UK overtakes Italy with Europe’s highest official coronavirus death toll

A cashier at a Tesco supermarket works behind a protective perspex barrier in Croydon, south London. (AFP)
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Updated 05 May 2020

UK overtakes Italy with Europe’s highest official coronavirus death toll

  • Only the US, with a population nearly five times greater, has suffered more confirmed fatalities from the virus than Britain
  • Weekly figures raised up to April 24 showed 32,313 people had died from COVID-19

LONDON: The United Kingdom has overtaken Italy to report the highest official death toll from the new coronavirus in Europe, figures released on Tuesday showed, increasing pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson over his response to the crisis.
Weekly figures from Britain’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) added more than 7,000 deaths in England and Wales in the week to April 24, raising the total for the United Kingdom to 32,313.
Only the United States, with a population nearly five times greater, has suffered more confirmed fatalities from the virus than Britain, according to the data so far.
Tuesday’s figures are based on death certificate mentions of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, including suspected cases.
While different ways of counting make comparisons with other countries difficult, the figure confirmed Britain was among those hit worst by a pandemic that has killed more than 250,000 worldwide.
“I don’t think we’ll get a real verdict on how countries have done until the pandemic is over, and particularly until we’ve got international comprehensive data on all-cause mortality,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told reporters.
Opposition politicians said the figures proved the government had been too slow to provide enough protective equipment to hospitals and introduce mass testing.
“I’d be amazed if, when we look back, we don’t think: yep we could have done something differently there,” the government’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, said in response to lawmakers’ questions on testing.
Responding to the ONS figures, a Downing Street spokesman pointed to Johnson’s recent comments that Britain had passed the peak of the disease but remained in a “dangerous phase.”
He also cited the advice of England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty: “Different countries are recording different things in relation to deaths.”
Italy and Spain, the next worst-hit European countries, have smaller populations than Britain, further complicating comparisons.
“Putting a graph out with the United States at the top and UK second is not helpful, but once you start to break it down by looking at the population we should be seriously asking questions about what’s different,” said Carl Heneghan, professor of evidence-based medicine at Oxford University.
“Why are six countries disproportionately affected?” Heneghan added, referring to a list dominated by Europe.
The daily cumulative death toll published by Britain’s government, which unlike the ONS figures records deaths only for confirmed coronavirus cases, rose on Tuesday to 29,427 — exceeding Italy’s own daily toll for the first time.
Ministers dislike comparisons of the headline death toll, saying that excess mortality — the number of deaths from all causes that exceed the average for the time of year — is more meaningful because it is internationally comparable.
But early evidence for excess mortality suggests Britain will be one of the hardest-hit on this measure, too.
ONS statistician Nick Stripe said excess deaths for the United Kingdom were running about 42,000 higher than average at this point in the year.
However, only about 80% of these excess deaths have been linked specifically with COVID-19.
The weekly ONS data also showed the peak in COVID-19 deaths has likely passed, although the week to April 24 was still the second-deadliest since comparable records began in 1993.
The overall decline also masked a worsening picture in care homes.
The ONS said 7,911 deaths from all causes were registered in care homes in the week ending April 24, three times higher than a month previously.
“These figures show that talk of being ‘past the peak’ of this awful virus simply does not hold true for social care,” said Labour opposition lawmaker Liz Kendall.


Johnson takes responsibility but won’t quit over lockdown parties

Updated 58 min 1 sec ago

Johnson takes responsibility but won’t quit over lockdown parties

  • Johnson has faced repeated calls to resign from opposition politicians
  • The report by senior official Sue Gray gave graphic details and included photographs from more than a dozen gatherings

LONDON: A “humbled” Boris Johnson said he took full responsibility but would not quit after a damning official report on Wednesday detailed a series of illegal lockdown parties at the British leader’s Downing Street office.
Johnson has faced repeated calls to resign from opposition politicians and some in his own party over the alcohol-fueled gatherings, after it was revealed that he and officials had broken COVID-19 rules that all but banned people from socialising outside their households.
“I ... am humbled and I have learned a lesson,” Prime Minister Johnson told parliament, saying he would not quit over the scandal.
His foreign minister Liz Truss, seen as a possible successor, said she backed him “100 percent” after his apology.
The report by senior official Sue Gray did not specifically blame Johnson, but gave graphic details and included photographs from more than a dozen gatherings.
He attended some, including a party to celebrate his 56th birthday on June 19, 2020 that he was fined over but which Gray said he was unaware of in advance.
“Many of these events should not have been allowed to happen,” the report said. “The senior leadership ...must bear responsibility for this culture.”
Johnson, who commissioned the report after revelations of boozy Downing Street events, said he was appalled by some of the behavior it had uncovered.
Gray’s interim findings were published in January, but details were withheld until the end of a police inquiry that concluded last week with 126 fines handed out.

DISMAYING BEHAVIOUR AT ‘HEART OF GOVERNMENT’
Her full report included emails and messages that showed many gatherings were planned in advance, with discussions on who would bring alcohol — drinks that “we seem to have got away with,” the then head of Johnson’s Downing Street office, Martin Reynolds, said in one message.
There were warnings from another official that people should not be “waving bottles of wine” before a gathering that coincided with a televised news conference when ministers told the public to follow the COVID rules.
At one June 2020 event, Gray said “excessive alcohol consumption” led to one person being sick and a fight between two others.
At another, the night before the April 2021 funeral for Queen Elizabeth’s husband Prince Philip, individuals partied into the early hours and damaged a swing.
“Many will be dismayed that behavior of this kind took place on this scale at the heart of government,” Gray said. “The public have a right to expect the very highest standards of behavior in such places and clearly what happened fell well short of this.”
She cited multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff who had to remove red wine from walls after one event.
For months, evidence of the parties has dripped out into the media, forcing Johnson to apologize, change his office team and promise a reset to try to restore his authority.
Opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer said it was time for Johnson to quit, saying the report laid bare that the government believed that it was one rule for them and another for everyone else.
“You cannot be a lawmaker and a law-breaker,” Starmer — himself under police investigation for breaking COVID rules, told parliament. He has said he’ll resign if fined.
Johnson’s immediate fate lies in the hands of his Conservative lawmakers who can call for a leadership challenge.
Many had said they would wait for Gray’s full report before deciding whether to demand Johnson should go.
“Are you willing day in and day out to defend his behavior publicly?” Tobias Ellwood, a long-time critic of Johnson, implored of his parliamentary colleagues.
Others felt the report was less damning than it could have been. “This is all so banal,” one Conservative said on condition of anonymity.
Johnson had initially denied there had been parties or rule-breaking at Downing Street, and some lawmakers say his position is untenable if he is found to have lied to parliament, a matter under investigation by the Committee of Privileges.
By way of apology for his earlier denials, said he wanted to “correct for the record” that no rules were broken. “Clearly this was not the case for some of those gatherings after I had left,” Johnson told parliament.


Indian court orders life in jail for top Kashmiri separatist

Updated 25 May 2022

Indian court orders life in jail for top Kashmiri separatist

  • Police fired tear gas to disperse stone-pelting protesters outside Malik's residence in Srinagar 
  • Malik's wife Mushaal Hussein Mullick said the sentencing was illegitimate

NEW DELHI/SRINAGAR: An Indian court on Wednesday ordered life in jail for Kashmiri separatist leader Yasin Malik for funding “terrorist” activities and other charges, a judge said, prompting street protests outside the politician’s residence. 

Malik, head of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), earlier told a special court designated for the National Investigation Agency that he had been following Gandhian principles and non-violent politics in Kashmir after giving up arms in the 1990s. 

Mainly Hindu India has been fighting an armed militancy in Kashmir, also claimed by Pakistan, for decades. 

“Life imprisonment sentence to the convict, Yasin Malik,” Special Judge Parveen Singh said in the court in New Delhi. 

Malik’s wife Mushaal Hussein Mullick said the sentencing was illegitimate. 

“Verdict in minutes by Indian kangaroo court,” she wrote on Twitter. “The iconic leader will never surrender.” 

In Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar, police fired tear gas and pellets to disperse stone-pelting protesters outside Malik’s residence. 

Malik was convicted last week. 


Ukraine lawmaker calls on Germany to urgently back Kyiv with arms

Updated 25 May 2022

Ukraine lawmaker calls on Germany to urgently back Kyiv with arms

  • “We have only one choice, and this is to receive modern NATO style weaponry," Radina told Reuters
  • Ukraine needs longer range arms after mainly receiving anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons at the start of the war

DAVOS, Switzerland: Western countries such as Germany must overcome reluctance to supply Ukraine with modern weapons as Kyiv risks running out of stocks in the war with Russia, lawmaker Anastasia Radina said.
“We have only one choice, and this is to receive modern NATO style weaponry because we cannot win the war with the Soviet style weaponry that we have,” Radina told Reuters on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos.
She said stocks of Soviet-built weapons were limited around the world, and Moscow had much more of these arms than Kyiv.
“What they are doing is waiting for us to run out of weapons or (the) collective West to be less united and more preoccupied ... with their own problems,” Radina said in an interview on Tuesday.
Ukraine needs longer range arms after mainly receiving anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons at the start of the war, Radina said, adding that Kyiv has also asked for ground-based air defense systems to protect Ukrainian cities from attacks.
The German government has been considering supplying a surface-to-air defense system built by Diehl to Ukraine, according to a security source, but a deal has not yet been announced.
Radina said a system like this could help protect not only Kyiv, but also other cities like Kharkiv, Zaporizhya, Mykolaiv and Odesa: “These are cities that need proper air defense systems even more than Kyiv.”
The German government must understand that Ukraine is running out of time, the lawmaker said.
“This .. discussion about tanks is just humiliating. This poses a question with whom Germany really sides,” Radina said in reference to Gepard anti-aircraft tanks that Germany pledged a month ago but Berlin said will be delivered in July.
“It is time Germany proves in action with whom it stands. And proving in action means: Stop supplying Russia with money to basically be able to buy weapons and kill Ukrainian civilians and help Ukraine with proper ammunition.”


Russia offers fast-track citizenship to residents of occupied Ukraine

Updated 25 May 2022

Russia offers fast-track citizenship to residents of occupied Ukraine

  • The decree marks a further step towards "Russification" of the two regions
  • Putin's move extends a scheme available to residents of Donetsk and Luhansk

LONDON: President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Wednesday simplifying the process for residents of Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions to acquire Russian citizenship and passports.
The decree marks a further step toward “Russification” of the two regions, where Moscow’s war in Ukraine has enabled it to establish a continuous land bridge linking Russia to the Crimean peninsula which it seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Putin’s move extends a scheme available to residents of areas controlled by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where Moscow has issued around 800,000 passports since 2019.
Russia claimed full control of the Kherson region, north of Crimea, in mid-March, and holds parts of Zaporizhzhia region to the north-east.
In Kherson, the Ukrainian governor has been ousted and the military-civilian administration said earlier this month that it planned to ask Putin to incorporate it into Russia by the end of 2022. Ukraine has pledged to recapture all of its seized territory.


Pakistan police fire teargas, baton-charge supporters of ousted PM Khan

Updated 25 May 2022

Pakistan police fire teargas, baton-charge supporters of ousted PM Khan

  • Political and economic volatility deepens in the South Asian nation

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani police fired teargas and baton-charged supporters of ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday to stop them from reaching the capital Islamabad, officials and witnesses said.

Political and economic volatility has deepened in the South Asian nation ahead of a likely announcement by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) later in the day on whether it will resume a $6 billion rescue package.

With foreign reserves falling to $10.3 billion — lower than two months of imports — a fast-crashing rupee and a double-digit inflation, the political turmoil has compounded unrest in the country.

Khan has urged his supporters to march on the capital and stay there until the new government is dissolved and a date for a fresh election is announced.

He was ousted in a confidence vote by a united opposition after he lost his partners in his coalition government last month.

“We are getting reports that the police have baton-charged and fired teargas shells to break the protesters,” Amjad Malik, an interior ministry official, told Reuters.

He said no one was seriously injured in the clashes, which were reported mostly in Punjab province, and that the police had also rounded up dozens of the activists.

Live local TV footage showed police fighting with the supporters, beating them and in some places breaking their vehicles’ windscreens and bundling them into police vans.

Islamabad’s entry and exit routes have been blocked, as well as all important sites, including parliament, government offices and diplomatic missions, officials said. Entry and exit points were also blocked to and from all major cities in Punjab province and on the Grand Trunk (GT) Road, they said.

Heavy contingents of police and paramilitary troops have been deployed since Tuesday evening.

Khan is leading a rally that started in the northwestern city of Peshawar and was due to reach the capital via the GT road.

“No one can stop us,” Khan said from atop a truck on the GT road on his way to Islamabad.

“We will remain in Islamabad till announcement of dates for dissolution of assemblies & elections are given,” he said later in a tweet, rejecting local media reports that a deal had been struck with the government to call off the march after holding a public meeting in the evening.

Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb also denied any such deal.

The government has banned Khan’s march, alleging that he is bringing the protesters to Islamabad with “evil design.”

“You’ve handed over a sinking economy to us, and now you’re planning sit-ins and protest,” Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Wednesday at a ceremony in Islamabad. “We are trying to energize this weak economy.”

Khan’s party has petitioned the Supreme Court to order the government to lift the restrictions.