France back in coronavirus lockdown as US surges to daily record

People walk by high-rise buildings during the evening rush hour at the business district of La Defense west of Paris on October 21, 2020, as the country faces a new wave of infections to the Covid-19 (the novel coronavirus). (AFP)
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Updated 30 October 2020

France back in coronavirus lockdown as US surges to daily record

  • From midnight, France’s 65 million people were largely confined to their homes, needing written statements to leave
  • President Emmanuel Macron has warned that the second wave “will probably be more difficult and deadly than the first”

PARIS: France was under a new virus lockdown on Friday, as the resurgent pandemic hit new heights in the United States with a daily record of more than 90,000 cases, just days before the presidential election.
From midnight, France’s 65 million people were largely confined to their homes, needing written statements to leave, in the latest drastic measure to curb a disease that has infected more than 44.5 million people worldwide and killed nearly 1.2 million.
As lockdowns return, oil prices dropped on fears of a slowdown in demand but tech giants Facebook, Amazon and Google parent Alphabet reported strong quarterly earnings, reflecting the economic shifts caused by the global outbreak.
And in the latest bleak warning, the UN’s biodiversity panel said future pandemics could be more frequent, deadly and economically damaging.
The United States, where the coronavirus has overshadowed President Donald Trump’s November 3 re-election bid, announced 91,295 new cases in 24 hours, surging past the 90,000-mark for the first time to a total of almost nine million.
In the French capital Paris, some medics voiced fears that steady traffic and appreciable numbers of people on public transport showed the public was not taking the lockdown as seriously a second time round.
“Crossing Paris this morning looked more like an ordinary day than the first day of a lockdown,” the director of Paris hospitals Martin Hirsch wrote on Twitter.
“We don’t have the choice, we are obliged to live, do our shopping and behave as if it is normal even if there are some safety measures,” said Fabrice Angelique, 18, buying headphones at a books and electronics store in Paris.
Although there were some scenes of people stocking up on essentials, the president of the Intermarche chain, Thierry Cotillard denied there had been any “hysteria” in supermarkets.
According to a poll by Odoxa-Dentsu Consulting for France Info and Le Figaro, seven out of 10 people in France are in favor of the new lockdown, which is scheduled to last a month with bars and restaurants closed until at least December and travel between regions limited.
Factories and building sites will remain open, as will creches and schools — although children aged six and up must wear masks in class.
President Emmanuel Macron has warned that the second wave “will probably be more difficult and deadly than the first” in a country that has already seen 36,000 deaths.
But he insisted this lockdown would be less severe than measures imposed during the first wave in March-April.
Europe is again the epicenter of the pandemic according to the World Health Organization.
Nottingham became the latest of a swathe of cities across central and northern England to enter the highest tier of local restrictions Friday, with the 2.4 million residents of Leeds set to follow next week.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has ordered a lighter round of shutdowns from Monday, closing bars, cafes and restaurants, as well as theaters, operas and cinemas.
Spain’s parliament on Thursday approved a six-month extension of a state of emergency, which was declared on Sunday for an initial two weeks.
Sweden, known for its light-touch approach, recorded its highest number of infections for the second day in a row, prompting a warning for people in the capital and the more densely populated south to avoid social interaction.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said he had no plans to introduce a sweeping lockdown, even as the country saw record tolls with reports of ambulance queues at hospitals and medical shortages.
But the Vatican said Pope Francis would resume a remote, live-streamed version of his weekly general audiences with the public, “in order to avoid any possible future risk to the health of the participants.”
EU leaders held a video summit on the crisis, according to European sources the first in a series of such calls to improve coordination.
The European Central Bank meanwhile pledged to bolster its pandemic stimulus in December.
The economic recovery is “losing momentum more rapidly than expected” after the partial rebound seen in the summer, ECB president Christine Lagarde said after a virtual meeting of the 25-member governing council.
But forecasts now show eurozone powerhouse Germany shrinking less than previously expected this year, at 5.5 percent, followed by a 4.4 percent rebound in 2021.
“With the tough and decisive measures we have taken... we have a real chance to achieve this growth,” Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said.
Amongst the welter of bad news, the UN biodiversity panel warned future pandemics could be even worse, adding that they posed an “existential threat” to humanity.
The authors of a special report on biodiversity and pandemics said habitat destruction and insatiable consumption made animal-borne diseases far more likely to make the jump to people in future.


UK cuts overseas aid after worst recession in over 300 years

Updated 3 min 22 sec ago

UK cuts overseas aid after worst recession in over 300 years

  • Decision goes against the government’s promise last year to maintain the aid target and drew sharp criticism
  • A minister has quit, arguing that the decision “will diminish our power to influence other nations to do what is right”

LONDON: The British government faced fury Wednesday over its decision to ditch its long-standing target for overseas aid in the wake of what it described as the deepest recession in over three centuries.
In a statement to lawmakers, Treasury chief Rishi Sunak said the target to allocate 0.7% of national income to overseas aid will be cut to 0.5%. The move is expected to free up 4 billion pounds ($5.3 billion) for the Conservative government to use elsewhere, money that critics say could be used to save tens of thousands of lives in the poorest parts of the world.
While expressing “great respect to those who have argued passionately to retain this target,” Sunak said “sticking rigidly” to it “is difficult to justify” to people at a time when the economy has been so battered by the coronavirus pandemic.
“At a time of unprecedented crisis, government must make tough choices,” he said.
Without giving a timetable, he said that the government aims to return to the target first laid out by the Labour government of Tony Blair in 2004. And he said that even with the new target, the UK will still be the second biggest aid spender among the Group of Seven leading industrial nations.
The decision goes against the government’s promise last year to maintain the aid target and drew sharp criticism from across the political spectrum, including within Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s own Conservative Party.
Liz Sugg, a junior minister at the Foreign Office, has quit, arguing that the decision “will diminish our power to influence other nations to do what is right.”
The UK has for years been considered one of the world’s leaders in development and aid so the government’s decision to lower the target was met with anger and dismay from poverty campaigners.
“Cutting the UK’s lifeline to the world’s poorest communities in the midst of a global pandemic will lead to tens of thousands of otherwise preventable deaths,” said Oxfam Chief Executive Danny Sriskandarajah.
Save the Children Chief Executive Kevin Watkins also said the decision had “broken Britain’s reputation for leadership on the world stage” ahead of its hosting of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference next year.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby joined the chorus of disapproval, describing the cut as “shameful and wrong” and urging lawmakers “to reject it for the good of the poorest, and the UK’s own reputation and interest.”
In a sobering assessment that provided the backdrop to the cut, Sunak sought to balance ongoing support for the economy with a longer-term commitment to heal public finances after a stark deterioration.
“Our health emergency is not yet over and our economic emergency has only just begun,” he said.
Sunak said the government’s independent economic forecasters are predicting that the British economy will shrink 11.3% this year, the “largest fall in output for more than 300 years.”
The Office for Budget Responsibility expects the economy to grow again next year as coronavirus restrictions are eased and hoped-for vaccines come on stream. The agency is predicting growth of 5.5% in 2021 and 6.6% the following year. As a result the output lost during the pandemic won’t have been recouped until the final quarter of 2022.
Sunak warned that the pandemic’s cost will create long-term “scarring,” with the economy 3% smaller in 2025 than predicted in March, before the spring lockdown.
The massive fall in output this year has led to a huge increase in public borrowing as the government sought to cushion the blow and tax revenues fell. Sunak said the government has pumped 280 billion pounds into the economy to get through the pandemic. Public borrowing this fiscal year is set to hit 394 billion pounds, or 19% of national income, “the highest recorded level of borrowing in our peacetime history.”
He warned that underlying public debt is rising toward 100% of annual GDP.
“High as these costs are, the costs of inaction would have been far higher,” he said. “But this situation is clearly unsustainable over the medium term.”
Sunak said the 1 million doctors and nurses in the National Health Service will get a pay rise next year, as will 2.1 million of the lowest paid workers in the public sector. However, he said pay rises in the rest of the public sector will be “paused” next year.
Sunak also announced extra money to support Johnson’s program of investments in infrastructure across the UK, particularly in the north of England, where the Conservatives won seats during the last general election. A new infrastructure bank will also be headquartered in the north of England.