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England points to lifting of Covid curbs

By AFP
January 17, 2022
England points to lifting of Covid curbs

London: Britain’s government said on Sunday it hopes to lift its latest Covid restrictions for England later this month with the Omicron surge of infections apparently fading.

Last month, England switched to "Plan B" restrictions, re-imposing guidance to work from home and a requirement for attendees to show vaccination passports on entry to larger events.

The government will lift those on January 26, but a mandate to wear face masks may continue, according to reports. Government minister Oliver Dowden, co-chairman of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative party, said the "signs were encouraging".

"It has always been my hope that we would have the Plan B restrictions for the shortest period possible," he said on Sky News. "I’m under no doubt the kind of burdens this puts hospitality, wider business, schools and so on under, and I want us to get rid of those if we possibly can."

After the Omicron variant emerged, Britain’s daily caseload for Covid topped a record 200,000 infections in early January, but has now dropped to less than half that. The upcoming relaxation will reportedly form part of plans by Johnson to relaunch his premiership as he battles a slew of allegations about "partygate" lockdown breaches in Downing Street.

Opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer agreed with the need to lift the restrictions "as soon as possible" if government scientists agree, but noted the backdrop of political scandal. "I want them to be lifted because the medical science says they should be lifted, not simply because the prime minister is in a real mess and he’s desperately trying to get out of it," he told the BBC.

Many Conservative MPs are up in arms about the reports of rule-breaking in Downing Street, and had already warned Johnson he cannot count on their support to extend Covid restrictions.

Facing restive Tory backbenchers, the prime minister rebuffed calls by some scientists to impose a full lockdown in December, and allowed sporting events to continue with capacity crowds in England.

The devolved governments of Scotland and Wales did impose bans on large crowds at sports fixtures last month, but have now lifted that rule in time for the Six Nations rugby tournament starting next month.

Meanwhile, Austria will become the first European country to make Covid-19 vaccination compulsory for adults in February, Chancellor Karl Nehammer said Sunday, acknowledging that it was a "sensitive topic".

Nehammer, a conservative who took office in December, said those who didn’t comply would face a hefty fine. "We will decide on compulsory vaccination as planned. It will come into force at the beginning of February" for adults, he told a news conference.

Since plans for compulsory jabs were first announced last year, Austria has seen impassioned debate both in parliament and beyond on the issue. To date 71.5 percent of eligible Austrian residents have had their jabs -- several percentage points below many of the country’s EU neighbours.

Nehammer acknowledged the decision covered "a totally sensitive topic" but said it followed careful consideration. He warned that after an "entry phase" for the policy, restrictions would be "tightened accordingly" in mid-March on those holding out against the jab, including fines of between 600-3,600 euros ($684-$4,100).

Saturday saw some 27,000 people demonstrate in Vienna against the measure which opponents dub an attack on personal freedoms. On Thursday Parliament is due to pass into law a bill which initially was set to cover all people from 14 upwards but now will cover adults only.

Exceptions will be made for pregnant women and those who can show they have a medical exemption. The government has widespread support for a policy which only the far-right is opposing.

Austria has to date seen almost 14,000 Covid-related deaths and 1.4 million cases in a population of some nine million. Compulsory vaccinations against Covid remain rare worldwide, though Ecuador, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Indonesia and Micronesia have introduced such schemes.

In a related development, fitted frock coats, bow ties and exuberant colours graced the runaway as Dolce & Gabbana and Fendi both imagined more glamourous, post-pandemic wardrobes for their fall/winter collections at the Milan men’s fashion week.

Designer Silvia Venturini Fendi took inspiration from the 1920s dandy at her fashion house’s show on Saturday, punctuating refinement with touches of eccentricity. Blazers were transformed into capes, knitwear featured sizeable chest cutouts and the accessories veered towards the flashy.

The collection also aimed for a more fluid interpretation of typically gendered clothes, with wide-leg pants ballooning into half-skirts.

"We women wear men’s jackets, I do not see why they could not take inspiration from our wardrobe," said the designer, the granddaughter of the Italian fashion house’s founders. At Sicilian duo Dolce & Gabbana’s show, casual and sartorial styles mixed in a celebration of returning to the great outdoors.

Tailored to appeal to a younger generation, the show featured rap and punk music orchestrated by Machine Gun Kelly. Models wore loose-fitting coats with leopard or zebra prints, white suits embroidered with pearls or tight-fitting pants and tuxedos with wide shoulders and a cinched waist.

Others were wrapped up in thick, oversized down jackets in bold colours or eco-friendly furs, ready to face the winter cold during post-Covid excursions. And like at Fendi, the skirt featured as part of the male wardrobe, with the designer duo citing young people’s ability to choose their clothes freely, without worrying about gender.

Both shows carried on despite the disruption sown across Europe by the surging Omicron variant, which has curtailed the fashion week calendar. After Giorgio Armani announced its withdrawal, the number of physical shows was reduced from 23 to 16. Eighteen brands opted for a purely virtual presence, while others presented their collections by appointment.

Still, those that went ahead, like Dsquared2 on Friday, embraced the return to the catwalk. In their first live show in two years -- attended by football star Zlatan Ibrahimovic -- the Canadian twins behind the label displayed a festival of bright yellows, pinks, reds and blues alongside floral patterns, sequins and crystal embroidery.

With a glimmer of hope and much enthusiasm, Dsquared2’s globe-trotting styles were a nod to getting out of the cocoon and going on a long-awaited trip.

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