England delays full lifting of virus restrictions

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends a media briefing in Downing Street. Monday he confirmed that relaxing coronavirus restrictions will be delayed until July 19 due to surge in infections caused by the Delta variant. (AP)
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Updated 14 June 2021

England delays full lifting of virus restrictions

  • Newspapers had been counting down to what had been dubbed "Freedom Day"
  • Johnson said a sharp rise in infections had prompted a decision to "ease off the accelerator"

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday announced a four-week delay to the full lifting of coronavirus restrictions in England due to a surge in infections caused by the Delta variant.
The delay comes as a blow to Johnson’s plans to fully reopen the UK economy on June 21 after months of gradually easing restrictions since March.
Newspapers had been counting down to what had been dubbed “Freedom Day,” which was set to mark an end to all social distancing restrictions and the reopening of nightclubs.
But Johnson said a sharp rise in infections had prompted a decision to “ease off the accelerator” and focus instead on ramping up vaccinations.
“On the evidence I can see right now, I’m confident that we will not need more than four weeks and won’t need to go beyond July 19,” Johnson told a press briefing.
Health policy is devolved in the four nations that make up the UK, handled separately in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Scotland, which was due to move to the lowest level of restrictions on June 28, is also expected to announce a delay to its reopening.
In England, most current rules — including limits on the number of people who can meet in pubs and restaurants — will remain in place until July 19, although restrictions on the number of guests allowed at weddings will be lifted.
Large scale pilot events, such as Euro 2020 football matches, will also go ahead as planned.
The more transmissible Delta variant, first identified in India, is now responsible for 96 percent of UK cases, and positive tests have jumped 50 percent in the last week.
Total reported cases are now at their highest since February — around 8,000 new infections a day.
The Delta variant is believed to be around 60 percent more transmissible than the Alpha variant first identified in Kent, southeast England.
That strain forced the country to go into another three-month lockdown in January.
Nevertheless hospital admissions and deaths remain low, thanks in large part to Britain’s rapid vaccination rollout.
More than 55 percent of adults in the UK have had two vaccine jabs.
Newspapers have hinted at dissent within Johnson’s cabinet over the delay, with The Times citing an unnamed minister as saying it was “a very odd decision.”
Johnson accepted that “we cannot simply eliminate Covid, we must learn to live with it,” but added that “once the adults of this country have been overwhelmingly vaccinated... we will be in a far stronger position to... live with this disease.”
The government hopes that two thirds of all adults will have received two shots by July 19.
A study released Monday found that two jabs of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine stopped the need for in-patient treatment in 96 percent of cases of the new variant.
With a double dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot, the rate was 92 percent.
The government had hoped to allow crowds to return unrestricted to pubs and clubs next week, with the hard-hit hospitality industry warning it is on its last legs.
Trade association UKHospitality estimated that a month’s delay in lifting the restrictions would cost the sector around £3 billion ($4.23 billion) in sales.
“A full and final ending of restrictions is the only way to ensure that businesses in this sector can trade profitably,” said its chief executive Kate Nicholls.


WHO calls for moratorium on Covid vaccine booster shots

Updated 04 August 2021

WHO calls for moratorium on Covid vaccine booster shots

  • WHO chief called on countries and companies controlling the supply of doses to change gear and ensure more vaccines to less wealthy states.
  • More than 4.25 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines have now been administered globally

GENEVA: The WHO on Wednesday called for a moratorium on Covid-19 vaccine booster shots until at least the end of September to address the drastic inequity in dose distribution between rich and poor nations.
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on the countries and companies controlling the supply of doses to change gear and ensure more vaccines to less wealthy states.
“I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the Delta variant. But we cannot accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it, while the world’s most vulnerable people remain unprotected,” Tedros told a press conference.
“We need an urgent reversal, from the majority of vaccines going to high-income countries, to the majority going to low-income countries.”
More than 4.25 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines have now been administered globally, according to an AFP count.
In countries categorized as high income by the World Bank, 101 doses per 100 people have been injected — with the 100 doses mark having been surpassed this week.
That figure drops to 1.7 doses per 100 people in the 29 lowest-income countries.
“Accordingly, WHO is calling for a moratorium on boosters until at least the end of September, to enable at least 10 percent of the population of every country to be vaccinated,” said Tedros.
“To make that happen, we need everyone’s cooperation, especially the handful of countries and companies that control the global supply of vaccines.”
Tedros said the G20 group of nations had a vital leadership role to play because those countries are the biggest producers, consumers and donors of Covid-19 jabs.
“It’s no understatement to say that the course of the Covid-19 pandemic depends on the leadership of the G20,” he said.


Germany detains man for grenade attack on civilians in Syria

Updated 04 August 2021

Germany detains man for grenade attack on civilians in Syria

  • At least seven people were killed in the attack and three were injured

BERLIN: German police have detained a Syrian man accused of war crimes for firing a rocket-propelled grenade into a group of civilians in Damascus in 2014, officials said Wednesday.

The suspect, identified only as Mouafak Al D. in line with German privacy laws, was detained in Berlin on Wednesday.

German federal prosecutors said he is suspected of firing an RPG at a group of people lining up for food aid in the Yarmouk district of Damascus, home to a large population of Palestinian refugees.

At least seven people were killed in the attack and three were injured, including a 6-year-old child.

The suspect is alleged to have been a member of the Free Palestine Movement, and previously of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Palestine General Command. Between July 2013 and April 2015 the groups exerted control of the Yarmouk refugee camp on behalf of the Syrian government.

Prosecutors said that in addition to war crimes, the suspect faces being charged with seven counts of murder and three counts of serious bodily harm.

A federal judge is expected to determine Wednesday whether the man shall remain under arrest for the duration of the pre-trial investigation.


Taliban claim Kabul attack targeting defence minister: insurgent spokesman

Updated 04 August 2021

Taliban claim Kabul attack targeting defence minister: insurgent spokesman

KABUL: Taliban claim Kabul attack targeting defence minister: insurgent spokesman


Dubai airport expects passenger surge as UAE eases travel curbs

Updated 04 August 2021

Dubai airport expects passenger surge as UAE eases travel curbs

  • UAE has lifted a ban on transit flights from India, Pakistan, other countries from August 5
  • Dubai International Airport is targeting 8 percent growth in passenger traffic this year to 28 million

DUBAI: Dubai’s state airport operator expects a “surge” in passenger traffic over the coming weeks and months, its chief executive said on Wednesday, after the United Arab Emirates announced an easing of travel restrictions from African and Asian countries.
The Gulf state, a major international travel hub, on Tuesday said it would scrap on Aug. 5 a transit flight ban which Emirates airline later said applied to passengers traveling from 12 countries, including major market India.
The UAE will also lift this week an entry ban on those who had visited India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Nigeria or Uganda over the past 14 days for those with valid residencies and who are certified by Emirati authorities as fully vaccinated.
Dubai Airports Chief Executive Paul Griffiths said Dubai International was “ready to accommodate the anticipated surge in the coming weeks and months” once restrictions ease.
The Indian subcontinent is traditionally the largest source market for Dubai International, which is one of the world’s busiest airports and the hub for state airline Emirates.
Griffiths said the easing of entry restrictions on inbound travelers from South Asia as well as Nigeria and Uganda would allow for thousands of UAE residents to return.
“It’s a great development from both a social and economic standpoint,” he said.
Those traveling to the UAE or transiting through its airports need to meet various conditions including presenting a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) coronavirus test prior to departure.
Dubai International Airport is targeting 8 percent growth in passenger traffic this year to 28 million. It handled 86.4 million in 2019, the year before the pandemic struck.


Malaysian PM Muhyiddin Yassin refuses to resign, delays vote by a month

Updated 04 August 2021

Malaysian PM Muhyiddin Yassin refuses to resign, delays vote by a month

  • Muhyiddin took power in March 2020 after initiating the collapse of the former reformist government that won 2018 elections

KUALA LUMPUR: Embattled Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin refused to resign Wednesday after a key ally pulled support for him, but said he will seek a vote of confidence in Parliament next month to prove his legitimacy to govern.
Shortly after a meeting with King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah at the palace, Muhyiddin said in a national broadcast that he had been informed by the monarch that eight lawmakers from a key party in his ruling alliance had withdrawn support for him.
The party, the United Malays National Organization, is the largest in the alliance with 38 lawmakers, but it is split with some not backing the premier. UMNO’s president declared Tuesday that Muhyiddin had lost the right to govern with the withdrawal of support from some party lawmakers and after an UMNO minister resigned.
Muhyiddin said he told the king that he has received sufficient declarations of support from lawmakers that “convinced me that I still have the majority support” in Parliament. He didn’t give any numbers.
“Therefore, the issue of my resignation ... doesn’t arise,” he said.
Muhyiddin took power in March 2020 after initiating the collapse of the former reformist government that won 2018 elections. His party joined hands with UMNO and several others to form a new government but with a razor-thin majority.
But since January he had been ruling by ordinance without legislative approval thanks the suspension of Parliament in a state of emergency declared because of the pandemic. Critics say he was using the emergency, which expired Aug. 1, to avoid a vote in Parliament that would show he had lost a majority of support.
Because of persistent questions over his legitimacy, Muhyiddin said Wednesday that a motion of vote of confidence in his leadership will be tabled for a vote when Parliament resumes next month.
“In this way, my position as prime minister and the Alliance National as the ruling government can be determined in accordance with the law and the constitution,” he said.
His government has been seeking to avoid a vote ever since the state of emergency expired, and a five-day session of Parliament last week in which no motions were allowed was suspended after virus cases were found among staff members. Parliament is next due to sit in September.