EU Tells UK Post-Brexit Deal Vital During COVID-19 Crisis

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

 

The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator told Britain on Sunday that the economic damage wrought by the coronavirus crisis made it especially important the sides reach a new trade deal.

EU and UK negotiators will enter a fourth and last scheduled round of talks this week that could determine if a comprehensive new agreement is struck by the year-end deadline.

Britain formally left the other 27 EU nations in January but still largely operates as if it were a member of the bloc.

It also continues making contributions to the EU budget — a reality that particularly upsets Brexit supporters.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed not to extend the talks past the current deadline — something he must do by the end of June — and the prospects of a broad new deal look bleak.

Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier told The Sunday Times that London and Brussels could afford to make the economic situation even worse by breaking off their nearly 50-year partnership without arrangements for what comes next.

– ‘Three steps back’ –

“If we don’t get an agreement then that will have even more consequences. And then of course those will be added to the already very serious consequences of the coronavirus crisis,” Barnier said.

“So I think that we have a joint responsibility in this very serious crisis, which affects so many families… with so many deaths, so many people sick, so many people unemployed… to do everything we can to reach an agreement and I very much hope that we will do so.”

The previous round of talks ended in acrimony in May.

Johnson is expected to work out the best way forward with EU chiefs Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel at a summit held shortly before the June deadline to extend the talks by up to two years.

The European Union is willing to offer Britain preferential trade terms if Johnson signs up to the major standards and regulations followed by the remaining members of the bloc.

Johnson’s team argues that the whole point of Brexit was to give Britain the right to set its own rules.

Barnier accused UK negotiators of reneging on the commitments Johnson signed up to in a non-binding political declaration that accompanied the sides’ formal divorce deal.

“The UK has been taking a step back — two steps back, three steps back — from the original commitments,” Barnier told The Sunday Times.

“The UK negotiators need to be fully in line with what the prime minister signed up to with us.”

AFP

No Positives From Latest Premier League COVID-19 Tests

In this file photo taken on August 12, 2017 The Premier league trophy sits beside the pitch ahead of the English Premier League football match between Brighton and Hove Albion and Manchester City at the American Express Community Stadium in Brighton. CHRIS J RATCLIFFE / AFP
In this file photo taken on August 12, 2017 The Premier league trophy sits beside the pitch ahead of the English Premier League football match between Brighton and Hove Albion and Manchester City at the American Express Community Stadium in Brighton. CHRIS J RATCLIFFE / AFP

 

There have been no positive findings from the latest round of coronavirus testing carried out in the Premier League, the English top-flight announced on Saturday.

The fourth round of screening saw a total of 1,130 players and club staff tested, with the lack of any new cases bolstering the Premier League’s plan to resume the season on June 17.

“The Premier League can today confirm that on Thursday 28 May and Friday 29 May, 1,130 players and club staff were tested for COVID-19,” said a statement.

“Of these, zero have tested positive.”

That means there have been just 12 positive cases from a combined total of 3,882 tests since Premier League players and club staff started being examined earlier this month.

UK Has Highest COVID-19 Death Rate – FT Analysis

File: A member of the ambulance services assists in moving a patient from an ambulance to St Thomas' Hospital in London on March 31, 2020, as the country is under lockdown due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Tolga AKMEN / AFP.
File: A member of the ambulance services assists in moving a patient from an ambulance to St Thomas’ Hospital in London on March 31, 2020, as the country is under lockdown due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Tolga AKMEN / AFP.

 

Britain has suffered the highest death rate from the novel coronavirus among the most-affected countries with comparable tracking data, according to Financial Times research published Thursday.

Official numbers from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released earlier this week show Britain has registered almost 60,000 more deaths than usual since the week ending March 20.

Subsequent analysis by the FT, which looked at data from 19 countries, indicate the virus has directly or indirectly killed 891 people per million in the UK, the highest comparable figure.

According to this measure, the UK death rate exceeds those in other countries also badly affected by the pandemic, including the US, Italy, Spain and Belgium.

Counting how many people died above a running average for the previous five years is considered by many experts to be the best way to give international comparisons, due to a lack of uniformity in the way countries collect data.

READ ALSO: US COVID-19 Death Toll Surpasses 100,000 As Pandemic Rages In Latin America

Britain has Europe’s highest death toll from the pandemic, with more than 46,000 fatalities attributed to the virus by mid-May, according to ONS figures.

The government, whose separate tally of deaths confirmed by a positive test now stands at 37,460, has faced sustained criticism over its handling of the crisis.

According to the latest AFP tally, published Thursday, the coronavirus death toll in Europe has now passed 175,000, making it the worst affected continent.

In addition, Italy — which does not count most deaths in care homes or the community — has officially suffered 33,072 deaths, France 28,596 and Spain 27,118.

The US topped 100,000 fatalities on Wednesday and the global number of deaths now stands at more than 355,000.

AFP

COVID-19: Two UK Flights To Evacuate Citizens From Nigeria

 

Two flights from the United Kingdom will be coming into Nigeria to evacuate British citizens in the country.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, announced this on Wednesday, during the briefing by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19.

He, however, noted that it would not be possible to take advantage of the situation to evacuate Nigerian citizens in the UK.

“The situation with the flights now coming in is that the UK Government which is effectively chattering these planes… in the contract that they have with those companies, there are provisions not to carry anybody coming to Nigeria on that first leg, so their contract is only to carry passengers going from Nigeria to the United Kingdom. So it would not be possible but furthermore, it also would not have been possible because the plan that we had was to use a Nigerian carrier to evacuate Nigerians from all the countries around the world where we have an evacuation operation unless it is absolutely impossible to do so,” Onyeama said.

Speaking further, he noted that the ministry is developing new guidelines for citizens seeking to be evacuated.

He explained that part of the new guidelines would require that intending evacuees must do a compulsory test for the COVID-19 at least five days to their departure.

Meanwhile, the minister also affirmed that 69 Nigerian girls trafficked to Lebanon have been rescued and evacuated back to the country.

UK PM Johnson Suffers Sharp Poll Fall After Cummings Scandal

In this file photo taken on April 12, 2020 A handout image released by 10 Downing Street, shows Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he delivers a television address after returning to 10 Downing Street after being discharged from St Thomas' Hospital, in central London on April 12, 2020. Pippa FOWLES / 10 Downing Street / AFP
In this file photo taken on April 12, 2020 A handout image released by 10 Downing Street, shows Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he delivers a television address after returning to 10 Downing Street after being discharged from St Thomas’ Hospital. Pippa FOWLES / 10 Downing Street / AFP.

 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s public support has suffered the sharpest fall for a Conservative party leader in a decade following the Dominic Cummings scandal, according to an opinion poll published Wednesday.

As the prime minister prepares to be quizzed by senior MPs later Wednesday over his handling of the coronavirus crisis and the scandal, a YouGov poll for The Times newspaper showed the Conservative lead over the main opposition Labour party has been cut by nine points in a week.

The survey put the Tories on 44 percent — down four points — and Labour on 38 percent, up five points over the past seven days.

The last Tory leader to see his lead fall by the same amount was David Cameron during the 2010 general election campaign.

A poll in the Daily Mail newspaper showed Johnson’s approval rating had plummeted from 19 percent to minus one percent in just a few days — despite leading his party to a comprehensive general election victory just six months ago.

It adds to a sense of growing revolt over the government’s handling of Cummings, with nearly 40 Tory MPs demanding he lose his job, while one minister has quit in protest.

However, Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick, the housing, communities and local government secretary, backed the PM’s top adviser on Wednesday.

“I think, is the time for us all to move on,” he told the BBC, adding that Cummings had not broken any government guidelines.

READ ALSO: EU Agency To Set Up ‘Independent’ Research On COVID-19 Vaccine

Cummings drove his wife and young son on a 264-mile (425-kilometre) trip from London to Durham, northeast England, in late March during the height of the coronavirus crisis.

He later admitted taking a 60-mile round trip to a local beauty spot, to test his eyesight.

Britain is one of the worst-hit countries by the pandemic, with more than 46,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19 by mid-May, according to official statistics released Tuesday.

Johnson’s government, whose less comprehensive tally is updated daily, has counted 37,048 fatalities.

AFP

FG Fines UK-Based Airline, Flairjet N1m For Violating Aviation Regulation

A file photo of the Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika.

 

A UK-based airline, Flairjet has been fined the sum of N1million by the Federal Government for violating COVID-19 commercial flights’ ban regulation.

The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, says the fine was the maximum penalty provided for in the country’s civil aviation regulations.

READ ALSO: FG Evacuates 69 Nigerians Stranded In Lebanon

The Federal Government had banned international and local flights in the country as part of the efforts to control the COVID-19 outbreak and only allowed essential and emergency flights to operate in the airports.

According to Sirika, Flairjet had applied and received approval from the ministry of aviation to carry out humanitarian operations but was caught on May 17 operating commercial flight into Nigeria.

The flight crew has also been quarantined for 14 days in line with precautions recommended by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

UK COVID-19 Toll Over 41,000, With 10,000 Care Homes Deaths

File: A member of the ambulance services assists in moving a patient from an ambulance to St Thomas' Hospital in London on March 31, 2020, as the country is under lockdown due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Tolga AKMEN / AFP.
File: A member of the ambulance services assists in moving a patient from an ambulance to St Thomas’ Hospital in London on March 31, 2020, as the country is under lockdown due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Tolga AKMEN / AFP.

 

Britain’s official coronavirus death toll is at least 41,000 with almost 10,000 dead in care homes in England and Wales alone, according to a statistical update released on Tuesday.

Some 41,020 deaths where COVID-19 was mentioned on the death certificate were registered across the UK by May 8, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

With hundreds of deaths still being reported each day, it means the current toll, already the highest in Europe and second only to the United States in the global rankings, is likely to be even higher.

The government’s official rolling tally only records deaths after positive tests, and on Tuesday stood at 35,341, up 545 on the day before.

The ONS figures show a sharp fall in coronavirus deaths in the week up to May 8, reinforcing ministers’ claims that Britain is past the peak.

Deaths in care homes fell at a slower rate than the population at large, and the total number of deaths in care homes in England and Wales now stands at 9,975.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has come under intense criticism for its handling of the outbreak, notably for the time it took to introduce widespread testing.

A cross-party parliamentary committee on Tuesday criticised the decision to initially concentrate testing in a limited number of laboratories.

“From it followed the decision on March 12 to cease testing in the community and retreat to testing principally within hospitals,” it said, warning this left care home residents untested.

At the government’s daily media briefing, England’s deputy chief scientific adviser, Angela McLean, admitted that limited capacity had driven strategy on testing.

“It was the best thing to do with the tests that we had. We could not have people in hospital with Covid symptoms not knowing whether or not they had Covid,” she said.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock earlier told parliament he was encouraged that care home deaths were falling.

A total of 62 percent of care homes in England had no reported cases of COVID-19 at all, he added.

Just over a quarter (27 percent) of all deaths in England from the virus were in such places, compared with a European average of about half, he told MPs.

“We will not rest from doing whatever is humanly possible to protect our care homes from this appalling virus,” he said.

UK Regulator Sanctions Oyakhilome’s LoveWorld Over COVID-19 Comments

A file photo of Chris Oyakhilome
A file photo of Chris Oyakhilome

 

Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator, has sanctioned LoveWorld Television Ministry, a Christian network founded by Chris Oyakhilome, for airing “potentially harmful statements” about the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the regulator in a statement released on Monday, programmes aired in early April by Oyakhilome’s LoveWorld perpetuated baseless conspiracy that the virus is linked to the roll-out of 5G phone networks and insinuations of a “global coverup”.

Ofcom said the LoveWorld programme also echoed claims from US president Donald Trump that an anti-malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine, was a cure for the virus.

“LoveWorld News featured potentially harmful statements about the coronavirus pandemic and adequate protection was not provided to viewers,” the statement from Ofcom said.

“We have imposed a sanction on the broadcaster, requiring it to broadcast statements of our findings. We are considering whether to impose any further sanction,” the statement added.

Oyakhilome’s Loveworld, also known as Christ Embassy, is based in Lagos but has operations in several countries across the world, including the United States and the United Kingdom.

The church has at least 90 branches in the UK and an estimated 13 million followers around the world, according to one estimate.

In footage of sermons circulated on social media during the pandemic, Oyakhilome has been seen criticising lockdown measures and casting aspersions on the value of a vaccine.

 

Read the full Ofcom statement:

Ofcom has today imposed a sanction on the licensee Loveworld Limited, which broadcasts the religious television channel Loveworld, after a news programme and a live sermon included potentially harmful claims about causes of, and treatments for, Covid-19.

Our investigation found that a report on Loveworld News included unsubstantiated claims that 5G was the cause of the pandemic, and that this was the subject of a “global cover-up”. Another report during the programme presented hydroxychloroquine as a “cure” for Covid-19, without acknowledging that its effectiveness and safety as a treatment was clinically unproven, or making clear that it has potentially serious side effects.

A sermon broadcast on Your Loveworld also included unsubstantiated claims linking the pandemic to 5G technology; as well as claims which cast serious doubt on the necessity for lockdown measures and the motives behind official health advice on Covid-19, including in relation to vaccination. These views were presented as facts without evidence or challenge.

Ofcom stresses that there is no prohibition on broadcasting controversial views which diverge from, or challenge, official authorities on public health information. However, given the unsubstantiated claims in both these programmes were not sufficiently put into context, they risked undermining viewers’ trust in official health advice, with potentially serious consequences for public health.

Given these serious failings, we concluded that Loveworld Limited did not adequately protect viewers from the potentially harmful content in the news programme and the sermon, and the news reports were not duly accurate. We have directed Loveworld Limited to broadcast statements of our findings and are now considering whether to impose any further sanction.

UK Adds Loss Of Taste, Smell To COVID-19 Symptoms

Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva / AFP

 

British health officials added loss of taste and smell to their coronavirus symptoms list on Monday after experts warned cases were being missed.

“From today, all individuals should self-isolate if they develop a new continuous cough or fever or anosmia,” Britain’s chief medical officers said in a statement.

“Anosmia is the loss or a change in your normal sense of smell. It can also affect your sense of taste as the two are closely linked.”

Anyone noticing a distinct change in their sense of taste or smell should now self-isolate for seven days to reduce the spread of infection, England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam told reporters.

The symptoms will now feature with fever and cough as main indicators of the virus, with Van-Tam saying it would mean a two percent rise in picking up cases.

A major study by King’s College London last week found that people with a positive test result were three times more likely to report loss of smell and taste than those returned a negative test.

READ ALSO: UN Says COVID-19 Is ‘Wake-up Call’ For The World

Report author Tim Spector said that Public Health England’s (PHE) previous insistence on only including fever and cough as major symptoms meant thousands of cases were missed.

The New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group concluded last month that loss of smell or taste should not be added to the symptom list, although The World Health Organisation and other countries including the United States now count it as a symptom.

AFP

UK To Bail Out London Transport System With $1.95bn

Commuters wearing PPE (personal protective equipment) including face masks as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, travel by public transport during the evening 'rush hour', on TfL (Transport for London) Circle Line underground trains, in central London on May 14, 2020. ISABEL INFANTES / AFP
Commuters wearing PPE (personal protective equipment) including face masks as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, travel by public transport during the evening ‘rush hour’, on TfL (Transport for London) Circle Line underground trains, in central London on May 14, 2020. ISABEL INFANTES / AFP

 

The British government will pump £1.6 billion into London’s public transport system to restore services and help prevent overcrowding as people return to work, operator Transport for London (TfL) said Friday.

London mayor Sadiq Khan is now expected to restore full bus and train services, having warned they would be cut further without emergency state support, owing to the coronavirus epidemic.

But he criticised the government, which will obtain control for the period of the bailout, because of likely fare increases to offset losses incurred during the lockdown.

He accused the Department for Transport of “making ordinary Londoners pay the cost for doing the right thing on COVID-19”.

TfL informed the London Stock Exchange Friday that “an extraordinary funding and financing support package has been agreed between TfL and the Department for Transport to contribute towards TfL’s forecast funding shortfall.

“The funding package is based on the assumption that the funding shortfall will be £1.6 billon ($1.95 billion, 1.8 billion euros) for the period 1 April 2020 to 17 October 2020.”

TfL has seen a 90-percent drop in revenue from ticket sales during the seven-week coronavirus lockdown as passenger numbers slumped.

It has been paying the £600 million monthly operating bill from cash reserves but said the situation was no longer sustainable.

Khan on Thursday warned that without government funding, bus and Tube services would have to be cut to save money, as TfL tried to balance its books.

The government is urging people who cannot work from home to return to work in an easing of stay-at-home measures, while also calling for people to avoid public transport if possible.

The deal comprises a £1.095 billion grant and a £505 million loan, with the potential for £300 million more if there is still a shortfall.

TfL is a local government body responsible for the capital’s transport system, and comes under Khan’s responsibilities.

Khan has warned commuters to expect an above-inflation one-percent rise in fares, after the DfT made several caveats “in order to safeguard services in the future”.

The mayor has frozen single fares since he became mayor in 2016, although travlecard fares have increased. But he said he had “no choice” but accept the offer, “as it was the only deal the government put on the table”.

Other temporary measures include stopping free travel for children and only allowing free travel for people with disabilities and the over-60s outside peak hours.

Test Results Of Dubai, UK, US Returnees Will Not Be Shared With Public – NCDC

File photo of NCDC DG, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu

 

The Director-General of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) on Thursday said the agency does not share test results of individuals publicly and the test results of Nigerians evacuated from Dubai, UAE; the United Kingdom and the United States is not an exemption.

Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu who was responding to questions during the Presidential Task Force (PTF) briefing on COVID-19 on Thursday stressed that the results of the retunes will be shared only with them and not made public.

He added that the returnees are still in isolation undergoing the stipulated 14days of self-isolation.

“We are doing the test, even when the tests are out we are not going to offer it to you. We will offer it to the returnees. If they are patients we will manage that.

“We are not going to make public the results whether you just came back from Dubai or you are living in Nigeria. Results are meant for patients who got tested,” he said.

FILE PHOTO: A plane carrying stranded Nigerians in the United States arrives at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja on May 10, 2020. Channels TV/ Sodiq Adelakun.

 

No fewer than 253 Nigerians were recently evacuated from the United Kingdom (UK) by the Federal Government and 265 others evacuated from Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) amid the Coronavirus outbreak.

Also on May 10, 160 Nigerians who were stranded in the United States following the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown landed at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja, the nation’s capital.

The Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs says it plans to evacuate more Nigerians back home from Canada, China and other countries amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The NCDC DG in his address also announced that the agency is working with research organisations in the country and focusing on domestic science and research.

He said the agency is working with TETFUND, NIMR, ACEGID, LUTH, among others to find a solution to the pandemic.

UK Economy Shrinks On COVID-19

A man wearing a protective face mask takes a selfie on London Bridge on March 21, 2020, on the day that UK regions traditionally desperate for tourists, pleaded for people not to visit the coast or the countryside for fear of spreading the coronavirus. DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP.

 

Britain’s economy shrank two percent in the first three months of the year, rocked by the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, official data showed Wednesday, with analysts predicting even worse to come.

Gross domestic product shrank in the first quarter compared with the prior three months in the largest slump since the global financial crisis in the fourth quarter of 2008, the Office for National Statistics revealed.

Economic output dived by a record 5.8 percent in March from the previous month, the ONS noted in especially grim news which sent the London stock market down more than one percent in early deals.

“March’s GDP figures showed that the UK economy was already in freefall within two weeks of the (coronavirus) lockdown going into effect,” said Capital Economics analyst Ruth Gregory.

“And with the restrictions in place until mid-May and then only lifted very slightly, April will be far worse.”

Britain implemented its COVID-19 lockdown — which is only just starting to be slowly eased — on March 23.

– ‘Widespread disruption’ –

“This release captures the first direct effects of the coronavirus pandemic, and the government measures taken to reduce transmission of the virus,” the ONS said in a statement.

“There has been a widespread disruption to economic activity,” it added.

The first-quarter performance was better than France and Italy, which shrank by 5.8 percent and 4.7 percent in the same period. Both nations were hit hard by the pandemic — but they began lockdowns earlier than the UK.

READ ALSO: Europe Steps Up Reopening, Unveils Plans For Summer Travel

The Bank of England (BoE) had already warned last week that the economic paralysis could lead to Britain’s worst recession in centuries.

“With the arrival of the pandemic, nearly every aspect of the economy was hit in March, dragging growth to a record monthly fall,” said Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician for economic statistics at the ONS.

“Services and construction saw record declines on the month with education, car sales and restaurants all falling substantially.”

“The pandemic also hit trade globally, with UK imports and exports falling over the last couple of months, including a notable drop in imports from China.”

The BoE had forecast last week that UK output was likely to crash by 14 percent this year.

– Furlough extended –

As the nation’s coronavirus crisis deepened, finance minister Rishi Sunak has unveiled a series of massive packages to help those affected.

The government stepped in to back up employee wages in a so-called “furlough” jobs retention plan, while it also gave tax holidays to businesses and boosted welfare payments.

Sunak on Tuesday announced a four-month extension to the furlough scheme, which will now run until the end of October.

The government says 7.5 million jobs have already been supported by the plan, which ensures employees can receive 80 percent of their pay up to £2,500 ($3,100, 2,800 euros) a month.

The BoE has also been at the forefront of economic firefighting, slashing its main interest rate to 0.1 percent and pumping £200 billion ($244 billion, 226 billion euros) into the UK economy to get retail banks lending.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson began this week to relax some of lockdown measures in order to help the economy, despite the rising death toll, but he has also stressed that great caution is needed.

Changes in the lockdown guidelines — which come into force Wednesday — will allow people in England to spend more time outside, meet a friend at the park and view property for sale. However, they remain unable to visit relatives or friends at their homes.

Britain has seen more than 32,000 deaths in the outbreak — the worst in Europe and second only to the United States — although there are indications that the true toll is higher.

AFP