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Boris pictured drinking at party during lockdown

The photos, published by ITV News, show Johnson proposing a toast with a group of at least nine people next to a table with several bottles of alcohol and party food…reports Asian Lite News

Four photographs of Prime Minister Boris Johnson drinking at a Downing Street gathering when the UK was under lockdown have emerged just as his government braces for the release of a report into the so-called Partygate scandal.

The photos, published by ITV News, show Johnson proposing a toast with a group of at least nine people next to a table with several bottles of alcohol and party food. The pictures were taken at an event for Johnson’s former communications chief Lee Cain on Nov. 13, 2020, ITV said.  

While Johnson wasn’t fined for this particular event, it adds to a long-running scandal that’s overshadowed his administration for months and almost ended his political career. Civil servant Sue Gray, who led an internal probe into the events, is due to hand her full findings to Johnson for publication this week.

London’s Metropolitan Police closed its criminal investigation into the saga last week, fining Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak for just one out of at least eight illegal events. The police issued 126 fines to 83 people in total.

“The Cabinet Office and the Met Police have had access to all information relevant to their investigations, including photographs,” 10 Downing Street said in a statement. “The Met have concluded their investigation and Sue Gray will publish her report in the coming days, at which point the Prime Minister will address Parliament in full.”

The photos appear to undermine some of Johnson’s previous statements about the partygate saga. In December, Johnson said in the House of Commons that “all guidance was followed completely in No 10.” When asked specifically about the November leaving do, he said “whatever happened the guidance… and the rules were followed at all times.”

Making deliberately misleading statements to Parliament is a breach of the ministerial code and considered a cause for resignation. Johnson faces a separate parliamentary investigation into whether he has lied about the law-breaking scandal and that inquiry will begin once the Gray findings are published.

The major political question is whether the emergence of the photos will spark a fresh wave of Tory MPs calling for Johnson to step down. Four Conservative MPs, speaking on condition of anonymity, predicted Johnson would be okay. Two others said the photos will create problems for the prime minister.

Steve Baker, who called on Johnson to resign in April, tweeted an emotive advert run by the National Health Service during the pandemic, which showed a patient receiving ventilation with the words: “Look her in the eyes and tell her you never bend the rules.”

“Boris Johnson said repeatedly that he knew nothing about law-breaking – there’s no doubt now, he lied,” said Angela Rayner, deputy leader for the opposition Labour party.

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Boris knew about lockdown party, says former adviser

Cummings said that after Reynolds was told to cancel the invite by at least two people Reynolds checked with PM Johnson if it should go ahead…reports Asian Lite News

A former senior adviser to Britain’s Boris Johnson said on Monday he was willing to “swear under oath” that the prime minister knew a party was being held at his residence during a COVID-19 lockdown, accusing him of lying to parliament.

British media have reported that at least 11 gatherings took place at 10 Downing Street – the prime minister’s official residence and office – or in other government departments between May 2020 and April 2021, when COVID-19 rules limited how many people could meet socially. An internal inquiry is being carried out to establish the facts.

PM Johnson last week apologised to parliament for attending a “bring your own booze” gathering in the garden of Downing Street on May 20, 2020, but said he had thought it was a work event.

Dominic Cummings, an architect of Britain’s departure from the European Union and a former senior adviser to PM Johnson who left government under acrimonious terms in November 2020, said on Twitter that the prime minister had agreed that the drinks party should go ahead.

“Not only me but other eyewitnesses who discussed this at the time would swear under oath this is what happened,” he said on his blog.

Last week ITV News published an email invitation from Johnson’s Principal Private Secretary Martin Reynolds to a May 20, 2020 event, asking attendees to “bring your own booze”.

Cummings said that after Reynolds was told to cancel the invite by at least two people Reynolds checked with PM Johnson if it should go ahead.

“The PM agreed it should,” Cummings said in his blog.

PM Johnson’s spokesman denied earlier on Monday that the prime minister had been made aware of the May 20 event.

“It’s untrue to say that the prime minister was told or warned ahead of that,” the spokesman said.

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PM’s lockdown ‘party’ was held on eve of Philip funeral

Johnson is facing calls to resign over a slew of alleged parties held at his Downing Street office while the country was locked down as part of restrictions to stem the spread of coronavirus…reports Asian Lite News

Staff at the office of under-fire British Prime Minister Boris Johnson drank alcohol at two leaving events during lockdown on the eve of Prince Philip’s socially-distanced funeral, The Telegraph reported Thursday.

Advisers and civil servants gathered after work on April 16 last year to mark the departure of James Slack, PM Johnson’s director of communications, and one of the prime minister’s personal photographers, the paper reported.

Johnson is facing calls to resign over a slew of alleged parties held at his Downing Street office while the country was locked down as part of restrictions to stem the spread of coronavirus.

Eye-witnesses told The Telegraph that alcohol was served and guests danced as the gatherings stretched late into the night.

The events came the day before Queen Elizabeth’s late husband, Prince Philip, was laid to rest, and while the country was in a period of public mourning.

The queen sitting alone in church due to the Covid regulations provided one of the starkest images of the lockdown in Britain.

On Wednesday, the Prime Minister offered “heartfelt apologies” for attending a lockdown-breaching party held in his Downing Street garden, but deflected calls to resign as the opposition leader called him a “man without shame”.

Breaking his silence over the latest of a slew of allegations regarding top-level misbehaviour, Johnson said he regarded the boozy get-together in May 2020 as a work event for Downing Street staff.

He added that he did not appreciate how it would look to millions of Britons who were respecting Covid rules, even missing out on farewells to dying relatives.

“And to them and to this House I offer my heartfelt apologies,” Johnson told a stormy session of questions in the House of Commons.

Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition Labour party, dismissed the apology as “worthless” and mocked Johnson for belatedly speaking out after “months of deceit and deception”.

“Is he now going to do the decent thing and resign?” Starmer said, demanding the Conservative leader’s head for the first time and arguing: “The prime minister’s a man without shame.”

Even some on his own side want Johnson to go, but in response to Starmer, he urged all sides to await the findings of an internal inquiry he has commissioned by a senior civil servant.

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-Top News Business UK News

Britain businesses report weakest growth since last lockdown

Growth was expected to slow again in the coming three months as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus weighs on the economy…reports Asian Lite News.

British businesses have reported their weakest growth since the country was under lockdown earlier this year and they expect a further slowdown in early 2022, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said on Thursday.

The CBI’s monthly growth indicator – which combines surveys of output from manufacturers, retailers and other services companies – fell 11 points to +21 in the three months to December, the lowest since the three months to April.

Growth was expected to slow again in the coming three months as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus weighs on the economy.

“Substantial challenges remain for businesses heading into Christmas: labour and materials shortages, rising costs and new COVID measures are restricting businesses’ ability to trade during this crucial period,” CBI Lead Economist Alpesh Paleja said in a statement.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ruled out new COVID restrictions in England before Christmas but said he might have to act afterwards. Scotland and Wales have tightened controls.

Alpesh said finance minister Rishi Sunak’s announcement on Tuesday of 1 billion pounds ($1.33 billion) in support for hospitality and leisure firms would provide a breathing space.

“But with the potential of further measures still weighing on firms, the government must monitor the situation closely and ensure that any new restrictions go in lock-step with further targeted cashflow support,” he said.

Despite the slowdown, the CBI’s growth gauge remained a long way above its long-run average of +4.

Only manufacturers saw an acceleration in growth in the three months to December. Business and professional services, consumer services and distribution firms all reported slower growth, the CBI said.

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-Top News COVID-19 EU News

Austria first European country to reimpose full lockdown

Austria has also made vaccination mandatory from February 1, reports Asian Lite News

Barely a week after imposing a lockdown on the unvaccinated, Austria on Friday announced a full national Covid-19 lockdown starting next week.

Austria became the first country in the European Union to take such a measure in the face of the Covid-19 resurgence. Besides, it has also made vaccination mandatory from February 1, Euronews reported.

The new measures announced by Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg on Friday morning will come into effect initially for 10 days starting Monday. Most stores will close, and cultural events will be cancelled.

“We have to look reality in the face,” Schallenberg was quoted as saying at a news conference.

“We do not want a fifth wave. Nor do we want a sixth or seventh wave,” the Chancellor said, as reported by public broadcaster ORF.

After 10 days, the effects will be assessed and if Covid cases don’t drop sufficiently, the lockdown can be extended to a maximum of 20 days.

Austria
People wearing face masks walk on a street in Vienna, Austria

However, according to Austria’s Health Minister, schools would remain open for those who need to go there, but all parents have been asked to keep their children at home if possible.

The lockdown comes as Covid infections soared in Austria in recent weeks. Daily case numbers have trebled in November, touching over 15,000 on Thursday.

According to the latest figures, the incidence rate was 990.7 cases per 100,000 people in the past week, and Health Minister Wolfgang Mackstein said imposing a lockdown was the “last resort”.

The country’s per capita infection rate is also the highest so far this year. Hospitals have been overwhelmed with many new Covid patients, and deaths have been rising again, the report said.

Last Monday, Vienna had announced a nationwide lockdown for about two million unvaccinated people. Under this, people aged 12 years and older were banned from going outside except for essential activities such as work, attending classes, essential shopping, or going for a walk.

A medical staff member collects a swab sample at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing center in Ljubljana, Slovenia. (Photo by Zeljko Stevanic/Xinhua/IANS)

The country has 65 per cent people fully vaccinated against Covid-19 — one of the lowest rates in Western Europe.

Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) had warned that as Covid cases continue to mount in Europe and Central Asia, the regions are likely to see about 500,000 additional deaths before February 1.

Hans Kluge, WHO’s European Regional Director, attributed the increased risk to low mask use, vaccine hesitancy and spread of the more transmissible Delta variant.

Many other European countries are also planning to reimpose restrictions in the wake of a steep rise in the number of cases, the BBC reported.

Slovakia Prime Minister Eduard Heger has announced what he called a lockdown for the unvaccinated starting Monday. The country had reported a record 8,342 cases on Wednesday.

The Czech government is also limiting access to a variety of services.

The Netherlands introduced a partial lockdown last weekend. German leaders have also agreed to introduce restrictions for unvaccinated people in areas with high Covid hospital admissions that would affect 12 of Germany’s 16 states, the report said.

Daily infections had hit a new German record of 52,826 on Wednesday.

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COVID-19 Kerala

Kerala lifts night curfew, Sunday lockdown in state

Vijayan, however, ruled out opening of schools and said that that will be taken up later…report Asian Lite News.

With Kerala’s daily Covid tally remaining high, but the numbers coming down, a committee, chaired by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, on Tuesday decided to end the night curfew and the state-wide lockdown on Sundays.

Vijayan, after chairing the meeting, told the media that steps are being put in place to see that all final year students at the graduation and post-graduation levels will have to return to classes from October 4.

“To see that it happens, all have to ensure that those who come to classes on October 4 have at least one dose of vaccination, and this applies to teachers also. Teachers will now get priority and in the next 10 days, all should see that they avail it,” he said.

Vijayan, however, ruled out opening of schools and said that that will be taken up later.

Reacting to the Kerala High Court ruling on Monday that Covishield vaccine second dose can be given after 28 days by private companies, he said the state government also feels it is good, but the decision has to be made by the Centre.

He said on Tuesday, 25,772 people turned Covid positive after 1,62,428 samples were tested in the past 24 hours and the test positivity rate was 15.87 per cent.

As many as 27,320 people turned negative and the total active cases in the state were 2,37,045.

There were 189 Covid deaths, taking the death toll to 21,820.

Vijayan also pointed out that of the total state population, 76.15 per cent have had one dose of the vaccine or 2.18 crore people, while 82 lakh having taken both the doses.

“Kerala leads the country as far as vaccination is concerned,” he said.

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July 19 is not return to life before Covid: Johnson

The government has also instructed nightclubs and other venues with large crowds to make use of the NHS Covid Pass – which shows proof of vaccination, a recent negative test or natural immunity – as a means of entry, reports Asian Lite Newsdesk

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday (local time) confirmed that all virus restrictions in England will end on July 19.

Johnson told reporters that the move will eliminate mandates to wear masks in public places, social distancing rules, and work-from-home recommendations, reported NHK World.

Johnson noted that vaccines help to prevent people with the coronavirus from developing serious symptoms.

He insisted that, while hospitalisations and deaths will continue to rise, they will likely be much lower than during the peak of the outbreak last autumn, reported NHK World.

Johnson urged people to act with caution and personal responsibility, saying, “this pandemic is not over.”

He said, “we cannot simply revert instantly from Monday, July 19 to life as it was before COVID.”

“We will stick to our plan to lift legal restrictions and to lift social distancing, but we expect and recommend that people wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces where you come into contact with those you don’t normally meet, such as on public transport,” he said.

“We’re removing the Government instruction to work from home where you can but we don’t expect that the whole country will return to their as one desks from Monday. And we’re setting out guidance for business for a gradual return to work over the summer,” Johnson added.

The government has also instructed nightclubs and other venues with large crowds to make use of the NHS Covid Pass – which shows proof of vaccination, a recent negative test or natural immunity – as a means of entry.

Some experts warned that eliminating restrictions when the virus is spreading will be risky, reported NHK World.

Britain has seen its daily case count top 30,000 in recent days, amid the spread of the Delta variant.

The country has reported another 34,471 coronavirus cases in the latest 24-hour period, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 5,155,243, according to official figures released on Monday.

It is the sixth day in a row where the daily cases have been more than 30,000, Xinhua reported.

The country also recorded another six coronavirus-related deaths. The total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain now stands at 128,431. These figures only include the deaths of people who died within 28 days of their first positive test.

Earlier Monday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid also confirmed that most COVID-19 restrictions in England will end on July 19 as part of the final step or Step Four of England’s roadmap out of the lockdown.

The detailed arrangement of Step Four includes: no more limits on social contact to allow people to gather in groups of any size; removing the “one meter-plus” rule in almost all settings, except for specific places such as airports; no capacity caps on large scale events; people are no longer required to work from home, etc.

Despite the easing which will see legal requirement to wear face masks in shops and on public transport being scrapped, the government will still recommend the use of face masks in crowded areas, according to Sky News.

More than 87 percent of adults in Britain have received the first jab of COVID-19 vaccine and over 66 percent have received two doses, the latest official figures showed.

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India is opening up too fast, too soon: Survey

Compared to other states, the Covid-19 cases in Kerala are not decreasing rapidly. To a question if Kerala could become the epicentre of the third Covid wave in India, 45.97 per cent said ‘yes’ and 35.91 per cent said ‘no’…reports Asian Lite News.

India is opening up too fast and too soon is the majority view as the government expresses concern over crowds at hill stations, as per the IANS CVoter Live Tracker.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently said that crowds at tourist spots are worrying.

To a question on if India is opening too soon and too fast, 53.31 per cent of the respondents of the IANS CVoter Live Tracker said ‘yes’, while 34.34 per cent said that India is not opening up too fast but people are becoming careless.

Compared to other states, the Covid-19 cases in Kerala are not decreasing rapidly. To a question if Kerala could become the epicentre of the third Covid wave in India, 45.97 per cent said ‘yes’ and 35.91 per cent said ‘no’.

The tacker had a sample size of 1,314.

The CVoter NewsTracker Surveys in India are based on a national representative random probability sample as used in the globally standardized RDD CATI methodology, covering all geographic and demographic segments across all states.

This daily live tracker survey is based on interviews of adult (18+) respondents across all socio-economic segments. The data is weighted to the known Census profile. The standard margin of error is +/- 3 per cent at national trends and +/- 5 per cent at regional/zonal trends with 95 per cent confidence level.

As many as 50.56 per cent respondents in the tracker said that younger leaders from smaller states like Anurag Thakur and Kiren Rijiju can hope to become national leaders, or even the Prime Minister a few years later.

A total of 35.67 per cent respondents said that it is very difficult for younger leaders like Thakur and Rijiju to emerge as national leaders and even more difficult for them to become the Prime Minister in a few years’ time.

As many as 45.61 per cent of the respondents said that young India needs young politicians and a young Cabinet, while 41.56 per cent said India doesn’t need just young politicians and young Cabinet, but a combination of young and experienced leaders.

To a question in the survey on if India needs younger and dynamic leaders as Governors instead of retired politicians, 51.05 per cent said ‘yes’, while 37.65 per cent said India needs a combination of young and experienced politicians to hold the Governor’s post.

To a question on if India should crack down on Twitter for not complying with Indian laws, a huge majority of more than 70 per cent said ‘yes’.

An overwhelming majority is still wearing masks as 75.06 per cent said they wear masks when they go out while 18.31 per cent said they don’t wear a mask.

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July 19 is End of Lockdown: Javid

The new Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who took office after the resignation of Matt Hancock, told the House of Commons that ministers “see no reason to go beyond” that “target date, reports Asian Lite Newsdesk

Health secretary Sajid Javid has announced that the final easing of lockdown measures in England is still set for 19 July.

The easing of lockdown measures in the UK was pushed back by four weeks from June 21 amid concerns over the spread of the Delta variant.

The new health secretary, who took office after the resignation of Matt Hancock, told the House of Commons that ministers “see no reason to go beyond” that “target date”, according to a BBC report.

Javid said that while cases were rising, the number of deaths “remains mercifully low”.

In a statement, he said no date for lifting restrictions would come with “zero risk” and that “we have to learn to live with” Covid-19.

“We also know that people and businesses need certainty, so we want every step to be irreversible,” BBC quoted Javid as saying.

“The restrictions on our freedoms, they must come to an end.”

Javid also added that the government was aiming for “around two thirds of all adults in this country” to have had two doses of a coronavirus vaccine by 19 July.

Earlier, Prime Minister Boris Johnson also said the UK is “very likely” to ease Covid measures and people will be able to go back to life “as it was before Covid” on July 19.

“Although there are some encouraging signs and the number of deaths and hospitalisations remains low — though both are going up a bit — we are seeing an increase in cases,” Johnson was quoted as saying by the BBC.

“So we think it’s sensible to stick to our plan to have a cautious but irreversible approach, use the next three weeks or so really to complete as much as we can of the vaccine rollout.

“And then with every day that goes by, it’s clearer to me and all our scientific advisers that we’re very likely to be in a position on July 19 to say that we can go back to life as it was before Covid as far as possible,” he noted.

Britain has reported another 18,270 coronavirus cases in the latest 24-hour period, the highest since early February, and 23 coronavirus-related deaths, according to official figures released on Saturday.

The government’s decision on lifting measures is based on the progress of the UK’s vaccine rollout.

According to latest figures, across the UK, 44 million people — or 84.1 per cent of adults — have had their first jab and more than 32 million people — 61.6 per cent of the adult population — have had their second dose, the BBC said.

“I want to see the restrictions lifted and life going back to normal as quickly as possible. That is my absolute priority. I want to see those restrictions lifted as soon as we can,” Sajid Javid was quoted as saying.

After his statement at the Commons, Javid was asked what he would do to help parents who were having to stay home repeatedly because their children were being told to isolate.

Javid said a pilot was under way to ascertain whether “tests can be used in lieu of isolation,” the BBC reported.

Labour’s shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, suggested the government should not be so confident about the date, warning that cases were on the up.

“We’ve seen around 84,000 cases in the last week, an increase of around 61%. Today we’ve seen the highest case rate since January,” he said.

“So what is he going to do to push infections down? Vaccinations will do it eventually but not in the next four weeks,” he was quoted as saying by the BBC.

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Covid jabs to become mandatory for care home staff

Organisations have warned that making vaccinations compulsory could cause serious difficulties in the care home sector, reports Asian Lite Newsdesk

The UK government is expected to make Covid-19 vaccination compulsory for staff in care homes for older people in England, media reported.

Care staff are expected to be given 16 weeks to have the jab – or face being redeployed away from frontline care, or lose their jobs, according to a BBC report.

The government move, first reported in the Guardian, is expected to be announced in the next few days. The move follows a consultation by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

Consultations will begin on the same rule for other health and care staff, the BBC quoted the report.

Meanwhile, care organisations have warned that compulsory vaccinations could cause significant difficulties in a sector that already struggles to recruit enough people.

The government, however, is believed to have considerable concerns about low take-up of the vaccine in some areas, including London.

“These moves would save lives and there is precedent with the Hepatitis B vaccine guidance for doctors,” a Whitehall source told the BBC.

Workers who can prove they are medically exempt from getting the vaccine will not be affected by the new measure, it was reported.

Visiting restrictions eased

Care home residents will be able to spend more time with family and friends, including overnight stays as part of an easing of visiting restrictions.

Currently, residents can only leave the care home for a visit if outdoors or for high-priority reasons, such as a dental or GP appointment, but will now be able to leave the home for more social reasons without having to isolate.

From 21 June, people admitted to a care home from the community will no longer have to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival, so residents will have a less disruptive introduction to their new home.

To ensure this happens safely, residents will undergo an enhanced testing regime – a PCR test before admission, a PCR test on the day of admission and a further PCR test 7 days later.

On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a four-week delay to the lifting of all the remaining Covid restrictions in England beyond June 21, citing the risk of highly transmissible Delta variant.

The confirmed delay means the lifting of restrictions will not take place until July 19, as the new move will allow more time for people to be vaccinated given the dangers of the Delta variant, Xinhua news agency quoted Johnson as saying at a press conference on Monday evening.

“I think it is sensible to wait just a little longer,” Johnson said.

“As things stand, and on the evidence that I can see right now, I’m confident that we will not need more than four weeks.”

He said that his government was “so concerned” by the Delta variant that is “now spreading faster than the third wave predicted in the February roadmap”.

The government will step up its efforts to vaccinate the people in the country, he said.

The over-40s who have had their first jab will only have to wait eight weeks instead of 12 weeks for their second jab, and 23 and 24-year-olds will start to be offered a vaccine from Tuesday, the Prime Minister said.

More than 41.6 million people have received their first dose of a Covid vaccine and more than 29.9 million have received their second dose across Britain, according to the latest official figures.

Meanwhile, weddings can go ahead with more than 30 people from June 21, as long as people stick with social distancing, the Prime Minister confirmed.

The UK GDP is estimated to have grown by 2.3 per cent in April, the fastest monthly growth since July 2020 as the Covid-19 lockdown eased, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

In April, the service sector grew by 3.4 per cent month-on-month, whereas output in the production and construction sector fell by 1.3 per cent and 2.0 per cent respectively, the ONS said on Friday.

Meanwhile, April’s GDP remained 3.7 per cent below the pre-pandemic level seen in February 2020, the ONS said.

“Services have been the main contributor to GDP’s recovery in recent months, following large falls in January because of coronavirus restrictions,” said the ONS.

Meanwhile, analysts have voiced their optimism for the British economy in the coming months due to further easing of restrictions and vaccine roll-outs.

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