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England’s post-lockdown newlyweds toast ‘surreal day’ over Zoom | Coronavirus outbreak

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After three missed hen dos, one lost wedding dress and a guest list savagely trimmed by four fifths, Fiona Sharples and Chris Fisher tied the knot on Saturday in one of the UK’s first post-lockdown weddings.

Kissing outside St Kenelm church in Gloucestershire – unaccompanied by banned confetti – the happy couple said it had been a dream day. Albeit, said Sharples, if that dream was “surreal and exciting and set our heads spinning.”

While an estimated 75,000 UK weddings have been postponed in the last three months, dozens of couples across England decided to celebrate the end of lockdown with their nuptials. Ceremonies adhered to strict rules: no more than 30 attendees, including staff and the registrar, no food or drink unless it was essential for the ceremony and a soft ban on singing and instruments to limit the spread of the virus. Social distancing rather than tipsy flirting was the order of the day.

“We’ve winged it,” said Sharples over videocall, the night before the wedding. “All the things you thought were essentials have gone out of the window. Chris is getting married in jeans and Converse. I only just managed to buy my wedding shoes in Asda. Bridal underwear? Forget it.”

The couple, both 34, met on a dating site eight years ago and have two children together. Fisher, a chef, proposed to Sharples, who works as a community nurse, over a Chinese takeaway in Watchet Harbour, Somerset, last summer. When they originally decided on a 4 July wedding – a date sandwiched between their two birthdays – they had envisaged a big sunny party with around 150 people, a picnic, a disco and massive marquee. In the end, they had four days to throw the event together.

“We had cancelled because of Covid obviously and then, as the rules were relaxed, [the vicar] called us on Tuesday and asked if we wanted to go ahead anyway,” said Fisher. Parents, apart from Fisher’s mum, were not able to attend because they were shielding; livestreaming the event was not allowed in the church because it required extra permissions. Flowers and a cake were donated by friends, and matching rings were sourced by Sharples’ mum.

A wedding dress had been dispatched but did not arrive on time. Sharples was beaming nonetheless: “I’m happy with my old faithful dress”. The day had been “hectic but lovely”. The couple were looking forward to settling down to a wedding tea served by the local chippy and a bottle of prosecco drunk over Zoom while chatting to family.

“People have been really wonderful, we’re lucky to have lots of loved ones helping us,” she said. “I very nearly lost my life in March to Sepsis, and sent my friends off to have my hen do in this big house in Devon without me. We tried to rearrange two different things since then but they got waylaid too.” Sharples shrugged.

“Basically, life’s too short,” said Fisher. “We didn’t have time to think too much about whether we should do the wedding this weekend – it will be more intimate but it’s been taken out of our hands.”

In the longer term, wedding planner Alice Higgins predicts that the industry will be adapting at pace: excess and frippery were out, she says, and a focus on low-key simplicity will become a more established norm in ceremonies to come.

“Weddings are wonderful occasions but they can get overwhelming and that is not how it should be,” she said. “It’s easy for couples to get caught up in the wedding whirlwind, but the Covid situation has made people really focus on stripping back to what is important to them and remembering the wedding is only the start of it – the marriage is what really matters.”

As for Mr and Mrs Fisher, their planned honeymoon was cancelled but an unromantic weekend with their children, Albert, 4, and two-year-old Mallory, in CBeebies Land beckoned. “So instead of going on our cruise and having two weeks of child-free romance in Croatia and Italy, we’ve got two nights booked in an Octonaughts-themed room instead,” said Fiona. The couple giggled. “There will probably be a comedown from all this,” said Chris, “but I don’t think anything will really change.”

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Prince Philip and Royals to Lead UK’s VJ Day Commemorations | World News

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LONDON (Reuters) – Queen Elizabeth’s 99-year-old husband Prince Philip and other senior royals will lead British commemorations for the 75th anniversary of VJ Day which marks victory over Japan and the end of World War Two, the government said on Wednesday.

Philip, who served in the British navy during the war and was on board the destroyer HMS Whelp in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrender was signed, will feature in a photo montage of living veterans which will be shown on large screens in locations across the country for the Aug. 15 tributes.

His son, heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles, will lead a national two minute silence at the National Memorial Arboretum in central England while grandson Prince William will feature in a special BBC TV programme that will be broadcast on the day.

There will also be flypasts by the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows, over the four capitals of the United Kingdom.

“When the Second World War ended 75 years ago with the surrender of Japan, British soldiers, sailors and airmen were serving in the Far East, fighting hard to achieve victory – and were among the last to come home,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

“On this anniversary I want to remember what we owe the veterans of the Far East campaign. They brought an end to the Second World War, they changed the course of history for the better, liberated South East Asia, and many paid the ultimate sacrifice.”

(Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Kate Holton)

Copyright 2020 Thomson Reuters.

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education roundup

Public and private schools in Maryland and elsewhere are divided over in-person instruction.

An emergency order issued Monday by Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, which countermanded a Montgomery County Health Department directive regarding school closures, has highlighted a divide between public and private schools over reopening plans.

The county health department had instructed all private schools to start the year teaching remotely, as every public school district in the Washington area has already decided to do, including those in Montgomery County. Private schools would not be allowed to begin in-person classes until after Oct. 1, the order said.

But Mr. Hogan, a Republican, said on Monday that county health officers didn’t have the authority to stop private schools from reopening, noting in his statement that public school boards and superintendents have made individual decisions with the help of local health officials and saying that private institutions should be allowed to do the same.

“Private and parochial schools deserve the same opportunity and flexibility to make reopening decisions based on public health guidance,” Mr. Hogan said. “The blanket closure mandate imposed by Montgomery County was overly broad and inconsistent with the powers intended to be delegated to the county health officer.”

A similar dynamic is playing out in some other parts of the country, where public schools are opening remotely while private schools are planning in-person or various hybrid models.

Montgomery County, just outside the nation’s capital, is home to some of the nation’s most prestigious private schools, attended by the children of politicians, public officials and diplomats. They include St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, attended by Barron Trump, the president’s youngest child.

St. Andrew’s has not yet decided whether it will begin the school year with distance learning or a hybrid model. But some other private schools in Maryland, including Georgetown Preparatory, an all-male Jesuit school in North Bethesda, planned to let families choose between online or in-person classes, and would have had to alter those plans under the county order.

Other key education developments:

  • Students in Mexico will exclusively take classes broadcast on television or the radio when the school year begins later this month, in an effort to avoid further coronavirus outbreaks, the government announced on Monday. Schools will only reopen when authorities determine that new and active infections, which remain high across the nation, decline enough for a safe return to the classroom.

  • A rash of positive cases during the first week of school in some parts of the United States foreshadows a stop-and-start year in which students and staff members may have to bounce between instruction in the classroom and remotely at home because of infections and quarantines.

  • Israel reopened schools in May, and within days infections were reported at a Jerusalem high school. The virus rippled out to the students’ homes and then to other schools and neighborhoods, ultimately infecting hundreds of students, teachers and relatives. Other outbreaks forced hundreds of schools to close, and across the country, tens of thousands of students and teachers were quarantined. As countries consider back-to-school strategies for the fall, the outbreaks there illustrates the dangers of moving too precipitously.

N.Y.C.’s health commissioner resigns after clashing with the mayor over the virus.

Her departure came after escalating tensions between City Hall and top Health Department officials, which began at the start of the city’s outbreak in March, burst into public view.

“I leave my post today with deep disappointment that during the most critical public health crisis in our lifetime, that the Health Department’s incomparable disease control expertise was not used to the degree it could have been,” she said in her resignation email sent to Mr. de Blasio, a copy of which was shared with The New York Times.

“Our experts are world renowned for their epidemiology, surveillance and response work. The city would be well served by having them at the strategic center of the response not in the background.”

Dr. Barbot’s resignation could renew questions about Mr. de Blasio’s handling of the response to the outbreak, which devastated the city in the spring, killing more than 20,000 residents, even as it has largely subsided in recent weeks. And it comes at a pivotal moment: Public schools are scheduled to partially open next month, which could be crucial for the city’s recovery, and fears are growing that the outbreak could surge again when the weather cools.

The mayor had been faulted by public health experts, including some within the Health Department, for not moving faster to close down schools and businesses in March, when New York emerged as an epicenter of the pandemic.

Public health officials have bristled at the mayor’s decision to strip the Health Department of its responsibility for contact tracing and give it instead to the public hospital system, known as Health + Hospitals. The Health Department has performed such tracing for decades; the public hospitals have not.

“It had been clear in recent days that it was time for a change,” Mr. de Blasio said in a hastily called news conference. “We need an atmosphere of unity. We need an atmosphere of common purpose.”

The mayor moved quickly to replace Dr. Barbot, immediately announcing the appointment of a new health commissioner, Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, a former senior leader at Health + Hospitals.

Negotiators on Tuesday are set to reconvene on Capitol Hill to continue hammering out differences over a coronavirus relief package, with top Trump administration officials scheduled to return for another meeting with congressional Democrats.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, will meet with Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader. Mr. Mnuchin and Mr. Meadows will also join Senate Republicans for a closed-door policy lunch.

The Senate is scheduled to take a monthlong recess at the end of the week, but it is unclear if lawmakers will leave Washington without a deal. Tens of millions of Americans have lost crucial unemployment benefits as well as a federal moratorium on evictions, and economists warn that permanent damage could be wrought on the economy without action.

“I’ve never been a gambler,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, when asked about the prospect of a deal before the end of the week. “But if I were a gambler, I’d say we need to have some long days, long nights. Work hard.”

White House officials and Democratic leaders reported some progress over the weekend, but there are still substantial differences. Democrats are proposing a $3 trillion rescue plan that would include restoring $600-per-week jobless aid payments that expired on Friday and extending them through January, while Republicans are pushing a $1 trillion package that would reduce those payments substantially.

President Trump on Monday raised the idea of using an executive order to address the moratorium on evictions, while also hurling insults at Democratic leaders who were meeting with his top advisers in search of a compromise. But he has been notably absent from the negotiations themselves.

Mr. Trump accused Democrats of being focused on getting “bailout money” for states controlled by Democrats, and unconcerned with extending unemployment benefits.

Democrats have proposed providing more than $900 billion to strapped states and cities whose budgets have been decimated, but it is Republicans who have proposed slashing the jobless aid. Democrats have refused to do so, cementing the stalemate.

Fueling an already complicated impasse, outside advisers are also trying to get the president to bypass Congress and unilaterally impose a temporary payroll tax cut, an idea that Mr. Trump has championed but that his negotiators dropped amid opposition from both parties.

Congressional staff and lobbyists who are engaged in discussions said on Monday that the talks between administration officials and Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer had essentially frozen negotiations between top Democrats and Republicans on key committees who would have to hammer out the details of any deal.

That could leave the parties little time to flesh out any compromises over additional aid to businesses or individuals, yielding a plan that mostly consists of re-upping existing aid programs like the Paycheck Protection Program and direct payments to individuals.

Storm shelters in North Carolina, where Hurricane Isaias made landfall late Monday, prepared to deal with a dual threat from severe weather and the virus by screening for symptoms of the virus and socially distancing people who took shelter.

“Our state has weathered our fair share of storms in recent years,” Gov. Roy Cooper said over the weekend. “We know how to plan, prepare and respond when it’s over. Nothing about that has changed, but this time, we’re going to have to do it with a mask on.”

The state’s Department of Public Safety also urged residents to bring their own blankets and bedding, and asked people to stay at motels or with relatives if possible. Shelters will serve meals in sealed containers rather than in typical serving lines.

Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey also urged residents to take shelter, but not to break social-distancing guidelines by staying with large groups of friends or relatives.

“I’m not a fan of hurricane parties,” Mr. Murphy said on Monday, referring to the events that became something of a tradition in Florida during minor storms. “If it’s a hurricane party, you’re inside. It just doesn’t make sense, folks. It doesn’t end well. And we know that.”

The storm made landfall on Monday night in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., as a Category 1 hurricane, but weakened as it pushed through North Carolina and into Virginia on Tuesday morning. Still, forecasters warn that Isaias will bring powerful winds and heavy rains as it continues moving north toward New York and New Jersey and into New England.

A day before the United States surpassed 150,000 deaths from the coronavirus, President Trump appeared resigned to the toll, saying in an interview, “It is what it is.”

“They are dying. That’s true,” Mr. Trump told Axios in an interview recorded on July 28 and released in its entirety on Monday. “It is what it is. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing everything we can. It’s under control as much as you can control it.”

The president’s critics say he could have done much more to keep the virus from spreading to the extent it has, including encouraging states to be more cautious in reopening instead of encouraging them.

The country’s death toll, currently nearly 156,000, is far from the total of “75, 80 to 100,000” deaths that Mr. Trump predicted in early May when he credited himself with preventing the toll from being worse.

Even after his predictions proved wrong, Mr. Trump has continued to credit himself for the United States not being even worse off.

“One person’s too much,” Mr. Trump told Axios. ”And those people that really understand it, that really understand it, they said it’s an incredible job that we’ve done.”

The World Health Organization on Tuesday urged Russia to follow established guidelines for producing safe and effective vaccines, after Moscow announced that it would begin widespread vaccination of its population in October with a vaccine that had not yet been fully tested in clinical trials.

Amid a global race to develop the first effective coronavirus vaccine, experts have raised concerns about cutting corners in research and putting people at risk with an unsafe product. Last week Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the United States, warned Congress about programs like Russia’s that are not transparent.

“I do hope that the Chinese and the Russians are actually testing the vaccine before they are administering the vaccine to anyone,” Dr. Fauci said at hearing.

Russia is moving ahead with several prototypes, its officials said, and at least one effort, developed by the Gamaleya Institute in Moscow, has reached advanced stages of testing. The vaccine candidate is similar to one developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, using modified viruses that typically cause mild colds in humans.

Russia said it will start so-called Phase III trials of the vaccine this month. In Phase III, trials test for effectiveness in humans, after testing in animals. It is the last stage before approval, allowing widespread use.

The candidate vaccine reportedly has been tested to some extent on soldiers, and the Russian defense ministry said those soldiers all had volunteered. The institute’s director said on Russian television that he himself had also tried the vaccine before it finished testing in monkeys.

Two N.I.H. studies are recruiting patients to test possible Covid-19 treatments.

The National Institutes of Health announced Tuesday the launch of a key second, phase of clinical trials for an antibody treatment to help patients early in the course of Covid-19.

The two studies, which are now recruiting patients, are testing drugs called monoclonal antibodies produced by Eli Lilly and its partner, Abcellera Biologics in Vancouver. Researchers hope to have results in October or November.

The process began in March, and has progressed at “record speed,” said Daniel Skovronsky, chief scientific officer at Eli Lilly. Two and a half months later, the company began safety tests in humans, “surely a record speed,” he said.

The first study, dubbed ACTIV 2, will start with 220 Covid-19 patients who are ill but not hospitalized. Half will receive the antibodies and half a placebo infusion. If there are signs the drug is helping, the trial will expand to a total of 2,000 patients with the hope that the drug reduces the duration of symptoms and speeds the time it takes for the virus to be undetectable in the patients’ upper respiratory tracts.

The second study, ACTIV 3, will begin with 300 patients who are hospitalized but not gravely ill who have had symptoms for 10 days or less, though patients with virus-caused organ damage are excluded. Half of the patients will receive a placebo infusion. If the drug appears helpful, the study will move on to 1,000 individuals.

The antibodies used in these trials were produced from serum from a Washington patient who was one of the first people to recover from Covid-19. Researchers at Abcellera selected this antibody from many in the patient’s blood because it was most effective at blocking the virus.

Without knowing if the drug will be beneficial, Eli Lilly is preparing to meet a goal of having 100,000 doses by the end of the year, Dr. Skovronsky said.

As these clinical trials progress, the researchers may add other treatments as well.

What Lockdown 2.0 looks like: Harsher rules and deeper confusion.

Australia’s second-largest city, Melbourne has imposed some of the toughest restrictions in the world as it grapples with a spiraling coronavirus outbreak in a country that once thought it had the pandemic beat.

But as officials cast about for ways to break the chain of infections, the city has become a confounding matrix of hefty fines for disobedience, minor exceptions for everything from romantic partners to home building, and endless versions of the question: So, wait, can I ____?

Restaurant owners are wondering about food delivery after an 8 p.m. curfew began on Sunday. Teenagers are asking if their boyfriends and girlfriends count as essential partners. Can animal shelter volunteers walk dogs at night? Are house cleaners essential for those struggling with their mental health? Can the virus-tested exercise outside?

“This is such a weird, scary, bizarro time that we live in,” said Tessethia Von Tessle Roberts, 25, a student in Melbourne who admits to having hit a breaking point a few days ago, when her washing machine broke.

“Our health care workers are hustling around the clock to keep us alive,” she said. “Our politicians are as scared as we are, but they have to pretend like they have a better idea than we do of what’s going to happen next.”

Pandemic lockdowns, never easy, are getting ever more confusing and contentious as they evolve in the face of second and third rounds of outbreaks that have exhausted both officials and residents. With success against the virus as fleeting as the breeze, the new waves of restrictions feel to many like a bombing raid that just won’t end.

In rural Modoc County, Calif., population 8,800, social distancing was a way of life well before the virus. The county seat, Alturas, has just one blinking red traffic signal. And for five months, officials hoped that the county’s isolation in the northeastern corner of the state would spare it.

But the virus finally reached Modoc, the last county in the state without a confirmed case, when a couple in Alturas tested positive last week.

The county has not named the two people who contracted the virus, but Jodie Larranaga, an owner of the Brass Rail bar and restaurant, said it was a waitress who worked at the bar and her husband. She said the couple had recently returned from a family vacation in Fresno.

The county Health Department put out a request on Tuesday for anyone who had visited a bar in the previous two weeks to call a hotline. But Ms. Larranaga said that the department was not casting the net wide enough. “This couple has been all over the place,” she said. “They were all around town.”

Most people still go maskless when they shop in Alturas, despite a statewide order to wear masks in public places — an order that the county sheriff refuses to enforce.

Juan Ledezma, the owner of a thrift store in Alturas, estimated that 20 percent of customers come in with a mask on. “I don’t ask them to do it because they might get offended,” he said.

Caterers rush to adjust as most events are canceled or severely scaled down.

Corporate cafeterias that they provide food and staff to remain closed. Events like graduation and anniversary parties, bar mitzvahs, charity dinners and weddings have been canceled or pushed into next year.

And the ones that took place were on a decidedly smaller scale. “We did one 50-person wedding,” said David Cingari of David’s Soundview Catering in Stamford, Conn. “It was a clambake in the backyard. That was supposed to be a 250-person wedding.”

On a recent Saturday, he was dashing about at a pop-up restaurant he opened in mid-June, serving lobster rolls, blackened mahi-mahi tacos and smashburgers alongside cocktails like the Painkiller to socially distanced diners.

He made about $600, far from the roughly $6,600 that a 210-person wedding (petite lobster rolls on toasted brioche, coconut shrimp with mango aioli) and a bar mitzvah party for 180 (torched s’mores and a chocolate fountain) planned for that day, pre-pandemic, would have brought in.

The collapse of the catering industry this year also directly affects bartenders, wait staff and others who typically work these events as part-time employees.

The industry — a collection of large corporations like Aramark and Compass Group and thousands of smaller companies owned by individuals — is not tracking how many caterers have permanently closed because of the pandemic, but they say it will happen.

And while caterers say they are taking a financial beating, many feel better situated than those in the restaurant business. Instead of paying often expensive rent in desirable locations like most restaurants, caterers typically pay less for large kitchens that can be off the beaten track.

Counting for the 2020 census will end on Sept. 30, a month earlier than previously scheduled, the Census Bureau said in a statement on Monday.

The census is constitutionally required to count all residents of the United States every 10 years, but the 2020 effort has faltered amid the pandemic. In recent weeks, the Trump administration and Senate Republicans appeared to signal that they wanted the census finished well ahead of schedule.

Census data is enormously important. It is used to reapportion all 435 House seats and thousands of state and local districts, as well as to divvy up trillions of dollars in federal aid.

“Under this plan, the Census Bureau intends to meet a similar level of household responses as collected in prior censuses, including outreach to hard-to-count communities,” the Census Bureau said in its statement.

Critics said the move was pushed by the White House and motivated by partisanship.

“We’re dealing with a census that’s been really challenged by Covid-19,” said Vanita Gupta, a former head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division who is now the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “And in the middle of this pandemic, the administration has tried to sabotage the census for partisan gain, to move its anti-immigrant agenda and to silence communities of color.”

She added that rural communities could be badly hurt by an undercount.

On Monday night, the White House referred questions to the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau. It did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Times’s Marc Stein has covered pro basketball for almost 30 years, but he says he has seen nothing like life inside the league’s so-called bubble at Walt Disney World in Florida:

Every day in the bubble starts the same for reporters. We record our temperature and oxygen saturation readings via a league-sanctioned app to receive access at checkpoints within the bubble.

Then we head to the testing room, with access set aside exclusively for reporters in the 9 a.m. hour, to receive three shallow throat swabs and one shallow swab of each nostril — daily.

There is no guarantee that the N.B.A. can continue to keep the coronavirus from infiltrating this first-of-a-kind village that houses 22 teams.

But it already seems clear that the bubble approach was the only approach that had any shot in 2020.

Reporting was contributed by Livia Albeck-Ripka, Pam Belluck, Emma Bubola, Ben Carey, Damien Cave, Emily Cochrane, Michael Gold, J. David Goodman, Maggie Haberman, Mike Ives, Isabel Kershner, Gina Kolata, Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, Marc Stein, Eileen Sullivan, Jim Tankersley, Michael Wines, Will Wright and Karen Zraick.



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UK lawmakers urge sanctions over Hong Kong police violence | World News

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LONDON (AP) — British lawmakers urged the U.K. government Tuesday to sanction Hong Kong’s leader for allowing “excessive police violence” against humanitarian workers who tried to help people injured during pro-democracy protests.

A report by members of the bipartisan All Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong said first aid workers, doctors and nurses, have been subjected to intimidation, threats, physical violence and arrests during months of clashes between police and protesters that began in the semi-autonomous Chinese city last year.

“The Hong Kong Police Force’s treatment of humanitarian aid workers and their interference within hospitals have resulted in injured protesters not receiving the required medical care in time or at all,” the report said.

Lawmaker Alistair Carmichael, who co-chairs the parliamentary group, said the violence was “not the actions of a few rogue officers” but instead was “clearly a systematic and quite deliberate” policy change that aligned more with policing in mainland China.

The report’s authors said they drew their conclusions after receiving over 1,000 pieces of written evidence and hearing many firsthand witness accounts.

They called for Britain to urgently impose sanctions on Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam and the city’s police commissioner.

Hong Kong saw violence at anti-government protests in the past year, as demonstrations against a proposed law that would allow suspects to be extradited to China grew into a much wider protest movement for democratic reform and against alleged police brutality.

Although the extradition bill was later withdrawn, the demonstrations continued for months. Police using tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets to disperse protesters became common occurrences.

Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong last month, raising widespread concerns that the Chinese government was cracking down on the anti-government protests.

Hong Kong has long enjoyed civil liberties not seen elsewhere in mainland China because it is governed under a “one country, two systems” principle in place since the former British colony reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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