UK minister: Not time for coronavirus ‘plan B’

Kwasi Kwarteng says the UK is 'learning to live with the virus.'

UK minister: Not time for coronavirus ‘plan B’

A British Cabinet minister rejected pleas from health leaders to deploy the government’s coronavirus “plan B” in the face of mounting case numbers in the U.K.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said it would be “completely wrong” for the country to enter a fresh lockdown after the NHS Confederation urged ministers to avoid “stumbling into a winter crisis” by reintroducing measures like mandatory face coverings in crowded places “without delay.”

The U.K. has reported some 43,646 new cases of COVID-19 over the past seven days, a 16 percent weekly increase and a level not seen since mid-July. British hospitals have meanwhile seen a 10 percent rise in COVID-19 patients admitted in the past week, with the number of deaths also up 14.6 percent over the same time period.

England loosened the majority of its coronavirus restrictions — including social distancing and mandatory mask-wearing indoors — in July.

Ahead of what is expected to be a tough season for the country’s health service, the U.K. government last month unveiled its winter strategy for the pandemic, including a “Plan B” for England which will be activated only if data suggests the NHS faces “unsustainable pressure.”

The plan includes communicating “clearly and urgently” to the public that the level of risk has increased; the introduction of vaccine certificates in some settings; and legally mandating face coverings in high-risk situations. Ministers are also keeping in reserve the possibility of asking more people to work from home.

NHS Confederation Chief Executive Matthew Taylor said it was now “time for the government to enact Plan B of its strategy without delay because without preemptive action, we risk stumbling into a winter crisis. Also, health leaders need to understand what a ‘Plan C’ would entail if these measures are insufficient.”

And he warned ministers not to “wait for COVID infections to rocket and for NHS pressures to be sky high before the panic alarm is sounded.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his ministers are relatively relaxed about the surge in case numbers, a senior government insider told POLITICO London Playbook — so long as it does not lead to unmanageable hospitalizations and much higher deaths.

Case rises are “obviously a concern,” they said, but stressed the success of the COVID-19 vaccine in breaking the link with hospitalizations means “we are in a different place.” They said that rather than reach immediately for a return of non-pharmaceutical interventions, the government would continue to monitor hospitalizations and the NHS, and step up its vaccine booster campaign for elderly and vulnerable people.

Echoing that position on Times Radio today, Kwarteng rejected the call to ramp up COVID protections, and said that while Brits face “the risk of greater infections,” hospitalizations and death rates are “much much lower” than at the start of the year and the country is “learning to live with the virus.”

“Our experts, scientific advisors, ministers are looking at data on an hour by hour basis, and will make decisions on the back of that,” he said.

But Kwarteng argued the government is continuing to take “a balanced approach” between the “two extremes” of lockdown and total freedom. “That’s why we’ve managed to open up the economy, people are getting back to normal life,” he said. “And I absolutely think that it would be completely wrong for us to go back into a lockdown.”

Kwarteng said he would “look forward to having a Christmas party as usual.”

England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty struck a more cautionary tone Wednesday, tweeting that people should get vaccinated, take up offers of a booster jab, and continue to keep indoor spaces as well-ventilated as possible, wear masks and wash their hands.

Source : Politico EU More   

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Greek government is no friend of the far right

New Democracy played a pivotal role in clearing the way for justice to be served.

Greek government is no friend of the far right

The recent article “Street brawls and Nazi salutes: Greece grapples with far-right resurgence” (October 18) rehashes unfounded and largely unattributed claims against the Greek government and prime minister that have often been deployed by the official opposition.

New Democracy is a political party that has steadfastly and consistently opposed racism, hatred, fascism, political violence and extreme divisiveness. It was in 2013, when New Democracy was in power under Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, that the prosecution of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party began and its state funding was discontinued.

That year, the Greek judiciary ordered the arrest of the Golden Dawn leadership and several of its members, following an investigation initiated after the murder of anti-fascist activist and artist Pavlos Fyssas. These arrests were the result of a methodical and tenacious probe into the entire spectrum of Golden Dawn activities and its hierarchy.

However, during the Syriza-led coalition with the populist right in the four-and-a-half years that followed, from January 2015 until July 2019, developments relating to Golden Dawn proved contradictory and incongruous. Notably, the trial of Golden Dawn’s leadership — on charges of leading a criminal organization — never reached completion. A failure, which was even attributed to the inability to find a courtroom.

Greece’s current Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who was the leader of the biggest opposition party at that time, spoke out about these delays, and in the run-up to the 2019 general election, he made the condemnation of Golden Dawn a central political priority, asking the Greek people to vote the party out of parliament.

Mitsotakis was vindicated by the election result. New Democracy prevailed at the ballot box, while Golden Dawn lost its seats in parliament for the first time since 2012 — an outcome that was hailed internationally. And in 2020, Golden Dawn’s leadership was finally convicted in court and imprisoned for directing a criminal organization.

On the day that the verdict was announced, the prime minister stated, “Αfter the Greek people voted the neo-Nazi party of Golden Dawn out of Parliament in the last election, today the Greek justice system convicted its leadership of operating as a criminal organization. A truly historic day for Greece, democracy and the rule of law.”

New Democracy played a leading role in the efforts clearing the way for justice to be served and sending Golden Dawn back to the political fringe. These facts are indisputable, and they explain why the current government does not, and will not, accept any finger-wagging when it comes to its democratic sensitivities.

Giannis Oikonomou
Deputy minister to the prime minister of Greece and government spokesman
Athens, Greece

Source : Politico EU More   

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