The British Health Ministry has declared London on COVID-19 High Alert, the second highest level on the government’s three-tiered alert scale, as coronavirus infections in the capital approach 100 per 100,000 people and have passed that mark in many districts.
The high alert means the city of London and its nine million residents face tighter restrictions starting Friday, including a ban on indoor socializing among households and strong enforcement of the “rule of six,“ no gatherings of more than six people outdoors.
British Health Minister Matt Hancock announced the action Thursday before parliament, saying the new restrictions were the only way to protect lives and livelihoods. He said the government had to act because to delay would mean more deaths from COVID-19, and more economic pain later.
Hancock said the Health Ministry had been working in close cooperation with city officials, including London Mayor Sadiq Khan. Khan told the city assembly about the high alert status Thursday, saying the fight against the pandemic in London is at a “critical moment.”
He said hospital admissions are up, with more patients going to intensive care units and deaths from COVID-19 increasing once again. Khan believes the city will soon move to a Very High alert, the nation’s highest alert status.
Khan also expressed his support for the nationwide three-week “circuit breaker” lockdown proposed by the Britain’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and supported Tuesday by opposition Labor Leader Keir Starmer.
Khan said such a lockdown could “save thousands of lives, drive the virus down to manageable levels and give the government more time to finally get a grip on its failing test and trace system." Prime Minister Boris Johnson has rejected the strategy, for now, saying the economic cost would be too high and his alert system should be given a chance to work.
As of Thursday, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control reports Britain’s death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic stands at 43,155, the highest in Europe.
Malaysia’s King Rejects PM’s Request to Declare State of Emergency
Malaysia’s King Al-Sultan Abdullah has rejected Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s request to declare a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The royal palace announced the decision in a statement Sunday, saying the king “is of the opinion that there is no need at the moment for His Majesty to declare an emergency in the country.”
The statement also said the king is pleased with Prime Minister Muhyiddin’s handling of the pandemic, and called on all politicians to stop any campaigning that could seriously damage the government’s stability.
Muhyiddin later issued a statement saying he welcomed the king’s advice and would discuss it with his cabinet.
Had the king approved Muhyiddin’s request, the state of emergency would have suspended Parliament before he was scheduled to present a budget in early November. Failure to pass the budget would be the equivalent to a no-confidence vote against Muhyiddin and put pressure on him to call for a general election.
Muhyiddin has been prime minister since February, when he was chosen by King Abdullah after then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad unexpectedly resigned and his government collapsed. Veteran opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim met with the king last month and said he gave him the names of 120 members of the 222-seat parliament who are ready to defect from the prime minister’s razor-thin ruling coalition.
But the royal palace later released a statement saying Anwar only told the king the number of lawmakers who would support his takeover bid without revealing their identities.
European Markets Nosedive Monday as Global Coronavirus Cases Rise
European markets were falling Monday as investors appeared increasingly uncertain about the outlook of the global economy due to a resurgence of coronavirus cases across Europe and the United States.
Britain’s benchmark FTSE index was down 0.2% at the midway point of the trading day. The CAC-40 index in France lost 0.4%, and Germany’s DAX index plunged 2.2%.
Markets in the Asia-Pacific rim ended mostly lower earlier Monday. Japan’s benchmark Nikkei index finished its trading session down 22 points, but unchanged percentage-wise.
The S&P/ASX index in Australia lost 0.1%. Shanghai’s Composite index was 0.8% lower. South Korea’s KOSPI index dropped 0.7%, while in South Asia, Mumbai’s Sensex plunged 1.3%.
In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index gained 0.5%, and in Taiwan, the TSEC index finished up 10 points, but was unchanged percentage-wise.
In commodities trading, gold was selling at $1,906.20, up one point. U.S. crude oil was selling at $39.10 per barrel, down 1.8%, and Brent crude was selling at $41.05 per barrel, down 1.7%.
All three major U.S. indices were trending negatively in futures trading as investors awaited the opening bell on Wall Street.
Australia’s Second-Largest City to Begin Emerging from Strict COVID-19 Lockdown
After more than three months under stifling restrictions imposed in response to a second wave of COVID-19 cases, life in Australia’s second-largest city is slowly about to return to normal.
Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews announced Monday that Melbourne’s five million citizens will be able to leave their homes effective Tuesday at midnight, and that all cafes, restaurants, bars, shops and hotels will be allowed to reopen.
The announcement comes as Melbourne and the surrounding Victoria state recorded its first 24-hour period without any new coronavirus infections since June 9. The state had been plagued by a dramatic spike of new COVID-19 cases, peaking in August when daily new cases rose above 700. The resurgence of new cases has been blamed on security lapses at hotels where travelers were being quarantined after traveling overseas.
With zero new cases, Premier Andrews told reporters that “we are able to say that now is the time to open up. Now is the time to congratulate every single Victorian for staying the course.”
Andrews also said that travel restrictions limiting people to no further than 25 kilometers from their home will end on November 8, which will allow people in Melbourne to travel to Victoria’s rural areas.
Testing in Kashgar, China
Health authorities in China’s northwestern Xinjiang province have launched a widespread testing effort in Kashgar after 137 new asymptomatic COVID-19 infections were discovered. The new cases were detected after a 17-year-old girl was found to be asymptomatic. The other asymptomatic cases have been traced to a factory where the girl’s parents work. Authorities say nearly 3 million people in Kashgar have been tested since the outbreak was detected.
Xinjiang was placed under a brief but tight lockdown period after a cluster of coronavirus cases was detected in August.
On the vaccine front
Meanwhile, British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca announced Monday that a vaccine it has developed in cooperation with the University of Oxford has produced a similar immune response in both younger and older adults, with adverse responses lower among the elderly.
The announcement by the British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant comes the same day The Financial Times newspaper said early reports from testing showed the experimental vaccine, dubbed AZD1222, produces a robust immune response in elderly people, who are among the highest risk from the disease.
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