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Johnson unveils measures to contain virus

By JULIAN SHEA in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-09-23 06:22

(Video by Yilin Yang)

U-turn sees workers discouraged from office return as new infections multiply 

People in England are being advised to work from home when possible, reversing government advice of less than four weeks ago, as one of new measures announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.

At the end of August, the government launched a campaign encouraging people back to their desks, but this has now been dropped as, Johnson told the House of Commons, the country had reached "a perilous turning point" which meant action was necessary to avoid "graver consequences".

Johnson stressed that it was not a return to the full lockdown measures introduced in March, but added that the new rules were likely to last for the next six months.

"We are not issuing a general instruction to stay at home" he said, adding that schools and universities would remain open. But with the number of daily new infections having quadrupled over the last month, he said, strong measures were needed.

Pubs, restaurants and hospitality venues must shut earlier, and planned trials of limited numbers of spectators at sporting events have been put on hold.

The wearing of facemasks will be compulsory for taxi drivers, waiters, shop and bar staff, and fines for not wearing them will rise to 200 pounds ($255).

"This virus is a fact of our lives and I must tell the House and the country our fight against it will continue," Johnson added, saying that he was taking "decisive and appropriate steps to balance saving lives with protecting jobs and livelihoods".

It was tempting, he admitted, "to hope the threat has faded and seek comfort in the belief you have avoided the virus so far so are somehow immune… but that type of complacency could be our undoing."

Opposition leader Keir Starmer said there was still concern at the lack of a clear government strategy, but in this specific case, the Labour Party backed the latest moves.

"It's right the PM is confirming new measures today-and we support them," he said.

Speaking on behalf of the hospitality industry before the latest restrictions were confirmed, chief executive of Adnams Brewery Andy Wood told the BBC Radio 4 Today program that the industry, which has around 900,000 employees, was still "on life support" and it was "incongruous "pubs were being singled out.

Elsewhere, there has been anger at the suggestion from the head of the government's much-criticized test-and-trace program that any rapid virus testing service might be a "business and consumer product" for those who do not have symptoms, leading to accusations of a two-tier system.

Previously, Health Secretary Matt Hancock had said how, potentially, there could be a National Health Service daily test system producing results within 20 minutes, allowing people to get on with their daily lives.

But speaking to employers' group the Confederation of British Industry, testing system head Dido Harding said tests for those without symptoms might be part of "the cost of business "for employers.

"I can see a world that, for that sort of test, that might be a normal cost of doing business to be able to have nonsocially distanced activities, but that's different from symptomatic people who should feel like they can always come to an NHS service," she said.

The Labour Party's shadow public health minister Alex Norris responded by saying "the current testing fiasco will not be sorted by creating a two-tier 'pay-to-hug' system for families across the country."

On the Greek island of Lesbos, where thousands of people are housed in refugee camps, the situation has become worse after a devastating fire was followed by hundreds of positive novel coronavirus tests.

A blaze started in protest against lockdown measures introduced after a virus outbreak at the Moria camp left more than 12,000 people homeless, and they are now living in a new temporary camp at Kara Tepe. After seven thousand tests were carried out there, more than 240 have tested positive.

Meanwhile, the prime minister of the Czech Republic has admitted he got "carried away" easing lockdown measures over the summer.

Last Thursday, the country recorded 3,130 new cases, as much as in the whole of March, and leader Andrej Babis said mistakes had been made.

"Even I got carried away by the coming summer and the general mood. That was a mistake I don't want to make again," he said.

Health Minister Adam Vojtech has resigned and Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said the country is now second only to Spain among European Union countries, in terms of the daily case growth per 100,000 residents.

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