World News – News Net Daily https://newsnetdaily.com an integrated news site covering all the news from all over the world, with a new vision that covers all the news as it happens from our different sources. Sat, 05 Sep 2020 13:00:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.5 Czech Republic v Scotland: SFA given ‘assurance’ Nations League game goes ahead https://newsnetdaily.com/czech-republic-v-scotland-sfa-given-assurance-nations-league-game-goes-ahead/ Sat, 05 Sep 2020 13:00:11 +0000 https://newsnetdaily.com/czech-republic-v-scotland-sfa-given-assurance-nations-league-game-goes-ahead/ BBC

Czech Republic won 3-1 in Slovakia on Friday after delaying their trip to Bratislava

The Scottish FA says it has received “categorical assurance” Monday’s game in the Czech Republic will go ahead.

The Czechs had initially announced the Nations League game was off after a Covid-19 outbreak among the home squad.

The Scots are scheduled to travel to Olomouc on Sunday, having drawn at home to Israel in Friday’s Group B2 opener.

“We were as surprised as Uefa to learn of the statement posted on the official FACR channels,” said SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell.

“Following extensive conversations late last night and this morning we have received categorical assurance that the match goes ahead.

“Furthermore, the Czech Republic have confirmed they will be able to fulfil their obligations to the match and, more importantly, to the stringent Covid-19 testing regime that is sacrosanct to ensure the safety of our players and staff.”

The Czechs’ plans for Friday’s match in Slovakia, a 3-1 win, were affected after West Ham midfielder Tomas Soucek and RB Leipzig striker Patrik Schick were told to self isolate following contact with a backroom staff member who tested positive for the virus.

The Czech FA delayed the departure for Bratislava by 24 hours while the entire squad was retested and players made the 200-mile journey by road after splitting up into small groups.

After the game, the Czech FA announced the team would not be facing the Scots “due to representatives’ decision and the current situation with the Covid-19”.

The statement added: “The national team ends current preparations with the immediate effect straight after the win against Slovakia.”

Uefa last week outlined principles for scenarios where Covid-19 impacted fixtures, stating that a game would go ahead as long as a team had at least 13 players available, including a goalkeeper.

The tournament organisers stated on Saturday morning Monday’s game would be played as planned and Steve Clarke’s Scotland players held their scheduled training session.

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Goldman Sachs joins syndicate for Ant IPO of up to $30 billion: Sources https://newsnetdaily.com/goldman-sachs-joins-syndicate-for-ant-ipo-of-up-to-30-billion-sources/ Sat, 05 Sep 2020 12:55:04 +0000 https://newsnetdaily.com/goldman-sachs-joins-syndicate-for-ant-ipo-of-up-to-30-billion-sources/ cnbc

A Goldman Sachs sign is seen on at the company’s post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Brendan McDermid | Reuters

Goldman Sachs has joined the growing list of investment banks working on Chinese financial technology firm Ant Group’s mammoth initial public offering of up to $30 billion, two people with direct knowledge of the matter said.

Ant, backed by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, plans to list simultaneously in Hong Kong and Shanghai, in what sources have said could be the world’s largest IPO and come as soon as October. 

Wall Street major Goldman Sachs has been hired as a joint lead manager on the Hong Kong leg of the IPO, said the people, who declined to be named as they were not authorized to speak to the media on this subject.

A spokesman for Goldman Sachs, which also acted as a joint lead manager on Alibaba’s $12.9 billion secondary listing in Hong Kong last year, declined to comment. Ant also declined to comment.

The IPO of Ant, already the world’s most valuable unicorn – or billion-dollar unlisted tech firm – would be the first simultaneous listing in Hong Kong and Shanghai’s year-old STAR Market.

The Hong Kong leg of the IPO is being sponsored by China International Capital Corp, Citigroup, JPMorgan, and Morgan Stanley. Credit Suisse is working as a joint global co-ordinator.

The top-ranked banks in a Hong Kong IPO are known as sponsors and carry legal liability for the accuracy of the prospectus. Under them are joint global coordinators, and on the bottom rung are joint lead managers.

Ant’s STAR Market listing is being led by CICC and China Securities Co.

China’s largest brokerage, CITIC Securities, is set to get a joint underwriter’s role on the mainland tranche, four people with knowledge of the matter said on Friday.

Ant’s mega IPO size means a large syndicate of investment banks, especially those with strong retail investor networks, is expected to work on the deal as it progresses towards a possible launch in October.

If Ant completes the offering at the around the $30 billion upper end of expectations, it would rival oil giant Saudi Aramco, which raised $29.4 billion last December, surpassing the record set by Alibaba’s $25 billion float in 2014.

Ant’s biggest and best-known business is Alipay, the largest player in China’s 430 trillion yuan ($62 trillion) third-party mobile payments market, according to market researcher Qianzhan.

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world news Coronavirus Shatters India’s Economy – The New York Times https://newsnetdaily.com/world-news-coronavirus-shatters-indias-economy-the-new-york-times/ Sat, 05 Sep 2020 12:25:04 +0000 https://newsnetdaily.com/world-news-coronavirus-shatters-indias-economy-the-new-york-times/ news net daily :

SURAT, India — The hit that India’s dreams have taken from the coronavirus pandemic can be found in the hushed streets of Surat’s industrial zone.

You can see it in textile mills that took generations to build but are now sputtering, eking out about a tenth of the fabric they used to make.

You can see it in the lean faces of the families who used to sew the finishing touches on saris but, with so little business, are now cutting back on vegetables and milk.

You can see it in the empty barbershops and mobile phone stores, which shoppers have deserted as their meager savings dwindle to nothing.

Ashish Gujarati, the head of a textile association in this commercial hub on India’s west coast, stood in front of a deserted factory with a shellshocked look on his face and pointed up the road.

“You see that smokestack?” he asked. “There used to be smoke coming out of it.”

Not so long ago, India’s future looked entirely different. It boasted a sizzling economy that was lifting millions out of poverty, building modern megacities and amassing serious geopolitical firepower. It aimed to give its people a middle-class lifestyle, update its woefully vintage military and become a regional political and economic superpower that could someday rival China, Asia’s biggest success story.

But the economic devastation in Surat and across the country is imperiling many of India’s aspirations. The Indian economy has shrunk faster than any other major nation’s. As many as 200 million people could slip back into poverty, according to some estimates. Many of its normally vibrant streets are empty, with people too frightened of the outbreak to venture far.

Much of this damage was caused by the coronavirus lockdown imposed by India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, which experts now say was at turns both too tight and too porous, both hurting the economy and spreading the virus. India now has the fastest growing coronavirus crisis, with more than 80,000 new infections reported each day.

A sense of malaise is creeping over the nation. Its economic growth was slowing even before the pandemic. Social divisions are widening. Anti-Muslim feelings are on the rise, partly because of a malicious social media campaign that falsely blamed Muslims for spreading the virus. China is increasingly muscling into Indian territory.

Scholars use many of the same words when contemplating India today: Lost. Listless. Wounded. Rudderless. Unjust.

“The engine has been smashed,” said Arundhati Roy, one of India’s pre-eminent writers. “The ability to survive has been smashed. And the pieces are all up in the air. You don’t know where they are going to fall or how they are going to fall.”

In a recent episode of his weekly radio show, Mr. Modi acknowledged that India was “fighting on many fronts.” He urged Indians to maintain social distancing, wear masks and keep “hale and hearty.”

India still has strengths. It has a huge, young work force and oodles of tech geniuses. It represents a possible alternative to China at a time when the United States and much of the rest of the world is realigning itself away from Beijing.

But its stature in the world is slipping. Last quarter the Indian economy shrank by 24 percent, while China’s is growing again. Economists say India risks losing its place as the world’s fifth largest economy, behind the United States, China, Japan and Germany.

“This is probably the worst situation India has been in since independence,” said Jayati Ghosh, a development economist at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. “People have no money. Investors aren’t going to invest if there is no market. And the costs have gone up for most production.”

Many neighborhoods in the capital of New Delhi where low-paid workers used to live are deserted, shell-like, a hot wind blowing through empty, tin-walled shacks. A few years ago, when the economy was expanding at a 9 percent clip, it was difficult to find a place here to rent.

When Mr. Modi was swept to power in 2014 on a tide of Hindu nationalism, many Indians felt their nation had finally found the forceful leader to match their aspirations.

But Mr. Modi has concentrated his energies on divisive ideological projects, like a new citizenship law that blatantly discriminates against Muslims or tightening the government’s grip over the mostly Muslim region of Kashmir.

Quarter by quarter, India’s economic growth rate has been dropping, from 8 percent in 2016 to 4 percent right before the pandemic. Four percent would be respectable for a developed country like the United States. But in India, that level is no match for the millions of young people streaming into the work force each year, hungry for their first job.

Many of the complaints that investors make about India — the cumbersome land policies, the restrictive labor laws, the red tape — predate Mr. Modi. But his confidence and absolutism, the same qualities that appealed to many voters, may have added to the problems.

Four years ago he suddenly wiped out nearly 90 percent of India’s paper currency to tamp down corruption and encourage digital payments. While economists cheered both goals, they say the way Mr. Modi sprang this move on India did long-lasting damage to the economy.

That impulsiveness emerged again when the coronavirus struck. On March 24, at 8 p.m., after ordering all Indians to stay indoors, Mr. Modi shut down the economy — offices, factories, roads, trains, borders between states, just about everything — with four hours’ notice.

Tens of millions of Indians lost their jobs instantly. Many worked in factories or on construction sites or in urban homes, but they were migrants from rural India.

Fearing they would starve to death in city slums, millions poured out of the urban centers and walked, rode bicycles or hitched desperate rides back to their villages, an epic reverse migration from city to countryside that India had never seen. That dragged coronavirus into every corner of this country of 1.3 billion people.

Now, looking back on it, many economists trace the root of India’s interlocking crises — spiraling infections and a devastated economy — to this moment.

“India’s embarrassing slowdown in the second quarter of 2020 is almost entirely because of the nature of the lockdown,” said Kaushik Basu, a former chief economist at the World Bank and now a professor at Cornell. “This may have been worth it if it arrested the pandemic. It did not.”

He called the approach “lockdown-and-scatter” and said Mr. Modi’s policies had been a “failure.”

Some workers have trickled back to the cities. But the construction and manufacturing industries have contracted sharply because many migrant laborers remain so traumatized, they don’t want to ever go back.

“We went hungry for days,” said Mohammad Chand, who once worked in a garment factory near Delhi but fled to his ancestral village, hundreds of miles away. “I had to shunt from place to place after being thrown out by the landlord. Even relatives started showing us the door.”

“I don’t want to be in that situation again,” he said.

In Surat’s textile market, Jagdish Goyal sat scowling in his deserted shop with piles of women’s suits in teals and oranges, priced for the working poor, now stacked to the ceiling.

“Nobody’s buying,” he said. “Why? Because there are no social functions. No weddings to dress up for. No places to go. No big birthday parties. People are scared to go out.”

According to a recent Google Mobility Report, which tracks cellphone data, trips to retail and recreation areas have dropped by 39 percent compared with before the pandemic. In Brazil and the United States, the only countries with more coronavirus infections, the drops were less than half as severe.

Mr. Modi’s government has provided some emergency relief, around $260 billion, but economists said too little flowed to the poor. Tax revenues have plummeted, some states are unable to pay health care workers and government debt is approaching its highest level in 40 years.

Still, Mr. Modi’s popularity keeps rising. A recent poll published in India Today, a leading newsmagazine, showed his approval rating at 78 percent, the highest in five years.

Part of this can be explained by the competition’s collapse. The biggest opposition party, the Indian National Congress, has been hit by defections, back-stabbing and a never-ending existential crisis on who should lead it. And Mr. Modi’s embrace of Hindu nationalism plays well within the Hindu majority, about four-fifths of the population.

“His protection of Hindu values is a big reason why I support him,” said Mr. Goyal, the seller of ladies’ suits. “If our self-respect isn’t alive, what good is the economy?”

A few parts of the economy are doing OK. Agriculture has been lifted by strong monsoon rains. In some cities, like New Delhi, many businesses are open again, though they might have new signs on the doors that say: “No more than 3 People Inside” or “Flat 40 Percent Off!”

But the virus and the economy are intertwined, and India’s virus graph is a steady staircase, going up. India is also No. 3 in virus deaths, though its per capita death rate is much lower.

Anxiety hangs in the humid air of Surat’s textile zone.

“No one comes for a shave anymore,” lamented Akshay Sen, a young barber with a few coins in his pocket.

His words echoed off the shuttered shops. Behind him stood a bunch of men milling around a tea stand but not buying any tea.

Behind all that, like a warning sign on the horizon, stood yet another tall brick smokestack, smokeless.

Reporting was contributed by Shalini Venugopal Bhagat, Sameer Yasir, Kai Schultz, Suhasini Raj and Hari Kumar.

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Defiant civil servants union boss hits back at Boris Johnson’s call to return to the office https://newsnetdaily.com/defiant-civil-servants-union-boss-hits-back-at-boris-johnsons-call-to-return-to-the-office/ Sat, 05 Sep 2020 11:55:10 +0000 https://newsnetdaily.com/defiant-civil-servants-union-boss-hits-back-at-boris-johnsons-call-to-return-to-the-office/ dailymail

Civil servants could strike over Government plans to get workers back to desks this month as unions claim it is still not safe to return to the office.

Boris Johnson last night set a target of four in five workers to return to Whitehall each week by the end of the month, with mandarins also providing weekly figures on staff numbers to monitor progress.

The Prime Minister’s drive is part of a desperate bid to rescue the economy, during a year in which GDP has plummeted as a result of the crisis.  

However, the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union has said it would be willing to consider strike action after confirming it opposed the plans. 

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union confirmed it would be willing to consider strike action

In a statement, the union said: ‘Our members have kept the country running during the pandemic while working from home and we believe it is not safe to return to workplaces while Covid-19 infection rates remain high and given the likelihood of a second wave in the coming weeks.

‘We are asking departments to provide, as a matter of urgency, for each building the Covid-secure limit, current staffing in each building and current risk assessment for each building.’

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘If the Government or any employer starts forcing people back to work and we believe that it is not safe to do so we will firstly consider our legal options, secondly give individual legal advice, and thirdly consider whether a collective response is required.

‘As a last resort, if you have no other option and people’s health and safety is at risk, of course we would be prepared to consider industrial action.’

Its national executive committee is due to meet on Wednesday September 9 and will ‘decide how to respond’, the union said.

It comes after another trade body boss has hit back at the PM, after saying there has been an ‘industrial revolution’ towards home working.    

 Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union, which represents managers and professionals in public service, told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme: ‘If you look at what’s happened over the last six months, as well as transforming themselves into home-based service, the civil service has had to transform its priorities.

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union, which represents managers and professionals in public service, said there has been an 'industrial revolution' towards home working

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union, which represents managers and professionals in public service, said there has been an ‘industrial revolution’ towards home working

Covid shifts to the young: Two-thirds of UK’s new infections are in the under-40s

Two-thirds of new coronavirus infections in the UK are in the under-40s, while the rate among older people has fallen sharply in an ‘extraordinary’ shift.

The number of over-50s testing positive for Covid-19 now represents just a fifth of those nationwide, compared with three quarters in the spring.

Just three per cent are now made up of those over 80, down from 28 per cent six months ago, reported The Times.

The peak age range for infections is now in the 20s but for most of the pandemic it was in the 80s – sparking hope further restrictions can be reduced because it seems older people are voluntarily shielding.

One Government adviser has suggested a Swedish-style effort to keep workplaces open while advising older people to stay at home.

Professor Dame Anne Johnson, professor of infectious disease epidemiology, University College London, told BBC Radio 4: ‘This is indeed a critical moment. If you look at the data from PHE across the country, we are now seeing the highest number of detected infections in younger people aged 20-29 and also going up to 45.

‘On the one hand, the good news is we aren’t at the moment seeing the uptick in cases in hospitals and in deaths but of course that reflects where the transmission is going on.’

She added that it would be ‘incredibly important’ to continue to tell young people about the risks of transmitting coronavirus.

‘It had to deal with a six-fold increase in Universal Credit, had to develop the furlough scheme to support nine million workers, all while it was 95% home-based. I don’t think there’s a lot of evidence to suggest it’s less effective.

‘Do you think you’re going to lecture the private sector about what’s efficient? Are they simply going to say ‘this has been working, but because civil servants are coming back into Whitehall, we’re going to tell our staff they’ve got to come back even though it’s working for us now’?

‘This idea that the government is going to lecture the private sector about what’s good for it, and virtue signal with the civil service is a fool’s errand. 

‘There has been this industrial revolution and ministers have just let that pass them by and instead have these pronouncements on high, dreaming of rotas in cabinet about how civil servants are going to get back to the office.’  

Mr Penman also accused the government of trying to ‘shame’ workers through coverage of how few have been commuting in to return to desks via the media.  

At the beginning of lockdown there were 423,000 civil servants employed full time by Whitehall departments.

Permanent secretaries were given instructions last night to ‘move quickly’ to ‘bring more staff back into the office’, taking advantage of the return to schools and increased public transport services.

In a letter to all Whitehall ministries and seen by the Mail, Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill and civil service chief Alex Chisholm said the Prime Minister has ‘made clear his aim is to get as many people back to workplaces as possible’ in a safe way.

At a Cabinet meeting earlier this week, they said ministers had agreed that ‘increasing both the number of people in the office and the amount of time those people spend in the office’ would be ‘hugely beneficial’ for the civil service.

‘The Prime Minister is also clear that getting more people back into work in a Covid secure way will improve the public services we deliver, and will also provide a significant boost to the local economies where they are based,’ they added.

The Prime Minister set a target of four in five workers to return to Whitehall each week by the end of the month

The Prime Minister set a target of four in five workers to return to Whitehall each week by the end of the month

A graph shows how the United Kingdom's GDP has plummeted this year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic

A graph shows how the United Kingdom’s GDP has plummeted this year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic

The letter warned that the huge numbers of civil servants working from home had led to a ‘reduced level of social interaction among our colleagues, with the loss of some of the spontaneous interaction and cross fertilisation between teams that drives innovation and sustained common purpose’.

It added: ‘There have also been challenges with bringing on board new or inexperienced colleagues and limitations in the ability to mentor and develop our people.

‘In short, it is the Government’s view that on the whole there are significant benefits to be gained from working collaboratively in an office environment and where possible colleagues should now return to the office in line with Covid-secure levels.’

The civil service heads said the aim is for 80 per cent of staff to ‘attend their usual workplace each week’ by using a rota system that will see some come in for only two or three days. 

In a letter to all Whitehall ministries Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill and civil service chief Alex Chisholm said the Prime Minister's 'aim is to get as many people back to workplaces as possible' in a safe way

In a letter to all Whitehall ministries Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill and civil service chief Alex Chisholm said the Prime Minister’s ‘aim is to get as many people back to workplaces as possible’ in a safe way

The push is a victory for the Mail, which has called for more civil servants to go back to their desks to set an example for the rest of the country. 

In a sign that action is finally being taken, Home Office staff were told yesterday that they would be expected back promptly.

The department’s permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft said it would enable them to carry out a ‘full and effective performance’.

The Mail has continued to monitor staffing levels across Whitehall, with as few as 5 per cent of staff turning up to work at ministries this week.

As millions of pupils returned to classrooms this week, it was likely to be a busy week at the offices of the Department for Education, which accommodated up to 2,000 staff before the pandemic.

Yet only 103 staff arrived at its seven-floor headquarters on Tuesday and 120 on Thursday – accounting for just six per cent of capacity. 

At the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, where 1,800 staff usually work, the number of staff just broke into triple figures. 

EXCERPTS FROM THE LETTER 

Dear Colleagues 

The Prime Minister is clear that getting more people back into work in a Covid-secure way will improve the public services we deliver, and will also provide a significant boost to the local economies where they are based.

We have seen a reduced level of social interaction among our colleagues, with the loss of some of the spontaneous interaction and cross-fertilisation between teams that drives innovation and sustained common purpose. 

There have also been challenges with bringing on board new or inexperienced colleges and limitations in the ability to mentor and develop our people, particularly those earlier in their careers. This is reportedly most acute for those without easy access to high-quality home-working facilities, for those in rented accommodation and for younger colleagues earlier in their careers. 

In short, it is the Government’s view that on the whole there are significant benefits to be gained from working collaboratively in an office environment and – where possible – colleagues should now return to the office in line with Covid-secure levels.

Alex Chisholm

Civil Service Chief Operating Officer

Sir Mark Sedwill

Cabinet Secretary 

Lockdown-free Sweden’s coronavirus case rate is now lower than Nordic neighbours Denmark and Norway with just 12 new infections per million people over the past week

Lockdown-free Sweden saw its coronavirus case rate drop below its Nordic neighbours Denmark and Norway today to just 12 new infections per million people over the past week.

In comparison, Norway saw 14 new infections per million people, and Denmark saw 18, meaning Sweden had an average case rate over seven days lower than its neighbours for the first time since March.

‘Sweden has gone from being one of the countries with the most infection in Europe, to one of those with the least infection in Europe,’ the country’s state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said at a press conference earlier this week.

Meanwhile, ‘many other countries have seen a rather dramatic increase,’ he added. 

At the height of the pandemic, Sweden’s infection rate dwarfed that of its neighbours, who did implement a lockdown.

For the first time since March, Sweden's infection rater per million people (12) dropped below that of its Nordic neighbours Denmark (18) and Norway (14)

For the first time since March, Sweden’s infection rater per million people (12) dropped below that of its Nordic neighbours Denmark (18) and Norway (14)

At the height of its pandemic (pictured in April), Sweden chose not to lock-down. Now, for the first time since March, its infection rate per one million people has dropped below that of its Nordic neighbours Denmark and Norway

At the height of its pandemic (pictured in April), Sweden chose not to lock-down. Now, for the first time since March, its infection rate per one million people has dropped below that of its Nordic neighbours Denmark and Norway

At its peak on June 19, Sweden was seeing 108 new infections per million people, compared to Denmark and Norway’s eight and three respectively.

The number of deaths in Sweden is now averaging at two to three per day, compared to a peak of over a hundred per-day it suffered in mid-April.

Furthermore, its capital Stockholm, the epicentre of Sweden’s pandemic during the peak months of April and May, registered its lowers number of cases since March last week.

In Stockholm, 250 of 14,000 people tested last week were infected with the virus, a positive rate of 1.8 percent. 

Meanwhile, Denmark registered 179 new cases on Friday, its highest daily total for more than four months. 

To add to positive signs in Sweden, a test last week of 2,500 randomly selected people found not one had coronavirus. 

In comparison, in a similar test, 0.9 per cent were found to have the virus at the end of April and 0.3 per cent at the end of May.

Announcing the results on Thursday, Dr Tegnell’s deputy at the Public Health Agency of Sweden, Karin Tegmark Wisell, said: ‘We interpret this as meaning there is not currently a widespread infection among people who do not have symptoms.’

Lockdown-free Sweden has been controversial for its liberal attitude to controlling the pandemic, preferring instead to let run through the population to create a ‘herd immunity’. 

But the country’s latest figures may silence some of its critics, and will come as a relief to those who advocated for the approach and came under fire in May as the country saw the highest per-capita death rate in the world for a period. 

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Coronavirus: Civil servants ‘must get back to offices quickly’ https://newsnetdaily.com/coronavirus-civil-servants-must-get-back-to-offices-quickly/ Sat, 05 Sep 2020 11:45:03 +0000 https://newsnetdaily.com/coronavirus-civil-servants-must-get-back-to-offices-quickly/ BBC

Image copyright
PA Media

The government has urged Whitehall bosses to “move quickly” to get more staff back into the office.

In a letter seen by the BBC, it says it is “strongly encouraging” attendance through rota systems, arguing this would be “hugely beneficial”.

The government says it wants 80% of civil servants to be able to attend their usual workplace at least once a week by the end of the month.

But unions have described the government’s attitude as outdated.

They say most civil servants should expect to keep working from home until the end of the year and that they fear an increased risk of catching coronavirus when back with colleagues.

The letter applies to staff in England, with those elsewhere in the UK expected to follow local guidance and continue working from home.

It follows criticism that too few civil servants working from home because of coronavirus have returned to their desks, despite the easing of lockdown.

According to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), there has been an increase in people travelling to work in the last two months, with fewer working exclusively from home.

They said 57% of working adults – out of 1,644 surveyed – reported that they had travelled to work at some point in the past seven days, while 20% had worked solely from home.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionWhat does a ‘Covid-secure’ workplace look like?

Thousands of businesses that rely on passing trade are suffering while offices stand empty, Dame Carolyn Fairbairn from the CBI has said.

But Alex Brazier, the Bank of England’s executive director for financial stability, has warned that the government should not expect a “sharp return” to “dense office environments”.

In the letter, sent to permanent secretaries – the highest officials in government departments – Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill and Alex Chisholm, chief operating officer of the Civil Service, say that “getting more people back into work in a Covid-secure way will improve the public services we deliver”.

They add: “We have seen a reduced level of social interaction among our colleagues, with the loss of some of the spontaneous interaction and cross-fertilisation between teams that drives innovation and sustained common purpose.”

But they say staff safety “remains our paramount concern”, and that workplace returns will be discussed with unions and staff groups.

Workplace guidance includes introducing one-way systems, staggered shift times and limiting the number of colleagues that staff members are exposed to in order to prevent the spread of the virus, such as only allowing a small number in lifts at any one time.

The letter goes on: “Departments which are still below their departmental constraints should now move quickly to seek to bring more staff back into the office in a Covid-secure way, and take advantage of the return to schools this month and increased public transport availability.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has asked officials for a weekly update on progress.

Boris Johnson is clearly worried about the impact of empty office districts in major cities – and has been urging people to discuss going back to the office, where it’s safe to do so.

Some Tory MPs want it to be the government’s main priority now that schools are open again. They fear without movement soon, there could be extensive and lasting economic damage.

Encouraging civil servants back into the office could be seen as leading by example, perhaps showing how a system might work for other employers.

But unions warn the workplace has changed forever and ministers would be better focussing on how to adapt to a new working world.

The FDA union, which represents senior civil servants, said this week that it estimated 30% to 40% would be able to return to the office by the end of the year.

Leader Dave Penman accused ministers of “sounding like Luddites” in an era when technology made home working easier.

Mr Penman told BBC Radio 4’s Today that one “fundamental problem” with the approach was that, on a practical level, government offices have a maximum capacity of around 50% because of coronavirus restrictions. He said the civil service was working “very effectively” from home.

He added it was “quite clear” that “this is really about virtue signalling to the private sector that has already moved on”.

And Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said he was prepared to consider industrial action “as a last resort” if workers’ health and safety were “put at risk”.

Meanwhile, outsourcing firm Capita – a major government contractor – is planning to close more than a third of its offices in the UK permanently.

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Biden meets with Jacob Blake’s family during a visit to Kenosha https://newsnetdaily.com/biden-meets-with-jacob-blakes-family-during-a-visit-to-kenosha/ Sat, 05 Sep 2020 11:40:05 +0000 https://newsnetdaily.com/biden-meets-with-jacob-blakes-family-during-a-visit-to-kenosha/ cnbc

Democratic U.S. presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to residents during a community meeting at Grace Lutheran Church after a week of unrest in the aftermath of the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, September 3, 2020.

Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden met for 90 minutes Thursday with the family of Jacob Blake, a Black man whose shooting by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin. has sparked protests, some of which turned violent. 

The meeting took place near the Milwaukee airport, where Biden stopped on his way to a community meeting in Kenosha. Blake was shot seven times in the back by a police officer on Aug. 23, and he remains hospitalized.

“I had an opportunity to spend some time with Jacob on the phone,” said Biden, speaking later at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha. “He’s out of ICU. We spoke for about 15 minutes … and he talked about how nothing was gonna defeat him. How whether he walked again or not, he was not gonna give up.”

“What I came away with was the overwhelming sense of resilience and optimism that they have about the kind of response they’re getting,” Biden said. “His mom said a prayer. She said, ‘I’m praying for Jacob, and I’m praying for the policeman as well. I’m praying that things change.'”

Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, also discussed “changing the disparate treatment of minorities in police interactions, the impact of selecting Kamala Harris as a Black woman as his running mate, and Vice President Biden’s plans for change,” said Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for the Blake family who participated in the meeting by phone.

“It was very obvious that Vice President Biden cared, as he extended to Jacob Jr. a sense of humanity, treating him as a person worthy of consideration and prayer,” Crump said. 

At the community meeting, Biden mostly listened to residents as they shared their perspectives on systemic racism, policing and what it will take for the community to heal. He responded with several of his relevant campaign pledges, including his promise to raise the nationwide minimum wage to $15 an hour, and to fund mental health and drug rehabilitation over more mass incarceration. 

With just over 60 days until Election Day, Biden’s visit was also noteworthy because it is was the longest trip he has made away from his home in Wilmington, Delaware, since the start of the coronavirus pandemic this spring. The visit is likely to please Biden’s Democratic allies, who have been encouraging him to travel more, and especially to swing states like Wisconsin.

President Donald Trump narrowly won Wisconsin in 2016, becoming the first Republican since Ronald Reagan to capture the state’s electoral votes. 

Trump visited Kenosha on Tuesday, where he thanked law enforcement and other community members but did not meet with the Blake family. The White House said that an effort was made to set up a meeting with Trump, but the president later said that he refused to meet with or speak to Blake’s family because they wanted to have their lawyer present. Trump said he found that “inappropriate.” 

Blake’s shooting was the latest in a series of police shootings of Black men and women this spring and summer which have horrified many Americans, and sparked a nationwide reckoning on racial justice and the role of police.

Largely peaceful demonstrations against police brutality have been held in cities across the United States since May, when the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis triggered protests around the world. A small number of demonstrations have included riots, arson and clashes with police. 

In Kenosha, several businesses were burned down during three nights of rioting and two protesters were shot and killed by an armed vigilante. Police have charged Kyle Rittenhouse, a White 17 year-old, with the killings. 

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world news ‘Agricultural Jihad’: A Hungry Lebanon Returns to Family Farms to Feed Itself https://newsnetdaily.com/world-news-agricultural-jihad-a-hungry-lebanon-returns-to-family-farms-to-feed-itself/ Sat, 05 Sep 2020 11:30:07 +0000 https://newsnetdaily.com/world-news-agricultural-jihad-a-hungry-lebanon-returns-to-family-farms-to-feed-itself/ news net daily :

ANTELIAS, Lebanon — The falafel shop owner leaned back and listed the keys to the Lebanese kitchen — the staples that help lend this country its culinary halo:

  • Sesame seeds for the smoky-silky tahini sauce dolloped over falafel and fried fish — which are imported from Sudan.

  • Fava beans for the classic breakfast stomach-filler known as ful — imported from Britain and Australia.

  • And the chickpeas for hummus, that ethereally smooth Lebanese spread? They come from Mexico. Lebanese chickpeas are considered too small and misshapen for anything but animal feed.

“We got spoiled,” said Jad André Lutfi, who helps run Falafel Abou André, his family’s business, a cheap and casual chain. “We’ve imported anything you can think of from around the world.”

So it went for years, until the country’s economy caved in, before the coronavirus pandemic paralyzed what was left of it and an explosion on Aug. 4 demolished businesses and homes across Beirut — to say nothing of the damaged port, through which most of Lebanon’s imports arrive.

The country that boasts of serving the Arab world’s most refined food has begun to go hungry, and its middle class, once able to vacation in Europe and go out for sushi, is finding supermarket shelves and cupboards increasingly bare.

Hence the politicians’ sudden cry: The Lebanese, they urged earlier this year, must grow their own food, waging what Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the militia and political party Hezbollah, has called “agricultural jihad.”

As cures go, victory gardens might seem a poor substitute for the economic and political reforms that international lenders and the Lebanese alike have demanded to halt the country’s collapse. But the alternative is bleak.

“Even making hummus at home is a luxury now,” said Mr. Lutfi, noting that a kilogram of Mexican chickpeas has tripled in price. “These are necessities. Now they’re becoming a luxury.”

The Lebanese pound has bled about 80 percent of its value since last fall, sending food prices soaring and forcing many households to accept food handouts as the share of Lebanese living in poverty rose to more than half the population.

The potential for hunger has only grown since the blast, which displaced about 300,000 people from their homes, stripped an unknown number of their incomes and left many residents reliant on donated meals.

Well before politicians began exhorting citizens to plant, a growing number had already done so.

Late last year, Lynn Hobeika cleared out a long-neglected family plot in the village where she grew up in the mountains northeast of Beirut.

Borrowing money from a friend, Ms. Hobeika, 42, planted enough tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, zucchini, strawberries, eggplant, greens and herbs to see her extended family through the winter and beyond. She also began making fresh goat cheese for extra income.

“This is what makes me feel blessed. I can grow my food,” she said, surveying the view from her garden — terraces of olive, fig, mulberry and walnut trees sloping down to a green valley. “It’s OK, we’re not going to starve.”

Though her father, who owned a fleet of school buses, had kept chickens and a backyard garden when she was young, Ms. Hobeika and her generation grew up expecting to lead comfortable city lives. She graduated from an elite university. She and her husband earned enough to send their son to private school.

Then their fortunes slipped along with Lebanon’s economy. Her income as a private chef slumped as other families cut back; her husband’s work — buying used cars in Europe and reselling them in the Middle East — dried up with the pandemic.

They moved their son to a free school. Ms. Hobeika sold her jewelry to pay for food.

The garden in the village of Baskinta became her family’s safety net. Her father and uncle were about to sell the land, which had been in the family for generations. But Lebanese banks have barred account holders from withdrawing more than a few hundred dollars per week, rendering any bank check “as worthless as toilet paper,” Ms. Hobeika said.

“You lose the land for toilet paper, or we keep it and we eat for months,” she said she told her uncle. “You’re not making money, but you’re saving money. Instead of going to the supermarket, you’re eating something fresh.”

Her cousin, Mansour Abi Shaker, also turned to fallow family land elsewhere, planting vegetables and raising chicken and sheep in a backyard enclosure shaded by mulberry and persimmon trees.

He had been a ski instructor, a factory manager and an operator of the generators many Lebanese depend on to fill gaps in government-supplied electricity. Then he lost all three jobs.

“Suddenly I woke up, and — nothing. Like all of Lebanon, I was jobless,” said Mr. Abi Shaker, 34, who lives in the village of Aajaltoun. “I never thought I’d do this in my life, but I have to survive. This is the only business I can live off of in the future.”

YouTube tutorials did not prepare Mr. Abi Shaker for the ups and downs of animal husbandry. Five sheep died, each a loss of about $500.

Nor did YouTube have much to say about the realities of Lebanon: few basic services, lots of corruption. With government-supplied water mismanaged at best and distributed according to political or corrupt motivations at worst, Mr. Abi Shaker had to buy his own tank.

Though Ms. Hobeika’s zucchini plants have delivered so enthusiastically that she will have enough to preserve or freeze for the winter, she, too, cannot get government water.

Then there is the climbing price of the imported dried cranberries with which she studs her goat cheese by hand; the power blackouts that make refrigerating it a daily ordeal; and the wildly fluctuating exchange rate, which has forced her to raise prices three times.

All seemed beatable until the explosion, which appeared to be the result of government incompetence and neglect. In despair after the blast, Ms. Hobeika was considering leaving Lebanon.

“I was just thinking that I was a success story. I tried,” she said. “But, enough — this is not a life. We’re only surviving, we’re not living. And I’m not seeing any future for my son here anymore.”

In returning to land last tilled by their grandparents, Mr. Abi Shaker, Ms. Hobeika and other newly minted farmers are also, in small measure, reversing Lebanon’s decades-long shift away from agriculture toward banking, tourism and services.

For decades, agriculture’s decline mattered little to consumers; the country could afford to import 80 percent of its food. But that outside dependence is no longer sustainable when hyperinflation is hollowing out salaries.

Though Lebanon grows plenty of fruit and vegetables, it lacks the land and technology to produce enough wheat and other staple crops for domestic consumption. Still, experts say, it could import less and export more specialty items.

“We’ll never be self-sufficient in what we produce,” said Mabelle Chedid, a sustainable farming expert and president of the Food Heritage Foundation. “But with globalization, we started to shift to other ingredients and other food items, and I think now it’s time to re-look at our traditional diet and really see the value of it.”

Instead of imported quinoa, self-sufficiency advocates plug Lebanon’s traditional whole grains — bulgur, a cracked wheat, and freekeh, a smoky roasted green wheat that, in the optimistic assessment of Shadi Hamadeh, an agriculture professor at the American University of Beirut, “is competing with quinoa in New York right now.”

Mr. Hamadeh and Ms. Chedid run a sustainable farming initiative that counsels new farmers to plant native Lebanese seeds instead of imported varieties that yield greater harvests but are not adapted to the environment.

Among the more than 130 people who have contacted them since the economic crisis began are those planting tomatoes on their balconies, new farmers with small plots and those investing their life savings in farmland.

But no one can feed a family from a balcony.

“It’s a joke,” said Chef Antoine El Hajj, Lebanon’s chief televangelist for cooking affordable, traditional food, dismissing the politicians’ sudden zeal for gardening. “It’s not realistic.”

It is not that he does not believe in homegrown produce — his extended family eats from his garden in the mountains above Beirut — but, he pointed out, there would be no need for it if Lebanon’s leaders had not steered it into an economic abyss.

“Lebanon isn’t a poor country, it’s a looted one,” he said. “Before you ask me to plant, give me my money! Give the money back to the people, and they won’t need anything.”

Hwaida Saad contributed reporting.

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world news Bangladesh Mosque Blast, Likely Due to Gas Leak, Kills at Least 14 https://newsnetdaily.com/world-news-bangladesh-mosque-blast-likely-due-to-gas-leak-kills-at-least-14/ Sat, 05 Sep 2020 11:10:02 +0000 https://newsnetdaily.com/world-news-bangladesh-mosque-blast-likely-due-to-gas-leak-kills-at-least-14/ news net daily :

An explosion on Friday night at a mosque near Bangladesh’s capital, believed to have been caused by a gas leak, killed at least 16 worshipers and left 21 with burns so severe that the death toll could rise further, according to a police officer and a doctor treating some of the victims.

Gas from an underground pipeline may have leaked into the Baitus Salat Jame mosque in Narayanganj, just outside Dhaka. The mosque had been experiencing power outages and as the electricity surged back on, sparks from air conditioning units may have ignited fumes.

The mosque was crowded at the time with dozens of people in the two-story building. At about 8:30 p.m., several blasts shook the mosque and a fire broke out. At least one young child was among the dead.

“From witness accounts, we know that all six air-conditioners on the ground floor of the mosque exploded simultaneously,” said Aslam Hossain, a police officer. “Only one or two worshipers were able to escape from the mosque, the rest were burned inside the mosque.”

Faulty gas pipelines and shoddy cylinders often lead to deaths in Bangladesh, where regulations are weak and inspections are infrequent. Two separate accidents involving gas cylinders killed at least two people in July and August. Last fall, seven children died after a gas cylinder used for inflating balloons exploded in Dhaka.

Photos showed the mosque’s white air conditioning units browned, gnarled and sagging, partially melted from the flames. Authorities are still investigating the cause of the blast. But Mr. Hossain said “we have come to know that there were leakages in the gas pipeline underneath the mosque.”

By Saturday morning, many of the survivors were fighting for their lives.

“They have major burns. Their bodies are nearly fully burned and their airways are also burned badly,” said Dr. Samanta Lal Sen, the national coordinator for Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery in Dhaka, where some victims were being treated. “It will be very challenging to save them,” he added.

Rubel Hossain said on Saturday that his niece had lost her 6-year-old son in the blast and her husband was being treated for burns. The niece told her uncle that the boy had asked to watch cartoons on television but she had told him to go to the mosque with his father first.

“She has stopped talking. She has refrained from eating and drinking since last night,” Mr. Hossain said. “She said, ‘If I had not sent my son to the mosque, he would not have had to die.’”

Julfikar Ali Manik reported from Dhaka, Bangladesh and Maria Abi-Habib reported from Los Angeles, California.

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Thousands of British tourists may be ignoring 14-day quarantine rules after returning to UK https://newsnetdaily.com/thousands-of-british-tourists-may-be-ignoring-14-day-quarantine-rules-after-returning-to-uk/ Sat, 05 Sep 2020 10:40:06 +0000 https://newsnetdaily.com/thousands-of-british-tourists-may-be-ignoring-14-day-quarantine-rules-after-returning-to-uk/ dailymail

Thousands of Brits across the country may be flouting quarantine rules and not self-isolating after returning from trips abroad.  

The Metropolitan Police has received more than 1,000 referrals to carry out quarantine checks to make sure that returned holidaymakers are self-isolating.  

And experts have warned that if Brits don’t stick to the rules laid out by the Government then a country-wide lockdown could well be enforced. 

Requests for ‘further action’ have been raised by Border Force officials and Public Health England. 

It comes after Boris Johnson yesterday defied a huge Tory backlash to insist coronavirus testing on arrival at airports would only give a ‘false sense of security’. 

MPs voiced frustration as Mr Johnson again poured cold water on the idea, despite desperate pleas to reform the Government’s blanket travel quarantine policy in order to prevent the ‘demise’ of the aviation sector. 

Thousands of Brits across the country may be flouting quarantine rules and not self-isolating after trips abroad. Pictured: Travellers arriving at Heathrow airport on August 22

A professor of environmental engineering at Leeds University and a member of the government’s Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) committee warned that the UK is at a pivotal point. 

Catherine Noakes told The Guardian: ‘We are at a point where there’s a risk that wider transmission of Covid could increase again. 

Transmission depends of the amount of contact between people, and with schools and universities returning and many more people going back to work, the level of interactions in communities is likely to increase.’ 

The stern warning came as it was revealed that a further 1,940 people were infected with coronavirus as of yesterday – the highest daily number since May.  

The Metropolitan Police has received more than 1,000 referrals to carry out quarantine checks to make sure that returned holidaymakers are self-isolating. Pictured: Travellers arriving at Heathrow airport on August 22

The Metropolitan Police has received more than 1,000 referrals to carry out quarantine checks to make sure that returned holidaymakers are self-isolating. Pictured: Travellers arriving at Heathrow airport on August 22

The Metropolitan police told The Guardian it had received more than 1,000 referrals since the beginning of August for quarantine checks to be carried out.

Officers have so far visited 840 people who should be quarantining after returning from abroad. They are planning to visit another 301 travellers who have recently returned.  

Greater Manchester police said its officers had received 263 quarantine referrals. 

And officers said they had also issued two fixed penalty notices in relation to people repeatedly breaching the self-isolation regulations.

Ms Noakes added: ‘It’s crucial that we don’t allow cases to rise so we can avoid more widespread restrictions again. This means that people should keep maintaining social distance, washing hands, wearing a face covering in indoor public spaces and making sure that shared spaces in buildings are well ventilated.’

And experts have warned that if Brits don't stick to the rules laid out by the Government then a country-wide lockdown could well be enforced. Pictured: A traveller arrives at Heathrow airport on August 22

And experts have warned that if Brits don’t stick to the rules laid out by the Government then a country-wide lockdown could well be enforced. Pictured: A traveller arrives at Heathrow airport on August 22

Nurse Natasha Owen, 33, from London, gets ready to swab passengers at the testing facility in Heathrow Airport

Nurse Natasha Owen, 33, from London, gets ready to swab passengers at the testing facility in Heathrow Airport 

The facility is similar to those currently operating at airports in Germany, Iceland and many other European nations

The facility is similar to those currently operating at airports in Germany, Iceland and many other European nations

A member of Sage, who asked not to be named, told The Guardian that they were unsure why the UK hasn’t yet seen a spike in cases like France or Spain but guessed it would probably come soon.

They said: ‘I would say that it is pivotal. We either go into the winter in a position where we feel confident that we have this problem on a string or where it is still a wild beast which we can’t control. I suspect it’s the latter.’  

MPs voiced frustration as Mr Johnson again poured cold water on the idea of testing holidaymakers as they return in airports, despite desperate pleas to reform the Government’s blanket travel quarantine policy in order to prevent the ‘demise’ of the aviation sector.

The premier said Public Health England believed only seven per cent of cases could be caught by screening people on arrival. 

Speaking during a visit to a HS2 site in Solihull, he said he understood the ‘difficulties’ faced by the air industry but the 14 day self isolation requirement remained ‘vital’.

WHAT ARE THE QUARANTINE RULES? 

Anyone entering England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland from somewhere that is not on that country’s list of exempt travel corridors must go into self-isolation for 14 days. 

You can’t get round the rules by using a different airport.

Everyone entering the UK, including British nationals, must fill in a ‘passenger locator’ form and provide their contact details and UK address. 

If someone who is required to self-isolate does not provide an address, the government will arrange accommodation at the traveller’s expense. 

For 14 days, starting from the day after arrival, people who are quarantining should not:

Go to work, school, or public areas.

Have visitors, except for essential support.

Go out to buy food, or other essentials, if they can rely on others to do this for them.

Use taxis or public transport to reach their destination on arrival in the UK, if possible. 

The quarantine rules apply to everyone apart from selected groups of people such as freight drivers, very regular business travellers, and politicians or other dignitaries.  

A No10 spokesman added: ‘Testing at the border does not work to catch people who may go on to get the virus.’

But Conservative MP Henry Smith, who chairs the all-party group on aviation, pointed out that other major countries such as Germany and France were already introducing testing at airports. He said the government could not allow the UK to be at a ‘competitive disadvantage’.  

A growing band of Tory rebels are hoping that airport testing could be the next in a string of government policy U-turns. In a potential chink of light, Grant Shapps today admitted that the move could halve the 14-day quarantine period. 

While he stressed routine screening was not a ‘silver bullet’, Mr Shapps suggested that it could be a way of reducing the restrictions on travellers from higher-infection countries.  

The comments came as the Cabinet minister conceded that the government’s  quarantine rules are causing ‘confusion’, after England kept Portugal on the safe list – despite Scotland and Wales imposing curbs.

Amid rising anger from bewildered holidaymakers that the system amounts to ‘roulette’, the he said starkly different approaches within the UK were a problem.

But he insisted that the Westminster government had assessed the best evidence and concluded that Portugal was still low-risk, and swiped at Scotland for decreeing that travellers from Greece must self-isolate this week before even seeing the latest data. 

The desperate defence came amid growing evidence that the public is losing patience with the regime. An exclusive poll for MailOnline by Redfield & Wilton Strategies found just 24 per cent believe it is working, while 48 per cent say it is not.

Around a third want more countries added to the list of exempt countries.

Mr Johnson said quarantine measures for arrivals from countries deemed high-risk must remain ‘a vital part’ of the fight against coronavirus.

Asked during a visit to Solihull, he said he understands ‘the difficulties’ the airline industry is going through but said testing at points of entry only identifies 7 per cent of the cases.

‘So 93 per cent of the time you could have a real false sense of security, a false sense of confidence when you arrive and take a test,’ he said.

‘That’s why the quarantine system that we have has got to be an important part of our repertoire, of our toolbox, in fighting Covid.

‘What we don’t want to see is reinfection coming in from abroad and quarantine is a vital part of that.’  

Mr Smith said testing had to be part of the solution to easing quarantine. ‘Countries like Germany, France quite a few others are testing,’ he said. 

‘We are at a competitive disadvantage. Testing also means there is greater confidence for people to travel, and also greater confidence in terms of public health.

‘I think it is the answer. I am a little bit frustrated that the government don’t seem to be there yet,’ 

He added: ‘It seems to be effective. Obviously nothing is foolproof.’

Mr Smith said Heathrow had suggested a two-test process with a five-day quarantine.

Challenged on the demands for airports testing from across the industry, Mr Shapps told Sky News: ‘I know that airport testing is one of those things that sounds so logical. You come in, you get a test, perhaps one of these very quick test and you are free not to quarantine,’ he said.

‘The problem we have, and this is what I am working with airports on at the moment, and the industry, is that a day zero test as you get home is unlikely to find the vast majority of people who have travelled with coronavirus but are asymptomatic…

‘There are arguments about this, but PHE say that would perhaps pick up just seven per cent of people who are in fact positive, and allow those people to sort of go off.

‘So you probably have to have some kind of quarantine period in here, perhaps seven or eight days, maybe a test then.

‘But these are the things that we are working through at the moment.’ 

Britain has recorded another 13 coronavirus deaths today

Britain has recorded another 13 coronavirus deaths today

 During his round of interviews, Mr Shapps said there was an ‘argument’ for judging islands separately from mainland countries. ‘I think there is an argument for regionalising it… but having said that… actually the islands (in Spain) now wouldn’t be fine.

‘But it is fluid and I do accept there is space to look at those types of things.’ 

Expectations had been growing for days that Portugal would be added to the quarantine roll this week after the total weekly cases per 100,000 of population rose above the UK’s trigger threshold of 20.

Mr Shapps had previously indicated that this was the main metric the government would look at to impose restrictions. But last night, he announced that there would be no change – pointing out that the proportion of tests coming back positive still remained low.

The move left some holidaymakers complaining that they had been forced to come home early unnecessarily to avoid quarantine, while others had stayed on and were caught out by the change in the nations.  

WHAT ARE THE QUARANTINE RULES? 

A paper produced by Public Health England estimated that testing people when they cross a border could be a successful way of stopping the virus being imported, and particularly if they were tested twice.

The study, presented to the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) in June, said testing could slash the need for quarantine after international flights.

It said that if people were tested on landing and then released from quarantine after two days it would catch 85 per cent of cases, The Independent reported.

This, however, would mean 15 of every 100 infected travellers would get ‘false negative’ results and slip through the net.

Double-testing – once on arrival and then once after eight days of isolation – would catch 96 per cent.

In that scenario only four out of 100 people carrying the virus would get through the system. 

And it would still mean quarantine could be shortened from the current two weeks to just one. 

Timing the tests is important because if it is done too soon after someone has caught the virus, they may not have a substantial enough infection for a test to be able to pick it up. 

It can take a few days for the virus to really take hold and become detectable. This is called the ‘incubation period’ and people do not generally feel ill during this time so are silent carriers. The average incubation period for Covid-19 is thought to be five days.

PHE said: ‘Double testing of travellers significantly reduces the risk of false negatives, and could enable quarantine duration of less than 14 days.

‘The optimal days of testing are between days five and eight post-exposure’. 

The Cabinet minister took thinly-veiled swipes at Wales and Scotland for their action today.  

Scotland and Wales are imposing 14 days of isolation on arrivals from Portugal. Scotland is also including Greece on its quarantine list, while Wales added seven Greek islands.

Mr Shapps told Sky News: ‘I do realise it creates confusion for people not to have a single rule, but we do have this devolved approach throughout the United Kingdom and I can only be responsible for the English part of that.’

He said that Welsh ministers ‘had not perhaps noticed or seen’ that the proportion of positive tests had fallen in Portugal, as the overall number of tests were up.

And Mr Shapps claimed that Scotland had taken steps against Greece earlier this week without waiting to see the latest data from the Joint Biosecurity Centre. 

He said the UK Government’s review concluded no changes were necessary partly because test positivity in Portugal came down while the number of cases overall in Greece had fallen.

‘If you test more people, of course your number of positives per 100,000 would be more just as a product of having tested more people,’ he said.

‘We don’t want to penalise a country for doing the right thing, what we’re additionally interested in is how many of those tests were actually positive.  

‘So it’s getting that and in addition how it’s been treated, how fast it’s moving and whether the government in that country has a plan in place and many other factors that have to do with it.’

Ms Shapps said testing at airports is not a ‘silver bullet solution’ to end quarantining and the ‘vast majority’ of asymptomatic cases would not be detected by one test alone. 

But he told Sky News they were not ‘ignoring’ calls for testing at airports – and it could potentially slash the quarantine period in half. 

‘I know that airport testing is one of those things that sounds so logical. You come in, you get a test, perhaps one of these very quick test and you are free not to quarantine,’ he said.

‘The problem we have, and this is what I am working with airports on at the moment, and the industry, is that a day zero test as you get home is unlikely to find the vast majority of people who have travelled with coronavirus but are asymptomatic…

‘There are arguments about this, but PHE say that would perhaps pick up just seven per cent of people who are in fact positive, and allow those people to sort of go off.

‘So you probably have to have some kind of quarantine period in here, perhaps seven or eight days, maybe a test then.

‘But these are the things that we are working through at the moment.’

The UK's key metric for introducing quarantine is how many cases a country has had in total over the past week, adjusted to per 100,000 of population. Spain and France are still well above the level, while Portugal has also crept over it

 The UK’s key metric for introducing quarantine is how many cases a country has had in total over the past week, adjusted to per 100,000 of population. Spain and France are still well above the level, while Portugal has also crept over it

Portugal has been above the trigger threshold for UK quarantine measures for the past few days - but Grant Shapps said they were also looking at the proportion of tests that come back positive, and that had fallen

Portugal has been above the trigger threshold for UK quarantine measures for the past few days – but Grant Shapps said they were also looking at the proportion of tests that come back positive, and that had fallen 

Scotland and Wales have imposed restrictions on Greece, even though the case rates are still relatively low

Scotland and Wales have imposed restrictions on Greece, even though the case rates are still relatively low

Mr Shapps also said there was an ‘argument’ for judging islands separately from mainland countries. ‘I think there is an argument for regionalising it… but having said that… actually the islands (in Spain) now wouldn’t be fine.

‘But it is fluid and I do accept there is space to look at those types of things.’

There had been speculation that Westminster would reimpose the requirement on Portugal due to a spike in Covid-19 cases, leading many holidaymakers to pay hundreds of pounds to fly home this week. 

In Wales, the need to isolate for 14 days when arriving from Portugal, Gibraltar and seven Greek islands came into force at 4am on Friday.

How Germany has nearly DOUBLED its testing rate to screen thousands of returning air passengers

While Britain continues to hold out against introducing coronavirus tests at airports, Germany has nearly doubled its testing rate to screen thousands of passengers returning from Covid-19 hotspots abroad.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps insisted today that testing at airports was not a ‘silver bullet solution’ after the UK’s quarantine policy was thrown into confusion when Portugal was unexpectedly kept on the ‘travel corridor’ list.

But in Germany, which has won plaudits for its testing programme since the start of the pandemic, travellers from high-risk areas have been getting free, compulsory coronavirus tests since August 8.

Germany’s busiest airport in Frankfurt has carried out more than 120,000 tests – with passengers exempted from a 14-day quarantine if they test negative.

Results are generally delivered to passengers within three days, with some airports promising them within 24 hours or even on the same day.

Mandatory tests will be dropped as the summer ends, but the recent resurgence in cases is already showing signs of slowing in Germany, in contrast to Spain and France where they are continuing to mount.

In Scotland, passengers arriving from Portugal will have to quarantine from 4am on Saturday, as well as those arriving from French Polynesia.

Scotland began requiring travellers from anywhere in Greece to enter quarantine from Thursday.

There were 23 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people in Portugal in the seven days to Wednesday, up from 15.3 a week earlier.

A seven-day rate of 20 is the threshold above which the UK Government has considered triggering quarantine conditions.

Industry leaders and holidaymakers criticised the Government, saying travellers are ‘totally confused’ by the different approaches in Westminster and the devolved administrations. Critics have labelled the system ‘quarantine roulette’. 

Kelly Jones and her family changed their flights home from the Algarve from Saturday to Friday at a cost of £900 to avoid a potential quarantine, because she did not want her children to miss two weeks of school.

The 45-year-old from Birmingham said the situation was ‘absolutely disgusting’, telling the PA news agency: ‘The Government just change the goalposts left, right and centre at the moment. It’s embarrassing.’

Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy the PC Agency, said: ‘The quarantine policy is in tatters and dividing the United Kingdom.

‘Consumers are totally confused by the different approaches and it’s impossible to understand the Government’s own criteria any more on when to add or remove a country.’

It came as figures showed the number of close contacts of people who tested positive for Covid-19 being reached through Test and Trace was at its lowest since the system was launched.

Thursday also saw the highest daily total of virus cases since June 4, with 1,735 positive results in the 24 hours to 9am. 

It comes as it was revealed that Leeds is teetering on the brink and has been added to Public Health England’s list of areas of concern.  

The Yorkshire city, home to half a million people, has seen its infection rate rise to 32.4 new cases per 100,000 people, bringing it to the attention of authorities.

One in every 29 people who gets tested there – 3.5 per cent – is testing positive, according to official data.

Recent Sage documents have revealed that scientists told ministers it was ‘highly likely’ there would be significant outbreaks of Covid-19 at universities this term. 

And they added that infected students could well cause outbreaks across the UK.  

Failing the test: Heathrow’s test centre is ready to go, yet utterly deserted… while the world teaches us a lesson. Now GUY ADAMS exposes the incompetence and dithering that’s a national disgrace  

Step off an incoming plane at Terminal 2 at Heathrow Airport and you enter a ghost town where masked travellers cast nervous glances at empty Duty Free shops and stroll past once bustling restaurants where staff now outnumber customers.

What was once Britain’s vibrant ‘gateway to the world’ is now almost entirely moribund, with acres of unused chairs and untrodden carpets symbolising the economic malaise that the coronavirus pandemic has wrought.

In normal times, roughly a quarter of a million free-spending punters pass through London’s busiest transport hub each day.

At present, the number is closer to 25,000. As a result, the airport has lost more than £1 billion so far this year. And counting.

Nurse Natasha Owen, 33, from London, gets ready to swab passengers at the testing facility in Heathrow Airport

Nurse Natasha Owen, 33, from London, gets ready to swab passengers at the testing facility in Heathrow Airport

Most surreal of all, in this sad context, is the spectacle that greets visitors to a brightly lit, football pitch-sized room which sits just off the main route that incoming passengers take to passport control.

Here stands a state-of-the-art Covid-19 testing facility, where a squadron of specially trained nurses is sitting ready to check thousands of new arrivals who come to the UK each day for the potentially deadly virus.

The idea is that after stopping at one of the 24 sterile booths, patients will be given a quick swab test. Results will be emailed to them in roughly seven hours. A second swab test, in a DIY kit which they take home with them, is carried out a few days later.

The Heathrow facility is similar to those currently operating at airports in Germany, Iceland and many other European nations.

Heathrow's new cover testing facility allows passengers to book an appointment to be tested for coronavirus airside before baggage reclaim

Heathrow’s new cover testing facility allows passengers to book an appointment to be tested for coronavirus airside before baggage reclaim

It has been designed to allow arrivals from red-listed countries such as France and Spain to return to normal life (and their workplace) without having to spend two long weeks twiddling their thumbs.

For the privilege of saving time, these travellers will each pay roughly £100 to the testing facility’s operators, logistics firms Swissport and Collinson. It is hoped that the cost could fall over time, as footfall increases, planes take to the skies again and the airport, where around 76,000 people work, returns to some semblance of normality. That’s the theory, at least. Yet in practice, Terminal 2’s Covid testing hall is sitting empty. It has been this way since it opened almost three weeks ago.

In other words, at a time of mounting economic crisis, when mass testing is supposed to not only save lives but provide one of the only means for the wheels of capitalism to begin to turn properly once more, a multi-million pound facility that could be screening thousands of people daily is as mothballed as many of the planes hereabouts.

Amazingly, this state of affairs is no accident. Instead, it turns out to be the direct result of British Government policy.

For we are currently one of the few major European nations that is refusing to sanction a proper Covid screening regime that will allow travellers who pass through our borders to avoid a lengthy and punitive stretch in quarantine.

In other words, passengers who decide to shell out for a test on arriving at Heathrow, and are then declared free of the virus, will gain absolutely nothing: they must still follow the same rules as everyone else and spend a fortnight in complete isolation.

If caught breaking this rule they face a fine, or even prosecution. Little wonder that virtually none are bothering to get tested.

The situation is not just inconvenient, it’s also very expensive. The International Air Transport Association estimates that current restrictions are costing the British economy no less than £650 million every single day.

A passenger gets her swab sample collected in a Covid-19 walk-in test centre at Cologne Bonn Airport in Germany

A passenger gets her swab sample collected in a Covid-19 walk-in test centre at Cologne Bonn Airport in Germany

It is one of the reasons why British Airways, our national carrier, is operating only 20 per cent of its normal flights, and why an estimated 100,000 tourism jobs will be lost once the furlough scheme comes to an end next month — in addition to the 38,000 that have already been affected.

Oddly, given that our political masters have spent weeks trying to convince people to return to offices and city centres — and therefore patronise restaurants, pubs and shops — the failure to countenance airport testing is causing harm to the very industries they most want to protect.

With visitors from a host of countries no longer able to holiday in the UK (unless they fancy spending two weeks behind closed doors), foreign visitor spending is down £60 million a day, or almost half a billion pounds a week.

It’s one of the reasons why London’s West End will lose an estimated £10 billion this year.

Rival tourist destinations are, by contrast, pulling out every stop to safely welcome free-spending holidaymakers.

Turkey, for example, is providing Covid testing labs in terminals, with arrivals given results within two hours.

A medical worker tests a passenger for coronavirus at a test centre in Vnukovo airport outside Moscow, Russia

A medical worker tests a passenger for coronavirus at a test centre in Vnukovo airport outside Moscow, Russia

Italy allows visitors two possible means to bypass quarantine: they can either provide border officials with a certificate showing that they tested negative in the previous 72 hours, or they can take a rapid on-the-spot test.

France, the world’s most popular destination with 87 million arrivals in a normal year, has required incomers from high-risk countries to take compulsory tests before isolating until the results come through 24 to 36 hours later.

Germany, where a ruthlessly efficient test and trace regime has produced a per-capita Covid death rate that is around a sixth of Britain’s, has been offering free tests in arrival halls since June.

Little wonder that, on the front line of this crisis, there’s a mounting sense of frustration.

Many moan about Government inertia and talk darkly of their multi-billion pound industry being abandoned. It’s no coincidence, they say, that while Rishi Sunak was happy to pose for cameras in Wagamama in a bid to tempt Britons back to restaurants, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has failed to pay a similar morale-boosting visit to any UK airport since the Covid crisis began.

‘There’s a total lack of engagement from the Government,’ is the stern verdict of Derek Provan, chief executive of AGS Airports, which runs Southampton, Aberdeen and Glasgow, and believes the sector is facing more job losses than the collapse of the coal industry in the 1980s. ‘Ministers . . . have completely disconnected.

‘We are isolated as an industry and they are not interested in talking to us about testing.’

A spokesman for Heathrow describes the failure to countenance airport testing as ‘madness’ adding: ‘It’s also costing jobs.

Melanie Huml, Minister of State for Health and Nursing, visits the coronavirus test centre at Munich Airport

Melanie Huml, Minister of State for Health and Nursing, visits the coronavirus test centre at Munich Airport

‘Sixty per cent of the fleet is on the ground. Nobody is coming here on business, because the average business trip is three to five days and a two-week quarantine is out of the question.’

Particularly galling, the spokesman says, is the Government’s failure to even talk about how it might chart a path out of the crisis. No civil servant has yet bothered to inspect Heathrow’s testing facility, despite an open invitation being issued three weeks ago.

‘At the moment, we have thermal imaging cameras in our terminals which can take the temperature of every single passenger before boarding. But under GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] rules, we are unable to use that data to screen people.

‘So it’s actually illegal for us to prevent someone boarding a flight if they have a temperature and could be infectious. We want to make people feel safe when they fly and this would be a very good way, but there has been no effort to pass secondary legislation that would help us roll it out.’

A passenger wearing a face mask wheels her suitcase as health workers conduct tests on passengers at Capodichino airport in Naples, Italy

A passenger wearing a face mask wheels her suitcase as health workers conduct tests on passengers at Capodichino airport in Naples, Italy

Downing Street has even failed to green-light a potential screening system that would allow every aeroplane passenger to be given an instant saliva test before boarding a flight, the spokesman adds.

‘We have the technology to run tests that can deliver a result in just 20 seconds, which is perfect for the travel industry because it does not create queues and would mean you could get on a plane knowing that the person sitting next to you is almost certainly not a carrier. These tests are more than 85 per cent effective, which Matt Hancock says is the required level of efficacy. We could roll them out, but again they still won’t amend the quarantine system.

‘It’s killing the industry. We are meant to be a major transport hub, but are behind at least 30 other countries on this.’

In Westminster, the stonewalling of potential airport testing regimes is said to be the subject of a growing rift between Downing Street and Conservative backbenchers increasingly alarmed at what they believe is the coming economic crisis.

‘Boris and Matt Hancock are dragging their heels because the first few months of this crisis, and their personal experiences of the disease, have made them very risk averse. Grant Shapps is a bit more supportive of the industry, but frankly still not doing enough,’ is how one senior Tory puts it.

‘They are all utterly terrified about a spike in infections, but frankly we are never going to eliminate this virus from the UK without some sort of vaccine, so in the meantime we need to find a way to live with it and go about our normal lives while taking sensible steps to reduce risk.

‘They need to show leadership on this, but as with too many things of late, leadership is lacking.’

A healthcare worker wearing protective equipment collects a swab sample from a passenger arriving from Istanbul to Mulhouse Euroairport in Saint louis, eastern France

A healthcare worker wearing protective equipment collects a swab sample from a passenger arriving from Istanbul to Mulhouse Euroairport in Saint louis, eastern France

It would perhaps be easier to defend the status quo if Britain’s current quarantine regime was an unbridled success. But in fact, the opposite is true. At present, travellers arriving from a country on the quarantine list (often with just a few hours warning) are required to fill in a lengthy online ‘passenger locator’ form, disclosing a raft of personal data about where they intend to spend the subsequent fortnight in self-isolation.

In theory, they will not be allowed into the UK until the authorities have received this information.

But in practice, according to internal figures disclosed to The Guardian this week, officials are only checking that around 30 per cent of travellers who arrive at the border have actually provided the required information.

The results of those checks suggest that around 10 per cent of all travellers to the UK from Covid-19 hotspots are not bothering to fill in the form. Those not caught, which is to say roughly two-thirds of this group, can simply disappear.

Even travellers who do fill in the form seem to be able to flout quarantine rules with virtual impunity.

Medical staff in PPE uses a swab test on a woman after a flight from Ibiza, Spain, to Turin, Italy, at the end of August

Medical staff in PPE uses a swab test on a woman after a flight from Ibiza, Spain, to Turin, Italy, at the end of August

They have a roughly 20 per cent chance of receiving a telephone call to check that they are abiding by the onerous requirements of the system, which in theory prevents them from leaving their house to shop, exercise, or even walk the dog.

But there is nothing to stop them lying about their whereabouts, and almost no chance of being caught or punished if they do happen to break the rules.

Such are the limitations of the enforcement system that just three penalty notices for breaching quarantine were issued by UK authorities between June 15 and August 17. During that period roughly 50,000 air travellers were arriving in the country every day.

All of which suggests that, like many a bad system, the quarantine regime is simply making the lives of law-abiding citizens miserable while doing little to inconvenience those who regard it as too onerous to be worth following.

A border testing regime, properly administered, would surely provide a sensible alternative, which might protect public health while allowing the vast majority of travellers, who are of course free from coronavirus, to get back to work.

Heathrow Airport certainly thinks so, which is why they are even now building a second testing facility inside Terminal 5.

But so long as inertia prevails at the top table of Government, Britain will remain one of the few nations in Europe that is unable to get flying again.

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Beirut explosion: Hopes fade in search for survivor https://newsnetdaily.com/beirut-explosion-hopes-fade-in-search-for-survivor/ Sat, 05 Sep 2020 10:30:06 +0000 https://newsnetdaily.com/beirut-explosion-hopes-fade-in-search-for-survivor/ BBC

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  • Beirut port explosion

media captionRescuers remove rubble in the hope of finding someone alive

Hopes are fading in Beirut that anyone will be found beneath the rubble of a building destroyed in last month’s explosion.

Rescue workers are searching for the third day after sensor equipment detected possible signs of life.

But the rescuers, including Chilean specialists, have not yet found the source of the signal.

Beirut held a minute’s silence on Friday to mark a month since the explosion, which killed almost 200.

Thousands more were injured by the blast, which happened when 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate detonated.

  • How long can survivors last under rubble?

There has been outrage that so much hazardous material was stored unsafely in a warehouse in the city’s port, close to many residential areas.

The Lebanese government’s resignation shortly afterwards failed to pacify protesters, who clashed with police in the city for several nights.

One month on, seven people are still missing, according to Lebanese officials.

What’s happening with the search?

Search efforts got under way after a rescue team from Chile said it had detected possible signs of life under a destroyed building located between the residential districts of Gemmayze and Mar Mikhael.

The rescuers were walking through the area on Wednesday night when their sniffer dog – trained to find bodies – gave a sign that there was a person inside. When they returned on Thursday, the dog went to the same place and gave the same sign. Specialist sensor equipment then detected a pulsing signal in the area.

The head of the Chilean rescue team, Francisco Lermanda, told reporters on Friday that slow breathing had been detected under the rubble at a depth of 3m (9.8ft).

Rescuers dug three tunnels to try to reach the spot where the pulse was detected, he said.

But, he added, it was too soon to know if anyone was “alive or dead” beneath the debris.

Earlier on Friday, rescue co-ordinator Nicholas Saade told the AFP news agency that the pulse had slowed significantly since the previous day. Reporters at the scene said the most recent test detected no signals at all.

Crowds have been gathering to watch the search efforts, hoping for a miracle.

“Search operations have been going on since the day before yesterday but the chances are very low,” the civil defence agency’s operations director, George Abou Moussa, told AFP.

image captionPeople at the scene have been hoping for a miraculous story of survival
The Chilean rescuers are from the renowned Los Topos aid organisation, which took part in the 2010 rescue of 33 Chilean miners trapped 700m (2,300ft) underground for more than two months. In the same year, the Chilean team also rescued a survivor after 27 days following a devastating earthquake in Haiti, the Washington Post reported.

More on the explosion in Beirut

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