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COVID-19: UK to outline new restrictions as coronavirus alert level raised

Europe|: London: The UK government will on Tuesday announce new measures to curb rising coronavirus cases across England, hours after upgrading the virus alert level with top advisers warning of a surging death toll within two months without immediate action. Under new rules to come into force on Thursday, English pubs, bars and other hospitality venues will be required to close at 10pm while food and drink outlets will be restricted to table service only. See more From the editors: UAE makes trial COVID-19 vaccine available for frontline workers COVID-19 delays completion date for Spain's Sagrada Familia COVID vaccines approved for emergency use, for front-liners “We know this won’t be easy, but we must take further action to control the resurgence in cases of the virus,” a Downing Street spokesperson said. Similar restrictions are already in place across swathes of northern and central England. Devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are expected to unveil their own nationwide rules imminently. The ramped-up response follows warnings on Monday that the country could see up to 50,000 cases a day by mid-October, and a month later exceed 200 deaths every day. Chief medical officer Chris Whitty said rates of infection were replicating the strong resurgence seen in France and Spain, roughly doubling every seven days. “We are seeing a rate of increase across the great majority of the country,” he said, urging the public to respect stricter guidelines on social distancing,” he said. “This is not someone else’s problem. It’s all of our problem.” The government’s Joint Biosecurity Centre later changed its COVID-19 alert level from three to four to reflect the increase in cases. Level three states that the epidemic is in general circulation while level four reflects that “transmission is high or rising exponentially”. ‘Great concern’ Prime Minister Boris Johnson will chair a meeting of Britain’s COBR emergencies committee Tuesday morning ahead of making a statement to parliament. He will also address the nation on live television at around 1900 GMT to detail how the restrictions will help flatten the upward curve in cases going into the winter months when other respiratory infections are typically high. Following widely shared weekend pictures of young revellers out in force in British cities, Johnson called the rising infection rates “a cause for great concern”. The country recorded another 4,368 cases on Monday, levels not seen since early May when the country was still in a stringent lockdown. “The virus is spreading. We are at a tipping point,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told parliament, adding: “We must all play our part in stopping the spread.” Almost 42,000 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 have died in Britain, the worst death toll from the pandemic in Europe, despite the months-long shutdown that plunged the country into unprecedented recession. After a summer lull, when the government urged the public to frequent pubs and restaurants to get the economy moving, cases have been rising rapidly. Johnson last week said Britain was already seeing a second wave — in line with parts of Europe — and new localised restrictions were introduced affecting millions across northwest, northern and central England. People in England who refuse to self-isolate to stop the spread of coronavirus could face fines of up to £10,000 under tough new regulations. From September 28, people will also be legally obliged to self-isolate if they test positive or are told to by the National Health Service (NHS) tracing programme. United approach? The UK government in London controls health policy for England but the sector is a devolved issue for the administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That has led to differing approaches to tackling the virus, including for quarantine for visitors from overseas. Johnson’s office said he had calls with Sturgeon and her counterparts in Cardiff and Belfast and they would all attend Tuesday’s emergency meeting. “They all agreed to act with a united approach, as much as possible, in the days and weeks ahead,” a spokesman said. The government in Cardiff earlier announced that three more areas of south Wales would be placed under local lockdown. Meanwhile, no two households will be able to mix in Northern Ireland, the province’s First Minister Arlene Foster said. London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he had met local leaders in the capital Monday and would be asking the government to implement “a new London plan to slow the spread of the virus”.

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COVID-19: US closes in on 200,000 coronavirus deaths, weeks before election

Americas|: Washington: The United States edged close to registering 200,000 COVID-19 deaths on Monday, the latest grim milestone for the country just weeks before voters decide if President Donald Trump will stay in office. According to a rolling tally by Johns Hopkins University, 199,743 Americans have died and 6.8 million have been confirmed infected. See more From the editors: UAE makes trial COVID-19 vaccine available for frontline workers COVID-19 delays completion date for Spain's Sagrada Familia COVID vaccines approved for emergency use, for front-liners The US has had the world’s highest official death toll for months, ahead of Brazil and India, with 136,895 and 87,882 deaths respectively. Overall, the US accounts for four per cent of the world’s population and 20 per cent of its coronavirus deaths, while its daily fatality rate relative to the overall population is four times greater than that of the European Union. Critics say the statistics expose the Trump administration’s failure to meet its sternest test ahead of the November 3 election. “Due to Donald Trump’s lies and incompetence in the past six months, (we) have seen one of the gravest losses of American life in history,” his Democratic rival Joe Biden charged on Monday. “With this crisis, a real crisis, a crisis that required serious presidential leadership, he just wasn’t up to it. He froze. He failed to act. He panicked. And America has paid the worst price of any nation in the world.” Trump insisted on “Fox and Friends” Monday that the United States was “rounding the corner with or without a vaccine.” But the president has high hopes that the swift approval of a vaccine will boost his reelection chances. “I would say that you’ll have (a vaccine) long before the end of the year, maybe by the end of October,” he told Fox, adding that his priority was “total safety — it’s number one.” Trump has set even more ambitious goals, stating that by April of next year, most Americans who want to be immunized will have a vaccine. Most experts argue that betting on vaccines is not a viable strategy. Without adhering to masks, distancing and contact-tracing, and without ramping up testing, tens of thousands more could still die before life returns to normal in the US. “What we need to do is shift... towards a more screening approach that’s proactive to test asymptomatic individuals,” Harvard surgeon and health policy researcher Thomas Tsai told AFP. He said the government should approve rapid, at-home antigen tests, which it has been reluctant to do so far, and which would require the government to pay for it instead of insurance companies. “Covid will be the third leading cause of death this year in the US,” tweeted Tom Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) under former president Barack Obama. “The staggering death toll from the virus is a reflection of a failed national response, but it’s not too late to turn it around.” Only the number of people who died from heart disease and cancer will be higher. Series of errors It’s likely that the US actually crossed 200,000 deaths in July, said Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Institute, citing the excess mortality rate. The initial lack of tests led to an undercount of the virus’ toll. “We are the outlier to have been caught totally flat-footed with no testing, and just not learning from mistakes,” Topol added, explaining why the virus continues to kill more than in Europe, despite improvements in how the disease is managed in hospitals. Belgium, Spain and Britain still have higher total death rates per capita than the United States, but were able to partly control the first wave of outbreaks through near-total lockdowns. “We never got adequate suppression, and yet we’re opening everything and trying to make believe that everything is just great,” said Topol. Adoption of public health measures remains mixed across the US. In many cities, students have gone back to school virtually, the indoor areas of bars and restaurants remain closed, and mask use is up. But hotspots are still flaring up, currently in the Midwest and on college campuses that returned to in-person learning. Critics say Trump abdicated responsibility and left it to the state governors to deal with the crisis and decide on lockdowns. “We had a crazy quilt of responses across the country that totally confused the average person,” William Schaffner, a health policy professor at Vanderbilt University, told AFP. “We needed a unified, coherent, strong, national response.” The public health system will be tested as we move into fall and winter, said Harvard epidemiologist Michael Mina. Anticipating a “twindemic” of coronavirus and flu, officials are stocking up on a record number of flu vaccines.