Chinese Woman Stuck In Blind Date’s House After Lockdown

A picture of the Chinese flag.
A picture of the Chinese flag.

 

Imagine being on a first date you couldn’t end? That’s what happened to a woman in China whose video blogs about going into a citywide lockdown during a blind date have gone viral.

Over 100 virus cases have been reported in the central Chinese city of Zhengzhou since last week, as China battles to contain multiple local outbreaks of the Delta and Omicron variants.

Parts of the city were abruptly placed under lockdown last Wednesday when a woman surnamed Wang was having dinner at her blind date’s house.

“Just after I arrived in Zhengzhou, there was an outbreak, and his community was put under lockdown and I could not leave,” Wang told Shanghai-based outlet The Paper on Tuesday, adding that she went there for a week-long trip to meet potential suitors.

“I’m getting old now, my family introduced me to ten matches… The fifth date wanted to show off his cooking skills and invited me over to his house for dinner.”

Since then, Wang has posted short videos documenting her daily life in lockdown, which show her date cooking meals for her, doing household chores, and working at his laptop while she sleeps in, according to clips published by local media.

READ ALSO: North Korea’s Kim Calls For More ‘Military Muscle’ After Missile Test

So far it seems romance has yet to blossom during their prolonged date, according to Wang who says she’s looking for a more talkative partner.

“Besides the fact that he’s as mute as a wooden mannequin, everything else (about him) is pretty good,” Wang told The Paper. “Despite his food being mediocre, he’s still willing to cook, which I think is great.”

Wang did not disclose her age or the identity of the man in the videos.

Related hashtags have racked up over six million views on the Twitter-like social media site Weibo by Wednesday.

However, Wang said the recent surge in online attention prompted her to remove the videos.

“Friends have been calling him and I think this has definitely affected his life, so I have taken them down for now,” she said in a video posted Tuesday that was widely republished in Chinese local media.

“Thanks, everyone for your attention… I hope the outbreak ends soon and that my single sisters also find a relationship soon.”

AFP

Chinese Official Apologises After Woman Miscarries Outside Lockdown Hospital

A health worker inoculates people with the CoronaVac vaccine, developed by China’s Sinovac against the novel coronavirus disease COVID-19, at a vaccination centre in Bogota, on January 4, 2022. (Photo by Leonardo MUNOZ / AFP)

 

A top health official in China’s locked-down Xi’an apologised on Thursday over the miscarriage of an eight-month pregnant woman, after footage went viral of a hospital refusing her entry without a Covid test.

The city of 13 million has been under strict home confinement for two weeks to stamp out an outbreak, in line with Beijing’s firm “zero Covid” strategy.

The distressing incident was detailed in a social media post by the woman’s niece on January 1, which included photos and video of the woman sitting on a plastic stool outside the hospital surrounded by a pool of blood.

The post was later removed but not before it got hundreds of millions of views and sparked widespread anger online about the hardships faced by Xi’an residents.

“I deeply apologise to this patient on behalf of the city’s health commission,” Xi’an health commission director Liu Shunzhi told reporters, before standing and bowing to the audience.

READ ALSO: COVID-19: Election Rallies Cancelled As India Sees Omicron Surge

Liu said the hospital had been told to “compensate” the woman and said he apologised that the “access to medical care was not smooth during the epidemic.”

The city government said in an earlier statement Thursday on social media that the incident at Xi’an Gaoxin Hospital had aroused “widespread concern and caused a bad social impact”, adding that the local health bureau was investigating.

The hospital’s general manager has been suspended over the incident, as have “responsible persons” at the outpatient department.

The statement got more than 700 million views Thursday — illustrating the huge interest the case has generated within China.

According to the January 1 post that went viral on the Twitter-like Weibo platform, staff refused to admit the heavily pregnant woman for two hours because she did not have a negative Covid test within the last 48 hours.

Her niece wrote that her negative test result had expired just a few hours earlier.

AFP could not verify the post, and calls to the hospital went unanswered.

– ‘Heart attack’ –

The reports follow complaints from Xi’an residents over chaotic handling of the lockdown, including poor access to food and daily essentials during the lockdown.

On Wednesday, officials told reporters that Xi’an was opening “green channels” to provide quick access to medical services to certain groups — such as pregnant women and patients with critical illnesses.

The pledge came as a second woman took to social media to say she had miscarried last week after being turned away from several hospitals.

The woman, who said she was in the first trimester of pregnancy, wrote that she was unable to reach anyone on the public service hotline and did not get help from the police.

“I don’t understand why couldn’t I get through at the public hotline, and why I got given the runaround everywhere. Maybe ordinary people’s lives are worthless,” she wrote in a post from Wednesday.

Another Xi’an resident said her father died Monday after several hospitals declined to treat his heart ailment “due to pandemic-related rules”.

In a social media post from Thursday that has been viewed more than 500 million times, she recounted driving for over eight hours searching for a hospital while her father complained of severe chest pains.

After he was finally admitted, “the doctor said that the delay was too long,” she wrote.

It was unclear why hospitals had declined to admit the 61-year-old.

Coronavirus cases in China remain very low by international standards. But in recent weeks, infections have reached a high not seen since March 2020.

There were 189 cases reported Thursday, including 63 in Xi’an.

Those deemed to have failed in preventing virus outbreaks in China are often sacked or punished.

China Locks Down City Of Four Million Over COVID-19 Cases

(FILES): This photo taken on July 28, 2021, shows a temporary “Fire Eye” laboratory used for Covid-19 coronavirus testing at an exhibition centre in Nanjing in China’s eastern Jiangsu province.
STR / AFP

 

China placed a city of four million under lockdown on Tuesday in a bid to stamp out a domestic coronavirus spike, with residents told not to leave home except in emergencies.

Beijing imposed strict border controls after the new coronavirus was first detected in China in late 2019, slowing the number of cases to a trickle and allowing the economy to bounce back.

But as the rest of the world opens up and tries to find ways to live with the virus, China has maintained a zero-Covid approach that has seen harsh local lockdowns imposed over just a handful of cases.

Tuesday’s fresh restrictions came as China reported 29 new domestic infections — including six cases in Lanzhou, the provincial capital of northwestern province Gansu.

Residents of Lanzhou will be required to stay at home, authorities said in a statement.

Officials added the “entry and exit of residents” would be strictly controlled and limited to essential supplies or medical treatment.

Bus and taxi services had already been suspended in the city, and state media said Tuesday that Lanzhou station had suspended more than 70 trains, including key routes to major cities like Beijing and Xi’an.

Flights to Lanzhou were also being cancelled, with a Southern Airlines representative telling AFP that all their flights from Beijing’s Daxing airport to Lanzhou were cancelled due to public safety, without any date given to resume.

China’s latest outbreak has been linked to the contagious Delta variant, with the tally from the latest outbreak hitting 198 cases since October 17.

Health officials have warned that more infections may emerge as testing is ramped up in the coming days to fight the outbreak, which has been linked to a group of domestic tourists who travelled from Shanghai to several other provinces.

Northern Outbreak

Strict stay-at-home orders have already been imposed on tens of thousands of people in northern China.

In Beijing — which reported three new cases Tuesday — access to tourist sites has been limited and residents advised not to leave the city unless necessary.

Some 23,000 residents in one housing compound in Changping district have been ordered to stay indoors after nine cases were found there in recent days, local outlet Beijing News reported.

Community mahjong and chess rooms have been closed, and residents have been told to reduce large gatherings where possible.

Organisers on Sunday indefinitely postponed a marathon at which 30,000 runners were expected.

Mass testing is underway in 11 provinces and authorities have suspended many inter-provincial tour groups.

While the country’s case numbers are extremely low compared with elsewhere in the world, authorities are determined to stamp out the latest outbreak with the Winter Olympics just over 100 days away.

Those deemed to have failed in controlling Covid are often dismissed from their posts or punished.

On Tuesday, the official Xinhua news agency reported that the party secretary of Ejin Banner in the northern Inner Mongolia region had been sacked, “due to poor performance and implementation in epidemic prevention and control”.

The city has also been hit by the latest wave which has mostly spread in northern areas in China.

Six other officials were punished for their “slack response” to the latest flare-up, state media reported, and a local police bureau deputy director was removed from the position.

Beijing police have launched three criminal investigations into alleged Covid safety breaches, deputy director of the city’s public security bureau said Sunday.

Australia’s Second-Largest City Extends Lockdown

A man walks along the main road in the central business district of Sydney on June 26, 2021, as Australia's largest city entered a two-week lockdown to contain an outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant. Saeed KHAN / AFP
A man walks along the main road in the central business district of Sydney on June 26, 2021, as Australia’s largest city entered a two-week lockdown to contain an outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant. Saeed KHAN / AFP

 

Five million people in Australia’s second-largest city will remain under stay-at-home orders for at least another week after authorities extended a lockdown Wednesday after failing to curb Melbourne’s latest Covid outbreak.

The city entered its sixth pandemic lockdown last Thursday after a fresh Delta variant cluster emerged at a Melbourne school and quickly spread.

Daniel Andrews, the premier of the state of Victoria, said lockdown rules will be extended until at least August 19, after 20 new cases were detected overnight including several “mystery” cases.

“There are too many cases, the origins of which are not clear to us… for us to safely come out of lockdown now,” he said.

In Sydney, more than five million people are enduring their seventh week under stay-at-home orders, currently scheduled to remain until the end of August.

The state of New South Wales recorded 344 new cases Wednesday, taking the total for an outbreak that began in Sydney in mid-June to more than 6,100 cases.

Hundreds of thousands of people outside Sydney — including in Newcastle, Byron Bay and most recently, Dubbo — are in lockdown after cases emerged in recent days.

Authorities are pinning their hopes on a fresh vaccination drive, suggesting some restrictions could be eased if enough people get vaccinated in the coming weeks.

“If we keep the vaccination rate up, we will get to six million jabs by the end of August, which will give us an opportunity to think about what additional freedoms we can give people in September and October,” state premier Gladys Berejiklian said.

Australia won global praise for its successful coronavirus response in the early stages of the pandemic, but in recent months has struggled to contain the highly transmissible Delta variant amid a glacial vaccination rollout.

The nation has recorded more than 37,000 cases of Covid-19 and 941 related deaths to date in a population of 25 million.

AFP

 

Thousands Stranded In Bangladesh Ahead Of COVID-19 Lockdown

People crowd to board a ferry as authorities ordered a new lockdown to contain the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus, in Munshiganj on June 27, 2021. (Photo by Munir Uz zaman / AFP)

 

Thousands of people were stranded in Bangladesh’s capital on Monday as authorities halted almost all public transport ahead of a sweeping lockdown imposed to combat a deadly resurgence of Covid-19 infections.

The South Asian nation reported pandemic highs of more than 8,300 fresh infections on Monday and 119 deaths on Sunday.

Officials blame the recent spike on the highly contagious Delta variant first identified in neighbouring India.

The majority of the South Asian nation’s 168 million population will be confined to their homes by Thursday as part of the restrictions, with only essential services and some export-facing factories allowed to operate.

The government’s cabinet secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam said troops would be deployed from Thursday to help enforce the lockdown.

“The armed forces will be on patrol. If anyone ignores their orders, legal action will be available to them,” he told reporters late Monday.

The lockdown announcement sparked an exodus of migrant workers from the capital Dhaka to home villages on Sunday, with tens of thousands cramming into ferries to cross a major river.

The staggered implementation of the lockdown rules left thousands of workers in Dhaka forced to walk to their offices on Monday, sometimes for hours, in the sweltering summer heat.

Large columns of people were seen walking on the main roads early Monday. Workplaces will be shut from Wednesday.

Bicycle rickshaws were allowed to operate in a last-minute government concession late Sunday, but prices soared to unaffordable levels, commuters said.

“I started walking at 7 am. I could not get any bus or any other vehicles. I can’t afford a rickshaw ride,” Shefali Begum, 60, who was going to her daughter’s home in central Dhaka, told AFP.

Restrictions on activities and movement were imposed across Bangladesh in mid-April as cases and deaths jumped to their highest levels since the start of the pandemic.

Infections declined in May but started to rise again this month, sparking the harsher restrictions.

The country has reported nearly 900,000 infections and just over 14,000 virus deaths, but experts say the actual toll could be much higher due to possible underreporting.

Health officials across the world have been alarmed by the rapid spread of the Delta variant, now reported by the WHO to have reached at least 85 countries.

More than two-thirds of new virus cases in Bangladesh’s capital were of the Delta variant, a recent study by the independent Dhaka-based International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research reported.

“The rapid surge of the coronavirus cases in the country is due mostly to the Delta variant,” health services department spokesman Robed Amind told AFP.

He said studies outside of Dhaka have also shown the spread of the variant in border districts and the second-largest city Chittagong.

AFP

Migrant Workers Flee Capital As Bangladesh Tightens COVID-19 Lockdown

People crowd to board a ferry as authorities ordered a new lockdown to contain the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus, in Munshiganj on June 27, 2021. (Photo by Munir Uz zaman / AFP)

 

Tens of thousands of migrant workers fled Bangladesh’s capital Sunday on the eve of a tightened lockdown that will curtail most economic activity and confine people to their homes as coronavirus infections soar.

Restrictions on activities and movement have been in place since mid-April as cases and deaths jumped.

Infections declined in May but started to rise again this month, with just over 6,000 daily cases on Thursday and 108 deaths on Friday, according to the health ministry — the highest in more than two months.

The resurgence has prompted the government to toughen restrictions in stages from Monday, with economic activity — including shops, markets, transportation and offices — to shut down by Thursday.

People will be ordered to stay at homes while only emergency services and export-oriented factories continue operations.

The coming closure has sparked an exodus from Dhaka, the capital.

READ ALSO: Thailand To Reimpose COVID-19 Curbs To Contain Outbreak

With public inter-city transportation already suspended since June 22, people have squeezed into rickshaws, hopped onto motorbikes and even hired ambulances to make their way to their villages.

Ferries have been operating on overdrive, with some running services 24 hours a day and cramming more than 1,000 passengers onto each trip.

“We don’t want them to overcrowd the ferry. But they don’t listen,” said police sub-inspector Mohammad Reza. “There is a mad rush of people.”

A senior official at the state-run Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation told AFP that at least 50,000 people had crossed the river by ferries on Sunday alone.

At a river station in the rural town of Sreenagar about 70 kilometres (43 miles) south of Dhaka, thousands queued from early Sunday to cross the Padma, a tributary of the Himalayan river the Ganges.

 

People crowd to board a ferry as authorities ordered a new lockdown to contain the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus, in Munshiganj on June 27, 2021. (Photo by Munir Uz zaman / AFP)

 

“We did not have any choice but to leave the city,” Fatema Begum, 60, told AFP while waiting for a ferry.

“During lockdown, there is no work. And if we don’t work, how do we pay rent? So we packed up everything and are going back to our village.”

Mohammad Masum, 30, a street vendor in Dhaka, said it was better to return home and “spend the time with family” than be confined in the capital.

Bangladesh has reported more than 880,000 infections and just over 14,000 virus deaths, but experts say the actual toll could be much higher due to possible underreporting.

AFP

Millions Of Sydney Residents In COVID-19 Lockdown

A man walks along the main road in the central business district of Sydney on June 26, 2021, as Australia's largest city entered a two-week lockdown to contain an outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant. Saeed KHAN / AFP
A man walks along the main road in the central business district of Sydney on June 26, 2021, as Australia’s largest city entered a two-week lockdown to contain an outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant. Saeed KHAN / AFP

 

Millions of Sydney residents began the first full day of a two-week coronavirus lockdown on Sunday, as Australia imposed new restrictions to contain an outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant.

Restaurants, bars and cafes were shuttered after stay-at-home orders for central neighbourhoods were extended Saturday evening across the sprawling city and to the coastal and mountainous regions surrounding it.

While the city centre was virtually deserted, large numbers of surfers and swimmers hit the water at Sydney’s Bondi Beach, with outdoor exercise still allowed.

Australia’s northern city of Darwin also entered a separate snap 48-hour lockdown on Sunday after a handful of cases were linked to a coronavirus outbreak on a remote gold mine.

Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner said officials were concerned about being unable to reach close contacts of infected people in the region, home to a large Indigenous population feared to be more vulnerable to Covid-19.

“We are taking extreme action right now to stop or slow any spread before the coronavirus is let loose in the Territory, and that means we need a lockdown,” he said.

READ ALSO: Migrant Workers Flee Capital As Bangladesh Tightens COVID-19 Lockdown

Health experts had advised that a shorter snap lockdown of Sydney — which has proved effective in other Australian cities in recent months — would not be enough to contain the growing cluster, New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.

More than 110 Covid-19 cases have been reported since a driver for an international flight crew tested positive in mid-June to the highly contagious Delta variant, which first emerged in India.

“Given how contagious this strain of the virus is, we do anticipate that in the next few days case numbers are likely to increase even beyond what we have seen today,” Berejiklian told reporters Sunday.

– Testing time –

The flare-up has been a shock for a city that had returned to relative normality after months with few local cases.

Matt Daly, 37, who lives south of Sydney, said he supported the measures but anticipated a “testing” period of working from home and entertaining his two young children who are on school holidays.

“A lot of juggling over the next two weeks. Really hope it doesn’t extend further,” he told AFP.

Sydney’s restrictions require people to stay home until at least July 9, only venturing out to purchase essential goods, obtain medical care, exercise, go to school or if they are unable to work from home.

Professional musician Blain Cunneen, 27, said his work — performing gigs, studio sessions and teaching students — had gone “up in smoke” overnight.

“All that was starting to operate again almost as normal… very suddenly overnight I got a bunch of emails and texts about everything being cancelled,” he told AFP.

Anyone outside of the lockdown zone who had visited Sydney since Monday was also instructed to self-isolate for 14 days, while several other states have banned travel to and from the city.

It is the latest in a string of “circuit-breaker” lockdowns across major Australian metropolises, with most cases linked to quarantining returning travellers.

More than 150,000 people in Darwin and surrounding areas are under stay-at-home orders for at least 48 hours to give health officials time to trace contacts, for the first time since a nationwide shutdown in the early stages of the pandemic.

“The Northern Territory is now facing its biggest threat since the Covid crisis began,” Gunner said.

Cases of Covid-19 were also detected in the major cities of Perth and Brisbane on Sunday, prompting local authorities to tighten restrictions.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said he was confident Australia would manage.

“It’s a difficult day but we’ve done this before, we know how to do it. And we will get through it,” he said.

Australia has been among the world’s most successful countries in containing Covid-19, with just over 30,000 cases and 910 deaths in a population of about 25 million. However, the government has faced criticism for a sluggish vaccine rollout.

AFP

Britain Eases Lockdown As Asia Outbreaks Fuel Concern

FILE:  (Photo by Hollie Adams / AFP)

 

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

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

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

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

– ‘Nice to be back’ –

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

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

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

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

“We’re very excited.”

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

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

– India hit by storm –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– UNICEF vaccine warning –

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

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

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

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

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

AFP

UK Economy In Recovery Mode Ahead Of Lockdown Easing

The front page of the Evening Standard newspaper leads with the story that the government is contemplating making it compulsory that all visitors to the UK will have to quarantine in a hotel, after arriving here, outside Victoria train station in central London on January 25, 2021, as Londoners continue to live under Tier 4 lockdown restrictions.  (Photo by Hollie Adams / AFP)

 

Britain’s economic recovery began to recover strongly at the end of the first quarter despite lockdown restrictions, official data revealed on Wednesday.

Gross domestic product jumped 2.1 percent in March, the Office for National Statistics said, although by not enough for the UK economy to avoid contracting overall in the first quarter.

GDP shrank by 1.5 percent overall in the first three months of 2021 compared with the final quarter last year, the ONS said.

The UK is meanwhile currently exiting lockdown at a gradual pace, allowing the economy to further recover from pandemic fallout.

“As we cautiously reopen the economy, I will continue to take all the steps necessary to support our recovery,” finance minister Rishi Sunak said in reaction to the data.

Darren Morgan, ONS director of economic statistics, said the strong recovery seen in March was led by retail and school reopenings, offsetting weakness in the services sector.

He added that construction grew strongly over the quarter and stood above its pre-pandemic level in March.

Morgan also noted that manufacturing recovered robustly in both February and March.

Meanwhile, “exports of goods to the EU continued to increase in March and are now almost back to their December level” before Brexit took place, he added.

“However, imports from Europe remain sluggish in the first three months of the year, being outstripped by non-EU imports for the first time on record.”

Britain formally exited the European Union at the start of the year.

The growth recovery tallies with the Bank of England’s outlook.

The BoE last week said the UK economy will enjoy a stronger-than-expected recovery this year after the government began easing its coronavirus pandemic lockdowns quicker than anticipated.

It is expected to rebound by 7.25 percent this year amid vaccine rollouts, the central bank predicted after it upgraded its prior guidance of a 5.0-percent expansion.

But it slashed its projection for 2022 to 5.75 percent from 7.25 percent as the government looks to claw back some of its vast pandemic-support outlay with higher taxation.

The UK economy tanked by 9.8 percent last year, Britain’s biggest slump in three centuries — and the worst G7 performance — on Covid-19 lockdowns.

– Restrictions lifted –

From next week, people in England will be able to eat and drink in indoor venues, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Monday as the country reported no coronavirus deaths for the first time in over a year.

The latest relaxation will see pubs, bars and restaurants restart indoor services, though only to groups of up to six people, via table service and with social distancing in place.

Indoor entertainment such as cinemas, museums and children’s play areas can reopen, alongside concert halls, conference centres and sports venues — which will operate within capacity limits.

The government will also lift advice against close contact among family and close friends, meaning they can hug one another again.

Devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which have responsibilities for health policy, have been easing restrictions at their own, roughly similar pace.

AFP

UK Pubs Urge Timeline To Reopen From Lockdown

The front page of the Evening Standard newspaper leads with the story that the government is contemplating making it compulsory that all visitors to the UK will have to quarantine in a hotel, after arriving here, outside Victoria train station in central London on January 25, 2021. (Photo by Hollie Adams / AFP)

 

Britain’s shuttered pubs urgently need the government to decide when they can reopen from coronavirus lockdown to help them survive, the British Beer and Pub Association said on Wednesday.

Pub beer sales slumped by 56 percent or £7.8 billion ($10.8 billion, 8.9 billion euros) last year on the deadly Covid-19 pandemic, which sparked a series of lockdowns, the industry body added in a statement.

“This is not sustainable for our sector. We cannot continue to hold out under these circumstances,” noted BBPA Chairman Philip Whitehead.

“We urge the government to provide clarity to our sector on when it can expect to fully reopen.”

Much of the UK re-entered lockdown in early January to curb a variant Covid-19 strain that was deemed more transmissible, with restrictions similar to initial curbs imposed in the second quarter of 2020 — when pub beer sales collapsed to almost zero.

However, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to outline plans for lifting widespread restrictions in England on February 22, as vaccinations gather pace.

READ ALSO: Prince Charles Receives First Dose Of COVID-19 Vaccine

The BBPA, which represents 20,000 drinking establishments across the UK, also published its own “recovery roadmap” on Tuesday which it said should be implemented after the vulnerable have been vaccinated.

“The roadmap states that post vaccination of the most vulnerable, pubs must reopen when non-essential retail and other parts of the hospitality sector reopen,” it said.

“It also says that mandatory trading restrictions — such as alcoholic drinks served only with a substantial meal, no mixed households and the 10 pm (2200 GMT) curfew — must be removed when pubs reopen in a timely way.”

Sales had collapsed in 2020 from the previous year, despite a third-quarter boost from lower taxation and the government’s temporary “Eat Out to Help Out” discount scheme.

“As a sector we have invested hundreds of millions in ensuring that we provide places for people to safely socialise in,” added Whitehead.

“When pubs reopened in July we did so safely and successfully to world leading standards.

“When pubs can reopen, the restrictions they face… must be removed. They simply destroy the ability to operate as viable businesses.”

France Imposes Border Controls In Scramble To Avoid Lockdown

(Photo by Christophe SIMON / AFP)

 

New border controls went into force in France on Sunday as part of a massive effort to contain the spread of Covid-19 and avoid another nationwide lockdown.

After a slow start to vaccinations, French health authorities reported that a million people had received coronavirus inoculations by Saturday.

But stubbornly high new rates for infections, hospitalisations and Covid deaths fuelled fears France may need another full lockdown, which would be the third, inflicting yet more devastation on businesses and daily lives.

Starting Sunday, arrivals to France from European Union countries by air or sea must be able to produce a negative PCR test result obtained in the previous 72 hours.

READ ALSO: Nigeria’s COVID-19 Cases Surge Past 120,000 As NCDC Confirms 1,633 New Infections

The requirement had already applied to non-EU arrivals since mid-January.

EU travellers entering France by land, including cross-border workers, will not need a negative test.

Some 62,000 people currently arrive in French airports and sea ports from other EU countries every week, according to Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari.

Paris’s main international airport Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle has set up testing centres in a terminal dedicated to intra-EU flights to allow arriving passengers who failed to obtain a test in their country of origin to get one before passing immigration.

The French health agency on Saturday reported 23,924 new Covid cases in the previous 24 hours, and 321 new coronavirus deaths, taking the French death toll to 72,877.

The total number of hospitalised Covid patients stood at 25,800, of whom nearly 2,900 were in intensive care.

Also by Saturday, one million people in France had received at least one anti-Covid jab, Prime Minister Jean Castex said, four weeks after kicking off the vaccination campaign, focusing first on people over 75 in care homes and health workers over 50.

Industry Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said she was “reasonably confident” France would meet its target of vaccinating 15 million people by the end of June, adding more than 1.9 million vaccine doses had been received to date.

Health Minister Oliver Veran meanwhile warned that if current measures, including a nationwide daily curfew starting at 6:00 pm, prove insufficient, another lockdown can not be ruled out.

“We need the curfew to show results,” Veran said.

“In a best-case scenario, we will manage to diminish the pressure of the epidemic. If not, we will not wait for the month of March before acting,” he told Le Parisien newspaper.

France went into lockdown twice in 2020, the first time between March and May and then October to December.

England Launches Fines Crackdown On Lockdown-Breakers

Paramedics wheel a patient outside the Royal London Hospital in east London on January 21, 2021. – Britain’s coronavirus mortality rate has risen nearly 15 percent over the past week, as surging infection rates throughout December have now fed into increasing hospital admissions and deaths. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)

 

Police in England will be able to issue bigger fines to those breaking coronavirus lockdown measures by partying, with penalties of up to £6,400 ($8,775, 7,200 euros), interior minister Priti Patel said Thursday.

The new fines regime, which comes into force next week, targets those attending house parties and other illegal gatherings, with penalties doubling for each offence.

People caught at parties of more than 15 will initially face £800 fines, and could then face a maximum of £6,400 for further breaches.

“The science is clear: such irresponsible behaviour poses a significant threat to public health,” Patel said at a Downing Street press conference.

“We will not stand by while a small minority put others at risk.”

Current fines stand at £200, with police only able to hit the organisers of events comprising 30 or more people with the highest penalties of £10,000.

London’s Metropolitan Police said earlier this week it had issued more than 140 fines totalling £39,000 over two days.

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That included breaking up a 40-strong house party Friday in the east of the capital where attendees became hostile and three officers were injured.

The new crackdown comes with England weeks into its third national lockdown, with schools and non-essential shops closed for the foreseeable future.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed the fresh stay-at-home order after the emergence of a more contagious virus variant and the easing of restrictions in some parts of the nation over Christmas.

Similar rules are in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, where devolved governments have responsibility for health policy.

Leaders in Belfast on Thursday announced its lockdown will be extended for a further four weeks to March 5 as transmission rates decrease there slowly.

Across the UK, the number of new cases has fallen nearly a quarter over the past seven days, after weeks of surging infections.

The increased case counts through December and earlier this month have led to dramatic spikes in hospitalisations and fatalities, with record-breaking daily death tolls this week.

After announcing another 1,290 deaths Thursday, Britain’s total mortality count stood at 94,580, while cases surpassed 3.5 million.