COVID-19: UK Approaches One Million Vaccinated As Cases Surge

People queue to enter a novel coronavirus COVID-19 walk-in testing centre in Walthamstow in north east London, on December 15, 2020. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP)

 

Britain said Thursday that it had vaccinated almost 950,000 people, as a surge in coronavirus cases prompted the reopening of field hospitals and warnings not to party on New Year’s Eve.

According to the latest government figures, 944,539 people in the UK had received a first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as of Sunday.

A second approved vaccine, developed by Oxford University and British drugs firm AstraZeneca, will be given from next week.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the figures showed the state-run National Health Service had “risen to this enormous task”.

He predicted the number of vaccinations would “rise rapidly in the months ahead”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a New Year message underscored the “hard struggle” ahead, as pressure mounted on the NHS to deal with the rise in cases.

But at the same time, he said that “as the sun rises tomorrow on 2021, we have the certainty of those vaccines”.

The positive news came as England on Thursday was preparing to reopen its Nightingale field hospitals as the surge in cases of the new strain of coronavirus strained bed capacity.

READ ALSO: Manchester United Eye Premier League Summit After Liverpool Stumble

The government launched a campaign for New Year’s Eve telling people to avoid any socialising. “Act like you’ve got it,” it said.

A leaked email sent to staff at The Royal London Hospital, one of the main hospitals in the capital, and published by ITV News, said that “we are now in disaster medicine mode”.

The hospital was “no longer providing high standard critical care, because we cannot”, it added.

– ‘Reactivated and ready’ –

An NHS spokesman said the temporary Nightingale facilities across England “are being readied to admit patients once again should they be needed”.

He said that “in anticipation of pressures rising from the spread of the new variant infection,” the authorities asked the NHS to ensure London’s Nightingale hospital was “reactivated and ready to admit patients as needed, and that process is under way”.

The hospital is located in a convention centre in east London.

Seven Nightingale hospitals were opened with fanfare across England during the first wave of the virus at an estimated cost of £220 million, to provide extra beds for patients with coronavirus.

Named after one of the pioneers of nursing, Florence Nightingale, some are in exhibition centres. Other parts of the UK built similar facilities.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told Times Radio that the military, which helped to build them, “stands ready” to help staff the hospitals if the NHS runs out of critical care beds.

The Daily Telegraph reported on Monday that the London Nightingale hospital had no patients and had been stripped of beds and ventilators, while the temporary hospitals in two other cities were empty.

According to the latest government data, the United Kingdom had 23,813 hospitalised virus patients as of Monday.

The UK recorded 55,892 new cases on Thursday, more than 12,000 of which were in London.

The number of people testing positive in the UK in the last seven days rose 24 percent compared to the previous week.

NHS England said there were 22,728 beds occupied by confirmed cases in England on Thursday.

Three-quarters of England’s population are currently under the harshest anti-virus restrictions and ordered to stay at home except for essential trips.

The UK has recorded 2.4 million virus cases and 73,512 deaths.

UK Finally Seals Exit From EU

 In this file photo taken on December 11, 2019 Britain's Prime Minister and Conservative party leader Boris Johnson speaks during a general election campaign rally in East London on December 11, 2019, the final day of campaigning for the general election. Ben STANSALL / AFP
In this file photo taken on December 11, 2019 Britain’s Prime Minister and Conservative party leader Boris Johnson speaks during a general election campaign rally in East London on December 11, 2019, the final day of campaigning for the general election. Ben STANSALL / AFP

 

Britain and the EU signed a post-Brexit trade deal on Wednesday, sealing their drawn-out divorce in the closing hours before the UK definitively ends its half-century European experiment.

Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, the heads of the European Commission and European Council, smiled at a brief televised ceremony to put their names to the 1,246-page Trade and Cooperation Agreement in Brussels.

“It has been a long road. It’s time now to put Brexit behind us. Our future is made in Europe,” von der Leyen said.

The leather-bound document was then flown by the Royal Air Force to London for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to add his signature, as the UK parliament held a rushed debate to ratify the deal in the dwindling time left.

Johnson gave a thumbs up after inking what he described as “the beginning of what will be a wonderful relationship between the UK and our friends and partners in the EU”.

Britain will leave the European single market and customs union at 11:00 pm (2300 GMT) on Thursday, the end of a post-Brexit transition period marked by tortuous trade negotiations which culminated in the Christmas Eve deal.

Introducing an 85-page bill to implement the pact, Johnson told the House of Commons that it heralded a new chapter for Britain and the EU as “sovereign equals, joined by friendship, commerce, history, interests and values”.

The lower house voted overwhelmingly by 521-73 to back the deal, despite serious opposition misgivings, and the bill then passed the House of Lords late Wednesday in an unusually rapid one-day procedure.

London and Brussels would work “hand in glove whenever our values and interests coincide, while fulfilling the sovereign wish of the British people to live under their own sovereign laws made by their own sovereign parliament”, Johnson added.

Anxious wait

Michel echoed the sentiment in Brussels, vowing the two sides would work “shoulder to shoulder” on major issues, including climate change and future health pandemics.

Johnson’s government only published the accompanying UK legislation on Tuesday afternoon, less than 24 hours before the debate began in parliament, underscoring the frantic dash to clear the decks in time.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (L) and European Council President Charles Michel (R) pose in Brussels, on December 30, 2020 as they show the signed Brexit trade agreement due to come into force on January 1, 2021. JOHANNA GERON / POOL / AFP
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (L) and European Council President Charles Michel (R) pose in Brussels, on December 30, 2020 as they show the signed Brexit trade agreement due to come into force on January 1, 2021. JOHANNA GERON / POOL / AFP

 

The last-ditch deal averted the prospect of a cliff-edge separation which would have seen quotas and tariffs slapped on all cross-Channel trade, exacerbating strains in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit Britain harder than most.

But British fishermen have accused the government of selling them out, while services — accounting for 80 percent of the UK economy — were largely omitted.

The City of London financial hub faces an anxious wait to learn on what basis it can continue dealing with Europe in the future.

Theresa May, whose three-year Brexit-dominated premiership ended in 2019 after she failed to win support for a closer future relationship with the bloc, voiced unease.

“We have a deal in trade which benefits the EU, but not a deal in services which would have benefited the UK,” she told MPs.

‘Thin deal’

However, an influential faction of arch-Brexiteers in Johnson’s ruling Conservatives gave their blessing to the EU agreement on Tuesday, and the main opposition Labour party also gave its reluctant backing.

“This is a thin deal, it’s got many flaws, but a thin deal is better than no deal,” Labour leader Keir Starmer told MPs, accusing other opposition parties of staging an irresponsible protest vote.

Lawmakers from the pro-European Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party voted against — with the SNP using the issue to push for a fresh referendum on independence for Scotland.

In Edinburgh, the SNP-dominated Scottish Parliament declined to give its own consent to the Brexit deal, although First Minister Nicola Sturgeon acknowledged that would not affect passage of the UK bill.

The agreement’s impact will play out in the coming months, with UK businesses braced for customs red tape they have avoided for decades in cross-Channel trade.

Meanwhile from January 1, there will no longer be free movement of people from Britain to the EU or vice versa.

Under the compressed legislative calendar, the European Parliament will debate the Brexit deal after the New Year, but is expected to eventually nod it through.

Pending that, EU member states gave their green light on Monday for the accord to take provisional effect before the New Year’s Eve deadline.

 

AFP

London Stocks Soar On Post-Brexit Trade Deal

) this file photo taken on January 5, 2020 shows the flags of the United Kingdom and the European Union. According to a British government source a 'deal is done' on post-Brexit trade. Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP
) this file photo taken on January 5, 2020 shows the flags of the United Kingdom and the European Union. According to a British government source a ‘deal is done’ on post-Brexit trade.
Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

 

London stocks surged Tuesday with investors relieved over Britain’s long-awaited Brexit deal with the EU, while eurozone equities also rose on US stimulus news with Frankfurt extending its record-breaking run.

The British capital’s benchmark FTSE 100 index jumped 2.2 percent in late morning deals, having last traded on Christmas Eve before the announcement of a long-awaited post-Brexit trade deal.

Britain and the European Union finally struck a trade deal Thursday to cushion the economic blow of Brexit, in a major boost to Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The pound climbed against the dollar but steadied versus the euro, as dealers continued to digest the 1,246-page agreement document.

“The Brexit deal is really a blessing… for the UK and for the FTSE 100 index. There is no doubt that the FTSE 100 has been a laggard index and now is its time to shine,” AvaTrade analyst Naeem Aslam told AFP.

READ ALSO: US Begins COVID-19 Vaccinations For Troops In South Korea

He added: “European stocks are still very much in Santa rally mode and traders only want to push stocks higher because they know that there is enough tailwind for the stock market in 2021.”

The EU gave the green light to the deal on Monday, paving the way for it to come into effect in the New Year. Britain’s parliament will seek to ratify it this week.

“Markets seem to be welcoming the Brexit deal,” noted AJ Bell investment director Russ Mould.

“However, the agreement struck between London and Brussels is yet to win universal acclaim — even if that is the inevitable result of the compromises that the Prime Minister had to make to get the deal over the line.”

Elsewhere, Asian markets mostly rose Tuesday following a record-breaking lead from Wall Street, as investors cheered the passage of a huge US stimulus bill which has helped temper fears about surging coronavirus infections.

Investor sentiment was given another shot in the arm after US President Donald Trump signed a $900-billion (735-billion-euro) Covid-19 economic stimulus bill late on Sunday.

“The hunt for records continues,” said Comdirect analyst Andreas Lipkow.

Frankfurt’s DAX index also powered its way Tuesday to new heights, extending its record-breaking run as the market ends a turbulent year on a strong note.

Asia also scored new pinnacles, with Tokyo soaring 2.7 percent to end at a 30-year high.

European nations meanwhile continue to ramp up vaccinations, adding to optimism of a route out of the coronavirus pandemic.

Yet governments around the world have been forced to impose lockdowns and other strict, economically painful measures to contain surging Covid-19 cases.

Trump had meanwhile held off signing the US virus stimulus package for almost a week, saying it did not provide enough cash to Americans and calling for handouts to be jacked up to $2,000 from the $600 offered in the initial bill.

Democrats agreed more was needed and on Monday the House of Representatives approved a motion to increase the payments.

– Key figures around 1150 GMT –

London – FTSE 100: UP 2.2 percent at 6,643.19 points

Frankfurt – DAX 30: UP 0.3 percent at 13,831.72

Paris – CAC 40: UP 0.4 percent at 5,610.83

EURO STOXX 50: UP 0.4 percent at 3,589.57

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 2.7 percent at 27,568.15 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: UP 1.0 percent at 26,568.49 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.5 percent at 3,379.04 (close)

New York – Dow: UP 0.7 percent at 30,403.97 (close)

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3492 from $1.3452 at 2200 GMT

Euro/pound: DOWN at 90.80 pence from 90.81 pence

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.2251 from $1.2216

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 103.65 yen from 103.81 yen

West Texas Intermediate: UP 1.3 percent at $48.26 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: UP 1.1 percent at $51.50

AFP

UK COVID-19 Strain Has Been In Germany Since November

A nurse prepares a dose of the Pfizer-Biontech Covid-19 corona virus vaccine at the ‘Am Birkenwaeldchen’ senior citizens’ park in Zeulenroda-Triebes, eastern Germany, on December 27, 2020. (Photo by Bodo Schackow / POOL / AFP)

 

The new coronavirus strain sweeping Britain has been in Germany since November, health officials said Tuesday, after detecting the variant in a patient who died in the north of the country.

Researchers were “able to sequence the variant of the B1.1.7 virus in a person infected in November this year”, the health ministry of Lower Saxony said in a statement referring to the new strain.

This is the same strain “responsible for a large proportion of the infections detected in the south of England,” it said.

The variant was found in an elderly patient with underlying health conditions who has since died. His wife was also infected but survived.

The couple caught the virus after their daughter returned from a trip to Britain in mid-November, where she “in all likelihood” became infected with the new strain, the statement said.

Teams from the Hannover Medical School (MHH) were able to identify the new strain after sequencing the genome.

READ ALSO: US Begins COVID-19 Vaccinations For Troops In South Korea

The results were then confirmed by a team at Berlin’s Charite hospital, which included top German virologist Christian Drosten.

Germany had previously reported only one case of the new strain, in a woman who flew in from London on Thursday.

Britain sounded the alarm earlier this month over the variant, which authorities say is significantly more contagious.

Concerns over the strain have prompted many countries to suspend travel to and from Britain.

It has since been detected in several other nations, including Portugal, France, Jordan and South Korea.

Germany has banned arrivals from the UK by road, sea and air until January 6.

 

South Korea Detects First COVID-19 Variant Cases

A medical staff member wearing protective gear takes a swab from a visitor to test for the Covid-19 coronavirus at a temporary testing station outside the City Hall in Seoul on December 28, 2020. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP)

 

Three cases of a particularly infectious coronavirus variant that recently emerged in Britain have been confirmed in South Korea, health authorities said Monday.

The three individuals are members of a London-based family who arrived in the country on December 22, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

They have been placed in isolation since testing positive for Covid-19 on arrival, the KDCA statement said.

The new strain of the virus emerged earlier this month in Britain and has already reached several European countries, as well as Canada, Jordan and Japan.

Last week London said another new variant of the virus was found in the country in cases linked to South Africa, which is the first African nation to record one million coronavirus cases.

The new strain, which experts fear is more contagious, prompted more than 50 countries to impose travel restrictions on Britain.

South Korea was among them and has barred flights from Britain until January 7.

READ ALSO: Federer Out Of Australian Open After Knee Surgery

In addition, the country will make it mandatory for passengers travelling from Britain or South Africa to submit negative Covid-19 test results before departure, KDCA chief Jung Eun-kyeong said.

Authorities are also looking into the case of an elderly South Korean man who tested positive for Covid-19 after his body was returned from Britain earlier this month.

The announcement came as a third wave of the virus grips the country, with a resurgence centred on the greater Seoul area seeing daily cases climb to over 1,000 several times this month despite stricter distancing measures.

South Korea reported 808 new cases Monday, raising its national total to 57,680 with 819 deaths.

European Leaders Hail Post-Brexit Deal

(FILES) In this file photo taken on October 22, 2019 EU and Union flags belonging to both anti-Brexit and pro-Brexit activists, fly outside the Houses of Parliament. (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP)

 

Political leaders in Europe on Thursday hailed the belated sealing of a UK-EU post-Brexit deal that aims to lay the groundwork for long-term future cooperation.

– Britain –

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson lauded what he termed “a good deal for the whole of Europe,” which offers “a new stability and a new certainty” to relations.

Former prime ministers David Cameron and Theresa May, who both resigned over Brexit, dubbed the deal “very welcome”. May said it “provides confidence to business and helps keep trade flowing”.

– European Union –

“It was worth fighting for this deal. We now have a fair & balanced agreement with the UK. It will protect our EU interests, ensure fair competition & provide predictability for our fishing communities,” said European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.

Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier warned “this agreement will require efforts”, and notably pledged support to EU fishermen and women after fishing proved the toughest of issues to resolve.

– Ireland –

Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said the deal “represents a good compromise and a balanced outcome” which will avoid a hard border on the border with Northern Ireland, stressing “the UK will always be a close friend and partner”.

READ ALSO: EU Gives Up 25% Of Fish Quota In UK Waters

– Northern Ireland –

“This is the start of a new era in the relationship between the UK and the EU and in Northern Ireland we will want to maximise the opportunities the new arrangements provide for our local economy,” said First Minister Arlene Foster.

– Scotland –

“Before the spin starts, it’s worth remembering that Brexit is happening against Scotland’s will. And there is no deal that will ever make up for what Brexit takes away from us. It’s time to chart our own future as an independent, European nation,” said First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

– France –

“Europe’s unity and firmness paid off,” tweeted President Macron, adding “the agreement with the United Kingdom is essential to protect our citizens, our fishermen, our producers” and concluding that “Europe is progressing, and can look to the future, united, sovereign and strong”.

– Germany –

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was “confident” the deal represents a “good outcome” that Germany would be able to support.

– Spain –

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez tweeted “the principle of an agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom is welcome”, while adding that Madrid and London must continue talking on the status of Gibraltar.

– Netherlands-

“Excellent news that an agreement on a new EU-UK partnership has been reached after tough negotiations,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte tweeted, complimenting Michel Barnier and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen for “their tireless efforts”.

– Portugal –

“I warmly welcome the reaching of an agreement with the United Kingdom,” Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa tweeted, underlining that the UK will remain an important partner and ally.

– Italy –

“Good news: deal between the EU and the UK has been agreed,” tweeted Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. “Interests and rights of European businesses and citizens guaranteed. The UK will be a central partner and ally for the EU and Italy.”

– Austria –

“I welcome that an agreement could be reached by the negotiators on the EU’s future relationship with the UK. We will now carefully examine the agreement,” tweeted Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

– Romania –

“Romania welcomes the agreed partnership on future relations. This agreement will protect the interests of companies & citizens — Romania’s key objectives during these negotiations,” tweeted President Klaus Iohannis.

– Denmark –

“Draft agreement is the best Christmas gift EU27 & UK can give each other,” tweeted Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod.

Gibraltar Still Hanging After Brexit Deal – Spain PM

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez speaks to the press as he arrives at the EU headquarters’ Europa building in Brussels on December 10, 2020, prior to a European Union summit.
JOHN THYS / POOL / AFP

 

Madrid and London have yet to reach agreement on the status of Gibraltar, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Thursday after Britain and EU finally sealed a Brexit trade deal.

The easy flow of people and goods across the border from Spain which underpins the economy of Gibraltar, a tiny British territory on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, risks ending when Britain leaves the EU at midnight on December 31.

“Spain and the United Kingdom are continuing dialogue to reach an accord on Gibraltar,” Sanchez said on his Twitter account after hailing the accord between Brussels and London.

Madrid, London and Gibraltar have been working out the status issues separately from the 10 months of Brexit trade negotiations that finally ended Thursday’s deal.

“For us… the clock is still ticking,” said Gibraltar government chief Fabian Picardo, while adding that he was “optimistic that we will be able to finalise that agreement.”

The enclave is entirely dependent on imports to supply its 34,000 residents, and each day some 15,000 people cross into Gibraltar from Spain every day to work, accounting for half of the territory’s workforce.

Without an accord, the movement of goods between Gibraltar and Spain will be subject to customs procedures from January 1, with unwanted economic consequences.

READ ALSO: UK-France Border To Stay Open At Christmas 

Picardo told AFP late last month that Gibraltar was considering joining the visa-free Schengen area — which Britain has never been part of — to avoid this hurdle.

“We are looking for an accord that will allow maximum fluidity,” he said.

Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in perpetuity in 1713 following a military struggle, but Madrid has long wanted it back.

In 2013, a dispute over an artificial reef in waters claimed by both sides sparked a war of words that triggered months of gridlock at the border after Spain intensified checks, which ended only after Brussels stepped in.

UK-France Border To Stay Open At Christmas

Police speak with a driver as freight lorries remain queued up on the M20 motorway, southbound, leading to the Port of Dover at Mersham in south east England on December 24, 2020, as rail and sea links between the UK and France are to remain open over Christmas to clear the backlog of thousands of trucks stranded by a new strain of coronavirus. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

 

Rail and sea links between the UK and France will remain open over Christmas to clear the backlog of thousands of trucks stranded by border closures due to the discovery of a new strain of coronavirus, Britain said Thursday.

Thousands of European truckers on Wednesday spent a fourth night sleeping in the cabs of their vehicles, which are stuck close to the major cross-Channel port of Dover while the drivers wait to pass a Covid test, as required by France for travel.

Around 6,000 trucks were waiting early Wednesday evening to cross the border according to Britain’s Department of Transport, including 3,750 vehicles parked at the old Manston airport, which is also a Covid testing site.

The others are stuck on the nearby roads in the southeastern county of Kent.

“As testing in Kent continues… I’ve spoken to my French counterpart (Jean-Baptiste Djebbari) and we’ve agreed the UK/French border at Eurotunnel, Dover & Calais WILL remain open throughout Xmas in order to help hauliers & citizens return home as soon as possible,” UK transport minister Grant Shapps wrote on Twitter.

Ferry services do not usually run between Dover and France on Christmas Day.

The massive testing operation, which is being bolstered by the military, began late Wednesday under an agreement between London and Paris to resume the flow of cross-Channel traffic.

READ ALSO: EU Gives Up 25% Of Fish Quota In UK Waters

France suspended the routes after a potentially more contagious variant of the virus was identified in Britain.

A team of 26 French firefighters arrived early Thursday in Dover with 10,000 tests to help the British and “accelerate” the return of European citizens, according to France’s ambassador to Britain Catherine Colonna.

Shapps said 2,367 tests had been carried out by 1200 GMT Thursday, and only three truckers had tested positive.

“As the EU Transport Commissioner (Adina Valean) has tweeted, testing hauliers is not recommended. Spending days in a lorry on your own puts you in an extremely low risk category!” he added.

– ‘Irresponsible behaviour’ –

Britain’s supply chain is highly dependent on trucks shuttling to and from mainland Europe and the closure has stoked fears shortages could arise, just days before the country leaves the EU single market and customs union.

Commissioner Valean estimated that a total of 10,000 European truckers were having difficulties returning from the UK.

She blasted France for imposing the snap freight restrictions, criticisms rejected by Paris.

British MP Natalie Elphicke, the representative for Dover, backed the commissioner, tweeting that there was “no excuse for France’s irresponsible behaviour in closing the Border.

“The EU Commissioner for Transport is right in her condemnation of France’s decision and actions.”

French truckers’ union FNTR said the situation on the ground was still “chaotic”.

“Drivers I’ve spoken to, especially those at Manston airfield where thousands are parked, have been there four days without a shower, and hardly have a thing to eat or drink,” a spokeswoman said.

“They’re in a dangerous place health-wise and socially. We’re really starting to worry,” she added, warning of trouble ahead if they did not move start moving soon.

Volunteers from the Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara in Gravesend were preparing thousands of hot meals and snacks for the drivers, part of a wider effort by Sikh humanitarian groups.

More than 50 countries have imposed travel restrictions on the UK after it was announced that a variant of Covid-19 believed by British scientists to spread faster had appeared in the country.

France went a step further by also imposing a freight ban, and the interior ministry said Thursday that limits on travel from the UK will continue “until at least January 6”.

For now, only citizens of France or the EU, those with residency rights there or business travellers are allowed to make the crossing — if they can show a negative Covid-19 test less than three days old.

The Netherlands, meanwhile, said on Thursday that it would now require a negative Covid-19 test for any traveller wishing to enter the country by train, boat or bus, a day after announcing a similar requirement for air travellers.

 

EU Gives Up 25% Of Fish Quota In UK Waters

(FILES) In this file photograph taken on January 29, 2020, British members of the European Parliament from the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)

 

European Union fishing fleets will have to give up a quarter of their current catch in British waters over the next five and a half years, officials said Thursday.

Under the post-Brexit trade deal agreed with the UK, after this transitional period access to its rich fishing grounds would be negotiated on an annual basis.

This represents a compromise. Earlier in the negotiations Britain was pushing for an 80 or 60 percent cut in the EU’s share, phased in over only three years.

Boats from the continent will also be allowed to work in British inshore waters less than 12 nautical miles from shore during the transition.

But it will still be a bitter pill to swallow for many fishing communities in northwestern Europe, which have worked what are now UK waters for centuries.

The issue of fishing was one of the hardest to resolve in the ten month post-Brexit trade negotiation, and at times threatened to derail the deal.

READ ALSO: UK-France Border To Stay Open At Christmas 

“After 5.5 years it will be renegotiated,” a European diplomat said, acknowledging concerns that Britain could shut out EU boats.

But he warned: “If that does not produce sufficient results, the treaty gives the EU the opportunity to take action.”

This would mean initially that, if the EU is not satisfied with the new quota it could impose measures against the UK fishing sector.

“But ultimately if necessary also, via an escalation ladder, on the entire agreement.”

British negotiators had resisted this provision.

Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier vowed Brussels would stand by Europe’s fishing fleets after Britain leaves the union on December 31.

“This agreement will require efforts,” Barnier said. “I know the European Union will support its fishermen and women. It will accompany them.”

 

COVID-19: UK Imposes Travel Restrictions On South Africa Over New Variant

FILE: Workers wearing protective suit approach a South African Airways Airbus A340-600 plane on March 14, 2020 as it arrives in Polokwane, in Limpopo province, carrying South African citizens who have been repatriated from Wuhan, China, where they were working when the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) erupted.  GUILLEM SARTORIO / AFP

 

Britain on Wednesday introduced restrictions on travel from South Africa over the spread of another new variant of coronavirus, UK Health Minister Matt Hancock said.

The restrictions, which applied with immediate effect, were introduced following the discovery of two cases of the virus strain in Britain.

“This new variant is highly concerning, because it is yet more transmissible, and it appears to have mutated further than the new variant that has been discovered in the UK,” Hancock said, referring to a strain of the virus discovered in Britain which has also been found to be more contagious.

READ ALSO: Canada Extends UK Flight Suspension Until Jan 6

The health minister said that all individuals in the UK who had contracted the variant originating in South Africa had been placed in quarantine as well as their close contacts.

In addition to the travel restrictions, Hancock said the government was also asking anyone who has been in close contact with someone who had been in South Africa in the last two weeks to quarantine.

“They must restrict all contact with any other person whatsoever,” he said.

The discovery of cases of what officials believe is a new, more transmissible variant of the coronavirus in the UK follows the announcement last week that a new strain had spread throughout the south of England.

In response to the growing number of coronavirus cases, Britain ordered a series of coronavirus restrictions across the affected areas.

More than 50 nations also imposed their own travel restrictions on the UK, including France.

A ban on cross-Channel freight to Europe has wrought havoc around the key port of Dover and led to fears of food shortages in the country’s supermarkets because of paralysis in supply chains.

Hancock on Wednesday announced the expansion of strict lockdown measures across further parts of the south of England to contain the spread of the disease.

With more than 68,000 deaths from the virus, the United Kingdom is one of the hardest hit countries in Europe.

 

AFP

Canada, Britain Sign Interim Deal To Avoid Tariff Increase After Brexit

(Photo by OLI SCARFF / AFP)

 

Canada and Britain have signed a temporary agreement to avoid an increase in tariffs between the two countries after the British exit from the European Union in early 2021, Ottawa said Tuesday.

At the end of November, the two countries announced they had concluded a provisional post-Brexit trade agreement that would reflect, as of January 1, the terms of the deal that Britain benefited from as a member state of the EU.

But the agreement could not be ratified before the Canadian parliament went into its winter recess, which would have resulted in an automatic increase in tariffs between the two countries on January 1.

The temporary deal allows tariffs between the two countries to remain at current levels until the new trade deal is passed in parliament, a foreign ministry statement said.

With the interim agreement, the Canadian government “is making sure businesses can easily continue trading without adding paperwork for businesses and importers,” it said in a statement.

“These measures will ensure stability and certainty on both sides of the Atlantic,” it added.

Bilateral trade with Britain was worth Can$29 billion (18.5 billion euros) in 2019, according to official government figures. Britain is the main market for Canadian exports to Europe.

Britain, France Ease Transport Ban As COVID-19 Variant Threatens Supply Chains

People queue to enter a novel coronavirus COVID-19 walk-in testing centre in Walthamstow in north east London, on December 15, 2020. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP)

 

France and Britain will reopen cross-border travel Wednesday after a snap 48-hour ban to curb the spread of a new coronavirus variant threatened UK supply chains.

Much of Europe swiftly banned British travellers and UK freight entering their nations after the discovery of a more transmissible variant of Covid-19 in Britain.

On Tuesday, dramatic images showed hundreds of lorries backed up in Dover, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson facing growing pressure to resolve the deadlock even as the post-Brexit trade deal deadline loomed.

UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced late Tuesday that Britain and France had settled on a protocol that “will see the French border reopen to those travelling for urgent reasons, provided they have a certified negative COVID test.”

However, he urged lorry drivers not to head to the southern county of Kent in expectations of boarding a ferry or train.

READ ALSO: Canada, Britain Sign Interim Deal To Avoid Tariff Increase After Brexit

French Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebarri also confirmed that air travel, boats and Eurostar trains would “resume service as of tomorrow morning”.

“French nationals, people living in France and those with a legitimate reason will have to be carrying a negative test,” he said.

Despite the breakthrough in talks, congestion around the key southern port of Dover remains unlikely to recede in the short term.

Late Tuesday, the major British transit hub said it would reopen from midnight local time (2300 GMT) for travellers with a negative result.

A handful of passenger vehicles disembarked from two ferries in Calais early Wednesday, an AFP correspondent said, but port management said traffic was not expected to pick up until later.

– Food shortage worries –

The measures imposed on hauliers have caused concern over shortages of some fresh food products over a Christmas period already marred by strict coronavirus restrictions.

More than 2,800 lorries remain stranded in the southern English county of Kent, unable to make the crossing to France, with drivers having spent a second night sleeping in their cabs.

As night fell on Tuesday, drivers of some 800 trucks parked at a nearby disused airport sounded their horns for more than half an hour in protest.

Despite the fresh agreement — which will be reviewed on December 31 — it is unclear when traffic will begin moving again.

The British transport ministry said: “All lorry drivers, irrespective of nationality, will require a lateral flow test.”

In a statement, they added the test could detect the new Covid-19 variant “in around 30 minutes, rather than the 24 hours required after a PCR test”.

The French Ministry of Transport said in a statement that all travellers from Britain would be required to present a negative Covid-19 test to their airline, ship or railway company less than 72 hours before departure.

French nationals, EU nationals or French residents who need to complete essential travel will be allowed to cross the border.

The European Union had called on members to facilitate transit and to lift other transport bans to avoid supply chain disruptions.

Johnson, criticised for his management of a pandemic that has caused nearly 68,000 deaths — one of the highest death tolls in Europe — has argued that the risk of transmission by lorry drivers was “really very low”.

According to the World Health Organization, transmission of this new variant is 40 to 70 percent higher.

AFP