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UK govt urged to pay citizens, boost economy

By JONATHAN POWELL in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-04-23 09:13

Britain's Labour Party leader Keir Starmer and Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab attend the weekly question time debate at the Parliament, during the hybrid parliament session amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in London, Britain, April 22, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

Opposition says extra money would help drive growth after virus lockdown

Opposition politicians in the United Kingdom have called for the introduction of a universal basic income, in addition to existing wages, amid concerns of a deeper economic crisis after the novel coronavirus lockdown ends.

More than 100 members of Parliament signed a letter published in The Financial Times on Wednesday that calls for "recovery universal basic income" to limit the economic effects of the disease outbreak.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak last week said the government was opposed to the concept, stating that existing welfare payments were sufficient. Critics, including the international Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, suggested the policy would lead to higher taxation and less effective support for the poor.

Organized by the Basic Income Conversation initiative and supported by left-wing think tank Compass, the letter argues that existing social benefits struggle to manage demand.

The initiative predicts the crisis situation leading to the continuation of recruitment freezes, furloughed staff losing their jobs, and people staying away from pubs and restaurants.

It came as the British government admitted it does not know how many care home staff have died from the novel coronavirus-caused COVID-19 and faced more criticism about testing failures during a virtual Prime Minister's Question time on Wednesday.

First Secretary of State Dominic Raab, deputizing for Prime Minister Boris Johnson as the leader recovers from a COVID-19 infection, was questioned by the Labour leader Keir Starmer in the House of Commons, while many members asked Raab questions via video link.

Raab said he didn't have figures on care home staff deaths and that it was "difficult to establish". He said there was now capacity for 40,000 tests day, and insisted a target of 100,000 would be met by the end of the month.

A total of 18,100 people hospitalized with novel coronavirus have now died in the UK, up 759 from Tuesday's total.

In the UK's daily news briefing later, Raab paid tribute to the efforts of the armed forces in building seven temporary field hospitals and delivering personal protective equipment, or PPE. Raab said that as a result of this work, "the peak of this virus has not overwhelmed the NHS".

Chief of Defence Staff General Nick Carter, the UK's most senior military officer, also spoke at the briefing. Carter said this has been the "single biggest logistical challenge the Ministry of Defence has faced" in his 40 years of service.

Carter said the armed forces are involved in designing tests, manning test centers and providing mobile testing, and have helped with repatriation of Britons abroad. He added that its 77 Brigade (its cyberwarfare component) has been involved in tackling disinformation.

Elsewhere, as countries seek ways to bring some normality back to economies battered by the pandemic, France has become the first to call for Apple and Google to weaken privacy protections around digital contact tracing.

The technology giants are known to be jointly developing an interface that could assist governments in tracking the spread of COVID-19 through the use of Bluetooth built into smartphones.

The collaboration enables phones from both companies to work together, but also sets strict limits on what data can be sent back to public health authorities. It is those limits that France wants lifted, Cedric O, the nation's digital minister, said in an interview with Bloomberg News.

Meanwhile, as the world recognized the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and four years since the signing of the Paris Agreement to tackle climate change on Wednesday, reports have emerged of a massive increase in illegal dumping and domestic waste collection UK-wide due to the lockdown.

The Guardian reported that nearly a third of authorities reported an increase on normal volumes of waste collected through household bins. Data shows huge areas of the country have suspended bulky waste collection to cope with the crisis.

Illegal dumping has soared since the start of the novel coronavirus lockdown, according to an app created to combat the reviled practice. Businessman Martin Montague said his ClearWaste app is receiving hundreds of photographs from across the UK.

He said: "In the first week of the lockdown, we saw a rise of 54 percent nationwide compared with the figure for the previous week. By Easter, fl y-tipping reported to us was up by 75 percent."

In Italy, plans to tackle pollution in the northern city of Milan and surrounding Lombardy region have emerged following the virus crisis, with authorities set to introduce an ambitious program to reallocate street space from cars to cycling and walking.

The city has announced that 35 kilometers of streets will be transformed during the summer, with a rapid, experimental citywide expansion of cycling and walking space to protect residents as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

Marco Granelli, a deputy mayor of Milan, said: "We worked for years to reduce car use. If everybody drives a car, there is no space for people, there is no space to move, there is no space for commercial activities outside the shops. Of course, we want to reopen the economy, but we think we should do it on a different basis from before.

"We think we have to reimagine Milan in the new situation. We have to get ready; that's why it's so important to defend even a part of the economy, to support bars, artisans and restaurants. When it is over, the cities that still have this kind of economy will have an advantage, and Milan wants to be in that category."


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