Northern Ireland to shut restaurants and suspend school in strictest UK lockdown

Northern Ireland to shut restaurants and suspend school in strictest UK lockdown
Northern Ireland has become one of Europe’s biggest COVID-19 hot spots in recent weeks. (File/AFP)
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Updated 14 October 2020

Northern Ireland to shut restaurants and suspend school in strictest UK lockdown

Northern Ireland to shut restaurants and suspend school in strictest UK lockdown
  • The British-ruled region has become one of Europe’s biggest COVID-19 hotspots in recent weeks
  • The closure will affect the entire hospitality sector, with the exception of takeaway and delivery services

BELFAST: Northern Ireland is to impose the strictest COVID-19 restrictions seen in the United Kingdom since early summer, closing schools for two weeks and shuttering restaurants for four, First Minister Arlene Foster said on Wednesday.
The British-ruled region has become one of Europe’s biggest COVID-19 hotspots in recent weeks. Its health minister described the situation last Friday as becoming more grave by the hour.
“We do not take this step lightly ... the COVID transmission rates must be turned down or we will be in a very difficult place very soon indeed,” Foster told the regional parliament after announcing the measures.
“We are very determined that this will be a time-limited intervention. They will not continue beyond the four weeks.”
The closure will affect the entire hospitality sector, with the exception of takeaway and delivery services, and double the length of the annual October school break from one week to two.
Under the measures, retail will remain open, but “close contact services” such as hairdressers and beauticians will be closed.
People will be advised to avoid all unnecessary travel and work from home, while universities will be asked to teach remotely as far as possible.
The United Kingdom as a whole has been reporting record numbers of daily infections, and the highest number of deaths since early summer.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson introduced a new tiered system of restrictions for England on Monday, with Liverpool and the surrounding Merseyside region placed in the highest level.
The government of the Irish Republic will consider whether to respond to the new measures and impose additional restrictions in areas close to the open Northern Ireland border where infection levels are also very high, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said earlier on Wednesday.
Ireland has had stricter restrictions in place since last week, with all indoor restaurant dining and non-essential travel banned, but Varadkar said more measures may be needed.
Northern Ireland’s health department reported 863 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday and seven more deaths, meaning it has had 334 cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days.


UK imams mobilize to counter Covid vaccine disinformation

UK imams mobilize to counter Covid vaccine disinformation
Updated 1 min 13 sec ago

UK imams mobilize to counter Covid vaccine disinformation

UK imams mobilize to counter Covid vaccine disinformation
LONDON: Imams across Britain are helping a drive to dispel coronavirus disinformation, using Friday sermons and their influential standing within Muslim communities to argue that Covid-19 vaccines are safe.
Qari Asim, chairman of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB) which is leading a campaign to reassure its faithful, is among those publically advocating that the inoculations are compatible with Islamic practices.
“We are confident that the two vaccines that have been used in the UK, Oxford AstraZeneca and Pfizer, are permissible from an Islamic perspective,” he told AFP.
“The hesitancy, the anxiety (and) concern is driven by misinformation, conspiracy theories, fake news and rumors.”
Britain, the hardest-hit country in Europe by the virus after registering nearly 95,000 deaths, is relying on its biggest-ever vaccination effort to end repeated cycles of lockdowns and restrictions.
However, a report from the scientific committee advising the government showed stronger mistrust of vaccines among ethnic minorities than the rest of the UK population.
It highlighted that 72 percent of Black survey respondents were unlikely or very unlikely to get the vaccine.
Among those from Pakistani or Bangladeshi backgrounds, the figure was 42 percent.
Imams are pushing back in particular at fears among Britain’s estimated 2.8 million Muslims that the vaccines contain pork gelatin or alcohol, which are banned by Islam.
Asim said it was “legitimate” to question whether things were permissible under Islam but without paying attention to unfounded claims.
Among the falsehoods spread about the vaccine are that it can modify DNA, make recipients sterile, or even involve inserting a microchip in the body.
Misinformation around the coronavirus is all the more dangerous given several studies have shown that it can impact minorities disproportionately.
“These are precisely the communities we should be trying to target,” said Nighat Arif, a general practitioner based in Chesham, near London.
When she received her vaccination, she posted a video in Urdu on social media aimed at the language’s speakers living in Britain.
“I’m hoping that because they see someone who looks like them, who is a practicing Muslim, wears a hijab, someone who is Asian who speaks their language, that’s more relatable than something that’s coming through from the government,” she added.
Arif is still surprised by the refusal of certain patients to be inoculated, noting they will often get vaccinated to undertake the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabi, or to visit Pakistan or India.
She blames conspiracy theories spread online, which contribute to the science behind the process “being lost.”
Samara Afzal, 34, a general practitioner at Netherton Health Center in Dudley in the West Midlands, also shared a video in Urdu with her 35,000 Twitter followers to “debunk some myths.”
She said some people had asked her to send the video directly to them so they could forward it to skeptical loved ones via social tools like WhatsApp.
At her medical center, Afzal estimates that around 40 to 50 people out of 1,000 have refused to be vaccinated when she had expected only one or two.
“It’s still a fair amount of people that are saying no and obviously we haven’t even addressed the younger ones, so this is just the elderly,” she added.
“So I’m sure when it comes down to the younger ones, there’ll be a lot more that say no.”
Around five million people, almost entirely the elderly and caregivers, have already received a first dose of the vaccine in the UK, the highest rate in Europe.
In a sign of officials’ concerns about minority take-up of the jabs, the state-run health service is mobilizing “influencers” in communities to convince the skeptics.
“There’s a big piece of work happening where we’re translating information, we’re making sure the look and feel of it reaches the populations that matter,” Harpreet Sood, a doctor who is leading the anti-disinformation campaign, told the BBC.
A vaccination center has even been set up in a mosque in Birmingham, Britain’s second biggest city, which has a large south Asian population.
Imam Nuru Mohammed said the move sent “a big ‘no to fake news’” message to his 2,000-strong religious community and beyond.
He shared the video of his own vaccination on social media.
For Asim, the MINAB chairman whose mosque is in Leeds, in northern England, their efforts also help counter far-right claims.
“If there was a lower take-up of vaccines in Muslim communities in comparison to all other communities, then potentially, it could fan the flames of Islamophobia,” he noted.
“And in this pandemic, no one should be scapegoated.”