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

Britain, EU Rule Out Quick Post-Brexit Deal

Pro-Brexit activists demonstrate outside of the Houses of Parliament in London on October 28, 2019.  ISABEL INFANTES / AFP

 

Britain and the European Union on Thursday broke up their latest round of post-Brexit trade negotiations by ruling out a quick deal but voicing hope for agreement in the coming months.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had promised last month to add “a bit of oomph” to the stalled negotiations when he personally joined them last month.

His main goal then was to get a framework deal struck by the end July that could assure UK businesses they do not have to start preparing for a messy no-deal breakup when the current transition period ends on December 31.

But the sides’ chief negotiators said this was unlikely because of a fundamental gap on major areas such as fishing rights and fair competition rules.

“It is unfortunately clear that we will not reach in July the ‘early understanding on the principles underlying any agreement,” Britain’s David Frost said in a statement.

He accused the EU of failing to recognise Britain’s economic and political independence and described the gulf between the sides on some points as “considerable”.

Frost’s counterpart Michel Barnier criticised London for refusing to move on its red lines.

“By its current refusal to commit to conditions to open and fair competition, and to a balanced agreement on fisheries, the UK makes the trade agreement at this point unlikely,” he told a news conference.

A senior British government official said the sides will try to agree the shape of a potential accord — now more likely to look like one big deal than lots of small ones — at informal talks in London next week.

The British side said it expects “textured” talks on the finer details to begin in mid-August and run though September.

‘Enough to keep talking’

Britain followed through on the results of a deeply divisive 2016 referendum and left the EU after almost half a century of integration on January 31.

It marked a moment of personal triumph for Johnson — a major player in the “Leave” campaign — after he managed to strike and ram though parliament an EU divorce deal that had painfully evaded his predecessor Theresa May.

A handout picture released by the European Commission on July 23, 2020 shows EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier delivering a statement at a press conference at the offices of the Delegation of the European Union to the UK at Europe House in London on July 23, 2020. Niklas HALLE'N / European Commission / AFP
A handout picture released by the European Commission on July 23, 2020 shows EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier delivering a statement at a press conference at the offices of the Delegation of the European Union to the UK at Europe House in London on July 23, 2020. Niklas HALLE’N / European Commission / AFP

 

Britain remains bound by the bloc’s rules until December 31 pending the outcome of negotiations about its future relationship with its largest trading partner.

Johnson decided last month against extending the transition because of its political risks.

London also argues that more time will not resolve basic differences on how the sides view their future ties.

Brussels says Britain’s proximity and past membership mean it must abide more closely to EU standards than other nations if it wants open market access.

London counters that it is only asking for the same treatment the EU has given other independent nations that signed up to trade deals.

A failure to bridge this divide will reduce ties to minimum standards set by the World Trade Organization.

These are accompanied by higher tariffs and make onerous demands on businesses that can imperil trade and dampen confidence of EU investors in Britain.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the bloc “must and should” prepare for the possibility when her country took over the EU presidency on July 1.

Yet neither London nor Brussels are giving up hope.

“The progress is genuine,” said the senior UK government official. “There is enough in these talks to keep talking.”

The UK official called Barnier’s warning that negotiations could fail if the sides do not budge from their positions “a truism”.

“Obviously, we if we don’t agree on those points, there isn’t going to be a deal,” said the UK official.

“When the process stops being useful and there is no way or reaching an agreement, there is no more point in talking. We are not at that point yet.”

Barnier said that he was ready to keep talking “to the 11th hour”.

“There was never any question of David Frost nor on my side of abandoning negotiations,” he told reporters. “Far from it.”

 

AFP

UK Lawmakers Slam Govt For Failing To Investigate Russian Meddling

A Russian flag flies by surveillance cameras at the entrance to the Russian consulate in London on July 21, 2020. JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP
A Russian flag flies by surveillance cameras at the entrance to the Russian consulate in London on July 21, 2020. JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP

 

British lawmakers slammed the government on Tuesday for failing to look into possible Russian meddling in UK politics, particularly the divisive 2016 Brexit referendum, as they released a long-awaited report into the issue.

The document by parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) had been expected to shed light on possible Kremlin interference in the landmark vote that saw Britain leave the European Union.

But MPs said they were unable to come to any firm conclusions because the current government or its predecessor had not ordered any investigation, owing to an apparent “lack of curiosity”.

“Nobody wanted to touch this issue with a 10-foot pole,” committee member Stuart Howsie, of the main opposition Labour party, told reporters.

“This is in stark contrast to the US response to reports of interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

“No matter how politically awkward or potentially embarrassing, there should have been an assessment… and there must now be one, and the public must be told the results.”

Diplomatic ties between London and Moscow have been fraught since 2006 when President Vladimir Putin (pictured) was blamed for the radiation poisoning of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in the British capital.

 

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab rejected claims the government had “actively” sought not to delve deeper into the perceived threat of Russian interference.

“We’ve got a long period recognising the enduring, significant threat posed by Russia to the UK, including in cyber. Russia is a top national security priority,” he said.

In a separate, 20-page response, the government said there was “no evidence of successful interference in the EU referendum” and denied acting too slowly to the threat.

‘Russophobia’

The ISC report, delayed for 15 months, was being closely watched because of the Brexit campaign and result, which has dominated British politics for the last four years.

Political deadlock and infighting were finally broken when Boris Johnson won a huge majority at elections in December, allowing him to force his Brexit deal through parliament.

 In this file photo taken on November 08, 2018 A Brexit-themed billboard depicting Britain's former foreign secretary Boris Johnson waving Russian national flags reading "Thank you Boris" is seen in east London on November 8, 2018. Daniel SORABJI / AFP
In this file photo taken on November 08, 2018 A Brexit-themed billboard depicting Britain’s former foreign secretary Boris Johnson waving Russian national flags reading “Thank you Boris” is seen in east London on November 8, 2018. Daniel SORABJI / AFP

 

Diplomatic ties between London and Moscow have been fraught since 2006 when President Vladimir Putin was blamed for the radiation poisoning of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in the British capital.

The Kremlin was also accused of being behind the attempted murder of double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, southwest England, in 2018 using a weapons-grade nerve agent.

Last week, Britain, the United States and Canada claimed Russian hackers tried to steal coronavirus vaccine research from their labs.

And London also accused “Russian actors” of trying to disrupt the December election by circulating leaked documents about a possible post-Brexit trade deal with the United States.

The Kremlin issued a pre-emptive response to the report, rejecting claims of skullduggery and dismissing the ISC document as containing only “ephemeral accusations”.

“It’s Russophobia in the style of fake news,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters.

‘Eye off the ball’

Frustrated committee members said they were “shocked” and “baffled” as to why the perceived Russian threat was not taken more seriously.

They said in the report there was “credible open source commentary” suggesting Russia tried to influence campaigns in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s opponents have accused him of lacking the political will to reveal the extent of Russian involvement and influence in Britain. (FILES) Pippa FOWLES / AFP.

 

But the government “took its eye off the ball” and “badly underestimated” its response to the threat, stopping short of saying the action was “deliberate”, they added.

The report noted the influence of Russian elites close to Putin pervading the higher echelons of UK business and society, calling it “the new normal”.

“This level of integration… means that any measures now being taken by the government are not preventative but rather constitute damage limitation,” they said.

That could further fuel claims from Johnson’s opponents about a lack of political will to reveal the extent of Russian involvement and influence in Britain.

Critics have said the prime minister’s apparent reluctance to publish the report was because it could lay bare donations from wealthy Russians to his ruling Conservative party.

The ISC’s investigation began in November 2017 after claims about Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential race that brought Donald Trump to power.

At the time of the Brexit referendum, Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, accused Russia of “planting fake stories” to “sow discord in the West and undermine our institutions”.

 

 

AFP

Britain Secures 90 Million Doses Of Potential COVID-19 Vaccine

A lab technician wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) takes reagent bottles to perform vaccine tests at a French pharmaceutical company Sanofi's laboratory in Val de Reuil on July 10, 2020. JOEL SAGET / AFP
A lab technician wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) takes reagent bottles to perform vaccine tests at a French pharmaceutical company Sanofi’s laboratory in Val de Reuil on July 10, 2020. JOEL SAGET / AFP

 

Britain has secured access to 90 million doses of potential coronavirus vaccines in deals with biotech firms BioNTech, Pfizer and Valneva, the government said Monday. 

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said Britain would now have access to three different types of vaccines being developed domestically and around the world, and it had also launched a website for volunteers to sign up for vaccine studies.

“The hunt to find a vaccine is a truly global endeavour and we are doing everything we can to ensure the British public get access to a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine as soon as possible,” said Sharma.

The deals involve 30 million doses of a vaccine being developed by BioNTech and German firm Pfizer, and 60 million doses of another created by France’s Valneva.

The government has already said it would purchase 100 million doses of a vaccine currently being trialed by Oxford University in partnership with AstraZeneca.

Britain has been one of the worst affected countries in the world since the outbreak began, suffering more than 45,000 deaths.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said an effective vaccine was “our best hope of defeating coronavirus and returning to life as normal.

“I urge everyone who can to back the national effort and sign up to the NHS COVID-19 vaccine research registry to help find a vaccine as soon as possible.”

 

AFP

China Calls Britain ‘America’s Dupe’ For Banning Huawei

The logo of Chinese company Huawei is seen on the screen of a Huawei mobile phone held in the photographer's hand in London on July 14, 2020. - Britain on Tuesday ordered its telecom providers to stop purchasing 5G equipment from China's Huawei giant from the start of next year, and to strip out all of its equipment by 2027. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)
The logo of Chinese company Huawei is seen on the screen of a Huawei mobile phone held in the photographer’s hand in London on July 14, 2020.  (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)

 

 

Beijing lashed out Wednesday at Britain’s decision to ban Huawei equipment, saying London had become “America’s dupe” and vowing to take measures to protect the interests of Chinese companies.

The British government bowed to growing US pressure and pledged Tuesday to remove Chinese telecoms giant Huawei from its 5G network by 2027, despite warnings of retaliation from Beijing.

“China will fully and solemnly assess this matter, and will take a series of necessary measures to safeguard Chinese companies’ legitimate rights and interests,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a routine briefing.

“Any decisions and actions (by Britain) must come at a cost,” Hua said, without elaborating.

US officials hailed Britain’s decision, saying it showed a “growing international consensus” that Huawei and other companies allegedly linked to the Chinese state pose a threat to national security.

Hua claimed London “(acted) in coordination with the US to discriminate against, suppress and eliminate” Huawei, and accused Britain of becoming “America’s dupe”.

Huawei has become a pivotal issue in the geopolitical war between China and the US, which claims that the firm poses a significant cybersecurity threat.

The US has also requested the extradition of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on fraud charges, worsening relations between China and Canada, where she is currently under house arrest.

Beijing suggested that Britain might face further repercussions for the move, and warned Chinese companies to think twice about investing there.

Over the past decade, successive UK governments have encouraged the growth of economic ties between Britain and China, which have become more crucial as London finalises its departure from the European Union.

“This is an issue that seriously threatens the security of Chinese investment in the UK, and is also a question of whether we can trust the UK market to remain open, fair and free from discrimination,” said Hua.

“We have also reminded all Chinese enterprises to attach great importance to the increasing political security risks they face when conducting business in the UK.”

 

AFP

US Hails Britain For Removing Huawei’s 5G Access

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he departs for Walter Reed National Military Medical Center from the White House on July 11, 2020 in Washington, DC. Joshua Roberts/Getty Images/AFP
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he departs for Walter Reed National Military Medical Center from the White House on July 11, 2020 in Washington, DC. Joshua Roberts/Getty Images/AFP

 

The United States hailed Britain’s decision Tuesday to order the phased removal of China’s Huawei telecoms giant from its 5G network, following months of pressure from Washington.

The British ban, which came despite warnings of retaliation by Beijing, handed US President Donald Trump a victory.

“The reported #UK action reflects a growing international consensus that #Huawei and other untrusted vendors pose a threat to national security, as they remain beholden to the Chinese Communist Party,” White House National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said on Twitter.

“We look forward to working with the UK, as well as our many other partners and allies, to spur innovation, promote vendor diversity in the #5G supply chain, and ensure 5G security free from dangerous manipulations.”

Amid rising tensions with China, Trump has pushed allies to ban Huawei from their telecommunications networks on the grounds that it poses a national security risk.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson initially resisted, allowing Huawei to roll out a new high-speed network in Britain in January.

But US sanctions in May blocking Huawei’s access to US chips for the 5G networks brought a change of heart in London.

 

AFP

Britain Set To Back Removal Of Huawei From 5G

The logo of Chinese company Huawei is seen on the screen of a Huawei mobile phone held in the photographer's hand in London on July 14, 2020. - Britain on Tuesday ordered its telecom providers to stop purchasing 5G equipment from China's Huawei giant from the start of next year, and to strip out all of its equipment by 2027. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)
Britain on Tuesday ordered its telecom providers to stop purchasing 5G equipment from China’s Huawei giant from the start of next year, and to strip out all of its equipment by 2027. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)

 

 

Britain was expected Tuesday to approve the phased removal of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei from its 5G network, a decision long sought by Washington but resisted by Beijing.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was chairing meetings of his cabinet and the National Security Council, with an expected decision on the issue from 1130 GMT.

Last week, China warned Britain it could face repercussions in terms of its international reputation as a trading nation if it backed down on Huawei.

Johnson infuriated US President Donald Trump and upset some members of his own Conservative party by allowing the Chinese 5G leader to help roll out Britain’s speedy new data network in January.

The UK was then completing its tortured departure from the European Union and looking to establish strong ties with powerful Asian economies that could fulfil Johnson’s vision of a “global Britain”.

But the Trump administration told Johnson’s government that its decision imperilled intelligence sharing and could even result in the Pentagon relocating some fighter jets from its English base.

Washington believes the private Chinese company could either spy for Beijing or shut down rival countries’ 5G networks in times of war.

Huawei has always denied this and pointed to two decades of cooperation with British security agencies that checked on the safety of its existing 3G and 4G networks.

The British review was triggered by new US sanctions in May that blocked Huawei’s access to US chips and semi-conductors at the heart of 5G networks.

The restriction raised the possibility of Huawei having to switch from trusted US suppliers to alternatives whose safety could not be guaranteed by UK security agencies.

– ‘Outages’ –
Johnson is coming under growing political pressure to not only dump Huawei but also adopt a tough line with China for its treatment of Hong Kong and repression of ethnic Uighurs in the western Xinjiang region.

But he also pledged to voters last year to bring broadband access to all Britons by 2025.

British telecoms companies have warned that stripping out all existing Huawei equipment could cost them billions and take years to implement.

BT chief executive Philip Jansen said Monday that Britain could suffer “outages” and potential security risks if the sector was forced to stop dealing with the Chinese firm.

“If you were to try and not have Huawei at all (in 5G activities) ideally we’d want seven years and we could probably do it in five,” he said.

Huawei appears resigned to eventually losing the British market after fighting the decision for months.

Its executives reportedly wrote to Johnson’s office requesting that Britain’s ban on the installation of new Huawei equipment only take effect at the end of 2021.

Huawei also reportedly wants the deadline for all its gear to be stripped of Britain to take effect after June 2025.

Johnson’s government originally allowed Huawei to roll out up to 35 percent of Britain’s 5G network under the condition that it stays out of “core” elements dealing with personal data.

 

 

-AFP

Brexit Talks Move To London After Tough Week In Brussels

An anti-Brexit activist waves a Union and a European Union flag as they demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament in central London/ AFP

 

Britain’s separation talks with the European Union resume Monday with few signs of compromise on a new trade agreement and time running out to avoid a messy split.

London will host EU negotiator Michel Barnier after a round of face-to-face talks ended a day early last week in Brussels because of deep divides in the sides’ approach.

Barnier said after ending the negotiations last Thursday that “serious divergences remain”.

His UK counterpart David Frost said there were “significant differences” that meant the sides were still searching for basic “principles underlying an agreement”.

And German Chancellor Angela Merkel said upon taking over help of the EU’s rotating presidency Wednesday that both her country and the 27-nation bloc “should prepare for the case that an agreement is not reached”.

Britain followed through on the results of a 2016 EU membership referendum and officially pulled out of the bloc in January after nearly half a century.

But a standstill transition period that ends on December 31 allows the UK to effectively function as if it were still a member.

London and Brussels are supposed to agree new trade terms in the meantime that prevent ties from reverting to the minimum standards — and accompanying high tariffs and quotas — of the World Trade Organization.

British businesses fear that possibility and want Prime Minister Boris Johnson to give them guidance as soon as possible about whether a trade deal is feasible or not.

This would give them a chance to trigger costly contingency planning aimed at disrupting trade and business activity as little as possible.

But EU officials feel much less pressure to strike a quick agreement and are suggesting that one could still be done by late October.

– Litany of disputes –

Brussels has shrugged off Johnson’s repeated threats to walk away and accept very distant relations with the bloc that complicated trade but gave Britain broader independence.

The differences between the sides remain vast.

London refuses to accept jurisdiction over trade disputes by the European Court of Justice and wants a much bigger part of fishing waters it now shares with the bloc.

A separate dispute concerns the degree to which Britain must follow EU rules on state aid to important economic sectors as well as labour and environmental rules.

London argues that the entire point of leaving the bloc was to give Britain a bigger say over its own affairs.

Brussels counters that Britain cannot expect to undercut the bloc on price through looser standards and still expect a favourable trade deal.

The talks in London are being held in an intensified format that follows video conference discussion held at the European height of the coronavirus crisis.

AFP

 

UK To Unveil Sanctions Against Human Rights Violators

Britain’s Foreign Secretary and First Secretary of State Dominic Raab delivers a speech on the first day of the annual Conservative Party conference at the Manchester Central convention complex in Manchester, north-west England on September 29, 2019. Paul ELLIS / AFP.

 

Britain will on Monday name the first individuals to be sanctioned under a new regime targeting people who violate human rights, with Russians and Saudis reportedly on the list.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will set out the new sanctions powers in parliament and reveal a list of individuals who will immediately be subject to UK asset and visa bans.

“From today, the UK will have new powers to stop those involved in serious human rights abuses and violations from entering the UK, channelling money through our banks and profiting from our economy,” Raab said in a statement.

“This is a clear example of how the UK will help to lead the world in standing up for human rights.

“We will not let those who seek to inflict pain and destroy the lives of innocent victims benefit from what the UK has to offer.”

The Foreign Office declined to say in advance who would be on the list.

But the Financial Times said it is expected to include people believed by Britain to be implicated in the deaths of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky and Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Magnitsky was arrested after detailing an alleged large-scale tax fraud by Russian officials. He died in jail in 2009.

Khashoggi was a Saudi insider-turned-critic who was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

Five people were sentenced to death for his killing in Saudi Arabia last year, but 20 more, including two former aides to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, are currently on trial in Turkey.

The new sanctions regime, set up under a 2018 British law, will also target figures from North Korea but not China, the FT and the BBC reported.

The Foreign Office said: “Future targets of the regime may include those who commit unlawful killings perpetrated against journalists and media workers, or activity motivated on the grounds of religion or belief.”

Overall, the regime could apply to those who “facilitate, incite, promote, or support these violations/abuses, as well as those who financially profit from human rights violations and abuses”.

AFP

COVID-19: Britain To Bailout Theatres, Art Galleries, Other Cultural Institutions With $2bn

In this file photo taken on March 25, 2020 A handout image released by 10 Downing Street, shows Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking during a remote press conference to update the nation on the Covid-19 pandemic, in side 10 Downing Street in central London on March 25, 2020. 10 Downing Street / AFP
In this file photo taken on March 25, 2020 A handout image released by 10 Downing Street, shows Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking during a remote press conference to update the nation on the Covid-19 pandemic, in side 10 Downing Street in central London on March 25, 2020. 10 Downing Street / AFP

 

Britain will spend nearly $2 billion to help theatres, art galleries and other cultural institutions survive the coronavirus crisis, the government has said.

The British arts and culture sector has been hit hard by the pandemic, with live performances still off the cards for now and venues facing an uncertain future under ongoing social distancing measures.

A fund of 1.57 billion pounds ($1.96 billion, 1.73 billion euros) will help museums and historic palaces as well as companies involved in live music and independent cinema.

“The money, which represents the biggest ever one-off investment in UK culture, will provide a lifeline to vital cultural and heritage organisations across the country hit hard by the pandemic,” said a government statement released Sunday.

The announcement followed an impassioned call last week from some 1,500 acts including Ed Sheeran and The Rolling Stones for authorities to save the country’s live music industry from collapse.

Britain has Europe’s highest pandemic death toll, with more than 44,000 reported COVID-19 fatalities and a quarter of a million confirmed cases.

The nation’s arts and culture sector employs 700,000 people, according to the government statement.

In May, Shakespeare’s Globe, the replica open-air theatre in London, warned that it could close without emergency funds to get it through the lockdown.

“This news is truly welcome at a time when so many theatres, orchestras, entertainment venues and other arts organisations face such a bleak future,” said Andrew Lloyd Webber.

“It is absolutely critical that Britain’s cultural sector is restored to health as soon as possible.”

Simon Rattle, director of the London Symphony Orchestra, also hailed the new fund.

“We hope it will be distributed as fast as possible… as so many institutions and individual artists have been staring into the abyss,” he said.

England lifted a number of virus restrictions on the weekend, allowing cinemas, galleries, museums and libraries to welcome the public again after three months — though fears remain of a COVID-19 resurgence.

 

AFP

China And UK Clash Over Fate Of Hong Kongers Under New Security Law

Riot police detain a man as they clear protesters taking part in a rally against a new national security law in Hong Kong on July 1, 2020, on the 23rd anniversary of the city's handover from Britain to China. Hong Kong police made the first arrests under Beijing's new national security law on July 1 as the city greeted the anniversary of its handover to China with protesters fleeing water cannon. DALE DE LA REY / AFP
Riot police detain a man as they clear protesters taking part in a rally against a new national security law in Hong Kong on July 1, 2020, on the 23rd anniversary of the city’s handover from Britain to China. – Hong Kong police made the first arrests under Beijing’s new national security law on July 1 as the city greeted the anniversary of its handover to China with protesters fleeing water cannon. (Photo by DALE DE LA REY / AFP)

 

 

China promised Thursday to take countermeasures against Britain if it presses ahead with plans to extend citizenship rights to Hong Kongers after Beijing imposed a sweeping security law on the restless financial hub.

Beijing has faced a groundswell of criticism from primarily Western nations over its decision to impose a new law outlawing acts of subversion, secession, terrorism, and colluding with foreign forces.

Adding to concerns, Hong Kong’s influential Bar Association published a new legal analysis warning that the wording of the law — which was kept secret until Tuesday — undermines the city’s independent judiciary and stifles freedoms.

Britain has said the law breaches China’s pre-handover “One Country, Two Systems” promise to grant residents key liberties — as well as judicial and legislative autonomy — until 2047.

It has responded by announcing plans to allow millions of Hong Kongers with British National Overseas status to relocate with their families and eventually apply for citizenship.

“We will live up to our promises to them,” foreign secretary Dominic Raab told parliament.

That move has infuriated Beijing, which says Britain promised not to grant full citizenship rights to Hong Kongers ahead of the 1997 handover.

“If the British side makes unilateral changes to the relevant practice, it will breach its own position and pledges as well as international law and basic norms governing international relations,” China’s embassy in London said Thursday.

“We firmly oppose this and reserve the right to take corresponding measures,” it added.

– Sanctuary calls –
Britain is not alone in announcing plans to offer Hong Kongers sanctuary or increased immigration rights as fears multiply over the semi-autonomous city’s future under the new law.

On Thursday, Australian leader Scott Morrison said he was “very actively” considering offering Hong Kongers safe haven.

Taiwan has opened an office to help Hong Kongers wanting to flee, while a proposed bill in the United States offering sanctuary to city residents has received widespread bipartisan support.

Beijing says the law is needed to quell seething pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and restore order after a year of political unrest.

But critics fear it will usher in a new era of political repression given similar laws are routinely used to crush dissent on the Chinese mainland.

The law has sent fear coursing through the city and rattled the legal community in a business hub that has built its reputation on the independence and reliability of its courts.

The Bar Association — which represents the city’s barristers — issued a scathing critique of the law, saying it dismantles the legal firewall that has existed between Hong Kong’s judiciary and China’s Communist Party-controlled courts.

The new national security offences were “widely drawn”, the group said, and “are capable of being applied in a manner that is arbitrary, and that disproportionately interferes with fundamental rights, including the freedom of conscience, expression and assembly”.

It also criticised “the total absence of meaningful consultation” with Hong Kongers before the law was passed.

– First arrests –
Thousands of residents defied a protest ban on Wednesday — the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China — to block roads and voice opposition to the bill in some of the worst unrest in months.

Police responded with water cannon, pepper spray and tear gas, arresting nearly 400 people.

Seven officers were injured, including one who was stabbed in the shoulder and three others hit by a protester on a motorbike.

Ten people were arrested under the new law, illustrating how holding certain political views had become illegal overnight.

Most of those arrested were carrying flags or leaflets advocating for Hong Kong independence.

The security law is controversial because it radically increases Beijing’s control over the city.

China says it will have jurisdiction over some cases and has empowered its security agents to operate openly inside Hong Kong for the first time, unconstrained by local laws.

It has also claimed global jurisdiction, saying the law covers national security offences committed overseas — even by foreigners.

Some trials will be held behind closed doors and without juries, while local police have been granted sweeping surveillance powers that no longer need judicial sign off.

 

 

 

-AFP

British And German Remdesivir Stocks ‘Sufficient’ As US Buys Up Supply

This file photo taken on April 8, 2020 shows one vial of the drug Remdesivir during a press conference about the start of a study with the Ebola drug Remdesivir in particularly severely ill patients at the University Hospital Eppendorf (UKE) in Hamburg, northern Germany, amidst the new coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Ulrich Perrey / POOL / AFP
This file photo taken on April 8, 2020 shows one vial of the drug Remdesivir during a press conference about the start of a study with the Ebola drug Remdesivir in particularly severely ill patients at the University Hospital Eppendorf (UKE) in Hamburg, northern Germany, amidst the new coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Ulrich Perrey / POOL / AFP

 

 

Britain and Germany said Wednesday they had sufficient stocks of remdesivir, the first drug to be shown to be relatively effective in treating COVID-19, and of which the United States has bought almost all supply.

The US government announced this week that it had bought 92 percent of all remdesivir production by the Gilead laboratory until the end of September — about 500,000 treatments out of nearly 550,000. Each treatment requires 6.25 vials on average.

President Donald Trump “has struck an amazing deal to ensure Americans have access to the first authorized therapeutic for COVID-19,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar.

The drug was approved in the United States on May 1 after clinical trials showing it reduced the recovery time for seriously ill COVID-19 patients by four days, and Europe is set to approve it soon.

Washington’s buy-up raised concerns about a shortage in the rest of the world, but at least two European countries said Thursday that they were not worried.

“The UK has been using remdesivir for some time, first in trials and now in the early access to medicines scheme. The UK currently has a sufficient stock,” the British Prime Minister’s spokesman said.

In Germany, a health ministry spokesman said “the government secured stocks of remdesivir early on for the treatment of corona patients. At the moment, there are sufficient reserves.”

The Gilead laboratory has indicated that it granted free licenses to nine manufacturers of generic drugs in India, Pakistan and Egypt, which will have the right to distribute their versions of remdesivir in 127 countries, mainly in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Central America.

Gilead boss Daniel O’Day said in May that remdesivir made in the US could also be exported.

Experts say that worldwide production should increase to meet demand.

“If you are worried that you or a loved one will need this drug and it won’t be available if you are not in the US, I don’t think that will be the case (and I certainly hope not),” Farasat Bokhari, associate professor in economics at the University of East Anglia, said.

“Manufacturers in other countries are going to ramp up production.  The only issue is how fast they can do it.”

 

 

 

-AFP