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Jacinda Ardern decries ‘dangerous’ calls to reopen New Zealand borders | World news

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Jacinda Ardern has decried as “dangerous” her detractors’ calls to open New Zealand’s borders – or present a plan for how she will do so – as the country remains largely free of Covid-19 while the virus spreads abroad.

Telling reporters on Tuesday that she had heard “calls for our borders to be opened to the world”, the New Zealand prime minister referred to “a world where the virus is escalating not slowing and not even peaking in some countries yet, where cases exceed 10 million globally and deaths half a million, where countries are extending and returning to lockdown”.

“All of the while, we get to enjoy weekend sport, go to restaurants and bars, our workplaces are open, and we can gather in whatever numbers we like,” she said.

She appeared to be responding to Todd Muller – the leader of the opposition and the centre-right National party – who, along with business leaders, branded as “untenable” the prospect of keeping the country’s borders sealed for months or years until a Covid-19 vaccine is found.

A swift, strict lockdown of the country in March and April appeared to have eliminated community transmission of the virus shortly after it appeared in New Zealand – with New Zealanders returning to the country accounting for all the 22 current cases diagnosed. The nation has become an international success story for addressing Covid-19 but it now faces a world where preserving that status means tightly sealed borders.

“A strategy that says we stay completely closed to everybody for the next 12 to 18 months is simply untenable,” Muller told the Wellington Chamber of Commerce in a speech on Monday. “We won’t recognise this country in terms of economic impact.”

Skiers and snowboarders ride chairlifts on opening day in Cardrona, New Zealand



Skiers and snowboarders ride chairlifts on the opening day in Cardrona, New Zealand Photograph: Hannah Peters/Getty Images

He added in a statement on Tuesday that he was not advocating an immediate reopening of borders, but wanted to know how and when they would be “progressively reopened”.

Only New Zealanders and their families are allowed to enter the country, along with some government-approved essential workers. Returnees must spend two weeks in government-managed quarantine at designated hotels; they are tested for Covid-19 twice during their stay and are not permitted to leave isolation for a further two weeks if they refuse a test.

The quarantine rules were drastically tightened after it was discovered that health officials had let dozens leave early on compassionate exemptions without testing; two women arriving from Britain were allowed out before both were diagnosed with Covid-19. They have since recovered and did not appear to have spread it to anyone else.

All 22 cases active in the country now were diagnosed through routine testing at the quarantine hotels; 21 of those who have it remain in isolation, with one in a stable condition in hospital.

Fewer than 1,200 confirmed cases of the virus have been diagnosed in New Zealand; 22 people have died. The apparent elimination of community transmission means life has returned to normal domestically, with only the strict border rules remaining in place.

“These are hard-won gains, and we have as a government no intention of squandering them,” Ardern said on Tuesday. “The idea that we should open our border in this environment has a price, and that price could be a second wave of Covd-19 in our country at worst – at best, added restrictions for the rest of us.”

Her government has been in talks to pursue a so-called trans-Tasman bubble of quarantine-free travel with Australia and the Pacific Islands, although she has said it would not be safe to implement such a strategy yet.

Ardern on Monday sternly warned New Zealanders against recreational travel abroad, despite the European Union’s announcement that the country was on its new list of accepted travellers. She said those leaving New Zealand for non-essential reasons could be forced to pay for their mandatory two-week quarantine upon returning – to the tune of thousands of dollars.

She is seeking legal advice to confirm she could implement such a rule.

In response to Muller’s call for a plan to reopen the country, she said: “In the short term, where we have an environment where we don’t have large-scale effective treatment, where we don’t have a vaccine, where we don’t have short-term turnaround on testing, and while the pandemic is surging, that means in the short-term we’re looking for countries in a similar position to us.”

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Revealed: 20 areas at most risk of local lockdowns | World news

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The government has drawn up a list of 20 councils facing the worst coronavirus outbreaks in England, with Bradford, Sheffield and Kirklees identified as areas needing “enhanced support”, according to a classified document leaked to the Observer and the Guardian.

As evidence mounts that the relaxation of lockdown rules is leading to a resurgence of Covid-19 in some of England’s most deprived and ethnically mixed areas, officials have ordered the army to deploy extra mobile testing units, which will be sent into a series of hotspots around the country from this weekend.

Public Health England (PHE), the country’s lead infection control agency, briefed local government health chiefs last week that ministers were considering publishing a ranking of the 10 councils most affected by new outbreaks, which could be released within days. Councils fear the data will be used to enforce more local lockdowns of the kind imposed in Leicester, where all but essential shops must stay shut, schoolchildren have been sent home, and pubs and restaurants remain closed.

Local authorities, areas of interest table

The top 10 ranking is likely to be based on a document circulated to local health chiefs on Thursday, headed “official sensitive”. The chart, compiled by PHE and reproduced below, ranks the 20 councils with the highest proportion of positive cases. Leicester remains at its head, with 5.7% of individuals who underwent a test found to have the virus. Kirklees, in West Yorkshire, was not far behind, with a 5% rate. Bradford, and Blackburn with Darwen in Lancashire, were the next highest.

Titled “local authority areas of interest”, the table is based on testing between 21 June and 4 July. It identifies six areas of “concern”. More serious cases are labelled as needing “enhanced support”, with three councils in this category. One – Leicester – is listed as requiring “intervention”.

The document states “these areas are currently under investigation by the local public health protection teams”. “Testing access is being increased in areas including Bradford”, it says, and the areas listed are “associated with workplace outbreaks which have contributed to the increase in infection rates”.

Last month, 164 workers at a meat factory in Kirklees tested positive, and at the beginning of July, a bed factory in Batley, which is administered by Kirklees Council, was closed after eight workers were found to have the virus.The communities most affected have several factors in common: poverty, poor health and a high proportion of non-white residents. “Those on the list are going to be characterised by higher deprivation, higher black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities and denser housing,” said a public health director briefed on the plans.

“Some are going to be in the list for the whole period of the pandemic. The drivers are structural and demographic, so the pattern of spread will reflect the inequalities that already existed. Some of the most strapped-for-cash councils are going to be dealing with some of the worst outbreaks.”

Areas with large south Asian populations, particularly where several generations may share a home and live in crowded conditions, are among those emerging as particularly at risk.

Hand sanitiser at Kober meat processing plant in Cleckheaton, confirmed as the location of a localised coronavirus outbreak.



Hand sanitiser at Kober meat processing plant in Cleckheaton, confirmed as the location of a localised coronavirus outbreak. Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA

Bradford has the highest proportion of people of Pakistani origin in England.

The council has today deployed testing units, staffed by the armed forces, to its Bowling and Keighley districts. Residents will be able to be tested without an appointment. Similar units will be deployed in Blackburn and Sheffield.

“Bradford has a higher infection rate than most but it’s coming down due to action we’ve taken,” said council leader Susan Hinchcliffe. “We welcome the dialogue with government. We’re already doing more testing than any other authority in the region, but want to do more.”

Bradford has asked for its own mobile testing units, more environmental health officers, support to pay full wages to low-paid workers having to self-isolate, and funding to develop its own local test-and-trace system.

Officials have not yet outlined what metrics will be used to impose further lockdowns, but it is understood a system based on the German model is under discussion. This would involve a threshold of 50 weekly positive tests per 100,000 of the population in any given council. Once that is breached, special measures could be triggered.

Data made public on Thursday shows Leicester is currently on 116 new cases per 100,000 of population per week, down from 140 two weeks ago.

Rochdale is in second place, with nearly 33 cases, down from over 50 three weeks ago. Kirklees is also suffering high rates, as are Bradford, Blackburn with Darwen, Rotherham and Bedford.

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, announced the UK’s first local lockdown on 29 June as Leicester reported 944 new cases in a fortnight. Non-essential shops and schools were shut, and pubs and restaurants were unable to reopen. Legislation to enforce the restrictions was pushed through parliament.

Desperate to avoid Leicester’s fate, councils are lobbying for a “graded response”, the local public health director said, with a rolling back of some elements of lockdown, such as larger gatherings, rather than closure of whole sectors. “What we want to avoid is the secretary of state making clumsy, unhelpful interventions, so we are getting ahead of the curve, understanding what our problem is and acting to address it. But we are hampered by slow reporting of data and absence of data,” they added.

Councils have only just begun to receive a breakdown of new cases by postcode, and this is arriving weekly. Health chiefs say they need the information daily if they are to spot outbreaks in time to stop them spreading.

The plans to publish a top 10 were discussed on a regional call with Public Health England, two public health directors confirmed. “They seem to be intent on putting it into the public domain,” said one of those on the call. “We have expressed some concerns over how they do it, as the data does need to be interpreted. Nonetheless, I welcome transparency.”

The classified list of 20 at-risk councils uses six metrics including number of cases per 100,000 of population per week and per day, percentage of individuals testing positive as a proportion of all tests, and “exceedances”. This is where councils are issued with a red light because they consistently have more positive cases than forecast by a government algorithm. A slightly lower number of exceedances leads to an amber light.

The chart also shows the number of community outbreaks per council over the last week. Outbreaks are classed as two or more positive tests in a single setting, such as a workplace, school or prison.

The Department of Health and Social Care said it did not have a set trigger, but would use a range of data to decide where and how to act, stating: “We have been transparent about our response to coronavirus and are always looking to improve the data we publish, including the way we update testing statistics.

“The list of the 10 local authorities with the highest weekly incidence of coronavirus is already publicly available in PHE’s weekly surveillance report.

“All councils in England now have the ability to access testing data, right down to an individual and postcode level. If councils feel they require more assistance with data, of course, PHE is able to help them.”

Kirklees and Sheffield councils were approached for comment.

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Serbian police arrest 71 in coronavirus protests | World news

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Serbian police have detained 71 people after clashes during a fourth night of anti-government protests that were initially sparked by the announcement of a new coronavirus lockdown, a senior police official has said.

Fourteen police officers were injured when hundreds of demonstrators tried to storm the parliament building in downtown Belgrade on Friday evening, the police director, Vladimir Rebic, said. Several reporters were also hurt.

Protesters defying a ban on gatherings because of the pandemic, threw bottles, rocks and flares at police who were guarding the parliament building, and police responded with teargas to disperse them.

Similar clashes broke out twice earlier this week. The protests began when the populist president, Aleksandar Vucic, announced a strict curfew for this weekend to curb a surge in new coronavirus cases.


Serbian protesters clash with police over government handling of coronavirus – video report

Vucic later scrapped the curfew and authorities instead banned gatherings of more than 10 people in Belgrade, the capital, and shortened the working hours of indoor businesses.

Many in Serbia have accused the increasingly authoritarian Vucic and his government of allowing the crisis to get out of control by holding a paralimentary election on 21 June that tightened the ruling party’s grip on power.

Vucic has denied this, although authorities had relaxed the rules before the vote, allowing large crowds at soccer games, weddings and other events.

On Friday, the Serbian prime minister announced the highest daily number of deaths, 18, since the start of the pandemic in the Balkan country. Authorities reported 12 new deaths on Saturday and 354 new infections.

The country has had more than 18,000 confirmed infections and 382 deaths since March and health authorities have said hospitals are almost full due to the latest rise in cases.

Vucic has claimed the involvement of unspecified foreign security services in the unrest and said he will not be toppled in the streets. Some opposition leaders, meanwhile, are blaming the rioting on groups they say are controlled by the government and sent out to discredit peaceful protests.

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Russia Reports 6,611 New Coronavirus Infections | World News

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MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Saturday reported 6,611 new coronavirus cases, taking its nationwide tally of infections to 720,547.

The country’s coronavirus crisis response centre said 188 people had died from the virus in the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 11,205.

Russia said 497,446 people have recovered from the virus.

(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; writing by Polina Devitt; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Copyright 2020 Thomson Reuters.

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