UK Warned COVID-19 Test Shortages Harming Health System

(FILES) In this file photo Dr. Rhonda Flores looks at protein samples at Novavax labs in Gaithersburg, Maryland on March 20, 2020, one of the labs developing a vaccine for the coronavirus, COVID-19. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP)

 

Healthcare services are being jeopardised by lack of access to coronavirus testing, hospital bosses in England warned on Tuesday.

NHS Providers, which represents the heads of hospital trusts in the state-run National Health Service, said there were “current capacity problems with the testing regime”.

Its chief executive Chris Hopson said the government should prioritise health workers, as shortages of tests had caused a slew of staff absences in major cities.

Patients were also struggling to get tests, compounding delays within the NHS that have worsened since the outbreak began.

“We have now got cases where patients who should be being treated, we can’t treat them because they can’t get access to a test,” he told Sky News television in an interview.

“So, for them that’s a real problem.”

Hopson spoke after LBC radio reported on Monday that no coronavirus tests were available in any of the 10 worst hotspots in England.

The revelation followed weekend reports of a backlog of 185,000 swab tests, and that the system was so stretched samples were being sent to labs in Italy and Germany.

The UK government has blamed surging demand for the situation and promised increased capacity while urging people only to get tested if they are showing symptoms.

Interior minister Priti Patel denied claims of acute shortages in England’s hotspots, saying mobile testing units were boosting capacity in areas under local lockdowns.

“Clearly there is much more work that needs to be undertaken with Public Health England and the actual public health bodies in those particular local areas,” she told BBC radio on Tuesday.

Britain, which has been the worst-hit country in Europe registering nearly 42,000 deaths, has seen a resurgence in the virus in recent weeks.

The country recorded more than 3,000 new cases on three consecutive days over the weekend, for the first time since May.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had pledged to have a “world-beating” testing and tracing operation in place by June.

But alongside the faltering testing regime, the tracing system is still failing to reach the required number of people to work effectively.

Meanwhile, a much-touted smartphone app to help trace people is yet to launch in England.

Scotland, which runs health from the devolved administration in Edinburgh, launched an app last week using technology developed by Apple and Google.

AFP

Tighter Socialising Rules In England After COVID-19 Spike

Workers wear NHS-branded Test and Trace high-vis jackets as they work at an NHS COVID-19 walk-in testing centre in Bolton, northern England on September 9, 2020, as local lockdown restrictions are put in place due to a spike in cases of the novel coronavirus in the city. – The UK government, which controls health policy in England, imposed tougher restrictions on Bolton, near the northwest city of Manchester, after a “very significant rise” in cases. Bolton was found to have 120 cases per 100,000 people — the highest in the country. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP)

 

The UK government on Wednesday sets out tighter rules on social gatherings to curb the spread of the coronavirus, with concern mounting at rising infection rates among the young.

The law in England will change from next week to reduce the number of people who can gather socially from 30 to six, with some exemptions.

A new public information campaign was also launched to emphasise the importance of hand washing, the use of face coverings and maintaining social distancing.

“We need to act now to stop the virus spreading,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in comments before an expected news conference later Wednesday.

More than 41,500 people confirmed to have coronavirus have died in Britain, the worst toll in Europe.

The death rate has now fallen to its lowest level since mid-March.

But as in other parts of Europe, cases are increasing, with almost 3,000 daily infections reported in recent days, and concern the outbreak is slipping out of control.

Johnson’s office said medical and scientific advisers had agreed that “urgent action is needed”, while police had also asked for the rules to be simplified.

Current guidelines stipulate that people must not socialise outside in a group of more than six people from different households.

But the law actually puts that limit at 30 in private spaces.

From Monday, this will be reduced to six, except for large families, weddings, funerals, organised team sports, workplaces and educational settings.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News television in an interview: “Abiding by these rules is absolutely vital to protect life.

“We’ve seen the increase in the number of cases, sadly, in the last few days. We’ve seen that across Europe, there’s a second wave that many countries have experienced.”

– Targeted action –

The UK government, which controls health policy in England, imposed tougher restrictions on Bolton, near the northwest city of Manchester, after a “very significant rise” in cases.

Bolton was found to have 120 cases per 100,000 people — the highest in the country.

Hancock told parliament on Tuesday contact tracing data had shown this was “partly due to socialising by people in their 20s and 30s”.

A number of pubs were identified as hotspots, and curbs were put on opening hours of hospitality venues, and locals were banned from socialising with people outside their household.

The latest targeted local restrictions follow similar action in Caerphilly, south Wales, and East Dunbartonshire and Renfrewshire, in the west of Scotland.

The developments come as the UK government is trying to get the economy moving again after nearly three months of lockdown imposed in late March.

It has encouraged people to go back to work and use a government-subsidised restaurant scheme to boost revenues for eateries hit hard by the shutdown.

Critics say such measures have only exacerbated infection rates as young people in particular head out to pubs with scant regard for social distancing.

Hancock warned that although younger people were less likely to develop serious forms of Covid-19, they could easily pass it to those more vulnerable, particularly the elderly.

AFP

Several Stabbed In Birmingham ‘Major Incident,’ Says UK Police

birmingham
A small forensics tent is seen at the junction of Church Street and Barwick Street, following a major stabbing incident in the centre of Birmingham, central England, on September 6, 2020. Oli SCARFF / AFP

 

British police declared a “major incident” early on Sunday after multiple people were stabbed in the centre of England’s second city Birmingham.

“We can confirm that at approximately 12:30 am today (Sunday 6 September) we were called to reports of a stabbing in Birmingham city centre”, West Midlands Police said in a statement.

“A number of other stabbings” were reported in the area shortly after and “this has been declared a major incident”, the statement added.

“We are aware of a number of injured people, but at the moment we are not in a position to say how many or how serious.

“However, all emergency services are working together at the scene, and making sure that those who are injured receive medical care.”

Footage aired on British television news channels showed large areas of the city centre cordoned off as police officers wearing forensic suits worked at the scene.

“Work is still going on to establish what has happened, and could take some time before we are in a position to confirm anything,” West Midlands Police said.

“At this early stage it would not be appropriate to speculate on the causes of the incident.”

AFP

Ten-Man England Narrowly Beat Iceland In Nations League Opener

England's forward Raheem Sterling (front) and Iceland's defender Hjortur Hermannsson vie for the ball during the UEFA Nations League football match between Iceland v England on September 5, 2020 in Reykjavik. Haraldur Gudjonsson / AFP
England’s forward Raheem Sterling (front) and Iceland’s defender Hjortur Hermannsson vie for the ball during the UEFA Nations League football match between Iceland v England on September 5, 2020 in Reykjavik. Haraldur Gudjonsson / AFP

 

Raheem Sterling’s last-minute penalty salvaged England from another embarrassing result against Iceland as Gareth Southgate’s men survived going down to 10 men and Birkir Bjarnason also missing a late spot-kick to start their Nations League campaign with a 1-0 in Reykjavik on Saturday.

Four years on from one of English football’s most embarrassing nights in losing 2-1 to Iceland at Euro 2016, the Three Lions were far from the free-scoring force that romped through Euro 2020 qualifying in their first match for 10 months.

Harry Kane had an early goal wrongly ruled out for offside before Kyle Walker was sent-off for two bookable offences 20 minutes from time.

All of Iceland’s good defensive work was undone in the 89th minute when Sverrir Ingason was also harshly dismissed for a second booking when he blocked Sterling’s shot with his arm.

With Kane having been replaced by Mason Greenwood, Sterling took responsibility from spot, but the drama did not end there.

Straight from kick-off, Joe Gomez was adjudged to have bundled over Holmbert Fridjonsson inside the area, but Bjamason blazed the resulting penalty over.

Southgate handed an international debut to Manchester City midfielder Phil Foden, while Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse started for the first time in a competitive fixture for his country in an experimental line-up.

England's forward Harry Kane shoots the ball during the UEFA Nations League football match between Iceland v England on September 5, 2020 in Reykjavik. Haraldur Gudjonsson / AFP
England’s forward Harry Kane shoots the ball during the UEFA Nations League football match between Iceland v England on September 5, 2020 in Reykjavik.
Haraldur Gudjonsson / AFP

 

However, there was still plenty of enough experience and promise in a front three of Kane, Sterling, and Jadon Sancho for England to have had a far more comfortable afternoon in Reykjavik.

Kane had the ball in the net for what he thought was his 33rd international goal inside six minutes when he bundled in at the back post.

However, the England captain was wrongly flagged for offside and with no VAR in operation, the visitors were denied.

Sancho has been linked with a move to Manchester United from Borussia Dortmund for more than £100 million in recent months and the 20-year-old was England’s most dangerous weapon early on as he eased past his marker before teeing up Declan Rice, who miscued his shot with the best chance of the first half.

Arnor Traustason curled a free-kick wide with Iceland’s only attempt on goal until stoppage time, but the move leading to that effort still proved costly for England as Walker picked up his first yellow card.

Southgate’s men continued to enjoy the vast majority of possession in the second period, but the closest they came to breaking the deadlock before the dramatic finale was when Iceland’s Kari Arnason flicked Kieran Trippier’s free-kick onto his own post.

Moments later Walker’s ill-judged lunge to break up an Icelandic counter-attack left his side a man down.

A breakthrough did not look like coming until Sterling collected an overhit corner and the ball struck Ingason’s arm in his attempt to block the shot.

Sterling coolly rolled his penalty straight down the middle and how Bjarnason wish he had showed the same composure as his wild finish let England off the hook.

 

AFP

England Announces Equal Pay For National Teams

File photo: England’s defender Steph Houghton (hidden) is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal during the France 2019 Women’s World Cup round of sixteen football match between England and Cameroon, on June 23, 2019, at the Hainaut stadium in Valenciennes, northern France. Denis Charlet / AFP

 

England men’s and women’s senior players have been paid the same match fee for representing their country since January 2020, the Football Association confirmed on Thursday.

Brazil on Wednesday joined Australia, Norway and New Zealand on the list of football associations who had publicly committed to paying their men and women players the same amount for earning a senior cap.

“The FA pays its women’s players exactly the same as their male counterparts for representing England, both in terms of match fees and match bonuses,” the FA said in a statement.

“This parity has been in place since January 2020.”

In March 2019, the US women’s team, the current world champions, sued their federation alleging discrimination over pay and conditions.

A judge dismissed their case in May this year but the team have appealed that ruling.

AFP

Masks The Subject As Virus-Wary Schools Reopen Across Europe

File photo: Homemade protective face masks are prepared by Sarah, a 45-year-old volunteer, who sews face masks to be distributed to people in need, at her home in Vincennes, eastern suburbs of Paris, on May 7, 2020, on the 52nd day of a strict lockdown in France to stop the spread of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus). – GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP.

 

Millions of students headed back to class in France, Belgium and England on Tuesday as European schools cautiously reopened amid rising coronavirus cases in several countries, with face masks often mandatory.

Officials have drawn fire from parents and teachers worried that strict social distancing and other protective measures will not be enough to prevent a second wave of COVID-19.

But many governments insist that the greater risk is young people losing out on crucial in-person lessons, and that keeping kids at home for distance learning puts too big a burden on working parents.

“I do not underestimate how challenging the last few months have been, but I do know how important it is for children to be back in school, not only for their education but for their development and well-being,” Britain’s Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said.

The UN’s education agency UNESCO warned that just half the roughly 900 million primary and secondary students restarting school from August to October will actually be allowed back in classrooms.

“Several generations are facing the threat of school closures, which concern hundreds of millions of students and have lasted many months,” the agency’s director general Audrey Azoulay said in a statement late Monday.

In France, some 12.4 million students returned Tuesday, with masks required for all teachers as well as students over 11.

“It doesn’t bother me to wear a mask, even if it does feel a little weird,” said Marie, who was starting her first year of middle school in the southern French city of Marseille.

But many teachers were less enthusiastic. “How can we connect with children when half your face is hidden behind a mask?” said Julie Siata, who teaches English at another Marseille school.

– ‘No zero risk’ –

Pupils also returned Tuesday in Belgium, which has suffered one of the highest rates of coronavirus deaths in Europe.

Masks are required for those aged 12 and older, and must be kept in a protective case or pouch.

“You can’t risk having the mask contaminated when taking it off to eat,” said Martin, soon to be 13, as he headed to school in Brussels, adding that he was “stressed” about the new protective measures.

In England and Wales, where openings as well as start times are being staggered this week to avoid crowds on public transport and playgrounds, teachers are urging parents to avoid lingering with other parents after drop-offs.

The British government has faced a storm of criticism over reopening schools, after reversing course last week to announce that face masks would be recommended after all to stem a rise in new Covid-19 cases.

German schools reopened last month, as did many in Scotland which has control of its school system.

Masks will also be compulsory in Greece, where children are expected to return to school on Monday, while Spain will require all students 6 and older to wear masks when classes resume next week.

Children in Spain should also maintain a distance of 1.5 metres (5 feet) from each other, and are being urged to wash their hands at least five times a day.

“I believe fathers, mothers, and the education community can be sure that their sons and daughters, that school employees, will be much safer in schools than in other places,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told Cadena Ser radio.

“But there is no zero risk,” he acknowledged, as Spain also reported an alarming surge in the number of coronavirus cases in recent weeks.

In Italy, where the virus first struck in Europe, concerns are growing that school reopenings set for September 14 could prove too risky despite masks and staggered opening and cafeteria times.

Three regions in southern Italy have already pushed back openings to the end of this month.

AFP

England Appoint Wiegmann As Head Coach To Replace Neville

Sarina Wiegman
Sarina Wiegman has been in charge of Netherlands Women since early 2017 and will start with England in 2021. Photo: The FA

 

 

Sarina Wiegman is to replace Phil Neville as head coach of the England women’s football team next year, the Football Association (FA) announced on Friday.

The 50-year-old Dutch woman will take charge of the Netherlands in next year’s Olympics before assuming control of England.

The former Dutch international defender will be in charge when England hosts the 2022 Euros, the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand and the following Euros in 2025.

Wiegman was the FA’s preferred choice ahead of reportedly two-time World Cup-winning former USA coach Jill Ellis.

Ellis’s second World Cup triumph came at the expense of Wiegman’s Dutch side last year.

“Sarina was our number one choice,” said Sue Campbell, the FA’s director of women’s football.

Wiegman said she was delighted to be taking over a side whose country had been at the forefront of developing women’s football in recent times.

“I’m delighted and honoured to join England Women next year,” Wiegman said in a statement.

“England is the cradle of football and the major developments in women’s football globally over recent years have been led by the FA.

“I’m very much looking forward to contributing my experience and expertise to this ambitious team.”

Under Wiegman, Holland won the 2017 European Championship as hosts.

Wiegman — who in 2001 became the first Dutch footballer to be capped 100 times — says she wants to bow out on a high next year.

“The ride with the Oranje Lionesses has been amazing so far, but we haven’t reached our final destination yet,” she said.

“There are two more goals: qualifying for the Euros in 2022 and challenging at the Olympics next summer.

“That would be a fitting completion for me of everything we’ve strived to achieve in women’s football in my home country.

“I will do my utmost to add another chapter to their remarkable journey before making my next step.”

Neville coached England’s women to fourth place at the 2019 Women’s World Cup but the former Manchester United’s star waned as their form slumped following that.

He announced in April he would be stepping down when his contract expires in July next year.

There is a possibility he could be the Team GB coach at the Olympics in Tokyo next July — postponed from this year due to the coronavirus pandemic — but the FA are not taking any chances as he has indicated he would like to coach a club.

The Games run from July 23 to August 8.

The FA said it will talk to the other home nations over the post for the Olympics and a decision will be announced in “due course”.

AFP

Beer Flows Again In England’s Pubs After Lifting Of COVID-19 Restrictions

Customers leave with pints of beer for takeaway at The Ten Bells pub in east London on June 27, 2020. DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP
Customers leave with pints of beer for takeaway at The Ten Bells pub in east London on June 27, 2020. DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP

 

Some of the beer may be stale from sitting in kegs for over three months, but Britons were still eager to sip it as England reopened its beloved pubs as part of the next stage of easing the coronavirus lockdown.

“Gorgeous,” sighed Andrew Slawinski at a pub in northern London, echoing a sentiment possibly felt across the nation which shuttered its bars, cafes and restaurants in late March.

The government is trying to tease its key hospitality sector back to life on what has been touted as “Super Saturday”, with restaurants finally allowed to open their doors to customers again and barbers and hairdressers also able to get their clippers out.

Prince William got into the spirit of things, and was photographed visiting a pub in eastern England, but dutifully using hand sanitiser from a wall-mounted dispenser first.

The Spectator magazine warned against the dangers of drinking stale beer in pubs that were all shut in a hurry, suggesting that a pint actually might taste better on Sunday.

And Rishi Sunak, the finance minister, urged Britons to “eat out to help out”, pointing out that pubs and restaurants often employed younger people entering the jobs market for the first time.

“This is really about social justice,” said Sunak.

But safety was still at the front of many people’s mind and fear that social distancing measures could be forgotten as alcohol blood levels rise later in the evening.

“I’m no killjoy,” said Health Secretary Matt Hancock, “but the virus can still kill”.

‘Total chaos’

The first nationwide closure of pubs since the Great Plague of 1665 has contributed to a record slump in beer sales and compounded existing financial difficulties in the sector.

But takings could be up nearly 75 percent to £210 million ($262 million, 233 million euros) this weekend, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research, a think-tank.

It predicted 6.5 million customers — 1.5 million more than a usual weekend.

The British Beer and Pub Association said it hoped 80 percent of England’s 28,000 pubs could open but it could take 12 months or more for trade to return to normal.

“If 10 percent of them are profitable, that will be a surprise to us,” said chief executive Emma McClarkin, warning up to 18,000 drinking establishments were at risk of closure by the year end.

Some pubs are adopting a wait-and-see approach, as several surveys indicated many people were hesitant about mixing in larger groups.

In Newcastle, northeast England, where pubs are normally packed at weekends, just one in three city-centre pubs, bars and restaurants will be open, the local council said.

“We are genuinely concerned that this could be a day of total chaos for the pub trade,” the owners of the popular Tyne Bar on the city’s Quayside said in a tweet.

“We’ve decided it’s not worth the risk.”

Government guidelines insist on “minimum contact” between staff and customers, with table service only. Drinkers will also have to give contact details in case of any outbreak.

Britain has had some 44,000 deaths in the outbreak — the third-highest in the world — and concern remains about a second spike of infections as the lockdown is eased.

Pubs in Northern Ireland opened on Friday. A partial reopening is slated for July 13 in Wales and July 15 in Scotland.

Don’t blow it!

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called for the public to use common sense. “My message is, let’s not blow this now, folks,” he told LBC radio on Friday.

And he defended a weekend reopening, dismissing fears of raucous New Year’s Eve-style celebrations to mark the end of lockdown.

Health secretary Hancock told The Daily Mail that he would have a pint with his brother but would otherwise have a quiet night, describing how the crisis made him rethink his entire approach to life.

“People I admire and respect have died. Friends. I got off lightly,” he said in the sombre interview.

The hospitality industry and the emergency services have also warned the public not to overdo it.

Brian Booth, chairman of West Yorkshire Police Federation representing rank-and-file officers, said alcohol-fuelled crime and added pressure on overstretched health services.

Local accident and emergency departments were “akin to a circus full of drunken clowns” before the outbreak. “We do not need this once again,” he added.

 

AFP

UK Govt Under Pressure To Lift Cricket COVID-19 Ban

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

 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was told “England is not England without cricket” by one of his own Conservative MPs on Thursday as the British government came under renewed pressure to lift a ban on recreational cricket during the coronavirus pandemic.

During a debate in Parliament, Peter Bone MP urged Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the House of Commons, to “persuade the chief umpire (Johnson) to stroll across from Number 10 next week” and announce the amateur game can resume.

International cricket is set to get underway for the first time since lockdown when England face the West Indies in a three-Test series starting at Southampton on July 8.

But the amateur game remains mothballed, with professional county cricket delayed until at least August 1.

Earlier this week, while announcing a lifting of lockdown restrictions on pubs and restaurants, Johnson said club cricket could not resume because the ball is a “natural vector of disease”.

But with social tennis and golf currently allowed, his comments were labelled “utter nonsense” by former England captain Michael Vaughan.

Many British politicians have been cricket lovers.

Clement Attlee, Labour’s Prime Minister in the years immediately after the Second World War had an agency ticker machine installed at 10 Downing Street so he could receive the county scores.

Alec Douglas-Home, briefly Prime Minister in the 1960s, played 10 first-class matches in the 1920s.

READ ALSO: UN Urges ‘Moratorium’ On Facial Recognition Tech Use In Protests

Meanwhile, another Conservative Prime Minister and cricket enthusiast, John Major, during a speech to rally support for his position of keeping Britain in the European Union in 1993, said that “fifty years from now, Britain will still be the country of long shadows on county (cricket) grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs (and) dog lovers”.

Bone, the MP for Wellingborough, central England, appeared to tap into that spirit on Thursday when he recalled visiting his local cricket club last weekend.

He said he had “heard the ripple of applause from the boundary and the occasional shouts of “owzat?'” before realising he was imagining it.

Bone added: “Up and down the country thousands and thousands of men and women and boys and girls are desperate to play competitive cricket.

“England is not England without cricket.

“Leader, would you persuade the chief umpire to stroll across from Number 10 next week and make a statement in this House that play can resume?”

Somerset supporter Rees-Mogg replied that few MPs missed cricket as much as he did.

“All my tickets to go to watch various Test matches across the course of the year, my visits to Taunton (Somerset’s headquarters), have all had to be cancelled,” he said.

“And worst still, there was a chance that Somerset might win the County Championship for the first time in its history.”

Rees-Mogg agreed the absence of cricket was a “real loss” but added “we have to be as safe as we possibly can be”.

AFP

England To Reopen Cinemas And Galleries In July

(FILES) In this handout file photo taken and released on April 29, 2020 by 10 Downing Street, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson is seen recording a video message for Captain Tom Moore’s 100th birthday, inside 10 Downing Street in central London.  Pippa FOWLES / AFP.

 

Cinemas, museums, and galleries in England will reopen on July 4 in the next phase of easing the coronavirus lockdown, the government said Monday, as infection and death rates continued to slow.

Venues will be asked to introduce social distancing measures including one-way systems, spaced queuing, increased ventilation, and pre-booked tickets, a Downing Street source said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will unveil the changes in a statement to parliament on Tuesday, and say whether hairdressers, places of worship, pubs, and restaurants will also be allowed to open.

He will also announce the outcome of a review into the rule that people stay two metres apart, which the hospitality industry and many lawmakers want cut to one metre, saying it is impractical and unnecessary.

Britain’s coronavirus outbreak has been the deadliest in Europe, but stay-at-home orders imposed in late March are slowly being eased as infection rates fall.

The death toll among people who tested positive for COVID-19 rose by 15 to 42,647 on Sunday, the lowest daily increase since March 15, although there is always a lag in reported deaths over the weekend.

Separate official data including suspected coronavirus deaths puts the toll at 51,804 to June 5.

A total of 958 people tested positive in the 24 hours to Monday morning, and Health Secretary Matt Hancock said only one in 1,700 people now had the virus, down from one in 400 a month ago.

“All of those figures are coming down and pointing in the right direction,” he told a daily media briefing on Monday.

“It shows that while there’s still much to do, we are clearly making progress.”

Some of the youngest children have already gone back to school and non-essential shops have reopened.

On Monday, Hancock announced plans to ease restrictions on 2.2 million people in England classed as clinically extremely vulnerable.

They had been asked to avoid all social contact, but from July 6 will be allowed to meet outside in groups as big as six from July 6.

From August 1 the entire “shielding” programme will be paused, although officials warned it could be restarted if the outbreak worsens in the winter.

 

AFP

Crowds, Queues As English Shops Reopen Post-Lockdown

Customers, some wearing face masks or coverings as a precaution against COVID-19, queue outside Selfridges department store on Oxford Street in London on June 15, 2020 as some non-essential retailers reopen from their coronavirus shutdown. – Various stores and outdoor attractions in England are set to open Monday for the first time in nearly three months, as the government continues to ease its coronavirus lockdown. Glyn KIRK / AFP.

 

Large queues formed outside shops across England on Monday as they opened their doors to customers for the first time in nearly three months after coronavirus lockdown measures were eased.

In London, crowds congregated outside the Nike store on Oxford Street, while Primark clothing stores in major cities such as Birmingham and Liverpool also saw long lines.

“I’m happy to be able to shop again after all this time,” said Precious, an 18-year-old student.

Visitors also returned to zoos and safari parks, places of worship were open again for private prayers, and some secondary school pupils returned to the classroom.

In the capital, commuters were forced to cover their faces on public transport network, while budget airline easyJet took off again for its first flights in 11 weeks.

Britain’s government has adopted a cautious approach to reopening but hopes that retail spending will boost the economy, with predictions of a recession looming.

Finance minister Rishi Sunak acknowledged anxieties, after a recent survey suggested just 40 percent of people were comfortable about going back into stores.

READ ALSO: Norway Suspends Virus-Tracing App After Privacy Concerns

“It’s a slightly different experience,” he said on Sunday. “But it is a safe environment and we should all be able to go out knowing that we should be able to shop in confidence.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, touring a shopping centre in east London on Sunday, said people should “shop, and shop with confidence”.

– Trainers and clothes –

All sites are having to comply with social distancing rules, which require people to keep at least two metres (six feet) apart, and wear face coverings when indoors.

Stickers reminding people of the rules to keep apart have been placed on pavements, footpaths widened, and streets cleaned.

Inside stores, layouts have been reconfigured to keep people apart, including restrictions on using changing rooms.

Masks and hand sanitiser have been made available, perspex screens put up at tills, and many outlets have insisted on no cash, to help reduce the risk of close-contact transmission.

Thelma Brennan, 60, emerged from Primark on Oxford Street laden with bags of summer clothes for her grandchildren.

“It’s fine. You have to queue,” she said but once inside, “you can circulate”.

But Alexander Hoyte, 31, said he was not happy at having to wait in such a large crowd to buy a new pair of Nike trainers — and they were sold out of his size.

“After so long being in lockdown, you allow people to queue, anyone can catch the virus like that,” he added.

Shops in Northern Ireland reopened on Friday. The devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales have not yet decided when to follow suit.

The non-essential retail sector employs some 1.3 million people and contributes £46.6 billion ($58.4 billion, 52 billion euros) to the British economy every year.

But last week, official data showed the economy shrank by a fifth in size because of stay-at-home measures imposed on March 23.

– Two-metre rule –

Nearly 42,000 people have died after testing positive for COVID-19 in Britain, a number third only to the United States and Brazil in the global pandemic.

But the toll is coming down, and on Sunday the government reported only 36 deaths in 24 hours — the lowest total since March 21.

Getting Britain back on track is seen as vital for Johnson and his government, which has been repeatedly criticised for its handling of the outbreak.

The phased reopening in England started with outdoor markets and car showrooms earlier this month, and some younger children returned to school.

Pubs, bars and restaurants are expected to reopen from July 4.

Ministers have faced criticism for failing to ensure that all primary school children return before the summer break in July, and pressure about relaxing the two-metre rule.

Business leaders want the distance reduced in line with other countries.

Johnson said the situation would be kept under review but said he did not want to jeopardise gains made in tackling the virus.

AFP

England Reopens Some Schools As Debate Rages About Lockdown Ease

Members of the public keep a 2-metre social distance as they queue in the car park to enter an Ikea store in Warrington, northwest England as it re-opens its doors following the easing of the lockdown restrictions during the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic on June 1, 2020. – Paul ELLIS / AFP.

 

Schools partially reopened in England on Monday and the most vulnerable were allowed to venture outdoors, despite warnings that the world’s second worst-hit country was moving too quickly out of its coronavirus lockdown.

A death toll that now officially stands at 38,489 has piled political pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson — still basking in the glory of a thumping December election win when the pandemic reached UK shores.

Johnson spent much of the past week stamping out a scandal sparked by his chief adviser’s decision to drive to a picturesque castle with his family while everyone was under orders to limit outdoor exercise to an hour a day.

The furore over Brexit architect Dominic Cummings appears to have abated but concern about Johnson’s handling of the crisis remains.

His public support last week suffered the sharpest fall for a Conservative party leader in 10 years before recovering slightly in a poll published Monday.

– ‘Spreading too fast’ –

Johnson has set out a timeline that allows two million younger children to return to school on Monday and older ones on June 15.

But a survey conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research found that primary school leaders expect about half the families to keep their children home.

The government is also allowing those most at risk of suffering serious consequences from the virus to spend time outdoors for the first time in two months.

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“I do not underestimate just how difficult it has been for you,” Johnson told the 2.2 million Britons who fall into the extreme risk category.

The UK government has also been encouraged by the positive experience of other European countries that have started to return to something resembling the old way of life.

But critics argue that the so-called R rate of transmission — estimated nationally at between 0.7 and 0.9 — was still dangerously close to the 1.0 figure above which the virus’s spread grows.

Parks and beaches were filled across England for the second successive weekend in what has been one of the driest springs in over 100 years.

Several members of the government’s scientific advisory group have warned that restrictions were being lifted prematurely.

“COVID-19 spreading too fast to lift lockdown in England,” scientific advisor Jeremy Farrar said on Twitter.

Minister Alok Sharma told the BBC on Monday that the “scientific advice does differ” but the overall view from the official body advising the government was that “we must do this cautiously”.

The group has more than 50 members and disagreements are to be expected — although public criticism of the government’s policies from its own advisers is relatively rare.

– Hurting the poor –

The scientists are not the only ones to express concern.

London’s Metropolitan Police Federation chair Ken Marsh said current rules such as those allowing people to gather in groups of six in England — but not sit on each other’s deckchairs — were unenforceable.

“I don’t think the public are taking much notice of what is laid down in front of them,” Marsh told The Daily Telegraph,

“They are doing it how they want to do it.”

National Education Union co-leader Mary Bousted said the government has had to revise its school reopening guidance 41 times since mid-May.

There were “things they had forgotten, things they didn’t know, and things they got wrong (and that) had to be added in”, Bousted told Sky News.

The schools will only start reopening in England because each of Britain’s four nations follows its own health guidelines.

Scotland is waiting until August and Northern Ireland is eyeing September, while Wales is still making up its mind.

Communities minister Robert Jenrick argued a return to school was essential because a lack of classes and lunch provision was hitting disadvantaged families especially hard.

AFP