Thursday January 27, 2022

UK set for tougher virus rules as cases surge

January 04, 2021

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday he was "reconciled" to the prospect of tougher restrictions to combat spiralling coronavirus cases, as a row flared over whether schools should reopen.

"It may be that we need to do things in the next few weeks that will be tougher in many parts of the country," Johnson told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show.

"I’m fully, fully reconciled to that."

Britain recorded 57,725 new cases on Saturday, its highest total of the entire pandemic.

Health officials are concerned that the surging numbers could overwhelm hospitals during their busiest time of the year.

Johnson told parents of young children that they should "absolutely" send them to schools reopening after Christmas, despite the closure of some establishments in the worst-affected areas.

"I understand people’s frustrations, I understand people’s anxieties but there is no doubt in my mind that schools are safe and that education is a priority.

"We’ve really fought very hard throughout this pandemic across the country to keep schools open," he added.

But National Association of Head Teachers leader Paul Whiteman called on the government to delay the reopening of schools after the Christmas break "so that we can agree the right mitigations... to make them Covid-secure."

"We agree with everybody that school is the best place for children, we just want to do that well, we want to make it a sustainable return," he told BBC Breakfast television.

Johnson said that public health experts had highlighted the long term damage of children being kept out of school.

"There are many factors you have to take into account, particularly deprivation in left-behind communities," he told Marr.

"The issue is how can you stop schools being places the virus can circulate. Weekly lateral flow testing in schools I believe can make a huge difference."

Johnson, who has been criticised for his handling of the pandemic that has taken more than 74,000 lives in Britain, revealed that 530,000 doses of the newly-approved AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine will be available for use from Monday.

Meanwhile, India approved the emergency use of two Covid-19 vaccines on Sunday, as nations across the world raced to get their populations inoculated to beat back surging infection numbers.

More than a year after Covid-19 first emerged it has killed 1.8 million people out of 84 million cases, and governments hope that recently approved vaccines can stop a cycle of economically crippling restrictions.

India, the world’s second-most infected nation, on Sunday authorised the use of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine as well as one by local pharmaceutical firm Bharat Biotech.

For its part, Russia said it had vaccinated more than 800,000 people and distributed 1.5 million doses.

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute said on Sunday that 238,809 people have been vaccinated there -- a far cry from neighbouring France, where the government has come under pressure over a slow rollout.

"The whole healthcare community does not understand why there is such a difference with Germany: Germany vaccinates 20,000 people a day, we are at 50," Professor Mehdi Mejdoubi of the Valenciennes hospital centre in France’s north told BFMTV.

The new president of Switzerland, which borders both countries, admitted the country had underestimated the pandemic between July and September.

The situation in the United States, already the world’s worst-hit country, has continued to deteriorate as it saw the highest number of infections recorded in one day on Sunday, with more than 277,000.

Gibraltar also imposed a second lockdown, while Greece extended its own strict measures until January 10.

Nightlife shut down in Bangkok, while Tokyo’s governor asked for a state of emergency to be declared in the Japanese capital and curbs were extended in North Korea’s Seoul until January 17.

France hiked the start of its curfew from 8pm in 6pm in hard-hit eastern areas -- but some New Year’s revellers were already disobeying the measure. More than 1,200 revellers were booked on the weekend after partying for more than two days at an illegal rave in the northwest.