Britain to impose new virus curbs as WHO issues grim warning

By: AFP      Published: 12:00 PM, 23 Sep, 2020
Britain to impose new virus curbs as WHO issues grim warning
Members of a family watch as Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson addresses the nation about the latest updates on the novel coronavirus restrictions, on a mobile phone in their home in Liverpool.–AFP

The British government announced fresh steps on Tuesday to try to stop a coronavirus surge in England, as the World Health Organization warned that new cases worldwide soared to record levels last week.

The tally of 1,998,897 infections was "the highest number of reported cases in a single week since the beginning of the epidemic", the WHO said, adding that the number of deaths fell compared with the previous week.

The death toll in the United States passed another dismal milestone on Tuesday, soaring beyond 200,000 as cases approached seven million in the world's worst-affected country.

The ramped-up response in Britain followed warnings that the country could see an explosion of cases and deaths if it failed to take decisive action.

From Thursday, English pubs, bars and other venues will be required to close at 10:00 pm. Food and drink outlets will also be restricted to table service.

Some businesses have criticised the move, saying it will inflict more suffering on an already beleaguered industry.

But customers outside cafes in central London were broadly supportive of the new rules if it meant avoiding another lockdown.

"It isn't all about the money," Francesca Galluzzo, an operations manager, told AFP. "It should be about people's lives."

Britain has also shelved plans to allow fans to return to sporting venues in England next month and boosted fines for rule-breakers in broad tightening of restrictions.

- Nobel ceremony cancelled -

Many nations in Europe were easing restrictions after largely overcoming initial outbreaks, but the resurgence of the virus has forced them to tighten curbs again.

Spain's health minister on Tuesday called on Madrid residents to limit their movements and social contacts to the essential.

Across Europe, hundreds of major events have been scaled back or cancelled and on Tuesday the most august of all gatherings, the Nobel prize ceremony, announced it had also succumbed to the pandemic.

The famous event in the Swedish capital Stockholm recognising excellence in subjects from economics to physics has been cancelled for the first time since 1944, set to be replaced by a televised event.

Rather than receiving their medals and diplomas from the king of Sweden in person, the winners will be honoured in their own countries.

The Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Norway in December will also be scaled back.

A European Union leaders' summit due to start on Thursday was meanwhile postponed after a security guard tested positive for coronavirus, forcing EU chief Charles Michel to quarantine.

- Trump under pressure -

But the US still tops the charts for the numbers of infections and deaths in a single country.

President Donald Trump has faced intense criticism of his handling of the crisis, and the prospect of an election in November has sharpened the focus.

Trump insisted on Monday that the country was "rounding the corner with or without a vaccine".

But US Federal Reserve boss Jerome Powell will warn on Tuesday that a full recovery in the world's biggest economy "is likely to come only when people are confident that it is safe to reengage in a broad range of activities," according to prepared remarks.

The pandemic has wiped out hundreds of thousands of jobs around the world, with millions living rough.

Hundreds of restaurant, bar and nightclub workers demonstrated in the southern Spanish city of Malaga on Tuesday to seek government help to tide over the crisis.

They held banners saying "We are not the problem" and "rescue now".

"Many of my colleagues can't make ends meet. We have to save this sector by whatever means because there are many families that depend on this," Borja Ramos, a 37-year-old kitchen worker told AFP.

Until a vaccine is developed, the options for treatment available to the less privileged are limited.

In Mexico, where more than 73,000 people have died, many are choosing to stay at home when they fall ill instead of seeking treatment at creaking public hospitals.

Jessica Castillo in Hidalgo state said she suffered for a week at home, and even had suicidal thoughts.

"I felt that the air I was breathing wasn't entering my lungs," said 43-year-old pastry chef, whose coronavirus recovery took more than a month. "But I said: 'If I go to hospital, I'll never return'."

US House adopts bill to avoid shutdown

The US House of Representatives adopted a budget bill Tuesday to avoid an imminent government shutdown and extend funding through early December, after Democrats reached a deal with the White House and Republicans.

The bipartisan text would still need the Senate's backing and President Donald Trump's signature before it could enter into force.

"We have reached an agreement with Republicans," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement following a deal with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to prevent large portions of the government from shutting down after September 30.

The measure would "add nearly $8 billion in desperately needed nutrition assistance for hungry schoolchildren and families," Pelosi said.

The text extends a program by which children receive free or reduced-price meals in order "to help the millions of families struggling to keep food on the table during the pandemic," Pelosi said.

Earlier in the day the United States surpassed the grim milestone of 200,000 deaths from the coronavirus pandemic.

Republicans had rejected an initial proposal even before a vote, saying that the bill ignored the needs of US farmers, with moderate Democrats also joining the outcry. 

The matter is crucial to many of the lawmakers' constituents, making it a key election-year issue as many members of Congress court voters ahead of November 3.

The bipartisan deal includes funding for farmers, but with increased accountability to prevent "funds for farmers from being misused," Pelosi said.

Congress, which is deeply divided along party lines, would not likely have been able to reach a broader agreement on a new 2021 budget before the end of the fiscal year, which falls on September 30 in the United States.

The short-term bill extends funding through December 11.