UK urges end to ‘non-essential’ contact, travel to curb coronavirus spread

The UK’s prime minister on Monday recommended tougher social distancing measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, including household isolation, home-working and an end to mass gatherings. (Screenshot/BBC)
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Updated 16 March 2020

UK urges end to ‘non-essential’ contact, travel to curb coronavirus spread

  • The UK may need to close schools to slow the spread of the virus
  • Covid-19, as the virus is known, is spreading faster in London

LONDON: Britain on Monday recommended tougher social distancing measures to curb the coronavirus outbreak, including household isolation, home-working and an end to mass gatherings.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said more stringent restrictions were needed as more cases were detected, to slow infection rates and protect the elderly and most vulnerable in society.

In a three-pronged approach, the first recommendation is for all household members to stay at home for 14 days if anyone displays symptoms of the disease — a persistent new cough or fever.

The second advises an end to close social contact to protect people aged 70 and over, pregnant women and those with underlying health conditions.

The third recommends an end to mass gatherings — such as sporting — events from Tuesday, despite the risk of transmission among large crowds being “relatively low,” he added.

“Now is the time for everyone to stop non-essential contact with others and non-essential travel,” Johnson said at the first of his planned daily news conferences on the outbreak.

“We need people to start working from home where they possibly can. You should avoid pubs, clubs, theaters and other such social venues,” he added.

Johnson, flanked by chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance and chief medical officer for England Chris Whitty, said the UK was “approaching the fast growth part of the upward curve.”

He acknowledged the disruption it would cause but said it was important to act at the right time, and promised even tougher measures in the coming days.

That includes isolating people with the most serious health conditions from social contact for 12 weeks to ensure “maximum protection coincides with the peak of the disease.”

The prime minister added that the government was asking for “very substantial change in the way we want people to lead their lives,” adding it was “unprecedented” in peacetime.

Vallance suggested the 12-week period “may be a little longer.”

Britain’s approach contrasts sharply with that of other countries, particularly its nearest neighbors on mainland Europe, many which have sealed borders and closed schools. 

But Johnson stood firm, again resisting calls for schools to be closed, assessing that “on balance it’s much better if we can keep schools open.”

Britain, which had 1,543 confirmed cases as of 9:00 am (0900 GMT) on Monday, with 35 deaths, is currently only testing people who have been taken to hospital suffering from severe symptoms.

Whitty said more than 44,000 people have been tested so far and expected testing to be increased in the coming weeks.

Last week, Vallance suggested between 5,000 and 10,000 people may have COVID-19 without knowing it.

But on Monday he declined to give an estimate, saying only “the epidemic is expected to double every five days.”

“The absolutely key thing is testing, ramping up our ability to test... who has had the disease rather than who has got it,” he told reporters.

“How many people have had it and been asymptomatic, that is the biggest unknown worldwide.”

He said restrictions will remain in place for some time.

“We stressed right from the beginning, it’s going to be a marathon not a sprint.”


US ‘cloud’ supremacy has Europe worried about data

Updated 20 min 42 sec ago

US ‘cloud’ supremacy has Europe worried about data

  • Europe is sitting on a wealth of data that is the 21st century equivalent of a precious metal mine
  • Europeans may be allowing American tech giants to gain control of all the excavation equipment

PARIS: Europe is sitting on a wealth of data that is the 21st century equivalent of a precious metal mine during the gold rush.
But instead of exploiting it themselves Europeans may be allowing American tech giants to gain control of all the excavation equipment, some experts say, pointing to a flurry of European companies announcing deals with US tech players for cloud services.
Renault, Orange, Deutsche Bank, and Lufthansa recently plumped for Google Cloud. Volkswagen signed up with Amazon Web Services. The French health ministry chose Microsoft to house its research data.
The cloud is a term for offering data storage and processing services externally so clients don’t need to invest as much in costly gear.
This trend has sparked concern particularly in Germany, which has a rich trove of data thanks to its powerful industrial sector.
The EU is “losing its influence in the digital sphere at the moment it is taking a central role in the continent’s economy” warned a recent report by a group of experts and media leaders under the leadership of the former head of German software firm SAP, Henning Kagermann.
“The majority of European data is stocked outside of Europe, or, if stocked in Europe, is on servers that belong to non-European firms,” it noted.

A senior French official recently delivered an even more blunt assessment in a meeting with IT professionals.
“We have an enormous security and sovereignty issue with clouds” said the official at the meeting, which AFP attended on the condition of respecting the anonymity of participants.
“In many cases it is convenience or a sellout” by European companies and institutions “because it is simpler” to sign up with US tech giants than find European options, said the official.
“However we have very good firms offering cloud and data services,” he added.
One of the causes of concern for Europeans comes from the Cloud Act, a piece of legislation adopted in 2018 that gives US intelligence agencies access in certain cases to data hosted by US firms, no matter where the server may be physically located.
“My company is American and I know very well what the implications are of the legislation,” said a Franco-American executive.
“And given what is happening in US policy debates, that situation won’t be getting better.”
Beyond the integrity of data, it is the capacity to analyze and exploit that information that worries many European experts and policymakers.

If in Europe “we are just capable of generating data and need others to exploit it then we are going to end up in the same situation as countries with mineral resources that rely on others to process it and end up with meagre economic benefits,” said the French official.
The French and Germans unveiled in June the GAIA-X project that aims to develop a competitive European cloud offer.
Rather than encourage the development of a European champion — in the mold of Airbus in response to Boeing — that would offer the full gamut of services, the project takes a different tack.
It aims to set standards so different firms could offer storage, processing, security and artificial intelligence services seamlessly. It would operate as a marketplace of sorts where each client could find the services they need without having to leave European jurisdiction.
It is hoped GAIA-X’s decentralized model might prove a better fit with the issues raised by treatment of data from connected devices.