LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged people to “behave responsibly” as shops, gyms, hairdressers, restaurant terraces and beer gardens reopen after months of lockdown.
Monday saw the easing of restrictions that have been in place in Britain since early January to curb a spike in coronavirus infections linked to a new, more transmissible variant of the virus.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the UK Retail Consortium, said businesses were “excited and desperate” to welcome returning customers.
At a hairdresser in Birmingham, customer Amy Smith said she was excited to finally get the cut.
“It’s great to be here, I’ve been wearing this weird little crest for a few months now,” he said. “I’m going to the beer garden later, so it will be fun.”
Many people plan on eating and drinking outdoors, despite the cold, out-of-season weather that brings snow to London and many other areas.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – following their own broadly similar plans to ease lockdowns.
Britain has experienced Europe’s worst coronavirus outbreak, with more than 127,000 confirmed deaths.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
– Muslims are navigating coronavirus regulations for the second time Ramadan in the shadow of a pandemic
– China Top disease control officials say the current vaccine offers low protection, blending it is one of the strategies being considered to increase effectiveness
HERE WHAT ELSE HAPPENED:
MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines’ hardest-hit capital and four nearby provinces have been placed under a milder coronavirus lockdown to avoid further damage to an already-hit economy despite continuing surging infections and deaths.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Metropolitan Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal, a region of more than 25 million people, would remain under lighter restrictions until the end of April after a two-week lockdown. The 11-hour curfew has been shortened to nine hours in metropolitan Manila.
Most of the population, except for workers in official businesses and medical and government law and order, must remain at home from Monday except for urgent tasks such as grocery and medical emergencies. Important businesses will remain open, including hospitals, supermarkets, convenience stores and banks, but theme parks, cinemas, cockfighting arenas, gyms and beauty salons will remain closed.
“Our emerging strategy is to increase bed capacity rather than shutting down the economy,” said Roque, speaking at a televised press conference from a Manila hospital after contracting COVID-19 like many Cabinet members.
The government has struggled to open more isolation and care centers after many hospitals were overwhelmed starting March due to the spike in the worst-hit coronavirus infections. More than 1,000 extra beds can now be used, many of them at the state-run National Mental Health Center, officials said.
The Philippines has long been a Southeast Asia coronavirus hotspot, with about 865,000 confirmed infections and nearly 15,000 deaths.
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – The Gaza Strip recorded the highest daily deaths since the coronavirus outbreak in the Palestinian enclave.
The Health Ministry reported on Monday that 17 Palestinians had died from COVID-19, bringing the death toll to 694.
Gaza is under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade and Hamas rulers have managed to keep it relatively virus-free by imposing mandatory quarantines on several dozen returning refugees crossing via Israel or Egypt.
But in August, the virus escaped the walls of the isolation center and spread rapidly. After a significant drop in infections in February, Hamas removed all precautionary measures and cases are recovering.
Limited vaccination launch. The region of 2 million people has received vaccines for only 40,000 people, including shipments via the global COVAX program.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand – New Zealand requires all border workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus by the end of the month.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday that getting started soon, employers need to consider alternative options for their unvaccinated employees. That could mean these workers are transferred to roles far from the border or fired.
Ardern had previously set April as a deadline for vaccinating frontline workers but on Monday spoke more firmly about it after three workers at the quarantine facility contracted the virus.
New Zealand has eradicated the spread of the virus within the community, so returning travelers who may catch COVID-19 overseas are considered the greatest vulnerability.
Ardern said 86% of workers in quarantine facilities have been vaccinated, even though the group represents only a fraction of all border workers.
SEOUL, South Korea – The new mayor of the South Korean capital is demanding swift approval for the coronavirus self-test kit, saying the city urgently needs more tools to fight the pandemic and continue opening up troubled businesses.
Oh Se-hoon spoke on Monday as Seoul and nearby metropolitan cities closed hostess bars, nightclubs and other high-risk entertainment venues to slow down transmissions. Similar businesses were closed in the southern port city of Busan.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said 350 of the country’s 587 new cases were from the greater Seoul region.
The conservative Oh took office after winning last week’s by-election. He used the press conference to criticize the national liberal government’s anti-virus campaign, which he said failed to slow infections while also hurting businesses and livelihoods.
He said the self-test kits could be sold at pharmacies or supermarkets and produce results within 30 minutes, which would allow more free businesses to operate safely.
Kwon Jun-wook, director of South Korea’s National Institute of Health, said earlier this month that authorities were reviewing whether to approve rapid home tests as they looked for ways to spread a wider net to detect asymptomatic or mild symptom carriers of the virus.
But the review has been slow with some experts saying such tests would do more harm than good because they were less accurate than standard laboratory tests.
TOKYO – Tokyo has adopted tougher measures against the coronavirus as it struggles to curb the rapid spread of a more contagious variant ahead of the Olympics in a country where less than 1% of people have been vaccinated.
Japan expanded its vaccination program on Monday for its older population, with the first injections given at about 120 selected sites across the country.
The stricter COVID-19 rules allow the governor of Tokyo to mandate shorter opening hours for bars and restaurants, punish offenders, and compensate those who comply.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike appealed to residents to be careful when vaccinations are still in their early stages. “We are still unarmed as we are fighting a return of infection,” he said.