UK’s Queen Elizabeth pays tribute to ‘kindness of strangers’

UK’s Queen Elizabeth pays tribute to ‘kindness of strangers’
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II records her annual Christmas broadcast in Windsor Castle, Berkshire, Britain December 24, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 26 December 2020

UK’s Queen Elizabeth pays tribute to ‘kindness of strangers’

UK’s Queen Elizabeth pays tribute to ‘kindness of strangers’
  • The monarch repeatedly spoke of hope for the future
  • However, she acknowledged millions of Britons would be unable to have their usual family celebrations this year

LONDON: One of the traditional fixtures of any Christmas Day in the UK is to see Queen Elizabeth II and her family go to church. Not this year. The coronavirus pandemic has made sure of that.
However, the queen, 94, did fulfill what is considered her most cherished Christmas Day duty. Addressing the nation — as well as the Commonwealth — on television Friday.
The queen, who has spent much of the year isolating at Windsor Castle with her 99-year-old husband Prince Philip, delivered a heartfelt message of hope in her Christmas address, praising the “indomitable spirit” of those who have risen “magnificently” to the challenges of the pandemic.
Seated behind a desk where the only family photo on show was a private portrait of Philip, the queen expressed sympathy for the ordeal of the past few months while also laying out hope of a return to normality.
“We continue to be inspired by the kindness of strangers and draw comfort that — even on the darkest nights — there is hope in the new dawn," she said.
The queen wrote her address, as she does every year, and her words are likely to have added poignancy given the upheaval many families have experienced during the pandemic, particularly in the UK, which has an official coronavirus-related death toll of just over 70,000, Europe's second-highest behind Italy.
It was recorded before the British government decided last weekend to ditch its plans for a five-day easing of coronavirus restrictions around Christmastime. In many parts of the UK, including London, people were being urged to stay at home and not meet others because of a new variant of the virus that is said to spread far easier.
“Of course, for many, this time of year will be tinged with sadness: some mourning the loss of those dear to them, and others missing friends and family members distanced for safety, when all they’d really want for Christmas is a simple hug or a squeeze of the hand," she said. “If you are among them, you are not alone, and let me assure you of my thoughts and prayers.”
There was a strong religious theme to the address reflecting her Christian faith and the queen said the biblical story of the Good Samaritan had relevance today.
“Good Samaritans have emerged across society showing care and respect for all, regardless of gender, race or background, reminding us that each one of us is special and equal in the eyes of God,” she said.
Though living a far more solitary existence, over the past few months, the queen has been a visible presence, most notably in her two televised addresses to the nation from Windsor Castle in April and May, which were partly intended to bolster people’s resolve in the face of the lockdown.
Members of the royal family are spending the festive period at their respective residences this year instead of gathering at Sandringham.


UK MP accused of racism over tweet about pro-Palestinian protesters 

UK MP accused of racism over tweet about pro-Palestinian protesters 
Updated 17 May 2021

UK MP accused of racism over tweet about pro-Palestinian protesters 

UK MP accused of racism over tweet about pro-Palestinian protesters 
  • Michael Fabricant described London demonstrators as ‘primitives’ 
  • Anti-racism charity urges Conservative Party to suspend him

LONDON: Tory MP Michael Fabricant has been accused of racism for describing pro-Palestinian protesters in central London as “primitives.”

In a now-deleted tweet, he said: “These primitives are trying to bring to London what they do in the Middle East.”

Hope not Hate CEO Nick Lowles called on the Conservative Party’s Chief Whip Mark Spencer to suspend Fabricant following the tweet.

“Calling British Muslims ‘primitives’ is clearly racist. Implying ‘they’ are from the Middle East simply compounds the offence,” Lowles said.

“The tense situation requires steady leadership from people who want to bring communities together, not hateful racism that stirs up division, as Mr. Fabricant’s comment did.”

Lowles asked Spencer: “Can you reassure me, and all people who want to stamp out racism within mainstream political parties, that you will act by suspending Michael Fabricant from the whip and that you will fully investigate this latest appalling outburst?”

Sunder Katwala, director of the British Future think tank, tweeted: “Anybody who realises that it is racist to hold British Jews responsible for Israeli policy should also be able recognise the racism here in Michael Fabricant’s tweet.”

Fabricant has been tweeting regularly throughout the recent resurgence in violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

On Saturday, in reaction to a video of protesters being interviewed in London, and in reference to Britain’s secondary school qualifications, he tweeted: “Wonder if they have a GCSE between them.” 

Last year, the Conservative Party said it would not take further action against Fabricant for suggesting in a now-deleted tweet that criticism of the party for allegations of Islamophobia would harm “Anglo-Muslim relations.”


Joy for UK pubs and hugs tempered by rise in virus variant

Joy for UK pubs and hugs tempered by rise in virus variant
Updated 17 May 2021

Joy for UK pubs and hugs tempered by rise in virus variant

Joy for UK pubs and hugs tempered by rise in virus variant
  • Prime minister sounded a cautious tone, warning about a more contagious COVID-19 variant that threatens reopening plans
  • Public health officials and government are urging people to continue to observe social distancing

LONDON: Drinks were raised in toasts and reunited friends hugged each other as thousands of UK pubs and restaurants opened Monday for indoor service for the first time since early January.
Yet the prime minister sounded a cautious tone, warning about a more contagious COVID-19 variant that threatens reopening plans.
The latest step in the UK’s gradual easing of nationwide restrictions also includes reopening theaters, sports venues and museums, raising hopes that Britain’s economy may soon start to recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic.
Andy Frantzeskos, a chef at the Nopi restaurant in London’s Soho district, said he felt “a bit of anxiousness ... but more excitement than anything.”
“It’s been a long time coming since lockdown, so we’re all happy to be back and want to cook some good food,” he said.
The government is also relaxing guidance on close personal contact, such as hugging, and permitting international travel, although only 12 countries and territories are on the list of “safe” destinations that don’t require 10 days of quarantine upon return. Thousands of Britons got up early to check in for the first flights to Portugal, which is on the safe list.
But the rapid spread of a variant first discovered in India is tempering the optimism amid memories of how another variant swept across the country in December, triggering England’s third national lockdown.
Public health officials and the government are urging people to continue to observe social distancing, even though the situation is different now because almost 70 percent of the adult population has received at least one dose of vaccine.
“Please, be cautious about the risks to your loved ones,’’ Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a video posted on Twitter. “Remember that close contact such as hugging is a direct way of transmitting this disease, so you should think about the risks.”
Monday’s reopening allows people in England to go out for a drink or a meal without shivering in rainy outdoor beer gardens. Rules were also being eased in Scotland and Wales, with Northern Ireland due to follow next week.
The next phase in Britain’s reopening is scheduled for June 21, when remaining restrictions are set to be removed. Johnson has warned that a big surge in COVID-19 cases could scuttle those plans.
Confirmed new virus cases have risen over the past week, though they remain well below the peak reported in late December and early January. New infections averaged about 2,300 per day over the past seven days compared with nearly 70,000 a day during the winter peak. Deaths averaged just over 10 a day during the same period, down from a peak of 1,820 on Jan. 20.
Britain has recorded almost 128,000 coronavirus deaths, the highest figure in Europe.
Government scientific advisers say the new variant, formally known as B.1.617.2, is more transmissible than the UK’s main strain, though it is unclear by how much. Health officials, backed by the army, are carrying out surge testing and surge vaccinations in Bolton and Blackburn in northwest England, where cases of the variant are clustered.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade group UKHospitality, said almost 1 million people were returning to work on Monday, but that businesses were counting on the final step out of lockdown taking place as planned on June 21.
“We’ve already lost 12,000 businesses,” she said. “There’s been an almost 1-in-5 contraction in restaurants in city centers, 1-in-10 restaurants lost over the whole of the country. So these are businesses clinging on by their fingertips, and they have no fuel left in the tank. If those social distancing restrictions remain, they are simply not viable.”
Ian Snowball, owner of the Showtime Bar in Huddersfield, northern England, said it was nice to be inside again, rather than facing the island nation’s unpredictable weather.
“I don’t have to have a hoodie or a coat on any more — it’s great,’’ he said. “And hopefully we don’t have to go back outside again, hopefully this is the end of it now.”
Other Britons couldn’t wait to leave altogether.
Keith and Janice Tomsett, a retired couple in their 70s, were on their way to the Portuguese island of Madeira. They booked their holiday in October “on the off-chance” it could go ahead. They had followed all the testing guidelines and were fully vaccinated.
“After 15 months of being locked up, this is unbelievably good,” Keith Tomsett said. “It was even worth getting up at 3 o’clock this morning.”


Turkey dumping UK plastic waste: Report

Turkey dumping UK plastic waste: Report
Updated 17 May 2021

Turkey dumping UK plastic waste: Report

Turkey dumping UK plastic waste: Report
  • Greenpeace: Turkey is Europe’s ‘largest plastic waste dump’
  • Waste being dumped instead of recycled

LONDON: About 40 percent of the UK’s plastic waste exports were sent to Turkey last year, Greenpeace has revealed.

Investigators from the environmental activist group found that instead of being recycled, some of the 210,000 tons of waste was dumped by roads, in fields and in waterways.

Greenpeace urged the British government to “take control” of the situation, and described Turkey as Europe’s “largest plastic waste dump.”

The group said it had found plastic waste from UK supermarkets at all of the 10 sites it visited across southern Turkey.


COVID-19 vaccines work against Indian variant: Study

COVID-19 vaccines work against Indian variant: Study
Updated 17 May 2021

COVID-19 vaccines work against Indian variant: Study

COVID-19 vaccines work against Indian variant: Study
  • It is less resistant to existing jabs than South African variant: Oxford team
  • Scientist warns slow European vaccine rollout could open door to new variants

LONDON: Approved COVID-19 vaccines are effective against the Indian variant (B.1.617.2), a study by scientists at Oxford University has found.

“It looks like the Indian variant will be susceptible to the vaccine in the way that other (variants) are,” Prof. Sir John Bell, emeritus professor of medicine at Oxford, told Times Radio in the UK.

“The data looks rather promising. I think the vaccinated population are going to be fine. And we just need to pump our way through this.”

The study, led by Oxford’s Prof. Gavin Screaton, looked at two vaccines — Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca — and found that both create sufficient antibodies to neutralize the Indian variant in enough incidences to drastically reduce hospitalizations and fatalities.

It also found that B.1.617.2 is less resistant to vaccines than the South African variant, and is more similar to the Kent and Brazilian variants.

“If you do the lab experiment, which is you take plasma serum from someone who’s received the vaccine and you look to see its ability to neutralize the virus, that’s a highly effective way of telling whether you’re going to be protected or not,” Sir John said.

“It looks OK. It’s not perfect but it’s not catastrophically bad. There’s a slight reduction in the ability to neutralize the virus, but it’s not very great and certainly not as great as you see with the South African variant. It’s rather close to the Brazilian version where the vaccine serum seems to be very effective in neutralizing the virus,” he added.

“The antibodies you’ve made after you’ve had the vaccine, which are floating around in your blood, are good enough to neutralize the virus if you get it.”

But Sir John warned that the lack of vaccinations across Europe and elsewhere means the continent is more susceptible to variants, and the possibility remains that more could emerge due to a lack of immunization and increased transmission.

“There are very broad swathes of Europe that are largely unvaccinated. So they’re pretty vulnerable to new variants — be it Indian or otherwise — sweeping across the continent and leaving very, very high levels of disease,” he added.


Biden faces criticism from Democrats over Israel

Biden faces criticism from Democrats over Israel
Updated 17 May 2021

Biden faces criticism from Democrats over Israel

Biden faces criticism from Democrats over Israel
  • Left-wing figures urge president to move away from unconditional support for Tel Aviv
  • Ocasio-Cortez: ‘If the Biden admin can’t stand up to an ally, who can it stand up to?’

LONDON: Pressure is mounting on US President Joe Biden from left-wing Democrats in Congress to change his administration’s stance on Israel.

Criticism of Tel Aviv has increased in recent days following a wave of Israeli airstrikes in Gaza.

Prominent Democrats have urged Biden to limit military aid to Israel and put more pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cease operations.

Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on Saturday: “I don’t care how any spokesperson tries to spin this, the US vetoed the UN call for ceasefire. If the Biden admin can’t stand up to an ally, who can it stand up to? How can they credibly claim to stand for human rights?”

Several members of the Democratic Party have described Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as similar to that of African Americans by various police departments.

“We oppose money going to fund militarized policing, occupation, and systems of violent oppression and trauma,” said Missouri Congresswoman Cori Bush, a prominent Black Lives Matter activist.

“Until all our children are safe, we will continue to fight for our rights in Palestine and Ferguson (Missouri).”

Sen. Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed his concern at airstrikes that “resulted in the death of innocent civilians in Gaza as well as Israeli targeting of buildings housing international media outlets.”

Biden has been a staunch supporter of Israel throughout his political career, and has reportedly met with every one of its prime ministers since Golda Meir in 1973.

He has repeatedly asserted Israel’s right to defend itself from Palestinian rocket attacks, and has rejected suggestions that the US use military aid to apply pressure on Tel Aviv.

“The idea that we would (with)draw military assistance from Israel on the condition that they change a specific policy I find to be absolutely outrageous,” he said.

On Sunday, Biden said Palestinians and Israelis “equally deserve to live in safety and security and enjoy equal measure of freedom, prosperity and democracy.”