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Posts tagged ‘Land of the British Empire’

In reversal, UK says it will make masks mandatory in shops

July 14, 2020

LONDON (AP) — The British government decided Monday to require people to wear face coverings in shops, joining a long list of countries that have made masks mandatory under some circumstances in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

After weeks of prevarication and days of confused messaging, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government said that masks will be required in stores starting July 24. Johnson’s office said “growing evidence that wearing a face covering in an enclosed space helps protect individuals and those around them from coronavirus.”

Those who flout the law can be fined up to 100 pounds ($125) by the police under public health laws. Many European nations, including Germany, Spain, Italy and Greece, already require masks to be worn in enclosed spaces, but Britain had only made masks obligatory on public transit.

Johnson’s government until now recommended – but did not require – mask-wearing in stores. The prime minister, who in the spring spent a week in the hospital being treated for COVID-19, was not seen in public in a mask until Friday, when he suggested that the government was considering “stricter” rules for mask use.

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove suggested Sunday that no government order was required, saying he trusted people to use “common sense.” The opposition Labour Party questioned Monday why the new mask measure would not come into force for 11 days. Labour health spokesman Jonathan Ashworth said the government “has been slow and muddled again over face coverings.”

The new requirement only applies to in England. Scotland already made masks mandatory in stores. Scientific opinion has been divided on the value of face coverings, but a growing body of evidence suggests it brings some benefit in preventing the spread of the virus.

UK gets creative: Job bonus and eating out schemes announced

July 08, 2020

LONDON (AP) — The British government unveiled a raft of measures Wednesday it hopes will limit an anticipated spike in unemployment as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Most noteworthy were a new bonus plan aimed at getting firms to retain workers that have been idle for months, as well as tax cuts for hard-pressed firms in the tourism and hospitality sectors and a new “Eat Out to Help Out” discount scheme.

Treasury chief Rishi Sunak said his latest major intervention is aimed at weaning the U.K. economy off emergency measures announced when the country was put into lockdown in March, while at the same time protecting and generating as many jobs as possible during the recession.

“People need to know that although hardship lies ahead, no-one will be left without hope,” he told socially distanced lawmakers. So far, Britain has been spared the sharp rises in unemployment seen in the U.S., for example, because of the Job Retention Scheme, whereby the government has been paying the majority of the salaries of workers who were not fired. Some 1.1 million employers have taken advantage of the program to furlough 9.4 million people at a cost to the government of 27.4 billion pounds ($35 billion).

While confirming that it will end in October, Sunak said the government is introducing a new program that could cost a further 9.4 billion pounds if everyone who has been furloughed is given his or her job back. Under this plan, the government will pay companies a 1,000-pound bonus for each employee they take back.

“Leaving the furlough scheme open forever gives people false hope that it will always be possible to return to the jobs they had before,” he said. “The longer people are on furlough, the more likely it is their skills could fade, and they will find it harder to get new opportunities.”

The government hopes employers will make use of the new program as they try to get back on track during what is a historically savage recession — in March and April alone, the U.K. economy shrank 25%. Many economists think unemployment could more than double to over 3 million this year, to levels last seen in the 1980s.

Anneliese Dodds, the economics spokesperson for the main opposition Labour Party, said Sunak should have made the Job Retention Scheme more flexible rather than scrapping it outright. “It should have been the day when the millions of British people worried about their jobs and future prospects had a load taken off their shoulders,” she said.

Sunak reserved extra support for tourism and hospitality, which were shut down during the lockdown. Pubs and restaurants, for example, only reopened Saturday for the first time in over three months. Sunak said firms within those sectors will see taxes on sales of food and non-alcoholic drinks as well as on accommodation and admission to attractions slashed to 5% from 20%. This measure, Sunak said, is worth 4 billion pounds and should help companies support 2.4 million jobs.

He also announced a new dining discount plan for August that will give people a 50% discount at participating restaurants, cafes and pubs between Monday and Wednesday up to a maximum 10 pounds per person.

U.K. Hospitality, which represents the sector, said the measures provide many firms “much-needed help to get going again in earnest.” However, Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the umbrella Trades Union Congress, said Sunak should have given low-paid workers a pay increase rather than offering “a dining out discount for the well-off.”

Other measures announced included 2 billion pounds to fund work placement schemes for 16-to-24-year-olds, a 3 billion-pound environmental package and the temporary elimination of a tax on house purchases below 500,000 pounds.

Make U.K., which represents companies in the manufacturing sector, praised Sunak’s “bold intent” and singled out the training measures for the young. “This is not the beginning of the end of this crisis, however, but perhaps the end of the beginning as far as the economy is concerned,” Chief Executive Stephen Phipson said.

Pints poured, unkempt hairdos cut, as England eases lockdown

July 04, 2020

LONDON (AP) — The pints were supped and the unkempt hairdos cut and styled as England embarked Saturday on its biggest lockdown-easing yet, one that many think came too soon given still-high levels of coronavirus infections and deaths.

In addition to the reopening of much of the English hospitality sector, including pubs and restaurants, for the first time in more than three months, couples can tie the knot once again, though wedding guests are limited to 30, and film buffs can go to the cinema. Whatever is being permitted again has to abide by social-distancing rules.

Museums and libraries also got the green light, but gyms, swimming pools, theaters and nail bars remain shut. Restrictions on travel and social contact were loosened as well; people from different households can now go into each other’s homes and even stay the night.

Overall, it’s the most dramatic easing of the lockdown and one gleefully taken up by those despairing in front of a mirror over the state of their hair. “It was doing my head in to be honest, I’m just glad it’s gone now,” William Brown, a 25-year-old plant engineer, said at Headley’s Barber Shop in Blaby, central England.

Owner Stephanie Headley, 35, was equally relieved to be back in business for the fist time since the full lockdown was announced on March 23. Headley said she was a “bit anxious” and has been inundated with appointment requests since the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed the latest easing of the lockdown last week.

“I can’t wait to see all the dodgy haircuts that have come out of quarantine,” she said. Though the easing of the lockdown was warmly welcomed by many, there are concerns the British government is being overly hasty, even reckless, in sanctioning the changes. The U.K. has experienced one of the world’s worst outbreaks so far; the official coronavirus death toll of 44,198 is the third-highest behind the United States and Brazil.

Critics point to the experience elsewhere, particularly in some U.S. states, where the reopening of bars and restaurants is blamed for a spike in infections as drinkers abandon social distancing after imbibing a few of their favorite tipples.

The four nations of the U.K. — England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — are moving at different speeds out of the lockdown. The restrictions in England, with a population of around 56 million, or 85% or the U.K.’s, have been lifted the most, triggering concerns that the Johnson government is being unduly influenced by economic factors.

Johnson says the decision to ease the lockdown is based on the scientific evidence that people are “appreciably less likely now to be in close proximity” with someone with the virus than at the height of the pandemic.

“This is a big turning point for us,” he said Friday. “We’ve got to get it right.” One pub stood out in Saturday’s reopening. The Swan Inn in Ashford, in southeast England, managed to welcome customers even after a car crashed into its front in the early hours of the morning. Ray Perkins, who runs the pub, said it was “absolutely devastating” but that after a long night he didn’t want to let anyone who had pre-booked down.

Though the lockdown has posed an existential threat to England’s 37,500 pubs, not all that could reopen did. Nik Antona, chairman of the Campaign for Real Ale, said early indications were that around half opted against as “they want to see what’s going to happen.”

The Tyne Bar in Newcastle, northeast England, questioned why the easing took place on a Saturday, traditionally the day of the week when most alcohol-related incidents take place. The establishment said it is “genuinely concerned that this could be a day of total chaos” and that it’s “not worth the risk.” It is set to open on Monday instead.

The social-distancing guidelines inevitably mean that going to pubs and restaurants is going to be a different experience to the one enjoyed pre-lockdown. An array of operating regulations have to be observed, from registering customers upon entrance to making sure people are spaced at least one meter (3.3 feet) apart from the members of another household if other measures to keep people safe are in place, such as using hand sanitizers. The wearing of masks is optional, even for staff,

Still, customers said the rigmarole was worth it even though the weather was damp and drizzly across the country. Doug Evans, a 62-year-old retired oil explorationist, said most of the village of Burpham in southern England appeared at some point during the afternoon at the reopening of The George.

“Initially, it felt really odd walking into a pub, but within five minutes the world seemed normal again,” he said. One city that is not participating in the easing is Leicester, in central England. The government reimposed lockdown restrictions there, including the closure of schools and nonessential shops, after a spike in new infections. Police are out in force in the city to make sure people adhere to the local lockdown.

One local resident, Ali Patel, said some people just hadn’t taken the virus as seriously as they should have and that’s why Leicester is in lockdown again. “Some people took it seriously and other people didn’t, and it just shows that the people who didn’t turned out to spread it more,” he said.

Jo Kearney in Blaby and Leicester in England contributed to this report.

Pubs and restaurants reopen in England as lockdown eased

July 04, 2020

LONDON (AP) — England is embarking on Saturday on perhaps its biggest lockdown easing yet as pubs and restaurants have the right to reopen for the first time in more than three months. In addition to the reopening of much of the hospitality sector, couples can tie the knot once again, people can go and see a movie at their local cinema and many of those who have had enough of their lockdown hair can finally get a trim. In all cases, social distancing rules have to be followed.

Though the easing of the lockdown will be warmly welcomed by many, there are concerns that the British government is being overly hasty, even reckless, in sanctioning the changes, given the country’s still-high coronavirus infection and death rates.

On Friday, another 137 virus-related deaths were recorded across the U.K., the large majority in England, taking the total to 44,131, by far the highest in Europe and third behind the United States and Brazil.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the decision to ease the lockdown is based on the scientific evidence that people are “appreciably less likely now to be in close proximity” with someone with the virus than at the height of the pandemic.

“Let’s not blow it now,” he said. In other countries, the reopening of bars and restaurants has been blamed for a spike in infections. The four nations of the U.K. — England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — are easing the lockdown at different speeds.

UK to end quarantine for travelers from ‘low-risk’ countries

July 03, 2020

LONDON (AP) — The British government said Friday it is scrapping a 14-day quarantine rule for arrivals from a number of countries deemed “lower risk” for the coronavirus, including France, Spain, Germany and Italy.

The change takes effect July 10, just over a month after the U.K. began requiring international arrivals to self-isolate for two weeks. The full list of exempted countries will be announced later Friday, the government said. It is considered unlikely the United States, which has the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths in the world, will be among them.

On Saturday, the government will also exempt several countries from its advice against overseas travel, meaning U.K. tourists can once again head abroad on vacation. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the changes are “good news for British people and great news for British businesses.” But he stressed that the government could re-impose quarantine restrictions “in countries we are reconnecting with.”

The changes announced apply only to England, a sign of friction between Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s central government and semi-autonomous administrations in the rest of the U.K. — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been particularly critical of Johnson’s approach to easing coronavirus lockdown measures and has taken a more cautious approach. The British government also made the announcement without securing reciprocal agreements that British travelers will not face quarantines. The Department for Transport said its “expectation is that a number of the exempted countries will also not require arrivals from the U.K. to self-isolate.”

Britain has the highest COVID-19 toll in Europe, with almost 44,000 confirmed deaths. The country is gradually emerging from a nationwide lockdown imposed in March, with bars, restaurants and hairdressers allowed to reopen in England on Saturday.

The European Union re-opened its borders this week to people from 14 countries including Canada, Japan, South Korea and Morocco — but not the U.S. Britain left the EU on Jan. 31 but continues to be bound by its rules during a transition period that lasts until the end of the year.

Princess Raiyah weds Faris Ned Donovan in the United Kingdom


Jul 07,2020

AMMAN — With the blessings of His Majesty King Abdullah, HRH Princess Raiyah married Faris Ned Donovan in the United Kingdom.

Her Majesty Queen Noor, Jordan’s Ambassador to the UK Omar Nahar and the Donovan family attended the brief ceremony, held in accordance with lockdown regulations due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, according to a Royal Court statement.

Her Royal Highness was engaged to Donovan on October 26, 2019.

Princess Raiyah, born in Amman in 1986, is the daughter of His Majesty the late King Hussein and Her Majesty Queen Noor.

She holds an undergraduate master’s degree in Japanese studies from Edinburgh University in Scotland, a master’s degree in Japanese literature from Columbia University in New York and is currently a PhD candidate in pre-modern Japanese literature at UCLA, the statement said.

Source: The Jordan Times.


Boris Johnson says COVID-19 has been a disaster for Britain

June 29, 2020

LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister Boris Johnson acknowledged Monday that the coronavirus pandemic has been a “disaster” for Britain, as he announced a spending splurge designed to get the country — and his faltering Conservative government — back on track.

As the U.K. emerges from a three-month lockdown, Johnson has lined up big-money pledges on schools, housing and infrastructure, in an attempt to move on from an outbreak that has left more than 43,000 Britons dead — the worst confirmed death toll in Europe.

“This has been a disaster,” Johnson acknowledged Monday. “Let’s not mince our words. I mean, this has been an absolute nightmare for the country and the country’s gone through a profound shock. “But in those moments, you have the opportunity to change and to do things better,” he told Times Radio. “This is a moment now to give our country the skills, the infrastructure, the long-term investment that we need.”

Johnson promised a “Rooseveltian approach,” invoking the New Deal policies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt that helped wrench the United States out of the Great Depression. Johnson’s first announcement was 1 billion pounds ($1.25 billion) to build new schools. The British leader plans to unveil a series of other infrastructure projects this week.

Johnson won a large majority in Parliament in December with a promise to rebalance Britain’s London-dominated economy and revive the long-neglected former industrial regions of central and northern England.

Those plans were thrown into turmoil by COVID-19. The U.K.’s official death toll stood Monday at 43,575, the third-highest in the world after the United States and Brazil, and the true figure is likely higher.

“What we’re going to be doing in the next few months, is really doubling down on our initial agenda, which was all about investment … in infrastructure, in education, in technology, to bring the country together,” he said.

Critics want to know where the money will come from. The economic freeze caused by the pandemic has left Britain facing a deep recession — the Bank of England estimates that the U.K. economy could end the first half of 2020 around 20% smaller than at the start of the year.

The U.K. faces another economic shock at the end of this year when a post-Brexit transition period ends, casting the country out of the 27-nation bloc’s vast single market. Talks with the EU on a new trade deal have bogged down amid wide differences on major issues including fishing rights and competition. If no agreement is struck by the end of the year, the U.K. faces tariffs and other barriers to business with the EU, its biggest trading partner.

Despite the gloomy economic outlook, Johnson said it would be “a mistake” to return to the austerity of previous Conservative governments, which since 2010 have cut public spending in an attempt to lower a national debt that was swollen by the 2008 global financial crisis.

Despite his attempts to turn the page, Johnson, who was hospitalized in intensive care with the coronavirus in April, will likely face a reckoning over his government’s handling of the outbreak. Critics accuse the government of being too slow to impose a nationwide lockdown, of failing to get enough protective equipment to medical workers and of botching the launch of a test-and-trace system to control new outbreaks.

Deaths and new infections are now declining, but slowly, and Britain lags behind its European neighbors in reopening society and the economy. In another sign of Johnson’s attempt to regain control, Britain’s top civil servant announced late Sunday he was stepping down. Mark Sedwill is leaving his twin jobs as head of the civil service and national security adviser after reports of disagreements with Johnson’s powerful chief adviser, Dominic Cummings.

Johnson has named David Frost, the government’s EU trade negotiator, to the national security post. The appointment has raised some eyebrows because Frost is a political appointee, rather than a neutral civil servant.

Gus O’Donnell, a former U.K. civil service chief, said political appointees, “are more likely to be subject to group-think, more likely to be yes-men, more likely to say what it is ministers want to hear as opposed to giving good, objective, speaking truth to power which is what it’s all about.”

Opposition Labor Party leader Keir Starmer said it was “obvious that the prime minister wanted to move (Sedwill) and was determined to do so.” “Why you do so in the middle of a pandemic and a crisis instead of actually focusing on the crisis, is a question the prime minister needs to answer,” he said.

UK city of Leicester sees lockdown tightened on virus spike

June 29, 2020

LONDON (AP) — The British government is reimposing an array of lockdown restrictions, including the closure of schools, in the central city of Leicester after a spike in coronavirus infections. Health Secretary Matt Hancock told lawmakers late Monday after a series of meetings, including one chaired by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, that in addition to the school closures, shops that don’t sell essential goods, such as food and medicines, will have to shutter themselves again, barely two weeks after they reopened.

He said the government had to take “difficult but important decisions” for the benefit of Leicester’s population, which is thought to number around 350,000. “Local action like this is an important tool in our armoury to deal with outbreaks while we get the country back on its feet,” he said.

The re-imposition of lockdown restrictions for Leicester — the biggest local tightening taken by the government — went further than had been anticipated and is likely to prove a cause for concern among the city’s highly diverse population and those who were looking to reopen their businesses this Saturday.

While confirming that Leicester won’t be joining in the easing of the lockdown this Saturday when pubs and restaurants are due to reopen in England, Hancock said further actions were necessary to get a grip on the local outbreak that’s seen the city account for 10% of all positive cases in the country over the past week. Hospital admissions are between six and 10 a day, also higher than in other places, he added.

Hancock said non-essential retailers, such as department stores and electronic retailers, will have to close again from Tuesday, two weeks after they reopened. In addition, he said schools will have to close from Thursday as children have been particularly hit during this outbreak. They will remain open for vulnerable children though. He also said that travel to, from and within the city will have to be curtailed and social distancing rules will be monitored.

“The more people follow the rules, the faster we’ll get control of this virus and get Leicester back to normal,” he said. “The virus thrives on social contact and we know reducing social contact controls its spread and precise and targeted actions like these will give the virus nowhere to hide and help us defeat this invisible killer.”

The lockdown in Leicester will be reviewed in two weeks. Concerns over Leicester have mounted in recent days following the increase in cases, though there has been some confusion as to the government’s intentions following a weekend of mixed messages that appeared to come as a surprise to local officials.

Hancock said the government was providing extra testing capacity in the city and that Leicester’s “proud diversity” will be taken into account, notably in the translation of the new guidelines into all relevant languages.

Ahead of the meetings Monday, Leicester’s mayor, Peter Soulsby, said he had yet to be persuaded that the city is faring any worse than other places in England, and sharply criticized the British government over its handling of the situation.

The U.K. has recorded 43,575 coronavirus-related deaths, the highest by far in Europe. The government, which sets the coronavirus response for England, has said it won’t hesitate to reimpose lockdown restrictions on a specific region in the event of a local outbreak.

“We are concerned about Leicester, we are concerned about any local outbreak,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said earlier Monday while on a visit to a construction site in London. “I want to stress to people that we are not out of the woods yet.”

UK police to get tougher on crowds amid pandemic worries

June 27, 2020

LONDON (AP) — Police in the English city of Liverpool have been given more powers to break up crowds after celebrations to mark Liverpool Football Club’s first league title in 30 years led to disorder.

The local move to stop gatherings of more than two people came after the sheer joy of victory, together with warm weather, prompted people to cast off worries about the COVID-19 pandemic and to gather in huge crowds.

Amid the wild celebrations, part of the Liver Building — a local landmark — caught fire. Images circulating on social media appear to show a firework sailing from the crowd and striking the building’s balcony before exploding. Four fire engines were dispatched and the blaze was put out, but the extent of the damage is unclear.

The gatherings come amid increasing worries about the unwillingness of the public to follow social distancing rules meant to halt the spread of COVID-19. Exasperated Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson said on Twitter that he was “really concerned” about the images he was seeing.

“I appreciate #LFC fans want to celebrate but please, for your own safety, and that of others, go home and celebrate at home,” he said. “Covid-19 is still a major risk and our city has already lost far too many people to the illness.”

Under lockdown restrictions in England, groups are limited to six people. Huge gatherings were also reported in London overnight for the third night in a row. Met Police commander Bas Javid told the BBC that the police have been trying to persuade people to go home rather than to arrest them.

“We’re not going to arrest our way out of situations like this, but what I can be clear about is if these situations do descend into chaos and violence and disorder, which is completely unacceptable, we will take a much more thorough and a robust position,” he warned. “It’s the communities that are very, very upset by this, as much as the police are.”

On hottest day of year, thousands cram onto English beaches

June 25, 2020

LONDON (AP) — Police around the southern English coastal town of Bournemouth urged people to stay away Thursday as thousands defied coronavirus social distancing rules and flocked to local beaches on what was the U.K.’s hottest day of the year so far.

Amid widespread rule-breaking, a “major incident” was declared for the area, much of which is rural and only navigated by cars on narrow lanes. This gives additional powers to local authorities and emergency services to tackle the issue.

Images of the crammed beaches appeared to prompt the British government’s chief medical officer into issuing a rare warning on social media. Professor Chris Whitty tweeted that COVID-19 remains in “general circulation” and that cases will rise again if people don’t follow the guidelines.

“Naturally people will want to enjoy the sun but we need to do so in a way that is safe for all,” he said. Whitty’s intervention came after Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole council said services were “completely overstretched” as people headed to the seaside on a day meteorologists confirmed as the hottest of 2020. The mercury hit 33.3 C (around 92 F) at London’s Heathrow Airport.

Extra police patrols have been brought in and security is in place to protect waste collectors who the council said faced “widespread abuse and intimidation” as they emptied overflowing bins. Roads, which were gridlocked into the early hours, now have signs telling people the area is full, according to the council.

Council leader Vikki Slade said she was “absolutely appalled” at the scenes witnessed on the beaches — particularly at Bournemouth and Sandbanks over the past day or two. “The irresponsible behavior and actions of so many people is just shocking and our services are stretched to the absolute hilt trying to keep everyone safe,” she said. “We have had no choice now but to declare a major incident and initiate an emergency response.”

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave notice that a number of the lockdown restrictions will be eased from July 4, including allowing pubs and restaurants to open their doors. He also effectively announced that the two-meter (6.5-foot) social distancing rule will be reduced to a meter (around three feet) from that date, a move that is largely aimed at bolstering businesses.

The relaxation has met with a lot of criticism, not least because the U.K. is still recording relatively high new coronavirus infections and deaths. On Thursday, the government said another 149 people who tested positive for the virus had died, taking the total to 43,230, by far the highest in Europe.

“Clearly we are still in a public health crisis and such a significant volume of people heading to one area places a further strain on emergency services resources,” said Dorset Police’s Sam de Reya.

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