

And authorities in Taiwan, which emerged relatively unscathed from the pandemic last year, announced a suspension of classes in schools from Tuesday in Taipei and adjacent New Taipei City as the island battled a surge in infections. The island also banned all foreigners, except residents, from entry or transit for a month.

In South Africa, the continent’s worst-hit country on the cusp of a third wave, authorities on Monday launched a large-scale vaccination campaign aiming to immunise five million people over the age of 60 by end of June.

– UNICEF vaccine warning –

The persistent threat of the coronavirus is casting a shadow on the already delayed Tokyo Olympics, due to begin in less than 10 weeks even with parts of Japan under a state of emergency.

Organisers have insisted that they will go ahead despite the risk, but the opposition was brought into focus Monday when a new poll showed 80 percent of Japanese were against hosting the Games this year.

Japan’s vaccine rollout has been slow despite its wealth, but concerns are growing that poorer nations will be left even further behind because of vaccine inequality.

“We are concerned that the deadly spike in India is a precursor to what will happen if those warnings remain unheeded,” UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore said Monday.

In France, pharmaceuticals giant Sanofi reported positive results for a Phase 2 trial of a Covid vaccine it is developing with Britain’s GSK, which will enable a late-stage trial to start in the coming weeks.

AFP