COVID Outbreak in UK

UK Struggles With Large Surge In Coronavirus Cases

The coronavirus situation in the UK is deteriorating by the day as the country suffers another large surge with case numbers rapidly increasing. Lockdown measures are having to be reintroduced throughout the country and there are fears that the economy will struggle to bounce back from a winter of isolation.

As cases fell over the summer and life seemed to be returning to at least some semblance of normality, consumer confidence rose steadily and the UK economy began to recover. Now, it has been revealed that the economic growth was slower than expected, despite government schemes encouraging people to support various industries.

With cases rising dramatically again and the country facing the prospect of a bleak Covid-dominated winter, the economy will likely falter again and many may find themselves without a job.

“The government is operating under the misguided, arrogant and counterproductive view that ‘Whitehall knows best’, that decisions can be made behind closed doors, without any real consultation or even picking up the phone to those on the frontline,” opposition leader Keir Starmer said of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s efforts to battle the pandemic.

“We don’t need a world-beating testing system, we just need one that works.”

“I think they’ve lost control of the virus,” Starmer said. “And I don’t want to see death rates go up. Nobody does. And the government doesn’t. I’m not suggesting that for a minute.

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“But this is serial incompetence. And the test, trace and isolate system was abandoned in early March if you recall because they said they didn’t have the capacity. It took them months to get back to even trying to set up a system. And they haven’t got an effective working system.

“There isn’t a strategy. There’s a vacuum there. And that’s because there’s division in the
cabinet as to which strategy they should be following. I’m reflecting, I think, what people in those communities feel. This deep sense of despondence, anxiety. And actually, what they want is hope.”

Bars in Scotland have been temporarily banned from selling alcohol to customers inside and it is likely that similar, or more severe measures will soon be introduced south of the border. In the North of England, households are currently unable to mix and various leisure facilities are once again temporarily closing.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has, however, attempted to soften the blow of news of the second surge by claiming the UK can face the winter ‘with confidence’ as it is much more prepared than it was when the pandemic first struck in March.

The country now has a four-month supply of personal protective equipment such as masks, gowns and visors and is on track for the government’s target of 500,000 tests per day by the end of October. 2,000 beds sit ready to be used in seven Nightingale hospitals across the UK, which are critical care temporary hospitals established by NHS England as part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in England.

Additionally, the number of ventilators has trebled to over 31,000 in the last six months.

“It is now clear the second wave is here. Infections, hospital cases and deaths are all rising.

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But what happens next is the big unknown. The doomsday scenario of a doubling of cases every week that was put forward last week is not materialising,” BBC health expert Nick Triggle said.

“The increase in hospital admissions is even more gradual – and the total numbers being admitted are more than 10 times lower than they were at the peak. It points to a slower, less severe wave this time round. But it is still early days.

“We are just at the start of the autumn and winter period when respiratory viruses circulate more. The situation could easily unravel. However, the UK, like other countries, is in a much stronger position than we were when we walked blind into the first wave,” Triggle continued.

“Better treatments are in place, social distancing has become routine and – despite the problems – there is much more testing available.

“The odds are certainly stacked in our favor more than they were six months ago.”

The situation is similar throughout Europe as a large number of countries face a second surge as we head into the winter months. Last week, Spanish authorities placed lockdown measures on 5 million of its population but a court has since overturned the decision, escalating political tensions in the county.

A large portion of Europe has had to reintroduce at least some lockdown measures and the entirety of the Brussels regional government has been forced into self-isolation after an outbreak. The Czech Republic set records for daily cases on three separate occasions last week and in the Netherlands, dozens of people have been arrested in The Hague during a protest against new Covid measures.

Qingdao China Coronavirus

City Of Qingdao, China To Test All Nine Million Residents For Covid-19 In The Next 5 Days

Over a period of five days, authorities in the Chinese city of Qingdao will test all nine million of its residents for Covid-19 after it was discovered that a dozen individuals were positive for the virus in a hospital that was treating coronavirus patients arriving internationally. 

While this may seem like a daunting task, back in May China was able to test the entire city of Wuhan, the initial epicenter for Covid-19, for the virus. Wihan is home to over 11 million residents for context. Overall, China has been one of the only countries to get the virus completely under control. 

Compared to other parts of the world, China has remained diligent and strict with their health and safety measures ever since the virus first emerged there in March. Qingdao’s Municipal Health Commission posted a statement to Chinese social media site Weibo this past weekend, claiming that six new cases and six new asymptomatic cases had been discovered.

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All of the cases were directly linked to the same hospital, which will make it easier for Chinese authorities to trace. While this new cluster of cases may not seem that severe, the country as a whole has a strategy of mass testing in any event of new coronavirus clusters, no matter how minor; a stark difference with how America is handling the virus, which is currently infecting 50,000 Americans every day

The National Health Commission claimed on Monday that the “whole city will be tested within five days.” Qingdao’s health commission also recently claimed that around 115,000 individuals, including medical staff and newly hospitalized non-Covid patients, have already tested negative for the virus. 

Local media outlets reported on residents lining up late Sunday to get tested, which is also likely connected to the Mid-Autumn Festival festivities that millions of China’s residents participated in a week ago. During the holiday festivities an estimated 4.47 million domestic travelers moved across China. 

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The city of Jinan, which is located in the same province as Qingdao, called upon any resident that may have visited the city since September 23rd to get tested. Daily infection rates in China have dropped drastically, and even after two port workers who handled imported seafood in Qingdao tested positive for the virus, no new cases were reported. 

According to the World Health Organization China is currently dealing with 91,305 active cases and the death toll has stood at 4,746. When they had to test all 11 million residents of Wuhan, China they did it by opening hundreds of new temporary testing stations for a 10-day period. Thousands of staffers were hired and mobile teams were sent out to go to individuals homes who may be too old to travel, or are immunocompromised to the point that going outside poses a major risk. 

Qingdao is also planning on taking a page out of Wuhan’s book by setting up pool-testing, which essentially tests between five and 10 samples at a time. With this type of testing you don’t know who individually tests positive from the group if you get a positive result, so if that is the case, medical workers will go back and individually test every participant again to find who has the virus.

Russia Flag

Kremlin Claims Navalny Works With CIA

After the recent accusations that Russian President Vladimir Putin orchestrated the poison plot against opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the Russian government hit back claiming that Navalny was in fact working with the CIA.

Speaking about Navalny’s allegations Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov made claims that US intelligence were working with Navalny and any claims made by Navalny were on the instructions of the American specialists and therefore “groundless and unacceptable”.

The comments made by Peskov backed up previous comments from the Russian parliament’s speaker who had previously dismissed Navalny as both ‘dishonorable’ and ‘shameless’ who continued to work with ‘security services of Western countries’.

Tensions increased in Russian politics after Navalny was interviewed by German magazine Der Spiegel and laid the full blame of his recent poisoning with Putin saying, “Putin is behind the crime and I don’t have any other versions of what happened.” Navalny also discussed how it felt when the poison he was given – Novichok, a form of nerve agent – started to work within his body. He explained that ‘you don’t feel any pain but you know you’re dying.’

The poisoning left Navalny needing treatment in a German hospital for just over a month however it is still unclear if the damage has caused him any long-term issues, both physically and mentally.

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In further ‘proof’ that Navalny works with western countries, the West has spoken to the Russian ruling party asking for an explanation into the alleged attack. So far the Kremlin has denied that they had any connection to the poisoning and has demanded to see the proof, if any, that they were.

When pressed as to whether Navalny would be returning to his home country by the magazine, he answered, “Not returning would mean that Putin has achieved his aim. And my job now is to stay the guy who’s not afraid.”

In the meantime, Navalny has been rehabilitating in Germany and it is believed he would need at least a further month of recovery before he is fully fit and able to resume his political career in Russia. However doctors treating him have confirmed that they believe Navalny should make a full recovery.

Speaking to the German magazine, Navalny went into detail about the moment he realized he had been poisoned during a flight in Siberia. After explaining to the cabin crew what he believed had happened he collapsed onto the floor where people tried to treat him.

Navalny described the moment saying, “Then I heard voices that were getting softer, a woman calling: Don’t faint now! Then that was it. I knew I was dead. Only later did I realize that I was wrong.”

It was originally believed that Navalny had been poisoned at an airport in Siberia, just before his flight. However further investigation has proven that the poison had in fact been located on his drinks bottle in his hotel room.

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Following Navalny’s collapse the airliner was forced to complete an emergency landing in Omsk where he was met from the plane and taken to hospital. A week later Navalny was moved to a hospital in Berlin where he was able to be kept in a medically induced coma while being treated with atropine, an antidote to the Novichok poison.

As well as speculation on how Navalny had been poisoned, thoughts soon turned to who carried out the attack. Moscow was automatically believed to be responsible but they have strenuously denied this.

Novichok was the same nerve agent that was used in 2018 to poison Sergei Skripal in the British city of Salisbury. The Russian government and Putin were accused of being responsible for that incident too however they also denied they had been involved.

So far the Russian transport police has spoken to around 200 people however a full investigation has not been opened.

Russian authorities have also dismissed a claim from a German military lab that they had found ‘unequivocal evidence’ of Novichok poisoning – a claim backed up by laboratories in both Sweden and France – claiming that they too carried out tests on Navalny and no poison was found.
German foreign minister Heiko Maas spoke to the UN General Assembly in a video address and raised the incident, confirming that the poisoning went against a ban on chemical weapons, stating the incident was an issue for “the entire international community”. He also called on Russia “to do more to clarify this matter”.
In response to Germany’s comments Russia’s foreign ministry claimed that they were using ‘provocative’ actions as they abused their position in the UN to make ‘groundless claims’, stating that the views were a clear “continuation of Berlin’s openly hostile line” when discussing the incident, saying “The West often says it’s no longer possible to deal with Russia”.
There have been calls for sanctions against Russia to be renewed, particularly those involving the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany, however the Russian government has refuted this due to the pipeline being “absolutely in line with the interests of both Russia and EU countries.”

Europe & British Union Flags

EU Starts Legal Proceedings Against UK

The European Union has begun the process of undertaking legal proceedings against the UK after Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his administration failed to scrap plans to override sections of the Brexit divorce deal.

The move comes after the EU’s deadline for the UK government to remove sections of the Internal Market Bill passed on Wednesday. The ‘letter of formal notice’ has the potential to eventually lead to a court case being presented against the UK at the EU’s top court, the European Court of Justice.

The letter does not mean that the EU has canceled talks over a post-Brexit trade deal between the two sides. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced that the UK would have until the end of November to respond to the EU’s letter, which addressed concerns over the draft legislation.

“The letter invites the UK government to send its observations within a month and besides this the Commission will continue to work hard towards full and timely implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement. We stand by our commitments,” von der Leyen said in a statement.

Von der Leyen also branded the Internal Market Bill as a ‘full contradiction’ of the UK’s previous commitments on preventing a hard border on the island of Ireland at all costs. She also added that the EU believed the bill to be by its ‘very nature a breach of the obligation of good faith contained in the withdrawal agreement’ that formally took the UK out of the union in January.

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Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the UK government insisted that the bill was a necessary ‘safety net’ that is needed to protect trade between different parts of the UK and that the UK would respond to the letter in ‘due course’.

The leader of the opposition in the UK, Sir Keir Starmer, called on both parties to put aside their differences and raised tensions over the past months to work out the best possible trade deal for both parties.

“A deal can be done here. It’s absurd that with weeks to go, the focus and the energy is not on their negotiations, it’s on threatened court proceedings,” he said.

MPs gave their final approval to the Internal Market Bill last week but it still needs to be approved by the House of Lords before it becomes law in the UK. Ministers have allowed Commons to have their say before powers could be used to override the divorce deal in order to prevent potential rebellion from Tory backbenchers.

“The European Commission has today sent the United Kingdom a letter of formal notice for breaching its obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement. This marks the beginning of a formal infringement process against the United Kingdom. It has one month to reply to today’s letter,” a statement from the European Commission read.

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“Article 5 of the Withdrawal Agreement states that the European Union and the United Kingdom must take all appropriate measures to ensure the fulfilment of the obligations arising from the Withdrawal Agreement, and that they must refrain from any measures which could jeopardize the attainment of those objectives. Both parties are bound by the obligation to cooperate in good faith in carrying out the tasks stemming from the Withdrawal Agreement.

“On 9 September 2020, the UK government tabled a Bill (‘United Kingdom Internal Market Bill’) that, if adopted, would flagrantly violate the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland, as it would allow the UK authorities to disregard the legal effect of the Protocol’s substantive provisions under the Withdrawal Agreement. Representatives of the UK government have acknowledged this violation, stating that its purpose was to allow it to depart in a permanent way from the obligations stemming from the Protocol. The UK government has failed to withdraw the contentious parts of the Bill, despite requests by the European Union.

“By doing so, the UK has breached its obligation to act in good faith, as set out in Article 5 of the Withdrawal Agreement.

Furthermore, it has launched a process, which – if the Bill is adopted – would impede the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement. As a result, the Commission has launched infringement proceedings today in line with the provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement,” the statement continued.

“The UK has until the end of this month to submit its observations to the letter of formal notice. After examining these observations, or if no observations have been submitted, the Commission may, if appropriate, decide to issue a Reasoned Opinion.

“Following the publication by the UK government of the draft ‘United Kingdom Internal Market Bill’ on 9 September 2020, Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič called for an extraordinary meeting of the EU-UK Joint Committee to request the UK government to elaborate on its intentions and to respond to the EU’s serious concerns. The meeting took place in London on 10 September between Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič.”


Police Officer Shot Dead In London

A police officer has been shot and killed in a shock attack by a man being held at a custody center in south London, England. Police say the incident occurred at around 2AM last Friday while the man was being detained at the Croydon Custody Centre.

“This is a truly shocking incident in which one of our colleagues has lost his life in the most tragic circumstances. My heart goes out to his family, direct colleagues and friends,” Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said.

After the incident, a 23-year-old man was detained at the scene of the shooting and was rushed to ambulance for treatment for a gunshot wound. The man is in critical condition and officers present for the shooting say return fire was not opened and instead the BBC believe that the assailant turned the gun on himself. A murder investigation is underway.

“My deepest condolences go to the family, friends and colleagues of the police officer who was killed in Croydon last night,” UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Twitter. “We owe a huge debt to those who risk their own lives to keep us safe.”

Commissioner Cressida Dick described the incident as ‘extremely shocking’ and highlighted that the ongoing investigation is in its early stages and officers are still attempting to piece together the circumstances surrounding the shooting.

“My thoughts today are with his family, friends, and policing colleagues in London and across the country,” read a statement from UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, who said she was ‘shocked and saddened’ by the news.

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“This is a sad day for our country and another terrible reminder of how our police officers put themselves in danger each and every day to keep the rest of us safe,” she said, offering her condolences to Dick and offering up whatever support she could provide.

No police officer in the UK lost their life in a shooting incident last year, according to the UK Police Roll of Honor Trust Website. Keith Palmer was the last Metropolitan Police officer to lose his life as a result of a violent attack after being stabbed and killed during a terror attack in London in 2017.

“My heart goes out to the family of this brave officer, who has paid the ultimate price for helping to keep Londoners safe. Tragic incidents like this are terrible reminders of the dangers our police officers face every single day,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan said on Twitter.

“My thoughts are also with the entire Metropolitan Police family, who I know will be deeply mourning their colleague at this extremely difficult time. I remain in close contact with the Commissioner to offer her and our Met officers and staff my support.”

Ken Marsh, chairman of the Met Police Federation, said: “The murder of a colleague on duty is utterly devastating news.

“Officers across London are in shock and sick to their stomachs at the nature of his death.

“Sadly, on very rare occasions officers make the ultimate sacrifice whilst fulfilling their role. When that happens we will ensure their bravery and sacrifice is never forgotten.”

The shock felt across the UK as they woke up to news of a police officer’s death is indicative of the relative safety that officers in the country face compared to other countries, such as the US. The incident, however, has sparked debate over whether more, or all, officers across the country, or at least in London, should carry Tasers on their persons at all times.

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Some in the US will be shocked at the fact that officers in the UK are not always armed but attitudes are different in the UK and the data shows there is not really a need for it.

“This appalling incident in Croydon appears to be absolutely unique – an officer shot by a man who was already inside a police facility – and the shock felt today underlines how rare it is for police officers in the UK to lose their life in the line of duty,” Dominic Casciani, BBC News Home Affairs correspondent said.

“The Metropolitan Police officer shot dead in Croydon is the 17th from the force to have been killed by a firearm since the Second World War.

“But since the beginning of the 20th Century, only 73 police officers have been shot and killed by criminals in the UK, excluding all deaths in Northern Ireland.

“The majority of those deaths – more than 50 – have occurred since 1945.

“Police officers in other parts of the world are often puzzled why British constables are not routinely armed. But the fact is that there are very few criminal guns in circulation – and the culture of policing has never seen it as acceptable to be universally armed.
“However, Tasers are increasingly a common sight in the UK – and a massive survey of police officers recently found three-quarters would carry one of the less-than-lethal devices on the frontline, if given the choice.”

Mid-Autumn Festival

Rising Covid-19 Concerns Appear In China As Nation Gears Up For Mid-Autumn Festival

With the arrival of the month of October comes the widely celebrated Mid-Autumn festival in Asia. On October 1st, hundreds of millions of individuals are expected to flood public transportation in what’s known as one of the busiest travel times in the world’s most populated country. The eight-day festival marks China’s first major holiday celebration since the coronavirus pandemic began. 

While life in China has almost completely returned to normalcy in terms of the pandemic, this week will be a true test to how successful they were at taming the virus/will continue to keep case numbers down. The festival, however, is projected to bring in a lot of money, as it does every year, which would be a great boost for China’s dwindling economy. 

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Last year 782 million domestic trips were made during the festival week in China, which generated around $95 billion in tourism revenue. This year, the ministry of culture and tourism in China is projecting 550 million domestic trips, while China’s largest online travel agency, Ctrip, is predicting the number to be more around 600 million. 

The thought of that many individuals moving within such a short time period seems unfathomable for most citizens across the world also still battling this virus. But in China, the virus is less of a concern for the holiday week, as the nation has had close to zero local transmissions and has continued to implement some of the world’s strictest border control measures for international travelers. 

While Wuhan, China acted as the initial epicenter for Covid-19, the country has since been able to contain the virus and has only dealt with smaller-scaled outbreaks that occasionally would flare up. There haven’t been any locally transmitted symptomatic cases since mid-August, and any individuals coming into China from overseas have to go through a vigorous screening process.

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China’s overall restrictions on domestic movement have for the most part been able to lift. Some cities are requiring their citizens to show a green health code on their smartphones at certain public transportation facilities, but the implementation of that policy has been relatively relaxed as of late. International leaders view this week’s festivities as a sign of China’s confidence, especially considering they’ve been one of the countries most on top of enforcing their health and safety measures. 

The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention released a statement last week in which they claimed all domestic travel for the country can be arranged as normal for the upcoming holiday week, as long as all cities in mainland China maintain their low risk status. Travelers are still encouraged to protect themselves with facial coverings and social distancing.

China’s Culture and Tourism Ministry has also ordered prominent tourist sites to restrict capacity to 75% during the festival week, and to better facilitate potential contact tracing efforts in the future, all visitors are required to register which sites they’re going to visit online before being granted entry. 

While the Mid-Autumn Festival typically sees a massive spike in international travel among various celebrating Asian countries, this year all overseas trips will likely be impossible due to border restrictions heavily being enforced within most Asian countries. On major Chinese highways it’s expected that massive traffic jams will be occurring as they do every year, as it’s predicted that an average of 51 million highway trips happen per day during the week-long festival. 

EU Flag

EU Denies Lukashenko’s Legitimacy

Following Alexander Lukashenko’s hurried swearing-in as Belarus president last week, the European Union have formally said that they do not recognize the result of the election and will be considering their relationship with the eastern European country.

The swearing-in ceremony has moved up EU plans to boycott Lukashenko after the disputed election in early August that has sparked chaos and riots throughout the country of Belarus. The EU had previously intended to formally not recognize the 66-year-old veteran leader from November, when his term as president was originally due to end.

“Recalling the Declaration by the High Representative on behalf of the European Union of 11 September, the EU once again reiterates that the 9 August Belarus Presidential elections were neither free nor fair,” a statement from the EU’s 27 states read.

“The European Union does not recognize their falsified results. On this basis, the so-called ‘inauguration’ of 23 September 2020 and the new mandate claimed by Aleksandr Lukashenko lack any democratic legitimacy.

“This ‘inauguration’ directly contradicts the will of large parts of the Belarusian population, as expressed in numerous, unprecedented and peaceful protests since the elections, and serves to only further deepen the political crisis in Belarus.”

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Belarus relies on large financial donations from the EU every year and with the bloc currently ‘reviewing relations’ with the country a cut off in funding may be impending. Money would instead be channeled to hospitals and aid groups across the country.

Before the disputed election last month, the EU had committed to spending more than 135 million euros on various projects across Belarus and had also pledged more than 50 million euros to help the country in its fight against the on-going Covid-19 pandemic.

“The European Union’s position is clear: Belarusian citizens deserve the right to be represented by those they freely choose through new inclusive, transparent and credible elections,” the EU statement continued.

“We are impressed and moved by the courage of the Belarusian people who continue to demonstrate peacefully for democracy and for their fundamental rights despite the brutal repression of the Belarusian authorities. We stand in solidarity with them and fully support their democratic right to elect their President through new free and fair elections under the OSCE/ODIHR’s supervision.”

Opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has been in talks with EU foreign ministers in Brussels to try and formulate a plan to bypass Belarus’ administration in order to financially support doctors and hospitals struggling with the pandemic.

“I asked Europe not to support financially the regime. All the money Mr Lukashenko can get now will not go to support the Belarusian people but will go for those repressions,” she told reporters, referring to the pro-democracy crackdown.

“We reiterate our expectation that the Belarusian authorities immediately refrain from any further repression and violence directed against the Belarusian people and immediately and unconditionally release all those detained, including political prisoners,” the EU statement said.

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“The EU remains convinced that an inclusive national dialogue and responding positively to the demands of the Belarusian people for new democratic elections are the only way forward in finding a way out of the serious political crisis in Belarus that respects the wishes of the Belarusian people.

“In light of the current situation, the EU is reviewing its relations with Belarus.”

In the US, attitudes towards Lukashenko and the election mired in controversy are largely the same as the EU’s and a number of top US officials have come out to condemn the failure in democracy and show their support for the Belarusian people.

It is a topic that rings home to many Americans at the minute with Election Day fast approaching amid continued cries of potential mail-in voter fraud from President Donald Trump. With coronavirus still deeply affecting many parts of the country, an unprecedented number of mail-in votes is expected but Trump and certain other Republicans have repeatedly claimed that this will favor the Democrats and even potentially end up with the result disputed in the Supreme Court.

“The US is extremely concerned by continued human rights violations in the wake of Belarus’ election. Reports of opposition figures being kidnapped, forcibly expelled, or otherwise threatened, are just a few of the many methods that the Belarusian government is using in its attempts to deny freedom of speech,” the White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, said during a briefing earlier this month.

“The US is working with our international partners to hold all of those committing these abuses accountable. And we call on the Belarusian government to release all who are being unjustly detained.

“As for the election, the election, there was not a real election. It was neither free nor fair. It was fraudulent. The massive number of Belarusians protesting peacefully makes clear that the government can no longer ignore the people’s calls for democracy,” she continued.

World Coronavirus

National Lockdowns Imminent as Coronavirus Situation Deteriorates

A large number of countries are preparing for the possibility of further national lockdowns as coronavirus cases continue to surge across the world. Health officials in Europe and beyond are expecting further spikes as winter approaches and flu season hits, with governments worried over further economic damage in the event of lockdowns.

Israel has approved a second full national lockdown as its coronavirus numbers have risen dramatically over the past days and weeks.

The country will return to many of the same severe restrictions it was placed under when the first wave hit back in April.

Schools, restaurants and entertainment venues are all set to close for an initial period of three weeks, as well as any other non-essential businesses. Private sector businesses are permitted to continue to operate but non-employees are not allowed to enter the workspace.

“There is now no escape from a closure. We brought a proposal [for closure]. I truly will not be happy when it is approved. This is a very difficult day for the country. But it’s a proposal with no other alternative,” Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said on Sunday.

In the UK, the Financial Times have reported that the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) have recommended a new national lockdown to the government.

Local lockdowns are currently in place across Britain with varying degrees of restrictions put in place depending on the region and Boris Johnson has already expressed his reluctance to once again place the country under full lockdown restrictions. However, with case numbers and the infection rate rising, in addition to winter and flu season approaching, a lockdown may be unavoidable, regardless of the damaging effects on the economy it may have.

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“The last line of defense is full national action and I don’t want to see that but we will do whatever is necessary to keep people safe in a very difficult pandemic,” the UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News.

He added: “It isn’t something that we ever take off the table but it isn’t something that we want to see either, it is the last line of defense.”

“We do have to recognize that the number of cases is rising and we do have to act because we know, especially from looking at other countries, that inexorably leads to more hospitalizations and sadly more deaths,” he said.

“And that is what we want to minimize and we want to protect people’s livelihoods at the same time.”

“Sometimes we can’t say exactly what the future holds because we’re in a pandemic.

“But I can give this hope, which is that if everybody follows the rule of six, if everyone follows self-isolation if they have tested positive or if they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive, and if everybody in the local lockdown areas follows the rules near them, then we can control this virus together.

“But only by the country pulling together.”

Mr Hancock pointed to the example of Belgium as offering “hope” for the UK, adding: “They had a start of a second spike, quite similar to what we’ve seen over the last few weeks here, and then they took action and then it came down.

“It came down because the country, once again, came together to tackle the virus.

“In Belgium, for example, they introduced the rule of five, we’ve introduced a rule of six.”

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The World Health Organization (WHO) have spoken of their concern at the situation in Europe, now announcing that weekly cases have exceeded those reported during the first peak back in March.

“We have a very serious situation unfolding before us,” Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, said. “Weekly cases have now exceeded those reported when the pandemic first peaked in Europe in March.”

“More than half of European countries have reported a greater-than-10 percent increase in cases in the past two weeks. Of those, seven countries have seen newly reported cases increase more than two-fold in the same period.

“In the spring and early summer, we were able to see the impact of strict lockdown measures. Our efforts, our sacrifices, paid off. In June cases hit an all-time low.

“The September case numbers, however, should serve as a wake-up call for all of us.”

The death rate now is significantly lower than during the first peak at the beginning of the year but WHO officials claim it could once again increase as the colder months strike Europe. Countries are now met with the difficult task of balancing the need to keep the economy open so people can continue to support themselves and their families, and the need to protect the sick and vulnerable from unnecessary death, as well as their respective healthcare systems.

Covid Outbreak Virus

European Countries Learning From Sweden As Covid-19 Outbreaks Increase 

European countries are currently seeing massive surges of new Covid-19 cases, and some are opting to take a page from Sweden’s book of coronavirus response efforts to better protect their own countries. Sweden’s been relying more on voluntary compliance than coercion when it comes to getting their citizens to abide by the health and safety procedures put into play, and while that may work for them, we’ve also seen how relying on citizens can go the opposite way.

France is currently averaging 12,000 new cases a day while Spain just passed the 700,000 case mark. The UK is also seeing a massive increase in cases and citizens are beginning to speak out against their governments lack of change in policy to help combat this. Dorit Nitzan, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) regional emergency director for Europe recently spoke with the media about shifting policies and moving more towards Sweden’s approach. 

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“Sweden’s focus on sustainability over time, citizen engagement, and voluntary compliance was interesting because this is the time we all have to learn to live with the virus.” 

Nitzan went on to explain how her and her team know there is no “one size fits all” solution when it comes to combating the coronavirus, however, we all could afford to start learning from one another’s success’. Unlike many countries throughout the world Sweden closed all of its colleges and universities for individuals over the age of 16, but kept schools for younger students open. The country banned gatherings of more than 50, and urged individuals over the age of 70 to remain isolated for as long as possible. 

Otherwise, the country’s 10 million residents were simply asked to respect these procedures and remain diligent about social distancing and wearing a mask, most of which have obliged. However, other parts of the world that have relied on voluntary compliance more than actual enforcement has also seen a massive increase in cases as a result. 

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Even in Sweden itself, back in May the country recorded the most Covid-19 deaths per capita in Europe. The country has experienced around 5,900 deaths, half of which reportedly occurred in care homes and other assisted-living facilities. While Sweden has been able to remain relatively stagnant in terms of new cases, recently they’ve been experiencing little surges of new cases that are causing international experts to be skeptical of their voluntary programs. 

In the last two weeks Sweden has seen around 37 new cases per 100,000 residents. Experts say it’s still too early for countries to adopt other procedures for their own residents because of how vastly different every country actually is. Antoine Flahault is a professor of public health and director of the Institute for Global Health and the University of Geneva, who recently spoke with the media about the widely criticized approach Sweden took to fight the virus. 

“Many people think that because Sweden did not lock down, the government did nothing. But it managed to make citizens understand and participate in the fight against the virus, without coercion, mandatory laws or regulations. The effect was not very different.”

While Sweden’s approach may not be as effective in other parts of the country, there are aspects to it that other European countries are willing to adopt in order to protect their own citizens. The main goal for everyone, however, is universal; to curve the spread and eliminate the virus as much as possible.


Biden and Pelosi Warn UK Over Good Friday Agreement

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden have both warned the UK against undermining the Good Friday Agreement in order to secure favourable Brexit terms in talks with the EU.

Biden is the latest in a long line of Democrats to speak out against the potential of the UK allowing the Good Friday Agreement, reached in 1998 to bring back peace to Northern Ireland, to be ignored during Boris Johnson’s administration’s Brexit negotiations.

“We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit, any trade deal between the US and UK must be contingent upon respect for the agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period,” Biden tweeted last week.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee wrote an open letter to Boris Johnson, signed by members of both sides of the political spectrum, urging the UK to honour the Good Friday Agreement during Brexit negotiations. The letter also stated that Congress would not support a free trade agreement between the US and UK if the UK failed to uphold its prior commitments with Northern Ireland.

UK diplomats and members of the Conservative party, which currently leads the country, will be concerned with the potential political clash, just 50 days before the presidential election, with the candidate most likely to be named as president.

The UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, has travelled to Washington in a bid to repair relationships with pro-Irish US politicians and allay fears that the UK will disregard the Good Friday Agreement during ongoing divorce settlement talks with the EU.

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Raab has repeatedly criticized the EU, accusing them of attempting to politicize the Brexit withdrawal agreement. The UK foreign secretary has also insisted that his party has no intention to set up new infrastructure on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

“Our commitment to the Good Friday agreement, and to avoid any extra infrastructure at the border between the north and south [of the island of Ireland], is absolute,” Raab told reporters while stood next to secretary of state Mike Pompeo.

“To be absolutely clear, the UK action here is defensive in relation to what the EU is doing. It is precautionary – we have not done any of it yet – and is proportionate.

“What we cannot have – and this is contrary to the Northern Ireland protocol and a risk to the Good Friday agreement – is the EU seeking to erect a regulatory border down the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and Britain,” Raab continued.

Pelosi welcomed such assurances but made sure to reiterate the position both she and Congress hold in regard to the Good Friday Agreement and ongoing Brexit talks.

“If the UK violates its international agreements and Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be absolutely no chance of UK-US free trade agreement passing the Congress,” she said.

“The Good Friday agreement is valued by the American people and will continue to be proudly defended by the US Congress.”

A number of Conservative MPs have reacted with disdain to the comments made by US officials and politicians, with some claiming that the US should concentrate on its own issues and let the UK make whatever decisions it wants to.

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“We don’t need lectures on the Northern Ireland peace deal from Mr. Biden. If I were him I would worry more about the need for a peace deal in the US to stop the killing and rioting before lecturing other sovereign nations,” former cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith told the Times.

“Hey Joe Biden would you like to discuss the Good Friday agreement? It is also called the Belfast agreement so it doesn’t offend both traditions. Did you actually know that? I was born in NI and I’m a Catholic and a Unionist. Here if you need help,” tweeted Conor Burns, who used to be the UK trade minister.

“The error those of us who supported Brexit was to assume the EU would behave rationally in seeking a free trade agreement with a large trading partner like the UK.”

“Is this the same Joe Biden who once described Britain’s position in Northern Ireland as ‘absolutely outrageous’. And who hit the headlines in the 1980s for his stand against the deportation of IRA suspects from the US to Britain?” Conservative MP for Rother Valley, Alex Stafford, tweeted.

“Trade deals are nice to have but not essential. We did not have a trade deal with the US when we were in the EU. Getting back full control of our laws, our money and our borders is essential,” leading Brexiter John Redwood said in response to threats from US officials that claimed there would be no free trade agreement between the two countries if the Good Friday Agreement was forgotten about.