England delays full lifting of virus restrictions

England delays full lifting of virus restrictions
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends a media briefing in Downing Street. Monday he confirmed that relaxing coronavirus restrictions will be delayed until July 19 due to surge in infections caused by the Delta variant. (AP)
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Updated 14 June 2021

England delays full lifting of virus restrictions

England delays full lifting of virus restrictions
  • Newspapers had been counting down to what had been dubbed "Freedom Day"
  • Johnson said a sharp rise in infections had prompted a decision to "ease off the accelerator"

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday announced a four-week delay to the full lifting of coronavirus restrictions in England due to a surge in infections caused by the Delta variant.
The delay comes as a blow to Johnson’s plans to fully reopen the UK economy on June 21 after months of gradually easing restrictions since March.
Newspapers had been counting down to what had been dubbed “Freedom Day,” which was set to mark an end to all social distancing restrictions and the reopening of nightclubs.
But Johnson said a sharp rise in infections had prompted a decision to “ease off the accelerator” and focus instead on ramping up vaccinations.
“On the evidence I can see right now, I’m confident that we will not need more than four weeks and won’t need to go beyond July 19,” Johnson told a press briefing.
Health policy is devolved in the four nations that make up the UK, handled separately in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Scotland, which was due to move to the lowest level of restrictions on June 28, is also expected to announce a delay to its reopening.
In England, most current rules — including limits on the number of people who can meet in pubs and restaurants — will remain in place until July 19, although restrictions on the number of guests allowed at weddings will be lifted.
Large scale pilot events, such as Euro 2020 football matches, will also go ahead as planned.
The more transmissible Delta variant, first identified in India, is now responsible for 96 percent of UK cases, and positive tests have jumped 50 percent in the last week.
Total reported cases are now at their highest since February — around 8,000 new infections a day.
The Delta variant is believed to be around 60 percent more transmissible than the Alpha variant first identified in Kent, southeast England.
That strain forced the country to go into another three-month lockdown in January.
Nevertheless hospital admissions and deaths remain low, thanks in large part to Britain’s rapid vaccination rollout.
More than 55 percent of adults in the UK have had two vaccine jabs.
Newspapers have hinted at dissent within Johnson’s cabinet over the delay, with The Times citing an unnamed minister as saying it was “a very odd decision.”
Johnson accepted that “we cannot simply eliminate Covid, we must learn to live with it,” but added that “once the adults of this country have been overwhelmingly vaccinated... we will be in a far stronger position to... live with this disease.”
The government hopes that two thirds of all adults will have received two shots by July 19.
A study released Monday found that two jabs of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine stopped the need for in-patient treatment in 96 percent of cases of the new variant.
With a double dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot, the rate was 92 percent.
The government had hoped to allow crowds to return unrestricted to pubs and clubs next week, with the hard-hit hospitality industry warning it is on its last legs.
Trade association UKHospitality estimated that a month’s delay in lifting the restrictions would cost the sector around £3 billion ($4.23 billion) in sales.
“A full and final ending of restrictions is the only way to ensure that businesses in this sector can trade profitably,” said its chief executive Kate Nicholls.


England to allow unquarantined travel from US and EU if jabbed: govt

England to allow unquarantined travel from US and EU if jabbed: govt
Updated 28 July 2021

England to allow unquarantined travel from US and EU if jabbed: govt

England to allow unquarantined travel from US and EU if jabbed: govt
  • "We're helping reunite people living in the US and European countries with their family and friends," Transport Minister Grant Shapps tweeted
  • Separate rules will continue to apply for those arriving from France

LONDON: People fully vaccinated in the United States and European Union — except France — will be allowed to travel to England without having to quarantine on arrival, the UK government announced on Wednesday.
“We’re helping reunite people living in the US and European countries with their family and friends,” Transport Minister Grant Shapps tweeted, adding that the policy will come into force from 4:00 am (0300 GMT) on August 2.
Travelers fully jabbed with a vaccine approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration or the European Medicines Agency will be able to travel from any country on the British government’s “amber” traffic light list without having to self-isolate at home for 10 days.
They will still need to do a pre-departure test and take another test on day two after arriving in England.
Separate rules will continue to apply for those arriving from France.
Those traveling from an amber list country, which includes most of Europe and the US, who are not fully vaccinated will still have to quarantine on arrival.
The government also confirmed the restart of international cruises.
“This is progress we can all enjoy,” wrote Shapps.
Britain is in the midst of another wave of the virus due to the so-called delta variant, although case numbers have dropped over the past week, while its vaccine drive has seen more than 70 percent of adults fully jabbed.
The devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland set their own health policies, and decide their own foreign travel rules.


Former UK military chiefs sound alarm over Afghan interpreters ‘left behind to die’

Former UK military chiefs sound alarm over Afghan interpreters ‘left behind to die’
Updated 28 July 2021

Former UK military chiefs sound alarm over Afghan interpreters ‘left behind to die’

Former UK military chiefs sound alarm over Afghan interpreters ‘left behind to die’
  • Relocation scheme to bring to Britain former colleagues who risked their lives is “inadequate,” letter warns

LONDON: Former high-profile British defense figures have urged the expansion of a relocation initiative for Afghan interpreters who supported Britain’s role in the country’s conflict, after it emerged that hundreds were denied the right to live in the UK.
The group raised “grave concerns” in a letter to The Times newspaper that the UK scheme was inadequate in protecting Afghans who risked their lives to help coalition forces in the conflict with the Taliban.
The letter includes the signatures of six former heads of the armed forces, and in total was signed by 45 former military officers and officials.
It urged British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to reconsider the scheme, warning: “It is not being conducted with the required spirit of generosity and urgency.”
The initiative, formally titled the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, was launched this year to urgently relocate Afghans — who previously worked for British forces as interpreters —   to the UK amid a NATO withdrawal from the war-torn country.
In past years, more than 2,200 Afghans and their families arrived in Britain.
But through the letter, the former military figures raised urgent concerns that too many relocation applications had been “unreasonably rejected” by UK officials.
It read: “The UK should be as generous and welcoming as we know it can be. These individuals have stood shoulder to shoulder with us. We must now do the same for them.”
Other campaigners have also joined the campaign in urging the government to update the scheme. The Sulha Alliance, which was founded to promote the relocation of former Afghan interpreters, warned that policy should be “more generous.”
About 450 Afghans who worked for British forces told the alliance that their applications had been formally rejected, Ed Aitken, a former captain and co-founder of the group, said.
One former interpreter who was rejected, Muhammad, 30, warned that “it is only a matter of time before the Taliban find and kill me.”
He said that he was being “left behind to die after being denied sanctuary in the UK.
“I am sure I will suffer the same fate as interpreters before me and be beheaded.”
But despite his warnings, as well as personal recommendations from British commanders, his application has been continuously denied by officials.


Trafficking victims barred from returning to Britain under new bill

Trafficking victims barred from returning to Britain under new bill
Updated 28 July 2021

Trafficking victims barred from returning to Britain under new bill

Trafficking victims barred from returning to Britain under new bill
  • Government is telling young girls who were forced overseas that they are not victims, Reprieve director tells Arab News

LONDON: British women and children trafficked overseas into terror groups would be barred from returning under the government’s new immigration bill, an investigation has revealed.

The Nationality and Borders Bill, which passed its second reading last week, will give Home Secretary Priti Patel the power to deny victims protection under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 if they are trafficked by a terrorist organization.

This denial of assistance will be justified by classifying the trafficking victims as a threat to national security. 

The new legislation is being introduced despite the Home Office being forced to U-turn after it claimed a child who was trafficked to Afghanistan by a terrorist gang “did not fall under the definition of modern slavery.”

Patel later admitted that the department’s actions were based on a “misunderstanding of the law” and withdrew it. 

Home Office lawyers said in 2019 that it was “not her position or policy” to separate trafficking victims from the protection they are owed when terrorist organizations are involved.

Maya Foa, director of the legal charity Reprieve, told Arab News that “the government is effectively telling young girls taken to Syria by an older man ‘you weren’t trafficked.’ 

“It’s telling women who had no choice but to go to Syria with their abusive, controlling husbands that they weren’t trafficked either. And it’s telling the teenagers groomed online by predators that they cannot have been trafficked because the gang in question was ISIS,” she said, using another term for the terror group Daesh.

She added: “It flies in the face of everything we know about trafficking — and is illegal under international law.”

Under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, human trafficking is defined as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of people through force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them. 

The government’s own guidance notes that a child cannot consent to being trafficked, even though they may appear a “willing participant.”

Reprieve has found that of the Britons held in camps in northeastern Syria, 20 are women and 35 are children and that nearly two-thirds of the women met the legal definition of a trafficking victim. 

However, the government has ignored calls to recover them to Britain. Most of the women have had their citizenship removed.

Women in the camp who meet the standard for being designated as trafficking victims include a teenager who was taken to Syria by a male relative aged just 12. She was raped, forced into marriage at 14 and was pregnant via rape at 15.

The Home Office has denied that its new clause breaks any obligations to trafficking victims. “All decisions to exclude people from provisions are considered on a case-by-case basis and will safeguard those with legitimate modern slavery claims,” a spokesman said.


Germany charges Syrian doctor with crimes against humanity

Germany charges Syrian doctor with crimes against humanity
Updated 28 July 2021

Germany charges Syrian doctor with crimes against humanity

Germany charges Syrian doctor with crimes against humanity
  • Federal Prosecutor's Office said Alla Mousa is accused of 18 counts of torturing people in military hospitals in Syria
  • Prosecutors invoked the principle of universal jurisdiction for serious crimes to bring the case that involved victims and defendants in Germany

BERLIN: A Syrian doctor has been charged in Germany with crimes against humanity for allegedly torturing people in military hospitals in his homeland and killing one of them, German federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
The Federal Prosecutor’s Office in Karlsruhe said in a statement that Alla Mousa, who came to Germany in 2015 and practiced medicine before he was arrested last year, is accused of 18 counts of torturing people in military hospitals in the Syrian cities of Homs and Damascus. The allegations include charges that Mousa tried to make people infertile.
A federal indictment charged him with murder, severe bodily harm, attempted bodily harm and dangerous bodily harm, the statement said.
Prosecutors said after the beginning of the opposition uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad in 2011, protesters were frequently arrested and tortured. Injured civilians who were thought to be members of the opposition were also taken to military hospitals, where they were tortured and sometimes killed.
In February, a German court convicted a former member of Assad’s secret police of facilitating the torture of prisoners in a landmark ruling that human rights activists said would set a precedent for other cases in the decade-long conflict.
Eyad Al-Gharib was convicted of accessory to crimes against humanity and sentenced by the Koblenz state court to 4 1/2 years in prison.
It was the first time that a court outside Syria ruled in a case alleging Syrian government officials committed crimes against humanity. German prosecutors invoked the principle of universal jurisdiction for serious crimes to bring the case that involved victims and defendants in Germany.
In the current case, prosecutors accuse the Syrian doctor of having poured alcohol over the genitals of a teenage boy and another man and setting fire to them with a cigarette lighter at military hospital No. 608 in Homs. He is also accused of torturing nine more people in the same hospital in 2011 by kicking and beating them.
The indictment also alleges that Mousa kicked and beat a jailed man who was suffering an epileptic seizure. A few days later, the doctor gave the man a medication and he subsequently died without the exact cause of death ever clearly being identified, German prosecutors said.
The indictment lists other cases of alleged torture at the military hospital in Homs, including hanging people from the ceiling and beating them with a plastic baton, and pouring flammable liquids over the hand of one of them and burning it. Mousa also is accused of kicking another patient’s open, infected wound, pouring disinfectant into it and setting it on fire.
In one case in 2012, Mousa allegedly beat and kicked an inmate severely. When the man defended himself by kicking back, Mousa beat him to the ground with the help of a male nurse and shortly after administered a toxic substance that killed the inmate, German prosecutors allege.
In addition to the torture allegations at the military hospital in Homs, Mousa is also accused of abusing inmates at the military hospital Mezzeh No. 601 in Damascus between late 2011 and March 2012.


German woman indicted over her time with Daesh in Syria

German woman indicted over her time with Daesh in Syria
Updated 28 July 2021

German woman indicted over her time with Daesh in Syria

German woman indicted over her time with Daesh in Syria

BERLIN: A German woman who traveled to Syria to join the Daesh group and whose husband bought a Yazidi woman as a slave has been charged with membership in a terror group and being an accessory to a crime against humanity, German prosecutors said Wednesday.
The indictment of Leonora M., whose full name wasn’t released because of local privacy rules, is the latest in a string of cases in Germany involving women who went to the area held by Daesh and were involved in holding women captured by the extremist group as slaves.
Federal prosecutors said the suspect went to Syria and joined Daesh in 2015 and became the “third wife” of a member of the group. She is accused of enabling her husband’s activities for Daesh by running their household in Raqqa and writing his application for a job in the group’s intelligence service.
The suspect herself allegedly worked at an Daesh-controlled hospital and snooped on wives of Daesh fighters for the group’s intelligence service.
Prosecutors said her husband bought a 33-year-old Yazidi woman as a slave in 2015 with the aim of selling her with her two small children. Leonora M., they said, cared for the woman so that she could be sold on at a profit — which she subsequently was.
The suspect surrendered to Kurdish fighters in January 2019 as IS lost the areas it held in Syria. She was brought back to Germany in December last year and arrested after her arrival.
The indictment was filed on July 7 at a court in the eastern town of Naumburg.