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.


Troops from Niger and France hunt for killers of aid workers in Niger nature reserve

The wreckage of the car where six French aid workers, their local guide and the driver were killed by unidentified gunmen riding motorcycles in an area of southwestern Niger. (AFP)
Updated 10 August 2020

Troops from Niger and France hunt for killers of aid workers in Niger nature reserve

  • Attackers on motorbikes ambushed the group of aid workers as they drove through the giraffe reserve
  • France has 5,100 troops deployed in the arid region south of the Sahara desert

NIAMEY: French and Nigerien soldiers searched through a giraffe reserve and the surrounding area in Niger on Monday for traces of the gunmen who killed six French aid workers, a French military source said.
France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor also opened an investigation into the incident, in which attackers on motorbikes ambushed the group as it drove through the reserve located 65 km (40 miles) from the capital Niamey — an area considered safe by the Niger government.
The French aid workers were employed by the charity ACTED. A local driver working for the relief group and a guide were also killed. ACTED called the murders “senseless and cowardly.”
“This heinous crime must not go unpunished, nor will it distract us from our commitment to support the people of Niger,” said ACTED, which has worked to help vulnerable populations in the country since 2010.
No one has claimed responsibility for the assault. But France and other countries have warned people against traveling to parts of Niger where militants including Boko Haram and an affiliate of Daesh operate.
“Military operations are ongoing today,” the military source said.
In the clearest sign yet that France believes a militant group was behind the attack, the office of France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor said it was launching an investigation on suspicion of the involvement of a terrorist group.
French President Emmanuel Macron said he shared their families’ grief. “Our determination to combat armed terrorist groups is resolute. The fight continues,” Macron tweeted.
The reserve southeast of Niamey is home to West Africa’s last sizeable population of giraffe in the wild. In the wet season, thick green acacia bushes dot the flat, sandy plains.
It is a popular attraction in Niger, a vast country that borders seven states in an unstable region including Libya, Mali, Chad, Algeria and Nigeria.
France, a former colonial power in the region, has 5,100 troops deployed in the arid region south of the Sahara desert since 2013. The United States also has soldiers based in Niger.
Nonetheless, militant violence has been on the rise.