UK set to extend coronavirus lockdown

Britain's Prince William speaks via videolink as he officially opens the NHS Nightingale Hospital Birmingham, in the National Exhibition Centre (NEC), England, Thursday April 16, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 16 April 2020

UK set to extend coronavirus lockdown

  • "It is too early to make a change," Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC

LONDON: The British government was on Thursday expected to extend a nationwide lockdown for another three weeks, amid signs the coronavirus outbreak is peaking but also warnings of more deaths to come.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is standing in for Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he recuperates after spending a week in hospital with COVID-19, met with ministers and officials to finalise the plans.
An announcement is due later but the government has already said that, with the death toll approaching 13,000 and still rising, now is not the time to rescind the stay-at-home order imposed on March 23.
"It is too early to make a change," Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC television on Thursday.
"Whilst we've seen a flattening of the number of cases, and thankfully a flattening of the number of deaths, that hasn't started to come down yet. And as far as I'm concerned that is still far too high."
He said the vast majority of Britons had followed rules not to go out except for exercise and to buy essential items.
"I don't want to put all of that good effort to waste," said Hancock, who himself has also had coronavirus but recovered quickly.
"Because if we just released all the measures then this virus would run rampant once again, and we can't let that happen."
He did not say how long the lockdown would continue, but the law states that the measures must be reviewed every 21 days.
England's chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, said Wednesday that the outbreak was peaking but warned the numbers of deaths would keep rising.
Health ministry figures show 12,868 people in hospital in Britain have so far died, making it one of the worst affected countries in the global outbreak.
The main opposition Labour party supports extending the lockdown, but has called for the government to set out its exit strategy -- a demand ministers say is premature.
There are particular concerns about the slow expansion of testing for coronavirus, something many people believe is crucial to easing the confinement measures.
Professor Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London and a government adviser, said Thursday there must be a "single-minded emphasis in government" on scaling up testing and contact tracing.
Speaking to BBC radio, he added that even then, "it's not going to be going back to normal".
"We will have to maintain some form of social distancing, a significant level of social distancing, probably indefinitely until we have a vaccine available."
The government says it currently has capacity to test 35,000 people a day, but wants to reach 100,000 by the end of the month.
Among the dead are 27 staff who work for the state-run National Health Service (NHS), Hancock confirmed.
They include 28-year-old pregnant nurse, Mary Agyeiwaa Agyapong, who died on Sunday.
The baby, a little girl, was delivered by caesarean section before she died and is said by the hospital to be doing well.
"We are all deeply touched and moved by deaths of nurses like this," Hancock said.
But healthcare staff have repeatedly warned they are not getting the protective equipment they need, amid shortages of gowns, gloves, masks and visors.
Dave Prentis, head of Britain's biggest trade union Unison, warned that "for all the warm words and promises about supplies of protective equipment, the situation appears to be getting worse, not better".
In a rare piece of good news, a World War II veteran doing sponsored laps of his garden has now raised more than £12 million ($15 million, 13.8 million euros) for the NHS.
Captain Tom Moore, 99, completed 100 laps of his 25-metre (82-foot) garden -- using a walking frame -- before his 100th birthday at the end of the month.


Rights group, journalists condemn closure of Kashmir’s oldest newspaper

Updated 2 min 26 sec ago

Rights group, journalists condemn closure of Kashmir’s oldest newspaper

  • Local estates department sealed the office of Kashmir Times on Monday saying it no longer had the right to occupy the premises
  • Editor Anuradha Bhasin says authorities shut down the office without following due process or serving eviction notice

NEW DELHI: An international media rights group and journalists in Indian-administered Kashmir on Tuesday condemned the closure a day earlier of a bureau of Kashmir Times (KT), the oldest newspaper in the disputed valley. 

On Monday, the local estates department sealed the office of Kashmir Times, located in the Press Enclave of Srinagar. The department has not commented officially on why the office was shut down but officials have told media the owner of the building had died and KT no longer had the right to occupy the premises. 

“We condemn the ongoing targeting and harassment of @AnuradhaBhasin_ and the Kashmir Times,” the Committee To Protect Journalists tweeted on Tuesday, referring to the editor of The Kashmir Times, Anuradha Bhasin. "Authorities must stop trying to silence independent and critical voices and should respect press freedom.”

On August 5, 2019, the Indian government stripped Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, of its autonomy, and imposed a crippling curfew and communications blackout and arrested dozens of local politicians.

Kashmir Times editor Bhasin, who had filed a petition in India’s Supreme Court challenging the cutting off of internet and telephone lines in the region, said authorities had sealed the paper’s office without giving prior notice. 

“Without following any due process or serving any eviction notice, the estate department officials came and asked the people working inside to come out and locked the office," she told Arab News.

A few weeks ago, Bhasin said, she had been evicted in a similar fashion from her government-allotted residence in Hindu-majority Jammu.
 
“The administration not only evicted me without any notice but handed over my belongings to a new allottee,” she said.

“Why we are being targeted is because we continued to maintain the tradition of maintaining independence despite our sagging finances and constraints," Bhasin said. "We have continued to speak critically of the government’s policies and actions."

KT's closure follows a similar incident on Saturday when the local administration sealed the office of a leading news agency of the region, the Kashmir News Service.

Sehrish Asgar, chief of Kashmir’s department of information, did not reply to several calls and text messages from Arab News seeking comment. The estates department also declined comment on the record but one official, who requested anonymity, said:

“The building that we sealed was in the name of Ved Bhasin, and he expired four years ago. Since this building was allotted in someone else’s name, the government cancelled the allotment in the normal process … we served the notice in July itself and it is not an abrupt sealing.”

The Srinagar-based Kashmir Press Club (KPC) called the move a “vendetta” by the government against media in Kashmir. 

“The actions are a clear vendetta against independent journalists and media houses. They don’t want media and independent voices to function freely,” Ishfaq Tantray, KPC general secretary, told Arab News.

KT was first established as a weekly in 1954 and became a daily newspaper in 1964, with two million subscriptions in the region currently.

Bhasin said the government had stopped posting advertisements in Kashmir Times since August last year in retaliation against the paper’s “challenge of the internet ban in the apex court.” 

The paper thus had to shut down its print edition in both Jammu and Srinagar and had “paid the price" for being the "voice of the people,” she said. 

Fahad Shah, editor of the Srinagar-based web magazine Kashmir Wala, said he had been questioned by authorities several times in recent months for his reportage in what were ongoing attempts to muzzle the press.

“This is just another way of intimidating the press,” he said on the closure of KT’s office.