British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday disclosed that he ordered fresh restrictions on regular activities amid fear of a dramatic surge in confirmed coronavirus cases.
He also warned the Britons that they should not expect to return to a normal social or work life for at least six months, reports AP.
Saying Britain must act now or face a huge second wave of COVID-19, Johnson announced a package of new restrictions that includes requiring pubs, restaurants and other entertainment venues in England to close down between 10 pm and 5 am and urging people to work from home where possible.
Johnson had encouraged workers just weeks ago to go back into offices to keep city centers from becoming ghost towns, and he expressed hope that society could return to normal by Christmas. In a stark change of tone, he said Tuesday that "for the time being, this virus is a fact of our lives."
"We will spare no effort in developing vaccines, treatments and new forms of mass testing, but unless we palpably make progress, we should assume that the restrictions I have announced will remain in place for perhaps six months," Johnson told lawmakers in the House of Commons.
The announcement came a day after the government's top scientific and medical advisers said new coronavirus infections were doubling every seven days and could rise to 49,000 a day by mid-October if nothing was done to stem the tide.
On Monday, the government reported 4,300 new confirmed cases, the highest number since May and four times the number seen a month ago. Chief medical officers have raised the U.K.'s virus alert level from three to four, the second-highest rung, saying cases of COVID-19 were rising "rapidly and probably exponentially."
The new restrictions require face masks to be worn in taxis as well as on public transport. The size of some gatherings is being curtailed, with weddings limited to 15 people instead of 30, and a plan to bring spectators back into sports stadiums starting in October is being put on hold.
Johnson did not reduce the number of people who can gather indoors or out, which remains at six.
The British government is also increasing the penalties for breaking the rules. People who breach orders to quarantine face fines of up to 10,000 pounds ($12,800) and businesses that breach "COVID-secure" rules can be shut down.
The measures apply only to England. Other parts of the U.K. introduced similar curbs, but some went further in limiting social interactions.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who has often struck a more cautious note than Johnson during the pandemic, said that with a few exceptions, people would be barred from visiting others' homes, and car-sharing would be discouraged.
Sturgeon said the measure would be reviewed every three weeks but "may be needed for longer than that." She said she hoped it would be less than six months.
The new restrictions outlined by Johnson are less stringent than the nationwide lockdown imposed in March, which confined most of the population and closed most businesses. Britain eased its lockdown starting in June as cases began to fall, but that trend has now been reversed.
The prime minister said if the new curbs did not slow the outbreak, "we reserve the right to deploy greater firepower, with significantly greater restrictions."
Still, some lawmakers from Johnson's governing Conservative Party are uneasy about tightening restrictions on business and daily life, citing the impact on Britain's already-reeling economy.
To persuade people to stay home if they test positive for the virus, the government announced it would pay low-income workers 500 pounds ($639) if they are told to self-isolate for 14 days.
Businesses, especially in the areas of hospitality, sports and the arts, said they urgently needed support, too.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UKHospitality, said before the announcement that the restrictions would be "another crushing blow" for many businesses.
But most epidemiologists believe more restrictions are again necessary and even worry that the government's plans may not go far enough.
Polls suggest a majority of people in Britain support lockdown measures to contain the virus. But they also show that trust in the Conservative government's handling of the pandemic has declined after troubles with testing, mixed messages on reopening and the U.K.'s high death toll.
Britain has the highest confirmed virus death toll in Europe, at 41,877 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Experts say all such tallies underestimate the true number of deaths.
While ministers tout the record numbers of tests being performed, there are widespread reports of people having to travel hundreds of miles for tests or tests being voided because it's taking labs too long to process them.
An app meant to bolster contact-tracing efforts is to be released this week after months of delay.
Jennifer Cole, a biological anthropologist at Royal Holloway University, said people's behavior is "the biggest influence" on the spread of the virus.
"In essence, the government is saying, 'Stay sober, stay sensible and the venues can stay open.' It's a carrot to encourage responsible behavior," she said.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexey Overchuk, said the supply of a Russian COVID-19 vaccine to Kyrgyzstan will be considered a priority matter.
Alexey Overchuk came up with the information said here on Tuesday, reports Xinhua.
During a meeting with Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov, the two sides exchanged views on the current state and prospects of Kyrgyz-Russian bilateral and multilateral cooperation, including within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union, the press service of the Kyrgyz presidency said.
Jeenbekov expressed gratitude to the Russian side for support to stabilize the epidemiological situation in the country, the provision of humanitarian aid and the allocation of a 100-million-U.S. dollar concessional loan from the Eurasian Fund to support small- and medium-sized businesses.
The Kyrgyz president stressed the importance of enhancing trade and economic relations and taking joint measures to combat the consequences of the pandemic.
Overchuk, who arrived in Kyrgyzstan to participate in a regular meeting of the Kyrgyz-Russian Intergovernmental Commission, conveyed words of greetings and good wishes from Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin.
He stressed that the Russian side values bilateral relations with Kyrgyzstan, which are of a strategic and allied nature.
The Russian official noted the dynamic development of trade, economic and investment cooperation between the two countries.
Both sides expressed readiness to boost bilateral cooperation in areas of mutual interest, the report said.
As the U.S. closed in on 200,000 coronavirus deaths Monday, the crisis deteriorated across Europe, with Britain working to draw up new restrictions, Spain clamping down again in Madrid and the Czech Republic replacing its health minister with an epidemiologist because of a surge of infections.
The growing push to reimpose tough new measures in Europe to beat back a scourge that was seemingly under control in the spring contributed to a sharp drop on Wall Street in the morning. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell more than 900 points, or 3.4%, and the S&P 500 was down 2.6%.
In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson later this week is expected to announce a round of restrictions designed to act as a “circuit breaker” to slow the spread of the disease. British Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty warned that cases are doubling every seven days, and the experience in other countries shows that will soon lead to a rise in deaths.
“We have, in a very bad sense, literally turned a corner,” after weeks of rising infections, Whitty said, reports AP.
In France, where infections reached a record high the weekend with over 13,000 new cases in 24 hours, health authorities opened new testing centers in the Paris region to reduce lines and delays.
And the Norwegian capital of Oslo banned crowds of more than 10 people in private homes after a spike in cases and strongly urged people to wear face masks when traveling on public transportation amid a strike by bus drivers that forced many commuters to take the tram instead.
“The situation in Oslo is serious. This development must be stopped, and we have to do it now,” Mayor Raymond Johansen said.
The rise in infection rates in Britain comes as lawmakers across the political spectrum criticize the government’s testing program amid widespread reports of people having to travel hundreds of miles and tests being discarded because it is taking labs too long to process them. France, likewise, has been plagued by long wait times for results.
Police in the Spanish capital of Madrid and its surrounding towns began stopping people going in and out of working-class neighborhoods that have been partially locked down to combat Europe’s fastest coronavirus spread.
Authorities said that starting on Wednesday, some 860,000 residents must be able to show that their trips out of their neighborhoods are justified for work, study or medical reasons or face fines. Parks are closed and shops and restaurants in the affected zones are limited to 50% occupancy.
The targeted locations have some of the highest transmission rates in Europe. The measure has been met with protests from people who think the restrictions are stigmatizing the poor.
The German city of Munich, with one of the highest infection rates in Germany, will allow only up to five people or members of two households to meet, and will restrict private indoor gatherings such as birthday parties, weddings or funerals to no more than 25 people.
The Czech Republic also faces the possibility of new restrictions after the government appointed epidemiologist Roman Prymula as health minister.
In the spring, the country recorded a relatively low number of COVID-19 cases and deaths compared with hard-hit Western European countries such as Italy, Spain and Britain.
But after the government lifted most of its restrictions over the summer, confirmed cases began making a comeback and reached a record high last week. On Thursday, the day-to-day increase of new cases was higher than 3,000, almost the same number it was in the entire month of March.
Prymula said over the weekend that the loosening of restrictions was done too quickly.
Thousands of people marched in Berlin on Sunday demanding that the government do more to help migrants stuck in Greece, many of whom have been made homeless since fires ravaged the country's largest refugee camp.
The crowd marched through the capital to the landmark Victory Column carrying signs with slogans like "we have space" and "Seehofer, be a Christian" — a reference to Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, reports AP.
A little girl held a sign saying "let the people in" while a woman waved a placard saying "People are suffering, Fortress Europe looks on — and cuddles up to the right."
More than 12,000 migrants and refugees fled the fires, which the Greek government says were deliberately set by a small group of Afghan migrants to protest a virus lockdown at the Moria camp. Thousands have slept outdoors on a nearby roadside in the nights since the blazes.
Germany's government said last week it would take in 1,553 migrants — 408 families with children — from various Greek islands who already have been granted protected status in Greece. The move came on top of a decision to take in up to 150 unaccompanied children as part of a European effort.
The weekend demonstrators demanded that Germany do more, and that the government not block independent state or municipal efforts to take in refugees themselves.
About 3,000 people had registered to take part in the march, but police told the dpa news agency the crowd numbered in the "mid four-digit range."
Pope Francis on Saturday made a call to the political leaders to make sure that Covid-19 vaccines are available to the poorest nations.
In many parts of the world, there is a “pharmacological marginalization” of those without access to health care, reports AP.
Francis met Saturday with members of an Italian aid group that collects donated medicines from pharmaceutical companies and distributes them to clinics and centers helping the neediest.
Francis says far too many people die in parts of the world for lack of drugs widely available elsewhere, and political leaders must take their plight into account.
“I repeat, it would be sad if in distributing the vaccine, priority was given to the wealthiest, or if a vaccine becomes the property of this or that nation and not for everyone,” the pope said.
Francis has previously called for universal access to the vaccine.