UK puts military on standby as coronavirus shuts down swathes of London

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One of London's tourist hot spots, Trafalgar Square, is nearly abandoned in London, Thursday, March 19, 2020. (AP)
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An empty street in Westminster, central London, is pictured on March 19, 2020, as people stay away from the capital due to the novel coronavirus. (AFP)
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A man with a face mask walks across Trafalgar Square in London, Thursday, March 19, 2020. (AP)
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A homeless man holds a sign reading "What about us Boris - were we gunna isolate? Help!", relating to the UK government's advice to self-isolate if a person has covid-19 symptoms, in London, on March 19, 2020. ( AFP )
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A platform at Oxford Circus tube station is almost deserted at 10 in the morning, a usually busy time, in London, Thursday, March 19, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 19 March 2020

UK puts military on standby as coronavirus shuts down swathes of London

  • Johnson considers more stringent measures
  • London underground train stations to close

LONDON: The United Kingdom put 20,000 military personnel on standby, closed dozens of underground train stations across London and Queen Elizabeth left the city for Windsor Castle as the coronavirus crisis shut down whole swathes of the economy.
As the coronavirus outbreak sweeps across the world, governments, companies and investors are grappling with the biggest public health crisis since the 1918 influenza pandemic, panicked populations and imploding financial markets.
Against a background of panic buying in supermarkets and the biggest fall in sterling for decades, the British government moved to quash rumors that travel in and out of London would be restricted.
“There is zero prospect of any restriction being placed on traveling in or out of London,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman told reporters.
He said police were responsible for maintaining law and order and there were no plans to use the military for this purpose, though the government put military reservists on formal notification.
But dozens of underground train stations across the capital were due to be closed and an industry source said supermarkets were expecting police support amid the fears that London was facing a virtual shutdown.
After ordering the closure of schools across a country that casts itself as a pillar of Western stability, Johnson on Wednesday said the government was ruling nothing out when asked whether he would bring in measures to lock down London.
Johnson has asked the government to come up with plans for a so-called lockdown which would see businesses closed, transport services reduced, gatherings limited and more stringent controls imposed on the city.
Queen Elizabeth on Thursday left the capital for her ancient castle at Windsor. The monarch has also agreed to postpone the planned state visit by Japanese Emperor Naruhito in June.

LONDON CLOSING?
London’s transport authority said it would close up to 40 underground train stations until further notice and reduce other services including buses and trains. The line between Waterloo station and the City of London financial district would be closed.
“People should not be traveling, by any means, unless they really, really have to,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan said.
Britain has so far reported 104 deaths from coronavirus and 2,626 confirmed cases, but UK scientific advisers say more than 50,000 people might have already been infected.
Britain faces a “massive shortage” of ventilators that will be needed to treat critically ill patients suffering from coronavirus, after it failed to invest enough in intensive care equipment, a leading ventilator manufacturer said.
With the world’s fifth largest economy coming to a standstill, the pound on Wednesday plunged to its lowest since March 1985, barring a freak “flash crash” in October 2016. On Thursday the pound was down 0.5% at $1.1570.
British shoppers were queuing around the block early on Thursday morning to buy basic supplies such as bottled water and tinned goods ahead of an expected toughening of measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak.
Supermarkets have been forced to limit purchases after frantic shoppers stripped shelves. Outside one Sainsbury’s supermarket in central London on Thursday, a huge queue had formed ahead of opening, with people standing calmly in the rain.


UK’s Raab says unacceptable for Russian intelligence services to target COVID-19 work

Updated 18 min 59 sec ago

UK’s Raab says unacceptable for Russian intelligence services to target COVID-19 work

  • Raab’s comments come after Britain also accused Russia on Thursday of trying to interfere in its 2019 general election

LONDON: British foreign minister Dominic Raab on Thursday said it was completely unacceptable for Russian intelligence services to target research on the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is completely unacceptable that the Russian Intelligence Services are targeting those working to combat the coronavirus pandemic,” Raab said, following a joint statement by British Canadian and US cybersecurity services.

“While others pursue their selfish interests with reckless behavior, the UK and its allies are getting on with the hard work of finding a vaccine and protecting global health.

“The UK will continue to counter those conducting such cyberattacks, and work with our allies to hold perpetrators to account.”

Raab’s comments come after Britain also accused Russia on Thursday of trying to interfere in its 2019 general election by illicitly acquiring sensitive documents relating to a planned free trade agreement with Washington and leaking them online.

In response, a senior Russian lawmaker said the allegations were “anti-Russian nonsense” and undermined UK-Russia relations.