England tightens socialising rules as COVID-19 infections rise

Boris Johnson speaks during a virtual press conference at Downing Street, London, Wednesday Sept. 9, 2020. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 09 September 2020

England tightens socialising rules as COVID-19 infections rise

  • Johnson said he remained hopeful that certain aspects of life could be back to normal by Christmas
  • "The period between now and Spring is going to be difficult because this is a respiratory virus," Whitty said

LONDON: Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new restrictions on social gatherings in England on Wednesday, saying there was a clear need to act after a spike in COVID-19 infections.
Speaking at a televised news conference, flanked by his top medical advisers, Johnson said groups of more than six people would be banned from meeting, in what he called a "rule of six" that was easier to understand than previous guidance.
"I wish that we did not have to take this step, but as your prime minister, I must do what is necessary to stop the spread of the virus and to save lives," he said, stressing that police and other agencies would be enforcing the rules more actively.
"I will be absolutely clear. This is not, these measures are not, another national lockdown. The whole point is to avoid a second national lockdown," he added.
He also announced an ambitious "moonshot" plan, which he said was not guaranteed to succeed, in which mass testing that delivers fast results could be used to grant more freedom to those confirmed not to have the virus.
"We're hopeful this approach will be widespread by the spring," he said.
The number of cases in Britain has begun to rise sharply again in recent days, prompting Johnson to deliver a news conference in his Downing Street office, just as he and other ministers did on a daily basis during the worst of the crisis.
England's Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said Britain's numbers were following a similar pattern to that seen in France four weeks ago, and risked continuing to rise sharply as they had done there.
He cited Belgium as an example of a country that had seen a similar increase in cases but had managed to reverse the trend through decisive action.
"This is a clear indication that if you act rapidly and decisively when these changes are happening, there is a reasonable chance, or a good chance, of bringing the rates back down under control," Whitty said.
He said the measures were likely to remain in place for more than a few weeks, and warned that difficult times lay ahead as winter conditions made it easier for the virus to spread.
Although testing is more widespread and the number of people in hospital is well below the peak of the outbreak, ministers fear it is beginning to slip out of control, particularly among people in their late teens and their 20s.
Prior to the rule of six, the limit on the number of people who could socialise together was 30.
The United Kingdom reported 2,659 confirmed new cases of COVID-19 earlier on Wednesday, up from 2,460 on Tuesday. The figures were close to 3,000 on Sunday and Monday - a sharp rise from levels of around 1,000 per day in August, attributed to high transmission among young people.
The new rules will not apply to workplaces or schools, and there will be exemptions for weddings, funerals and some organised team sports. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland set their own lockdown policies.


Germany wants broader Iran nuclear deal

Updated 26 min 38 sec ago

Germany wants broader Iran nuclear deal

  • Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has rejected talk of reopening the 2015 deal

BERLIN: Germany said Friday that a new broader Iran nuclear accord must be reached to also rein in Tehran’s ballistic missile program, warning that the 2015 deal was no longer enough.
“A form of ‘nuclear agreement plus’ is needed, which also lies in our interest,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, told Spiegel magazine in an interview.
“We have clear expectations for Iran: no nuclear weapons, but also no ballistic rocket program which threatens the whole region. Iran must also play another role in the region.”
“We need this accord because we distrust Iran,” he added.
The 2015 nuclear deal — known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA — gave Iran relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.
The European Union and the United States were key signatories in the deal but US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018 and has reimposed crippling sanctions on Tehran as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign.
President-elect Joe Biden has signalled that Washington could rejoin the deal as a starting point for follow-on negotiations if Iran returned to compliance.
But Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has rejected talk of reopening the 2015 deal, saying on Thursday: “We will not renegotiate a deal which we negotiated.”
He added that Western powers should look to their own behavior before criticizing Iran.
He also complained at what he characterised as a lack of European outrage at the assassination of one of Iran’s leading nuclear scientists, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, outside Tehran last week — an attack Tehran has blamed on Israel.
Decades old US-Iranian tensions dramatically escalated after Trump walked out of the deal.
In recent months, alarm has also grown over Iran’s regional activities through proxies in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, which the West says destabilizes the region.